Two Thousand and Fourteen Ways of Being Here is an exploration into the nature of democracy and being here, in South Africa, in small, ordinary ways. The history of South Africa that has led us to this point is as much the history of the personal as it is the history of any broader narrative. What are the ways in which we practise democracy in our local contexts – community meetings, stokvels, informal discussions in the street? What are the conditions for negotiation to take place, and how much do we replicate democratic processes in our everyday lives?
The Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA) has for some years sought to question and challenge notions of public art and public practice. Beginning with the Two Thousand and Ten Reasons to Live in a Small Town project in 2010, VANSA has worked with alternative and experimental approaches to public creative practice. This project follows in a similar vein, and partners with The Con to expand the questions and connect into broader conversations. Funded by the department of arts and culture, Two Thousand and Fourteen Ways of Being Here will run until early 2016, working with artists, researchers, writers and other creatives across the country, and working within communities to develop collaborative processes that look to track some of the above questions.
The project seeks to explore a few key issues pertaining to democracy and public creative practice. The focus is on ordinary democracies – the private and personal spaces in which democracy is contested in very real ways – as well as how democracies are defined in practice, how their assumed positives become challenged in everyday circumstances and their dogmas override the realities people live with. Participation becomes a core connecting factor between democracy and public creative practice: how do we understand the agency of participation (especially in relation to representation and the representative democracy of the vote)? What spaces are occupied for democratic participation? By whom? What does it mean to have society ‘participate’ in an artwork, and how do artists participate in society? Can we think of contemporary art that participates in its immediate environment, in terms of creating dialogue or helping to understand the world, or even social cohesion?
Two Thousand and Fourteen Ways of Being Here looks to develop public artworks that stem from within their own communities and that might have relevance, and foster ownership and understanding. Over the coming year, we hope to interrogate words such as democracy, relevance, participation, belonging and ownership. We hope to better understand our role in them, as well as ways in which they have become meaningful in contemporary South Africa.