Walking Table Mountain


The first Cape Town Curatorial Residency was held in December 2015 as a joint project involving the Decoloniality Group of the University of Cape Town and the Critical Heritage Studies clusters of the University of Gothenburg. The residency brought together twelve South African- and Swedish-based scholars, creative artists, curators and practitioners, for a week of conversation, sharing, and the production of collaborative work. Breaking with traditional formats, the residency was staged as a walking seminar, and involved hiking sections of the Hoerikwaggo Trail that runs along the chain of mountains linking Cape Point to the city of Cape Town, a distance of about 70 kilometers. Nights were spent in South African National Parks-administered tented camps on top of the mountain, except for the last two nights when we stayed in a backpackers lodge in the city. Passages of walking were interspersed with impromptu lectures, workshop days, and time spent reflecting, sharing and shaping work. Participants were invited to capture observations and experiences in any format, and responded by writing notes and poems, taking photographs, collecting objects, recording sounds, drawing, cooking, and experimenting with movement.


In setting up the Cape Town Curatorial Residency in this way, we were mindful of three things. The first was the kind of forced intimacy that results from bringing together a small group of people and having them live and work together for an extended period of time, often in quite isolated locations. We were interested in the way in which the dynamics of the group would develop, in the kinds of sharing that might take place, and in the moments of breakdown and the manner in which these might or might not be resolved. This kind of immersive environment is familiar from other workshop and residency formats, and has the potential to result in deeply felt responses and interesting work. As conveners, we imagined our role to be mainly logistical and infrastructural, providing the framework for the residency, but allowing the group to develop its own dynamics. In fact, in practice, there were several moments during the week when we felt it necessary to intervene directly. This resulted in an interesting conversation between the two of us about effective styles and methods of intervention.


A second objective of the residency was to break down the division between theory and practice, and the kinds of hierarchies that structure many academic settings. Rather than focusing on theory, which becomes a kind of cult of itself in many academic settings, we focused on methodologies and ways of working. Each participant in the residency was asked to bring and share a way of working or a set of approaches that they find productive in their particular world of work. A further stipulation was that each participant should produce work for publication or exhibition on a short turn-around time, six weeks after the residency in terms of the work presented here. We wanted this work to be quick, immediate and impressionistic, and made an up-front commitment to accept work in any format (essays, photographic essays, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, performed work, film, drawing, painting, and curated work). We anticipate that other, larger scale or more formal work will follow through the course of the coming year.


A third, distinctive feature of the Cape Town Curatorial Residency was the focus on the act of walking. The Hoerokwaggo Trail begins in the curated wilderness of the Cape Point Reserve and takes you, over a series of days in which you traverse the chain of mountains that form the spine of the Cape peninsula, to the top of Table Mountain, and finally into the city of Cape Town. Along the way you encounter, in compressed form, the splendors and miseries of South African social and political history and the nature/ cultures of the Cape: the ruins of Red Hill Village, victim of apartheid forced removals, the cynically named dystopia of “Ocean View”, the ecstatically beautiful natural worlds of the top of Table Mountain, and a series of vistas in which the spatial apartheid of the contemporary city is laid bare. The trail is moderately physically demanding, and at times disorientating. Early-summer temperatures climb into the thirties, and there were days when the sun was relentless. As conveners, we were interested in what it meant to be physically present in the act of enquiry, and in the resultant palette of emotions (pain, fear, anxiety, irritation, pleasure, desire). We were also interested in the linearity and rhythm of walking, and its relationship to talking and thinking. So much scholarship involves forms of disembodied research and reportage: what happens when the body, the affect, the senses and the imagination enter the equation? We were keen to validate emotion alongside reason, drawing on discussions on “emotioning”. According to Walter Mignolo: “Emotioning implies responses to body-knowledge that reasoning processes through semiotic systems. Emotioning was banned from Western epistemology under the belief that it obstructs objectivity. In so doing, it hid from view the fact that no one is convinced by reasoning and arguments, if one is not also convinced in his or her emotioning” (pers. comm. 2016) We were also interested in exploring fantasy and imagination as sources for creative and intellectual work. There are many points of inspiration and connection for this set of approaches. For us they included the affective research methodologies of Brita Tim Knudsen and colleagues (Knudsen and Stage 2015), forms of artistic research methodologies (for example, Schwab 2015), and discussions of decolonial love, following the work of the feminist scholar Chela Sandoval. Referring to Guevara and Fanon, Sandoval speaks of love as “a ‘rupturing’ in one’s everyday world that permits crossing over to another” (Sandoval, 2000: 139). Nelson Maldonado-Torres writes that the decolonial praxis of love generates epistemologies and politics aimed at a “transmodern” world – a world “in which many worlds fit”, rather than a modern/colonial “death-world” (Maldonado-Torres, 2011: 15 and 18; Gräbner, 2014). If the effect of the binaries that structure modern Western thinking is to construct a set of divisions and distinctions, severing mind from body, head from heart, and self from other, in terms of a logic of exploitation and appropriation (a logic of deathliness, following the work of Maldonado-Torres), then an opposite and opposed principle would focus on intersubjective relations, the interconnectedness of beings and things, and the logic of love.  


A final observational note: as conveners we can report that a methodology of walking and talking works. A lot of walking took place, and so did a lot of talking. In the beginning, the talking took place in response to assigned tasks, but this quickly developed into a set of impromptu discussions and conversations between walking partners that carried through the week. Encouraged, in part, by overcoming shared physical challenges, these conversations were, on occasion, deep, intimate and profound. A second observation concerns the prevalence of dreaming. Adrift in our mountain camps, battered by the wind or lulled by the waves, many participants reported having vivid dreams. These dreams wove their way into days structured by the rhythm of walking and the thread of conversation.


Participants in the first Cape Town Curatorial Residency include: literary scholar Hedley Twidle, visual artist Meghna Singh, photographer Barry Christianson, architect and heritage professional Gcobani Sipoyo, doctoral student in literature Daniela Joffe, architect Ilze Wolff, architect Henric Benesh, historian Christine Hansen, conceptual artist Linda Shamma, anthropologist Lesley Green, and photographer Dirk-Jan Visser




Postamble, a peer reviewed journal on African Studies, published in 2017 five essays by participants of the 2015 Cape Town curatorial residency. Some of these essays were written in response to images taken during the residency and offered to the authors by photographer Barry Christianson.  Shepherd, N. & C. Ernsten (2017), ‘Reasoning, Emotioning, Dreaming. Introduction to the 2015… Read more…

The ruins of Red Hill Village

The Cape Town Curatorial Residency brought together scholars, artists, curators and activists for one week of transdisciplinary conversation, collaboration and shared work. Read more here.