ART@FIRST: THE AF­TER­MATH

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From 22 Au­gust un­til 22 Septem­ber 2018, FirstRand’s Art@First Gallery will show the works of es­tab­lished and emerg­ing artists from Au­gust House in an ex­cit­ing new group ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled The Af­ter­math.

From 22 Au­gust un­til 22 Septem­ber 2018, FirstRand’s Art@First Gallery will show the works of es­tab­lished and emerg­ing artists from Au­gust House in an ex­cit­ing new group ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled The Af­ter­math.

The Art@First Gallery at FirstRand is sit­u­ated be­tween the en­trance foyer to 4 Mer­chant Place and Fresh@First, the staff can­teen. The pop-up ex­hi­bi­tion space was ini­ti­ated by Beth van Heer­den, FirstRand’s art ex­ec­u­tive, and opened its doors to staff about 18 months ago.

Van Heer­den had orig­i­nally been tasked with fill­ing the wall spa­ces that had opened up when the can­teen was ex­tended and new board­rooms were es­tab­lished. Ac­cord­ing to Craig Hig­gin­son, at the time Van Heer­den didn’t have the bud­get to buy more work for the FirstRand col­lec­tion – a role she has played now for over four years – so she and her col­leagues went to the store­room to look for ex­ist­ing works that could be dis­played. There they found a great many or­nitho­log­i­cal and botan­i­cal art­works, some of which hadn’t been dis­played for sev­eral years; but in the end, in an ef­fort to show­case more con­tem­po­rary works by con­tem­po­rary South African artists, they de­cided on a pop-up ex­hi­bi­tion.

As Van Heer­den has stated, ‘If you want people to be bit­ten by the art bug, they need to be ex­posed to what art can be. That’s why, in the last few shows, we’ve ap­proached a wide range of gal­leries so that our staff can be ex­posed to a much wider range of art than they might be used to… We are all so pres­surised these days. To make time to go and see an art ex­hi­bi­tion is dif­fi­cult – even for those who would like to. So we thought we’d bring the art di­rectly to our staff. On their way to the can­teen, they can pass through an ex­hi­bi­tion and per­haps stop, and look, and experience some­thing unique.’

Justin Glick­man, who helped con­ceive the Art@First ini­tia­tive, de­signed a touch-screen kiosk that is sit­u­ated in­side the ex­hi­bi­tion space and pro­vides fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about the art and artists on dis­play. Glick­man says that ‘art can be quite in­tim­i­dat­ing, es­pe­cially to people who feel they know lit­tle about it. We wanted to pro­vide a plat­form for ex­ist­ing art lovers as well as for people who may not have the con­fi­dence or in­cli­na­tion to go and look at art. We wanted them to en­gage with it in a way that was not in­tim­i­dat­ing, in a way that was re­laxed, and so the mid­dle space be­tween the of­fices and the can­teen is per­fect for that. The great thing is: when a new ex­hi­bi­tion goes up, you can im­me­di­ately feel a shift in en­ergy in the cor­ri­dors. Sud­denly, the whole place is alive.’

Teresa Lizamore, who is the cu­ra­tor of the Rand Mer­chant Bank art col­lec­tion, has cu­rated sev­eral ex­hi­bi­tions in the space since it opened, in­clud­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing Women’s Day in Au­gust last year. Lizamore was ap­proached by Au­gust House for the idea of The Af­ter­math ex­hi­bi­tion and it was de­cided that a call would be put out for a young new cu­ra­tor for the ex­hi­bi­tion, who

would be men­tored by Lizamore. In­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor, artist and en­tre­pre­neur, Ol­wethu de Vos made the grade.

De Vos ob­tained her B-Tech in Fine and Ap­plied Arts at the Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in 2016, hav­ing ma­jored in sculp­ture and glass. In her fi­nal year of study, De Vos vol­un­teered as an ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tant at the Pre­to­ria Art Mu­seum where she was in­tro­duced to cu­ra­tor­ship and con­duct­ing chil­dren’s work­shops. The fol­low­ing year, she ventured fully into cu­ra­tor­ship and by the end of that year, she had cu­rated eight ex­hi­bi­tions in Gaut­eng.

Known to lo­cals as ‘the artist’s play­ground’, Au­gust House has grown from a former light fac­tory into an ex­clu­sive art build­ing. A five-storey, 1940s ur­ban build­ing with high col­umns, au­then­tic ar­chi­tec­ture and ex­pan­sive open plan floors, it’s a won­der­ful blend of in­spi­ra­tion and still­ness.

Hous­ing Pan-African artists in pri­vate stu­dio spa­ces, Au­gust House is very pos­si­bly the largest com­mu­nity of African con­tem­po­rary artists un­der one roof in the coun­try, and most def­i­nitely the largest group of emerg­ing pro­fes­sional artists in one space, in­cu­bat­ing, col­lab­o­rat­ing and cre­at­ing art to­gether. Au­gust House of­fers artists a plat­form to be in a com­mu­nity while work­ing in­de­pen­dently on pro­fes­sional plat­forms with their own gal­leries and buy­ers. This well-re­spected art in­sti­tu­tion is enig­mat­i­cally paving its own way in the lo­cal arts scene with its tra­di­tion­ally re­bel­lious na­ture.

Au­gust House sup­ports its leas­ing artists by ini­ti­at­ing new projects like open days, where the pub­lic is in­vited to visit the in­di­vid­ual stu­dios, ex­hi­bi­tions such as The Af­ter­math or the one re­cently held at the Absa Gallery; pro­vid­ing vi­tal op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­po­sure for artists to launch their ca­reers.

‘Au­gust House houses about 60 ten­ant artists and af­ter meet­ing all the artists at a briefing ses­sion, 40 of the artists ac­cepted our in­vi­ta­tion to be part of the ex­hi­bi­tion at FirstRand,’ says Lizamore. ‘Ol­wethu and I have had meet­ings with all the in­ter­ested artists to de­ter­mine if their works are ap­pro­pri­ate for the ex­hi­bi­tion. As the ex­hi­bi­tion is aimed at po­ten­tial new staff buy­ers, it is im­por­tant to ex­hibit works that will at­tract new buy­ers and show what the mar­ket has to of­fer. Also im­por­tant is to en­sure that the works ex­hib­ited are af­ford­able.’

The plan is to ex­hibit about 60 art­works, says Lizamore. The artists have been given a theme, ‘af­ter­math’, which al­lows for artists to cre­ate works within the frame­work of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try and the his­tory of the coun­try. This will include works by es­tab­lished artists such as Greatjoy Ndlovu, Sizwe Khoza, Toni-Ann Bal­len­dan, Diane Vic­tor and Benon Lu­taaya, as well as works by emerg­ing and lesser-known artists. The ex­hi­bi­tion will con­sist of

mainly two-di­men­sional works, but will include a few three­d­i­men­sional works and an in­stal­la­tion.

‘The ex­hi­bi­tion is a vis­ual ex­plo­ration of nar­ra­tives of to­day de­picted by var­i­ous artists re­sid­ing in Au­gust House,’ says De Vos. ‘These nar­ra­tives vary in con­tent and vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion such as colour, tech­nique, style and ma­te­rial. How­ever, as much as these nar­ra­tives vary, they all share a com­mon thread which is an un­der­ly­ing so­cial and cul­tural re­flec­tion of the times that they are liv­ing in now, in the con­tem­po­rary land­scape of South­ern Africa. While we are liv­ing in a demo­cratic coun­try, the ex­hi­bi­tion si­mul­ta­ne­ously man­i­fests into a dis­course of the ram­i­fi­ca­tions and ben­e­fits of de­coloni­sa­tion such as land rights and own­er­ship; eco­nomic struc­tures; cul­tural and tra­di­tional ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the fe­male and, cur­rently, the man too.

‘The ex­hi­bi­tion draws a par­al­lel be­tween the Au­gust House artists, por­trai­ture and ur­ban land­scape art, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ex­plor­ing the long his­tory of the Au­gust House build­ing as a her­itage site in Jo­han­nes­burg. Artists are en­cour­aged to ex­plore var­i­ous el­e­ments of South Africa and its in­hab­i­tants and cre­ate work that re­flects the melt­ing-pot of cul­tures and spa­ces that re­sem­ble the beloved coun­try.’

De Vos and Lizamore meet on a weekly ba­sis and visit the artists’ stu­dios. ‘Some of the main cri­te­ria with the com­pil­ing of this ex­hi­bi­tion is to get to know the artists, cre­ate bonds with the artists, en­sure that they un­der­stand the con­cept and pro­duce ap­pro­pri­ate works, and that all works are pro­duced and ex­hi­bi­tion-ready by re­quired dates,’ says Lizamore.

‘The fram­ing, fin­ish­ing off of an art­work, the place­ment and the hang­ing of this ex­hi­bi­tion is an im­por­tant part of the men­tor­ing. Ol­wethu and I will dis­cuss the best way to al­low for an aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing and in­ter­est­ing ex­hi­bi­tion,’ says Lizamore. De Vos has also been charged with com­pil­ing a cat­a­logue of the ex­hi­bi­tion, which will ad­di­tion­ally serve as a mar­ket­ing tool.

Cen­tral to the phi­los­o­phy of Art@First is to make art avail­able and af­ford­able. As with pre­vi­ous shows, the works are for sale for no more than R15 000, al­though there could be a few ex­cep­tions.

It is im­por­tant with all Art@First pop-up ex­hi­bi­tions that those pass­ing through know that the works are only there for a brief pe­riod. Oth­er­wise the art­works risk be­com­ing nor­malised, or nat­u­ralised, so that they are no longer fresh provo­ca­tions that de­mand at­ten­tion.

The Af­ter­math runs from 22 Au­gust to 22 Septem­ber and is open to staff, but also to the pub­lic by in­vi­ta­tion or ap­point­ment.

Au­gust House artists’ stu­dios. All pho­tos courtesy Kate Bal­len­den

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