Interview with Dr.Julie Taylor of Guns & Rain gallery, Parkhurst
The arrival of the novel coronavirus has not only affected human life, but businesses as well in South Africa and globally. With countries implementing lockdowns to effect social distancing in order to slow the rate of infections, businesses have found themselves affected negatively and some will find it hard to survive the current lockdown. The art business has not been spared. Depending largely on foot traffic, art businesses such as art galleries, theatres, art fairs, art auctions, concerts and arts festivals have been significant affected.
However with its capacity for creativity, the sector is finding new innovative ways of doing business with different degrees of success and failures, irrespective of the onslaught by the coronavirus.
Citylife Arts has started a series that focuses on art business leaders and how the art businesses they run are responding to the challenges posed by the coronavirus, especially during the lockdown, by adapting new models of running businesses, for example using new technologies.
In this first installment of the series, CityLife Arts editor EDWARD TSUMELE chats to Dr. JULIE TAYLOR, director of Parkhurst, Johannesburg, based gallery, Guns &and Rain, that is well known for showcasing contemporary art and artists from southern Africa.
ET. Guns and Rain is an unusual name for an art gallery. What inspired the name?
JT: Lots of people do wonder! The name ‘Guns & Rain’ is used with acknowledgement and thanks. It comes from the acclaimed work of South African-born British anthropologist and playwright David Lan, who wrote about guerrillas and spirit mediums in Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle — for its reference to nature, culture, identity, land, struggle, change, and many other important African themes.
ET: Guns and Rain operated successfully for five years as an online gallery before settling for a brick and mortar structure in 2018. The gallery was pretty much ahead of its time. Was it not so?
JT: You’re correct that we were one of Africa’s first online galleries, so yes, the online realm is a place that feels comfortable rather than foreign. We were also one of the first galleries to offer curated online exhibitions, as early as 2015, using Google Open Galleries, which is sadly no longer available. It is indeed curious that we’ve come full circle thanks to COVID!
ET: The advent of the coronavirus has come with its challenges of how businesses are run? How has this affected Guns and Rain?
JT: I really feel for larger businesses (of all kinds) which are already laying off staff – a stressful and difficult time for everyone. I think that smaller galleries like ours are well-placed to be nimble and adaptable in times like these, and to that extent we are fortunate. Whilst we are not able to ship artworks at the moment, we are managing to continue with most other activities, albeit online only! Last but not least, having a collaborative approach always helps – working together with artists, other galleries and institutions to make things happen.
ET: Without the advantage of hosting special events such as exhibition openings whereby clients are invited and are able to view art as well as interacting with the artists and the curator, how does Guns and Rain make sure that during the lockdown and social distancing, the gallery is still able to engage and interact with its clients in particular and art collectors in general?
JT: Despite the awful economic and health impacts of the pandemic, the silver lining is that we have been presented with an opportunity to innovate. We’ve been using Zoom for virtual exhibition openings and panel discussions, which have been well attended. We are also running a series of “InstaVisits” – Instagram Live visits to our artists’ studios – and these are great ways for collectors to get ‘up close and personal’ with their favourite artists, as well as to ask them questions about their practice.
ET: With arrival of the coronavirus on the scene, this also means that businesses such as galleries that depend on foot traffic to do their business have to adopt new innovative ways of making sales? What innovative ways is Guns and Rain using to achieve this?
JT: Even pre-COVID, quite a number of collectors were already comfortable making purchasing decisions based on electronic images, especially those who live outside of South Africa. And of course right now they understand all the constraints, and are becoming even more comfortable with online-only! Usually they love the artwork even more when they see it in the flesh. At the same time, we also understand that for some people, they HAVE to see it in person first, and hopefully in a month or two we’ll be able to welcome people in small numbers to the gallery.
ET: What are the current projects that Guns and Rain is running? Any exhibitions on and until when?
JT: We are participating in our first online art fair, ARCO Lisboa, which will run until 14th June, in collaboration with Arty. Whilst we’re sad not to be in Portugal in the flesh, it’s great that the organisers were able to harness technology to make things happen. We’re showing the work of Thina Dube, Ann Gollifer, Tuli Mekondjo and Tawanda Takura, who represent 4 different southern African countries. Next month, opening 10th June, look out for our “Fresh Talent” exhibition, which introduces brand new artists who have caught our eye!