RESERVOIR, by Heinrich Groenewald and Shona van der Merwe, functions as a collection of curatorial information specialising in facilitating collaboration in the contemporary art community, through career strategising, independent exhibitions, public art commissions, and artwork placement.
One of their latest projects is the RESERVOIR x WHATIFTHEWORLD x KRONE Home Strange Home,a group exhibition hosted at the Twee Jonge Gezellen in Tulbagh, running until 24 September 2022. Shona and Heinrich shared their insights with us on both RESERVOIR as well as the current exhibition.
Shona and Heinrich shared their insights with us on both RESERVOIR as well as the current exhibition.
RESERVOIR formed from a strong desire to find ways of practising curation more fluidly than was being offered to us. We see our role as being one of identifying and mediating exhibition opportunities for young or independent artists and simultaneously offer galleries a kind of interlude in their programme. This often leads to new relationships, which we love! As for the name, for us the name suggested a repository for information - a source from where knowledge can be drawn, but also added to. Over the years, our journey through art has taught us that the only way to navigate the precariousness of its practice and the industry that supports it is through learning from others. The art world is an incredible place that continues to introduce us to new ideas and new people who are able to create productive means through those ideas. It is from this constant expansion of the art world that a reservoir made sense. We toyed with other names for some time, but it was clear to us that RESERVOIR would be ours.
Truthfully, when we started we were quite anxious whether we would be able to make ends meet as a self-sustained partnership. We had no shortage of ideas, but it took time to understand where to direct our energy. Very much taking on a position of saying ‘Yes’ to every opportunity that made its way to us, our direction started to take shape, helping us to clearly define the scope of RESERVOIR. Our first big project was an open call application we did with Dr. Siona O’Connell. The process helped us to truly understand what collaborative practice can mean, and how to create sustainable business relationships through it. Shortly after we were approached by The Fourth to curate a show, which we titled Falling Awake, which allowed us to work closely with a new-concept gallery as well as a selection of some of our favourite artists - most of whom practice independently. The Investec Cape Town Art Fair soon followed. Over this period we curated a show for WHATIFTHEWORLD’s Cape Town gallery, called The Phoenix Runway. This was a great opportunity for us to position ourselves within the contemporary art community, making way for many more collaborations. From there it wasn’t long until our calendar was filled with exhibitions, consulting for collectors, and working with artists on various projects.
We use the word as often as we can to develop our company’s ethos. ‘Collaboration’ definitely has the potential to become a bit of an empty buzzword. But for us it really is the basis on which we are building what RESERVOIR is. To each other, as a partnership, we benefit from playing into our own strengths. To the art industry, we believe that there are more pieces to the proverbial ‘pie’ where more players can benefit from single projects, and in this way we relook at the models currently in place. And to artists, we see more and more their desire to work independently, yet still requiring support in their careers, which we aim to provide. Similarly, we have had the opportunity to work with galleries who are also keen on expanding their business model through collaboration. So for us, working in this manner makes sense. It is a developing model that we are keen on defining as we grow.
The home has become a bit of a recurring theme throughout our exhibitions, where we’ve continued to touch on some of its associations. These could be as close as materials from the domestic realm, to broader concepts of borders and boundaries that speak of nationhood and identity. While in previous shows we’ve realised it as a prominent curatorial theme, in Home Strange Home we wanted to give it centre stage. Through the selection of work the exhibition looks at the precarious nature of the home. We consider it as a shifting concept, specific to the individual’s momentary relation to it, entangled with our complex networks of memories and experiences. These are very much informed by cultural practices, religion, and the language spoken at home. It is also about the way the home makes us feel as it can be a place associated with care and healing. Alternately, it also has the potential to harbour danger and exclusion. While the exhibition references perhaps some of the ‘basics’ that make the home - walls and a bed - we’ve also learnt that it may often require none of the above.
Many of the materials used to create the works on show are quite commonplace in homes. But a slight, or overt, subversion is always applied. Kirsten Eksteen’s crocheted steel wool blanket re-introduces an object so ubiquitous with the home, yet almost invisible. Often discarded after use, by knitting the object into a tapestry Eksteen changes its utility context to become suggestive of other domestic thematics. There was a moment in our thinking around the curatorial framework of the exhibition where we were quite interested in the philosophical notion of ‘flat ontology’. It relates to the ways in which the subject hood of objects can change continuously. We see this in the work of Stephané E. Conradie as well, where her sculptures almost become monuments to the superfluous character of kitch and cluttered objects that lose their individual importance when they find their way into knickknack second hand shops. There is a way in which the artists from this exhibition highlights the simple elements of the home that are often overlooked or forgotten. They see the importance in the histories of walls and the resonance of a bedframe. We think that the exhibition captured this in its quiet way.
Upon first introduction with the Krone x WITW gallery we were both quite taken by its scale. A former storage barn on the farm, the gallery feels vast and open. We wanted to shift that feeling, providing visitors with various ways to move around the space. Most notably ‘The Righteous Path II’ by Inga Somdyala and ‘These Voices’ by Wezile Harmans contributed to this intention.
Central to the home is the language spoken in the household, growing up - the first language - and its connection to religion and cultural practices. The common language spoken in Tulbagh, where the exhibition is set, is Afrikaans. Evidently the exhibition has reflected this occurrence as both contextually relevant and strange in itself. There is an awkwardness to the ways in which language dictates the doctrines of religion and culture. Perhaps this is most evident in Turiya Magadlela suggestively placed bed frames, covered in the pages from an Afrikaans Bible. It was not necessarily our aim to have such a focus on Afrikaans throughout the exhibition, but it soon became an emerging theme. Indeed, Conradie’s Afrikaans titled ‘Geestelike Onderhouding’ (meaning ‘religious support/maintenance’) is a precarious assemblage of half-filled miniature liquor bottles that speak to the ‘dop system’ that was once prolific on farms in the Western Cape. While her work provokes the stigma of the Afrikaans oppressor, Kamyar Bineshtarigh’s paintings forms part of his on-going research into archives of Arabic-Afrikaans and the enslaved communities and indentured Muslim labourers that first recorded this creole language. Similarly it is also used as a celebration of culture, and a manner of claiming space, of making a home. Asemahle Ntlonti’s laboriously treated canvas surfaces are all titled in her mother tongue, Xhosa. ‘Khaya khulu I, II and III’ speaks of the beauty of a home and the histories kept in the painted layers of its walls. Wezile harmans invites us into a room of his creation, made of stitched mutton cloth, and lined with handwritten phrases that brims with affirmation and self-love, proclaiming that the home is also a place of confidence and of care.
Both of us call South Africa home. Being born here, having studied here, and shaping our professional practice here means that one works in this context by forming part of the context. A major benefit to this is that often the artists you work with are close friends of yours. You’ve seen them shape their careers. There is a backlog of information that you can tap into that helps you understand their work through the work their peers create, the socio-political contexts their work responds to, the shifting spaces their work has been exhibited at… Having access to these nuances that informs artists’ practice remains an exciting component to our work and research.
There are many ways to approach ‘reading’ artworks. One such way could be to consider the medium from which an artwork is made. The material composition of much of the work on Home Strange Home informs the artwork and the intention from the artist. These materials in themselves can evoke memories and feelings for the viewer, making one consider your own connection to the artwork. Many of the artists have made it an essential part of their practice to source very specific materials. They allude to geographical places through site-specific sourced earth, gender roles through simple utility objects, boundaries through the use of stitched and woven textiles that could either heal or hurt, social structures through found trinkets and tableware, the list goes on. But perhaps a curiosity of the mediums used to create each work could offer the viewer an entry point.
HOME STRANGE HOME
Stephane E. Conradie
The KRONE x WHATIFTHEWORLD is a collaborative space offering an immersive experience showcasing African contemporary art in the heart of Tulbagh.