Today’s theme is born out of an exploration of the mutual and contradicting strings that we find in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. The city of gold? The dark city? The hustle city? My city? Your city? Our city. After having experienced a copious amount of time in Cape Town, catapulting from Johannesburg in search for new experiences and studies, I came a recurring connection that Joburgians have amongst one another. It is often the case that Johannesburg and Cape Town are compared, which I find holds value in some regards (for example when looking at polycentricism and topography). However, when looking at the Genius Loci of each city, the extremely different physical and notional scales of both cities warp this comparative tendency. Being from Joburg brings us together when we’re far from it- our city. Upon microscopic inspection, the “city” begins to splinter, offering interesting and various aspects of the city, invisible from afar. When you hear Joburg what do you see? Do you see a utopian lavish Sandton? Do you see a vibrant loxion culture Soweto? Do you see a Southerly Alberton? Do you see The Vaal River? Most importantly, do you question the specifics of locality when hearing the response “I am from Joburg”.I doubt it.
The beauty in the ambiguity of Johannesburg is that it holds intricate and intriguing details- locals. Joburg is made up of multiple and different micro locals, all local to the trope that is Joburg: an endless babushka, offering interestingly detailed and diverse existences with every layer uncovered. In this instance, one thinks of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities published in 1972. In the book, journalist and writer Calvino intimately describes 55 different and intriguing cities. He describes their atmospheric textures, some sanguine, some ominous. At the end of the book, one realizes that all of the 55 cities described are in fact one absolute city: Venice. Joburg takes on a similar condition, varying dramatically according to its viewer, holding strange moments, (un)familiar things… (un)collective memory formed.
Having recently watched Band A Part’s “PLS DO NOT COUNT THIS” short film on moving through Johannesburg CBD by bicycle, (a fine interpretation of context specific effective and negotiated intermodality) it is evident that a plethora of perspectives moving through Joburg city exist. We are interested in what narratives lie in these perspectives, ripe with ways of knowing and negotiating the city. A source of situated knowledge. We are interested in the ways in which people – viewers, authors, designers – occupy and move through the city. We are interested in how people create paths, draw lines through alleys and parks undesignated, designing functions unforeseen.
Today’s article acts as the first of many perspectives of the multifaceted Joburg we call ourselves local to. There will be a call for contributions this coming month for our first compilation of an MA issue.
A big thank you to the exceptionally soulful and brilliant Anna Sango for contributing her photo-journal series titled Where there is life (in between joburg), our inaugural piece. Anna Sango is an architectural designer and photographer based in Johannesburg.
More on Anna Sango:
Read/watch more: Invisible Cities, 1972 – Italo Calvino