a necessary theatre

© Thabiso Sekgala, from the series Homeland, 2011

Throughout history an audience’s interaction with art has largely been mediated by the space in which it is exhibited. From the excess of Salon style exhibitions in 19th century Europe to the Modernist “white cube” gallery space, the audience has always been guided through their perception of a piece of art by the space which encloses it.  This space is constituted by various seemingly innocuous framing devices (the wall, the vinyl text, the physical frame encasing an image, the lighting), which mediate both the verbal and physical interactions of the audience to the object.

The exhibition, as a medium of display, provides an ostensibly public mode of interaction with the photographs and objects it presents, and in its most general sense becomes a platform for making objects and artefacts visible. This visibility is not implicated in the fact of the mere presence of an audience, but in the presence of different types of audiences that inscribe different experiences, expectations and reactions to the exhibition or the objects on display. This inscription of meaning happens not only inside the exhibition space, but outside, through members of the audience creating and consuming the texts that accrue around exhibitions. These texts include exhibition reviews, exhibition catalogues, blog write-ups, visitor book entries, social media and general conversation.

The Market Photo Workshop will again exhibit at the Joburg Art Fair this year. Being part of the fair, as was the case last year, raises major questions for us on what role the Photo Workshop plays in such a space, who it is the Photo Workshop seeks to communicate with, and if the art fair plays any role in our own conceptions of art production and of audience. We thus propose an exhibition – part of which will run at the art fair, and a fuller version of which will run at the Photo Workshop Gallery from 29 August to 23 September – interrogating the role of the audience in exhibition-making processes. a necessary theatre looks at how audiences shape exhibitions; not only through the above means, but also in how a specific kind of photography attracts specific kinds of audiences.

The Photo Workshop and its gallery space aim to build non-traditional exhibition audiences that are drawn largely through the photographers we present, the kinds of bodies of work they produce, and by the philosophy of our photographic training and practice. Taking its cue from these philosophies, the exhibition hopes to turn the traditional white cube space of the gallery (in which the audience is generally coerced into a silent and passive contemplation of the work of art) into an interactive environment wherein the audience is instead alerted to their role in the exhibition process.

Installation shot of a necessary theatre exhibition at the Photo Workshop Gallery
Viewers observing the displayed photographs during the exhibition opening