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Scrabbling the city: a City Views cover story

Guto Bussab_Scrabbling the City

On the cover of the March issue of City Views we give you a taste of what is to come during the free public arts festival Infecting the City from 11 to 16 March. The featured work, Scrabbling, is based on the popular word game Scrabble and invites audience and passersby to express themselves and collectively create a temporary artwork. Creator Guto Bussab is the founder and owner of MUTI, a parent brand for Muti Films (film production), Muti Photography (commercial photography) and TheMutiGallery art gallery). City Views traded letters with the artist.

Are you a keen scrabble player?
Not so much, but I really enjoy watching people play. The idea for this public art piece came about when I watched my friend Rose play with my 10 year old son Alex. It was fascinating to see how they interacted and had fun together.

Why did you specifically decide to use Scrabble for your intervention?
I believe that public art needs to be fun but it also needs a strong message. Every time I put this work out I am amazed at how much fun people have and the feeling they get from engaging with each other. It is a way of giving new meaning to the term “public art”, in a sense that the public actually makes the artwork.

Can a word-game overcome language barriers?
It’s one of the interesting things about doing this in South Africa. The unconditional interweaving of cultures that makes this country so special. I’m a staunch believer in multiculturalism, the idea of embracing each other’s cultures and allowing people to maintain their identities without prejudice. With Scrabbling, I’m hoping to get people interacting with each other while having a good time. All languages are welcome, South African and foreign. I have also modernised the game by introducing characters such as # ) ; : ? & !, allowing the public to come up with words used in social media and on mobile phones. You can hashtag and use emoticons in my version of Scrabble.

Do you have any expectations or hopes for what will happen with the artwork during the festival?
I have produced 300 word tiles for the Infecting the City Festival performance. At the beginning of each performance I will ask a member of the audience to give a word. This word will be the genesis of that day’s performance. I’m hoping that word sets the mood for the day’s performance. It’s interesting how this game flows as it plays into the subconscious of the crowd. Words are powerful; they can hurt as much as they can inspire. A combination of words might give us a sense of what South Africans are all about.

Will you be capturing or documenting the artwork?
I will be capturing the performance with time-lapse camera set ups. A video will show how it transforms and takes shape organically. I will also document the end piece so we can all see how crazy and beautiful the collaboration of the people involved was. After Infecting the City I will be taking Scrabbling into other places in Cape Town, like the beach and parks.

What is the value of interventions like this in public spaces?
I always make an effort to make the place where I live more fun and alive. By bringing art into the streets you make people interact more, think more, and hopefully make the day-to-day life a little more enjoyable. I like the idea that I can be part of what makes Cape Town a more liveable and happy place to be.

  • Read the latest issue of City Views here.
  • Don’t miss this year’s Infecting the City, from 11 to 16 March 2013: Go to for the full programme
  • If you’d like to get stuck into your own game of Scrabbling, join Guto outside the South African National Gallery on Thursday 14 March 2013 at 15h40, and again on Saturday 16 March at 13h40

Interview by Alma Viviers. Photograph by Martin Hahn

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