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Updated: Sep 23, 2019

Balance is duality in motion (Kruger 2001: In conversation).

The Mobile City created by architects Lewis Levin, Paul Cawood and myself, an artist, is suspended from the roof of Absa Towers North in Johannesburg City.


This research project examines, through the design and realisation of a 2.5ton kinetic aluminium sculpture, two different but interrelated subjects. The information it provides will be useful to artists, educators and people from other disciplines.

It examines:

· The practical realisation of the mobile, including the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the project from inception to completion.

· The conceptual aspect in the design of the Mobile City sculpture.

The practical aspect of fabricating an artwork of this size involved issues normally outside the area of private artistic practice., such as collaboration with project managers and Absa management, contracts and insurance, schedules, progress reports, meetings and matters regarding working relationships between art and business. In addition this research examines art competitions, the status quo regarding sponsorship of the arts in South Africa and abroad, and the implications and advantages of undertaking such a project.


Research for completing this art project is detailed sequentially.

· Corporate research included: corporate art competitions, sponsorship of the arts, interdisciplinary collaboration involving structural engineers, mechanical engineers and fabricators. This research underscored the aspect of collaboration and the benefit of a multidisciplinary approach, contractual and corporate matters. This involved examining aspects of the Absa contract, based on The New Engineering Contract (NEC) presented to us, and included insurance and financial issues.

· Research was based on the design and construction of the first steel maquette submitted for the competition. This included gathering architectural and historical information on buildings in Johannesburg City, overviews of the city centre and information and structural drawings of gold mines in Johannesburg. In the mobile Johannesburg’s past and present buildings became a vehicle for time and memory.

· Relevant scientific theories were investigated. They relate to thematic issues of time, space, memory, light, motion and balance, represented in the Mobile City and in other artworks. Genetic information and scientific theories are researched because they appear to correspond directly to the idea of a city’s evolution and correlates with movement and time in the mobile. The concept of time was used as it can be experienced or debated, not as an academic study.

The project involved the process of creating the Mobile City, from the initial stages in January 1998 through to its completion at the end of 1999. The final process of the fabrication included the motorisation of the Mobile City and entrance into the Absa building over the roof with a hydraulic crane, described when detailing the final installation of the Mobile City sculpture.


The problems encountered during the research process included a lack of information on literature specific to the process of corporate art projects that present information on corporate art competitions from an artist’s perspective. In respect of sponsorship of the arts and corporate art collections, most of the information found was directed towards business. By revealing the dynamics involved in the project and sharing the research experience, others embarking on a similar journey, might proceed in their chosen endeavours with a firmer grasp of the challenges and a greater understanding of the possibilities of public sculpture.

A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Fine Art, Technikon Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Technology in Fine Art. Johannesburg 2002


I drew on many diverse sources for information during my research. These included information gathered from various libraries such as the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), the Architecture and Design Library and private libraries such as the Library of the Johannesburg Stock exchange. My research included taped personal interviews with people in various disciplines such as physicists, geneticists, architects, engineers, lawyers, technicians and business executives. Information, documents and maps were also gathered from government departments and agencies like the Central Johannesburg Partnership, the Johannesburg Development Agency and The Aluminium Federation.


It illustrates the process of constructing the Mobile City from inception to completion. The CD begins with photographic images and illustrations from the earliest stages of designing the first maquette, then reveals the second maquette in steel and then the fabrication, transport, access into Absa, installation and the completed Mobile City. The second half of the CD comprises Levin and Cawood’s architectural drawings and detailed shop drawings, some of my sketches, mechanical and structural engineering plans and technical drawings, nesting schedules for the profiling of the aluminium, correspondence, contracts, documents, quotations, proposals and media reports regarding the Mobile City. Documents dealing with issues as diverse as insurance, load testing of the Mobile City, rigging, fabrication, assembly and operating instructions for the Mobile City are included. The CD also contains the main section of the Absa Contract received by WCL and the other members of the artist group.


The Mobile City hangs from a vertical suspension ladder, through an opening in a concrete beam in the roof of Absa’s Towers North building, between Commissioner and Main Streets, Johannesburg[1]. It is around this core element that the sculpture rotates, rises and falles past five floors in the 22m high atrium. At its most expanded position, it is 20m high and 11.5m wide. The mobile depicts buildings of Johannesburg, its surrounding landscapes and highways. In the mobile, the city of Johannesburg is divided into two Cities each with a substructure of mines beneath. One city delineates the older buildings of Johannesburg and is intended to invoke the past. The second consists of contemporary buildings and is intended to refer to the present. The two Cities establish a relationship between past and present and, as I will explain in this dissertation, between time[2] and memory. The longest component of the Mobile City is an 11m long curved ladder and tubular ring, 4.5m diameter, within which the New City rocks. A smaller similarly curved ladder and ring is attached vertically to the main ladder above. The Old City oscillates within this 3.5m diameter ring. The suspension ladder carries the motor mechanism and the entire mass of the 2.5ton Mobile City sculpture. The presence of the Mobile City in the volume of the north atrium is intended to be experienced from directly below.

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