”Written byFreddie Hiney
‘If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.’
casualsex.store is South Africa’s first online artist market. Having launched in December 2020, the idea was nothing short of breaking the grip of capitalism on the South African art scene. Or, as Robin Molteno and Arlin Bantam put it: ‘If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.’ This is casualsex’s mindset. The commerce Robin Hood (with a hint of Karl Marx). Offering an online platform for a fraction of the commissions charged by the likes of galleries and shops, casualsex is out to do its bit in the war against what they see as a ‘Boomer market that controls a lot of the capitalist sensibility around the art world.’
Their view of the situation is all too convincing. Ever since the 50s, the world has been on a fast and furious race into the arms of late capitalist consumerism. It is all around us; we wear it, see it, and smell it. Now that art, music, and storytelling are just cogs within that machine, full-time creatives are increasingly struggling to survive the high cost of living. Poor artists are not a new thing (think Van Gogh), but today even successful artists are often viewed as assets and trends rather than human beings developing a craft. In an era when genuinely popular creatives cannot live off their work, the lockdown has been Armageddon. Throw in the historic obstacles of getting into galleries and their high commission fees – usually an astonishing 40%+, before costs, and it was time for a change.
The conceptualization and manifestation of casualsex.store was months before its launch at the end of 2020. Since then, it has been on a fast trajectory towards revolutionizing the online art market. Suddenly artists creating in their bedrooms were connected to buyers in Europe and Asia. Guided by founder, musician, and visual artist Robin Molteno. He is supported by like-minded creatives who share the same passion, creating a perfect harmony that is the casualsex team. Enter Arlin Bantam, a published writer, who can often be found at their pop-up shows with his ethereal green hair. Next on the list is the impressive Isabella Winter who has a staggering three law degrees to her name. These three are supported by their Johannesburg crew of Louise Bruwer and Sandile Madi. Together they create beautiful content behind the lens of artists and festivals in Gauteng.
The commerce Robin Hood (with a hint of Karl Marx).
When I asked Robin Molteno the question: ‘what is sold on your website?’ I am quickly asked to rephrase the question to ‘what are artists selling on their stores?’ The ideology is explicit: bring power to the creatives. Many companies act like this is their ethos; very few do it. The concept, design, and execution of this attempt is the result of ‘many hundreds of hours, easily over 1000’, mixed with another few hundred conversations with various people within the creative scene. The lockdown came as an opportunity for founder Robin Molteno to lock in. ‘I would say lockdown was the sudden chance to spend 18 hours a day inside doing nothing but work. That was what lockdown really was.’ As artists he knew and respected faced ruination around him, his motivation was pure and urgent: ‘it was more just like, holy shit, this has now exposed so many of the problems that exist by there being no infrastructure for artists in South Africa.’
Their mission is simple yet powerful. casualsex.store is on the frontline of the battle to bring stability to the artist community. They want to ensure that the ‘inventiveness, and tenacity of South African artists has more than a fighting chance.’ They’re jousting far and wide to bridge the gap between creatives and the public, and that is more than visual artists. There are creatives from all artforms setting up shop on the site, from musicians and fashion designers to sculptors and painters. This is a response not just to the economic catastrophe which has been lockdown but to a relationship between art and industry that had become toxic. As Arlin puts it, ‘the power is that it is offering access; in a real way offering access. [As opposed to a situation where] you can come in and be tokenized or you can come in and you get kicked out whenever. Those in charge decide that you’re no longer valid or worthy or interesting or are pulling enough likes. We are not based on any of that.’
The ideology is explicit: bring power to the creatives. Many companies act like this is their ethos; very few do it.
They are at the heart of implementing this shift, going against the grain of corporate galleries disguised as creative hubs. casualsex.store is the creative sanctuary. It isn’t a business looking out for the next financial quarter, wondering if their shareholders will be happy. It’s a platform for the creatives, they run the show here, and that’s exactly what they want. As Robin puts it: ‘the casuaslex.store team is also every artist that actively uses it.’ It brings with it something unique and radical to the creative community in South Africa; a much-needed change. Suddenly artists of all corners who were confined to the South African Market are now globally connected; they have sent paintings to Germany, Japan, North England, the American Midwest, as well as sending artists merch to similar strange places, and even an obscure town, deep in the French Alps.
It seems an obvious thing to say – art cannot exist without artists. Somehow that fact got lost amid a bunch of agents, dealers, and A&R men. casualsex.store is on course to restore some balance, excitement, and (if necessary) aggression to the South African creative community. And it seems to be working: ‘bands are releasing their albums [on their stores] and selling them before they release them on streaming. There are bands that are selling merch through our merch system…we are sending paintings all over the country and overseas. It’s based on what the artist actually wants to do to further their career; the platform is a toolset’.
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Thank you to Robin Molteno and Arlin Bantam for giving up your time and giving us a great insight into the amazing creation that is casualsex.store. Click here to go browse the first online artist market.
Make sure to keep your eye out for them and look out for their events, talks, and everything in between. Click here for their Instagram.
For more of our Visceral features, click here.