Roger, thank you for the introduction.
Indeed, in the town of Sutherland, close to the South African Astronomical Observatory, there is a question what the development of a town looks like in a place of darkness and silence. A place where the conditions of the environment need to be kept optimal for scientific research. Unfortunately the communities in this environment have had a difficult legacy of oppression, removal off their land, denial of power (in various forms) and limited education due to the apartheid government and one clearly sees this history having an impact today. To deny them what is usually considered development of a built environment means careful consideration for the alternative. What is that alternative? And how do you communicate this so people take ownership of it? What does development look like in a place of darkness and silence? Firstly, Bronwyn Lace and I, as artists, had to try create a sense of pride in the darkness and silence of the land. Where the darkness is associated with crime and violence, and large high-mast flood lights have been the common solution to this in the past, this is not an easy task. 6 years later we are still making sense of this through the meeting of community and science, using the arts as a process that proposes a slow socially engaged project to create ownership and participation.
Celebrating the International Year of Light, being involved in projects and programs around it in South Africa and producing participatory light projects, I am obviously using light, its positive impact on our lives and its ability to create impactful artwork, and yet, with my above experience I want to challenge how light is used. In South Africa as in many places in Africa I have travelled to, load-shedding to deal with the ineffectual infrastructure not providing enough power, is a regular occurrence and the inaccessibility of the power creates a different insight into the use and navigation of our urban centres like Johannesburg where I stay. Power gets cut and general city light goes out. Low-tech mechanical solutions that do not require power suddenly get reapplied, interaction between people is different, alternatives are being looked for in the every-day survival… we turn to understand better those that are too poor to live with electricity in the first place to understand basic survival strategies and approaches… I do think that the lack of light has something to it. I am just trying to make sense of this and very interested in the discussion.
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