The name “City of Seven Hills” refers usually to Rome and carries its historical and political memory, myths and diverse representations. The number “seven” is key; it points to something holistic representing the whole in movement. Seven is universally known as a dynamic totality. Pythagoras called it, the “life vehicle”.
Generally, climbing hills allows the possibility to observe a panorama of a landscape and feel the distance from a reality that surrounds us while reconnecting us with another perspective.
Located between seven hills on the shores of Lake Victoria, Kampala’s topography is rich with trails to explore. At the heart of the artistic project of the Biennale, one finds the fast development of African cities, along with what this brings in terms of urban planning, traffic, modes of transportation and the mobile lifestyles of their operators. By tackling the subject of motion transitions and the social shifts they imply, the Biennale will be firmly grounded in the metropolis. By questioning the transformations observed in terms of movement, interactions and landscape, whether they are physical, virtual or imaginary; let us project ourselves into the future.
Which stories, myths and founding legends are sheltered by the Seven Hills of Kampala? What is their meaning? Are they still symbolic? Which representations are shared today in the inhabitants’ daily lives? The city’s frenetic expansion to other surrounding hills implies numerous transformations, which affect the city dwellers’ daily lives. How do evolutions of the landscape – urban, natural and the opposition between human beings and their environment – influence habits? What gestures, attitudes and practice inhabit the public space, both as a physical and now virtual presence? How do they circulate, how do they stay still? How is this controlled?
The sociologist, John Urry sees mobilities as a sociological shift. Mobility and immobility refer to the physical movement of goods, objects and services; the travel of people for work, leisure, migration and escape; imaginative travel in images and media; and communication and virtual travel through connected technologies (1).
Kampala, like every urban global agglomeration today, is subject to major shifts in its modes of transportation and communication. The matatus, as are called the small buses that one finds in virtually every city in the Eastern African region, are now threatened by a new service of city buses. Furthermore, one notes the launch of an Uber- inspired model for the boda-bodas, the local motor-taxis. From these shifts, we can foresee important changes in daily habits of the local population, which imply the need for new services and a risk to see thousands of workers falling into precarious situations as their activities and sources of income become obsolete.
In other perspectives, the geographer Tim Cresswell considers mobilities as a constellation of 3 interrelated elements: movement and its distribution (how to go from point A to B), representation (the construction of narratives) and experienced practices (how it is embodied). These resources are accessed differently and are reinforced by other aspects: motive force, velocity, rhythm, route, experience and friction (2).
How do surveillance and trace-ability expand people’s movement or non-movement? How do these factors reduce their ability to intervene freely and have more control over the habits induced by the various forms, representations and practice of mobilities imposed by globalisation? (ie. recording personal data and its predictable disclosure through the hyper-fast capacity of digital tools). Does the ambivalence of technology allow us to extend our perceptions, our actions and our imaginary? What are the frictions, new opportunities and temporalities?
The cultural geographer, John-David Dewsbury explores and combines body movement practices and spaces from the perspective of “Performative spaces” (3). His concern is with « the immediate performative impact of the landscape in the actual present, in the present of the act of being in the landscape itself ».
The daily movements of people could also transform a space. Interactions necessarily imply a change occurring in the present, on both people and the environment. How does the presence of bodies (as a (micro-movements, habits, gestures), related to time and subjectivity, affect also a space, whether physical or virtual? How individual or body could perform freely in a space as a total act? Art interventions in public space will allow the biennale to create debates and experiences. Kampala’s decor could be considered as a space re-activated by artists and individual during the time of the Biennale.
Putting Kampala Art Biennale on the map of the international art scene, Seven Hills will open a vibrant proposition of poetic forms, critical discourse propose decentralised gazes by interrogating the global issue of how we inhabit mobility today?
- John Urry, Mobilities (Cambridge: Polity, 2007).
- Tim Cresswell (University Northeastern of Boston, USA) – Toward a Politics of Mobility – African Cities Reader II – Mobilities and Fixtures pp159- 171 – Publish by Chimurenga and the African Center for Cities
- J.D. Dewsbury (University of Bristol, UK) – Non-representational landscapes and the performative affective forces of habit: from ‘Live’ to ‘Blank’ – Cultural geographies 2015, Vol 22(1) 29-47