During the week of 10 - 16 April staff and postgraduate students from the division of Fine Art at the University of Pretoria were joined in South Africa by their counterparts from the University of Applied Arts Vienna for a week-long workshop in art-based methodologies. This workshop formed part of two intersecting, ongoing research projects namely‘A Research of Doing’ (an Africa Uninet initiative) and the ‘Octopus Programme’. Together these artistic research projects involve a host of international art institutions, curators and postgraduate students from as far afield as Tunis, South Africa, Turkey, Vienna, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland, among others.
For the workshop in South Africa the 16 participants were fortunate enough to first spend three days at the Centre for the Less Good Idea founded by the artist William Kentridge in Johannesburg. The Centre is currently developing and workshopping ideas as part of season 9 of its annual programme of plays and artistic outputs. Workshop participants were given complete access to the particular forms of conceptualisation and practice through which the Centre ultimately conceives each new season’s works. In brief, the Centre is guided by an open ended, collaborative and even playful approach towards art-making. This approach tacitly draws upon the life experiences and existing expertise of each season’s participants, be they visual artists, actors, musicians, poets or even theorists. Central to the Centre’s artistic process is a radical openness to investigating ‘less good ideas’ - ideas that despite seeming less clear, well conceived or even obscure at first, ultimately offer more fruitful pathways for creative exploration and collaboration than the imposition of a singular, fully formed artistic vision at the start. This ensures that the resultant artistic outcomes are indeed collaborations, often with unexpected even surprising results. In this way participants in our workshop became active participants in the conceptualization stages of this year’s season at the Centre - an amazing opportunity to say the least.
Our workshop participants then departed for the Nirox Foundation, a lush sculpture park and art foundation located in the Cradle of Humankind just outside Krugersdorp. Here they were led on guided tours of the facilities of the Nirox Foundation, informing them of it’s mission, function and curatorial methodologies whilst also engaging in a number of creative workshops led by project leaders Associate Prof Dr Basak Senova (University of Applied Arts Vienna) and Dr Johan Thom (UP). These workshops were guided by the theme of translation - thus linking back to the central theme explored at the Centre for the Less Good Idea.
Workshop participants explored the theme of translation in relation to their own artistic practice through a number of creative and written exercises. These conceptualization exercises were all aimed at exploring the creative methodologies that underpin a multitude of artistic forms of expression, from painting, drawing and writing to other socially engaged art forms. The exercises will now also form the basis of a number of forthcoming publications and exhibitions, including a group exhibition to be held beginning of June at the University of Applied Art, Vienna.
We also visited the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria. Here workshop participants had the opportunity to closely engage with head curator Gabi Ncobo and to explore the current exhibitions on display in detail. After a brief tour of the Visual Arts division and UP’s main campus workshop participants were treated to a much deserved lunch courtesy of the School of the Arts, UP. In the afternoon, participants were taken to the Pretoria Art Museum. Here senior curator Dirk Oegema led them on a tour of an exhibition of artworks that are all included in the current education syllabi of South African high schools and also discussed the complexities of curating within a South African context.
The workshop concluded on Friday the 15th with a final dinner and farewells at Farmlife 58 - the beautiful space we also called home for the last few days of the workshop.
The project leaders Basak Senova (University of Applied Arts Vienna), Dr Johan Thom (UP) and Bronwyn Lace (Director at the Centre for theLess Good Idea) are deeply thankful to the various institutions, individuals and organisations who so generously supported the workshop. These include:
University of Applied Arts Vienna (https://www.dieangewandte.at/)
The School of the Arts at the University of Pretoria (https://www.up.ac.za/school-of-the-arts)
The Centre for the Less Good Idea (https://lessgoodidea.com)
The Nirox Foundation (https://www.niroxarts.com)
Farmhouse 58 (https://www.farmhouse58.co)
The Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (https://javettup.art)
The Austrian African Research Network (Africa Uninet) (https://africa-uninet.at/en/)
Photographic credit: Alet Pretorius