The Institute for Creative Arts (ICA, formerly GIPCA) launched its third annual, boundary bending Live Art Festival earlier this month.
To find out more about this anticipated festival and the recent changes at the Institute, Creative Feel spoke to ICA Director, Jay Pather.
The transition from the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) to the Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) was made official on 5 April 2016. Why the change? ‘GIPCA was originally founded to develop interdisciplinary collaboration amongst the creative arts and other disciplines as well as to promote the various performing and creative art disciplines at the University of Cape Town,’ says Jay Pather. ‘The ICA evolved from GIPCA and takes this work further. With support from the Mellon Foundation, the ICA takes this work into public spheres and has developed a more comprehensive platform for postgraduate study in innovative, interdisciplinary practice. Hence the Institute creates programmes that encourage public and performance art. While interdisciplinarity, innovation and experimentation remain key, there is a particular focus on the several complex themes around decolonisation and addressing such issues as class, race, gender and sexuality via the performing and creative arts.’
Other developments at the Institute ‘have been the formation of a Postgraduate Cohort specialising in the area of live art, public art and interdisciplinarity. Sixteen fellowships that encourage artists and scholars to take this research further through short, financially supported residencies and several scholarships that are made available for MA and PhD study in these areas,’ says Pather. ‘The various events have also seen a more integrated approach amongst the general public, artists and students. Key projects started during GIPCA’s existence have continued such as the very successful Great Texts Big Question series, the Live Art Festival of course and the Music in the City Series.’
The Live Art Festival has established itself as a unique platform for cutting-edge interdisciplinary art, but what is the history behind it? ‘The Live Art Festival started as a way of encouraging the development of what was known as performance art. This area of the arts was more vigorously championed by visual artists who developed a performative element as opposed to the static art work. This began to foreground issues of immediacy and urgency and the experimentation, together with the fact that these art interventions were not commercially driven, tended to be anarchic and extremely political. Historically, movements such as Dadaism and Futurism epitomised this. Over the years, the term “live art” was introduced to include performance art but also to embrace growing technology which simply means that for a work to be “live”, there does not have to be a performing body.
‘This whole field starts to make us question art forms such as straight theatre and dance and the static visual art form and the archaic musical traditions that linked for example melody with music. Artists question these narrow categories and open new areas and new ways of looking. This is enormously exciting if one goes along with it fearlessly, unafraid to leave one’s assumptions about art at the door. Artists who do this kind of work are very often non-commercial. The experience is momentary, is not always wildly popular and they, as a result, put themselves at great commercial and artistic risk. The point is ultimately that these new images and sounds and forms that arise are often taken up by the mainstream quite quickly because they are rich and provocative. The new work of integrity must of necessity have space, to give voice to the ever-increasing complexity of our contemporary lives. Let’s consider, for example, how at this moment and globally, freedom has become fragile and we cannot take human rights for granted. These vigilant artists find the complexity of this through a search for forms that may probe this and bring it to us not just intellectually but emotively in visually and aurally striking images.
‘So the ICA Live Art Festival provides audiences with an expansive (three-week long!) window on what artists who are not afraid to take a risk are doing and thinking. In South Africa, of course, the idea of interdisciplinary performance is very old when one considers classical African theatre and dance. Performance artist Albert Khoza reveals this connectivity between ritual, tradition and contemporary performance in a disarming way. In bringing together issues of the queer body and traditional ritual, he epitomises the fearless integrity I spoke of before. Other African artists featured at the Live Art Festival, such as Jelili Atiku (Nigeria), Nora Chipaumire (Zimbabwe, now based in New York), Panaibra Canda (Mozambique) and Larry Achiampong (Ghana, now based in London), further reveal the continuity between the ancient performances of the African continent and the contemporary global moment.
‘In this festival, as well, we are also looking at range – so we are presenting such veterans as Atiku, Steven Cohen and Mamela Nyamza to people such as Buhlebezwe Siwani and Sethembile Msezane. There are dance artists such as Foofwa d’Imobilité (Switzerland) and Canda, to visual artists such as Gabrielle Goliath and those working with image and sound such as Samson Kambalu and Achiampong. And besides the range of African artists we are featuring the work of some of South Africa’s leading exponents in the field such as Donna Kukama, Alan Parker, Anthea Moys, Khanyisile Mbongwa, Gavin Krastin and Dean Hutton.
‘In the last few years, the calls for decolonisation have increased. Artists have searched for forms that get to the complexity of, for example, systemic violence and many have found that this hybrid form, that seems to have no boundaries, is the way. As such, the Festival has no real theme though resonances amongst the works will no doubt be felt. But we should be prepared for some of the most provocative, enervating and thought-provoking work by artists who pull no political or artistic punches.’ Interestingly, linked to the Live Art Festival is the ICA’s Live Art Fellowship, which forms part of the series of Fellowships offered by the ICA. ‘The idea here is to afford artists and scholars an opportunity to take the time to develop an idea, write about it, research it further, present the research and then develop and present the work at the Festival. This is a means which we are instituting to give artists the opportunity to not just present their work as in any other festival but within the University and an Institute, to spend the time researching and working on it and then getting feedback from a range of artists and scholars before presenting at the Festival.’
The Live Art Festival sets a thought-provoking precedent for what appears to be a very busy year for the ICA. Their many projects include ‘a book on live art by a range of provocative writers such as Khwezi Gule, Sarah Nuttall, Nondumiso Msimanga, Bettina Malcomess, Mwenya Kabwe and Nomusa Makhubu. The Third Space Symposium will be the second in a series of three that combine artistic works with conference presentations around decolonizing the arts curricula. The Great Texts Big Question Series features a new line up of speakers as do the Medical Humanities Lecture Series. We will host a programme of interdisciplinary work from our graduating Masters students. This includes work by Dean Hutton, Khanyisile Mbongwa, Juliet Jenkin and Lesiba Mabitsela. We are launching Infecting the City in collaboration with the Africa Centre and are also collaborating with the Spielart Festival in Germany on a programme of Live Art from South Africa. And, of course, the range of Fellowships and Fellows Presentations.’