You’ve probably seen the stack of bricks arranged outside the Wits School of Arts, the Great Hall and other random places around campus and been curious and confused about why they’re there.
As part of a new project, Wits Fine Arts students Jamy-Lee Brophy and Megan Heilig have collected unused bricks from campus and around Braamfontein and built small-scale structures they call ”institutions”.
The project focuses on exploring and examining the idea of what different institutions, especially homes, mean to us in Johannesburg and as students on campus.
“We’re questioning the ideas of institutions, and how institutions reinforce ideologies and constructions and we try and challenge them,” said Brophy. “We have collected bricks … and what we do from this is basically try to build an institution, one that can create a conversation in different spaces and one that’s kind of transitory.”
Heilig added: “I think an institution is an experience, so in everyone’s lives we experience things such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, cultural background, and all these things amalgamated within the city and especially in Johannesburg.”
Brophy and Heilig collected the bricks for free from people who wanted to get rid of them, but they also “stole” materials some of them from campus. Heilig said they stole materials because Wits wouldn’t give them funding for their project.
The duo also want to challenge and question the idea of claiming space on Wits campus. The current installation placed outside the Great Hall, which appear to be a pile of bricks, is seen as a “cornerstone”, the implication that there’s an institution outside of another institution. They move the bricks around to rebuild these institutions in various locations so that people will start talking about it and about why they’re doing it.
The focus of their project is somewhat political, and they look at political parties as institutions in themselves and what they represent or how they misrepresent. They created the Halfa Pitchca Party, which is their own organisation and which helps them examine the idea of the relationship between politics and art.
“I think that art is political, and that what’s happening here can be political and it can be social, and it can relate to other people,” said Heilig. “This thing is not just about art for art’s sake, we’re not painting to look how nice paint looks on a canvas, that’s not what all people do here.”
They want to encourage other students on campus to go to exhibitions held at places like the Substation and the Wits Art Museum and know that art is for everybody and something everybody can relate to. Their current project is a way of getting out on the streets and getting talking.
“We want people to know about it [exhibitions],” said Heilig. “We don’t want it to be this underground thing where only if you’re cool and in with the art kids you can come and check out their stuff, that’s bullshit. We need something fresh, something new, and we want to open up spaces in the city on the street and have spaces that we create, especially in the city.”