OPENlab 2014

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Ricardo Peach

OPENlab is at the Vryfees in June. Applications close on the 5th of May. But what is OPENlab? Ricardo Peach answers Naomi Meyer's questions.


Hi Ricardo, thank you for the time to chat. Please tell our readers who you are.

Hi Naomi, I am the Programme Director for the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD) initiated by the Vryfees and University of the Free State. 

I was born in Volksrust, Mpumalanga and moved to Australia in the 1980s. My father is originally from Ficksburg in the Free State and my mother from Indwe in the Eastern Cape – near Queenstown. I therefore have a big extended Afrikaner family all over the country and probably have a place to stay in most dorpies in die country!

Some links:

The OPENlab project seems interesting and relevant … creating art in the public domain so that everyone can engage in the conversation. Or how would you describe this project?

Yes, OPENLab is about the art of being public. OPENLab 2014 – a first in South Africa, I believe – was initiated by Australian curator Carli Leimbach and developed in collaboration with other Australian and South African curators, designers and artists Paul Gazzola, Lynda Roberts, Tècha Noble and Jay Pather, as part of the PIAD. It has been described as a new, cross-artform national laboratory for early and mid-career artists and creative practitioners interested in making art in the public realm; an open and intensive residency platform aimed at generating new strategies and ideas in site-specific, experimental and interdisciplinary practice.

How is OPENlab different from so-called happen art or happenings (theatre events)? Are the aims the same – and what are they?

I think the interdisciplinary and experimental nature of this gathering is unique, as is the fact that no art “outcomes” are required. The process of thinking differently about what art practice is, why artists do what they do and how they can do things differently is the outcome. 

Carli and the team have developed a lab where they suggest that participating artists “will explore new approaches to site based practices working across different communities, disciplines and geographical contexts. The emphasis is on participation, critical thinking, discussion and the creation of new ideas”.

As the facilitators suggest: “OPENLab is a place for free experimentation and open dialogue. It is a nurturing, supportive and responsive space for artists and facilitators to share, exchange and challenge each other.”

Activities wil include exploring spaces for performance and installation; interdisciplinary collaboration; concept development; audience interactivity and intercultural dialogue. 

In Australia laboratory programmes such as the SituateArt in Festivals initiative and Time_Place_Space have been instrumental in developing Australian artists into international leaders in interdisciplinary and experimental art.

OPENLab 2014 South Africa, therefore, is an investment in future thinking, creative networks and professional development for South African practitioners.

Is this a trend nowadays – to do everything and anything out in the open? Think of Facebook. Nothing is sacred anymore. How is OPENlab different from something like the social media?

It is one of the trends. Artists working in live art, experimental art and interdisciplinary art often try to engage with new audiences in interesting, creative ways – sometimes using the audiences themselves as participants and active creative agents in developing artworks in public. 

I don’t know if the open nature of social media has pushed artists to be more public than usual. Perhaps.

I do know, however, that artists have always been interested in developing new audiences and exploring new environments for art. Creating work in public can lead to activating new audiences and create a greater sense of democracy. Anyone could potentially experience such art – you don’t have to have money to experience such an event – you could simply wander down the street and encounter extraordinary art. I love that about art in public. 

Applications are open already. What will make you notice an application – should it purposefully try to be different?

I think authenticity, clarity and passion are key to good applications. If you are interested in experimental art and how to engage innovatively in public or site-specific environments, just articulate this clearly and tell the selectors why this laboratory is for you. 

How should people apply on a practical level? Should they contact you with photos of their concepts, or just written applications?

The applications for OPENLab are all online and can be downloaded from the website, filled in and e-mailed to the contact e-mail address supplied.

Make sure your application is clear and addresses the selection criteria. These criteria are what applications are scored against. 

Where will OPENlab be visible and when? Will it be only at the Vryfees this year or will it spill over into towns and cities other than Bloemfontein?

OPENLab 2014 will take place over 10 days from 18 July to 27 July 2014 at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein alongside the Vryfees festival. It will also involve a weeklong studio held at Modern Art Projects (Map) South Africa in Richmond in the Northern Cape.

Although the lab itself will be open to selected participants only, anyone can meet the OPENLab 2014 artists and facilitators as part of a “Proesel”/Sampler afternoon on Saturday, July 19 in the Jazz Lounge at the Vryfees from 2 to 4 pm. As part of this event artlab participants will share their recent creative projects and fresh ideas.

There will also be a free forum titled “Cohesions and Disruptions: Art as a Key to Transformation” on Friday, July 18, from 9 am to 1 pm at the Naval Hill Planetarium, Bloemfontein.

Vryfees in partnership with the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery and the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice, will co-present this artist and academic forum on art, social engagement and cross-cultural exploration as part of the PIKO/PIAD and the OPENLab 2014.

The keynote speaker, Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin, a Narungga, Wirangu, Wotjobaluk woman from South Australia and Victoria respectively, who is well known throughout the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island and broader arts communities, will discuss issues around First Nation cultural development, language, heritage and contemporary practice. Lee-Ann is also one of the OPENLab international speakers.

Other special guests at the forum include Mari Velonaki, Director of the Centre for Social Robotics at the National Institute for Experimental Art at the University of New South Wales, Sydney; Nigel Helyer, honorary research fellow at SymbioticA art/science centre at the University of Western Australia, Perth; Bec Dean, curator at Performance Space, Sydney and manager of Time_Place_Space: Nomad, a travelling laboratory programme for interdisciplinary and experimental art; Jess Olivieri, co-founder of Parachutes for Ladies; and Cigdem Aydemir, Vryfees visual artist 2014.

Selected OPENLab artists will also attend the forum, which is free for anyone to come along to. We would like to invite everyone interested in experimental, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary art to join us at the forum, held in honour of Mandela Day. It promises to be an extraordinary day of conversations, learning and new knowledge sharing.


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