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A sustained presence by using a logic of the area: making and talking as research

A point when I started having sustained conversations with people was when we moved into our shops. In my shop, I started painting a mural. The mural which I made in my shop, attempted to work through some of the experiences which I had had during the research process. I wanted to paint a mural about the dynamic relationships of human and non-human bodies forming into specific environments. I was interested in using abstraction in painting to shift between areas which are recognisable and areas which are not. As a base of the image, there is a shop structure and its relationship to other shops. There are also lines and forms which come together to resemble clothes. I choose not to show each bodily interaction in the area, an impossible thing to represent, but rather limit my vision to that of a fragmented vision. I adopted the type of looking of someone walking through an environment, limited in perception, seeing brief moments of interaction.

The painting process was one of constant addition, subtraction and transformation. In many ways, this continued the experience of attempting to make sense of the area through conversations with people who move through the area. What would be interesting for a social project is if these images could start to be generated in collaboration with people from the area? Images are a powerful means to deliver ideas and stories. For instance, a series of murals/images in the area can produce a very powerful message in the area and may be an interesting community imaging project.

This activity of painting, however, had an interesting side effect. My daily presence in the shop, the activity of working in itself created much short-lived conversations about what I was painting, and what I was doing. Such conversations implicated the activity of the person asking the questions, and their lives. With this sustained presence, the possibility for regular conversations arose. The integration into the area was the main difficulty for this research and was our challenge from the beginning. By owning a shop, and doing something in it, a legitimate presence was created from which people could locate my research activities, and my person. Suddenly I was no longer only from WITS, I also had a shop in Africa Mall. With one of the nearby shop owners I undertook deal where I would paint an internet café sign on their shopfront in exchange for an interview. What made most of the resultant conversations incredible, however, was their ordinariness. Saying hello or goodbye. Telling a short story of an encounter down the street. Explaining a job that needs to be done. These conversations, created by undertaking a peripheral activity of painting a mural, gave access to the working life in flux which the project was aimed at researching.

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