Open Dialog Box is a temporary, non-commercial, creative project comprising of a series of collaborative exhibitions which take place in a shipping container on Buitenkant Street, Cape Town over several weeks from 17th October to mid-November 2016. Each exhibition consists of a specially created project resulting from a collaboration between an artist and a writer. ArtThrob spoke to Open Dialog Box mastermind Claire May van Blerck to get the inside scoop.
ArtThrob: So tell us about Open Dialog Box! Besides having a really snazzy name, what is the idea behind the project?
Claire May van Blerck: I came back from a five month stay in the UK at the beginning of February (2016) with a new perspective on the opportunities available in Cape Town. I didn’t know how long I’d be back for (I planned to return to the UK) and I was struck by by a fierce need to do something significant with my time. I’d spent five years working in commercial galleries (Goodman for three years, and blank for two) and I wanted to try something on my own for once, take a chance, see what happened. I knew setting up a non-commercial space had its risks, but I preferred those risks over relying on commercial activities. Also, it was something different for me from my time at blank and Goodman. I also have a few part-time jobs which I needed to keep up, so the idea of a non-commercial space with very specific operating hours was both less of a headache, as well as convenient. I also have a real appreciation for the lack of non-commercial experimental spaces in Cape Town, and I hope that this project can either trigger the same passion in someone else or that this project could gain enough attention to be repeated.
The name came from a friend in Leeds, Bruce Davies, who runs a great project, BasementArtsProject, out of his family home. He came up with Open Dialog Box when we were brainstorming for a funding application (that we didn’t get in the end). We hope to find a way to work together on another edition of this project in time.
AT: Why a container?
CMvB: Cost was a big factor. I couldn’t find a space that wouldn’t seriously drain my limited funds, and I’d just had a few conversations and triggered memories around containers that simply clicked one day in my head. I wanted the project to be in town because I needed to limit the amount of effort required by the audience to visit the site… I think in a period of 30 minutes I became determined that a container was the best option, and that the parking lot in Buitenkant Street had to be the spot.
But there is much more to it than cost alone, this (a container) is a space that has been used historically and currently for art exhibitions, residencies, and temporary galleries to show work that was/is critical of borders, white cubes, and ‘place’. It’s a design that has a rich and complicated history, it changed global trade and redefined ports and how people worked in them. Because of these characteristics (non-land-based, anonymous, and without nationality), containers float as if in cyberspace, their contents and body suspended.
AT: Could you tell us a bit more about the decision to pair artists and writers?
CMvB: After working for ArtThrob for a few years, I felt like some writers were just not being given enough opportunities to do extraordinary work with or for the artists whose work they were engaging with. While I was at blank we had a show of Dorothee Kreutzfeldt‘s which really refreshed my brain, and it stuck with me as a reminder that I wanted to see more shows like that.
In addition, the force of a collective like iQhiya was so tangible in the city, it gave a contemporary and local shape to the need for artists to band together, to become stronger than the sum of their parts. This is the history of banking, of society… it’s not new – it’s just that at the same time I saw two sets of people, various artists and art writers with similar needs, and I wanted to see if something constructive and/or lasting could come out of an experimental passion project. At the very least, the exhibitions could create links between people where there weren’t any, or give the opportunity to make those ‘maybe one day we should’ collaborations between friends a push into existence.
AT: What kind of work can we expect to see?
CMvB: Performance, video, interventions. Work which doesn’t worry if you love it or dislike it or consider it’s selling price or systems behind it’s display at a gallery. Work that is made by people who are excited to be part of something that is itself an experiment. Work that has been discussed and understood between two people, who are attaching their names and giving their time and skills and brains to creating. The kind of work which may well remind you of why we make art.
AT: How did you select the people who you approached?
CMvB: A few people had always been at the back of my mind, because I wanted to be part of their work in a sense. Some people challenged me in their writing or had a flair I responded to, and some I wanted to challenge – offer the project to them, and see what developed.
AT: Will it be possible to view each project after the Monday event?
CMvB: No, the event is one night only. I couldn’t justify sitting in a hot container during the week waiting for foot traffic, and I had to be realistic about the parking lot where the container is located. If you miss the opening, you miss the show.
AT: Will the works live on in some form or another online?
CMvB: The intention is to document the works as much as possible, though as time and concepts progressed, some of the works will be impossible to publish online. Here I’m referring to Sinazo Chiya’s text for the opening night’s show, which takes the form of a letter personally handed to those who attend the opening. This will not be published online, it will not be posted as an image of a letter, it exists in one form and is only available to those who are present, in that 2-hour period.
After the series is complete I’ll be populating the website with as much content as possible, transferring documentation, posts, links and videos into the site as an archive.
The current schedule for Open Dialog Box is as follows:
17 October – Jaco van Schalkwyk & Sinazo Chiya
24 October – Khanya Mashabela & Brett Charles Seiler
03 November – Jemma Kahn & Chad Rossouw
07 November – Miranda Moss & Marc Ricard
14 November – Thuli Gamedze & Keren Setton
TBC – Roxy Kawitzky & Marianne Thesen Law