Twenty Ten Reasons To Live In A Small Town: Mighty Tiny
During the course of 2010, seventeen contemporary artists lived and worked in eleven different small towns/rural contexts across the country, involved in an extended period of research and local collaboration around interventions in public spaces and structures in these towns. These interventions served as a basis for the development of more permanent artworks and interventions, intended to draw on and interact dynamically with the historical and contemporary experience of these communities.
– Visual Arts Network of South Africa
Mighty Tiny - research into being in a small town:
By way of investigation, engagement and exploration Mighty Tiny set out to understand the use of spaces in present day South Africa within the Naledi Rural district, a geographical area in the Freestate province of South Africa. Historically, during the Apartheir era, the Freestate laws forbade people of colour to spend more than 24 hours at a time if they were passing through it's borders. Land was reserved for white farmers to produce much of the countries agriculture exports and labourers often lived on farms in small settlements for very little pay. However, Naledi Rural brushes up against the landlocked country of Lesotho where people currently spill out over the borders and integrate into small towns of the region, along with people from other African countries and Chinese traders.
The research's aim was to slowly unravel roles an artist could play after engaging with communities such as this - communities and networks that I, the artist in this case, am not from. It challenged the notion of art being able to solve issues, especially when the artists are suddenly teleported in, as if from a UFO, with funding, timelines and a desperate need for outputs.
By treating all small towns as equal and making use of complete random selection on the map of South Africa this research pushed back against the selection process that artists are often exercising when choosing to work in small towns. It called for deepening time spent engaging with a place before any creative project is formed.
As a creative mode for researching I made use of sonic art, photography, workshops and reflective writing (phenomenological/auto-ethnographical) as a way to converse with the dwellers and business owners who live in Naledi Rural today. The abandoned Town Hall in Dewetsdorp - attempts to both occupy it and keep it empty - emerged as a symbol through which I explored deeper.
Some photos from 24 hour 24 photo journey into lives of everyday people in Naledi Rural: Transport – What Moves Us.
Below are some excerpts from the daily diary / blog conducted in an auto ethnographic and phenomenological approach:
With the conviction that each place is equal to the next, I closed my eyes and let my finger fall on the map of South Africa. It landed on Naledi Rural next to the Maluti mountains on the border of Lesotho. Naledi translates to star – Rural Star. I like that. So I start there and see where this place shoots me off to.
‘the quietness is devastating. when night arrives everything falls away and fades into darkness with the death of sound. at sunset i took a walk around the streets recording the melody of the town. birds chirped in tree tops, parrots called copied words from cages, child minders sipped black label while tannies mowed the lawn. teenagers hung outside the DVD store and old men passed by in bakkies. the sounds saturated the air with a sticky sunset sap as life slowly unwound and people returned fro
‘there are many ways in which people transport themselves into new spaces. radio has been a tool that takes people across lands and into other spaces for many years before the invasion of the television. it stroked creativity and imagination like books do as opposed to dvd’s. during the apartheid era, when the main plan was to keep everyone separated in their differences, radio could take a family from what they were perceived to be into any place they chose to go. freedom of choice was forgotte
‘i did shed a tear today, amongst the burning candles and hospitable afrikaaners. i let it roll down my cheek in the darkness as we stood in silence because i haven't felt such an overwhelming sense of care in a very long time’
‘‘the african renaissance is not good for us because we are going to lose some parts of our culture to european ones. we will lose our self sufficient ways and depend on machinery. i don’t think it is going to help us. the new age must help us experience the life of our forefathers from generation to generation, backwards, not this european one, it is not good. it has many challenges. we are going forward as africa, but we must not leave anything behind. we must go forward with those things that
‘i met an ethiopian shop owner today in morogane. he fled ethiopia at the tender age of 15 and has not contacted his family since then. he was born in 1979, making him 32 years old now. he runs his shop with a friend he met here and they have become like brothers, working and living together, and so his new family was born. they (his brother and himself) tell me that it is not hard to meet people and start something here if you have the will.’
‘it was there where i met the ‘negotiator’. he was one of the three english speaking people in dewetsdorp. he was from scottish decent and he worked in his field because he had no problem crossing cultural borders. he could speak six different languages fluently, english, sotho, xhosa, afrikaans, funigalore and the sixth, which he swore by, bullshit. he peered at me through his one eye with the other all patched up and told me that the future lay with understanding. exploring and understanding
‘today i discovered that future transportable vehicles could in fact be flying cookie jar-cars that drop cookies all over for us to munch at will. who would have thunk?’
they might be you
‘young Afrikaans kids hang out with young Chinese kids arguing about whether Chinese people should be born with the innate knowledge of the one-inch-punch or whether Afrikaans people should always be doing the saki-saki shuffle towards a distant farm somewhere. Senegalese-Sesotho babies are born as cheap valentines gifts are hung on display in shop windows while music blasts from them, marking audible sound barriers along the way. and everyone is only too happy to take part in a project from a s
at first glance
‘at first sight it comes across as an aged western movie, set in the outlands of the African continent: dusty roads with slow lazy life lulling in the shade of the trees. traffic cops sit on the corner of the one road that leads out to Lesotho, watching to see if the taxis that pile people in and whip them to and from the border post are complying with their rules, waiting for a bit of excitement i guess, like the rest of us. life on the one main street seems to play on repeat, at first glance.
‘it’s a surprise, always, when things go right, and in time you figure out a certain flow that you have tapped into, an understanding of timing and a relationship to the other sounds that come with it. and they also do that thing. that transport thing. they take you away for a while into a world of their own.’
‘he picked up the dead pigeon and held it high for me to see. ‘my boeti het hom geskiet.’ the four children sat on the back of the bakkie under the Free State sun with red cheeks and sun bleached hair. their freckled noses twitched as they smiled at the catch. the grounds of the reformatory school the bakkie was driving on lay at the end of a long dusty road in no particular place at all. in other words the long walk to freedom would be a rather hot and stifling one, and you wouldn’t get very fa