All great works of art begin with an idea. Most often, they are passionate and ambitious ideas that, after being chipped away at and refined, go on to become successful and confident final products. The process of transforming an idea into its final form isn’t always straightforward, however. Problems and limitations arise, and new ideas must be borne to fill the gaps. It is these secondary ideas that find a home at The Centre for The Less Good Idea.
With its third season currently under curation, The Centre for the Less Good Idea is an ambitious and inspired project founded by internationally renowned South African artist William Kentridge.
Towards the start of 2016, Kentridge sought to launch an institution that would support local artists as well as foster new, experimental, and cross-disciplinary work that wouldn’t necessarily find a home in conventional theatres, galleries, or music venues. He approached Botswana-born artist Bronwyn Lace, whose role would be the ‘animateur’ for the Centre – someone who could bring energy, momentum and a dedication to the process – and six months later, they had their first space located in Maboneng’s Arts on Main complex.
Over the 18 months that the Centre’s been operational, they’ve produced two seasons, each season lasting six months and seeing fundamental curators coming together to build the works up by inviting their own collaborators into the space and process. Works are then showcased at a four-day festival and smaller, more regular programmes such as the For Once programme, Off the Cuff and the In Conversation programmes take place throughout the year.
As an artist who focuses her practice on the relationship between art and other fields, including performing arts, physics, museum practice and education, Lace explains that collaboration is a key component when it comes to workshopping new and innovative ideas.
‘The Centre believes an ensemble sees the world differently to how one individual does. The good idea – that thing that wakes you up at 3am and drives you to stand in front of the empty canvas or on to the page or stage – exists in the mind. It is not yet shared and for a moment feels magnificent and untouchable,’ she explains. ‘Most artists recognise the moment that comes next, as you attempt to manifest the idea, something happens, some things collapse and others ignite, this is particularly true when your individual ideas come to meet other ideas. The Centre is the space to follow the next step, the less good ideas that didn’t wake you up because you couldn’t have imagined them until you were firmly in the process of making and exchanging.’
Beyond bringing artists together and providing a space for new work to be made, The Centre also allows for the work to be seen by large crowds at sold-out shows, and to serve as a springboard for further work. Lace explains that since The Centre’s debut season, a number of works have gone on to be further developed and performed. Works such as Venus Hottentot Vs. Modernity by Lebogang Mashile, Ann Masina and Nhlanhla Mahlangu; Requiem Request by Gregory Maqoma, Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Phuphuma Love Minus, and Bag Beatings by Ntsoana Contemporary Theatre have all gone on to be funded by outside bodies and presented in other forms.
‘Artists are natural opportunity makers,’ says Lace. ‘The time and space they are given at the Centre to develop their own work will naturally translate into further opportunities, because all artists are developing a trajectory, a language that is their own. The time they spend at the Centre is just a moment in a lifelong conversation. We hope it’s a rare moment that allows for things that normally don’t get enough space.’
Seeing a host of secondary and seemingly imperfect ideas come into bloom over the past two seasons is a great triumph for the Centre, but as it goes, it’s the smaller, lesser seen moments that Lace has found to be the most rewarding.
‘My highlights have been the people I’ve met, the privilege of watching a dancer conceptualise and communicate complex issues without needing spoken language, watching actors go into trance-like states before performing gruelling Beckett texts and vocalists discover incredible compositions by simultaneously singing and listening to one another,’ she says.
Looking ahead, Season 3 promises over 30 artists in collaboration under the guidance and curation of artists Lindiwe Matshikiza, Bettina Malcomess, and Bhavisha Panchia. The season festival will run 11 – 14 April 2018 at Unit 11 and 13, Arts on Main, Maboneng.