The Darling Collection: an interview about a unique arts festival

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Object owners meeting with students (object owner Shinaaz Abrahams and student Juliet Zoeten) Photo credit: The Darling Collection

One town, 35 stories, eight students and a three-day festival celebration.

Now in its third year, the Darling Collection is a unique and innovative event, presenting performances and exhibition of artworks created to celebrate stories behind the most cherished objects of 35 residents of Darling.

Eight students from Fontys University of Fine and Performing Arts in the Netherlands will again spend six weeks with residents of Darling, to share and interpret their memories behind each object, and bring them to life through works of dance, theatre, music and visual art. The final artworks will be presented in a collaborative celebration at The Darling Collection Festival from 20-22 April in Darling.

Professor Jan Grolleman from Fontys, artistic director of The Darling Collection, answers Naomi Meyer’s questions on The Darling Collection, an arts festival which takes place in the town of Darling later this month.

The Darling Collection is an arts festival, but the concept sounds different to most arts festivals. Please will you explain?

We use the term “arts” because The Darling Collection is a combination of music, visual art, theatre and dance, all a part of “art” in different forms and performances. We don’t have one focused art discipline, but four, which makes this a festival of arts.

There are important and well known artists living in Darling. But, this is a diverse country where everybody’s story in every community is not equally heard. How is the selection of residents and/or cherished objects made?  

People well known to small communities are not always people who are known everywhere, so, to us, the person we greet every day in Spar could be well known. Our selection is random, going with the intuition of knocking on a door or attending events in town to scout.

2017 The Darling Collection Fontys student Lisa Nes and object owner Gloria van Rooyen perform a song inspired by Gloria's wine cabinet. (Photo credit: The Darling Collection)

Where did this specific idea come from – to take an object and create dialogue and art around it? 

The Darling Collection started in 2015 through the need for a new project in Darling in addition to the Voorkamerfest. After a meeting between former organiser Wim Visser and Fontys director Jur van der Lecq, they asked artist/artistic director Jan Grolleman to design the content for this project.

Darling is separated by a railway; we collect personal objects/stories from every area in Darling. We use these objects/stories as a source of inspiration and give them back during the festival. The people who created this concept thought that this way of making and presenting art could be a way of bringing people together.

When is an object a piece of art and when is it a craft? Is this part of your conversation? (And, by the way, does it matter whether an object is an art or a craft, and what is the difference?) 

The object is not used for craft; rather, a performance or work of art is created around the idea of the object’s story, sometimes being very intimate and sensitive. When the person agrees to becoming an object owner, he is told that he could have a student from any discipline of art, and his object is the physical proof of his story.

The festival is in its third year. Can you share some memorable objects and art productions arising from previous years’ festivals, please? 

Each art production is memorable, and to mention a few: from our first year, our “Baking tray” story was very popular, and one of this year’s object owners still remembers that musical performance, and it was an inspiration for her to join; this was a song made for a woman who loves dancing, trying to continue with her love for it, her photo of herself and her partner at a dance competition always inspiring her.

Last year, a woman’s painting which combined all races and colours into her love of the girl with the pearl earring was brought to life through music, and “Meisje met de parel” was sung months after the festival. The Michael Recycle factory allowed people to come and create their own armbands from recycled materials, as the object was a recycled portable phone charger.

Heal the World music - singing "The Dream Song" (written by artists performing) as part of the dARTling programme. Left to right: Marius Vlotman, Verdi Alaart, Austin Engelbrecht, Mudikane Makumbe, Joanne Delport (photo credit: The Darling Collection)

The festival seems to focus on different cultures within this country, and there is also involvement of Dutch students. Please can you tell our readers about the students from the Netherlands and their role? 

All students study at the Fontys University of Fine and Performing Arts. Students come from four different departments: dance, theatre, music and visual arts.

The students each get five stories from different parts of Darling (ie Darling North, Darling South, etc), and they create the art performances or pieces from these stories. They communicate with object owners to understand and really interpret their stories for people to understand and relate to. They plan, they rehearse and then they perform.
Students also help with dARTling workshops and master classes for different ages in the community.

Do give us some more details on this festival – practicalities. Where exactly will it take place, cost of tickets, duration of the festival?

The performances and exhibitions of The Darling Collection (dARTling) take place on 20–22 April in Darling. Tickets cost R15 for a day pass and R30 for a weekend pass.  To book, contact 066 013 5119 or email info@thedarlingcollection.co.za. Tickets will also be available at the door. The venue is situated at The Darling Collection (dARTling) tent, on the corner of Durban Road and Somerset Circle, Darling. Times of the programme are 7 pm to 10 pm on Friday 20 April, 12 noon to 10 pm on Saturday 21 April, and 12 noon to 5 pm on Sunday 22 April.

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