The final exercise in the Site Writing Module I undertook in 2020 with Dr. Polly Gould, Dr David Roberts and Dr. Jane Rendell called for an ‘Artist Book’ to accompany by a body of text to support the work.
This was my first public creative piece of design research and arts-practice orientated work. For this exercise I combined the writing exercise with the animations to produce a curated web installation that aimed to frame the ‘demographic dilemma’ /the ‘what-what’ that had been present throughout the module.
The web page lands on the 4 animations produced in the earlier iteration as the reflective writing/drawings (along with court documents) move on a continuous loop in the background. As one scrolls down the page the text moves between a descriptive narrative of the events that took place in the project.
These are contrasted with a different voice that speaks to my personal experience of this work across my practice. As the conversation continues, it turns back to the work and incorporates the website into the discussion – breaking a digital 4th Wall.
The footnotes supplement the narrative, and offer a mixture of anecdotal historical information in conjunction with insight into the writing’s intent and aim. These are intended to speak to specific audiences.
The writing style and structure borrows liberally from a tradition of South African authors who have merged anecdotal reflection, historical critique with elements of satire or intimate positioning of their story within that of South Africa.
Situating the Research The work began as a way to re-enter the site of Marlboro South, due to both the physical and emotional distances that have been created between myself and Johannesburg. The early investigations began through an evaluation of my own practice-photo-archive and visited the images that I covered this period of my involvement.
I struggled with the positional aspects of ‘extracting’ from this context tied to the above-mentioned personal challenges in my own relationship to this work, the people involved and my recent move to the UK. This positional paralysis felt crippling and had me trapped in cyclic patterns of reflection, guilt, anger and shame. At a particular low point in this pattern, with the guidance of my supervisors, I pushed ‘to make’ in an effort to break from the ethical rut.
This began with simple tracings, creative writings, role-playing that initiated the first re-visitations. I then began working through physical prints and used illustration alongside handwriting as a means of re-telling the stories of my time on-site. As I wrote, traced, and re-drew the events of that time; the emotions of those moments were made almost tangible while other actions and events made sense with my more updated understanding of South Africa’s socio-spatial landscape.
These exercises were highly cathartic, and almost meditative as I worked freely and intuitively through the tacit act of writing on the site of my practice photo-archive. This form of writing, drawing and working through not only reflection, but towards a larger practice actions and future potentialities is drawn from scholarly work on creative practice as a disciplinary field.
During an iteration of this process that focused specifically on the images that captured aspects of materiality and individuals through digital illustration software that employed a layering structure, I noticed how the drawings created a very simplistic stop-frame. I leaned into this animative aspect of quick simple linework that facilitated a rapid form and intent with slower, more intentional layering and curating of the image. This rhythm of reflection and making resonated with my own natural pace of work and opened a line of experimental inquiry into animation as both a form of reflection-on-practice as well as analysis.
I re-visited my practice photo archive and searched for more accidental stop frame sequences that engaged people, material and action. From these I developed the final series of explorations that captured these sequences. The challenge lay in the limited resource to deeply draw from.
Questions of audience have guided much of the creative process and been at the core of my internal concerns of my Johannesburg/London work geographies. For this reason, I moved away from producing a simple video or interactive pdf and towards a website as the base from which to curate the work. The positioning of the content online felt more appropriate as this allows for a multi-locational access while allowing me to curate the work for a targeted audience of this, the final artefact in this series. The text structure of digital exhibition site borrows liberally from a tradition of South African authors who have merged anecdotal reflection, historical critique with elements of satire or intimate positioning of their story within that of South Africa. The Footnote and Endnote functions were carefully designed to convey both an academic rigor of referencing and linking the concepts and authors to existing cannons of knowledge while speaking to a dual audience of South African and United Kingdom based spatial design practitioners and researchers.
Due to both the spatial and temporal limits of access to my chosen site for the first full online iteration of the Site-Writing module, I used my own practice-photo archive to re-engage the context. As a result, I found myself working closely with these images and through iterative and repetitive actions of both drawing and writing through a blend of digital and physical formats, I re-visited and worked through the site of Marlboro South , 2021. These deeply situated and reflexive explorations through the images of the practice photo-archive eventually led me to new readings of my experience and a form of reflective animation that was both analytical as well as symbolic of other gestures of action in regard to material actions
South African cities remain among the most unequal urban areas in the world; the tacit logics of their designed built forms play a significant role in how these inequalities continue to manifest decades after social and political reform. The socio-spatial city-making forces that led to these asymmetries were not an impassive by-product of centuries of segregated development, but were conceptualised, drawn, designed and implemented by built environment practitioners – individual spatial designers who were socially, historically, politically, technically and ethically situated in South Africa.
This observation is made to highlight an important, and under-explored, inter-scalar dimension of agency between the individual practitioner, the disciplines, and the socio-spatial systems that require more situated explorations of spatial practice in regards to city-making in contemporary South Africa, as well as in similar spatially unjust contexts. In response to this observation, the doctoral study will respond to the growing efforts of Southern scholars in developing more locational and theoretically contextualised forms of urban research and engagement and will employ Southern Urbanist principles from which to develop and explore the research questions.
The study is positioned at the disciplinary intersection of architecture, urban studies and arts-practice in developing a situated design-research methodology to creatively, ethically and iteratively guide the approach. In addition, the study will work with a community of contemporary local practitioners through a series of engagements around the nature of spatial design practice as well as a practice-orientated auto-interrogation of my own work over the last decade.
Ultimately this inquiry will attempt to locate and reveal the various tacit values embedded in the how of socio-spatially focused post-Apartheid South African spatial design practice, and seeks to contribute an additional partial perspective to the ongoing conversations around Southern urbanism through the development and documentation of a practice-orientated situated research-methodology that focuses on spatial design in Southern cities.
The work presented was made up from a series of selected design research exercises that I have been working on since early 2020:
A self-critical and satirical reflection on the nature of socio-technical design work in South Africa that examined the various gestures, postures and actions that make up the field of ‘development’ work.
Spirit of the Order
Through Dr. Jane Rendell’s Site Writing Module I engaged with critical inquiry with my work with the Marlboro South evictions in 2012. This exercise led to my primary method of reflective animation that I will be using going forward.
Catalogue of Auto-Critique
Throughout the process I have been cataloguing reflections, observations and self-critique on the visual methods and techniques as a means of building a positionally iterative tool for navigating the demographic and locational dynamics of this work.
All this work is documented on an instagram account I have made for the doctoral design research explorations:
In July, two online roundtables will bring together staff and students from Witswatersrand University and UCL to share and discuss work-in-progress on transformational decolonial urbanism. Contributions will report on a variety of research, teaching and other initiatives for change in our institutions.
Speakers include: Jhono Bennett, Nnamdi Elleh, Hayley Gewer, Neil Klug, Nkosilenhle Mavuso, Clare Melhuish, Matimba Ngobeni, Kamna Patel, Makena Phaledi, David Roberts, Nathaniel Télémaque and Tsepang Leuta.
These discussions will lead into a public lecture by Professor Achille Mbembe (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) with responses by Dr Tsepang Leuta (Wits) and Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper (Queen Mary, University of London and Visiting Research Fellow, UCL Sarah Parker Remond Centre, UCL); and a PhD workshop for UCL and Wits students.
Unfinished Symphonies is organised by Ben Campkin, Solam Mkhabela, Naigwe Kalema and Jennifer van den Bussche with support from the UCL-Wits Strategic Partnership fund.
Here I shared my early work on a project titled ‘ The Spirit of the Order’, where I have been critically reflecting on the role and nature of socio-technical spatial design practice from a deeply positional and iterative series of creative exercises that is currently guiding my doctoral studies.
The recordings of all the presentations are available here:
‘TACK / Communities of Tacit Knowledge: Architecture and its Ways of Knowing’ is a newly funded Innovative Training Network, as part of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions within the European Framework Program Horizon 2020. It trains young researchers in understanding the specific knowledge that architects use when designing buildings and cities. TACK gathers ten major academic institutions, three leading cultural architectural institutions as well as nine distinguished architecture design offices. Collaboratively these partners offer an innovative PhD training program on the nature of tacit knowledge in architecture, resulting in ten parallel PhD projects.“
The research program consists of ten PhD projects, which are pursued by ten PhD candidates, hosted by ten academic partners. While the individual PhD projects constitute independent doctoral projects in their own right, nine of these can (in terms of content) be grouped in three clusters:
” The three PhD candidates working on this research cluster will develop new theoretical concepts and new heuristic approaches to examine how tacit knowledge is understood in architectural practice and how it can be made explicit and communicated. They will investigate how value-systems that are inherent to specific cultural contexts (for instance concerning the public role of the architect) affect the perception and reception of tacit knowledge in architecture, and examine how self-reflexivity can sharpen the understanding of the functioning of tacit knowledge.”
The 3 year programme is jam packed with conferences, symposia and meetings and actively encourages and support mobility across the network, including a practical secondment as well as secondment to cultural institute in the network.
It has been a long journey to reach this point, and I am grateful to the individuals and institutes who supported me in this difficult transition period as well as those (who have been personally acknowledged these last months) who played such an important role in shaping my research and practice through the opportunities offered. Thank you.
Jigna had been running a design module each year in Mandvi Ni Pol within the old city of Ahmedabad and allowed me to bring my own take ‘Designing with People’.
The opportunity allowed me to structure a module that was critical, reflective, speculative and grounded in both participatory research as well as design methods.
I worked closely with Harshil Parekh, the studio assistant, and we designed the course (with the Mandvi Ni Pol leadership) to be as supportive and mutually beneficial as possible. The limits of such work was crucial to recognize and was done early on in the process. (see below)
The course actively challenged the idea of participatory work as ‘consensus building’ and sought to build a platform for dialogue of dreaming and discussion with residents. The program equipped students with deep exposure to field work, critical self-reflection techniques and discussions on demographic positionality in such work.
We used action learning, visual thinking and UserX methods of working between ourselves and the resident User Groups we engaged with.
We co-designed a series of Studio Tools and used them across the semester. This was critical in building a way of working while bridging the difficult gap of participatory research into participatory design(see below).
The students responded amazingly and put together a comprehensive and challenging body of work that was well received by critics and the residents.
A full Gujarati ‘hand over’ booklet titled Dreaming with Mandvi Ni Pol was put together and given to the leadership in our final engagement with the Pol. The students additionally met with their individual usergroups and underwent a smaller level ‘handover’
Dr Jigna Desai is still working in the Pol and continues this work (see the orange thread) within her larger offering to the old City of Ahmedabad.
Unit 14 at the Graduate School of Architecture is headed up by Thiresh Govender of Urban Works. I have worked with Thiresh on this over a two year period of trials and tribulations and am proud to say that 2017 produced something highly innovative and unique to how we practice urban and architecture research in Johannesburg.
The Unit set out to uncover the Rogue Economies of Johannesburg and worked with a dedicated and hard working group of students in search these rogue forces that shape our City. We were joined by Sarah De Villiers of Counter Space and Valentina Mamente and spent a difficult but ulmitately rewarding year developing a highly attuned and unique style of inquiry and representation with the students.
A post shared by GSA Unit 14 (@gsa_unit14) on Sep 18, 2017 at 11:11am PDT
The unit drew much inspiration from many local and international researchers such as the work of Eyel Weitzman’s Forensic Architecture and produced a body of work that can be seen here:
The project took form between 2016 – 2018 as a collaboratively built installation in Johannesburg’s inner-city neighborhood of Braamfontein, where stories and city-data were unpacked through a series of workshops, discussions, and exhibitions. The installation aimed to bring together different city inhabitants and make this confluence of data and stories more accessible to those who use, manage and make the city.
The installation sought to draw in a diverse group of voices to engage with the narratives of spatial justice at play in Johannesburg. The installation space was developed by the Back Story Collective and offered as a platform to selected (typically students, local actors and activists) researchers who were working on topics of spatial injustice.
Through my fellowship as a Mandela Washington Fellow, I was able to secure a practicum appointment with the South African Cities Network. The Network is a non-profit entity that:
The South African Cities Network (SACN) is an established network of South African cities and partners that encourages the exchange of information, experience and best practices on urban development and city management. Since 2002 the SACN’s objectives are to:
Promote good governance and management in South African cities
Analyse strategic challenges facing South African cities
Collect, collate, analyse, assess, disseminate and apply the experience of large city government in a South African context
Encourage shared learning partnerships among spheres of government in order to enhance good governance of South African cities.
I worked as a ‘tactical intern’ where I provided socio-spatial visual support to a current programme under the network’s portfolio.
The culmination of this practicum took place while I supported the development, initiation and execution of a brief put together by SACN. The brief was to develop a methodology that would summarise the conference proceedings from the 2017 Urban Conference in Durban.
The request was to summarise the proceedings in such a way that they could be played back the next day through a video format that told a visual narrative of a possible future for South African cities. While this may seem simple, the typical process to make a video, let alone visually summarise a live conference can take anything from a week to a few months. In order to complete this mammoth task the SACN secured the services of Marius Oosthuzien, a registered futurist, who supported in the development of a pre-fabricated story structure that follow the day-in-a-life of a young city dweller.
The idea behind the methodology being that a team of artists/visualisers would work through out the conference day to develop a series of visual imagery that would be created from the conference discussion and be used to fill in the dreaming of t his city dweller as she moved through her day.
This summary would then be converted into a short video story and narrated in the evening and made ready for presentation and discussion the next day.
The local artists made up of Durban’s Beset and Nikhil Tricam alongside Nindya Bucktowar performed amazingly with Marius Oosthuizen guiding the summary from the conference.
The video was completed under great stress, but on time and can be seen on Youtube here:
FOLIO is a critical, creative and contemporary Journal of African Architetcure and a product of GSA Imprints, an initiative launched by the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA) at the University of Johanesburg.
Volume 1: PUPAE was launched in 2017 and comprises a collection of critical writing peices, photo essays and design research outputs.
Myself and Sumayya Valley of Counterspace put together a short writing peice that was supplemented by a series of drawings created by Sumayya from a previous project we had completed in inner-city Johannesburg.
One of the most important outputs for the engagement with the Denver leadership was the Spatial Layout for the Community Action Plan (CAP). The layout was co-developed with residents, leadership and driven by the data and social capital built during the studioATdenver programmes and additional work conducted by AT.
The layout responded to key issues of emergency vehicle access, shared space, social cohesion patterns and green space allocation identified during the studios and larger forum discussions.
The spatial layout, alongside a series of support materials was packaged into an accessible and shareable format. AT conceptualized this in the form of a Hand Book that could be easily distributed and used format as a ‘Toolbox’.
A day-planner format was conceptualsied as a possible structure for this handbook, as many local leaders already used this type of booklet in their work. The idea behind the small format, would allow for the books to be used together to forma a larger layout (A1 size) if brought together.