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Infecting the City Festival 2012

This March (6th – 10th) the annual Infecting the City Festival will shake up Cape Town’s communal spaces for the fifth consecutive year. In anticipation of the big event, we chatted to the new curator, Jay Pather, about current trends, the public art movement and what we can expect to see this year… You were involved the first year that the festival was launched in 2008. What was its original purpose and how has it evolved? The original aim was to shift what was then the Spier Performing Arts Festival out of the confines of one space, in order to explore the dynamics of public art and site-specific performance. We also particularly wanted to bring this to the inner city. Since then the festival has developed from a combination of indoor and outdoor work to become an almost entirely outdoors venture. Its various incarnations over the years have proved that there is a good appetite for public art. The increase in numbers at performances and the development of complex collaborations both mark significant progress. Could you tell us a bit more about the ‘public art’ movement? Public art is about taking art and performance away from traditional spaces, such as galleries and theatres, to make it free and easily accessible to all. It brings the beauty of art to where you are, on the street corner, in squares, shopping malls and buildings. Within the communal spaces of a city, art becomes its own thing, its own animal. Why is a public arts festival like this one so important in this day and age? In Africa, we have a history of congregating in open spaces for the purposes of ritual, ceremony, worship and protest. Public art falls into this realm. It is particularly instrumental in removing a person from the stresses of our economy and the daily grind and placing them in a space of dreams. Being shaken out of your everyday life by a work of art in the middle of the city on a random Wednesday afternoon must be one of the rarest pleasures around. ‘Infecting’ is a strong choice of words. What inspired the name of the festival? In naming this event, the challenge was to find terminology that accurately reflects the range of what art can do. You see, the festival is not only about pretty art. Of course, there will be aesthetically beautiful performances but there will also be those that challenge preconceptions and are strange and uncomfortable. The word ‘infecting’ emphasises that art can bring ‘infectious’ laughter and joy but can also spread challenging questions like a proverbial infection. This is relevant because an aim of the festival is to challenge audiences to stop and think and look at their world in new ways – much like an infection may force you to do. Why was Cape Town chosen as the location? The Africa Centre, which produces Infecting the City, is based in Cape Town so it was simply originally founded here. We would like to take the festival to other cities as well though. How will 2012’s festival differ from that of 2011? What new things can we expect to see? There will be no overt collaborations, which were a prominent part of previous festivals. Audiences can also expect to see more innovative pieces as a fair amount of work is being re-imagined for the public space. An example is the opera The Rake’s Progress directed by Matthew Wild and Kamal Khan, which will be relocated to the Company’s Garden and Wale Street. Another change this year is that productions will be staged along a mapped, three-hour route through the city so that viewers can follow them one after the other like a procession. There will be a range of routes to choose from every day throughout the five-day festival. It will therefore no longer be about only one performance or artwork or dance piece, but a progressive journey through many. The theme of the 2011 festival was ‘Treasure’. Will there be a theme this year? There is no specific theme this year. Rather, we just briefed artists on the broad, general theme ‘Infecting the City’. There is therefore much room for interpretation and creativity. Last year there was a strong focus on promoting ‘green’ awareness. Can we expect an eco-friendly slant in 2012 too? The festival considers an environmentally friendly focus as essential. Although ‘green’ is not an explicit theme, the consciousness of this is present in much of the work. As an expert in the field, what trends do you see emerging in the visual and performing arts in 2012? There are so many that it is difficult to do justice to them all. I think we are making a move towards more socially conscious work again, given the economic collapse in various parts of the world and the rising concern about our environment. Art today takes into account all the complexities of modernity and is now being infused with a sense of society. What is your response to Cape Town being named World Design Capital for 2014? What could this mean for the city? It is a significant achievement and marks Cape Town as clearly joining the ranks of world-class cities. We should feel very proud! I think a design-oriented city has the power to enliven its spaces and engage all of its inhabitants across the board. With so much on this year's programme, could you give us a few final tips on how to get the most out of the festival? It is essential that you get a programme and plan what you want to watch before the time. The most important thing is to figure out where to start. There are full three-hour programmes from Tuesday to Saturday, 6pm to 9.30pm, Wednesday to Friday, 1pm to 5.30pm and on Saturday from 10am to 1pm. Infecting the City Public Arts Festival will run from 6 - 10 March 2012. For more information about the festival and programme visit infectingthecity.com/2012, follow the festival on Twitter @infectingthecit, like it on Facebook or call the Africa Centre on 021-422-0468. Interview by Dayle Kavonic Infecting the City 2011 images: Chris Saunders Jay Pather image: Cecile Mella