It sometimes takes a foreigner to make you see the familiar with new eyes. In Joburg, often, as much as we like to think that we’re engaged in this city, and all it’s myriad aspects and peoples, we’re often actually not at all; rather living in bubbles of routine and habit. We pass by extraordinary things, every day, whilst rushing to wherever it is we need to rush to. On street corners, parks, pavements and roads, life happens. And mostly we’re too busy rushing by to notice.

The Play>Urban residency exchange brings together French and South African artists and challenges them to reinterpret the city, Johannesburg, through creative practice, performance, randomness, collective action, collaboration; play.

Play: 1 [ intrans. ] engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose ; • amuse oneself by engaging in imaginative pretense

The closing exhibition for the 2012 Play>Urban at the VANSA King Kong building was both a testament to the above definition, and a refutation thereof. Each project had indeed ‘engaged’ with the city, and in ways that made you conscious of your own disengagement with so much that goes on all around, all the time. Each project most definitely had ‘enjoyment’ and ‘imaginative’ intentions at the core of it, from picnic and game interventions to impromptu street corner jazz recitals and public photo booths.

But the crux, really, of this exchange, is the ‘rather than a serious or practical purpose’ part, as it’s ironically through play, oh trivial, irreverent play, that remarkable insights can be made and new and unexpected experienced had.

A city is a shifty thing, Joburg especially. It’s impossible to pin it down, make it predictable and spit out desired results. In fact, I think that it is only really through a kind of play that you can really infiltrate the many layers upon layers of meaning and experience that comprise this city.

The projects that made up Play>Urban this year, did just that: in their own simple way, they each revealed a layer of the city that, to me at least, hadn’t been necessarily apparent before. Mapping the city through sound, claiming the rugged koppies between suburbs as public spaces to explore.

Joburg: the metropolis of Africa, the sprawling land-locked capital where people come to try and make it. It’s tough, it’s hard, it’s most times severely lacking in play.


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