Lesley Perkes
Lesley Perkes

A lay-by on shop U22, Sandton City / the outer fringe

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The truth is, although I noticed Amos Letsoalo’s beautiful charcoal drawing of an anteater, I could hardly look at the art shown on the Joburg Fringe this year.

Having visited it first, unfortunately just after it closed on the opening night, I was so taken with the fact of it, featured as it was in a shop in the most expensive part of Sandton City, that even on my second visit when it was open, I remained overwhelmed by the very idea. I could hardly see what was in front of my face — one hell of a lot of art in a very small, not very clean looking place.

I wish I had given the exhibited art more time and that I had not been so overwhelmed. Not that I am some kind of critic and could make any important pronouncements, but certainly because I love art.

But I just could not (and cannot) get over the “installation” of the shop itself and what it might mean for the future of the fringe.

Surrounded by international brand name stores in that failure of a badly designed tunnel between the utterly golden Sandton Sun Hotel and the rest of the centre (hardly any foot traffic, big fancy name stores are there only for the very few who can afford to go inside them), the Joburg Fringe had made it’s bitmapped chevron-warning logo out of big black dustbin bags stuck up all over the shop windows.

Let me say it again: although this section of Sandton City is undoubtedly a flop, it nevertheless plays home to the most expensive stores in town — so Shop U22 (home of the Joburg Fringe 2013), next to Salvatore Something or Other, could not have been more out of place, more fitting — or more fringe.

If I was an art collector, I would have bought the store and kept it there, as is, closed. And I would employ a full-time curator to fight security and centre management every time they arrived to demand that the black dustbin bags are not in keeping.

This way you get to say a whole lot about the risk of having any fringe at all — in an environment where the pickings are meagre for anything that is not mainstream — and where even the mainstream is censored by itself for fear of sponsor-loss. Sponsor-loss by the way is a lot like balding: there is no known cure but if you know arts workers you know this is not something they give up on. Ha. Just like baldies.

The Joburg Fringe 2013 made do. According to Sarie Potter, curator, and Claudia Shneider, artist and founder of the event, they moved to Sandton (from Braamfontein) to be closer to the main fair — in response to calls for just that from many of the participating artists who wanted to be closer to the big event’s audience. I read that as being closer to real (read: rich) buyers, and also convenient for fair-goers, who then don’t have to trek into Joburg itself but can stay in America for the Joburg Art Fair.

Of course this is the fringe experiment — and, whether anyone thinks it was a failure or not, to my mind, may reveal an interesting way forward:

At the same time as the fair and the fringe, Alexandra hosted its annual Maboneng Arts Experience — an event of note that has managed to sustain itself for over a decade. There, homeowners across many blocks in one district of the township, make their houses and yards available for a grand festival of the imagination. Visual art exhibitions are curated inside people’s lounges, bedrooms, kitchens and on washing lines. There are movies inside and out, fashion shows on the narrow streets, with local models strutting their stuff, performances of every description, and poetry, music and dance in every nook and cranny.

Everywhere you go, volunteers and some few paid staff from the district are in charge of everything from security to staging, feeding artists and crew and generally being warm, generous and helpful. Local street trader business booms and even tourists (read: white people), are guided around by young Alex patriots.

Most exciting though: thousands of marginalised people on Alex’s marginalised streets, running riot with rats and rubbish, get to immerse themselves in and experience the arts. Ha! It’s a bloody marvel.

There is no way that this event could have sustained itself for so long without the resident venues and audience. According to the festival’s charming producer, Siphiwe Ngwenya, the shuttle taxis they had going between the main art fair in Sandton and the venues in Alex were super busy throughout the event, ferrying the mainstream art fair audience all the way across the highway — right to the other planet.

So Maboneng Arts Festival got all the audiences. This leads me to hope that Joburg Fringe 2014 either goes back to Braamies or deep into Alex in partnership with the Maboneng Arts Experience. To my mind they are kin.

Meantime, I am saving up coppers to lease Sandton City Shop U22 — and also this work, by the Joburg Fringe founder, Claudia Shneider — titled, “Artist Depressed”.

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