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Pro Helvetia Johannesburg celebrates 20 years

Uriel Orlow’s Theatrum Botanicum comes home to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban


Tuesday 4 September, 7pm
Opening at POOL

Friday 7 September, 6:00pm
Opening, Book Launch and Panel Discussion
Market Photo Workshop
Gallery 1989

11-12 September, from 6pm
Theatrum Botanicum screenings and audio pieces

12 September, 6pm
Lecture/Performance: Grey, Green, Gold (and Red)
Live Arts Festival
Iziko South African Museum, Company Gardens

Exhibition Opening
14 September, 6.00pm
Imbizo Ka Mafavuke and other Plant Stories
Durban Art Gallery

Walkabout with Uriel Orlow and Russel Hlongwane, followed by panel discussion, recording session and lunch
15 September, 10.00am – 2.00pm
Durban Art Gallery

Theatrum Botanicum is a major new body of work from artist Uriel Orlow, which looks to the botanical world as a stage for politics at large, through the media of film, photography, installation and sound.

Working from the dual vantage points of South Africa and Europe, the project considers plants as both witnesses and actors in history, and as dynamic agents – linking nature and humans, rural and cosmopolitan medicine, tradition and modernity – across different geographies, histories and systems of knowledge, with a variety of curative, spiritual and economic powers. Film, soundworks, photographs, a slide projection and video work explore and excavate questions around botanical nationalism and other legacies of colonialism, plant migration and invasion, biopiracy, flower diplomacy during apartheid, the garden planted by Nelson Mandela and his fellow inmates on Robben Island prison, as well as the role of classification and naming of plants. The project developed out of a research residency undertaken in 2014, facilitated by curator Amy Watson, and was then developed through successive trips involving extended engagement with archives, practitioners of traditional medicine and legal and botanical expertise, traversing Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

Various iterations of the project have been presented across the United Kingdom, Europe, Russia and the Middle East, including The Showroom (London), the 2015 edition of EVA International curated by Koyo Kouoh, the Sharjah Biennale (where it won a major award), and with a major Swiss presentation of the project at the Kunsthalle St Gallen in 2018. The project now returns to its geography of origination, in order for it to be shared with audiences and practitioners who helped shape and direct the work in the context that catalysed it. The South African edition of the project also opens up a space for local artists and practitioners to be given the space and resources to develop responses to the body of work.

This edition of Theatrum Botanicum is realised through a network of partners across the three major South African urban centres in which the project was originally gestated. In Johannesburg, the project will be divided between two spaces: POOL and the Market Photo Workshops Gallery 1989. POOL is a not for profit arts organisation committed to supporting the development of artists and curators through close collaboration, commissioning and production of new work. POOL champions emerging practice as well as experimental artist and curator-led work and research initiatives.

The Market Photo Workshop is a key institution in the contemporary creative landscape of the country, playing a fundamental role in nurturing South African and continental photographic practice through photographic courses, public programming and exhibitions with a focus on photography and moving image. In Cape Town, the Live Arts Festival of the Institute for the Creative Arts (ICA) hosts a lecture performance, screening and installation. The Festival is one of the leading platforms for the development and showcasing  of performance art and experimental work on the continent. In Durban, the Durban Art Gallery (DAG) hosts a portion of the project curated by Russel Hlongwane, and connecting to a local traditional healers/medicine association that Orlow worked with in the development of the project through a public programme that will enable the engagement of artists, activists and academics working in the area of indigenous knowledge. The DAG is one of a small number of significant municipal institutions in South Africa showcasing contemporary art practice.

Schedule of openings and presentations:
Different components of the project will be realised across different venues and platforms in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

4 September, 6.30pm, Theatrum Botanicum at POOL,  23 Voorhout St, New Doornfontein, Johannesburg. (September 4 – November 3)

7 September, 6.00pm, Grey, Green, Gold at Market Photo Workshop, Gallery 1989, with the Johannesburg launch of the book Theatrum Botanicum , published by Sternberg Press,  and a panel discussion (Molemo Moiloa, Pamila Gupta, George Mahashe, Uriel Orlow).

57 Margaret Mcingana St, Newtown, Johannesburg. (September 7 – October 21)

Cape Town

11-12 September, from 6pm, Theatrum Botanicum screenings and audio pieces  at Institute for Creative Arts, University of Cape Town, Hiddingh Hall Campus 31-37 Orange Street.

12 September, 6pm, Grey, Green, Gold (and Red), lecture/performance at Institute for Creative Arts, University of Cape Town, Iziko South African Museum, Company Gardens.

14 September, 6.00pm, Imbizo Ka Mafavuke and other Plant Stories, at Durban Art Gallery, 2nd floor, Durban City Hall, Anton Lembede Street, Durban CBD. (September 14 – October 28)

15 September, 10.00am – 2.00pm: Walkabout with Uriel Orlow and Russel Hlongwane, followed by panel discussion, recording session and lunch, Durban Art Gallery.

A full compendium of public programming in Johannesburg will be published during the course of August.