If you want to know what the mainstream will be up to in five to ten years time, check out the avant-garde, the artists who are on the edge. You’ll find nine of them all in one place – at the old Power Station in Makhanda during the National Arts Festival.
Up there, above the City of Saints (and sinners), in this towering convoluted old brick building where students used to hold crazy home-made raves that broke all the health and safety rules, young performance artists who defy genre stipulations will be using their bodies as their medium to explore conceptual barriers.
Their work is curated within the show Arcade on the Main programme. These “body-based live-art performances” as described in the event blurb, have been put together by Gavin Krastin, who has been working in what is loosely termed ‘performance art’ since he finished his Masters degree eight years ago.
They have been a very productive eight years. Krastin has won a string of awards for his shows on the Fringe, starting with his Masters work, Sub, which garnered him a spot on the Main programme just months after his official graduation. Every year, his work, which is always deadly accurate in subverting the political and social issues at the time yet remains timeless, has challenged and blown audiences away. You can read our responses here and here. And here. We’ve become fans.
But Arcade is not about Krastin. We won’t be able to experience him liberating our vulnerability this year. Instead, he has curated a space in which younger boundary-pushers can do it to us.
“I am at the stage where I can develop what I’m doing and potentially request more support and magnify whatever opportunity happens,” he says. “So instead of one large work we’re doing eight micro works.”
It worked in Cape Town. Arcade, or rather its first iteration, was tested out at the Theatre Arts Admin Collective’s (TAAC) old church hall last year. I stumbled out of there beautifically exposed and stripped of preconceptions.
Some of the same Cape Town artists are also going to be at the Power Station. Tazmé Pillay, for one, as well as Tandile Mbatsha and Lesego Chauke. They are joined by Eastern Cape practitioners Ashwin May, Meghan Harris, Mmatumisang Kgosigadi ya ga Motsitsi, Wezile Mgibe and Yvette Ellis, and Cape Town-based Mlondiwethu Dubazane.
These are all young artists who have just finished studying or doing their postgrad, and form a significant proportion of the handful of artists in any generation who see performance art as their primary medium.
Many experienced or were involved in the hashtag politics of Fallism and decolonisation, “so there is bound to be a lot of identity politics at play, and a dismantling of assumptions”, suggests Krastin.
You can look forward to being undone through a millennenial sense of humour built on memes and Youtube videos where some very serious subject matter is taken on with a sense of irreverence. The darkness of existential humour as a coping mechanism.
All will be there to play at the Arcade as games room, where we seek stimulation, often singularly, but as a community. Alone together. Or as exhibits at the Arcade as shopping mall, where all you take away is an experience. Either way, you can think of it as a series of interlinking rooms. There may be a threshold, but there is no door.
Performance Art is a bit Hotel California-ish. Once you’ve experienced it, once you have been undone, you can check out, but you can never leave.
Just to shift perspectives further, the performers are on a loop for the duration of the two hours Arcade is open. So even if you go on both occassions, you won’t be able to get a full map of all the performances in their entirety. And each person will walk away with a different view. There’s always a void. Wonderful, no?
It starts just before sunset – only on the 28th and 29th of June, so don’t snooze – and continues until after dark, so the changing light adds another layer of surreality and discombobulation. Krastin opted not to completely black out the venue.
If you don’t want to drive up there yourself, you can gather in front of the Rhodes Theatre at 16.30 and a bus will take you up and bring you back into town. Find it on Google maps here.
Book here and don’t miss it.