The journey towards hosting Nadine Hutton's exhibition of ‘The Fallen" in Sandton Central as part of the Sandton Central Arts Programme, started two years before it happened - when the artist showed the company a concept which saw the exhibition, an ironic, sometimes unexpectedly wry, even humorous and intimate portrait of a community of poor white people, visualised for outdoor display in a wealthy and a poor district of Joburg. We were inspired by both ideas - i.e. the exhibition itself which is a sensitive focus on a marginalised group of people who are so often ‘out of place', and the concept of showing excellent photography outdoors as part of a way of ‘making place', the latter being what the district-based arts programme in Sandton Central is all about.
Since then the journey was been nothing short of a seriously good conversation. Making the infrastructure to show photography outdoors in a way that focused on the artwork was a challenging and sometimes arduous experience in design which took many years to get right. At the same time, the content of Nadine's show provoked some intense debate, between us, and the many other role players involved in the hosting of this exhibition in Sandton Central's public space:
In a way, the exhibition began for us the moment we decided to host it, giving substance to the process in a way that has forced us to consider what we are doing more thoroughly than is the norm. Granted, designing the infrastructure took so long it gave us the breathing space to think long and hard, often something we don't have the luxury to do in our deadline-oriented environment. Considering that thinking time is perhaps the most significant part of the process when making public art (something we have learned the hard way by doing too much too fast). This is really great but as a result, it has involved us in some heated debate.
Perhaps the most provocative and some may say alarming issues that have come up in this conversation:
Is the time right to be showing an exhibition about poverty; and why then are we only focusing on the poverty of whites? And then the poles-apart positions being taken in response.
On the timing front: do you really want to be ‘bringing people down with an exhibition about poverty during the recession?' and ‘do we really need to be reminded all the time?' versus ‘what better time to highlight suffering than when it is most severe' and ‘is this an arts programme or an entertainment strategy'?
On the race front: ‘why don't we rather show an exhibition about the miners who have lost their jobs?' versus ‘all issues are relevant and we can show an exhibition about the miners next month.' And ‘why elevate white poverty in particular? Why not do an exhibition about all poverty' versus ‘Why not?'
Discussions with Nadine about the debate have also been fascinating with the artist asking burning hot questions like ‘would we be having this debate if the show was about poor black people' and ‘what assumptions do you have that these photographs challenge'.
artatwork's decision to host this show was made on the basis of our long-held confidence that art may indeed change people's perceptions and that part of its reason for being is to provoke conversations that may not be easily resolved. Still, we think it is likely that the exhibition will inspire more poles-apart debate and, we hope, the same kind of sensitive and ironic empathy the artist intends.