Kim Gurney


Igshaan Adams, Kicking Dust, 2020. Process image, A4 Arts Foundation. Photo courtesy of Kim Gurney

Kicking Dust: Communal pathways as works of art  


What is missing or overlooked? This is a question the artworks of Igshaan Adams seem to ask. If there is an answer, perhaps it lies in collective ingenuity of the everyday, happening right in front of our eyes. Like communal pathways forged from the scrub. His artworks make tangible what is often disregarded and elevate it with radical care. Humble materials like beads, wire and ropes, familiar subject matter, and local know-how trouble how value is ascribed. Adams weaves together beautifully intricate installations that render concrete such ground-up philosophies. 


Adams pays close attention to traces left by bodies as they move through domestic settings. Scuffed-out patterns on linoleum floorings were transcribed in his latest body of work into tapestries of mobility maps. One transfigured the wear of a woman’s feet repeatedly coming to rest while sitting in a favoured chair, another traced the popular pathways on a kitchen floor. 


But what really caught my imagination at the A4 Arts Foundation, its gallery turned into a working studio, was Kicking Dust, a large-scale installation-in-progress on the floor and in bursts of wire clouds. It mapped the informal pathways created by successive feet moving through an open plot of land between Cape Town neighbours, Bonteheuwel and Langa. Such paths are traversed to catch taxis, transport goods, buy alcohol, or move around recyclables and even contraband. “They stand for something [that is] designed for you in a certain way, but you find your own way,” Adams explained later, putting the final installation touches to this work at blank projects, a gallery. 


Desire lines, as architects call the self-made paths often running contrary to design or planning, appear in every city. [1] They are arguably a form of what urban scholar Teresa Caldeira calls “autoconstruction,” following the Latin American term for the way residents in cities of the South collectively and incrementally build their own homes and hence their cities. They use whatever resources are at hand and have transversal relations to official logics, she adds. [2]


The desire lines mapped by Kicking Dust have added resonance for how they rupture apartheid-era spatial planning designed to prevent such mobility. Bonteheuwel is physically separated from Langa by a freeway, yet people have made their own short circuits through a kind of disobedient design. 


Desire lines are not only human; geologists call them preferential pathways in the terrain. Kicking Dust will in 2021 create a pathway of its own, as it heads off to become a solo exhibition at the South Bank’s Hayward Gallery. But solo is, in a sense, a misnomer for Adams. Collaborative economies and solidarity networks drive the way he works, from a team of weavers to enrolling family members in his exhibitions. His very first artwork referencing linoleum, in a 2009 installation of a domestic lounge, included a performance by his grandmother. She was dressed in her familiar overalls and sat in front of a TV, watching a favourite soap while crocheting. His work always speaks out from home ground. And no doubt Londoners will find equal enthrallment contemplating Kicking Dust. Collectively expressed desire lines are found everywhere. 


[1] This term was ascribed to the works by Josh Ginsburg, A4 Arts Foundation Director, during a studio residency walkabout at A4. 

[2] Teresa Caldeira, 2017. "Peripheral urbanization: Autoconstruction, transversal logics, and politics in cities of the global south." Environment and Planning, Vol. 35 (1): 3-20.