SMAC Art Gallery 01


by Chad Rossouw

Kathryn Smith is a prolific artist, curator, writer and educator. Recently she has opened her studio as an occasional alternative space called serialworks.

CR: How would you describe serialworks?

KS: First and foremost, serialworks is my studio, which also happens to be where I live. So I am not planning an intensive ‘programme’ of shows as my commitments elsewhere simply don’t allow it. Projects, screenings and discussions will happen when the studio is not being used for production, and when I feel like it. I am not soliciting proposals whatsoever, but am always open to ideas for development. Each project or event will be worked out on a case-by-case basis.

I describe it as a space in which to ‘cut the bean’, a phrase borrowed respectfully from Cabinet magazine founder Sina Najafi. It is directed at critical conversations about art practice, and away (somewhat) from the stylistic conventions of display that tend to dominate our encounters with art. And I’m hoping for a mixed group of visitors – writers, scientists, historians etc. We need to look beyond the art world if we’re going to emerge somewhat intact. To quote Sylvere Lotringer in the recent Frieze, 'The art world is a black hole, but one had better not occupy it, just step aside and let others fall in'. I couldn’t agree with him more. 

CR: How is it funded?

KS: It isn’t. It’s supported by my full-time teaching salary and other curatorial and publishing commissions I receive. If more elaborate projects present themselves than those already on the schedule, I will have to address the funding question. It is critical that each project is documented with a modest publication. The kinds of projects the space will host will demand a discursive record. But I am very loath to go the route of being funded by money that represents either a public or corporate concern, or cultural agency.

So far we have hosted one major international event ('Group Fax', in partnership with Independent Curators International and The Drawing Centre, NYC), and I am busy organising a show for January 2010 by Rome-based artist Cesare Pietroiusti, called 'Artworks that Ideas Can Buy'. Between November 19 and early January, the space is an off-site location for the third Arts in Marrakech biennale, hosting a personal project of mine invited onto the biennale, which is curated this year by Abdellah Karroum (he started Appartement 22). After Artworks, Berlin-based curator Spunk Seipel will present a follow-up project to his and Christian Nerf’s 2003 Mooimark show, sometime in March. I need to be careful that my curatorial inclinations don’t consume my need for a space to make other kind of work. So I am being rather fierce about not letting the project space part of it run away with me.

CR: What is the significance of these types of spaces in South Africa?

KS: That remains to be seen, when there are some! But if we don’t have them, the experimental and perhaps even intellectual health of art will suffer. It’s already feeling pretty terminal, I must say, with a few exceptions. And I am NOT talking about commercial galleries that are opening ‘project’ spaces. It’s the new buzzword post-economic meltdown. In a similar way, ‘participatory’ art is not the answer to the evils of late capitalism or making art ‘democratic’. Remember the war-time definition of ‘collaboration’? I couldn’t care less about the art market. As an artist I interact with that aspect of my career choice, but reluctantly, collaboratively (!) Blank has been our major project space with some longevity. Before that, there was the first manifestation of The Premises (in the parking lot storeroom), but it changed dramatically when it occupied the purpose-built space. The Parking Gallery reminded me of that first Premises, spatially and otherwise, which was good – they did some great shows. And of course there have been others.

CR: What is your personal interest in opening an alternative space?

KS: It was never my intention; it was just an extension of finding this particular space. But I suppose it has always been a part of my interests, from the early days of the Trinity Session to venues selected for past curatorial projects. I am deeply invested in researching the narratives of experimental spaces in SA. Their contribution to what eventually makes it into commercial spaces is really underestimated. The legacies of FIG, FLAT, Bob’s Bar, the Space and other sites have yet to be fully appreciated. Even if these spaces are not intended as ‘art’ spaces – we underestimate the influence of social spaces – the dialogues and relationships established (and destroyed) there really do influence practice in less-that-tangible ways. Some say they should be relegated to ‘the past’ and not researched or archived, but if they are not seriously evaluated, they will become increasingly mythologised, and their real significance will not be adequately understood.