Houghton Kinsman in conversation with Nkule Mabaso, Nadja Daehnke and Josephine Higgins via Facebook chat, on the process of travel, perception and transition, within the context of personal experience as curators for the Michaelis gallery.

This conversation is the third installment of our Conversation Series, and the first of a sub-series titled Arranged Encounters, mediated by Houghton Kinsman.


Houghton Kinsman

Hi all, welcome back. Thanks for rescheduling!


Nadja Daehnke, 2:54pm

Hi all


Nkule Mabaso 2:54pm

Good afternoon to all


Josephine Higgins 2:55pm

Hello again


Nkule Mabaso 2:55pm

This is very chatroom like


Houghton Kinsman 2:55pm

Perhaps we should start here with how you all know each other? If you do?

Somehow I feel I am the outsider here! :)

It’s like MixIT!


Nkule Mabaso 2:56pm

We are connected as Jo pointed out before by our relationship to the gallery


Nadja Daehnke 2:58pm

Its strange how connected I feel to Jo and Nkule – it is the gallery, but its such a special place that they feel almost like friends… cousins?


Houghton Kinsman 2:58pm

What makes it special Nadja?


Josephine Higgins 2:59pm

It is a strange relationship. I think because Michaelis Galleries feels like quite a unique beast, that there is some sort of link in just knowing that that person knows exactly what it’s like


Nadja Daehnke 2:59pm

The interaction with so many different ‘audiences’, the special vibe a university space has (the sense of learning, and the students, esp the students), and that it is one of very, very few experimental spaces


Nkule Mabaso 2:59pm

Yes the space is our special connecting thread, and dealing with the space gives some insight in the other persons in how they approached its curation,


Houghton Kinsman 3:00pm

So could we say the space has in a way been a catalyst for your connections?

Also, have you collaborated on any projects with each other?


Josephine Higgins 3:01pm

Yes, through multiple emails I think. On the one hand we know what it is like, but on the other, we’ve each had very different experiences


Nkule Mabaso 3:01pm

No collaborations as yet,


Nadja Daehnke 3:02pm

No, it is not so much that we share a curatorial vision or interact, but more that we have had the privilege of working in the same unique situation and space


Josephine Higgins 3:02pm

I think we all have quite different approaches and interests – so a collaboration would be interesting

…or terrible


Nadja Daehnke 3:03pm

Haha, terrible is always the most interesting…


Houghton Kinsman 3:05pm

Yesterday we were chatting about a living, or active archive and in a way your relationships speak to the idea of the living archive, being that there is past, present and future all bound up here


Josephine Higgins 3:06pm

Yes, even if just the various named folders on the desktop


Houghton Kinsman  3:06pm

So in a way there is almost an unconscious collaboration?


Nadja Daehnke 3:07pm

I guess, but I also love how many projects become archives or contribute archival materials for artists at the genesis of their careers

I remember an image of a Dumas work from when she was a student in a student exhibit at Michaelis – quite powerful. And any of those folders might contain such


Josephine Higgins 3:08pm

Or exhibitions which might have an influence on students’ approaches


Nkule Mabaso 3:09pm

On the subject of archives, nothing seems to keep me connected to my predecessors as much as the storeroom


Nadja Daehnke 3:09pm

Ah, the storeroom! is it still in Commerce?


Houghton Kinsman 3:09pm

The storeroom sounds intriguing


Josephine Higgins 3:09pm

So funny


Nkule Mabaso  3:10pm

Since the beginning of the year I have been tackling it section by section when I have time and well this Monday came across Nadja’s carefully labelled and indexed brown envelopes


Houghton Kinsman 3:11pm

Sounds like Harald Szeeman’s archive in Maggia


Nadja Daehnke 3:11pm

It was the place where one felt in control and where one could put all things to right. Or not, if there was a hectic installation during which things ran late…

Labels on envelopes – sigh.

This is probably the only time in my life anything I did will be compared to Szeeman…


Nkule Mabaso 3:12pm

And well to see the order and the care of this archive of past exhibitions materials was a very different (tactile) experience as opposed to seeing them simply here and there on my computer on files I never have the possibility to go through.


Houghton Kinsman 3:12pm

Hahah Nadja :)

That sounds like a revelatory experience Nkule.


Nadja Daehnke 3:13pm

It is also great to sit in London and see invitations for new exhibitions in the gallery roll in on my email


Houghton Kinsman 3:14pm

There is something about the materiality of things that never gets old I feel


Nkule Mabaso 3:14pm

So anyway, Nadja’s solution to archiving the projects solved my dilemma in how I should archive the physical remnants of the gallery exhibitions and so on and so forth and get the appropriate shelving

but to get back to the conversation


Nadja Daehnke 3:15pm

I remember the time I ordered shelving only to discover it was too big to get through the door…. yes, back to conversation..


Josephine Higgins 3:16pm

That sounds like the storeroom I know Nadja.


Nadja Daehnke 3:16pm

:) Jo


Josephine Higgins 3:16pm

My views were much more pessimistic of the storeroom than both of yours.


Houghton Kinsman 3:16pm

Haha perhaps in speaking about the storeroom we can talk about location and specifically where you all come from and what brought you here initially

to Cape Town and Michaelis that is


Nkule Mabaso 3:17pm



Josephine Higgins 3:17pm

Complete chance

Twice actually


Houghton Kinsman 3:18pm

Do expand :)


Nadja Daehnke 3:18pm

I was curator at another gallery, but when the job at Michaelis came up I loved the possibility it represented – possibility of working with academics, with students and also the possibility of building the gallery. It was a mess when I came there first.


Josephine Higgins 3:19pm

The first, switching from Rhodes to UCT to study when my Rhodes supervisor resigned (and I realised I could work with Colin). And then, a short-term offer from Stephen when I really didn’t know what I wanted to do next (whether to stay or go)


Nkule Mabaso 3:19pm

Nadja you were the first “official” curator of the gallery really

and before you it had only been marginally “managed” by postgraduate students and used and booked for staff and student projects and not really any public facing programming


Nadja Daehnke 3:20pm

I guess in some ways. The main bottom space was ad hoc used, and the top space was meant to be used but did not even have lighting. So I got the thing rolling.


Josephine Higgins 3:21pm

There was the video programming before, wasn’t there?

That always seemed like a rumour though, with that ‘temporary’ wall that just never left


Nadja Daehnke 3:22pm

Yes, I think that was put in place by Malcolm Payne??? But it was not a regular or was not really on anymore when I came – not sure which of the two.


Josephine Higgins 3:23pm

And Nkule, you’re the only one to have come through as an undergrad at Michaelis? – to have experienced the gallery as a student?


Nadja Daehnke 3:23pm

And the massive monster of a projector in the ceiling – is it still there?


Nkule Mabaso 3:23pm


and I am struggling to get it down, but working on it, I will throw a party when it’s down

All will be invited :)


Josephine Higgins 3:24pm 

For the do it exhibition, there was a project where you had to list all of the things that you are not meant to look at in the gallery


Nadja Daehnke 3:24pm

I always found the weighting between student projects, lecturers’ projects and outside exhibitions very difficult. – and I am coming to the party for sure!


Nkule Mabaso 3:24pm

The question tends to become, take it down yes, but where will it go,


Josephine Higgins 3:24pm

Like plug points or light switches/aircons etc – that projector was on ours!


Houghton Kinsman 3:24pm

Hahaha is it a film projector? :)


Nkule Mabaso 3:25pm

Yes Houghton it is, massive ancient thing,


Josephine Higgins 3:25pm

Yes, but no longer functioning I think?


Nadja Daehnke 3:25pm

The Ginsberg brothers would give their souls for it….


Josephine Higgins 3:25pm

Yes Nadja – I found that balance difficult too. And everyone has a different opinion on it.


Houghton Kinsman 3:26pm

The idea of soul feels apt for the gallery space after hearing this conversation


Josephine Higgins 3:26pm

(the gallery is not only the curators, but also a board of elected staff members who meet occasionally)


Nadja Daehnke 3:26pm

For me one main point was that there was (at that stage) no other truly experimental, risk-taking space in CT. So I really hoped for an approach that also did allow for this.


Josephine Higgins 3:27pm

Yes, and I think, in our own very different ways, that has carried through to today?


Nadja Daehnke 3:28pm

Yes, Jo, the board of course helps shape direction and I found them hugely important as a sounding-board… and agreed re experimental continuing.


Houghton Kinsman 3:28pm

Nkule have you felt the same, I’m thinking in reference to Earthbound


Nkule Mabaso 3:29pm

The space perhaps due to its size and other contrasts does demand to be challenged,


Josephine Higgins 3:29pm

I was thinking of Earthbound as a good example


Houghton Kinsman 3:30pm

Yes and I want to add a link here to some of the Michaelis shows but how do I find these??


Nkule Mabaso 3:30pm

otherwise one does not have enough room to be conventional and ‘traditional’



Houghton Kinsman 3:31pm

Great thats awesome!



Josephine Higgins 3:33pm

This has been really interesting actually – next time you’re in Cape Town Nadja, we should all meet together and have a look at the different exhibitions/approaches etc


Nadja Daehnke 3:33pm

Yes, and collaborations??


Nkule Mabaso 3:34pm

I’d proposed to do a publication that tracks the last 5 years of the gallery

or at least as far back as possible in a linear fashion


Josephine Higgins 3:34pm

That would be great!


Nadja Daehnke 3:35pm

Great Nkule. Not sure if you still do a yearly brochure, but something more substantial would be awesome.


Nkule Mabaso 3:35pm

and that would go some way in definitely seeing the evolution and perhaps spell out the future possibilities


Nadja Daehnke 3:35pm

Nice one, Nkule


Josephine Higgins 3:35pm

I’ve often thought about the links between the projects that needed discussion, but there just wasn’t a forum. A book would be great.

Thanks again everyone – and Houghton for arranging!


Nkule Mabaso 3:36pm

I will be in touch about it again, Nadja were you ever able to locate that hard drive

with the project back ups ?


Nadja Daehnke 3:37pm

Yes, thanks and looking forward to future chats and that projector-party


Houghton Kinsman 3:37pm

Yes, I appreciate the turnout and an interesting conversation! Thanks for making the time and the future of collaboration, discussion,  research and publication  is exciting! Have a great weekend all! :)


Nadja Daehnke 3:38pm

I will have to look – I have all my docs backed up, but not sure whether that hardrive is with me in London or in storage in CT. Will check.

Keep well, and Nkule I will mail you re back up.


Nkule Mabaso  3:39pm

Thank you so much, it’s been great chatting, we will stay in touch indeed