Death and Birth in My Life
During May 2018, Mats traveled to “lalela. a place of listening.” in the Magaliesburg just outside of Johannesburg, to initiate a new project “Death and Birth in my Life”.
The project consists of series of filmed conversations, in which two people share stories with each other from their own experiences of death and birth. These conversations are not planned or scripted, participants are asked to simply listen to the other person’s story and react with a story that emerges from the listening. The project asks us to explore what happens when we listen to each other and share from the heart.
The project is currently in a story collection phase with conversations planned in Switzerland, the DRC and the UK.
Swiss Artist Mats Staub describes himself and work as “a traveller through the realms of memory. His long term projects grow incrementally from place to place.” He began the project 21 – Memories of Growing Up in 2012, asking people from different generations to recall their memories of turning 21. Mats records these stories and then plays them back to the interviewees three months later, filming their response to hearing their own stories. These video portraits comprise the project installation, which grows and evolves with each new geographical location that it visits – Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Belgrade, England, Holland, South Africa and the DRC.
Over the past five years, Pro Helvetia Johannesburg has supported various points of engagement and iterations of Mats’ 21 project in South Africa and the DRC. The growing archive of portraits spans race, culture, language and geography, offering a poignant view into what makes us human.
Mats first visited South Africa in December 2015 for a research residency to explore the possibility of developing his project 21 – Memories of Growing Up. This led to his working closely with Maia Marie and Nomonde Mbusi during the course of 2016 and 2017 towards a presentation of the global project and a Joburg version in South Africa.
In May-June 2017 the international version of the project including a selection of portraits from all the countries that the project has visited was exhibited at the District Six Museum in Cape Town as part of the International Encounters Documentary Film Festival and the 19th ASSITEJ World Congress and International Theatre Festival for Children and Young People.
For the Joburg edition, Mats worked in collaboration with Maia and Nomonde, introducing them to his listening methodology and together they produced nine portraits. Maia and Nomonde then produced a further ten portraits. The 21 Joburg edition combined the 19 portraits of people who live in Joburg, in English, isiZulu, isiXhosa and seSotho, with a selection of portraits from people who like in different European cities.
21 Joburg premiered in July-August 2017 at The Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg, before moving on to Bloemfontein in October to be hosted by the University of the Free State Anthropology Department and Institute for Justice and Reconciliation at the Sasol Library Foyer.
During 2016-2017 Mats also began working with Patrick Mudekereza and Jackson Bukasa at Regional Mobility Partner Waza Art in Lubumbashi to initiate 21 Congo alongside the French version of the project. This led to an exciting evolution of the format of project in VR to facilitate portability and presentation of the project in contexts such as Lubumbashi, DRC. In May 2019 the VR format was tested in a series of presentations at institutions in Lubumbashi together with workshops around the technology.