Hotel Yeoville book documents a 'multiplatform archive of urban life'

14 Mar 2013 - 10:00

Last month saw the launch of the book Hotel Yeoville at Gallery AOP in Milpark, Johannesburg. Published by Fourthwall Books, this new collection of essays, photographs and other texts includes an essay by APC doctoral research fellow Alexandra Dodd, alongside contributions by Aida Sánchez de Serdio, Alexander Opper, Caroline Wanjiku Kihato, Godfrey Tshis Talabulu, Jason Hobbs, John Spiropoulos, Justice Malala, Tegan Bristow, Zen Marie and Terry Kurgan, who originated the project and edited the book.

The publication represents and extends what began as an interactive art project and evolved into a multiplatform archive of urban life. It presents new critical perspectives on contemporary artistic research and practice, and is a remarkable documentation of the complex set of negotiations - between artists, residents, consultants and audience - that brought the work into being.

During most of 2010, Hotel Yeoville, ran out of the Yeoville public library and was supported by the Goethe-Institut. It was a participatory public art project, conceptualised and directed by artist Terry Kurgan. It was based online and in the public library of the old suburb of Yeoville on the eastern edge of Johannesburg's inner city. Kurgan developed the project in collaboration with a diverse group of people working across a range of disciplines. It comprised a website (, a photo wall and a series of booths in which members of the public were invited to offer stories about themselves through mapping, video, photography and text, using various digital interfaces and social media applications.

Over the course of a year, Hotel Yeoville, came to represent an extraordinarily intimate and multi-layered document of a segment of this diverse community, most of whom are immigrants from all across the African continent. The project engaged with and confronted assumptions about representation and its relationship to citizenship, truth, knowledge and power. Its stories are a small but unusual record of the complexities of everyday life in a rapidly evolving city.

'The project unfolded amidsta proliferation of other artworks that responded to the aftermath of events in 2008 in original and subtle ways, outside of the oppressively didactic sphere of politics and the nauseatingly repetitive machine of news insatiably reproducing our social dysfunction,' writes Dodd in her essay, entitled A Public Variation on the Theme of Love.

'Hotel Yeoville both echoes and deviates from these representations of alienation, foreignness, xenophobia, migrancy and otherness that have rippled through South African public life in the aftermath of May 2008. If there is any binding impulse or shared strategy that informs this diversity of contemporary responses, it might be a reluctance to revert to directly representational modes of documentary figuration, which are tainted by a heritage of colonial representations of the other and an incapacity to shake off the unequal author/subject power relations implicit in the ethnographic gaze.'