More on “Quiet Ground” at The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember - Bubblegum Club

More on “Quiet Ground” at The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember

On June 18th, the team from Quiet Ground held an intimate event at Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai’s The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember, founded in 2017 as an ‘audio-visual archive of Black resistance’. The generous servings of soup went well with the themes of home, land, water, and communal repair explored in the multidisciplinary sound installation Dinokana, a work by MADEYOULOOK presented at the 60th Venice Biennale.

The gathering featured the curator Portia Malatjie, the assistant curator Siwa Mgoboza and the artist collective MADEYOULOOK, which was founded by Molemo Moiloa and Nare Mokgotho in 2009. The duo who began working together at art school “explores overlooked Black practices in urban South African life through installations, gatherings, and publications.” Their collaborative process centres community, with diverse teams consisting of students, volunteers, and sponsors contributing to their large-scale projects.

When an audience member asked how they were able to maintain their collaborations for so long, Mokgotho answered, “[…] For both Molemo and me, having day jobs has been crucial. These jobs allow us to work in long-term, relational ways. Trust is key in collaborations, and it tends to build slowly. Many people approach collaboration with an extractive mindset, expecting immediate results without investing time in others’ practices and ideas. Genuine, relational work requires steady investment in a community of practice, forming connections that benefit all parties involved.”

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Whilst many local art enthusiasts will likely be clued up on the South African Pavillion at the Biennale, this gathering offered a unique opportunity to hear what the experience was like from the horse’s mouth, as it were. Mokgotho acknowledged how the achievement represented the pinnacle of their careers, but called attention to numerous emotional and logistical challenges in exhibiting their work on this prestigious global stage. Despite arriving with high hopes, their expectations did not align with their actual experiences.

Mokgotho recalled, “[…] you have this like imagination of how it’s going to play out. And then you’re confronted with like the reality. […] there has to be, I think, compromise there […] like I was so angry for five days. So angry. Like so, so angry. Like, like nuclear button angry. Um, and that anger was actually like a mourning process. […] about all the work that we had done to that point. And then you get to Venice and you realize they don’t care about you.”

According to the artists, the initial intention was to establish a meaningful connection to Venice by engaging with ongoing local practices, but the practical realities of large-scale events like the Venice Biennale shifted focus away from these foundational intentions. Moiloa elaborated, “[…] it’s probably too much money to spend on an artwork. Please don’t ask me how much it is. But when you get there, it’s nothing. […] and the hustle, both from, from the Institute for Creative Repair (ICR) team, from the whole creative team […] it seems like a big fancy thing, it is the most hardcore hustle we can think of.”

Portia Malatjie
Photographed by BubblegumClub

According to the panel, MADEYOULOOK’s 20-minute sound piece is designed for immersive, contemplative experiences, which wasn’t always possible at the Biennale. “[…] you’ve got like, a 30 euro ticket, and that enables you to go into like two spaces, which are like so far apart, and there’s so many pavilions, so […] you’re forced to be a consumer because you can’t see everything,” Mokgotho lamented. On top of having to compete amid the hustle and bustle, the team had to negotiate sound interference and logistical limitations.

Despite stakeholders like Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (DSAC) and pavilion organisers’ high expectations, MADEYOULOOK voiced critiques of the organisation of the South African pavilion which pales in comparison to countries where national museums provide consistent and experienced oversight. They said the SA tender system has led to recurring inefficiencies and lacked continuity, exacerbated by late funding and inadequate budgets. In contrast, other African countries like Zimbabwe with smaller budgets saw success, showing that better infrastructure, management, and government support are the critical issues.

Beyond organisation, the potential alienation of the work in Venice was made palpable by this gathering. One audience member asked, “I’ve had the honour of witnessing [works like] Mofolofolu (2022), which create such a cerebral connection to Southern African and African experiences. I am a bit frustrated that [Dinokana] has been bestowed on a European audience and not a South African one. What will it take to bring these artworks home? Are you doing this on purpose to avoid the visceral response and appreciation it will ignite?”

Portia Malatjie
Molemo Moiloa and Nare Mokgotho of MADEYOULOOK with curator Portia Malatjie and assistant curator Siwa Mgoboza, Photographed by BubblegumClub

Moiloa answered, “Portia took a risk because our work doesn’t immediately generate sales […], which reduces our urgency to make it commercially available. […] This makes the logistics of moving our work more complex—it’s entirely up to us. […] There’s no infrastructure supporting what we do; our collaborators frequently travel [with us] from project to project, needing chairs, lights, and more. […] It’s quite an undertaking. And we find that maybe European institutions are a lot more able to put big budgets towards an installation like this.

Documenta 15 had a more radical agenda and paid artists. Generally, being part of a gallery economy is necessary for participation, even at the Venice Biennale, where production budgets are minimal compared to what’s needed. […] With Mafolofolu, we raised […]  funds to bring a listening session home, adapting due to budget constraints. We might do something similar here, focusing on practicalities like where and with whom to collaborate. It’s challenging, but not an excuse.”

Mgoboza closed by saying, “I think some words that really stood out from everything that has been said […] collaboration, community, the collective. And […] community isn’t just an idea. Doing these kinds of things […] It’s, it’s tough […] We had to rely on their team of experts. So it was really a matter of letting go, trusting the collective.” Other than delicious soup in my belly, my takeaway from this event was comfort in the recognition of how much intention is being invested in the communal work that will eventually reshape our cultural landscape. 

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