A Chat with Vrystaat Director, Ricardo Peach / by Ainslie Macaulay

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Since the last Vrystaat Kunstefees Arts Festival, so much has happened! Tell us about all that’s been happening in Bloemfontein in the lead up to the next festival in July.

The Vrystaat Arts Festival continues to forge creative connections with local, national
and international practitioners. This year we have collaborators, writers and co-producers from as far away as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Iran, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Romania, the UK and the US. Interest globally in what we are doing is growing rapidly.

What is even more exciting for us is that for the first time we have artists from our near neighbours Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe as part of the festival and our inaugural Pan-African Creative Exchange (PACE) Teaser. This precursor will grow into a full PACE 2018 so thatthose visiting us can experience the enormous creative talents of our continent.

We are privileged to have several First Nations activists from around the world helping us to develop protocols for the festival linked to contemporary KhoiSan cultures. Some of this First Nation work will happen around the SITUATE Art in Festivals supported Giidanyba (Sky Beings) at Oliewenhuis National Art Museum by Tyrone Sheather, a Gumbaynggirr artist from the mid-north coast of New South Wales. This is incredibly exciting - as we are launching the 2017 festival for the first time with a First Nations ceremony.

SITUATE Art in Festivals’ artists such as Tyrone - and others like Cigdem Aydemir (Plastic Histories, 2014), Jess Olivieri (White Horse, 2015), Adele Varcoe (Onesie World, 2017) and Julia Drouhin (Radioactive Lost Lover Book, 2017 and A.I.R[Altitude Immersive Radio], 2018) are key to the success of our festival. They offer a new perspective on our region and their collaborations with local artists ensure a deep cultural exchange between our two countries.

In 2017 we launch South Africa’s first Arts and Health Programme in partnership with DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts) in Western Australia and the University
of the Free State. This will be a game changer for Community Arts and Cultural
Development (CACD) and health here and will impact significantly in our region over
the next few years.

Our new Vrystaat Literature Festival, in one year, has turned into one of the jewels for writers in South Africa. 2017 sees an expanded offering bringing incredibly vibrant creatives to our city from all corners of the world. More than 110 writers are participating in this year’s literary discussions.

Only in its second year, the vrynge has grown into an essential platform for artists from all levels of practice to explore their creative talent. From newcomers to professionals testing work in progress (both national and international), this is the place to be if you want a taste of the future. And we invite anyone to come to South Africa and participate in our vrynge - just shoot us an email.

Large scale public and site specific art through the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD), Public Art Project (PAP) and Vrywees, is a major growth area - in part due to SITUATE Art in Festivals. Onesie World by Adele in partnership with local fashion designers and musicians will be a key project, where 1000 onesies will be given out to the public. No one should miss out wearing this once in a lifetime piece of history!

Environmental regeneration and ‘postnatural’ building forms part of another key festival project, Seven Stage Futures, with Dr Keith Armstrong, Qala Phelang Thala and local change agents. Several events will take place around Mangaung’s informal settlements exploring how we can help our region’s communities become not just sustainable, but regenerative.

We are thrilled that both Adele and Tyrone will be there in July. As you know, they are two of our wonderfully talented SITUATE Arts Lab artists. Their projects are very different but both have so much potential to engage the local community on a number of levels. What aspects are you particularly excited about with Adele’s Onesie World and Tyrone’s GIIDANYBA?

Giidanyba (Sky Beings) consists of seven figure-like sculptures, depicting nocturnal
spirits that impart knowledge and guidance to the Gumbaynggirr people. Tyrone explains: “In the Dreaming (Yuludarla), the Hero-Ancestors made and transformed the landscape with their special powers of creation and destruction. Simulating a Gumbaynggirr rite of passage, Giidanyba symbolises these Spiritual Ancestors, as they descend from the Muurrbay Bundani (tree of life) in the sky, to support people throughout their cultural journey and to guide them into the next stage of their lives.”

Giidanyba will be presented as part of the First Nations project through the PIAD, in partnership with the University of the Free State (with support from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation), SITUATEArt in Festivals, Salamanca Arts Centre and Oliewenhuis. There will be a ceremony with South African First Nation KhoiSan communities - which I think will be incredibly powerful. Contemporary art practices from two of the worlds oldest living cultures together in Bloemfontein. This to me is extraordinary - and I am very proud the PIAD and the festival can be part of this.

In Adele’s Onesie World,  a 1,000 onesies will be made by fashion students and manufacturers in Bloemfontein and festival goers will be invited to wear them for the duration of festivities. A team of local musicians will perform in a sewing machine orchestra as well as a dance group developing a Onesie dance.

This project, the 2017 signature project of the PIAD and festival, will surprise us all I think. It has the potential to bring people from very different backgrounds together in an informal, fun way, but with major, positive social outcomes. In a city still very much divided geographically according to race, opportunities like these, where people can meet across these boundaries, are rare and vital.

 SITUATE was honoured to support Adele’s Research and Development trip to Bloemfontein in February, which opened up a number of considerations and collaborative opportunities. This will be the first iteration of Onesie World. How do you think this time helped shape, or refine Adele’s project?

I think its essential for an artist to understand the environment in which their work functions. Particularly work that requires social engagement and community participation. Adele’s visit to Bloemfontein was importantfor the development of Onesie World because it helped her to see and ‘feel’ the sites in which the work will be ‘performed’. There is a kind of energetic experience that artists have when they experience a spaceI believe - often unconscious. Its this experience which helps them plan their work and can often mean the difference between a work that is ok vs a work that is brilliant.

Apart from Adele understanding the context of Bloemfontein, it was very valuable for local artists and makers to meet her and share with her their knowledge, as well as learning from her about her practice. This dual capacity development/mutual exchange is one of the richest experiences a research and development/residency period can offer. No amount of offshore planning can replace this hands on meet-and-greet and networking.

Unfortunately, some of us will be unable to cross the Indian Ocean for Vrystaat this year, although we will be following closely on social media. What are a few words you feel mirror this year’s program?

Buy a ticket and come visit us!! Its not that expensive and we have fabulous food, wine and warm fires for spark conversations and new friendships.  Then you can experience the incredible diversity of our program.

Although we are an Afrikaans language festival, which support and grows Afrikaans culture, due to the success of our Afrikaans productions, we are also able to support projects and productions in other languages - in particular English and Sesotho, but increasingly also Setswana, isiXhosa and Zulu.

This includes theatre, music, poetry, literature, visual arts, live art, dance and new, experimental work.

There is something for everyone - so just get yourselves here!

Interview: A. Macaulay. Image Credit: Adele Varcoe's R&D for 'Onesie World', photographed by Xany Jansen van Vuuren.