Drive-by art celebrates Cape pride

2015-06-16 06:00
A small antelope that is endemic to the Western Cape region of South Africa.

A small antelope that is endemic to the Western Cape region of South Africa.

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A Hout Bay resident has gone the extra mile to elevate people to let them, for a moment, feel some magic and wonder for our world.

And he has done this by “lighting up” the “dark, eerie” Rhodes Drive.

Bryan Little, a filmmaker and director at Fly on the Wall art collective, used reflector tape and signage he designed to entertain motorists.

The initiative, called Endemic, is aimed to inspire people to think about our natural heritage and recognise the wonder in the world again.

“Endemic in conservation biology means the animals and plants found here are found nowhere else in the world; they are unique to the Western Cape and the fynbos biome. The truth is that in the fynbos plant kingdom we have some of the richest biodiversity in the world,” he says.

Glow in the darkLittle says the idea came from frequently travelling on Rhodes Drive towards his home in Hout Bay. He wanted to give something back to the “dark, eerie” road for all the inspiration it has given him over the years.

Little says the reflector tape idea came about almost by accident, as he was thinking about how to interact with cars. He started thinking about signage and noticed that some signs glow in the dark.

“I tracked down the tape and when taking a photo of it in the hardware shop, I had the flash on by mistake and the tape literally popped with light. I knew then I was on to something,” he says.

Little loves the fact that the reflector tape requires light to work and that it is normally used as a warning signal. Our natural heritage is our most valuable resource, so we need to start listening to the warning signs, he feels.

This may be the first time that something like his project has been done. “I have looked extensively on the internet and found nothing like it in the world,” he says.

Asked why he chose Rhodes Drive specifically, he says it is an interesting stretch of road: “It’s very special that we can have a road that feels so remote and wild right in the middle of a major city.

“On the one side we have Table Mountain National Park and on the other suburbia. It is also a contentious space in terms of conservation, with the mandate of the National Park to remove all alien trees being challenged by people who feel that the shade provided and the inherent beauty of the trees make them immune to the call for biodiversity,” he says.

Little says the Cape Peninsula alone supports 2200 species, more than the entire United Kingdom. Although fynbos comprises only 6% of southern African land, it contains half the plant species of the subcontinent and represents almost 20% of all African plant species.

He started the Endemic project with the picture of a single owl mounted against a tree in 2013, to test the durability and viability of the idea. Then in September last year he placed seven more creatures to see what the response would be and whether people would remove the pieces.

“I was very methodical about the different testing phases because, as a filmmaker, I am exploring new ways of telling stories and this project is my first foray into what I call ‘future film’. As such, I am trying to explore and reinvent specific elements of filmmaking,” he says.

Little deliberately kept it simple and only played with certain elements si that by removing the camera and placing the audience into the experience he made it site-specific – “You have to be there and let the car’s motion be the element of time and narrative.”

“I worked closely with sound artist Sylvan Aztok (Simon Kohler), in order to position and geotag the different species and scenes. It was a delicate balancing act, creating different environments and timing the speed of the car with sound elements,” he says.

The project will exist until the species disappear or until the signs are removed from the sites for whatever reason.

This is something that he has built into the project on purpose. “People get really upset when the creatures ‘go missing’, myself included, and I feel that it is appropriate that people feel that loss. It makes the idea of species extinction a little less abstract,” he says.

“The fact that someone can feel sadness, anger, even frustration over something as elusive as say, a Table Mountain ghost frog, means that I feel I have succeeded, as many of these endemic species are endangered and some critically endangered. The geometric tortoise, for example, only has a few hundred left in the world,” he says.

Little has been asked to do something similar in India and Reunion and has been approached by the Endangered Wildlife Trust to expand the Endemic initiative into an official project for them, which Little finds very exciting.

“I would love for it to grow and perhaps have a life of its own,” he adds

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