In March 2020, COVID-19 forced galleries to close their doors and theatres to turn off the lights. Overnight events, performances and exhibitions were cancelled, planned work shelved and important revenue streams lost. But the arts are resilient, and projects were born that not only reflected the current situation but offered hope in a changing world.
On 11 May, the UJ Choir launched its ninth album, When the Earth Stands Still, and with it came an emotional interdisciplinary project, The Pandemic. UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) at the University of Johannesburg, has invited over 25 visual artists, dancers and choreographers to each develop a new work inspired by music from the UJ Choir’s album When the Earth Stands Still.
‘At UJ Arts & Culture, we believe that the arts are not limited to physical performance or exhibition spaces and with us not being able to utilise these to connect with and serve our audiences and students, we have to undertake bold experiments. Having worked across disciplines for a number of years now, UJ Arts & Culture naturally gravitates towards collaborative work and this time is no different,’ says Pieter Jacobs, head of the department.
Other than the initial lockdown time period, there were no aesthetic restrictions on the commission and a literal interpretation of ‘the pandemic’ was not expected. Each creative was assigned one of the 20 tracks on the UJ Choir’s album and was required to submit a short time-lapse video of the work in creation. The final artworks will be published on the UJ Arts & Culture online platform and will be presented in an exhibition at the UJ Art Gallery as soon as less stringent social distancing measures are necessary.
While the impetus of The Pandemic was derived from the desire to celebrate one of the few projects that was not wholly affected by the pandemic and its resulting lockdowns, the campaign has taken on a far greater purpose. The Pandemic has given UJ Arts & Culture an opportunity to support artists financially, albeit modestly, and emotionally, and give them a space to create a new artwork in solidarity with other artists. While unplanned and unexpected, The Pandemic speaks strongly to the UJ Arts & Culture 2020 vision of bringing the arts #CloseToHeART, emphasising what matters most to the department. Furthermore, it progresses FADA’s growing interdisciplinary approach to the arts in academia and presentation.
Sixteen visual artists were commissioned, including Diane Victor, Devlin Tim, Lothar Bottcher, Lebo Magolego, Tanisha Bhana, Heidi Fourie, Collen Masangwanyi, Allen Laing, Lehlogonolo Mashaba, Ronel de Jager, Strijdom van der Merwe, Neo Mahlangu, Craig Muller, Gordon Froud, Yannis Generalis and Siyabonga Mahlaba. Their submitted works represent a variety of media.
Nine dancers and choreographers were commissioned, including Athena Mazarakis, Alex Halligey and Jennifer Halligey, Themba Mbuli, Thulani Chauke, Oscar Buthelezi, Thami Majela, Ignatius van Heerden, Sunnyboy Motau, Khaya Ndlovu and Fana Tshabalala.
‘There is a real sense of hope and inspiration that stems from the Choir’s album When the Earth Stands Still and The Pandemic, they speak to our resilience and ability to create even in times of crisis,’ says Lakin Morgan-Baatjies who heads up Marketing at UJ Arts & Culture.
Following the launch of the album, the video clips will be released over the next five weeks on all of UJ Arts & Culture’s social media platforms. Follow the hashtag #UJPandemic #CloseToHeART to experience this journey.
WATCH each artist’s visual interpretation of When the Earth Stands Still on the next page and keep an eye out for new additions every day!