Hotel Yeoville

Artist: Terry Kurgan
Location: The Yeoville Public Library, Johannesburg, South Africa
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Giusy Checola

Television and print media relentlessly direct the public gaze towards the violence and conflict between South Africans and the Africans—largely forced migrants of war, conflict and economic reasons—who arrived in Johannesburg from other parts of the continent.

Hotel Yeoville (March 2007 – December 2010) was a collaborative and participatory art project curated by Terry Kurgan, an artist based in Johannesburg. It was run in a new public library in Yeoville, an old, neglected suburb on the eastern edge of the Johannesburg inner city, home to 40,000 African migrants and refugees. These inhabitants are isolated and excluded from the formal economy and mainstream South African society.

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The project aims to provide an alternative way of seeing the city by revealing commonplace stories that might subvert the dominant discourse “out there” on migration. It includes a community website and an exhibition of 12 private booths in which audience members were invited to document themselves through a range of digital interfaces, interactive media and online applications.

The aim of Hotel Yeoville was to produce a social map of the invisible migrant community of Yeoville and start new conversations that reveal very ordinary everyday life narratives that speak of specific and individual people—love, loss, dreams, desire, loneliness and the idiosyncrasies of place—in such a way that they could not be separated from existing social infrastructure and contemporary everyday practices based on the notion, to quote a term innovated by South African architect Hilton Judin, of “Culture as Infrastructure.”

Hotel Yeoville was had four aspects: research, a community website, an interactive exhibition, and a book.

  • The research was conducted through site visits to understand the social and spatial infrastructure of the neighborhood. Conversation with residents and small business owners was focused on two elements: the entire suburban block of wall space covered in bits and scraps of paper with hand-written community notices advertising accommodation, employment, money transfers, missing persons and other services and products; and the unusual density of Internet cafés, mostly owned and run by foreigners, with specific national identities providing the link between people living in South Africa and the places that they have come from. People use the cafés to be with familiar others, connect with long distance places, and share news and information. Most of the cafés are owned and run by foreigners and have specific national identities providing the link between people living in South Africa and the places that they have come from. Between the advertising and communication practices the working group decided to produce a customised website as part of the project, available at the online Internet Café community of Yeoville, by envolving South African and immigrant researchers mostly resident inthe same suburb who designed a series of research tools, like questionnaires orientated towards Internet café users, owners, managers, staff and people on the street.
  • The result of this process was the design of the Hotel Yeoville website, using the kind of technology and popular social media that are already being used by an incredibly “wired” and entrepreneurial community, as a means of survival against often quite difficult odds. The website underlines the political importance of the details of personal daily life. Through an emphasis on the subjective and personal identity, and the site’s structure and navigation is divided into categories like “home,” “love,” “study,” and “work.” On the one hand the website was conceived as a strategic and useful intervention; on the other, as a cultural object that might produce itself through public participation and produce at the same time a social map of “the territory” of the project.
  • The virtual spaces of the Hotel Yeoville project’s website were transformed into a real-space and real-time exhibition experience, which was open 5 days a week in the library for a whole year, from January 2010 to December 2010. The user shaped and produced both the exhibition and the website content. The new Yeoville public library was chosen as the appropriate venue for the installation, because it’s a densely trafficked public space and it’s the best place to locate the social archive of images and stories related to the function of the library itself. Tegan Bristow designed and built a series of self-documenting located in the booths. Opper and Livneh of Notion Architects worked sensitively on the structure of the new library.

As visitors entered the exhibition space, they wrote their home country on the “So where are you from Wall.” This wall told the story of many different identities, individuals and places of origin. In the Journeys Booth section, using an adapted interactive Google maps application, they marked and mapped their journeys across Africa and beyond, often adding an image to the story. In the “LovePhoto Booth” they made photographs of themselves, alone or with loved others, which were uploaded to Flickr, physically (automatically) printed out, left behind in the space, and taken home as a gift. In the “Video Booth” they made short movies, which were uploaded to Youtube.In the “Story Booth” they wrote stories, prose or poems choosing one of 8 categories/themes available.Then, in the Business Booth sectionthey uploaded business, accommodation and other classifieds and listings for the growing directory and also participated in conversation forums.

  • The last product/object of the Hotel Yeoville project was a book, which is currently in production, and will be published by Fourthwall Books, Johannesburg in late 2012.

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

Progress Agency