Interview with Bronwyn Lace

Interview between Bronwyn Lace and Assemblage, November 2010

What are your insights into the current state of the Johannesburg art community?

My experience is that the art community is growing and diversifying, I think when compared with much of the world it's an extremely interesting scene and things are happening here that we are yet to understand but that bring great promise to Johannesburg in general.

What is your experience in artist collectives/peer run groups and initiatives?

I've been involved in a number of initiatives over the years, SaArtsEmerging, the About Art programme and now En Masse. I think they're incredibly important and whether they sustain themselves for extended periods or not they need to happen, all over the place and all the time as they challenge the status quo and create new platforms that lead to a healthier and stronger art community in the end.

What is your experience in working with corporate art collections?

I've worked with the SABC Art Collection for some years now. It's a strong collection and it’s curator Koulla Xinisteris has a vision and is dedicated to collecting work that is viewed by many as difficult and controversial. Her drive to do this assists and supports many artists working in more challenging ways. It also constantly pushes and challenges the SABC as the work is hung throughout the building and is accessible to the staff as well as the public. This isn't an easy job as many protest and art education in the country is generally very poor. I feel the SABC collection is quite unique in this regard and wish other corporate curators would work in a similar way.

What is your experience in working with not-for profit organisations, such as the Bag Factory?

Working at The Bag Factory gave me a lot of experience that I would not have easily been able to access otherwise. The not-for-profit world is an unstable one and it's exhausting and draining at times to constantly be searching for funding and fighting for limited space. I think NPO structures are often flawed and problematic and would be interested in finding out if there aren’t more sustainable ways of supporting and growing our art community.

How would you recommend working with your peers?

I think collaborative work is essential but also quiet specific. One cannot simply collaborate with anyone and I feel successful collaborations need to come out of a real need to work together.  A lot of time, patience, attention and dedication are necessary when working with ones peers.

What is the best way to source funding for projects?

I'm not sure, I usually try as many ways as possible, the only sure thing is that you'll be rejected more than accepted but it's important just to keep pushing and at the same time assessing what you're asking for.

What curatorial projects have you worked on and what advice would you give to young curators?

I've recently finished a three-year curatorial project for the Embassy of Spain, the show, Reflex/Reflexion opened in October 2010 at JAG. I think moving between making art and curating is tough. I'm not sure I'll easily take on a role like this again, I'm much more certain I want to focus my attention on the production of my own work now, of course I learnt a lot and am proud of the project but working with artists is difficult and one has to learn the difference between pandering and respecting an artists wishes.

Tell us about SA Arts Emerging, how it progressed and why it ended?

SaArtsEmerging was co-founded by Nathaniel Stern, Simon Gush and myself. A little later Rat Western joined the team. It came out of a conversation between Simon, Nathaniel and myself while we were visiting New York. I think we were expressing a lot of frustration about the South African art world and in particular the lack of critical engagement with work. We decided to create a website which encouraged more engaged writing for and by artists. The site did well initially and as we progressed we created more and more of a network across the country. After a while though Simon and Nathaniel moved abroad and the workload was too heavy for Rat and I on our own. We didn't intend for the website to go on forever and I think we achieved our goals. I for one made contact with a Durban based artist Vaughn Sadie, he now lives in Joburg and the two of us have been collaborating very successfully for some years.

Do you have any tips for emerging artists?

I think it's important to take yourself and your practice seriously from the beginning. Networking and seeing what's out there is important but putting your head down and working is much more lucrative in the end.