A 13km walk across the city of Johannesburg in a cardboard car. In downtown Johannesburg the walking car subverted the idea of the car as a protective casing in areas not considered safe for walking, while in the suburbs it became a commentary on disappearing sidewalks and the lack of walking infrastructure, stimulating debate regarding cultures of walking and non-walking.
In February 2013 we were invited by the Goethe-Institut of South Africa to conduct a research residency exploring the notion of security in Johannesburg. We concentrated on Johannesburg’s affluent northern suburbs. What infrastructures, architectures and patterns of usage have emerged or disappeared, as a consequence of increased anxiety or changing attitudes towards physical safety and criminal activity? This led to an interest in the shifting boundaries, appropriation and transformation of public space and an emphasis on the car as a primary means of transport. We were particular interested in the way public pedestrian sidewalks are gradually being replaced by landscaped garden extensions and driveway walls.
Towards the end of our stay we conducted a series of interventions. These included ‘white wo/man walking’, a 13km walk across the city in a cardboard car, ‘cat-walk’, a puppetry project using residential walls as the stage for a promenade performance, and ‘A good Friday walk’, culminating in a picnic on the lawnment and a barefoot walk along the road-reserve.
‘White wo/man walking’
The walking car playfully subverted the idea of the car as a protective casing in areas not considered safe for walking, while in the suburbs it became a commentary on the lack of walking infrastructure, aiming to stimulate debate regarding cultures of walking and non-walking.
At the start of our journey we walked through the downtown area of Bertrams. A crowd of curious children soon started to jump inside the car and walk with us, pedestrians would smile and wave and drivers would honk their horns. The car became a tool for social interaction, rather than a way of avoiding it.
Six young people decided to walk with us for the entire two and a half hour journey, changing the way the project would be interpreted by those we encountered and allowing us to share our observations and thoughts as we walked. As most of our companions had never been to the more affluent northern suburbs, the journey became a form of sightseeing that bridged very different communities.
The walking car was constructed similar to a litter, a form of transport without wheels historically used by servants and slaves to carry their masters, with two long poles on either side of the structure supporting the weight of the car.
Walkers: Susanne, Kaspar, Leonie, Siyenda, Bryan, Fabio, Minenhle, Thapelo, Ryan, Promise, Thato, Taris, Philile, Tsepho and many others.
"The case of Johannesburg’s pavements is particularly interesting when we compare the city center and the suburbs. In both the city center and the suburbs the pavements have been taken over by the/a public – In one instance the pavement has been taken over by informal traders and in the other by local residents. In the city center this process transforms the pavement into a place for social interaction, in the suburbs it removes the possibility of this taking place. When a resident plants over a sidewalk the space ‘feels’ private and out-of-bounds. If the shrubs are large or spiky enough it becomes physically out-of-bounds too. It is still a space that has been allocated as public space, but it now functions in a different way. The (or rather a) ‘public’ has reclaimed control over public space from the state, but excluded another public in doing so.
I say all of this from my own subjective perspective that has been shaped by certain cultural conditions. We are aware that the very notion of pavements to regulate safety and provide space for pedestrians is a concept that was brought to South Africa with colonialism, and now once again with our own European perspective. We are told that in Soweto there is rarely any need for a pavement."
Extract from an interview held with Miriam Daepp of the Goethe-Institut South Africa. The full transcript can be found here: http://www.treacletheatre.co.uk/portfolio/?p=3340