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Grand Opening

Various Participants at The Collective

By Robyn Cook
16 May - 16 June. 0 Comment(s)
Ephemeral Traps Permanent Consequences

Javier Hinojosa
Ephemeral Traps Permanent Consequences, 2011. installation approximately 1m x 1m.

This last week Durban saw the launch of a new gallery space, The Collective. An offshoot from the Durban staple artSPACE, The Collective has a batch of freshly-baked (and much-needed) ideas with which to broaden Durban’s generally insular art scene. Chatting to the three young women behind the new space, my first thought was: 'Thank goodness there is something new happening in Durban!'

The Durban gallery culture is an odd one. It seems to (deliberately?) remove itself from any contact with Johannesburg- or Cape Town-based galleries and artists. Occasionally something exciting pops up – like the recent MTN New Contemporaries at the KZNSA, but largely, it’s the same stable of painters, painting the same portraits (with the occasional landscape thrown into the mix). With the closure of Bank gallery, the Durban Art Gallery focusing largely on ‘Durban’ art (I refer to my interview with new curator Mdu Xakaza published on ArtThrob recently), the KZNSA apparently giving space to whoever can afford to exhibit, and artSPACE seemingly rehashing the same art under a different title monthly, a breath of fresh air into the Durban art scene is much needed. Despite producing incredible young talents such as Michael McGarry, Vaughn Sadie and Dineo Seshee Bopape, artists seem to  run screaming for the highveld at the first opportunity, in search of a more appreciative, and possibly less conservative, art market.

The curatorial and gallery focus in Durban is based very much on saleable and decorative art – where guest speakers at openings generally encourage the audience to 'get those wallets out and buy!' Whether Durbanites just have less money to spend on art than their Jo’burg peers, or whether it’s the gallery system perpetuating such a ‘painting on the lake’ atmosphere, the Durban art scene is very much the literal and metaphorical ‘poor cousin’ of its larger relatives.

Now before I have a slew of hate mail, let me remind you of my initial point: thank goodness something new is happening in Durban. It is well overdue, and the public responded. The opening was packed, and there was a genuine buzz of excitement at the possibilities of the new space.

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Situated on Florida Road, above a popular restaurant, and next to landmark booksellers Ike’s, The Collective is in a prime location. The building is a Victorian-era monolith, complete with asbestos walls and high ceilings. In its current incarnation, the space is intended not only for exhibitions, but as a base for artists to network, with an artist's agent as part of their offering. With a coffee bar and Wi-Fi, the space is anticipated to be (quoting the curator) ‘a place for interactivity and interaction’. When I chatted to Amy-Jo Windt about the vision for the gallery, she stated that it’s primarily a place for young artists.  They have set an age limit for exhibitors (35), and intend to put a focus on art making that is usually not given a platform, such as Street Art and Graffiti. While this focus raises a number of difficult questions (like the proverbial 'does Street Art need a gallery space?') the gallery is at least brave enough to have a clear vision.

On show at the moment is a sort of ‘overview’ of possibilities. Installations by two international artists, photographic prints by the collective ‘our.’, a group of spray painting ‘live’ artists (including Ewok, Warren Raysdorf, Skull boy and Dain Knudson), and one of the artSPACE staples sneaked in there too, in the form of paintings by Claude Chandler.

The two installation pieces were particularly interesting within the context of the space. Belgian Riaan van Jaarsveld dismantled the rickety cornicing in the gallery to create a ‘frame’ on the gallery wall. He then scratched the words ‘here now’ into the framed paintwork. Building something into the space, out of parts of the space, van Jaarsveld wittily pointed out the cornicing ‘was there, it's here now’. He states that the work is in part a tongue-in-cheek comment on his recent return from Belgium – ‘he was there, he is here now’. While, according to the artist, Here Now is one of his more literal works, the piece was interesting in an almost Cluedo-esque way. Spotting the unpainted gaps where he had dismantled the woodwork, and then trying to figure out which-part-went-where in the remantled ‘frame’ was witty and engaging.

Mexican artist Javier Hinojosa’s Ephemeral Traps Permanent Consequences was similarly successful in its creation of interactivity. Taking as a point of departure the mishaps and consequences around public works (Mexico and South Africa seem to have similar ‘pot-hole’ issues) Hinojosa set up a framework at the base of the gallery door. Concrete was then poured into the frame an hour before the opening, leaving it suitably wet and sticky. As the work was over 1m x 1m, the audience was forced to walk through the concrete to get through the door. The work (whether deliberate or not) resulted in a series of slapstick events with the audience alternately trying to jump and circumnavigate the work. Being below eye level, a number of people tripped over the frame and planted a foot directly into the wet concrete, looking shamefacedly around to see if they’d just ruined something they shouldn’t. By the end of the evening, however, concrete footprints were left all over the floor, people had left hand-prints and messages in the concrete (normally a covert night time prank); the work being a truly interactive enterprise.

It will be interesting and exciting to see where The Collective goes, what they show next, and how it is going to impact on the Durban art scene. More than anything, I reiterate again 'Thank goodness there is something new happening in Durban!' Hats off to The Collective for the new initiative.