Sean O’Toole visits the Wishing Wall
Two years ago, Johannesburg artists Landi Raubenheimer and Paul Cooper visited Yeoville, a tatty, bohemian suburb neighbouring on Johannesburg’s inner city. Their attention was momentarily diverted by a large, dissonant notice board that had asserted its right to exist on a bare stretch of wall facing onto Rocky Street.
“Walking alongside it one could skim over snippets from people’s daily existence,” recalls Landi, who is also a researcher at the University of Johannesburg. The various assertions, utterances and queries affixed and inscribed onto the wall included: requests for accommodation and employment, numbers for money lenders, offers for the sale of physical objects and bodily pleasures, details on religious counseling, and other more singular statements of human existence. “What we found interesting is the informality of such spaces, and the visibility of voices, each unique and each looking for something,” says Landi.
Wishing Wall, Landi and Paul’s contribution to Infecting the City, represents a distillation of this initial encounter. Installed on the corner of Adderley and Hout streets, Wishing Wall is “a large fluid physical wall space” (Paul) onto which passersby can affix their thoughts and responses. Roughly five metres in scale, Wishing Wall is a hybrid of a variety of existing and familiar forms: community noticeboards, online blogs and impromptu sites of mourning. It is also a site-specific artwork. More subversively, it could also be viewed as a manifestation of Johannesburg’s unfolding urban logic in Cape Town, a city arguably faced with a complementary, but ultimately different set of urban dynamics.
“As artists we will be mediating public interaction with the actual wall,” she adds. “We see ourselves as facilitators, guiding the development of the installation through specific activities. On any given day we may decide to limit our interaction with the public to asking them one specific question or inviting individuals or groups to engage in a singular, focused activity, and recording their responses as drawings and sketches… In a sense we are allowing the public contributions to the wall to become the raw material that we use to shape and alter the installation as it develops.”
While the project retains many attributes that are relatable to the Yeoville wall, like all artworks Wishing Wall is the product of multiple causalities and events. Paul, who heads up the critical studies programme at Greenside Design Centre in Johannesburg, explains. In 2008 the pair submitted a proposal for participation in the 2009 Joburg Art Fair. “Landi had in mind a project called Wish that derived from the wall we encountered in Yeoville,” says Paul. “We decided to develop a project in response to the crass commercialism of the art fair, which would have involved the collection and installation of stuff generated during the actual fair.” The pair’s somewhat critical proposal was rejected.
At the same time as this was happening, Paul was also researching worship and mourning sites in places as physically diverse as Jerusalem, Buckingham Palace (at the time of Lady Diana’s death) and Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch (at the time of the pop star’s passing). This and many other tangents, some research-based, others simply experiential and related to living and working in a city, informs what Paul describes as Wishing Wall’s “ritualistic focus around transformation enacted through interventional strategies”.
But how, if at all, does any of this relate to what the two artists do in their own practices?
Landi responds: “To my mind what Paul and I are doing with this project is not so different from our own daily artistic practices. When one is involved in creating any artwork one begins by gathering material and reference, which is essentially mediated into an eventual artwork. The Wishing Wall is simply a public representation of this process. It is not a new idea, just an informal and open-ended approach to the concept.”
To post your wish, or chat to Landi and Paul, go down to the corner of Adderley and Hout streets, Friday 11am – 3pm, and Saturday 11am – 1pm.
– Sean O’Toole is editor of Art South Africa magazine