Now Signal Hill gets a corporate-funded public art work

2014-11-18 16:03

Cape Town is getting another piece of public art that’s prominently sponsored by a corporation.

The debate over public art and corporate funding has erupted in Cape Town over the past week after a giant pair of sunglasses co-financed by Ray-Ban was erected on the Sea Point Promenade.

The sunglasses were vandalised in the early hours of this morning.

The new project, the PharoX, was designed by Christopher Swift, sponsored by Southern Sun and will sit atop Signal Hill.

It’s a five-storey high tetrahedorn shaped, LED lit beacon called the Sun Star, constructed from fencing that’s been reclaimed from Robben Island.

It’s not the first time Swift is using Robben Island fencing for art. The old fence was replaced in 2009. His works include a Christmas tree that the City Of Cape Town will display again this year and a range of silver and gold plated jewellery that sells at between R2 600 and R8 400.

The jewellery is created in collaboration with Charmaine Taylor who has said in an interview with the Mail & Guardian that her “work is historic and should be preserved and passed on from one generation to the next,” and that it turns “something negative into something positive”.

In a statement on Kate Gibbs’ Studio site we are informed that “Charmaine Taylor witnessed the cruelty of apartheid as a child”, which may explain her fondness for pieces of Robben Island’s fence.

Swift’s latest work reportedly costs R1.8 million and will use 4000 low energy light bulbs for illumination. It is to stand at the top of Signal Hill for a year, after which the lights will be donated to homes in Khayelitsha.

The YouTube video created for an early unsuccessful crowd funding campaign features tinkling piano music and a white male voice seductively talking about the power of positive energy.

PharoX is a project of World Design Capital (WDC) 2014 and, according to information made available through the WDC, each flat side of the structure “boasts a massive ‘X’ marking the 20th year of South Africa as a liberated state”.

A statement on the WDC Company that quotes Swift reads: “It represents the sacred geometry of everything in our reality, as well as the inseparable relationship between two complementary halves, in the case of South Africa, our past and our future, to form the perfect equilibrium…PharoX has its ancient roots in sacred geometry and represents everything in our reality, as well as the inseparable relationship between two complementary and diverse halves, in the case of South Africa, our past and our future, to form the perfect equilibrium.”

The statement goes on to say: “Beyond a symbol of democracy, the purpose of PharoX is to amplify the metaphor of the gateway projecting the rainbow over the continent of Africa.”

Literature around the new art work is dotted with the frequent evocation of Table Mountain as a Seventh Wonder Of The World, another tourist baiting exercise.

Swift’s appropriation based works are also supported by the South African Heritage Resources Agency and have received a letter of support from Robben Island.

The sculpture is sure to be discussed from Camps Bay to the hotel rooms of the Winelands, but will largely serve as an insult to the greater population of South Africa to whom corporate rainbow nation positivity only serves to highlight the gap between the rich and the poor.

While much discussion can be had of the appropriateness of corporate funding of art work in a time when funding for the arts is down, the real question surrounding the latest spate of public art in Cape Town is: Why are so many white men getting to take up so much public space?

Why are there no black artists making public work, either via the WDC or Art54 (a public arts initiative funded by ratepayers from Cape Town’s ward 54 and the Department of Arts and Culture), on this scale and with this much prominence?

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