Kira Kemper, Sethembile Msezane, Nadja Daehnke, Elgin Rust, Lesiba Mabitsela, Wayne Reddiar, Adelheid Camilla von Maltitz, Nieke Lombard, Sandile Radebe, Roxy Anne Kawitzky, Francois Knoetze, Siphumeze Tafari Khundayi, Sonia Radebe, Gavin Krastin and Phumlani Ntuni.
– from private to public practice
– Site as a starting point to creative enquiry
– Working independently to working collaboratively
– Working within one discipline to working interdisciplinary
Sethembile: I realised that we were in our own bubble at the residency when we approached one of the community members, Mr Sampies, a principal at Ikhaya Senior Primary School. He told Sonia Radebs (Radebe), Sandile Radebe, Siphumeze Tafari Khundayi and I that he heard about the performance Lesiba Mabitsela, Phumlani Ntuli Spearhead and Kira Kemper did, where the initial concept was part of a proposal to introduce a mask- making festival to the community of Richmond . However, his perception was that a group of foreigners were in town doing strange things yet again (referring to a group of previous visitors who were inspecting graveyards). For the proposed mask festival Lesiba and Phumlani wandered the town tied to each other with a long rope and wearing masks made out found materials from the area. The man who told the principal about this was scared and quickly drove off.
This being a small town, I realised how important it was to the community to know what is happening in their own territory. A lack of communication created misconceptions about the visitors who were practicing strange supposedly “satanic” things.
Elgin Rust: I found this exercise of workshopping and developing other peoples’ proposals particularly challenging as we had to comment on and develop ideas in a very short timeframe, letting go of judgment and ownership. This process opened up the creative collaborative space, allowing ideas to surface in a free-style manner. It was exciting to see that in the end we did refine the ideas into proposals which were presented.
Sonia Radebs (Radebe): Some participants mentioned that their ideas were “misunderstood.” This has taught me something as a creative. One has to try and be as articulate as possible in writing or creating. Alternatively, be simple. Often we create with pre-set expectations of audience reaction and when that reaction becomes something else, it can leave one feeling confused and unsatisfied. Through this exercise I learnt instead how to let go of my own ideas and allow change to take place.
Nieke Lombard: I think the one thing that the development of other artists’ proposals taught me was open- mindedness. Initially one is precious over one’s idea. You are either arrogant and selfish because you think it is so damn good, or you are insecure because you don’t think it is good enough. The exercise taught me that an idea is just a thought- it is worth sharing and worth morphing, often into something better than what it would have been in your precious hands. We need to let go as artists – we tend to become too precious about our work, we need to not be afraid of so-called mistakes.
I like what Sethembile Malozi Msezane brought up. For me, when an idea is brought to life in a public space, all sorts of factors already ‘inform’ it. The people in a specific space have ingrained perceptions and experiences that inform them. Should one research these before or should one just let an idea loose and then seek feedback? I suppose the question is always: “what are you trying to achieve and how do you go about in order to achieve it?” I think the unpredictability of the uncontrollable factors in the public space is what drew most of us to this way of working, even though personally it still scares me.
Siphumeza, Nadja and Sandile, your final proposal was ‘Making a Still object move (romancing the mirror)’. Could you discuss this work and your experience thereof?
Sethembile: In this ad hoc performance, Siphumeze Tafari Khundayi sensually danced and interacted with a mirror dressed in a jacket. Nadja Daehnke performed the persona of a male photographer who intervened on the scene by intermittently firing a camera flash. I found the act of looking at and witnessing this scene very voyeuristic. However, this realisation only came about when Nadja’s persona interfered with the scene of Siphu romancing the mirror. When Nadja was not around I, as the viewer, felt like I was as much part of this performance as either the object or even Siphu herself. It was a strange position to be in: both the non-aware viewer who identifies as some of the characters, as well as the voyeur.
Street Whyz (Sandile Radebe): As much as the performance Nadja, Siphu and I workshoppped was adapted from someone else’s idea, we could interpret these ideas however we wanted to. This freedom also translated into how we introduced props to the performance, using a mirror to signify a person/reflection of self, a jacket to further connote self and a camera flash as a source of light. The choice of the props allowed us to evolve the original idea, driven by what we could do with these objects. At the end, the process was fluid and not predetermined by the original idea. The power relations implied in the performance did not only shift with the voyeur intervening in the act, but they were also subverted through a reinterpretation of the original idea.
Roxy, Elgin, Wayne, Sonia and Elvis, yours was the River Song and Dance. What was your experience of the workshop?
Photograph: Louis Krüger.
Nadja Daehnke: It was so beautiful to experience the sheer joy and impact of a shared song and shared movement. It makes me sad when I consider how rare such a simple experience is in many peoples lives. It was great to be reminded of the power of the simple gesture.
Elgin: Yes it was… especially when we closed the final workshop with an ad-hoc song.
Sethembile: At first I was uncomfortable with ‘messing’ with someone’s idea, but here we were given permission to workshop these ideas. I then realised that it’s just an exercise, no one is critiquing or judging your thoughts. I often overthink my own work in this regard.
I started to have fun with reworking these ideas and churning out my thoughts freely in under five minutes.
Kira: At first, I felt very stuck when Lesiba, Phumlani and I were working on a community mask- making project. I think we were all stumped until we just had to get into it.
Adelheid Camilla von Maltitz: Working with Nieke and Elgin on developing an idea was incredibly rewarding. It had a flow to it that I didn’t realise was possible. I felt pressurised, but at the same time safe to make a mistake. I think this process taught me a lot that I will use throughout my life.
Lesiba Mabitsela: It’s one thing working on another person’s idea, but seeing your idea interpreted through others thoughts is an altogether different experience. In essence, it seems that the whole residency aimed at being open to taking on new influences within your practice, but at the same time letting go was just as much a valued exercise. It almost outlines the fundamental traits of public art- letting go of all personally- charged theoretical reasons behind an artwork and leaving it for the public to interpret. Therefore, I think that the most treasured moments were the Q&A sessions that followed in the studio and around the dinner table.
Please discuss Nadja’s “physical monument.”
Photograph: Louis Krüger.
Nadja: Yes, Sthe, I also often wonder about the rocks. I liked the way it took us and the audience a mere 3 minutes to build a ‘monument’, marking the spatial centre of Richmond. When approaching Richmond as a visitor, the temptation is to think of the historical area, the old church or market area as the centre of town. Marking the actual spatial centre with a cairn, and making participants aware of the location of this centre, is meant to shift the understanding of Richmond and the relative size, impact and importance of the different residential areas within Richmond.
Francois, Gavin and Sthe on their Blanket idea:
Photograph: Louis Krüger.
In our performance, we addressed Marikana’s plight. For the the performance, the blanket had multiple uses such as a ramp, an outfit (much like the iconic ‘Remember Marikana’ image spray painted in various places around South Africa) and a symbol of ‘blanketing’/covering up of an issue. In essence, the performance was in the dark on a ladder, and Francois threw blankets up to me at the top of the ladder, while I covered Gavin deeper and deeper in more blankets.
Nieke on ‘Bridging’, a performance by her, Elgin and Adelheid:
As a group, we developed the proposed performance ‘Bridging.’ The original proposal suggested the river as a site for confronting the past, as a divider and as a site of potential life and growth- all hidden in its current state of neglected stagnation. In this part of the process we were grabbing at straws and nearly wanted to give up on it. But we persisted and finally thought of an activity which we called ‘Bridging’. The proposal was that people in the community of Richmond would carry a person across the river by making a double line facing each other and moving the person along with their hands. This was inspired by a particular physical exercise facilitated by Jay Pather, where the participant had closed eyes in a mummy pose, and was then raised into the air by a group of people and carried on their hands. The idea also arose out of the physical group exercises done during the workshop, many of which encouraged trust, getting into each other’s personal spaces, team work and group focus. We wanted to bridge language, race and culture with a simple exercise that had symbolic significance. We see the physical bridge spanning the river of Richmond as a linkage between the two halves of the town, and thus as a reminder of segregationist town-planning during the apartheid era. We wanted to extend these concepts of separation and bridging into something immediate and tangible, into a unification through a simple, shared experience.
After these workshops, the group then presented a final proposal and performance in Richmond. Sandile worked with community members and Mr Sampies to create signage for the local school. Can you elaborate on this performance?
Sethembile: I think Sandile redeemed our image in the community with his intervention where he painted Ikhaya Senior Primary School’s signage at the entrance of the School. I overheard one of the children proudly praise and claim the school as her own at the sight of the signage. It was wonderful to experience.
Elgin: Sandile explored Richmond with an open mind, a sensitive ear, mindful attention and the desire to make a difference. It was great to see what can be done in a very short time frame with minimal resources. It was a sensitive response to the real need of the school and community.
Nieke: He reminded me that it is important to connect with people on a basic level. Sandile taught me: “Sawubona”- I see you. He took the time to greet and chat to people in the community; he listened and responded to what they needed. He acknowledged them.
Elgin, can you explain your final piece, the Mond of Richmond installation?
Elgin:I created a site specific ephemeral installation, which was a reflective response to my personal experience of Richmond. Richmond is a small town which could easily be navigated on foot, but remains inaccessible due to language barriers. The extremely polarised social, economic and racial structure of Richmond challenged and called for careful reconsiderations of site, ownership, voice and audience.
And lastly, Sthe, please discuss your dust and movement painting?
Photograph: Louis Krüger.
Sethembile: This experimental work was a combination of my experience as an outsider temporarily inhabiting Richmond, and Richmond trying to inhabit me through memories, dust particles etc. In this piece I swept some dirt found on someone’s doorstep into my bucket. I then carried the bucket of dirt into a ‘neutral’ space indoors where about 60 children from Richmond followed me along with the OpenLab participants.
I put the bucket on the ground and banged the door shut to get the attention of the restless children. I then used some tape and stuck it to the corner of the room, using my body as tool of movement while stretching and tearing the tape. At one point, some of the children helped me stretch some tape and place it. Eventually, I used the dirt to paint on the tape and when I was done I lit the ‘painting’ with a torch which was concealed in the bucket. This created a temporary ‘painting of shadows’ that reflected on the wall and ceiling.
One of the children whispered ‘spinnekop’ (spider) as the reflection touched the walls. This was an enriching experience that amalgamated my serendipitous audience, the residue of the town and my body.
OPENLab is part of the overall Program for Innovation in Art from Development (PIAD) which is part of the transformation strategy of the Vryfees, and the University of the Free State.
Thank you to all the facilitators and participants for engaging in this dialogue.