Monday, April 2, 2012

Lifecycle of an art collective: A decade of the Trinity Session

The building at 281 Commissioner Street is not in a state of utter dilapidation. Nor has it quite been absorbed into Maboneng, the name Jonathan Liebmann, the property developer,  has given his aggressive gentrification scheme on the east side of Joburg’s inner city. Water drips from the ceilings and there are holes in the floor. The aroma of car oil discreetly lingers inside but it is the signage – “Park Here” – and the raised ridges on the bare concrete floor that evoke its previous incarnation as a car workshop. Weeks before the opening of the 10-year retrospective of the Trinity Session, an art collective-cum-art management company, the floors, walls and windows had been caked in grime. Hard labour was required to extract the layer of decay.

The building was once emblematic of Joburg’s cycle of decline. Housing this exhibition marks the beginning of its regeneration and appropriation as a cultural art institution – it will be called the Museum of African Design, Moad for short – providing yet another playground for the city’s arts community and followers, who have been encouraged by the likes of Liebmann to reclaim pockets of the city.

It makes perfect sense that the Trinity Session’s exhibition, On Air Review, be held in a building on the cusp of a cycle of renewal; its work over the last six years has been focused on driving, managing and implementing public art in the inner city as part of scheme to regenerate it. The most recent contemporary art initiatives by the duo that make up this collective now, Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter, deal with this liminal period of transition when a building or place exists between two points of its evolution and how this impacts on identity.

Entracte (2010) was part of a project in Dakar, Senegal, that centred on a dilapidated building earmarked for demolition because it was deemed unfit (by Western standards) for habitation, according to a prescriptive set of rules. The artists were struck by the irony that the inhabitants were maintaining a construction that was slowly disintegrating and would be demolished. In response to the unseen future and past of the edifice, the duo laser-projected images evoking these states onto its exterior. Filmed footage of this “performance” is projected onto a screen hanging in the cavernous interior of Moad, among other screens showing these ephemeral works.