22 Mar Southern Guild Gallery
Design meets Arts (Part I) – Southern Guild Gallery
Photos: Karl Rogers
Cape Town. In close proximity to the Zeitz MOCAA Museum is the Southern Guild Gallery. Unusual furniture, accessories looking like sculptures, picturesque tapestries, individual lights and artistic statues are arranged to make the space appear like a museum. This gallery, which was established by Trevyn and Julian McGowan, represents artist-designers.
I wanted to find out more about this crossover of – strictly speaking – different genres and spoke to Lezanne van Heerden, the director of the Gallery and Porky Hefer, a designer represented by them, whose imaginative Animal Furnitures keep causing sensations and are represented in many international collections.
What turns design into art?
Hefer: When, with the design of an object, a message is sent, stories are told and people are inspired by it, the design may become art. For instance, if I use the material and/or the technique to bring across a message about sustainability, I use art within the design. The outcomes are fluid boundaries.
Van Heerden: The subject of authorship may constitute a distinguishing parameter. While a classical designer usually just produces a draft design and leaves the execution to somebody else or a machine, the drafts of our designers are executed by themselves; as in art, the manual execution is part of the work.
To what extent does the usability of the objects play a part? The idea of design is rather to fulfil a function, whereas art is free. Does it fit together?
Van Heerden: We have recently started to talk about functional art. Our furnishings, for instance, can be used, but the individual pieces can also be exhibited like sculptures or may be collected. The interaction with objects may determine which genre, depending on which category it is made to fit.
The fact that design is finding its way into private collections is still more of a recent trend. What makes design as a collector’s piece so desirable?
Van Heerden: For a start, it needs to have something unique, which appeals to the emotionality of a collector. Obviously, thinking of the piece as an investment also plays a part. As in art, the edition is therefore also important. In our program there are therefore only One-Off pieces, Iimited editions and unique pieces.
Hefer: I believe that design appeals to a generation of collectors to whom fine arts is not accessible enough. Design objects invite you to touch and explore them. In this process, a creative or an artistic thought becomes accessible much more quickly than a piece of art that is purely conceptually positioned.
How or where do you discover your designers?
Van Heerden: We regularly invite students of the various design institutions to our gallery to show them the options which are available beyond the classic industrial design. In this process, contacts with new, young talent is made. With our gallery, we provide a platform for the presentation of their works – as a stepping stone, so to speak. Often they then become part of our programme.
Is the co-operation with the designers comparable with that of an art gallery?
Van Heerden: Yes, absolutely. We visit the designers in their studios, we help them implement their concept, present them on design fairs and organise contact with museums. This close personal contact is very important to us. We do not see ourselves simply as commercial agents. The promotion of African design is very close to our heart.
The gallery was established ten years ago and has been represented on international design fairs in Basel, Miami, Dubai or New York since 2011. Looking back, would you say that you were able to provide stimuli and effect some changes?
Van Heerden: Yes. I believe that we can influence the perception of the African design and can also contribute towards our designers being able to position themselves on the international design scene.
Left: Fiona-Blackfish, Credit: Justin Patrick; right: Monstera-Deliciosa-Volume-I, Credit: Adriaan Louw
To emphasise this statement one only needs to think of the sensation which Porky Hefer’s Fiona Blackfish caused at the most recent Art Basel Miami. It became the favourite subject on almost all international reporting and posts on social networks, didn’t it?
“We could certainly not complain about a lack of attention”, the artist replied, with a contented smile.