Joburg unveils 11-m tall ‘fire walker’ steel sculpture
Construction|Engineering|Johannesburg|Newtown|Yeoville|Fire|PROJECT|Queen Elizabeth Bridge|Building|Derelict Traffic Island Site|Laser Cut Steel|Mining|Steel|Steel Yard|Tall Steel Sculpture|Gerhard Marx|John Munday|Lael Bethlehem|William Kentridge|Laser
© Reuse this
The eleven-metre tall steel sculpture known as the ‘fire walker’ by artists William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx was the latest edition to the Johannesburg public art collection, which forms part of the inner city’s regeneration programme.
Unveiled on Wednesday, it is situated on a previously derelict traffic island site on the Newtown side of the Queen Elizabeth bridge in Johannesburg. Marx described the artwork as “a kind of irrational piece, with no 90º angles”, making the erection of the artwork “an engineering nightmare, and a mammoth task”.
The sculpture depicts a silhouetted image of a woman walking with a fire brazier balanced on her head, an everyday sight in the city - female entrepreneurs who make a business out of cooking and selling ‘mielies’ (corn on the cob), and ‘smileys’ (cooked sheep heads), to pedestrians and taxi commuters.
There were no architectural drawings for the sculpture, and it was based on a smaller scale (about 80 cm) model, made of cardboard.
“To change the scale to the full scale ten metres high that we have on the square, we first started by making a three-metre enlargement. The sensible thing to enlarge a sculpture from three-metres to ten-metres would be to build the whole sculpture in a workshop in a steel yard so you could get it all perfect and then dismantle it in the steel yard and re-erect it on site,” explained Kentridge.
However, this did not fit within the timelines and budget of the project.
“So, we actually built the sculpture on site, as if we were building it out of a piece of bolster wood and foam, and cardboard, but instead of a central core, we had a massive H-beam, and instead of a sheet of paper, we had laser cut steel,” Kentridge added.
The construction of the sculpture on the site took about three weeks.
Ensuring that the structure was not evident, and that it did not interfere with or ruin the sculpture was an important aspect of the project. Marx explained that finding an engineer who could erect the sculpture without additional structures and columns was difficult.
“The major challenge in a project like this is the wind loading, because you have a very slender thing made of plates, and under normal circumstances where it’s a big sign, there are no constraints of the structure, we all see the huge columns, but in something like this, the idea is to hide the structure within the sculpture,” structural engineer John Munday told Engineering News Online.
The only thing done with full-blown joins was the foundation, and the “guts” of the sculpture holding it down. “In there are big chunks of structural steel, H-beams and I-beams, but hopefully most of them are hidden amongst the artists’ vision,” added Munday.
Kentridge described the artwork as a three-dimensional object, which in one way has to be read as a two dimensional flat image. From one point of view the image is clear, but as one moves around the sculpture it seems to disintegrate and becomes chaotic.
“It has the appearance of a solid object, which is not really so,” said Kentridge. Initially the artists thought of constructing a sculpture of a miner, considering the mining heritage of the city, but after seeing the women “carrying fire on their heads”, felt that this would be a more appropriate image for the city.
“The piece is really meant to act as a kind of explosion, so it was really about constructing a sculpture that had very little sense of gravity to it, and of course what an engineer brings to a structure is a sense of gravity, so it was always a slightly counter intuitive project,” noted Marx.
The artwork was commissioned by the Trinity Session and forms part of the second phase of the Public Art programme for Hillbrow Berea and Yeoville. It was funded by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), which spends 1% of the City’s total capital expenditure budget on beautifying the city through public art.
JDA CEO Lael Bethlehem emphasised that the fire walker was one of a number of artworks which form an integral part of the regeneration of the city, and said that it reflected a love and passion for Johannesburg from the two Johannesburg-born artists.
Edited by: Mariaan Webb
© Reuse this
Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Swedish Ambassador to South Africa Christian Meuwly will next week inaugurate the final roll-out of the new vertical shaft brick kiln (VSBK) at clay brick manufacturer Langkloof Bricks’ facility in Jeffrey’s Bay. The VSBK formed a part of economic, social and...
Hot on the heels of the launch of Rustenburg’s rapid transport system’s brand name and logo last week, a negotiation framework agreement (NFA) has been formally agreed to and signed by the Rustenburg Local Municipality (RLM) and taxi and bus operators affected by the...
The runway at the George Airport, in the Western Cape, has been rehabilitated to improve safety, in terms of run-off and storm water drainage, and the structural capacity of the pavement surface. The scope of work comprised the extension of Runway 11/29, the...
Recent Research Reports
Defence 2014: A review of South Africa's defence industry (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Defence 2014 report examines South Africa’s defence industry, with particular focus on the key participants in the sector, the innovations that have come out of the sector, local and export demand, South Africa’s controversial multibillion-rand...
Road and Rail 2014: A review of South Africa's road and rail infrastructure (PDF report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2014 report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and the push to move road...
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
This Week's Magazine
Integrated energy and chemical company Sasol has partnered with Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL) professor and founder and CEO of PanAvest Partnership Dr Douglas Boateng to publish a series of books on executive supply chain management aimed at...
MORNÉ DU PLESSIS
Increased urgency and burgeoning awareness of the importance of these issues are beginning to change political risks and, thus, State responses to environmental concerns
The World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF’s) 2014 Living Planet Index (LPI) indicates that there has been a 52% decline in vertebrate species since 1970. The Index tracked the trends of 10 000 discrete populations of over 3000 vertebrate species between 1970 and 2010.
Rwanda has joined a number of East African countries seeking to import electricity from Ethiopia as its demand grows. After it became apparent several generation project it is implementing will not come on stream early enough, now plans to import 400 MW from Ethiopia...
Metrorail’s first new passenger train will arrive in November next year, says Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) CEO Lucky Montana. “Next year we will be able to put our hands around the infrastructure and equipment we have been talking about for so long.”
The Competition Commission has launched an investigation into what it says are “price fixing, market division and collusive tendering in the market for the manufacture and supply of automotive components to original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs, or vehicle...