Centre of the Universe (2008)

Project: Cascoland _2008
Place: Little Cato Manor, Durban, South Africa
Work: Centre of the Universe

What is Cascoland? http://cascoland.com

Public Art is an important tool in activating and developing public space. In the kind of Public Art Cascoland promotes, inter-disciplinary artists engage themselves in communities to collaborate with audiences and members of the communities in shaping their public space through dialogue and participation. The intention is to motivate and mobilize audiences to become an active participant in the process initiated by the artists and in which the eventual artwork is not as much a physical object but a change in perception of public space with the audience.

Centre of the Universe – 2008

Formal outline / description :

The project / work Centre of the Universe is the contribution of Durban based artist Greg Streak to Cascoland 2008. It consists of three concentric octagon shapes defined through the interconnection of plastic buckets and basins and through the use of white PVC pipe and mild steel base plate connectors. The inner octagon space is constructed through the use of connecting 8 brown / grey 5 litre plastic buckets (there are in fact two buckets that are housed one inside of the other for support) and turned upside down so as to function as a chair / seat for one person. They are connected through the use of white PVC pipe located into laser profiled mild steel tube with base plates. This creates an inner void / space of around 2 metres for the purpose of performance and or any other action to take place. Off these PVC pipe connectors are further connectors that then link a series of larger green circular basins. Here one basin is turn upside down and placed onto the bottom basin so that they are joined along their rims. This creates a slightly elevated seat. Once again, off these connectors are a further set of pipe connectors which link and join the final outer octagon structure that consists of large red oval basins – also inverted and attached one on top of each other. These basins allow for two people to sit on each one. In total there is seating for 32 people.

Conceptual outline :

Tetrahedral: pertaining to or having the form of a tetrahedron; having four lateral planes in addition to a top and bottom

Amphitheatre: a place for public contests, games, performances, exhibitions etc.; an arena, stadium or auditorium

Plastic basins, bowls and buckets are an element that is very much apart of any informal trading situation in many parts of downtown South African cities. These brightly coloured receptors can be found as containers for delicate fruit installations on the street, used as containers to wash children and clothes in the rural areas and, filled with ice, the larger vessels are used to hold various forms of beverages for functions (in this way the lack of electricity and fridges are circumvented). The uses are wide and varied and often not necessarily for what they were originally designed for. Centre of the Universe makes use of these elements as an acknowledgment of their proliferation along the marginalised informal trading route that Cascoland has earmarked for various other site specific interventions. The idea of creating an octagonal amphitheatre or seating arrangement is a reference to the cultural tradition of oral story telling. In Zulu culture (and for that matter many other African tribal cultures) – there was / is a very strong tradition of story telling – typically told around a fire in the evenings. In this way tradition was passed down and maintained. Why Centre of the Universe as a title for the work? Well why not. The centre of ones universe is where one makes it. The enourmous contributions made to the little Cato Manor community have been monumental. The way in which things have been shaped and orchestrated really start to make it feel very central to the inhabitants. For them this is the centre of the universe – and why shouldn’t it be. The work is merely a vehicle or apparatus to define an arena / blank open space for any sort of communal engagement to take place. The initial idea of making the work a mobile unit that would be activated in various locations through the festival has been put to the side with the preference to now locate it permanently within the little Cato Manor community. The possibility for this to happen has been made possible through the work of Bronwyn Lace and Fiona Bell.

Notions of tetrahedral structures and the images of ancient amphitheatre structure have also informed the idea / shape / form / content of the overall design and construction of the unit.

Centre of the Universe – the proposal (2006)

Project: Furthermore – book proposal
Curators: Neville Gabie / Leo Fitzmaurice
Work: Centre of the Universe

All artists that participated in the Further up in the Air project were invited to submit proposals for a book. The proposals were to be linked in any way to the original impulse of the residency which was looking at the phenomenon of Apartment blocks disappearing from the Liverpool skyline as a result of the massively reduced population (of the one million residents during the 1970’s industrial / shipping boom – there are now only 400 000 remaining).

Centre of the Universe – the proposal

The residents in and around Sheil Park have, in the past few years, experienced a dramatic shift in the metropolitan skyline. Tower blocks, like that of Linosa Close, have been imploded as the resident to apartment ration has declined to the point where maintenance is no longer financially viable. As a result of the decline in population in Liverpool over the last 25 years or so, it has become a regular phenomenon to see Tower Blocks evanesce from the urban topography and replaced with a matrix of single floor housing projects. This proposal for an intervention within the previous Linosa Close location, looks at this transformation in an indirect way. Exact dimensions of this intervention have not been calculated; if successful, the overall concept will be re-interrogated with the former residents of Linosa Close, the organisers of Further Up in the Air and in consultation with architects and town planners.

Description :

The proposal consists initially of a basic architectural structure – more or less square in proportion with a pitched roof. This structure will have four entrance points. Each of these points of entry will consist of a rectangular covered passage (similar to that of a cloister) that leads to an entrance. These passages with receiving entrance doors will be located centrally to each of the four outer walls. The passageways will be of a standard size to accommodate people walking through [approx. 2.1metres (6’6”)]. The core physical function of this space is to provide a communal space for ex-residents to meet, socialise, read and access computer facilities. It will also serve as a documentation / archive centre for the imploded tower block, Linosa Close. It will have photographic information of Linosa Close, images of its implosion as well as the strategic statistics highlighting not only the reasons for its demise, but collated data from the implosion itself. From how long it took to demolish the internal structure in preparation for implosion, to the types of things found during this process, the amount of explosion required, the calculations of dispersement on implosion, safety requirements etc. Naturally, documentation of the various artistic interventions that took place during the Further Up in the Air art residencies will also be available in book and other forms.

The critical fulcrum within this structure is the floor itself. This will consist of a series of sheets of tempered glass with a view down into a space below the floor. This consists of a space that is equal to the dimensions of the square floor plan of the internal space above, with a depth of no more than one metre (3’). This lower space is sealed off (apart from a strategically placed trap door) and is more a space that is contemplated from above than accessed into below. This space beneath the glass floor will be layered with a network of constructed houses interlinked to form a grid matrix – like a city of single floor houses not dissimilar to that which has replaced the Linosa Close tower block. Each of these units is a micro equivalent of the construction of the large architectural space above, in which the viewer is standing. A perimeter strip of fluorescent lighting will ensure that the floor below is strategically lit and in so doing also provide some additional light to the space above. The glass floor serves as a layer between two interstitial spaces – between the physical and the spiritual, past and present, memory and reality. Standing in the main space, one is enveloped by a repository of memory; the spiritual void of the imploded tower block. The suspended glass floor provides the viewer with the sensation of floating which heightens the idea of a spiritual realm. In this space one can look down on the equivalent of the reality that has replaced it.

Drain (2002)

Project: Violence / Silence
Curator: Greg Streak / PULSE
Location: Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa (2002)
Work: drain

Entitled simply Drain, the piece is minimal. Streak sunk a drainpipe with steel collar into the middle of the cement floor of an old abandoned reservoir. With the aid of some coal dust the interior of the pipe becomes fathomless, plunging into a deep blackness of unknown depth.

The empty reservoir reads as drained of its life-giving contents. It is both a salute to the harsh environment and the farmers, who battle the elements, as well as a powerful metaphor for psychological space. Whilst to drain is to make dry, discharge and carry waste, it is also to deplete and exhaust. Here, the drain can exist in the very centre of one’s being. Streak notes that it is “a chamber – a cavity in the body of an organism” and hence, it reads as an image of a great emptying.

The disturbing power of Streak’s piece lies in its deadly quietness that succinctly combines the unsettling dialogue of the exhibition theme of Violence/Silence. – Virginia Mackenny

Streak’s Drain (2002) is an arresting and poetic response to the psychological trauma of nothingness. An emblem of emptying, removal, even purging, Streak likens its industrial, impersonal form to “a chamber in the body of an organism”, an orifice in a void whose quiet presence seems rather deadly. – Kathryn Smith

Composter (2004)