Wits City Institute Seminar

Searching the city: sound, art, performance

Wits City Institute Andrew W. Mellon Doctoral Fellow Barend BJ Engelbrecht, with Master’s Fellows Refiloe Namise and Michael Cheesman presented papers based on practical and theoretical components of their theses, at the third semester WCI Tea.

22 August 2018 / Room 322 / Wits School of Arts / University of the Witwatersrand

Words: Nocebo Bucibo

Image: Refiloe Namise Still Taken from ‘Untitled’ 2018 with Hlanganani Ntombela


Matshepo Matoba-Thibudi, Vaal University of Technology

Myer Taub, Wits School of Arts

Christo Doherty, Wits School of Arts

Wits City Institute fellows, guests, affiliates and friends descended on the Wits School of Arts (WSOA) on 22 August 2018, to attend the third WCI Tea of the year, with many of our visitors commenting that this was the first time they had been WSOA. The Wits City Institute once again offered fellows and guests and opportunity to explore other Wits University faculties and buildings.


Three respondents were invited to participate in the proceedings and to respond to each of the three WCI Mellon Fellows who presented their work in progress. Matshepo Matoba-Thibudi, a lecturer in Fine Art lecturer at the Vaal University of Technology responded to Refiloe Namise, theatre practitioner and performance artist Dr Myer Taub from the Wits School of Arts, responded to Michael Chessman, and Christo Doherty, professor of Digital Arts at Wits School of Arts responded to Barend BJ Engelbrecht.

Each respondent made valuable contributions to the student’s presentation. Advice was given to each fellow on how to improve on their research. The respondents commended them on the work done so far. Engagement, comments and questions  from members of the audience gave feedback to enable the fellows to think critically about their research going forward.

Refiloe Namise Segopotso sa Gomora, A Re-membering of Moments in Alexandra through Sites of Narratives, Collections and Performance.

What we need to complicate is how we refigure our archive . Here, it is important to think of how we relocate and foreground knowledge systems, such as for example, Segopotso. We need to preserve our knowledge systems, on our own terms. It is vital to remember that the process of foregrounding and relocating might be long and time-consuming. This process is a combination of bringing forth the narratives of black people in a way that we understand, and ensuring that this relocating of systems places the archive of black people in secure places in the world. These places allow for the sharing of systems, therefore contributing to various methods of teaching, learning, coming together and understanding where our narratives come from. This process is worth our time, because we, and our future generations will bear the fruits of our seeds.

The concern should be about the nurturing of spaces in which we gather and share. It is important to understand and write our lived experiences. It is important to work in a way that is urgent, and allow ourselves to think, speak, write, now rather than later.

Michaell Cheesman Out of the Archive: Searching Site in the City. I am working through a box of stuff (set of records) that could be called a ‘family archive’. My family has lived in Johannesburg since 1912, initially living in Modderfontein and Edenvale. The archive largely documents my family’s existence in South Africa and Johannesburg. For this project the archive exists as a starting point in investigating moments the city becomes visible in the archive and the collective memory that exists around this set of records. How can the stories that exist as memories be re-oriented and critically examined to look at the situatedness of a white family that has lived in Johannesburg for just over a hundred years? How do sites in the archive speak back to the current landscape of Johannesburg? How can the notion of archival site be explored in the city? How can these explorations be realised in a creative practice? What is the result of fumbling explorations that probe through the archive? How can the archive be read differently?

Barend BJ Engelbrecht Sound Art, Space and Johannesburg

There is a sphere of awareness that is fringed by pointing reference. It is an omnidirectional stream that exists in the background – a sphere of muted vision. The ‘outthereness’ of the urban soundscape is always within ears’ reach, it hums, it whispers, it rumbles beneath our feet.

Johannesburg is a reverberant amphitheatre that lay, fairly haphazardly, on an east-west axis made of countless cement-plastered cubes, enveloped by tar. How we hear it is shaped and formed by hills, mine dumps, skyscrapers, walls and trees and what we hear is site-specific and publicly shared.

The ephemeral cadences of everyday life pulsate in the near distance. There is a mid-morning crescendo and it becomes gradually louder to the point that I can’t hear myself think. In search of silence I close the window, isolate myself, mask, think louder and eventually move.

In response to recent spatial paradigms of Johannesburg, I propose that sound art opens a special window of audibility onto the spatial composition and orchestration of Johannesburg.