The Johannesburg Pavilion draws worldwide attention


IMG_9151Less than a month before the grand opening of the 56th Venice Biennale I meet Roelof van Wyk for coffee in Parkview, Johannesburg. Van Wyk, an architect by profession, is also the “architect” of The Johannesburg Pavilion, a programme of film and performance art to be presented from 6 till 14 May in Venice.

With Lee-Ann Orton and a small team he manages this endeavour with the experience and skills acquired over 16 years in marketing and advertising.

“This is no big deal,” he says. “You get people to do it, and you get the right people do it.”

To manage the artists is perhaps the more difficult part.

“Performance works being in situ requires careful planning and result in a lot of uncertainty and doubt. You have to provide psychological back up and to boost them.

“My role is to offer scaffolding. That is all that I am doing. Scaffolding so that the artists can do their best within that scaffolding.”

The notion of scaffolding could be translated to the structure of The Johannesburg Pavilion and Van Wyk as the architect of this concept. He regards himself as a facilitator, as an architect in the true sense of the word, someone who can rig an event for a specific purpose.

“The Johannesburg Pavilion is like a Tupperware container. You can fill it with anything. Tailor-made for different needs. A shape-shifter, if you like, but with the one constant aspect: It’s always about Johannesburg and its artists.

As the word goes out about The Johannesburg Pavilion, more interest is being generated and more invitations are coming in. Two weeks ago The Johannesburg Pavilion presented four films at Yale in Connecticut. There has been interest in Barcelona and Amsterdam. The Harlem Museum in New York has indicated that the will visit The Johannesburg Pavilion in Venice.

“We are planning a special screening for the afternoon of the 6th of May of the films by the seven artists represented on The Johannesburg Pavilion for the Tate. We had a call from them the other day saying they are bringing a curatorial group of 50 people from Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives, all keen to see what we are doing.”

Even before the opening of the Biennale some of the artists participating in The Johannesburg Pavilion have already been invited by international galleries to participate in the near future in group shows.

The night before the opening of the Biennale, at a special function for 500 invited guests at Hotel Bauer, Athi-Patra Ruga, one of the artists taking part in The Johannesburg Pavilion, has been invited to give a performance.

After Venice The Johannesburg Pavilion will take on a different shape for the Joburg Art Fair, partnering with Van Wyk and his 133ARTS for that particular manifestation.

“We are not a gallery, we are not an art fair. We are non-profit. We don’t have a permanent venue. We are a pop up platform that can always reinvent itself.”

Energised by the positive experience planning The Johannesburg Pavilion for the Venice Biennale has been, thrilled by opportunities and open doors, and surprised by the generous support from donors and the City of Johannesburg, Van Wyk is looking forward to the first incarnation of The Johannesburg Pavilion.

“With the support from the City of Johannesburg our little shoebox gained a bright ribbon. It’s still a shoebox, but it does have a ribbon on it.”