SMITH, Cape Town
30.05.16 – 24.06.16
‘From Whence They Came’, currently on exhibition at SMITH, is an unusual exhibition in the sense that it results from a full-scale collaboration between SMITH and Johannesburg’s Kalashnikovv gallery. ArtThrob chatted to Amy Ellenbogen from SMITH and MJ Turpin from Kalashnikovv to find out more about this collaborative project.
ArtThrob: The idea of two galleries collaborating on an exhibition to this extent is very interesting; galleries often tend to be quite guarded. How did the idea to collaborate come about?
Amy Ellenbogen: We met at the FNB Joburg Art Fair, placed next to one another in the new galleries section. We laughed about how different we were, the girls vs the boys such a clear aesthetic from day one. We became friends and realised that we had a lot in common in terms of wanting to question the state of art in both respective cities where we are based. We both had new energy and a particular voice. The idea of collaborating did not scare me but rather enthused me and got me excited about mixing things up a bit. We chatted and created a structure that met both our needs and took it from there.
MJ Turpin: For us it was very much in line with what Amy said above but also a logical and strategic way to gain momentum and visibility into the Cape Town art scene.
AT: When you sat down to plan the exhibition, did you have any particular goals that you aimed to achieve?
AE: No major goals other than we wanted to play, see how we worked placed next to one another and how we played off one another. Or didn’t. It was quite challenging to let go but on the other hand necessary to re-contextualise works in relevant ways. The title is literally a fancy way of saying: we’re from here, you’re from there, let’s see what it’s like to meet up.
MJT: For us there was no direct goal per se, other than to deliver a diverse and quality selection of our artists to our collaborators down in the Cape.
AT: Could you tell us a bit about the process of putting the exhibition together? What are some of the benefits and challenges which emerge when collaborating on an exhibition such as this?
AE: Lots of WhatsApps and emails. We tried to balance the show evenly, which required a bit of similar thinking. Both galleries were fully aware that this was experimental which made the process far more enjoyable and less serious. Logistically it’s not ideal but we managed as best we could.
MJT: As Amy said, the only real challenge was the logistics of being absent but with email and WhatsApp, these can be alleviated with a simple format – image, text, image, text, image, text. It’s like a long distance relationship that can actually work in the end.
AT: How would you each describe your particular identities as a gallery within the South African art landscape? Do you think that comes across in a split exhibition such as this one?
AE: I see SMITH as a softer voice in relation to Kalashnikovv. SMITH is taking time to surface a particular voice that is subtle, sophisticated, considered but hopefully not taking itself too seriously. What I have realised from this show is that we have created a distinct program over the past 18 months which has shaped a solid, coherent African aesthetic. The response I feel to the work we are showing when it is placed next to work I am unfamiliar with really resonates with me. There are certainly commonalities such as a strong graphic element that comes through in both galleries.
MJT: Our voice/aesthetic is indeed more raw and even aggressive perhaps, but that is also perfectly aligned and reflective of the city and artists that we represent. But as Amy insinuated, we do create an interesting counterpoint to one another.
AT: Let’s talk about the geography of your galleries for a second. The exhibition blurb suggests that ‘From Whence They Came’ is a wonderful platform for Cape Town based artists to show alongside Johannesburg artists. Do you think there is such a thing as a Cape Town and/or Johannesburg aesthetic?
AE: I think Joburg takes bigger chances, louder even, but this is perhaps just in reference to Kalashnikovv. Joburg certainly has a far larger, integrated African palette.
MJT: I believe some people would want us to say yes but I’m not entirely convinced. I do feel Cape Town definitely rides off a ‘safer’ Eurocentric wave of production and reflection to some degree.
AT: What informed your selection of artists for the exhibition?
AE: I wanted to bring through some new work from artist we have been working with for some time and always take the opportunity to introduce new names like Miranda Moss and Jeanne Hoffman. Katharien de Villiers always pushes the boundaries and makes me question the gallery space time and time again. These are interesting new names to watch.
MJT: From our side it was an ideal opportunity to introduce our group of artists to a new market in juxtaposition to their relevant Cape Town contemporaries in a similar and poignantly reflective Cape Town space.
AT: Do you think this model of working collaboratively will catch on?
AE: I don’t know, it’s hard to say if gallerists and curators are prepared to share, let go…
We certainly will be.
MJT: In our opinion it is perhaps even the future of gallery practice. At the end of the day it is the artists that benefit and, if anything, that should be the ultimate goal of any gallerist at any given time. Also we see artist run spaces coming to the fore and offering way more insight on both a curatorial and technical guidance level than standard gallery models have ever been able to give.
‘From Whence They Came’ runs at SMITH Studio until Friday, June 24 2016