Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse b.1981 / Doors, Ponte City (film)
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Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse b.1981 / Doors, Ponte City (film)Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse b.1981 / Doors, Ponte City (film)Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse b.1981 / Doors, Ponte City (film)Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse b.1981 / Doors, Ponte City (film)Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse b.1981 / Doors, Ponte City (film)Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse b.1981 / Doors, Ponte City (film)
about this work
Since 2008 Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse have explored the towering, iconic and fabled structure that is Ponte City. Opened in 1976, the building is cast as the central character in a tangled narrative about Johannesburg’s magnetic pull on people from all over the continent. Since the 1990's Ponte has attracted those set on escaping the legacy of African autocracy – economic decline and social fragmentation. This video installation is the ultimate incarnation of this body of work bringing together every door in Ponte City. 

The internal doors that open from the circular corridors into each apartment, at first look like a giant stained-glass window - a seemingly composed arrangements of reds, pinks and blues. In fact, the photographs are arranged accurately and truly to the building. The different colours are dictated by the building's history - the old pink paint from its 1970's heyday still remains near the top, while recent renovations which started near the bottom included blue neon lights, casting a strange glow onto the black doors. Punctuating the closed doors of these various colours, one periodically comes across a door thrown open to reveal a portrait of that apartments residents. Working at night, the artists knocked on each door in the building to request the portraits; photographing the closed door if their request was refused, or if the apartment was empty. Where a portrait was taken, the glare of the raw electric bulbs in the apartments has been accentuated by back-lighting of the light-boxes. These small squares of light and life jump out towards the viewer, giving the work a sense of depth which strains against the many closed doors that pull the eye back to its surface.

If one studies closely the striations of light and colour of the work, an archaeology of the building reveals itself. The ornate patterns of the doors and security gates on the higher floors are in stark contrast to the plain black wooden doors installed lower down during the building's last failed renovation in 2007 and 2008. The thirty-second floor was photographed during this period when it housed the show apartments that were being used to advertise the renovated building. On some of the doors, the decor schemes that investors could choose from are clearly marked. 'Future Slick', 'Moroccan Delight', 'Glam Rock' and 'Zen Like' are all at odds with the visions of the building that surround them. The comprehensive methodology of the photography reveals both these layers of history as well as individual fragments of interest. Right at the bottom, on the very last floor that the artists photographed, they came across the doors to what used to be the building's public restrooms. Amazingly, these were still clearly marked with the exclusions of Apartheid - 'European Here' and 'European Dame (European Gentleman and European Ladies)'.

"Ponte has always been a place of myth, illusion and aspiration. This is what we seek to evoke......Perhaps this task is best left to the images that we have found there – both in the abandoned flats, and in the marketing material and advertising that we have collected from 1976 and 2008. When these documents are seen next to the dystopian appearance of the building and its surroundings, one begins to project an image of this city during this time. It is a place of dust and dreams, befitting the land on which it sits, which has attracted millions of migrants since gold was discovered in the 1880's. People are still drawn here from all over the continent in search of better lives for themselves and their families. But the gold, in all its incarnations, inevitably fulfills the dreams of so few. All around them, those who service this passion are scattered in a modern metropolis – pinning their dreams to the flashing signs which crest the city and some of its buildings."

-Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse, Johannesburg, 2009

Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse (b.1981, South Africa)

Doors, Ponte City (film), 2010

Rear screen projection for 12 screens, HD DVD

Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa  Current Location:
Hong Kong - BRINK'S HK VideoAfrica

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