Keynote Address at The Launch of Open House
Keynote Address of the Acting Head Of Department Of Cultural Affairs And Sport, Hannetjie Du Preez, at the Launch Of Open House on 2 July 2015, Long Street, Cape Town
Members of the Western Cape Cabinet, the Director-General of the Western Cape, Heads of Departments, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,
The Western Cape Government is proud to launch Open House, a new and innovative public art platform here on the corner of Long and Dorp Street this afternoon to celebrate the key achievements of:
- More than 20 years of democracy; and
- Cape Town having been World Design Capital 2014.
Open House is the winning concept submitted by the artist Jacques Coetzer, and was chosen from more than 80 submissions for a World Design Capital Competition initiated by the Western Cape Government and launched in August 2014.
I would like to predict that Open House will become a landmark here in Long Street, not only for Capetonians, but also for visitors to our beautiful city. Following the upgrading of the Western Cape Provincial Precinct, this project, firstly, serves to enhance a new public space in the city centre; secondly, it adds to the public art in Cape Town; and thirdly, it provides a space for musicians, artists and pop-up events to share ideas and innovative concepts.
You may well want to ask a few questions: Firstly, what is public art?
In her authoritative publication on the subject, Penny Balkin Bach from Philadelphia states that public art is not a specific art form: it is art in any media that has been planned and executed with the intention of being staged in the physical public domain, usually in the open air and accessible to all. Public art can be huge or small, it can tower 20 metres high or call attention to the paving beneath your feet when you walk down the street or pavement. Its shape can be abstract or realistic (or both), and it may be cast, carved, built, assembled or painted. Public art can be site-specific or stand in contrast to its surroundings. What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is presented and what it means. It can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this type of art is there for everyone – a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world—the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.
Monuments, memorials and civic statuary are perhaps the most traditional and obvious form of officially sanctioned public art, although it could be said that architectural sculpture and even architecture itself is more widespread and fulfils the definition of public art. However, most aspects of the built environment are increasingly seen as legitimate places for consideration as, or location for, public art, including street furniture and street lighting, and sculptures and graffiti. Public art is not confined to physical objects: dance, procession, street theatre and even poetry have proponents who specialise in the public nature of their art.
Sculpture intended as public art is often constructed of durable material to avoid the worst effects of the elements and vandalism. Permanent art works are increasingly being integrated with architecture and landscaping in the creation or renovation of buildings and sites, as is the case here in the new Provincial Precinct in the heart of Cape Town.
A second question that could be asked is: “Who is the ‘public’ for public art?” In recent years, public art has started to expand in scope and application — both into other wider and challenging areas of art form and also across a much broader range of what might be called “our public realm”. Such cultural interventions have often been realised in response to creatively engaging a community's sense of “place” or “well-being” in society.
In a diverse society such as ours, it cannot be expected that all art will appeal to all people, nor should it be expected to do so. Art attracts attention; that is what it is supposed to do. Is it therefore any wonder, then, that public art causes controversy as has been the case lately? Varied opinions are inevitable, and it is a healthy sign that the public environment is acknowledged rather than ignored. To some degree, every public art project is an interactive process involving artists, architects, design professionals, community residents, civic leaders, politicians, approval agencies and authorities, funding agencies or sponsors, and construction teams.
A third question can then be posed: “What is the ‘art’ of public art?” As our society and its modes of expression evolve, so will our definitions of public art. Materials and methods change to reflect our contemporary culture. Open House is not the traditional cast bronze statue that you may have expected some 100 years ago! The process, guided by professional expertise and public involvement, sought the most imaginative and productive affinity between artist and community. Likewise, artists must bring to their work their artistic integrity, creativity, and skill. What is therefore needed is a commitment to invention, boldness, and cooperation, not compromise.
A last question that can be asked about public art is: “Why is public art necessary?” Public art is a part of our public history, part of our evolving culture and our collective memory. It reflects and reveals our society and adds meaning to our cities. As artists respond to our times, they reflect their inner vision to the outside world, and they create a chronicle of our public experience. It contributes greatly to a specific sense of place.
Open House is the third public art project that the Westsern Cape Government supported since 1994: The others being the Gugulethu 7 memorial in partnership with the City of Cape Town and Nobel Square, which was developed in partnership with the V & A Waterfront Company.
I am of the opinion that the inviting bright red colour of Open House is a marker for engagement, passion and expression – something which embodies the spirit of Cape Town and the Western Cape, especially during the year that the city was the World Design Capital.
Cape Town has become a cosmopolitan destination and both visitors and residents want to have a tangible experience of that promise. This new landmark will further add to the growing public art landscape of the City which reflects all cultures, artists and commentators, as well as public contributors to our city. Cape Town and the Western Cape are home to a rich diversity of cultures and, by having created this platform, individuals, artists, groups and the community are invited to engage, participate and utilise the space in order to further emphasise our status as one of the most beautiful – and interesting – cities in the world.
Open House, as the name suggests, serves to initiate and ignite a range of participation from talks and addresses to interactions, performances and other creative expressions. For me it symbolise accessibility, in Afrikaans ‘toeganklikheid’.
During the adjudication processes of the competition, the panel had a challenging time sifting through a very competitive and comprehensive range of submissions.
The panel members who adjudicated the competition entries were chosen for their wealth of experience. Allow me to thank the judges for their participation and time donated to judge the competition:
- Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, then Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport (now Health)
- Ms Marilyn Martin, Senior Scholar, University of Cape Town Michaelis School of Fine Art; former Director of the South African National Gallery; and Director of Art Collections at Iziko Museums
- Ms Beverley Schäfer, Member of the Provincial Parliament former City of Cape Town Ward 54 Councillor for Tourism, Events and Marketing
- Ms Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, CEO: The Cape Town Partnership, key player in Cape Town’s Central City Development Strategy and Taipei World Design Capital 2016 advisory member
- Mr Zayd Minty, Manager of Arts and Culture at the City of Cape Town, former driver of Cape Town’s Design and Innovation District
- Associate Professor Jay Pather, Director: Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) and curator of Infecting the City Public Art Festival
- Professor Jo Noero, architect and former Director of the UCT School of Architecture and Planning
A special thank you has to go to the Department of Transport and Public Works for its full support and guidance, as well as the City of Cape Town for accepting the proposal of this unique landmark for the City’s landscape.
Furthermore, we acknowledge with gratitude the contribution and dedication of Andrew Kilpin Engineers and the technical team which has worked under difficult conditions to complete the structure in time.
We would also like to thank:
- Dr Laurine Platzky, Deputy Director-General in the Department of the Premier, for driving the project and convening the competition process;
- The E-Government for Citizens Unit of the Department of the Premier, for documenting and ensuring that this piece of the history of our city is shared with all; and
- Ms Ayesha Augustus for holding it all together!
A very warm thank you to Africa Melane of 567 Cape Talk for graciously being our MC for today and to the artists and performers who showcased their talent here today.
To my namesake, Max du Preez, for his interesting contribution and the religious leaders who officiated earlier in the programme.
Lastly, but not the least, thank you to you, the audience, for being part of this memorable occasion, as we welcome you all to “Open House”!