Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is set to host an ICA Live Art Festival events that include talking to plants, making flower arrangements and plant-dyed cloth, and ghost tours.
What does it mean to recognise consciousness in all living things as we navigate the challenges of the Anthropocene?
This is one of the questions posed by this year’s in-person ICA Live Art Festival, which takes place in Cape Town from 19 March to 3 April 2022.
The festival programme embraces several performances (amongst a line-up of 38 diverse works) that reference sentient beings. Most of these performances are set to take place in Cape Town’s iconic botanical garden, Kirstenbosch. The famed landscaped grounds are home to a many species of plants, insects, birds, reptiles and other animals.
But the irony of this setting is not lost on the festival’s curators and performers. In fact, they relish the opportunity to remind audiences that Kirstenbosch has a contested colonial past, and that our relationship with the fragile natural world remains complicated.
The seven works will engage with plants, politics, and history, allowing audiences to see and experience Kirstenbosch – and plants – in a fresh way. “Kirstenbosch is mostly framed as a site of nature, but once we look at it as a place of work, it becomes clear that it is also a space of politics,” says festival co-curator Melanie Boehi.
The Kirstenbosch programme explores different aspects of ecology and history. On Saturday, 2 April 2022, Cape Town artist Ayesha Price and Adderley Street flower seller Karin Bachmann will lead a public workshop for participants who want to learn how to make flower arrangements and plant sculptures that reflect on stories about the past, place and belonging, using plant material from Kirstenbosch.
South African-Ugandan artist and textile designer Sibablwe Ndlwana will demonstrate how to make a botanical community cloth with plant dyes. Lastly, a group of artists, scientists, healers, designers and anthropologists will host a workshop on how to interact with, and perhaps “talk to”, plants.
On Sunday, 3 April 2022, Cape Town-based architect and artist Ilze Wolff will reflect on garden and land politics; American artist Chanelle Adams will take participants on a “ghost tour” of the camphor trees planted at Kirstenbosch by Cecil John Rhodes; and Swiss artist Daniela Müller will reflect on human-plant-animal relationships through the garden mole, often considered a problem animal.
Finally, Cape Town-based DJ and writer Ntone Edjabe will perform Ntone Edjabe’s Journey through the Secret Life of Plants, revisiting musician Stevie Wonder’s pioneering double album and his work on the Black experience of the natural environment. This performance will take place at the University of Cape Town’s Hiddingh Campus.
Each performance will draw audiences into a deeper understanding of the nexus between nature and culture – an often-uncomfortable space, but one in which catharsis can take place. As any visitor to Kirstenbosch knows, the famous Camphor Avenue showcases camphor trees (Cinnamomum camphora) that were planted during Cecil John Rhodes’s ownership of the land. Legend has it that Rhodes planned to plant trees from all over the British empire at Kirstenbosch.
The trees are haunted by the history of violence and exploitation that define Rhodes’ legacy– but camphor trees are also a healing plant, known in Madagascar as Ravintsara. By looking at the trees in a different light, liberation can become part of the discourse, Adams suggests.
Although ghosts remind us of what is unfaced and unresolved, Adams says the intention of her performance is “to release the future from historical horrors.” Tickets are free but space is limited, so those who are interested are encouraged to book now to avoid any disappointment. For more information, please email: [email protected]