HBY Public Art

Artist: Various
Location: Various locations in Johannesburg, South Africa
Year of completion: 2007
Researcher: Vera Tollmann

Johannesburg, South Africa became run down in the late apartheid and post-apartheid eras. In an effort to rebuild, upgrade and regenerate the city, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) launched on a large public art project: About 30 artists were asked to produce public artworks in the city’s Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville districts (HBY Public Art). HYB Public Art was the first major upgrade in the area and in that sense was an experiment for the city.

To help manage the project, the JDA contracted The Trinity Session, a contemporary art production team directed by artists Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter, to coordinate a series of public invitations for the conceptualization and installation of suitable public artworks in these neighborhoods. (The Trinity Session investigates the relationships between art and business, collaborative practice and network development. Hobbs’ personal artistic interest lies in the urban environment and public art interventions, and Neustetter’s in the electronic arts and expanding virtual communities. The Trinity Session is strongly defined by its exchanges with Johannesburg.)

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Regarding site selection, The Trinity Session started with a focus on gateway routes and entered into areas needing upgrading as demarcated by the city and the JDA. Routes, links and possible sites for intervention—where the road, parks and public squares could accommodate them—added to placement decisions.

While some risks were taken with selection of artworks, The Trinity Session was very conscious of both the foreign immigrant audience that occupies many of these spaces and the tensions inherent in the urban upgrade objectives in such a set of complex neighborhoods. The majority of artists selected to develop projects were local.

Andrew Lindsay, for example, worked on a mosaic Water Fall at the same site as his waterfall mural of 1990, opposite the Windybrow Theatre in Hillbrow. Years ago, Lindsay and his studio of artisans had produced a series of mirror and blue ceramic tile water fall panels, erected onto the face of the waterfall cliff. Now, the updated, more elaborate mosaic version is at the same site. In addition, the flanking embankments of this gateway into Hillbrow were treated with a series of small-scale mosaic spiders, scorpions and dragonflies, there to catch one by surprise.

Mpho Molikeng and Brenden Gray held workshops with children in the parks to create a design for each park’s play area. These designs were then translated into Masterfibre, a soft material made from recycled car tires. Each park has a unique Masterfibre design for the children’s playground area.

The BookSculpture by Nkosana Ngobese was created to serve as a welcoming statement of the library and its friendliness to its community and surroundings.

The artworks are owned by the city, but the copyright resides with the artists. For major maintenance and repairs, the artworks are insured by City of Johannesburg and the Department of Arts Culture and Heritage. For smaller maintenance activities, city departments such as City Parks maintain some of the spaces around the art, and the Johannesburg Development Agency has been active in assisting in the maintenance.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency