Made you look at how lovers gravitate towards public spaces where they can be out of sight to the extent that this is possible. How to be private in public. O let not our intimacy attract too much attention.
Fascinating project that ranges from the architectural to the anthropological via the politics of space in vernacular culture. From the remote colonial ethnography of “Married Life in an African Tribe” to the most sophisticated use of the cultural studies paradigm: a study of letter writing amongst migrant workers on the Witwatersrand before World War II that tries to answer the question “Was there a private sphere among the southern African rural poor before Apartheid?”
“At the outset, then, we can observe a fairly straightforward confrontation between marriage shaped by the concerns of kinship and the public negotiations of the extended family, and courtship organized by individual desire and the private love-letter. ‘How,’ to restate Justice Nhlapo’s question, ‘do you command your daughter to marry a man of your choice when a missionary education has exposed her to reading and writing, and courtship by letter- not to mention financial independence through wage labour?”
“our love is not for the whole wide world, it is ours together only” sing Robbie Malinga and Kelly Sobabili in one of the many songs comprising the sound track to this innovative installation. “Our love belongs to the 2 of us alone” they repeat underscoring what we might call nuclear love, the kind that results in nuclear families.
Nuclear families. Unclear families. the individual vs. the community…romantic love atomizes?
Logistics…the messiness of intimacy and desire given precise space and location, delineated with the punctiliousness of annotated architectural drawings whose clients are lovers, …generating a tension that visually at least leans toward the diagrammatic, a fastidious cartography of corners that function as enabling public spaces. These are pinned down like so many rare specimens, plotted like bloodless novels.
How much light and what is its source? Is there noise from road traffic? When and for how long? Is this place safe? Can it shelter couples from hostile weather? Might they cuddle or just converse?
The ‘beautiful gate’ with its exorbitant spirals, diamond and heart shapes hints at romance; it resists the cartographic gaze, promising more than just spatial information. Perhaps it represents the gateway to tenderness.
Corner loving claims to be a sustained meditation on ‘black love’…but isn’t ‘working-class’ or poor’ love more accurate? Especially in a majority black country? Are there not many blacks in South Africa today with mansions and stoosh apartments at their disposal? Where space isn’t a luxury, let alone loving space? Aren’t we talking about vernacular love as opposed to ‘black love’? #blacklovematters, of course it does, but are all blacks the same?
It seems necessary to draw attention to the distinction between ‘black’ as a descriptor of race and ‘black’ as a reference to social status, convening those at the bottom of society into one group regardless of their colour, ethnicity or creed. What these groups have in common is their poverty, their lack of resources and capital, both social and financial.
When people say #Blacklivesmatter in a context where blacks are in the minority, or living under Apartheid despite their numbers, it’s one thing. But how does the concept travel and fit in a self-ruled black majority country? In a country like Jamaica it would have to be translated to #poorlivesmatter or #workingclasslivesmatter or words along those lines because in many ways the oppressors the sentiment or statement is addressed to are also black. It would be like mobilizing an #Indianlivesmatter campaign in India under an Indian government. Not inconceivable but unlikely and ultimately unproductive. I wonder if the same might apply to the urbanity under re/view in Corner Loving being cast as ‘black love’.
The fantasy space of popular culture displayed in the music video to the song by Robbie Malinga and Kelly Sobabili is not unlike the song and dance in Bollywood films with the loving couple transported to scenes of iconic beauty and romance around the world where they cavort with abandon, dancing, singing and chasing each other around trees. Of course in the South African version the couple do no such thing and its the backdrop that switches from one romantic setting to another but both conjure up a lover’s world of wonders available to few of their fans.
Corner Loving’s microscopic examination of the little niches of the cold uncaring city colonized for purposes of fleeting love and intimacy quietly foregrounds the politics and practice of privacy in large urban settings. How do loving bodies, poor bodies that love, poor dark bodies that need to love, negotiate space for themselves in cities designed for rich white bodies? How to nurture their love and give it space to grow…? How to make the most of fugitive tenderness while it lasts, before the pedestrian intervenes both literally and figuratively…
Corner Loving highlights the attenuated space in contemporary cities for vernacular love, it evokes this by presenting ephemera such as the fragment of a letter (early 20th century) from a migrant worker to his wife or the 1987 application to the politburo for marriage by two ANC members as the logical culmination of their all-consuming love. “And we want to marry simply because we are madly in love with each other.”
How do we take the measure of tenderness in the city? Corner Loving makes a good start of plumbing it using a variety of media, in the process charting the predicament of conscripts of Western-style love in habitats hostile to their desires and aspirations.
MADEYOULOOK.zip: Corner Loving
The challenge proposed by […] to formulate a peer review that is both critical and open, formal, yet ‘loose’ is one that challenges what it means to review a work of art, practice, writing, or making. This open-ended format, with a stretch-able framework makes for a rather daunting yet simultaneously interesting and intriguing task, the main directive of which is to respond to the selected work as it is presented on the web platform of […], to read it as the work in itself, and not documentation of another process. What follows is my attempt to review and respond to a set of ideas, practices, and provocations on two levels: the first being that of city spaces and how conducive they are to love, and loving, and the second being that of how digital formats of representation either work for, with or against the content they house and represent.
An Exhibition in a Folder
Corner Loving presents itself as a .zip file that requires some time for looking. Double click the link, wait for the .zip to download, locate the file in your documents, double click to open. The .zip, once expanded, reveals a diverse set of innards: .txt, .docx, .pdf, .jpeg, .mp3, and .mp4. This type of collation of documents could be read as a refusal to make readily available the content of one’s submission as an easily accessible document, and while it may be an interesting challenge to the viewer of the work, to navigate the .zip by themselves, there are limitations to how well this works. Once expanded, the .zip reveals a folder of jpegs of the exhibition during its (physical) installation at Goethe on Main in 2014, a folder with a wide range of South African .mp3 love songs, and a recording of Thembinkosi Goniwe’s lecture presented during the exhibition. The visual material is supported by “README.txt,” a text file which provides the viewer with an overview of MADEYOULOOK’s practice, and a .docx reading list titled “Also Look at.docx”, all this reflective of MADEYOULOOK’s distinctive wit. They are, simply put, making me, or us, look. What is on offer is an exhibition in a folder: an interdisciplinary exhibition that operates as a conglomeration of critical theory, art history, urban planning and ethnographic study topped off with a deejay set on love.
The presentation of Corner Loving as a multidimensional research project, made up of folders and various document file-types, speaks volumes about the city it reflects on. Johannesburg is a city of clashes and contradictions, parallel and multiple narratives, raging hormones and fast fixes. Johannesburg is not a romantic city. It is charming, without a doubt, in a crude, jolting, exhilarating, love/hate kind of way. Johannesburg is a city largely predicated on security, concealment, protection and surveillance. Johannesburg is made up of enclosures, concealed alleyways, spaces that are open but guarded, spaces that require an understanding of social contracts and a need to adapt. Every element of the .zip file requires that I make connections, that I close one to reveal another, it makes me look, it makes me curious, it makes me giggle, it makes me scoff, it makes me shrug and skim over, zoom in and zoom out. It confuses me, and it intrigues me. I download the playlist to my iTunes and listen to the lecture while cooking dinner (the best time to listen to recordings of lectures, I think). I thus offer up in response a series of observations, questions, provocations, contradictions and limitations, in my attempt to negotiate some complex and at moments, curious elements of Corner Loving.
A fantastic mix tape of love songs: some old, some new, some popular, some less mainstream. What is on offer is a delicious selection of South African love songs. From Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to Mafikizolo and Malaika, you can’t help but hum and dance along. Some of the songs, those not in English, are partly lost on me. Or rather, I might say, they are wasted on me, as I am only versed in English, and to an extent, Afrikaans.
The physical gallery meets the virtual gallery. .jpeg’s 01-14 are a kind of social and spatial survey: ethnographic style research and observation meets technically precise and yet fragile drawings of the spaces under scrutiny. The fragility of the line drawings, the handwritten comments and observations and the inclusion of context maps provides in depth analyses of each location. The lines in the drawings are so delicate that I feel they might disappear. .jpeg’s are not the most reliable, they do not retain their resolution after they are squeezed through networks, they lose their quality, they become unstable.
/ There is also a level of self-awareness about the darker side of corner loving, the moment when loving is not loving and becomes stalking. Because the spaces that are mapped out can be simultaneously used with good or bad intention. But then that can be said of many other spaces in the city.
Q: How might this fragility of images in the digital age be overcome, since the work presents itself as having a relation to technology. For example, the way that I experience it will be different to the way a PC user might experience it. The transition between folders might be very different. Also, some people might find it incredibly frustrating to have to search through the folders for some kind of coherence.
A music video by Robbie Malinga feat Kelly Sobabili, set against a green-screened backdrop of Parisian architecture, romantic sunsets and fireworks displays.
Q: What does this have to do with loving on a street corner in Joburg? Is it aspirational? I imagine the scenario of one young lover saying to another: “one day my love: we will be loving each other with the Eiffel Tower in the background, one day we will be away from this cold concrete bench…”
Thembinkosi’s lecture Thoughts on (Corner) Love and Creative Arts offers up a stimulating and critical response to the topic of love and revolution in Johannesburg. In particular the idea of a kind of radical form of self-love, and loving blackness, which he draws from Bell Hooks is a pivotal point of reflection in a city like Johannesburg, which is predicated on so many forms of insecurity, shame, hiding and concealment.
.pdf’s are more reliable than .jpegs, in that after being squeezed through networks they manage to retain their quality, like vectors. This particular .pdf tells a very simple story, of the damned resilience of love in hard times. Love not only survives the hardship of the migrant life, it triumphs. But Isaac Schapera refers specifically to “married life,” a kind of institutional life of love, so deep that it’s in your blood and bones.
A tale of two half-cities
I would like to shift, for a moment, away from a direct response to the folders and file names, and turn to a chapter in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, that reflects, for me, what Corner Loving does, to an extent. In the chapter Thin Cities, Calvino narrates the story of Sophronia, a city made up of two-half cities. One half of the city is made up of carousels, roller coasters, bumper cars, a Ferris wheel and other thrill rides. The image conjured up by this description is that of teenage romance, handholding on the ferris wheel, candyfloss and sweet teenage awkwardness. “The other half-city is of stone and marble and cement,” suggests Calvino, containing the banks, hospitals, refineries, factories and all the other components of urban life and industry (one might add misery too) (Calvino 63). One half, Calvino suggests, cannot exist without the other. Yet once a year, there is a change-over, a rotation, “one of the half-cities is permanent, the other is temporary” he writes, “and when the period of its sojourn is over, they uproot it, dismantle it and take it off, transplanting it to the vacant lots of another half city” (Calvino 63). Following popular culture and the stuff of movies, we might immediately assume that the impermanent half-city would be the fairground. And yet it turns out that it is industry, the concrete, weighty, formalized systems that are actually the least fixed, the least concrete and the least permanent.
What I see in Corner Loving speaks about this relationship of two half-cities that make up Johannesburg, one that is brutally concrete and cold, and the other half that is the stuff of dreams, love and fantasy. Corner Loving speaks of the will to love, to make the urban, concrete cold spaces more malleable and warm, even soft and tender. It speaks about the constancy of love, and the paradoxically ephemeral or unfixed nature of industry and infrastructure. Corner Loving speaks to Johannesburg’s obsession with concealment, security and shame. It shows how urban planning either is or is not conducive to socializing, to romancing a crush or prospective mate. It says a lot about the people who design spaces, and it says more about the resilience and adaptability of human beings in the pursuit of love, who will stop at nothing to find loopholes, excuses, corners, and passages (literal ones too) to make love happen despite parental restrictions, work commitments, geographical limitations, architectural barriers and poor urban design.
Corner Loving’s survey of spaces speaks of the paradox of exposed concealment, that lovers choose spaces that are at once open and visible, yet secure and protected, conveniently concealing and yet simultaneously visible and secure, like a .zip folder that one might choose to open or leave zipped up.
Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. Print.
Peer Review: Corner Loving by MadeYouLook
Despite engaging with the “The Corner Loving Project” material repeatedly, there is so little contextualizing information provided that it becomes quite impossible to tell whether any intervention/critique I might provide would be directed at the work itself or the mechanism(s) by which it is being provided for review. Is this ZIP provided by the ‘artist,’ the collective called “MADEYOULOOK,” a complete entity to be reviewed? Has it been re-assembled, abridged, or augmented in some ways for the purposes of review? Despite the disclaimer that, “The review must take the work as it exists online as the work to be reviewed (the work online is not documentation of prior work – but constitutes a work in itself),” as articulated in the original request from the journal, I don’t feel that in good faith I can offer an opinion of any one entity of the ZIP – much less as a constitutive whole – precisely because it is impossible to know what I am commenting on.
What I mean by this, specifically with regards to the material I was provided, is quite simply: What connects these various elements? Is the ZIP ‘a work?’ It is not enough to say, as the READ ME file does, that, “This assemblage is not determinable by singular narratives, disciplines or languages. This assemblage also exists in physicality, online and in the imagination. This ZIP is a miscellanea, of relevant and disconnected information.” If this is the only piece of contextualizing information through which to enter into and gauge the epistemology this work seeks to create, then it is disingenuous; I would critique the work for this, but how to be sure. If this were the case, and I knew it to be so, because I could look at this ZIP as the complete ‘life-world’ of the work, then I would have a line of critique/review to pursue. As such, I caution myself against a critique of what I believe to be the work itself, when this notion of itself might never have been put forward as part of its practice in the first place.
Indeed, at moments I am struck by some of the drawings under the file “Exhibition,” what I initially believed to be the ‘work’ to be reviewed. The idea that urban infrastructures can be mapped for the ways in which the emotive and psychological impulses for love and romance pulse through these formations, especially in a post-apartheid context which looks to a past where state architectures were erected precisely to thwart such intimacies, is an important intervention into the current geography of what love, intimacy, sex, etc. mean in a contemporary South Africa. Part architectural blue-print, part psycho-emotive cartography, part ‘ethnography of/from the corner,’ a love of/in the street, these sketches plot the coordinates of a romantic landscape hidden in plain sight across the urban spaces of Johannesburg and South Africa more broadly. Imagining and imaging urban ecosystems of romantic connectivity, this represents an important artistic intervention into the field of intimacy politics and discourses on love today. That said, as a whole project, I fail to see how a collection of “Love Songs” relates to this exhibition, other than simply thematically. Moreover, what does the speech by Thembinkosi Goniwe have to do with these? Is he part of the “Corner Loving Project”? It would seem so based on the fact that his name appears under a similar title in one of the “Exhibition” images. If this is a simple and straightforward connection and it is thus revealed, then the project of “miscellanea” is undone. If it is not the case, then it feels like a facile misdirection away from authorial responsibility. Again, if these were the intentions of the submitter of this “work,” then I find it lazy. I say this knowing full well the economies and fallacies of ‘author intention’ as much as those of ‘reader implication.’ I want to read this submission as framing certain urban ecosystems, attending to those street corners that create syncopation and flow, and listening to the punctuation of energies moving through the thoroughfares of the city. I want to think that this work goes someway towards thinking about how urban spaces might be imagined, represented, even curated, in terms of a relational aesthetics, plumbing the potentials of connectivities of the cityscape, infrastructural intimacies, or an urban poetics of relation. But again, how to know whether this is the case?
Is this ephemera? Is the artwork now the ZIP-file-found-object-mash-up that denies all narrative structure, ontological cohesion, or artistic/creative culpability, while simultaneously forcing the reader/viewer into a semiotic economy where all signs have preemptively denied any significational value? If indeed this is the mode that this collection of ‘data’ (failing to know how to label the constitutive sum of this electronic folder’s parts), then I might begin a critique by stating quite unequivocally that simple gestures towards Poststructuralism such as, “The Corner Loving Project and the work of MADEYOULOOK is prompted by a diversity and accumulation of history, years of exposure to popular culture, politics, knowledges and home, formal education, family, learning and unlearning,” are just that: (empty) gestures. Again, if these are some of the motions of the ‘work’ itself, then it has preemptively detracted from it’s own potential impact. I would urgently say forego the postmodern disavowal as it creates a series of obfuscating gestures that end in an eclipse of moments of promise, moments such as the editorialized notes interspersed within the sketches and mapping of the topographies of “corner loving”. A brilliant snapshot such as,
is imminently washed out by a framing ‘logic’ that equivocates thus: “This assemblage is not determinable by singular narratives, disciplines or languages. This assemblage also exists in physicality, online and in the imagination. This ZIP is a miscellanea, of relevant and disconnected information.” I quote it again because it seems to be the source of so much of the ire in this response. I find it to be an all to common and ersatz gesture, this return to and reliance on a diluted notion of poststructuralism which ends up reading like some kind of dodge. Are we still celebrating bricolage for its own sake as the revolutionary signature of an avant-garde?