She appears as if out of nowhere. This slip of a girl in her brightly striped swimming costume. Her swimming cap and goggles subtly on head. Her back to me. For a moment her figure blocks the sun, the rays filtering from behind her head as from behind a cloud, her arms akimbo as if in balance, or flight. Her complete lack of inhibition; indeed her riveted concentration on another object – the dragonfly – draws you to her. Makes you want her to notice you, if only for a moment. Her postures so indefinably poignant and simple; a living picture.
It’s quite a concept. This idea of public art. Art designed for the public, to tell a story, to engage those walking by. I love it. And to erect a series of statues that tell an unfolding, beautiful story right at Sea Point promenade, as well as the many tales untold by individuals who pass by and read into this a further message unshared, is nothing short of ingenious. The air is filled with possibility …
The idea with public art is that works of art, in any media, are executed and staged specifically for the physical public domain. This is not art that would usually grace a gallery that has subsequently found its way to the seaside. It is designed specifically for this purpose. It is free, anyone can access it. But whilst some public art pieces go relatively unnoticed (take most of our statues of historical note, for instance) this series of art cannot be ignored. It has already touched the hearts and minds of many.
The series of the little girl and the dragonfly she is trying to emulate is touching. But more than that, it belongs here. It is as if her overnight appearance is but an oversight. She was simply missing here before. I first become aware of her when I receive my daily Cape Town photo and we head down to Sea Point as soon as possible as a consequence. There was more than one reason. It was also a soccer match day. And I had yet to experience the vibe of the Cape Town fan walk.
On one of the most beautiful winter morns, chilly wind aside, we arrived at the promenade, alive with joggers, walkers and visitors to the city; there were also a number of fans, flags already tied prominently like appendages somewhere on their bodies, setting off early for the stadium. And the art I had come to see simply intensified the experience.
We fell out of the car, having found a spot at the start of the walk on the far side of the promenade closest to Sea Point’s swimming pool. Make a note that it doesn’t make sense to do the walk from the other side – you’ll end up doing it backwards – which wouldn’t spoil the effect of the statues, but it would interrupt the storyline.
Sculptor Marieke Prinsloo Rowe is busy with her Masters in Fine Art at WITS, focusing on Public Art. The title of her study, ‘Contemporary Stagings of the Tableau Vivant’, uses narrative as a way of inspiring dialogue between us as the public and a public art piece. Tableau Vivant is French for ‘living picture’ and is used to describe a striking group of costumed actors or artist’s models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit. They neither speak nor move during the display, marrying the art forms of stage and painting/photoraphy. In this case, the actors are sculptures. It is no less impactful.
The story slowly unfolds every 75 metres as another statue comes into focus on the 1.1 kilometre storyline. The first shows the little girl with arms outstreched, dreaming that she could fly. Next she looks up into the sky and stretches her arms out even wider; there must be a way to realize a dream as clear as this. And then! A dragonfly flying high above, truly soaring… he is able to walk on air, to float weightlessly. He represents all that she has been dreaming.
Over time, he swoops down to hover right before her, almost inviting her to fly with him. Without asking she leaps to try and catch him, to grab him out of his sky. He disappears to return to his heights, the dream is lost. But he returns and she gets a second chance. Come fly with me, dream with me! Let me know what it is like to be you and I will share with you what it is like to be me!
I won’t spoil the storyline. Suffice it to say there is a moment of true realisation and understanding, that whilst he is free to offer her all that she dreams, she, in freedom, is to do the same. One free creature to another…
The potency of the message(s) of the story is multifold. Whilst Marieke describes the little girl as a young South African democracy and the dragonfly visualises a dream of freedom, equality and hope that we as a nation pursue, there is so much more one can read into this unfolding fable. On a personal level the artist feels it is a reminder to each of us of the hope that we individually live for and of the dreams that mark our lives, our own story.
It is also a message of man and nature. The meeting of the two, against the intense blue of sea and sky, as equals. That without the one, the other cannot experience the joy of living. That as equally free beings we cannot take from one another, as we have of the earth – without permission. And we need to learn to give in return.
The 18 sculptures are up on the promenade for 12 months, to be removed only in June 2011. Make sure you get to see them. Walking the Road has been erected with the permission of the Sea Point Ward Council and sub committees. It is a pilot project with the hope that there will be more public art to follow in the city at large.