The Oscillation of Learning: A conversation between Fritha Langerman, Nina Liebenberg and Houghton Kinsman

11 Aug 2015 - 10:15

Houghton Kinsman in conversation with Fritha Langerman (Head of Department of Michaelis School of Fine Art) and Nina Liebenberg (Phd candidate, and lecturer and project manager at the CCA) via Gmail chat, on notions of practice, shared research and interests, as well as the oscillation of learning between mentor/mentee.

This conversation is the fourth installment of our Conversation Series, and the second of a sub-series titled Arranged Encounters, mediated by Houghton Kinsman.


Houghton Kinsman 4:13 PM

Hello and welcome Fritha and Nina,

Firstly, I want to say thank you for agreeing to join this arranged encounter 


Fritha Langerman 4:14 PM

OK great, are we all oscillating in this conversation? I would like to talk about curating the campus and Nina’s wildlife project in particular. 


Houghton Kinsman  4:14 PM

Yes indeed, we are all oscillating. Nina do you see all this?


Nina Liebenberg  4:16 PM


sorry, didn’t see that there was a new space

dammit. Spelling mistakes already!


Houghton Kinsman 4:16 PM

Speaking of space shall we begin with curating the campus Fritha?


Fritha Langerman 4:17 PM

As I understand, this is an opportunity to look at some of the work in the CCA. Nina’s ‘Wild things’ exhibition last year was such an interesting intervention into curating the little-known life/unseen life on campus. I wonder how this can be capitalized on further.

You may not have been aware of it Houghton – Nina maybe expand briefly


Houghton Kinsman 4:18 PM

Yes it sounds like it was before my time. I am a newbie to these parts! ☺


Nina Liebenberg 4:19 PM

It was really a small project which Fritha and Julia started a few years ago, drawing on the history of the campus as menagerie

Fritha, I cannot remember the menagerie dates exactly…


Fritha Langerman 4:20 PM

Yes, but in looking at the current wildlife of the campus it drew attention to its layered history, past proximity to the old menagerie, SA Museum and links to university collections in zoology.

It also touched on many staff interests – a growing field in animal studies and environmental concerns and urban ecologies.


Nina Liebenberg 4:21 PM

I got an ecological specialist in from Iziko to look at the campus through his eyes

and open mine to things I wouldn’t have noticed concerning the insect’s life, trees, birds etc…


Houghton Kinsman 4:21 PM

In a way making the invisible, visible?


Fritha Langerman 4:22 PM

In many ways this was a clever sense of a living archive, that acknowledges the past (and strata of the past) but reimagines these in current terms.


Nina Liebenberg 4:22 PM

Absolutely, through switching disciplinary lenses


Fritha Langerman 4:23 PM

And what do you think the switch of lenses does to the way in which we are able to see?


Nina Liebenberg 4:24 PM

I think it works very much like learning a new word…


Houghton Kinsman 4:24 PM

It is interesting you bring up the idea of seeing and lenses, I was having a conversation with Barbaro yesterday and he equated the brain to a monstrous archive that informs the way see, and words and the senses are essentially tools for the brain’s archive


Nina Liebenberg 4:27 PM

The moment you learn it, you hear it everywhere…it has always been there, but now you notice it.

I agree, it is going back and making the connections that are sitting there, but also forging new ones

To talk about the project in particular: the ecologists pointed out that our campus is in dire need of some ecological tlc…


Houghton Kinsman 4:27 PM



Fritha Langerman 4:28 PM

Yes, and that is why the  LIVED campus makes for an interesting sense of archive, particularly between areas that are more or less consciously constructed as such: from the Bertram Garden to the alien heritage trees, to the strips of astroturf!


Nina Liebenberg  4:29 PM

There are very few areas which encourage being outside, taking in fauna and flora.

We are government avenue, which is teeming with life, but the campus itself is tar-covered for the most part.


Fritha Langerman 4:30 PM

You will be interested then that a new campus plan includes the use of eco drainage systems (a central gracht of sorts) that will capture natural water fall-off and attract more natural life – perhaps..also many more planted beds and indigenous plants


Nina Liebenberg 4:31 PM

Something I think Pippa and Fritha and Justin are working on?


Mell Tripp, the visiting ornithologist, also recommended water features, for birds…

And Pippa wants insect hotels


Fritha Langerman  4:32 PM

I suppose what I am interested in, is how much attention students paid to Nina’s project while it was on, and whether there is a way in which this careful looking and sensitive empathetic living on this campus could be made more evident?


Nina Liebenberg 4:32 PM


Houghton Kinsman 4:33 PM

Yes I am in agreement. I think there is a routinized pattern of movement on campus, which means that oftentimes this natural landscape is taken for granted


Nina Liebenberg 4:33 PM

I think the fact that it fell in exam times, made it much more invisible than it should have been?


Houghton Kinsman 4:33 PM

Did it take place in the gallery space?


Nina Liebenberg 4:34 PM

No, much of it was small campus interventions, with a home platform outside the upper gallery entrance…


Houghton Kinsman 4:34 PM

So it was very much located in the outside environment


Nina Liebenberg 4:35 PM

A map that showed all activities, and grew as more and more things were added in the period the exhibition played out in…



Fritha Langerman 4:35 PM

The more I think about it, I am sad that it hasn’t had a more visible presence – on the CCA or Michaelis website. There was so much research done. Certainly the way we relate to our environment also impacts on the way in which we relate to each other in this space. We need to do something with this project


Nina Liebenberg 4:35 PM

Serendipitously, the second years were doing a drawing project with Katherine Spindler and Bull

which we decided should coincide with the exhibition


Houghton Kinsman 4:36 PM

Its funny you mention Katherine Spindler, I am across the road from her exhibition at Barnard Gallery in Newlands


Nina Liebenberg 4:36 PM

Sorry, haven’t kept an eye on the conversation…I agree, Fritha. I still get SO  much from previous projects.


Houghton Kinsman 4:37 PM

That process is in itself an oscillation, movement back and forth between past projects and future projects.


Fritha Langerman 4:37 PM

So what wild-life on campus do you pay attention to Houghton?


Houghton Kinsman 4:39 PM

Thats a good question, I feel I fall into this routinized pattern myself. I was just thinking on my way back to the studio from the Commerce lecture theatre, how beautiful it is outside, and how little time I spend there. Your idea to revisit the project and once again engage with the space feels extremely appropriate Fritha


Fritha Langerman 4:40 PM

I think that we need to develop this into a publication – online as well as in print – that links the living campus with its collections and history. This is for when you are taking a break from your PhD Nina! But it is interesting to see what people really notice – other than the occasional squirrel stealing a roti from the dustbin.



Nina Liebenberg 4:40 PM

I think there is a lot more to explore as well…There are so many electives that deal with the environment and the city..which could be incorporated as well

Just as an aside: has anyone seen the African Harrier Hawk???


Houghton Kinsman 4:40 PM

Yes fantastic, it could become like a gesamtkunstwerk


Nina Liebenberg 4:41 PM

He hangs out on campus every now and then.


Houghton Kinsman 4:41 PM

This one?


Nina Liebenberg 4:41 PM

The ornithologist told us about it – and – as things go – I saw him the next week!



Fritha Langerman 4:41 PM

Yes, but so much good work and great ideas are generated, and after projects are over, they are packed away. This needs an active presence and space to archive the projects and findings.


Nina Liebenberg 4:42 PM

He was in the tree outside my office. VERY big. And strangely clumsy

probably because of his size. And he was hopping down and seemed very aware of us looking at him.

Lex and Barbaro also saw him


Fritha Langerman 4:43 PM

He decimated a pigeon outside my window some time back…


Nina Liebenberg 4:43 PM



Fritha Langerman 4:43 PM

rather that than a squirrel!


Nina Liebenberg 4:44 PM

Glad he is still around, since I haven’t seen him since.

Talking expanding the project…


Houghton Kinsman 4:44 PM

Yes the idea of the active archive is intriguing


Nina Liebenberg 4:45 PM

I recently visited Michael Nixon and the Kirby collection of instruments again, with the local issues students.

and he mentioned that he would love to get a zoologist as well as a botanist in to view the instruments…


Fritha Langerman 4:46 PM

Zoologist to look at the animal life in the instruments? Ok, so from this conversation, we should take some action – if not learning. As soon as the shuttle moves the campus will be redesigned, so we should archive what he have soon.


Nina Liebenberg 4:47 PM

Brilliant. Nixon wants them to identify some of the wood that was used, to maybe ascertain where some of the instruments are from…how to better conserve them etc etc.


Houghton Kinsman 4:48 PM

And there is a space to turn this transdisciplinary discussion into something like a mini Serpentine Marathon

Not the snake but the gallery in London ☺


Nina Liebenberg 4:49 PM

Just saw…looks fascinating. Well, I think we have SO many students and lecturers who feel strongly about a range of ecological issues…


Houghton Kinsman 4:50 PM

Yes there is a really interesting mix between science and art at Michaelis


Fritha Langerman 4:51 PM

Must disconnect soon. I am sure all your conversations won’t have outcome agendas, but let’s take this further.


Nina Liebenberg  4:51 PM

Less daunting than I expected ☺


Houghton Kinsman 4:52 PM

I guess that is the great thing about unexpected organic conversations, you never know what will come out of it!

Thank you both for your time, and such a good exchange!


Fritha Langerman 4:52 PM

Thanks – don’t know how to add happy face (happy face)


Houghton Kinsman 4:53 PM

Have a great evening both of you and if I can help in any way with expanding that project you know where to find me!


Nina Liebenberg  4:53 PM

Heheheh, toodleloo. Enjoy Oscar and Echo and Andy. Houghton, go look at the show, it is beautiful. I will be fine combing the conversation and kicking myself for some comments.


Houghton Kinsman 4:54 PM

Will do! Not too hard I hope! ☺ Good evening!