Dancing with the Diaspora

Interview Tegan Bristow

My work with many of the artists, writers, AR & VR specialists with the Centre for the Less Good Idea has been more innovative than a lot of the work I have done in the last few years. The platform itself is challenging and wildly collaborative - making pushing boundaries that much more accessible. This type of innovation on what can be made with digital technologies and how it can be presented to a participant audience is not something that happens easily within the corporate environment. I do truly believe that the role of culture and creativity in technology development in Africa cannot be over looked. 

Our most successful tech and art collaboration from the Centre has been with Alt Reality (Rick Treweek and Garrett Steele) together with Dondoo and William Kentridge in the development of what is being called the Invisible Exhibition which is showcasing in completely new ways, work that has been made by more than 20 South African artists in full 3D space in Tilt Brush. 

Digital Art may not be hung, looked and collected the same way that painting is, but it does have the same value even though it is handled differently. Digital Art is also a very important location in which true interrogation and criticisms - both as medium and content - can be levelled at the globalised information economy and our technological futures - much more so than painting or sculpture ever can. 

Currently we are looking at an average of between 4 to 4 and a half thousand audience and participants a year, this does not include facilitators and organisers. We have not done our social media count for 2017, which grew considerably but last year we were looking at 812 000 impressions and 20 000 profile visits.

Tshimologong and what it offers the university as an outside location that focus on technology and innovation will always be a base and pivoting point for us. Based on this year's numbers and the dramatic growth in interest the building of Tshimologong may not be able to fully contain the festival anymore - but we would like to see it remain in and around Braamfontein and the inner city. There is an important audience of young people here that are central to our access objectives.

From a University perspective, we feel that since last year the festival really does stand alone to serve communities outside of Wits and we really want to see this continue. Outside of a general public engagement, we have also started working with UJ initiatives this and and reached out to many of the private design, animation and creative technology education institutions in 2017. 

W e started Fak'ugesi in partnership with Tshimologong before the Tshimologong building had even started. In fact our first Fak'ugesi ran in part from the building in its state as a dance club and was ridiculously risky from a health and safety perspective, but we still had a lot of fun. 

The aims of the Festival in focusing on bringing African cultures, creativity and technology had certainly been reflected in some of the Tshimologong developments over the last year - particularly the Maxum Incubator focusing on Animation, Gaming and VR. Additionally Fak'ugesi continues to work with the Making community in Gauteng and South Africa and there is a required focus for this within the precinct outside of its skills development and incubation programs.

Fak'ugesi is specifically a festival that interrogated the role of culture and creativity in innovation, particularly regional technology innovation. We annually interrogate this as a question - asking how the tech and innovation scene acts to recognise and celebrate regional African culture and creativity. This is an important question and one that we believe cannot be separated from innovation if it is to be done properly. With the of course we invite a lot of creative practitioners in the digital and digital making fields to not only make new interrogative work, but lead workshops and projects that inspire, develop access to technology skills and celebrate collaboration and creativity for technology innovation. 

Keynote speaker William Kentridge said

Artists working with the digital medium involves a collaboration of different kinds of schools between artists, musicians, theatre makers and engineers, computer hardware and software designers and programmers. It is a question of what is the nature of creative collaboration. How does on create meaning in a collaborative context.

I am going to answer that primarily in relation to the studio. And I am thinking of the studio both as a physical and a metaphorical space. The physical space in which as an artist I work.

Even though we talk about the intangible, the digital – things that happen when you sit crunched up, knees tight in front of the computer. Essentially the activity of art making is an embodied form of thinking. It uses the movement of the body, what its extension is and how it works. To talk about what actually happens with the relationship between movement and thinking.

You can start making a drawing and it is the whole body that is the gesture. Or you can start making a drawing and it is the extension from the shoulder, from access of the elbow and smaller with your wrist or really tight and fie just with your knuckles.

Even if the work is done by the mouse or your keypad there is an extension which is a much larger physical movement.

The studio is kind of an expanded skull. There is a sense of walking around the studio and seeing yesterday's work, email up on the wall. A Photostat all the things that one surrounds oneself with around the studio – all the thoughts are sitting in the brain. The studio works also as a place in which the word is invited in and comes in all these concrete and intangible forms. Concrete in terms of images, newspaper articles, out of Photostats sitting on the desk, out of the books that are sitting on the shelf, but also out of a memory of last night's dream, a memory of the phone call you have to make during the day. What someone else has said … the news that is coming up. The world comes to you in this form and then the artists' job is to take this fragmented world and re arrange it, to cut it up and shift things. And having rearranged the world send it back out to the world either as a drawing or a film, piece of theatre. What always happens in the studio is this tumble dryer re-shifting remaking. It is the pages that are rewritten, crossed through and redrawn.

For me, this studio is both the physical space of making which is emblematic of the way in which we make sense of the word; even if you are not an artist sitting in the studio making collage. Your life is nonetheless made up of all the different fragments that come into you from which every day we have somehow to construct the self we send out into the world. There is a sense that the processes we take for granted in our lives are very evident in the studio.

One of the primary art making forms in all media of the 20 th and 21 st century is that of collage. Of taking fragments and making some form of coherence or possible coherence. This is an old technique. The great masters would have sketch books of the drawing of their models in different poses. Doing a grand religious or historical painting they would take those fragments and construct a coherent image. Landscape painters would have details of trees they had drawn in different places but they would invent a landscape of putting these different fragments together.

We have to accept that it is not only the world that is fragmented. It is ourselves as artists as emblematic exaggerations of the way we all operate in the world. What is taken for granted in the studio is hidden in daily life. For example the splitting of the self into more than one persona, which is a kind of illness becomes a common practice in the studio.

In the studio there is a sheet of paper waiting for the drawing to begin and there is a confrontation with it. Very soon you step back and another self enters the studio and it is yourself as observer. You have self as maker and other self as observer. And he is not satisfied.

We have this sense of the studio as a space for the multiplication of the self, allowing other things to take its place. It becomes a safe space for stupidity. People never understand enough how much stupidity is a central part of the creative process. That is why sometimes people that are naturally in the thinking professions, academics and writers of theoretical books – find it really hard to make the transition into doing creative work because the mind is set in a rational way of thinking and they don't provide enough space for a kind of blindness that is needed. In psychoanalytic terms, Freud described the space between the psychoanalyst and the patient as “tummelplatz” the space for the conflict or tumbling playing where anything was allowed to happen. In psychoanalytic terms it was the space for free association. You could say whatever came into your mind because maybe it will lead you to things you can't access directly. And in the same way in the studio to say let the impulse and the whim have the benefit of the doubt because maybe something will come out that is interesting and you will recognise it rather than knowing it in advance. Having a space for surprise and uncertainty and doubt are good because they allow a gap. If everything is too certain and everything is known and every half thought idea gets pushed aside.

About a year ago we formed in the East Side of the City a small centre called the Centre for the Less Good Idea and the participants in the panel discussion that will follow this are creators working on the second season of the Centre for the Less Good Idea. What the Centre is doing is trying to make this “tummelplatz” this space of experimentation and division and fragmentation of the world and bringing it together. Working with artists musicians dancers and technology to see what is the energy generated by the very fragmentation of vision that happens in the space. The name comes from a Tswana proverb – “if the good doctor can't cure you find the less good doctor.”

This is when the grand ideas of the world don't hold and are not enough find ideas at the periphery. Very often when you start a project you have a good idea. And then it calls your bluff. You have to do the work. And when the work begins the clarity and brilliance of the good idea starts to waver and you see the gaps in the logic. What have to save you are all the things that come in at the edges. Things you hadn't anticipated before. If you are working with musicians and actors it is the gaps in the rehearsal when actors are sitting notes that the musicians are making. And suddenly recognise a spark of energy towards a meaning which one can't quite grasp. This becomes the basis for the way in which the ideas on the periphery rescue the centre. That is always the case. Same with peripheral vision – things you notice t the edge of your sight when you are focusing on something else. And then bring you back to it.

In the centre we work on two seasons a year and different curators are invited to the centre to invite artists performers dancers – in the first season boxers – that they know to be the performers and participants in each season. We have some months of preparation and a few days of showing the work in a four day festival in different spaces.

The first season became about language. What is the edge of language? Talking about what are the limits of a rational discursive literal thinking, what are other ways we can make meaning. What are the ways the voice and words can shift and change? There were 19 performances in the first season and they have to do with language and the edges of voice.

A fragment of Not I by Samuel Becket performance by Patricia Bouyer.

Thulani Chauke, ‘the body as purely expressive,' turned the studio and space of the centre into a boxing ring with many performances including theatre. This became about the performance and their magnification of shadows. The blind mass orchestra of Joao Orecchio and instead of notes the musicians were given written instructions to follow.

You get a sense of the absolutely physical meeting with the absolutely immaterial in the form of digital and to see what happens. The first season was seeing what were the edges of one kind of logic and the end of language. In the time of the First World War the Dadaists said that logic which is ruled the world and brought us to the first world war is broken we need to find a different logic. Language that has described the world up to now has become inadequate to the task. We have to show the inadequacy of language and one of the ways of doing is by working against language working with text that makes no sense. I will finish with the Oerstinater of Kushfieters the great dadist artists and poet

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