November 10, 2012

“We must seek out healing or redemptive forces and allow them to grow in us. That is what it means to tend our garden. The pronominal adjective used by Voltaire – notre – points to the world we share in common. This is the world of plurality that takes shape through the power of human action. Notre jardin is never a garden of merely private concerns into which one escapes from the real: it is that plot of soil on earth, within the self, or amid the social collective, where the cultural, ethical, and civic virtues that save reality from its own worst impulses are cultivated. Those virtues are always ours. (Harrison, 2004:x)”

Continual tensions exist between our desire for territory and our subtle co-existence with the land in which conflict for territory takes place. The Rondebosch Common is a case in hand. Home to the

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critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, it is also framed as a home in a different sense. Over the years the Common has played different roles as a military camp, farmland, and National Monument for recreation. A shortage of available land in Cape Town has opened up the Common to land claims, protests and development, with roughly only forty hectares of the original ground remaining today. The 100 Year Anniversary of the 1913 Land Act has brought with it fevered discussion, debate and activism as lawmakers and citizens alike rethink their rights to the land and their responsibilities to it. Perhaps, as suggested by Robert Pogue Harrison, a ‘vocation of care’ can equip us with new insights into the weighty arguments of the Rondebosch Common. “As Yeats said of hearts: “Hearts are not had as gifts but hearts are earned / by those that are not entirely beautiful… In Eden, Adam and Eve were altogether too beautiful, hence also heartless. They had to earn their human hearts outside of the garden, if only in order to learn what beauty is, as well as

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what a gift it is. Through Adam and Eve we lost a gift but earned a heart, and in many ways we are still earning a heart… (Harrison, 2004:9)” The [Common] Garden examines relationships between land and territory through acts of care. The performative installation invites members of the public, stake holders of the Rondebosch Common and those working at the Cape Town Courts to participate in the creation of a new common garden. Participants are encouraged to engage in a symbolic act whereby they plant their dreams for common ground at a planting ceremony at Cape Town City Hall. This new garden, containing these dreams informed by the South African Constitution, will thereafter be gifted to the Cape Town Magistrates Court to be cared for by the judiciary.


The [Common] Garden is a collaborative project by artists Elgin Rust and Katherine Spindler and forms part of LAND | GIPCA kindly supported by The City of Cape Town’s Arts and Culture Department; the District Six Museum, Centre for African Studies (UCT) and African Centre for Cities (UCT). With thanks to the Green Point CID, the Prestwich Memorial Trust, St Andrew’s Persbytrian Church, Little Theatre and Cape Town Central Library.

    [1] Seeds indigenous to Rondebosch Common. Harrison, R. 2008. Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. University of Chicago Press: Chicago


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