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Cities Represented: Arts and Culture

Research in this sub-theme explores cultural and artistic mappings of the social and political power geographies and complexes that dominate cities. A main research question is how urban culture can be voiced, claimed, negotiated and contested, especially in the context of capital cities as sites where there is a conflation of global and local influences. Mendieta (2001:15, 23) argues that cities have become the ‘vortex of the convergence of the processes of globalization and localization… [and] epitomes of globalization, to use Robertson’s language (1994)’; and that the ‘city is the site at which the forces of the local and the global meet: the site where the forces of transnational finance capital and the local labour markets and national infrastructures enter into conflict and contestation over the city.’ 
Pretoria (and more recently Pretoria/Tshwane) as a city, has experienced a turbulent history over the past two centuries and those in power continue to monumentalise their visions of the past and an envisioned future. Representations of this monumentalisation in Tshwane include Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument, while Church Square and the Union Buildings represent legal and administrative seats of power. Here, as in many other cities and countries, marginalised groups contest such spaces and construct alternative meanings around them. As Joe Austin (2010:33) argues, since the early twentieth-century turn towards the everyday, there has been an adjustment of the analytic lens to centre on the mundane experiences within urban walls and streets, including aesthetic experiences and cultural artefacts. Research has since dealt extensively with this local urban place-scale in response to the human-scaled city experience.
Urban studies and the arts have shown a dynamic interrelationship since the nineteenth-century ‘Haussmannisation’ of Paris, and the subsequent writings of Walter Benjamin, for instance, who identified productive relationships between the artist as public figure, the artwork as public object and the urban or street culture of the time. Notions of the urban stroller or the flâneur have become extraordinarily significant since Baudelaire’s nineteenth-century male stroller in the city, an image that is accompanied by a dedicated and embodied take on the city that reflects the philosophical urban musings of, for instance, De Certeau, Lefebvre, Zukin, Tuan, Mirzoeff and many others. In art, music and theatre, interventions are set up in the urban space, which are interrogated in this theme in terms of the level at which these interventions take place; the sets of relationships involved; the sustainability of the intervention; and the meaning produced through such intervention. Staff and students involved in such projects will draw on a number of modes of academic and artistic research and production, broadly understood under the rubric of practice-led research. 
Other research questions that may emanate from the research around the importance of place is how people construct their identities psycho-geographically and how this is evident in cultural and art production; the continuities and discontinuities between apartheid and post-apartheid culture; and the  ‘phenomenology of intermedial production in the urban context driven by technological, political and economic developments, and as reconfiguring three former separated cultural domains – established in the nineteenth century – of the arts, politics and science, especially philosophy’ (Oosterling 2003:30). 

Sources quoted

Austin, J 2010. More to see than a canvas in a white cube: For an art in the streets. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 14:1–2, 33–4.

Mendieta, E 2001. Invisible cities: a phenomenology of globalization from below. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 5(1):7–26.

Oosterling, H 2003. Sens(a)ble intermediality and interesse: towards an ontology of the in-between. Intermédialités: histoire et théorie des arts, des lettres et des techniques / Intermediality: History and Theory of the Arts, Literature and Technologies 1:29–46. 

Principal researchers

Prof Jeanne van Eeden, Department of Visual Arts, Faculty of Humanities, UP
Dr Fraser McNeill, Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities, UP
Dr Myer Taub, Department of Drama, Faculty of Humanities, UP
Prof Gert Prinsloo, Department of Ancient Languages, Faculty of Humanities, UP
Ms Karina Sevenhuysen, Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, Faculty of Humanities, UP
Dr Linda Blokland, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, UP
Ms Marna Dreckmeier-Meiring, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, UP 

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