ALMA MATER is an arts space of sorts launching in Woodstock, Cape Town tonight. Rebelling against their name, this not-for-profit project is something of an anti-institution that aims to challenge the rules of the art world. Basically, ALMA MATER is not your mother. They’re taking a do-it-yourself approach, so they’ll provide the platform and physical space for contemporary art practice which may not have a place in any commercial gallery, but they’re not a gallery and won’t be doing your admin or selling your work. ALMA MATER is interested in hosting proactive artists (local and international) who want to get involved and produce work, people who push the notions of contemporary art through performative presentations, interactive pieces and progressive works.
For their launch party tonight, ALMA MATER and the collective Martha are setting the tone for what’s to come by collaborating on their ‘1st Semester’ of programmes and projects titled LEARNING BY DOING | DO IT DO IT DO IT. Tonight also marks the launch of their initiative called Woodstock Wednesday, where they’ll invite creative spaces, shops and restaurants around Woodstock to stay open late every Wednesday.
In the Q&A to follow, ALMA MATER founder Juliana Irene Smith tells us how this started and what to expect from them in the future.
What inspired you to start ALMA MATER?
I have been flirting with South Africa since I came as an exchange student for my Masters at Wits in 2006. Anthea Moys and I hosted Kazoo – it’s a live art thing, a performance in public art exhibition hosted by Premises Gallery in Johannesburg. Life led me back to Switzerland and then to Palestine. I have often worked with artist-run project spaces and found they fill a gap between commercial galleries and the academic setting. Last February when I came to Cape Town for a visit, it felt like a project space could be needed here since Blank Project has gone commercial and Young Blackman is no longer.
Right when I arrived, I met Molly Steven, a young artist who is part of the collective Martha and it was work (not love) at first meeting. We’re also planning to work with Khanysile Mgongwa on performance based works and art in the public.
Please tell us about the name ALMA MATER is not your mother and what it suggests.
Finding a name for anything is difficult but I wanted a name that represented the contradiction in breaking the rules. The name is actually completely meant to cross itself out. ALMA MATER is not your mother. You can do what you want. You can play what you want. And as long as you do not hurt anyone, we will support you (the artists and audiences) in the pacifist endeavours.
How did you find and choose the space that now hosts ALMA MATER?
Molly and I spent a day walking around Woodstock and talking to the neighbours. Finally we met Mr. Chips and after 3 days of dealing, he let us use the space, which at the time had a partial roof and no electricity or plumbing. We have the space until the owner sells it and all the paperwork goes through, which won’t be until the end of June, ideally. Then we will move on.
What are some of the things you have planned for the space?
We are really open to people and artists. The main idea is contemporary play with work that is experimental and social in nature. We are not interested in selling paintings, there are places for that already. We want performative presentations, interactive, progressive works. We want to host and support that.
For now we have 4 – 5 artists working on various things. We’ll also be hosting Woodstock Wednesday here, with a programme that will constantly be changing. On February 18th we’re planning a POOL PARTY, so bring your bathers. In March Khanysile Mgongwa is planning a group of tours called Conjugal Visits, from ALMA MATER to different parts of the city to experience performances. We also want to collaborate with our neighbors Greatmore Studios and Whatiftheworld.
What do you hope this project will achieve?
We have no expectations and we will not sell you anything, except a canvas bag or a drink at donation. The achieving will really be determined by the audiences and participants. Wasn’t there a Kevin Costner film that said, “If you build it, they will come.” Or something like that…
What do you look for in artists that you work with?
Artists who are friendly. Thus far, they are artists who are open to a conversation and want to make work. We will not do open calls, and we will not chase people. We ask around from people we respect, who might need this. We ask artists, send them the concept, show them the space and then it has to come from them, the initiative.
How can people get involved?
Just talk to us. That is why we have Woodstock Wednesdays, there are no set show opening or closings, things and events can overlap.
Anything else you’d like to add…
We, Molly, Khanysile and the artists are also just learning as we go. We want to play. Hope you join us.
Oh, and we will have a Cheetah blow-up castle at the launch!
Visit ALMA MATER at 329 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town.
See the Facebook event for more information about the launch party tonight, 11 February 2015 at 5pm.