Seven Stage Futures
'Seven Stage Futures’ involved the development and production of a series of community-led ‘Merakas’ (a form of 'gathering space', to share knowledge, that draws upon the wisdom of both current and past generations). These events were presented in July 2017 within the ‘informal’ South African townships - where audiences (currently entirely unserviced by cultural events, or indeed much at all) actively participated in unique local celebrations that they have both proposed and co-created. Each event was shaped by local African 'change-agents' at sites where they lived or had already built their own ‘shack replacement’ houses – using locally appropriate, no-cost materials – a new building-cum-artform we call ‘Post-Natural’ building.
Learnings from this unique arts/development experiment were later disseminated to arts organisations and international development NGOs in Australia, initiating rich dialogues and sparking future transdisciplinary initiatives.
Seven Stage Futures was the first major outcome of the Re-Future project that seeks to ‘embed' contemporary artists within international development scenarios, in order to understand how their creative capacities can best contribute towards positive social and ecological development outcomes in an era of climate change and environmental distress. It seeks to build networks of 're-futuring’ throughout some of the poorest informal settlements in the Free State of South Africa and is a research collaboration between the University of the Free State's Centre For Development Studies, Qala Phelang Tala (QPT/Start Living Green!), The Program for Innovation in Artform Development and a team of South African 'change agents’, supported by the New York based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Flanders Foundation.
EVENTS (COMMUNITY 'MERAKAS')
1: Caleb Motshabi Township, Stand 921, Bloemfontein, South Africa, 18 July 2017, 12.00-18.30, Directed by Mokoena and Ellen Maphalane.
2: Caleb Motshabi Township, Ipopeng Street, Bloemfontein, South Africa,19 July 2017, 13.00-18.30. Directed by Velili Phantsi.
3: 129 Vlei Ave, Roodewaal, Bloemfontein, South Africa, 22 July 017, 10.00-18.30. Directed by Mary Mofana.
Anita Venter, Michael Sebesho, Mokoena Maphalane, Ellen Maphalane, Mary Mofana, Velili Phantsi, Natascha Meisler, Adriann Du Plessis, Percy, Thabang Mofokeng, Heidi Morgan, Natascha Meisler, Christine Scoggin.
Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD) - Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, Ricardo Peach, Angela De Jesus, Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery, University of the Free State, South Africa, University Free State, Centre Development Support, University of the Free State, South Africa, Qala Phelang Tala, Anita Venter, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Flanders Foundation, Thabang Mofokeng, HOT Rural Workers Collective, Botshabelo Township, South Africa, PT Sanders Combined School, QUT Creative Industries, Aerial Footage by iFlair Photography.
Re-Future is presented at part of the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD), an initiative of the Vrystaat Art Festival and the University of the Free State. Kindly supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Flanders Foundation. Keith Armstrong is supported by a part time senior research role at QUT Creative Industries. Special thanks to doctoral students Christine Scoggin and Pieter Odendaal who are working on the larger Re-Future project through their own custom projects. Special thanks to Prof Greg Hearn Prof Terry Flew, Prof Mandy Thomas, Nigel Oram, Blair Walkinshaw and QUT Precincts.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:We have developed and produced a series of three ‘merakas’, presented in the heart of informal South African townships, where audiences (currently typically without access to basic public services) can participate in unique celebrations that foreground both creativity, community development and sustainable futures. Each of these one day-night events have been devised and led by local African ‘change-agents’, at sites where they have already built their own houses or similar structures using locally appropriate no cost mixtures of earth, bottles, tyres, and recycled and scavenged materials. We call this technique-cum-artform ‘Post-Natural’ building.
The Seven Stage Futures project is being appropriately and ethically crafted on invitation by the local NGO Qala Phelang Tala (Start Living Green!) who have worked for a over decade in these local communities, and have built up significant trust and understanding. Through their hosting and collaboration, and via curatorial and logistical support from the South African ‘Program For Innovation in Artform Development’ and the Vrysaat Arts Festival (directed by Ricardo Peach) we can now turn this ambition into a practical reality. To ensure this the work involved two prior preliminary planning trips to South Africa for this project, funded by the New York based Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ensuring detailed preparatory work and networking.
In the lead up to these events in mid to late 2017, we facilitated local participants to craft and produce a physical mobile stage structure which we are towuing from site to site. This design usesrecycled and natural techniques. This vernacular will be captured in a series of panels that lock together to form a staging structure and projection screen system, thereby functioning as a dramatic backdrop to each festival event. These panels also use a system of fibre optics that allows images and text to be presented via embedded glass bottles. They also transform into a large screen that allows the presentation of a range of films crafted during the development process, showing change agents in action rebuilding lives and livelihoods. 3D rendered images of the townships, captured via drone photogrammetry, will also be animated into films of an imagined future township geography where Post Natural building projects have radically transformed the lives of the residents. These events nclude ‘Post Natural’ creation workshops, responsive performances and other cultural events. In all these ways we will help advance the change agents existing skills and techniques through co-creating this new form of process-based media artwork and supporting events.
Critically we will then bring this radical approach and the new knowledge back to Australia to initiate a sorely needed dialogue between international development and experimental arts, around creative new approaches to poverty reduction and citizen empowerment.
Climate scientists agree we have triggered a new era called the age of the Anthropocene where humans have become the main drivers behind planetary change. The negative impacts on communities worldwide, especially communities in developing countries such as South Africa, is significant - where these challenges are compounded by historical contexts of apartheid, unemployment, poverty and widespread welfare dependency. Many communities are still deprived of access to housing, water, electricity, education and basic health care. This situation desperately needs creative change agents to envision a world beyond ‘sustainability’, focusing on regenerative processes that renew, restore, and revitalize communities.
Artists have the capacity to foster new transdisciplinary collaborations, conducting their fieldwork across unexpected domains. In these cases we are not simply responding to a given proposition in a designated space, but rather entering the space of planning itself to help make change happen. This happens best when options run out and when planning alone isn’t enough. This project responds to a desperate need for creativity and creative thinking – and success here could indeed be globally significant.
Seven Stage Futures will be the first major outcome of my continuing 'Re-Future’ project, whose aim is to embed contemporary media artists within existing international development scenarios, in order to understand how our creative capacities and access to technology can contribute towards positive social and ecological development outcomes. The project then returns this knowledge to Australia to initiate new exhibitions, presentations and conversations around radical approaches to ‘re-futuring’ (giving time back to the future).
April–May 2017: Brief and train change agents to build Staging structure at various locations in the townships
June: Confirm logistics, hire production team and establish festival permissions. Use facilities of Creative Lab Research Centre, Brisbane to build photogrammetry-based visualisations
July: Present day/night events in the townships and informal settlements of Caleb Motshabi, Roodenwaal, Botchabello, and in Bloemfontein for the Vrystaat International Arts Festival
Sept: Present findings to Community Development organisations and International conference of practitioners, Bundaberg, Qld
Oct–Dec: Write up, dissemination, presentations, confirmed exhibition- Riddoch Gallery, Mt. Gambier
THE CHALLENGE TO THE CHANGE AGENTS
"You the first generation change agents, are now ready and able to build the next generation of change leaders though your example. You have both the practical skills about natural building and a deep understanding about how to create regenerative futures. You are passionately seeking a better world for you and your people, and you have a vision of how to get there.
But the path you will take may be different from what others have chosen before, because you know that today’s generations do not always live in ways that protect the future or support each other as best they could. You are changing that through the practical example you show to your people. This project aims to celebrate your achievements and honour your understanding of this matter.
We therefore wish to assist you each to create an event that tells your chosen audience the story of your journey to date. We want the audience to not just come along to watch and listen to your story, but also to participate in both action, discussion and other creative ways on the day. We want them to leave with practical skills, a head full of ideas, and a spirit lifted by what they have seen, heard and experienced. We want them to go home and think, ‘I could be a change agent too ’! We will support you to tell that powerful story in a creative way that helps inspire your people.
Remember too we will also bring a 'mobile stage' to your events which you can use - It is a platform that you can use, and will also provide sound, simple light and video projection as you require and we are also going to ask you to make a part of that stage in the next few months to express your skills and passion for natural building."
Seven Stage Futures Flyer
Vrystaat Festival, South Africa, 2017, main program entry
Vrystaat Festival, South Africa, 2017, Media Release
Run Sheet, Change Agent Mary Mofama's meraka
O Tswellang - an artwork reflecting upon this project
PIAD public forum catalogue, 2017
Original Re-Future Announcement, University Free State, 2016.
Re-future talk promo, Feb 2016
PIAD project overview
Project presented at the Salzburg Global Seminar
Archive (Apply for a PhD, closed 28th Feb, 2017)
Vrystaat catalogue entry 2016
News 24 report