Fringe comes into its own

In 2008 Claudia Schneider returned to South Africa from Berlin, just as the first Jo’burg Art Fair was gearing up. Naturally, she asked what seemed to her to be a perfectly natural question: “Where’s the fringe?” The unanimous response was: “What fringe?”

The fringe is an intrinsic part of any art fair and in some cases, such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it is bigger than the actual event itself, showcasing talent that hasn’t been snapped up yet by the major commercial galleries.

Arts editor Matthew Krouse guides us behind the scenes of the 2011 Jo’burg Art Fair to see what galleries are showing at the biggest art exhibition of the year.
But the fringe, by its very nature an independently organised event, doesn’t enjoy the same financial benefits as the main event, often finding itself cash-strapped and limited by the absence of corporate sponsorship.

“It’s more about exposure,” Schneider says. “It’s about establishing relationships and making an impression on the artists themselves.” Referring to the main event held at the Sandton Convention Centre, Schneider says: “Sandton is about the prestige—it’s almost an obligation for a gallery to be seen and cover their overheads.”

Now in its fourth year, the Jo’burg Fringe is independently co-ordinated and runs concurrently with the FNB Jo’burg Art Fair. It hosts a broad selection of artists in several spaces in Braamfontein, a far cry from its humble origins in 2008 when it was organised in just six weeks. In its first year it was hosted at the main fair as part of the event’s special projects. But now the Jo’burg Fringe has expanded to include a wider selection of artists who may be on the periphery of the mainstream art circuit and not aligned to commercial galleries.

Looking more like a festival in its own right, the Jo’burg Fringe will feature 13 artists, whittled down by a jury from 45 submissions, and several curated shows, which include video work compiled by Aryan Kaganof, work by the staff and students of the University of Jo’burg, the Spaza Art Gallery and Dawid’s Choice Gallery. There will also be a show titled The Neverending Bedtime Story, hosted by the Troyeville Wildlife Society. Invited shows will include contributions from Assemblage, Errico Cassar and Sampayo Sadali.

Among the selected 13 are some established artists such as Michaelis Emeritus Professor Malcolm Payne, who is showing his work Aphroisms. A play on the words “Afro” and aphorisms (pithy observations that contain a measure of truth), Payne switches black and white in well-known idioms and the results provide an uncomfortable take on our contemporary racial politics.

New talent
New talent includes Wits student Talya Lubinsky, whose work also deals with the classificatory nature of words, and her installation of a desk littered with papers documenting the trials and tribulations of a life unfolding gives a subtle, nuanced take on everyday life.

Another intriguing and alarming piece is Suzanne Duncan’s Relic, in which she recreates fragments of a skeleton from shards of her fingernails. This self-referential exercise, as abject as it may sound, nevertheless gives the work a unique formal quality.

Painting, which is seeing a dramatic resurgence of late, also features prominently on the Fringe but this is where the general selection reveals its inconsistencies. Painting may be in vogue but that does not automatically endorse the free application of oil on canvas. In spite of this, Ilse Pahl’s contribution does provide a delicate interpretation of the medium and Neil Nieuwoudt’s mixed media works give an experimental edge to the choice of work on display.

South Point Property Developments provided the Jo’burg Fringe with the use of a parking garage but the event also takes place in 10 other venues, all in walking distance of one another. Videos will be screened in the Grove outside the Lamunu Hotel on De Korte Street.

Coupled with the recently established Neighbourgoods market, which has been a huge success in Cape Town, the Jo’burg Fringe promises to cast light on a corner of the city that is like the Fringe itself, making waves on the social and cultural diary of Johannesburg.

In the inclusive spirit of the event, tickets will be R20 each, with a pensioners’ concession of R5.

The Jo’burg Fringe takes place in a parking garage, accessed from the alleyway on Melle Street, (between Juta and De Korte streets), Braamfontein. Video works will be shown in the Lamunu Hotel courtyard and the event continues until 2pm on September 25

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