“Fringe” is flying around at the edges of things a lot lately. Not neat, straight bangs, though pretty people across the city are wearing them. Not the East City movement, though clever people across town are talking about it. We’re talking about the original Fringe, which is one part Thessa Bos, one part Chantal Louw, and all about inspiration and innovation. In short, The Fringe Arts is taking art out of its little white box!
Their contribution to commerce and creativity takes the form of a pop-up. The first pop-up took place from March to May 2010 at Cape Town City Hall as part of Spier Contemporary 2010. Throughout the World Cup another Fringe Arts pop-up ran at the Cape Creative Exhibition on 37 Main Road, Green Point, and was an exhibition that Thessa and Chantel curated and managed. Their third pop-up ran from September 2010 until March 2011 at the Alfred Mall, V&A Waterfront. Another pop-up at Spier wine farm in November 2010 ran simultaneously with the pop-up at the Alfred Mall in Cape Town.
In June 2011, The Fringe Arts opened its doors to its first permanent space on 99B Kloof Street in Cape Town.
“Not wanting to open an art gallery nor a design shop we decided to combine the two concepts in a way that strengthens both aspects of the industry: a (pop-up) shop|gallery in which the visitor can browse art and design without the intimidation of the white cube,” they tell their Facebook fans.
“Products of our artists and designers are Africa-inspired, but not Africa-themed. Each piece is locally designed and manufactured and handmade. In collaboration with Warren Editions and Artthrob we offer limited edition fine art prints by established and emerging South Africa artists. Our focus is on people, locally and internationally, who love art and design and have a limited art budget; collectors who desire work by established and emerging artists and designers that is conceptually strong, skilfully crafted and local but not curio.”
Chantal, previously the gallery director of a top contemporary gallery in Cape Town, is an art historian. She successfully launched artists such as Spier Contemporary 2010 winner Araminta de Clermont. She also runs emerging arts projects for the Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA).
Thessa, previously the commercial and cultural officer of the Netherlands Consulate General in Cape Town, is a journalist by training with a master’s in international politics. Her background in arts, non-profits and business finds evidence in her keen collector’s eye and commercial skills. Thessa was also the Western Cape representative for Business and Arts South Africa until March 2011, when she resigned to focus full-time on The Fringe Arts.
We chatted to them both after their fabulous opening on 15 June 2011.
CCT: How best would you package your approach for people who can’t quite wrap their head around the idea of a mobile arts curatorship?
Fringe Arts: Art curatorship is mobile by nature. An exhibition is impermanent and transitory. Thus, the development of the white cube that lends itself perfectly to re-imagining. When we enter a space we see it as a blank canvas. It is an immense amount of fun to re-imagine spaces, breath new life into them, and then move onto to the next space. For those new to the concept, imagine re-decorating your home every few weeks with an unlimited budget and art and design by the most talented South Africans.
CCT: You’re an SA arts and design collective, a mobile gallery, a consultancy (Are you? Would you?). Where did this idea of combining skills, products and services come from?
Fringe Arts: Just doing what we love. All of elements of The Fringe Arts develop because we are interested in that area of creativity. For example our love of vintage has led us to create Frintage, our vintage label. As usual this is a collaboration with some of our favourite labels such as Yesterday, London Road and Vintage Lover. And, yes, we are a consultancy as well. We consult artists and designers on business and product development, facilitate commissioned artwork for businesses and do project management – such as that for the City of Cape Town over the World Cup period, when we curated and managed the Cape Creative Exhibition.
CCT: I’m seeing retail stores embrace an idea of integrated design – for example Church’s vertical garden hanging in the window, fashion outlets and restaurants displaying and selling art. You, yourselves, combine design and a gallery space. Do you find lifestyle shopping is on the rise as a trend for Capetonians with a taste for creative products?
Fringe Arts: The concept for placing art and design within one store was based on our gallery experience. Breaking down the boundary between art and design opened a space of discourse for the visitor. This allows them to feel comfortable viewing art and takes design to a more exclusive level. It also showcases the talent of both artists and designers by creating stories and themes between their work. Many times the art world and design world are linked by concepts and aesthetics and this way we can show these links.
CCT: You’re catering to art and design buyers who don’t have millions to spare. How do you encourage an awareness that art pieces increase in value overtime and, if purchased with insight and research, can be an investment in more than just household aesthetic?
Fringe Arts: Although true in principle, the idea of purchasing art as an investment and not for love leaves us a little cold. Our grandparents purchased Pierneef and Stern because of the aesthetic and as heirloom. Thus, the concept of art as investment was for the generation after and not to flip within a decade. A favourite art restorer of ours showed us a Stern that he cleaned that was covered in oil and smoke from living in the kitchen for decades. He was so happy to point out that this work had been central to the family and their life for so long. They only took it down to get it cleaned when a grandchild pointed out that Stern “was worth millions”. The husband said that they felt they should get it valued and so brought it in for a clean.They missed it so much that they just took it back home and put it back right back to its prized spot at home!
CCT: You cite collaboration as holding a central space in your work. What was your favourite collaboration so far, with whom, and why?
Fringe Arts: That’s a tough one but two stand out – our art bags and the Cape Creative Exhibition. In the future we look forward to our window exhibitions and some secret developments on Kloof Street.
CCT: Chantal, how has being an art historian helped you see into the future of the arts and design business world?
Chantal: I am surrounded by the most talented people in South Africa and I regularly speak to artists who live abroad. I also live in one of the most vibrant and creative communities in the world. It’s hard not to see the future of art and design if you are as lucky as I am. As an art historian I view the art and design world in terms of zeitgeist and a mingsel. I love blogs and magazines like The Gentlewoman. My advice to see the future? Look out your front door.
CCT: In your experience, what do entrepreneurs need to establish and develop their trades, crafts or businesses?
Fringe Arts: Just do it. It’s overwhelming and you will never stop learning and, yes, it’s scary but it is worth every nail-biting moment. Ask for help (lawyers, accountants, government), ask for advice, speak to people who are in a similar field. Create a group of people you can speak to and rely on. Oh, and find a healthy outlet for the times when you feel like Sisyphus.
CCT: You’ve promoted Adopt an Artisan. Tell us Fringe Arts’ feelings on the project?
Fringe Arts: Adopt an Artisan is a wonderful initiative by Hanneke from Handsome Things. We mentioned it on our Facebook page because we think it’s an initiative that everyone should participate in. It is one of the many great things about the creative community, especially on the internet: Instead of focusing on pushing our own brand to the forefront, we all give each other exposure and referrals, growing the community together by cross-pollinating, so to speak.
CCT: It might be interesting to see what this informal movement might achieve working in collaboration with a support body like Cape Craft & Design Institute. CCDI contributes greatly to the development of competitive and quality crafts in the Western Cape and is instrumental in regulating the largely informal craft industry, giving crafts a solid home, as it were. Speaking of homes, how do you anticipate that having a permanent home might have improved or expanded your reach and business?
Fringe Arts: The financial impact on our artists and designer will hopefully be the first major improvement. Having to open and close pop-ups means that no sales are generated. This is difficult for artists and designers who rely on the constancy of financial input. The other is that having a permanent space will free us up to work on projects we have been interested in pursuing for over a year. Of course, this also means we have the freedom to spend time on collaborations.
CCT: What’s the next exciting project or exhibition we can look forward to?
Fringe Arts: Our window exhibitions. Each month we will use one or both of our windows as a gallery space for solo and group exhibitions by our artists and designers. Lauren Fowler will be exhibiting from mid-August, for example, and we are very excited and proud to host Tanya “Sootcookie” Laing first solo show in October/November.
CCT: You see a lot of new work – how do you feel Cape Town design is contributing to a more equal, vibrant and liveable city?
Fringe Arts: Healthy economies require a large section of small and medium businesses so The Fringe Arts’ focus is on creating a design market in which these businesses can thrive.
CCT: What would you change about Cape Town or Cape Town design if you could? Or would you change the mindset of consumers, rather?
Fringe Arts: Cape Town is doing a lot around design. The focus is on the art and design world especially with the bid for World Design Capital 2014. I think the local market is becoming more and more supportive of the incredible talent in its own back yard. If we could change anything (and we try!) it would be to increase the level of business savvy in the creative community and the self-confidence of many artists and designers. They are so incredibly talented but aren’t always as assertive and sure of themselves as they need to be to push their work and get an honest price for it. And that automatically brings me to the mindset of consumers, which does seem to be changing more and more as environmental awareness and the want and need to support local producers increases. Items that are original designs, made from locally sourced materials and handmade come with a price tag. We are happy to see that more and more people are willing to pay that price.
CCT: Tell us a bit about a favourite, iconic Cape Town design or art object.
Fringe Arts: Elsabe Milandri’s wonderful, quirky takes on Table Mountain. MingoLamberti’s iconic t-shirt detailing the epic battle between Van Hunksand the devil. Noeleen Read’s antique maps of Cape Town and thesurrounding waters on her hand-thrown ceramics. Fabricnation’s veldt landscapes. Keri Muller’s CapeTown in a box. Dale Yudelman’s portraits of Salt River, Sanell Aggenbach’s portrait of Ingrid Jonker. This listis endless…
CCT: Honourable mention to anyone in particular?
Fringe Arts: Everyone on this path has assisted us. From Gordon Massie, Artinsure, who helped us refine our idea over a year and a half ago, to DaleYudelman who helped us hang our first pop-up at the Spier Contemporary, to Africa Centre who hosted our first pop-up, to Jordi and Willemijnfrom Real Life Concepts for endless pizza brainstorms and our logo, to Leigh Thomas from V&A who “got” our concept immediately. Our visitors, fans and supporters who are the ones who keep this industry alive. Especially to every artist and designer who has worked with us, trusted us and supported us. They honour us with their work.
All images compliments of The Fringe Arts