CF: Due to COVID-19, the artists in residence had to leave to go back to their home countries and the residencies have continued virtually. Has this been successful?
CA: It’s difficult to measure the success of a residency as each artist has different motivations and outcomes that they want to achieve. Georgina and Erla were both making new work for exhibitions scheduled for this year. In Erla’s case, she had completed most of her paintings, but the exhibition which was due to open in Sweden at the end of March was cancelled due to COVID-19. Gina has continued working from her studio at home in Harare, but as a mother and wife, there are other demands on her time and attention and she has to navigate the balance between family and her artistic practice. It is important to be with family during a time like this and it is quite likely the exhibitions she was working towards will also be cancelled or postponed till next year, so the lockdown will hopefully afford her the time to slow down and reflect on her practice in a similar way to what the residency offers. Andreas had just finished the research phase of his residency when he decided to leave. His work is context-specific, so he had been planning to build an installation-type work before the end of his residency. We are still in conversation about how and whether there will be an outcome for his residency. It was very stressful for all the artists – deciding whether to stay or go amidst such global uncertainty of what the future holds – and trying to get into the headspace to keep working under that kind of pressure is not easy. Our programme partners have been very supportive of the Bag Factory and the artists, which has thankfully relieved some of those pressures.
CF: Could you tell us a bit more about the Virtual Open Studios taking place on 25 April? What will take place and how can our readers access it?
CA: Like many other arts organisations, we have had to be flexible and reflexive with our programming. The Bag Factory’s artists have been exploring different ways to share insight into their studio practice. Each artist has a different relationship with technology, and some haven’t been able to set up home studios to produce new work, so we are working around this. Our audience can expect a combination of images of new work and video interviews which we will share on our website, and live studio visits via Instagram or Facebook with the more tech-savvy artists. At 16:00 we have a panel discussion with Gina, Andreas and Erla, which will be led by Sharlene Khan via Zoom and live-streamed on our Facebook page. We also have an online exhibition which we recently launched on our website, Covert Bioscope, showcasing video works by Phumulani Ntuli, Olivia Botha, Neville Starling, Malebona Maphutse and Helena Uambembe. We have been having Q&A sessions with the participating artists via Zoom which are also available to view on our website.
CF: The Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, like everyone around the world, has had to work much more in the virtual/digital space than ever before. Is there anything that has been successful about this that you would like to adopt going forward for the Bag Factory?
CA: Technology and virtual responses have their limitations, especially for art which is essentially a tactile and emotive experience when you see it in real life. Having said that, much of our content and programmes are mediated through digital and social media platforms already. Now we are all doing it more consciously and in real-time. I am very excited for the possibilities that the digital space has provided the Bag Factory, which considers itself to be an international organisation, in terms of connecting and engaging with international audiences, artists, curators, and programme partners. The shift to digital platforms has been so fluid that I can’t see us going back to working in the same way we did before.
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