Monday, 16 July 2012

alone:together in PE

for those who were not able to see our exhibition at the Grahamstown Festival, it has moved to PE for the next month or so.

Thursday, 05 July 2012

Grahamstown Festival 2012

After visiting the Arts festival as a day tripper for many years, popping in to exhibitions, sampling all the creative output on show, attending one or two jazz gigs and walking the streets soaking up the festival vibe along the way, I thought I had a pretty good idea what it was all about.

This year I am here as an exhibitor, not exactly for the first time (back in the days when I was a studio potter and festival was smaller and less organised, I used to pop up for a day and sit on grass in front of the Cathedral, selling my pottery.) But this is certainly the first time as a full on exhibitor in a formal venue for the duration of the festival. And I am loving it.

What is making it so great is the sharing. I think it must take a special kind of stamina and determination to come here, set up a show and man it alone from 9-5 day after day, without an opportunity to see other exhibitions, chat to other artists or get a bigger picture of the National art scene as it is concentrated here for these 10 or 11 odd days each year.

So, many exhibitors choose to have joint exhibitions, and it really does add an element of fun and camaraderie to the whole experience. I am exhibiting with 2 friends, Jimmy Ndlovu and Ayanda Mji, and we are having a great time alternating between interacting with visitors to our space when it is busy and each other when it isn't.

the 3 musketeers

 When things are quiet and one or other of us can handle the venue alone, we take turns to check out the festival, seeing other exhibitions, attending shows etc. The down side of this is that it is terribly easy to spend way too much on other peoples art, shows, food etc. But experiencing festival over the full time span in bite sized chunks, rather than trying to cram it all into a manic day trip really is such a good opportunity to feed one's creative spirit at the same time as giving out to those around through all the interacting about one's work.

Even though the build up to festival is exhausting in itself, producing, transporting and hanging a whole body of work, along with all the peripheral admin of pricing, labeling, recording etc, the creative energy concentrated here carries one along, so that the days of sitting and selling and the nights of going to shows don't seem nearly as daunting as I had anticipated.

being able to take in some great shows is a bonus, here Afrika Mkhize leads a fabulous jazz gig.

Afrika khize giving it stick...

There is also great camaraderie between the other artists in the venues, and as a first timer, I have really appreciated the openness and generosity of the veterans in sharing insights, advice and practical help. In the Carinus Annex where we are exhibiting, it really is one big diverse happy family and we are loving being part of it.

Anne-Mari Burger pops in to chat, she is one of the very generous and helpful veterans who has gone out of their way to make us feel at home in the venue.

From an exhibitors point of view, we are in a smallish venue, so we quickly abandoned any thoughts of well spaced work having breathing space in a white cube environment... all 3 of us have colourful powerful large scale work that demands attention,  and it is crammed cheek by jowl on every surface that will support it. Along with the happy friendship, debates, afro jazz playing in the background and ever brewing pots of coffee, many visitors have commented an the warm and inviting atmosphere that has drawn them in. It is such a different experience, when one is used to seeing one's work carefully and tastefully hung in a quiet and respectful gallery environment, and I am loving it.

Jimmy and I at the opening of the Arena Exhibition, enjoying the view of the town's lights below the monument where the show is being held

Jimmy and I painting between batches of visitors to the show

I think, for me, one of the highlights I will take back with me is the opportunity this has provided to interact with people as they interact with my art. Usually one works away in the studio, and then the works are sent off to various galleries and exhibitions, to be sold there. Or they go onto the online gallery and get sent off to some far flung country, but as an artist one is seldom exposed to public reaction or feedback to one's work. However, in this environmemt, people walk in and react, engage (or dismiss and walk on) in a very honest way, and it is really rewarding seeing a piece speak to someone, often in unexpected ways, and they sometimes see way more in it than I intended at the time, because they bring their own life history into the viewing experience. It is both humbling and enriching when something one has created speaks strongly to the heart of another individual.
packing goods that have been sold, Ayanda holds the packet while her sister Lungi organises the cash book

another huge bonus for me has been making friends with the family I am staying with, i have seldom met anyone who is so generous and accomodating to a stranger.... this is their stunning and peaceful garden.

So far this has been a very positive experience and we hope to be back next year.