Talking Doors Exhibition

In December 2012, MTN Bushfire Festival of the Arts submitted a proposal called Talking Doors to the Prince Claus Fund call for proposals from Africa. Soon after submitting the proposal, MTN Bushfire began a partnership with Yebo! ArtReach to plan and design the Talking Doors Installation.  In May MTN Bushfire was selected as a recipient of the prestigious Prince Claus Grant. MTN Bushfire and Yebo! ArtReach worked closely in conceptualizing, contextualizing, designing, and constructing the 4-room interactive art installation to be opened at the festival. Talking Doors was designed to facilitate audience engagement with the festival theme 'Bring Your Fire' – igniting a collective response for positive change. 

Festival-goers were invited to move between the rooms of the installation, interacting with the different artists and art mediums, and exploring the many angles of their creative selves. The walls of each individual room were made entirely of doors. The name of installation, Talking Doors, informed this decision. ArtReach and MTN Bushfire wanted to explore the idea of the door as a symbol of transition and possibility. “The Door is an entrance, a finality, a promise, a mystery, an obstacle, an opportunity – doors contain or release, invite or impede. If doors had voices, what tales would they tell?” The doors were sourced second-hand from Matsapha, Swaziland, and were installed by an MTN Bushfire team, with guidance and instruction from Yebo! ArtReach. 
One room, lead by Annabel Morgan (director of Creative Beans) and Musa Zikalala was called ‘Out The Box’. Designed as a giant dress-up box of sorts, ‘Out The Box’ allowed people to discover their inner clown in under 4 minutes by dressing up in silly hats, clothes, shoes, wigs, mustaches, glasses, and feathered boas. Photographer Edward Morgan took photos of the newly inducted clowns in a homemade photo booth. Photos were then streamed to the live festival media feed, displayed on the main stage festival screen. The activity was intended to allow each and every person to break down any identity boundaries they may have had for themselves, and discover their inner sense of ‘play’. 
Another room was entitled the ‘Questin Sound Room’. Lead by Ralph Smit and Fundi Maphanga. Groups were encouraged to experiment with drums, shakers, tambourines, bells, and their voices, to create a collaborative musical track. Ralph is a musician and master of a loop station, which he used to take the musical experience to the next level in quality and professionalism. 
Visual Artist and ArtReach director Dane Armstrong conceptualized the idea for the ‘Color-Me Room’, a fully furnished and entirely white room. In this room, festival-goers were given no clear instructions – just a bucket of markers and pens, and a load of stickers. The end result was a intricately decorated and doodled room, where every surface had a scribble, a quote, a name, a country, a picture. Make your mark – bring your fire!
The fourth room was entitled ‘Patchwork Stories’ designed by Khulekani Msweli (founder and director of JeremPaul) and Marthe Lopez-Fesser. People were invited to sew, stitch, paint, or decorate their own personal fabric square, which would then be added to a larger collective quilt. The room sported a large banner that read ‘One Flag, One World, One Fire’. 
Project Coordinator Anne Caroline Franklin and performer China Zikalala welcomed each group who entered the space, explaining the installation, the ‘bring your fire’ concept, and inviting them to choose a room in which to start. Some were hesitant, some excited; most were intrigued by the blank facades of the rooms they were asked to enter. “One of the most rewarding parts of the experience for me,” Franklin reflects, “was watching the spontaneous collaborative creation by groups of people that otherwise might never have interacted.” Because many festival-goers arrived alone or in couples, the ArtReach team paired people together randomly. This resulted in many diverse combinations of people creating, laughing, and interacting with one another.
Several parents were under the misconception that Talking Doors was aimed at youth. They entered the space looking for their children and excusing themselves from participation by saying “Oh no, I’m the parent”. The ArtReach team insisted, however, that they be involved too, and consequentially many families were able create together. 
Renowned graffiti artists Indigo and Breeze Yoko painted the exterior walls of the installation. This collaboration, and their artwork, added an invaluable element of aesthetic professionalism to the installation as a whole. The paint and materials were generously sponsored by Star Paint Swaziland. Gia Armstrong, Edward Morgan, Dane Armstrong, Sydelle Willow Smith, and Rowan Pybus took photo and film documentation of the installation process – from preparation to deconstruction. Three members from the Siyahleka performance group from Manzini joined the Talking Doors Team in order to promote the installation through performance around the festival grounds. They told festival-goers about ‘Bring Your Fire’ through skits and dance, and encouraged people to visit the Talking Doors Installation.  


Talking Doors was an absolute success. Every hour that the installation was open, there were people queuing up to enter. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive from participants and facilitators alike. Festival-goers came back again and again to the installation, bringing their families and friends, eager to create, have fun, dress up, try something new, and ‘bring their fire’. MTN Bushfire, Yebo! ArtReach, and the Talking Doors team would like to extend their most conscious gratitude towards the Prince Claus Fund for supporting the development of the arts in the southern African region. Because of the overwhelming success of the Talking Doors installation, MTN Bushfire and Yebo! ArtReach plan to recreate and develop the concept annually. This initial Talking Doors success has inspired the creation of many more participatory elements of the MTN Bushfire festival in years to come. In addition to the generous Prince Claus Fund, MTN Bushfire would also like to thank Yebo! ArtReach, Indigo, Creative Beans, JeremPaul, and all other involved parties and individuals for making the Talking Doors such an effective and enjoyable platform to encourage each person to Bring Their Fire.
An extension of the Talking Doors project will be developed and taken into the neighboring Mahlanya Community in July/August 2013. This will be done to extend the concept and goals of the installation to a broader audience, allowing for further dissemination of the Bring Your Fire theme in a more communal context.
Founding Graphic Design Partner - Vincent Caudry.
Official Photographers - Bram Lanmers and Sydelle Willow-Smith
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