…introduces Dialogues with Masters
JAF: Please could you give us some background on the Special Project – Dialogues with Masters? Did you come up with the concept yourself? How did the idea arise and why?
TG: Because of my historical relationship with ArtLogic and the FNB Joburg Art Fair, my projects are part of an ongoing discussion with them. Now with Grolsch coming on board adds an important dynamic and means toward creativity and productive ways to explore ideas that would seem impossible to realize, especially without appropriate resources.
Dialogues with Masters was born from a preoccupation I’ve been having wit postmodern and postcolonial practices of appropriation and re-interpretation of history or histories. These practices are not without references in South African visual art practice, noting some of the important artworks of Johannes Phokela and Wayne Barker, two painters who focus on reinterpreting the works of old masters (Phokela focusing on European masters while Barker on South African masters). Both artists have managed to produce meaningful commentary and reflective representations that are thought provoking and aesthetically inviting through their work, doing so without compromising the integrity of their chosen subject’s work – something I find quite masterful in itself.
I have long been fascinated by the concept of commenting on, and reading history through the medium of painting. In 2004, after 10 years of democracy there were many projects reflecting on that first decade of democracy in our country. Now, another decade in, we are offered another opportunity for reflection on our successes and failures, our gains and losses. As a society I believe it is important to never stop putting up mirrors to ourselves; mirrors that enable us to assess progress and regress in our growing democracy. Also, the timing allows for the project, Dialogues with Masters, to participate in the making a historical moment. I am drawn to the idea of examining the old masters’ works, in ways embrace and questioning them, reflecting on the relevance in the contemporary era. Of interest is to explore what do their ideas contribute to and their deficits offer us in our own ways of looking at the world today and tomorrow? Additionally, revisiting history through visual arts in this manner is a remarkable way of keeping the works, ideas, discoveries and accomplishments of the masters alive. Such is a creative act of cultivating heritage at the same time maintain legacy of our ancestors.
JAF: How did you pick the artists that were chosen to take part in the special project?
TG: I chose artists whose works are meaningful to me, in content, form, material and aesthetics. These artists are committed in their practices although some are your whilst others matured but not necessarily mainstreamed or commercially rendered instant stars. They are accessible and cooperative; I have following for a while; and I feel privileged to be part of their evolution. Of importance, to me, is that, working with these artists in this particular project I am learning a great deal regarding things that are seldom given attention or prioritized. These artists are not yet conjured up in the game play of the art work, thus their engagement with politics of our democratic moment is refreshingly different to popular and mainstream artists – how they think and speak about their works and politics remind us that live in a changing world, we are in a different time. In a word, views are inherently perceived through fresh eyes, inviting us to look at the world differently.
JAF: What excites you about this particular project?
TG: I am looking forward to seeing what the artists come up with – not only which masters that they pick and why, but also the choice of works they visually engage, and in what ways. As well, I am interested both in the process leading to the production of the works, even the effects of this project in the future.
In particular for young artists, factored in also is a mentorship element to the project, and the opportunity to have ongoing meaningful dialogues with these artists really carries great value to me, both personally and professionally.
JAF: Is it safe to say that nothing quite like this has been done in South Africa before?
TG: The art of appropriation, or reinterpretation is hardly new, but yes, this particular project is unique in its own way.
JAF: What would some of the difficulties in this project be?
As a curator, the challenge for me is, how do you ask the artist difficult questions, without prescribing not only issues but creative and reflective ways to engage with such issues? I am preoccupied by ways of initiating and entering in constructive and productive dialogues, ones that are premised on taking no easy routes but exploring challenging paths in thinking and making art. The difficulties are rather self-imposed challenges to should mature or advance us, through working in such projects.
For the artists, I suspect, the challenge is to engage the project brief in the best possible manner that bring to light their creative abilities. The challenge is to converse with Masters in ways that are inviting to diverse viewers, be they familiar, affluent or not. Yet, I am sure the artists will have their own take on this question.
JAF: What is your dream for this project beyond the FNB Joburg Art Fair?
TG: I hope it can travel around the country and be viewed by different audiences, in addition to those who attend the Art Fair. The enterprise of such a nature should ideally invite interest and stimulate some debate or discussion. I also hope that the participating artists benefit one way or another; they get something out of a creative exercise that invites them to thinking outside or beyond their primary preoccupation. It would be great that the works have the effect of encouraging interests in South African Masters, to appreciate and value them at the same time learning about their legacy and contribution to the history of South African visual art and the art world at large.