Zen and Megan go t­o the Beauty Salon[i].

Zen Marie: (To voice recorder)

I am here with Megan Mace at the Huan Juan beauty spa and hotel.

I’m getting a pedicure and Megan Mace is getting a foot massage.

(to Megan)

Have you ever had a foot massage before?

 

Megan Mace: No.

ZM: Have you ever had a pedicure before? 

MM: Yes, for my Matric Dance, and it was really bad.

ZM: Why was it bad? 

MM: I ended up with some gel stuff on my toenails and it became really weird. It was a mission to get it off. So I just gave up with those kinds of things … and I don’t wear sandals.

ZM: Ok, so, Mika Conradie asked me to write an article about the form of the exhibition opening, relational aesthetics or something like that. I thought about it and instead I’m proposing an interview with you, as your work looks at these things in very interesting ways. Is that ok?

MM: Ya, I consent.

ZM: So, VANSA is paying me R3000 for this, I’m just going to pay for your foot massage, does that seem fair to you?

MM: Ya, it seems like a transaction. 

ZM: Is it a transaction that you agree with?

MM: Ja, its better than just sitting and talking. At least I get something out of it. 

ZM: I was a bit worried that it was a bit disproportionate, I get R3000 and you only get a foot massage.

MM: No, not really Zen, I think its ok. 

ZM: You think its ok? If I was you, I would negotiate for lunch as well.

MM: Are you hungry Zen? 

ZM: (Laughing) Ya, most of the time!

MM: I don’t know, I suppose I’ll see afterwards, maybe my mind will change.



ZM: So, how do you feel about this situation here?

MM: Well, I mean when you proposed having a pedicure, I though about it, um, because I have like a foot phobia. I just think that feet are like cats tails, they have a weird kind of like … thing to them. 

But I suppose it’s just like one of those things Zen.

I suppose it’s strange to have an interview in any case. And like I said I don’t go for pedicures, so .... I don’t know what I am going to get out of it anyway… 

ZM: (to voice recorder)

So at the moment Megan is getting her back rubbed, she has her feet in a bucket of water, and I’ve got my feet up on a stool, and they are getting scraped.

So … 

(to Megan)

Give me a bit of background to the work that you, Gabi and Dawood did at the art fair. 

MM: It began with Gabi proposing to me and Dawood Petersen that we do something for the art fair. Gabi as a curator, Dawood as a collector, and myself as an artist. Initially we didn’t know what the outcome would be. We developed a methodology in the beginning that involved sending tasks to each other that had to have specific outcomes and be completed by specific dates. So for instance I asked Dawood to buy three things from Herbert Evans, because I thought it would be interesting to see what a collector would buy from an art supply shop. I asked Gabi to get her academic transcripts from all the educational institutions that she attended. 

Another task was when Gabi asked Dawood to make a selection of images. It was interesting in the relation between the curator, the collector and the artist. The remnants of these exchanges was in some way present in the booth at the art fair. Oh, and there was also the work where I spelt Gabi’s name wrong.


The other part of the work was where we had wine from a range of galleries, with information on the cost and the brand attached. Each person who visited the booth was offered a glass of wine in exchange for a donation, they also had to fill out a form that consisted of questions like, what was your favorite booth? Do you know any of the artists showing at the art fair? Have you signed up for any memberships? So it was kind of this exchange that took place. 

What was interesting was that people were not only selecting a wine, but a gallery at the same time. Some people would ask for the most expensive wine, regardless of the gallery that it came from.

ZM: Where was the most expensive wine from? 

MM: It was Graham Beck from art on paper. No, no… art on paper was Arrabella. Graham Beck was from… I can’t remember now.

JAF Booklet/Catalogue pages 6-10

 

ZM: So where do you think the ‘work’ exists in this piece? Could you put your finger on a precise point, saying ‘this is the work’. 

MM: I think it was when people came into the booth and interacted. And were asked to make the decision of which wine to choose and to fill out the form. People were asked to participate in that way, to interact with us [Gabi, Dawood, and myself].  That became the outcome of the project in itself, this participatory moment. You could also say that the work exists in the stack of surveys that we have and maybe the catalogue, but I think that the work was most successful at that point [the art fair] when people interacted with the booth. People walked around, and kept on coming back to the booth, so we had a kind of community that came together.

ZM: Can you tell me more about this community? What kind of people kept on coming back?

MM: For instance, the collector’s and curator’s (Dawood’s and Gabi’s) friends and colleagues would fill out the form but then also took on our role in explaining the project to others who then come back to the booth (maybe to speak to Dawood and Gabi but also because our wine was going for a cheaper price).  I think people also found “safety” in the booth, where this community maybe came back because of being able to find that common face amongst all the random unknown ones.

This community and also developed further maybe by word of mouth. But I also feel that people even the ‘random’ visitor came back because there was this weird sense of community in our booth versus just ‘ art’, white walls and a desk and person (gallerist) who maybe wanted to answer their questions.

 

Image courtesy of Rumanzi Canon: Gabi Ngcobo ,Dawood Petersen & Megan Mace

 Working Title: Curate, Create, Collect

Intervention/Installation/Performance

Duration:  4 Day Art Fair, 2014, FNB Joburg Art Fair Booth 2014

 

ZM: The acquisition of wine from galleries, speaks to … well I call it ritual, you called it a situation, of the practice of galleries providing free drinks to visitors at openings. What do you think about this practice? 

MM: Well some are free, some ask for a donation.

ZM: What is the difference between a gallery that gives drinks for free and a gallery that asks for donations? 

MM: I think it says something about the standing of the gallery,

umm… once you have been asked for money for wine, it changes how you view the space, they are asking …

ZM: But it’s common practice, its an established tradition, and people have come to expect free drinks at openings. Right? So why do you think this practice exists?

MM: Well its part of the invitation to come and celebrate the opening, I would say. And in a way maybe it’s a way to make you stay longer. And then, of course, the alcohol component which opens people up conversation, conversation that you would not normally have if you were walking down the street with someone else.  Umm  … and also to loosen tongues and wallets.

  


Johannesburg Art Map 2013

PDF

297 x 210mm

2013

 

ZM: How is your response to free drinks? Has it changed from when you first started art school to now?

MM: Obviously as a student, I think … well it’s a stereotype then, that you go to openings for the free drinks.  I used to… well I actually still do it… and the work becomes secondary to some extent. Its like you wait for Thursday to come to have free drinks.

(sound of hands clapping vigorously on skin) 

ZM: Is there an acceptable amount to drink at an opening?

MM: Well, I usually drink until the beer is done. 

ZM: So you drink beer, not wine?

MM: yes, well if there is good wine… but I don’t know what good wine is. But generally I have a beer. 

ZM: Is it because you are skeptical about the quality of the wine?

MM: No, not at all, like I said, I don’t know about the quality of wine, Zen.

ZM: Do you think that there is judgment placed on how people drink at openings? Or the approach to drinking? Do you think there is an unspoken etiquette?

MM: Well its interesting, from my experience of bar tending, you see people either coming back again and again or others being a little more afraid of refilling… And there is also the thing of when the bar closes. Some galleries have a specific time whilst some of the bars close once the alcohol is finished.

ZM: What do you think that fear is based on?

MM: I think its about yourself … whats that word … where you are ... when you become self-conscious. You are afraid of being judged by other people. Some people just go for the drinks but others are more interested in the work, the work is more interesting and they just have one glass of wine, or they don’t even finish a glass of wine. In this sense the alcohol is not relevant.

ZM: Do you think that it is acceptable to get drunk at an opening?

MM: I think if you were drunk you would probably have a better time.

ZM: What about in terms of how people perceive you?

MM: I think the opening is a moment when you become a different person, Zen. Like you aren’t the same person as you are on a regular day. I think it is more acceptable to get drunk at an opening. But I suppose it depends on which gallery you at, some galleries don’t mind if you get drunk.

ZM: One thing I’ve never understood about an opening is how much to talk to people at openings. It seems like you never want to talk to one person for too long, you kind of want to maximize your visibility to talk to many people. Is there an ideal time limit or ideal way to approach people and have a conversation, and should you talk about the work on show?

MM: Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to have a set conversation for a particular opening that you have again and again. But I suppose it’s about how much you know the person. People usually talk about their own practice rather than the art work most of the time. Maybe that’s just my own experience…

ZM: So you use the work as a kind of alibi or excuse to talk about yourself?

MM: Ya, because someone will ask ‘what are you up to?’ and they don’t mean ‘what did you eat this morning?’, its like, ‘what are you up to in your studio or what are you working on? and becomes a more general art conversation.

ZM: So is that a way that as an artist you use the opening as a networking moment, you can inform other people, artists, curators or gallerists about what you are doing?

MM: Ya, you are kind of advertising yourself at these events. And that’s also the point. So your question before, if you get drunk at an opening all the time then you are assuming the position of the drunken artist, and then you maybe need to be the drunken artist all the time, rather than being the drunken artist just at the opening.

ZM: So then you have to be drunk all the time?

MM: uh huh. 

ZM: But that might become quite difficult or tiring.

MM: On your liver?

ZM: Ya, and on your mind.

MM: Ya … but its strange … its like when you go to church and then meet people afterwards. Outside the gallery is different than inside. Outside when you are having a smoke and a drink. That’s when you have ‘these’ conversations.  When you are inside you feel a kind of pressure to talk about the work. It could be seen as disrespectful if you don’t acknowledge that someone’s work is in front of you.

ZM: Should you complement the work or not?

MM: It’s always better to be critical. I think that it shows you have an opinion.

 

poster from beauty salon

 

ZM: Should you dress up or dress down to an opening? 

MM: It’s cooler to dress down now days. People actually put more time into looking like they didn’t dress up. As though you don’t care. Because you look at people at the opening and its like ‘ah she really got dressed up and tried very hard for this opening – she’s got her ‘opening outfit’ on.  I think that clothing is always selected.

ZM: Do you think everyone understands the politics of the opening?  Who does the opening privilege?

MM: It privileges the artist and their entourage, the gallerist and the collectors. It’s a night for those people, everyone else is like the extras in this whole play.

ZM: Why does a gallery need these extras?

MM: The institution needs wider recognition, it’s a point for them to get attention and sort of show off or boast about what they have done.  It would be interesting if a show didn’t have an opening. But it’s important for advertising and ultimately to make sales. We just come there to kind of like watch TV to the institutions performance.

ZM: Who is ‘we’?

MM: The audience. The public who is invited to see the work.

ZM: Is it really a general public?

ZM: No it’s not, Zen. It’s a closed public, its not like the invitation to the opening was broadcast on SABC. Some people don’t feel privileged, welcomed and equipped to come to these spaces. Galleries do have this weird elitist thing that goes on. They are not the most inviting spaces to go to.

ZM: Going back to your work, what is the fascination with the form of the opening?

MM: It’s become like such a ritual. It’s like going to church and never really questioning the bible. So why do we perform in this way and what does it mean?

It’s like… this weird performative moment that every person feels like they need to become something at the opening or take on a certain identity.

It’s interesting why we go along with this spectacle. Just for the night. Because if you go to the gallery on a different day, you interact with the space differently. You are not on show and don’t have to perform. I think its also interesting that many people are not aware of how staged it is. And its just becomes this thing is kind of normalized and we do it all the time.

ZM: So if people are performing themselves at an opening, who are they performing for? And what why?

MM: Well it goes back to the question of advertising. You take on a role, be it student or artist, collector or curator. I think people always play to a certain kind of identity, I’m not sure how conscious it is for everyone, but it happens

Irit Rogoff talks about this in her lecture ‘How to Dress for an Exhibition’ she speaks about the constant range of performances that people stage that are appropriate to the kind of event that you go to.

ZM: It seems that you are quite cynical about the exhibition opening? Or is that a misreading?

MM: No, I just think that it is really pretentious, but I like watching it so ’'ll carry on going to it. It’s like a special performance that takes place for one night only. And it also has a function as a networking moment.

ZM: If we say that the opening is not for the general public but for people involved in art specifically, it can be seen as one of the very few moments where an art community gets together and meet. Don’t you think that there is something positive in that?

MM: Ya, but you’re like showing the rainbow…

(sound of clipping)

ZM: What do you mean showing the rainbow?

MM: You are trying to focus on the positive points… its like a funeral, Zen.

I mean does someone have to produce work in order for us all to meet? Like I said earlier maybe the artwork becomes secondary to these ‘meetings’. Do you really want to see certain people at the opening? It does have this aspect Zen, that kind of thing, but there is something that is really not real about these points of engagement at the opening, I don’t think I’ve pin-pointed it yet but its…

ZM: By saying it’s not real, do you mean that it is contrived as a point of meeting, so by extension do you mean that it is an artificial form of community?

MM: Uh huh, because you would interact with someone very differently at Kitchener’s than you would at Stevenson. I think these spaces make this sense of community so like … pretentious.

ZM: What about the after-party? Where only the specific special few get invited. What do you think about this ritual or situation?

MM: There is always this networking thing, that people seem to be constantly doing… its like a really tiring thing, Zen. The after-party is just a rehashing of that but with a closer circuit of people. But… it kind of does the same thing but without the general public.

ZM: So what does your focus on the opening and its forms do in terms of your work? What is the comment or position?

MM: Its kind of stupid because I’m still preaching to the masses.

ZM: You mean preaching to the choir?

(sound of scraping)

MM: Ya, choir. … but I’m not trying to create some kind of revolution or whatever where the opening is radically changed or destroyed.  I’m asking people to rethink or perhaps think for the first time, what the conventions the opening are.

ZM: Well for me its like, not so much about the opening, but that the opening is focused on to make a comment on the work in fact and in a sense you do this by turning the opening into the work. So then the commentary becomes more about the way art presents itself or develops as a series of rituals or situations.

MM: Ya, and then to some extent I’m posing a question of like is the art then secondary? Couldn’t we all just be in a space and then… network together?

Why does it take someone … 

ZM: But isn’t that what you did with Gabi and Dawood?

MM: Ja to some extent, because there wasn’t a lot of what people would conventionally call ‘art’…. I guess what I’m also asking is why produce ‘traditional’ work with all that this brings along, when it is important to question the institutions that uphold and protect what work is in the first place.

ZM: Why is it important for you to carry out this institutional critique?

(masseuse: I’m finished)

ZM: Thank you.

MM: Because its something I think we are always going to be like invested in, regardless if you go into education or if I’m still going to be a practicing artist, or, there is always the institution that governs what we do, like how we make money, or produce art and its something that I think needs to be questioned, I mean I might one day maybe start making paintings, but now I need to understand what this ‘thing’ is …

ZM: The art world can be seen as a series of inclusive or exclusive gestures, gestures that either include or exclude people. Does your focus on the opening speak to these kind of questions?

(sound of camera)

MM: You know, Zen, sometimes half the people don’t even understand what they were participating in. Even if you think about closing the bar at an opening, if there is a collector inside, there would be another glass of wine for sure. So the question is, who is relevant at the opening? Is the ‘general public’ relevant? Do the necessarily need to be there?

ZM: So if they don’t need to be there, why are they there? Why does the gallery need this public? Is it about relevance? About making the work more desirable?

MM: Like I say, Zen, maybe it’s a point at which the institution shows itself off. Like,  look we have this artist in our space vs. like if you go down street (Maboneng or Braamfontien) then you will get another artist.

ZM: Isn’t it a strange paradoxical thing? Because the whole idea of the gallery is to sell work, so it is an exchange of private property – it is a sale.  So why add a public event, in which a whole lot of people are invited whom the vast majority of will never be able to afford to participate in this commodity exchange?

MM: Because like, there is always this idea that ‘art is for everyone’ its aspiration of inclusion and it gives up this ‘free’ thing that we all get to see. But … what is your question again? My brain is blocking up…

ZM: No… it wasn’t a very good question… ummm

(voice getting tired)

The idea of showing these peripheral situations and gestures that comes with the art world, ummmm … there is obviously a tradition around this. Ummm

What do you think about this tradition of institutional critique or relational aesthetics… or whatever you want to call it… what do you think these critical ideas do to the functioning of the art world? Do you think that it is a critique that is important? Or do you think that it, itself becomes a form that gets included within the art world?

MM: I mean obviously its contradictory, because you create work that critiques the institution and then put it back into the institution, so that’s one of the issues. Unless you like, producing it in pick and pay, umm but then you not speaking towards the institution directly. That’s why I set up situations that are not like… I think its important that when I set up a situation its not like didactic or obvious, its not like here is a ‘fuck you’ sign or something … I try to make it so that you have to participate in the situation being critiqued, I make the audience kind of complicit with the situation so maybe you are not too aware that you’re participating.

ZM: You have obviously thought quite a lot about the opening and its forms, do you think other people understand the implications of the set of rituals in the opening? Do you think people care?

MM: No, I don’t think people care. Ummm … I was with a certain artist the other day, and she is like the most awkwardest person at an opening (and I thought that I was awkward) and she doesn’t know what to do with herself, after a glass of wine, or two and she kind of understands, I think and maybe gets the point or not. Maybe she is only there because her work is there. Its just a cool event, I mean if you look at Braamfontein, gallery hopping is a cool thing, I mean this is not new but… I don’t think people understand and I don’t think that they care, Zen.

I think in art we take things too seriously anyway.

(Sound of skin being rubbed)

ZM: I think there is enough here for 2000 words… how was your foot massage?

MM: It was ok, Zen. I think the back massage was better.

ZM: Really?

MM: ya … 

ZM: How did you get a back massage thrown in at the same time? …  

After the interview, Megan Mace declined the offer of lunch, but got Zen Marie to buy her a Tsingtao Instead.

 

Biographies

Zen Marie

Photographer/Artist/Writer/Lecturer/Durban/JHB/Boston/JHB/Amsterdam/JHB/Sydenham Primary/Fordsburg Primary/Martin Luther King Junior School/Johannesburg Secondary school/ National School of the Arts/Michaelis School of Art/Stichting 63: de ateliers /University of Amsterdam/Vega school of Brand communications/WITS School of Arts.

 Megan Mace

Megan Mace born in 1991(Johannesburg), completed her B.A Fine Arts degree at the University of Witwatersrand in 2013. She is currently (part-time) doing her M.A in Fine Arts at Wits University. Some of her other past and recent experience and highlights within the visual arts includes: participating in Rencontres.Play>Urban/Maillon:Le-MaillonThéâtre de Strasbourg(2013), Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts, ABSA L’Atelier (2014), FNB Joburg Art Fair within a special project under Gabi Ngcobo (2014) and having curated exhibitions such as Somewhere Between Here by Mack Magagane (ROOM Space & Projects,2014) and SKAFTIEN[the remains] a presentation and a survey of a project by the same name (Skaftien), developed and realized by Keleketla! Library! (ROOM Space & Projects, 2014

  


[i] This interview was prompted by a question after a ‘code of practice’ for artists. Artistic production is a diverse and unequal playing field including a range of institutions, platforms and stakeholders. Bearing this mind, my approach was to focus on the seemingly taken for granted form of the exhibition opening. The question of how this form acts as a moment of bringing together of people includes a questioning of how it regulates what kind of community is privileged through the repetition of specific conventions. It is proposed, that by understanding these moments of inclusion (and exclusion) that one can better think through the idea of community, interest and implication as it relates to the formation of a code for common practice.