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LIVING WITH(IN) HISTORY- Dundee, Kwa-Zulu Natal

By November 4, 2010One Comment

We are about to embark on a three- month long residency to the town of Dundee as part of the project titled Two Thousand and Ten reasons to Live in a Small Town facilitated by VANSA .
There has been an exciting amount of interest shown in our project with folks wanting to know just what exactly we are hoping to achieve there.
So here’s the low down.
About VANSA and the Two Thousand and Ten Reasons Brief
VANSA stands for the Visual Arts Network of South Africa and earlier this year they released a brief. This is what they were looking for….
“The project is concerned with creatively reimagining the public spaces of small rural towns and contexts, and exploring and reflecting on the meaning of the 2010 phenomenon in the context of places and communities which exist at the margins of this global spectacle.
The project will involve the realisation of creative interventions in public space broadly related to the 2010 event through a rigorous and intensive process of engagement between artists and the complex environments of South African small towns. Five artists will live and work in five different small towns/rural contexts across the country for an extended period of research and project development, culminating in temporary interventions in public spaces. These temporary interventions ”“ and the manner in which local communities generate meaning from them – will serve as a basis for the development of permanent artworks that draw on and interact dynamically with the historical and contemporary experience of these communities, to be completed by February/March 2011. Participating artists will also contribute toward the development of a publication that will document the process of project development and realisation.”
A large number of proposals were received with seven making it through the rigorous selection process. The curatorial team convened for the project by VANSA, comprised of Nontobeko Ntombela, Rat Western, Rike Sitas, Dorothee Kreutzfeldt and Joseph Gaylard.  Prolific and generous arts practitioners the lot of them.
In October 2010, a weekend workshop was held (hosted by the Nirox Foundation) bringing together the artists and curatorial team members. This gave us all a chance to pitch our ideas and thoughts while learning about more about each other’s practices and projects.
Artists involved include Thenjiwe Nkosi and Ra Hlasane (Musina), Guy du Toit (Richmond, Northern Cape), Tracey Derrick and Chris Murphy (Hermon, Western Cape),Kathryn Smith (Laingsburgh, Western Cape) Kwanele Mboso, Zingisa Nkosinkulu and Buntu Fihla (Phakamisa, Eastern Cape) and Bronwyn Lace and Marcus Neustetter (Sutherland, Northern Cape).
To learn more about their endeavours click on…
Who are We?
We are Vaughn Sadie and Neil Coppen.
Vaughn is an exceptionally tall installation artist who works across many disciplines including sculpture, film and photography while Neil is a Durban theatre-maker/ playwright and journalist who was recently awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist award for theatre 2011.
Dundee…Where’s that?
Firstly we feel we should clarify (and the mistake is often made) we are not visiting Dundee in Scotland but rather Dundee in Northern Kwa- Zulu Natal. While both places may have lots of sheep, the Dundee we are relocating to tends to be a little more sultry around this time of year.
Dundee is part of the Endumeni Local Municipality. It is the largest of town in the region with Glencoe and other smaller towns constituting the rest of the population. Established in 1882, Dundee resides on what can be deemed a seismic historical fault line.
What excites us about the town is the range of significant historical events that have occurred in the vicinity. There are 68 battle-field sites (Roke’s Drift, Isandlwana, Blood River) which surround the town and these remain turfs where countless South African histories and cultures have collided over the centuries. Understandably these places still have the ability to arouse varying emotional responses, controversies, and disagreements.
Why Dundee?
As we mentioned a moment ago, Dundee is a town with a complex and convoluted history. After the last of the lucrative coal mining operations closed in the area, the town began to rely on its historic past as one of its most viable forms of industry.  A substantial amount of people living in this region still maintain strong historic/ ancestral ties to this location. The notion of prospering off either victories or misfortunes of the past is a crucial starting point for our proposed project.
In 2008 we travelled to Dundee to document and interview a group of historical re-enactors known as the Dundee Die Hards who were active in restaging scenes from the regions battles. Dundee has since intrigued us and remains at the centre of several projects we have, over the years, hoped to implement.
What interests us is that through these re-enactments, the game or battle’s outcome is always predictable with participants fighting for a victory that has essentially been pre-determined centuries ago. History remains wedged in a fatalistic cycle (players die, then resurrect, then play to die once again.)The role players within these performances are never permitted to shift or alter the game plan, they must adhere to fact and play within the past’s set of non-negotiable rules.
What we hope the achieve over the next three months
Our aim is to work in conjunction with locals, historians, community groups, re-enactors, tour guides and school groups. With a culture of re-enactment already existing in the town, we intend to use this as a starting point, building via workshops, a series of re-enactments in public spaces, that stem from the tradition of replaying or repeating the past through performance.
We hope such an event might draw national attention to Dundee (bringing in outside journalists and interested members of the public) while stimulating a renewed interest in the region and its people.
Our project hopes to explore the idea of living history or more particularly living with(in) history. Our intention is not necessarily to focus on the Dundee’s more fabled figures and terrains, but rather reveal how history is founded on smaller, less grandiose personal narratives. As Bill Bryson recently states in his excellent new book “At Home”:
“We devote a tremendous amount of time studying battles and wars of history than to considering what History really consists of: centuries of people quietly going about their daily business.”
Of interest to us, are those places within the town that have existed on the fringes of popular historic imagination. We might initiate the process by looking at the everyday history of citizens from various communities, examining small yet significant personal histories and imagining how the present (or everyday) might come to be remembered/memorialised in the future.
Over the next three months we plan to guide various participants through creative workshops which will encourage them to re-locate””and even re-imagine– themselves into events from the past.
This may be achieved through mediums such as film, stop motion animation, shadow puppetry, song, dance, music, collage etc. By the projects conclusion we hope to combine these elements into an interactive and unconventional celebration of sorts.
An early and important component of our project will be to record and document the oral history of the town and surrounding communities. We will film and archive each of these conversations (for Dundee’s personal records) and potentially create a film which will be screened at the conclusion of the residency.
We hope that by launching a project that begins to re-imagine the past, participants will simultaneously be encouraged to re-imagine their own future.
Of course things may change dramatically once we get there and we are fully open to new directions the project may take.
Will check in soon and keep you posted.
Neil and Vaughn

One Comment

  • “…while both (Dundees) have lots of sheep…”
    I guffawed! Recently, I went jogging and to my amazement, in the garden of a home in Mpati area, people were unabashedly “mowing” their lawn with the woolly beasts! 😀

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