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In 2009, William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx were commissioned to make a public sculpture for the City of Johannesburg to be installed in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The sculpture is based on a drawing by Kentridge of a woman street vendor—known colloquially as a fire walker—carrying a burning brazier on her head. The eleven-metre-high striding figure would take her place at the foot of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge on a site formerly used by informal traders and taxi washers. Eschewing the bronze monumentalism of traditional public sculpture, Kentridge and Marx devised a figure made up of steel plates that resolves into a coherent image from one vantage point only. A pedestrian passing the sculpture has only a momentary view of the striding woman before the sculpture ‘fragments’ into its black and white parts. Fire Walker represents not a grand public office-bearer, but an ordinary citizen whose survival depends on her ability to negotiate often-contested urban terrain.

What began as a project to document the making of Fire Walker has evolved, in this book, into a number of conversations about—and meditations on—the meaning of public art. Essays by Mark Gevisser, Mpho Matsipa, Alexandra Dodd, and Jonathan Cane and Zen Marie prise open critical questions about public space in Johannesburg; interviews with the various collaborators on the sculpture reveal the complexities and challenges of creating such a work; and the extraordinary images of the construction of the sculpture, alongside two photo essays on street vendors and old city monuments, suggest the metaphorical power of Fire Walker as well as the fragile hold of street vendors over their small share of city space.

Published by Fourthwall Books
Pub date: 3 May 2011
Edited by Oliver Barstow and Bronwyn Law-Viljoen.
Essays by Mark Gevisser, Mpho Matsipa, Alexandra Dodd, Jonathan Cane and Zen Marie
300 x 200 mm
128 pages
Full colour
Softcover with dust jacket and slip case
R395-00 incl. VAT

Book Launch
9 June 2011, 6:00 for 6.30 pm
The rooftop, Main Street Life

Books will be on sale at the launch and William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx will be present to sign them.

As part of Fire Walker, the deluxe edition of the book will include a signed and numbered limited-edition print from both William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx.

Contributors: Oliver Barstow, Jonathan Cane, Alex Dodd, Mark Gevisser, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen, Mpho Matsipa, Zen Marie

Photography: John Hodgkiss, Ben Law-Viljoen, Alastair McLachlan

Editions: William Kentridge, Gerhard Marx.

Preview :

Fourthwall Books is a new partnership between editor and writer Bronwyn Law-Viljoen and designer Oliver Barstow. The company was established to publish beautifully designed and written books on art and architecture. Law-Viljoen and Barstow both have literary backgrounds and, between them, extensive experience in design and publishing. Fourthwall Books hopes to raise the bar for art publishing in South Africa by combining innovative and intelligent book design with excellent writing.

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