When Cape Town started its 2014 reign as World Design Capital, the eyes of the global creative industry turned to our city and to the high calibre of work that is being created by our local design and arts fundis. Slowly our artists are gaining more exposure but, with so much going on, there comes a point when some exhibitions start to look like more of the same.
Then come the visionaries. Roger Jungblut started Youngblood Gallery in 2010 with the vision of assisting artists with financial aid and business expertise to get their passion out into the world, and to help them to make a proper living from it. Part of this vision is one of knowledge sharing and skills transfer, and the inaugural Artmode event on 13 November was surely a manifestation of this vision.
Upon entering, the addictive smell of spraypaint stimulated the senses before even getting to the visual. Over the garrulous crowd, graffiti artists Mak1one, Prefix66, Ariel23, Grant Jurius and others were collaborating in turning a white wall into a mashup of spraypaint styles. A short swing past the bar revealed the source of powerfully moving classical music filling the Youngblood space – Toni Crichton and Theresa Mills performing a duet on a baby grand piano and cello. Above them, Home of Aerial Arts added vertical visuals with two aerial artists flaunting saucily daring acrobatic skills on baby blue silk scarves suspended from three storeys above.
But even more than all this, what set Artmode apart from other events and exhibitions in Cape Town’s creative frenzy was its aim not just to make the art accessible but to make the artists themselves accessible. The general perception of artists is that they hide away in a tiny studio, keeping to the company of clay and canvases and classical music. Artmode set out to bring this wonderful group of magic makers into the public space. All around us, artists were working and, every so often, an appreciative gallery roamer would stop and strike up a chat with one or other of them. Not all the artists found this easy, of course: next to a wall of skateboard deck designs, I spoke to a lovely painter named Frank, dreadlocked and open-faced, as he painted a portrait of a holy man accompanied by rats. Frank confessed he found the idea intimidating of working under the public eye but, having other artists going through the same experience, he said, helped to give him confidence.
Meanwhile Gabrielle Alberts sat under a bright desk lamp carving hand-high characters out of ceramic clay. At times her space was made even brighter by a flurry of camera flashes from passing onlookers. She found it a bit distracting, she said, pointing at the sculpture and grimacing, “Look what I did over there now.” But, she went on, the process brings the studio to the public and it’s a completely new experience for both the artists and the observers. Sculptor Janko de Beer was fastening pieces of driftwood and bamboo into horse head shapes. In between tightening wires and adjusting parts, he chatted with people before slipping back into ‘the zone’. We talked a bit about collaboration – Artmode being a great proponent of holistic cross-over between different art modalities and the chance for new connections to be formed between artists. “Maybe after I finish my sculpture, the graffiti guys can give it some colour with their spray paint,” de Beer laughed.
Over and above the inspirationally high level of talent that comes forth on an evening like this, my senses were well-stimulated by the sheer number of different media that made up this collaborative evening. Upstairs, a long queue snaked from the table of Tarot reader Joanne Jardine. While waiting to get insights on the present and future, eyes were turned across the room where a projector screen showed Josh Ryba editing his comic style digital art live on screen. Generously, Ryba had stacks of comics available for free while Superbalist.com punted its art-supportive e-commerce venture on which Ryba’s prints are available to buy, amongst many others.
For the public, seeing artists working on everything from photography to body painting to dance is an amazing way to gain a new understanding of the creative process, at the same time allowing direct access to the people practicing those arts. For artists, Artmode is a space created to connect them to fellow artists while giving them exposure to a curious public.
Depending on the desired level of interaction, Artmode could be anything from a passive stroll amongst gorgeous pieces of art to an enriching, exclusive social experience with artists you might not meet under normal circumstances. It can only be hoped that Artmode will become a regular event. As fine artist Leigh Tuckniss poetically stated: “Artists are like coals. Alone we lose heat and we die. But put us together and we burn like a fire.”
The inaugural Artmode event took place at the Youngblood Gallery in the Beautifull Life Building on Bree Street, Cape Town on 13 November 2014.