Favela Vera Ortiz: Choreography unplugged

Favela Vera Ortiz is a Finnish-Argentinian choreographer based in Helsinki, Finland. The choreographer has recently been celebrating her artistic anniversary. She is currently finding herself with compositions that extend the boundaries of the body, self, and the space. Vera Ortiz is well known as an inventor of Choreographer’s Appointment, in which participants find their solo movements with the choreographer, and engage in a social form of personal choreography with a performance. The choreographer has worked with multiple themes in her native Finland, in Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Melbourne, Australia, to name a few locations.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your career spans over 15 years, and in fact you just celebrated your artistic anniversary. Starting from the time you went to study at the Danshögskolan in Stockholm, how did you end up choosing to go there?

Favela Vera Ortiz: Actually I had tried to get in to some schools already earlier, but always seemed to be the one who almost got in. But I continued dancing all the time and became more and more interested in making choreography. I chose to apply to Danshögskolan because they had a choreography program. I got in on first attempt and was very happy about it.

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deux2, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz. Photo Anna Diehl.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the key ideas and modes of working you learned while studying choreography in Stockholm, and have they stayed with you?

Favela VO: During the 3 years of education, I learned many tools from several visiting teachers. We were 3 students at the choreography program/education, and one of the learning processes was to be able to follow how the 2 others did their compositions when the starting point was the same for all. For example, professor Örjan Andersson gave a task to use certain compositional tools with 9 dancers and the result was interesting to see how different the works were.

I also invented a method of trying to be free of judgement while making the movement, this was kind of a brainwash that was supposed to get the body to produce material earlier unknown. I am a curious chameleon and tend to try out new things which leads to different works. I’d say styles in my works vary a lot. Similarities tend to pop up afterwards, but it is not intentional.

One example is the question of how to use time. I am very interested in the concept of time being round instead of linear. This shapes the movements and music choices I make, and it has stayed with me from the first work with this “round time” that I did at school. It was a choreography of 15 minutes with several black outs cutting scenes, the shortest scene was only 4 seconds. Work with playing visibility, repetition and strong visual images.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Looking back, does it feel that so many elements have changed over this time?

Favela VO: It is a long time – 15 years – and certainly a lot has changed. But it is hard to put a finger on it and say here is a changing point and then something happened. Mostly change comes slowly with several try-outs and when there is a new direction it grows from a process and forms new frame. This overlapping process is a living creature in itself. The old and the new exist at the same time. During the past five years I have done some collaborations with visual artists which is new for me.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Many of your works have a strong visual element in them. You have worked with costume designers, in which a dress, costume and also architectural and spatial elements are conducting the narrative, or directing the movements in a way. Is doing choreography sometimes like being a composer with a certain thematic?

Favela VO: I’d say the thematic sometimes brings the costume or other visual elements conducting the movement. I have often done costume, lights and stage design by myself as it feels they are so closely linked to each other and push the movement to what it is. Last year, for example, I did a site-specific work L’AUTRE in a bomb shelter where the strong  visuality comes with shadows on an uneven wall and laser light. I did the lights with five torches. What the photos don’t show very well was the glitter on the body of the dancer, she was covered in gold shiny glitter, very thin layer of it though. (Check the photos of this work here: www.photoslautre.tumblr.com)  I also enjoy working in a group with visual artists who bring their ideas to the common table. It is always an adventure to see how the process goes forward and which elements grow to be presented. My latest work OPUS CORPUS III is a beautiful example of this.

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Opus Corpus III, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, 2016. Photo Valdis Jansons.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: While working in Buenos Aires, you also started working with plastic wraps or bags that evolved to be headpieces for the performers. Tell about this choreography, which was created in a local park?

Favela VO: This work I made for three dancers, the inspiration was Greek mythology so the dancers were sort of goddesses. Even the name for the piece is MOERAE which are the three sisters making and cutting the line of life. But it was not a narrative work, merely the inspiration gave some movement ideas. It was made for Villa Ocampo, a cultural house in Buenos Aires. We used the terrace of the house and the park. The idea of using plastic bags to make costume was fabulous, it worked well. I did the wigs and tutus of thin white plastic. We also planned a stage version of the piece and filmed it while I still was in Buenos Aires. Later it got invited to Chile to a dance festival, so there are two versions of this work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does word intercultural resonate in your personality, or multicultural, and how?

Favela VO: I am half Finnish, half Argentinian. I have lived a nomad life for several years while working in different artist residencies. I was born in Helsinki and I am still based in Helsinki, but this year is the first full year that I have actually spent here entirely.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have created solos for dancers, for example, for Finnish dancer Riikka Kekäläinen. How much does a dancer direct the development of the work with her personality, and how do ideas come together in the end?

Favela VO: The dancer has an enormous impact for the work. I often use different improvisations to search the movement so it is essential for the dancer. I choose the dancer who I believe is the best for the theme I am working with. The frame for the improvisations come from the vision I have for the theme, but then I choose the material from what comes out while working with the dancer and develop it further with the dancer. It is like a puzzle building the body of the work. One solo for Riikka, which I enjoyed a lot to do was called LA SEULE. It was seen in Finland but also in Paris at the Finnish Institute and in Düsseldorf Tanzmesse. The theme is the history of hysteria.

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LaSeule, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz. Dancer Riikka Kekäläinen, Photo Vilma Niskala.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the work in STOA Cultural Centre in Helsinki, in which the floor had mirrors all over, and the audience was sitting in a tight setting looking at the performer from a close distance?

Favela VO: The work is called 21 notations on human. We had visitors in our rehearsal space. They were 20 persons who each came to share one rehearsal day with us. My question for them was “What is it that interests you in humans?” So, it was very wide question with personal answers. We created movement material with the visitors during the day with the dancer Hanna Ahti and got kind of a movement bank. The work is a selected composition of these things, as the material was several hours of material on video. The 21st notations on human (https://vimeo.com/35870033) is our version. The mirror floor reflects the dancer as many and brings also a visual element with light reflecting to the walls. It is a tender piece with the dancer having a conversation with notations on the body and the surface.

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21 notations on human, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, Dancer Hanna Ahti. Photo Uupi Tirronen.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Somehow there is a sense that dancing for you carries several elements that might be also called as non-human, such as animal like, or vegetal, or spiritual; are these definitions closer to what you are aiming or thinking?

Yes, there is an idea I’ve been working with for some time now where the body is half human, half animal. Like a hybrid body. This creature was more animal in the work Myoclonic (year 2013) and more human than animal in L’AUTRE (year 2015). This year (2016) the work OPUS CORPUS III was asking the question of where is the human, where is the animal, where does it start or end? The whole work seems to be a question so there is no answer. This hybrid is also an alienated body and represents the other, the strange, the weird in each of us.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your time spent in Australia, and doing the piece with yet another visual component, reminds a lot of the spiritual elements that are perhaps inherent to the aboriginal heritage, with the embodiment of place and environment and the essence of the human body in the entire life cycle. Could you tell more about this work?

Favela VO: This work started as a collaboration with Annee Miron, a sculptor and visual artist from Melbourne. We met in Paris in the Cité Internationale des Arts residency in 2010. The meeting and our discussions and sharing knowledge of our previous works made both of us interested of a common project. It took some time in between until it happened. I was working in Melbourne with Annee in 2013. The collaboration started with Annee’s project of sleepless, which developed into a performance MYOCLONIC (https://vimeo.com/66894548). Annee built a huge installation at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery, it worked as its own piece but also as a scenography for the dancer. I consider it is some kind of a jungle of mind. Annee used cardboard as the material and we used cardboard mask for the dancer. The performer, Sanna From is a Finnish dancer who came to Melbourne to work with this project. In our working group was also a local artist Anna Brownfield making the video. The work grew with visions of subconciousness and muscle tension of extremes, forming the body of being awake and alert. The name comes from Myoclonic jerks often appearing when falling asleep. The creature grew during the process and became more animal than human. It is as if this animal, creature is a relative to the hanging installation. The idea of animal body gave a strong impact to the piece. The hands were as kangaroos keep them, this certainly came after me seeing kangaroos in live for the first time. I was not thinking of using the aboriginal heritage.

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Myoclonic, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, 2013. Dancer Sanna From. Photo: Kelly Russ.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland has a rich contemporary dance culture. How would you describe Finnish contemporary dance scene from your own point of view, and experience, how has it changed over the years?

Favela VO: It has grown a lot during the past 15 years. It has grown hugely since I started to follow contemporary dance as that is about 29 years ago. Now we have more dance artists than ever, which also brings more voices, more variations of how to use dance as an art form, and gives more lively platform to all of us.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your favorite places to work?

I have enjoyed working in residencies as I enjoy of impulses each place resonates concerning space, energy, people, it is the whole world around – colours, light, different languages, working with local artists and getting other visions. But the absolutely best place to work is whenever the working group is working well, despite in where it is.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who are your greatest mentors or influencers?

Favela VO: During the school I had a strong experience being thought by Hilda Hellwig, a theatre director. I liked her methods of thinking of the working process and leading it with great intuition. I suppose I have tried to keep that knowledge as one base while working. I do not tend to have idols, most of the time, I consider it is more some works that make a strong influence, so it is more one work per each artist I know that I admire. Some of the latest are works by Sophie Calle and Bill Viola. I get inspiration in books, films and exhibitions. Films having strong feeling of movement are special for me, it feels that they fill a dwell in my mind with visions and movement combined, and these strong images bubble and some day grow to live in yet another form. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite novelists, her latest books with dystopia visions have given inspiration for my work with human/animal/alienated body.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are your plans for the future, you have a one-year scholarship starting now, where do you think it could take you?

Favela VO: That’s what I am planning at the moment! Not sure yet where it will take me, but I am definitely planning a new residency far away from Helsinki. I also want to continue with my latest working group in Helsinki so surely part of the year I will be spending at home.

***

Artist website: http://favelaveraortiz.tumblr.com/

Check out video about CHOREOGRAPHER’S APPOINTMENT https://vimeo.com/14337885

Artist in focus: Liu Shiyuan

Liu Shiyuan, The Edge of Vision, or the Edge of the Earth, 2013.

Artist and global citizen Liu Shiyuan is a young generation Chinese artist. She comes from Beijing and lives currently between China and Copenhagen, Denmark. Her multiplicity as an artist has gained her presentation across continents. Liu Shiyuan’s visually colorful photography and video montage, and her approach to cultural patterns perform traditions from new angles. In her body of works, monochromatic tones meet performative arrays.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What made you decide to move to Copenhagen Denmark, as you have lived in so many places?

Liu Shiyuan: I was born and grew up in Beijing. I studied in The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Then after that, I went to NYC to get my MFA from the School of Visual Arts. I´m a very typical Beijing person, my dialogue accent and my behavior are pretty local Beijing type. I got used to living in a big city where there´s a lot of competitions going on. I like it, it makes me always have to work harder and be a better person and so on. So I actually never thought about moving to a place like Denmark. But I met my husband in Beijing in 2009 while he was doing his exchange studies there. We kept the relationship going even when we were living 8000 miles away from each other. He is Danish, and that is the reason why I am living in Denmark now.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How has your choice of living in multiple places changed your artistic identity and your perspective into things?

Liu Shiyuan: I got influenced by this kind of “international” life style a lot. Meeting with people from different places, it brought me a bigger image of understanding the world. I started thinking about things in a totally different way. By living with three different languages, my words are getting less, but my emotions are getting more. There´s so many things coming to me every day that I cannot even explain, they are too big and too complicated to be expressed by any language. That is why I work as a visual artist.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the best aspects of living in Copenhagen as an artist, in what ways do you think it is special there?

Liu Shiyuan: I found out here in Denmark that the “artists” (not including the Danish artists living outside of Denmark) are not like the “artists” I understood at all. I still don´t know what I can do here to the Danish society as an immigrant, except continue what I used to do. And I think doing art is enough for me. I don´t care where I live, as long as the life goes on. I travel a lot every year, we bring our baby with us to wherever we go. So home for us could be at any new places. We also stay in Berlin for a lot of time, since it´s very close to Copenhagen, so I guess besides Beijing, Berlin could be our second city.

Do you feel Scandinavian now?

Not very.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about your time spent in New Yock City, how did you experience the living and studying. Could you explain what ingredients did the art education give you?

Liu Shiyuan: I went to NYC in 2010, when I was 24. And I graduated from CAFA in Beijing in 2009, so there was only one year I was doing some stuff in Beijing in the time between. I wouldn´t call it a career, I only built my own performance group, and we made two conceptual theater pieces. I´m still very proud of the works and the people I was working with in my team, because the two pieces ARE really good whenever I watch the video recordings again. It was really for fun, for doing something new, without thinking it is the beginning of anyone´s career. People from the art circle didn´t even think I was an artist. But I was a very serious student in NYC, I never wasted my time, I never gave myself a chance to do so-so stuff, I had to make sure my artwork was going in the best way as it could. It was really the fantastic two years in my life that I really put my art practice together, clear everything up. I was working very hard, having a BF on the other side of the earth, so I spent most of my time in the studio while in school.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your primary medium of working now, or are you making art with different and varying tools and efforts?

I am very hard on myself. Every time I make a new proposal, I begin from imagining I have never done art before. This is exhausted I agree, a lot of artists don’t work like this, but I just couldn´t help. I don´t have a studio in Denmark, I don´t put my works on the wall, and when I start a new project, I try not to look at my old works. So, I don´t think about the medium or the tools. Rather, the ideas are all coming from a brand new clean mind.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have created video works together with sound artist Kristian Mondrup Nielsen; how do these works usually develop?

Liu Shiyuan: I am also a video artist. But I know nothing about sound, so I work with Kristian Mondrup Nielsen when I need sound in my work. He is a very professional musician, for finishing the sound part of my work, he also needs to cooperate with other people. The process usually starts from renting a recording room, inviting people to play, then he mixes the sound by himself, and the final step is mastering.

Liu Shiyuan, The Edge of Vision, or the Edge of the Earth, 2013
Liu Shiyuan, The Edge of Vision, or the Edge of the Earth, March 2013, Medium: Single channel video, color, 6mins, video still.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your Wonderland’ color photography series was on display at the Frieze New York in May 2016 with Leo Xu Projects. This collage of photography brought to mind European food ingredients. Are these works influenced by Danish meals?

Liu Shiyuan: Maybe. Danish food can be very conceptual sometimes, because they really care about where the ingredients come from, if the farming is bad for the environment. So when you go to a good restaurant in Denmark, often what you get can look very minimal, no exaggerations. But the taste is just so good because of all the effort behind the curtain, the carrots taste like the best carrots you have ever had, the black coffee tastes like it has milk in it. This way that they treat the ingredients is very similar to how I treat the elements in my artwork. I show how I fully respect the pictures I use in my photos, just simply placing them on “the plate”. ‘Wonderland’ is also related to how fictions are influencing our real life.

In that series of photos, the amount of humor equals the same amount of sadness. So when you look at them, they are actually not food any more, they become the actors on the stage.

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does the word Bentu, meaning native soil, personally resonate in you? It was a title of the exhibition, in which Fondation Louis Vuitton represented contemporary Chinese artists, who are crossing boundaries across traditions and geographical places, or are transforming something?

Liu Shiyuan: Bentu was the group exhibition I attended in January 2016. The defenition of Bentu definitely doesn´t mean a location or a pin on the map. I think it´s more like the root of you, the foundation of your understanding of things.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is a lot of discussion going on about the role of Chinese contemporary artists as part of the art market booming in Chinese centers. Do you want to say something specific about the phenomenon?

There´s a boom of something in China, but I´m not sure if it is mainly related to the art market. Among all the money China got every year there´s only 5% coming from art. So I think the discussion is more on the economical level. It is very scary if you go visit a small city in China, you see new buildings everywhere, but they are empty. So I guess it´s like someone took a loan from the bank to build them while hoping a lot of people can also take loans to buy them. So the whole thing is holy. I am actually very bad at thinking about money, so maybe I shouldn´t talk too much about economy.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you see older generations contemporary Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei influencing your thinking or methods of working, or something like that?

Liu Shiyuan: He definitely made me thought about my art practice a lot, especially in NYC when almost everyone was asking me about him. Sometimes I explained a bit about how understandings can get twisted between cultures, sometimes I just answer he is not my uncle I don´t know.

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Liu Shiyuan, As Simple As Clay, 2013, Photography exhibition, C-prints. Courtesy of Liu Shiyuan and Leo Xu projects.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Would you like to say something specific about the galleries, which represent you in Beijing and in Copenhagen. Do you feel that there is a common nominator now in the international art world, meaning that the patterns of working and featuring artists can be too similar?

Liu Shiyuan: Definitely. The culture of mixing thing has been going on for a long time, and now it starts to seem a bit boring. I don´t think the way most of the people use the word “international” is right.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As your art works have been exhibited in different platforms and sites; in museums, galleries, and art fairs, however, who would be an ideal collector for your art?

Liu Shiyuan: Anyone who loves the works. For me, and also my galleries I believe, the best is not always the biggest. Of course, my artworks only have few editions, sometimes they are unique, so I hope the collectors are willing to show them again somewhere, to let more people see them, to make the works live forever in a way.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think there is something unique for being a woman contemporary artist that has a new empowering resonance?

Liu Shiyuan: Actually I don´t feel any difference as being a woman. I don´t really know the art world a lot, maybe some people think there´s too few female Chinese artists, so we need to dig more out. But for me, I don´t think about it, it has been a long long long time that I didn´t think of myself as a woman, but I do remind myself all the time that I am an artist.

***

Liu Shiyuan’s website: http://www.shiyuanliu.com/index.html

Interview: Yasushi Koyama, cuteness and nature in Finnish and Japanese aesthetics

Japanese sculptor Yasushi Koyama lives in Helsinki, Finland and exhibits frequently in the local galleries. In this interview, he ponders the aesthetics behind his cute wooden sculptures. The artist brings the two artistic worlds together in his deep knowledge of both Finnish and Japanese cultures. One of his revelations connects to an idea of etic (or ethic), a general belief that influences people’s behavior and attitudes.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When did you move to Finland, and how did you decide to go there to study?

Yasushi Koyama: I moved to Finland in Autumn 2007 to study Fine arts in Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in Imatra. In 2006, I met Finnish printmaker Tuula Moilanen and took her art courses in Kyoto Japan. She was a good teacher and gave me some advice for Finnish education and art school. Then I decided to come to Finland to study.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the best part of having two cultures to live in and with?

YK: The best part is to have another viewpoint beyond one culture. In addition, in my own artwork Finnish culture meets Japanese culture automatically, unconsciously and unintentionally. It is a good mixture of two cultures for me.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that new cultural heritage transforms you?

YK: I am transformed by Finnish culture on a daily basis especially with the sense of nature and with the contemporary culture of art & design in Helsinki. While in Imatra I experienced a lot of nature such as forest, lake, snow, river, waterfall etc. I took many photos of the beautiful Finnish nature during each season. In this point I was transformed to be a person who likes nature. At the same time, it reminded me of how to be a Japanese, because a life with nature is the very style of Japanese culture too. I came to Helsinki in 2012 to have my solo exhibition in NAPA Gallery. In 2012 Helsinki was the world design capital and my exhibition joined in with some events of World design capital 2012. NAPA Gallery had many artists who were related to graphic design. It was very fresh for me. The art of NAPA members inspired my own art language to absorb the feeling of contemporary graphic design into my art. So I am transformed to get the design viewpoint from the Helsinki contemporary culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are currently taking part of an exhibition at the Cable Factory in Helsinki. Tell about the background for this particular show.

YK: The show is called “Masters of Saimaa’16”. It is Masters of Fine Arts graduation exhibition in The Saimaa University of Applied Sciences. 9 master degree students have joined in the show. My artworks are 3 works. There are 2 wood sculptures and 1 wood installation from me.

One of the wood sculptures is titled Panda papa and child. It is a large sculpture, 160cm high and weighting more than 400 kg. The artwork is made for my Art for Children project in 2016. People can touch & hug this Panda papa sculpture, so it is interactive art, and the art also connects to our well-being. It is going to be donated to children’s public place as a public art after my upcoming solo exhibition in Galleria AARNI. I have a good memory attached to Panda. When I was 6 years old Panda came to Ueno Zoo in Japan from China. I visited the Zoo to watch the Panda with my father.

Another wood sculpture is titled Walking cat with Katja’s T-shirt – collaboration with Katja Tukiainen. It is 150 cm high and weights more than 200 kg. Artist Katja Tukiainen is my supervisor for my final works of my thesis. Both Katja and I had a similar experience of having cats as pets in our childhood, and we both like cats. Katja Tukiainen has also designed the official T-shirt for the Cable factory. I liked the T-shirts and so got the idea for the collaboration with her.

Then, my  wood installation’s goes with the title The horizontal – wood installation. It is composed of 6 pieces of woods that were originally from one large tree (5m high). Each piece weights between 30 kg to 150 kg. It is made from ash wood that my friend gave me. The title is from Eija–Liisa Ahtila’s video work “The horizontal “ to use 6 screen panels to show one long tree in horizontal way. Her video work “The house” was the first contemporary Finnish art that I saw in Tokyo in 2003. Through this work I wanted to express the culture of wood in Finland and Japan, the process of wood sculpting and wood as a material itself. In Finland the forest area is 71% of the entire land area. In Japan the forest area is about 68% of the land area. In the world, the average of forest area is 31%. So in comparison, our countries have a lot of forest and woods. I think that we both have the tradition of wood culture such as wooden buildings, wooden houses, wooden tools, wooden arts etc. So wood is really important material for me.

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Yasushi Koyama, Panda papa & child, 2016, birch, oil color, house paint, 162 x 85 x 80 cm.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You hear often that Finnish and Japanese cultures have something in common from the point of view of the design cultures. Do you think it’s true and in what ways?

YK: Yes, it is true. As I told, both Finland and Japan have the culture of wood. Both Finnish and Japanese like nature in life. So natural materials have an influence on the expression of our cultures of design, architecture and art. In addition simplicity, clarity and repetitive nature are similar in both cultures.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find your artistic expression with the sculpture? 

YK: My artworks are animal sculptures described as “Cute, lovely and humorous”. Most of my works are made from one piece of wood by using hand chisels. The rich textures of wood sculpting give people a warm impression. My wood sculptures have the good mixture between traditional wood sculpting and contemporary expression.

I learnt traditional wood sculpturing in Japan, New Zealand, Transylvania and Finland. For example in Finland in school I learnt wood sculpting from Finnish sculptor Pasi Karjula. He cherished the traditional way of wood sculpting using axe and hand chisels as well as other methods.

In the contemporary art context my wood sculptures have the expression of cuteness and positive energy. Finnish painter Katja Tukiainen had an influence on those expressions. And Finnish sculptor Kim Simonsson inspired me with his innocence of cartoonish sculpture. In addition, the graphic design of Marimekko etc., as well as the culture of the Finnish children’s characters, especially the Moomins took effect on me.

At the same time Japanese Manga & Anime and “neo-pop” art by Japanese painter Yoshitomo Nara have influenced my art language of cuteness. The ideas of art works are inspired by animals, natural shape of wood, self-drawing, Finnish art, illustration, textile design and Japanese art & culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are your cute animal sculptures loved by both Finnish and Japanese audiences alike?

YK: Yes, I think so. They are loved and sold in both Finland and Japan. The interesting issue is that Finnish people say Yasushi’s works have Japanese feeling, and Japanese people say that Yasushi’s works have Finnish feeling in them. I accept their viewpoints as a good mixture between Finnish and Japanese culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you develop and teach your concepts to kids? 

YK: I remember that I was making animal sculptures with clay almost every day when I was between 4-6 years old. My father gave me photo books of animals. After I looked at them I made animals. It was my ordinary life during my childhood. So it was natural for me to make cute animals. Although I was making a human sculpture while in school, after my graduation I remembered my enjoyment with animal sculptures. So it is normal and natural for me to make these cute animal sculptures. After starting to create animals, some friends and gallerists told me that my artworks include concepts for kids. So I will continue developing art based on my own childhood memories.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your favorite museum or museums in Finland and why?

YK: I have many favorite museums in Finland. It is difficult to tell of all the museums. So I point my favorite 3 art museums with exhibitions in 2016. I liked Ai Weiwei & Yayoi Kusama exhibitions in Helsinki Art Museum, Ernesto Neto’s exhibition in 5th floor in Kiasma and “Suomen Taiteen Tarina” (Stories of Finnish Art) in Ateneum Art Museum. Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kusama are top well-known artists in the world. I appreciate HAM to have offered their exhibitions to people in Finland. I also like the space in Kiasma’s 5th floor. Ernesto Neto’s exhibition gave us the participation and experience, the post colonial and interdisciplinary disciplines in the contemporary art context. “Stories of Finnish Art” was very compact exhibition, but at the same time a very profound way to show Finnish art history. I thought it was a great opportunity for tourists in summer to see the exhibition in Ateneum and also for Finland to show their image through Finnish art.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe Finnish aesthetics?

YK: I want to describe 3 concepts of “less is more”, “silence” and “sorrow” as Finnish aesthetics.

When I think about aesthetics, I always think about “etic” of aesthetics. Etic (or ethic) is a general idea or belief that influences people’s behavior and attitudes. I think that Finnish etic are diligent, honest and simple. Finnish aesthetics is the general idea that influences Finnish people’s behavior to understand beauty. So in my opinion one of Finnish aesthetics is about “less is more”. When I see the simple structures of Finnish architectures, it is so obvious.

About “silence” (hiljaisuus in Finnish), and how it is connected to nature. I remember silent landscape of snow in forest during winter. It was very beautiful. One of my Finnish friends gave me the message about nature, comparing sisu to silence (sisu is a Finnish spirit against strong power). “Nature means more than forests or lakes. It means freedom for oneself. Sisu is the most important for Finns. But how can one respect the other’s freedom? To respect one’s own freedom and the other’s freedom, Finns are keeping silent.” It is poetic but precisely showing the Finnish behavior of silence.It says that silence is the expression to respect one’s own and other’s freedom. Silence is one core of beauty related to the idea of freedom in Finnish culture.

About “sorrow” (suru in Finnish). A Finnish pop singer-song writer Kaija Koo says the phrase: Niin kaunis on hiljaisuus, mutta kauniimpaa on kaipaus. It means: So beautiful is silence but more beautiful is longing. So, when a Finn misses another person or a place, they feel sorrow. The sense of sorrow is connected to the feeling of longing and missing. In addition, a Finnish sense of sorrow takes place in the melancholic climate of Finland, such as during cold, dark and snow etc. “Sorrow” is a general and profound concept in Finnish art, film, novel, mythology etc.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does innovation mean to you?

YK: Innovation is the attitude to look for new applications of old knowledge and the one to create new concepts by mixing more than two different concepts and cultures.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who do you collaborate with and where do you work? Is teamwork important to you? 

YK: To meet a person is very important for me. So I would like to cherish meeting a person. This time I collaborated with Finnish painter Katja Tukiainen in Cable Factory, Helsinki. I met her in Cable Factory in 2009 coincidentally, when I was walking around the Cable Factory. She was very kind to me even though I didn’t know her at all at that time. She talked to me friendly about Japan and her exhibition in Yokohama, Japan. I think that meeting is sometimes coincidental but often meaningful. I would like to cherish such a meeting. For the collaboration it is important for me to have a similar concepts, and to be able to share ideas. It is important for me to make collaboration beyond your own culture and to create something new from it. I have collaborated with artists such as painters, sculptors and printmakers. For the future I am interested in collaborating with not only artists but also with designers, anthropologists, philosophers, children, and with ordinary people to be transforming my art.

yasushi-koyama-walking-cat-with-tshirt-by-katja-tukiainen-2016-birch-house-paint-156-x-72-x-71-cm
Yasushi Koyama, Walking cat, T-shirt collaboration with Katja Tukiainen, 2016, birch, paint, 152 x 72 x 71 cm.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have an opinion about Kusama’s works, she is now extremely popular in the West. How do you like the exhibition in Helsinki at the moment?

In my opinion Kusama’s exhibition includes an important concept of interdisciplinarity, the roles of post colonial and gender in the contemporary art world. So it is natural for the West to accept her art. And her exhibition shows not only art but also an idea to share an experience of her art with visitors. It means that her art works are not only objects but also the image of her art, spirit and that of the contemporary culture. Her exhibition goes beyond art and connects with people in the gallery space to share their experiences. From this point of view, the visitors can participate in her exhibition. And I find that her paintings have an influence coming from native art and aboriginal art. Then, I think that her dot art includes not only pop art but also biological consideration of a cell, Shintoism and neo animism. I imagine that those concepts are fresh and still new to the West. So I admire HAM (Helsinki Art Museum) to have her exhibition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does Kusama have an approach that can be applied to other things, or could there be a recipe for a good idea to be developed further. There seems to be something that makes people really want to participate in it?

YK: Yayoi Kusama was the world’s most popular artist in 2014. And she is still one of the most popular artist in 2016. I think that the quality of this exhibition is among the top of the world. And her exhibition has been already developed by the point of visitor’s participation, comparing it to her exhibition that I saw in Matsumoto, Japan in 2003. It would be possible for her to use 5 senses to prompt visitors to participate in her art, such as the sense of touch, the sense of smell and auditory sense.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that art should be more sensorial, and available for people to touch?

YK: Yes, at least for me. I think touching art is a much deeper experience than seeing art. I make my large animal wooden sculptures (about 160 x 80 x70 cm) to be touchable and huggable. It is a hands-on way of “interactive art” in a sense that visitors also take action towards the art. And it is also “participation art” as you are touching and hugging a sculpture in the exhibition gallery space or in the public space. The importance of touching art is also connected to the internet period or described as a post-internet period. Although we can see a lot of images through internet, we can’t get a sense of touch through internet as well. So the sense of touch is a strong point attached to my animal sculptures. The feeling of a wood material is little warm and nice to human body. My animal sculptures have been already in some public places as public art. It gives people happiness and experiences in a way that they participate in a society through art.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is there a line between art and design in contemporary art or does there have to be?

YK: For me such a line is not so meaningful in our contemporary time. Design can be art and art can be design. I think that art and design have an effect on each other especially here in Helsinki.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are you planning next, do you have new ideas and exhibitions coming up? 

YK: My next exhibition is coming soon 23.11-18.12.2016 in Galleria AARNI in Espoo, Finland. The concept is “Cute” –between SÖPÖ and Kawaii. I mix Finnish cuteness “SÖPÖ” with Japanese cuteness “Kawaii” in my art. In Japan “Kawaii” (= the quality of cuteness) has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture. This term Kawaii has taken on the secondary meanings of cool, groovy, charming and innocent. The book “Kawaii Syndrome” tells “cute” and “neat” have taken precedence over the former Japanese aesthetics of “beautiful” and “refined”. So cuteness is a new cultural wave of Japanese postwar generation especially of the ones born in 70’s and 80’s. This cultural wave has come to Europe particularly through Manga and Anime. For the design of my animal wood sculptures I use Finnish wood, and the Finnish cuteness of SÖPÖ is inspired by Finnish art and design. In the exhibition visitors can see ”Cute” animal sculptures, touch & hug a large sculpture ”Panda Papa & Child”. I am hoping the audiences will enjoy Yasushi Koyama’s world of cute animals in the exhibition coming to Galleria AARNI.

***

yasushi-koyama-photo-by-ayana-palander
Yasushi Koyama, photo by Ayana Palander

Artist profile: http://www.kuvataiteilijamatrikkeli.fi/en/artists/3620

Amelia Marzec’s Weather Center for the Apocalypse

New York city based artist Amelia Marzec has been working on a project Weather Center for the Apocalypse since 2015. The work is presented during Climate Week in NYC, opening taking place on September 20, 2016 at United Nations Plaza. The artist has created an ongoing and evolving Weather Tower installation, which handles a theme of change in the environment and culture where we live in. Weather Center for the Apocalypse is an alert to an uncertain future as it predicts those “changes that could affect the autonomy of citizens in the event of disaster”. According to Marzec, the project offers alternative perceptions to the media-driven forecasts we constantly encounter, and takes seriously the fears and superstitions that we as community may have. Recently, the project was on display at Sixth Extinction Howl at Billings Library in the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find weather? It is there all the time, but to become a derivative and subject for art, do you find it is common at all?

Amelia Marzec: Currently there are a lot of artists doing work either directly or indirectly on the influence of human activity on climate change. I have seen a few other weather projects since starting the Weather Center for the Apocalypse. Everyone on earth is participating in this story right now, whether they are aware of it or not.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the background for your project, which will also materialize during Climate Week in New York. 

AM: The Weather Center for the Apocalypse began during an anxious time when I was in a relationship that was failing, at the same time that my Grandfather’s health was failing. It was a moment of knowing that these things were going to end, while not knowing exactly when that was going to happen. I needed to prepare and put things in perspective: what would be the most outrageous ending? The world could end, of course. With the current focus on climate change, it didn’t seem that far off.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Have you always been future oriented, foreseeing the future, as apocalypse might imply?

AM: Yes. My current work began a number of years ago, when I lost all of my hearing in one ear due to a tumor. I began to focus on the reality of daily communication failure in my life, and to pay more attention to the physical objects that make up our telecommunications infrastructure: our phones, our internet, our radios, and other devices. I began building objects to avert possible future disasters of communication in our society. The Weather Center for the Apocalypse continues this work by becoming a news media center for a pre-apocalyptic world.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about the narrative part of your Weather Center for the Apocalypse project, in which the visual implements a strong narrative element, what do you want to say about it?

AM: The story of the Weather Center unfolds over time as the project is built and refined. It began by providing forecasts to STROBE Network, a news network that was broadcast from Flux Factory in 2015. News and weather reports that were both practical and fantastical fed a daily apocalypse warning system. However, it has become clear that the Weather Center needs to be prepared for complete telecommunications failure, so the Weather Tower, which is a functioning weather station, was built mostly from salvaged materials that I gathered in my neighborhood. It collects local weather data so we don’t need to rely on major news sources. Predictions, fears, and anxieties are collected by interviewing local residents, and severe warnings are broadcast over a short distance with an FM radio transmitter.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where did you install the Weather Tower before, and how did those environments alter the direction?

The Weather Tower has traveled to different locations in New York to collect weather data and predictions from residents, including Industry City with Creative Tech Week; Governor’s Island with FIGMENT festival; Sag Harbor with Wetland, a fully sustainable houseboat; and Long Island City with Flux Factory and the Artificial Retirement exhibition. Being outdoors tends to trigger people’s memories more of changes that are happening on the earth. I’ve been caught in the rain a few times now, which has forced me to become better at weatherproofing the work.

 

amelia-marzec-weather-tower
Amelia Marzec, Weather Tower, part of the Weather Center for the Apocalypse -project.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Since you will have the UN presentation, what expectations do you have for it. Is it possible that the work will gain more global visibility with the location?

AM: There are some meetings that week at the UN about climate change, so it would be really nice to continue those conversations in a public place, as it affects all of us. I would also let passers by know about Climate Week. This type of artwork tends to happen one conversation at a time, so I don’t expect it to be a global phenomenon. Hopefully I can collect some interesting predictions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does the work read a label climate change art, do you think that art can be a vehicle towards a better understanding on what is happening?

AM: Yes, climate change is one of the major themes of the Weather Center for the Apocalypse. I do think art is a vehicle towards better understanding of the issues, and I also think that is one of the responsibilities of an artist.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have been connected to Eyebeam in New York City, what has this education and community meant for your creative thinking?

AM: I’m currently an Impact Resident at Eyebeam, working on our conference Radical Networks. The conference brings together artists, educators, and technologists to discuss the future of alternative networks in the context of community. This could mean experimental social computer networks, local community and rural networks, network security, uses of networks for activism, and the overall question of who owns the network. The community at Eyebeam is made up of some of the most forward-thinking people on the future of art and technology, and it is an honor to be among them. Seeing how other artists live and get work done has given me the confidence to pursue these projects, in addition to expanding my thinking about the work itself.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think a notion artistic research designates, a process that goes beyond a merely presentation to include research on a specific subject?

AM: It depends on the context, sometimes it simply means searching for images or text to be used in a project. But it should mean practice-based research, which has more depth in that the projects are leading a conversation, which happens in the context of previous writers and theorists. There’s other types of research where you’re mostly talking about artwork, but not making it. I’m a very hands-on person so I’m letting the work lead for now.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is so interesting how you relate to technology with a nostalgic wibe. There seems to be also a feature of old electronics and low tech involved in the making. How do the objects make you inspired?

AM: My previous project, New American Sweatshop, is a working model of an electronics manufacturing factory for a post-industrial economy, using our trash as a natural resource. I had gotten frustrated with building activist projects that were only possible for very privileged groups of people: people who could afford to buy technology, and had the education to know how to build it. I was also getting parts from international companies. During hurricane Sandy, there was no way to get supplies, as the roads were closed. So I started the New American Sweatshop to source parts locally from the resources that we had, which turned out to be our trash. It’s not so much nostalgia as necessity, knowing what we’d have to do to build communications infrastructure in a disaster scenario.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have discussed a role of the digital as something that might alienate us from connecting to one another. Should we go back in time, beyond the internet in our human communication, or do you think there is something else, which is a possible way to go?

AM: We need to use the current digital technology as a tool to organize and meet up in person. We need each other as human beings, and we will never be able to duplicate the experience of being together in the same space, despite advances in technology.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the philosophies which you rely upon, and make references in you work?

AM: I’ve always been very much into DIY culture, having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: One strong sensibility which comes across in your approach is feminist art, or a community of women making societal art. You have been featured in conjunction to A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn that promotes the women’s voices. Would you like to say something about this special connection?

Women are not on equal footing worldwide, so anything that serves to amplify women’s voices and give them confidence in their work is something I appreciate. Being together to have this discussion and forming our own networks is key. It’s possible that I’ve gotten more opportunities through connections with other women than with men. The idea of women competing with each other is outdated; we are more effective when we collaborate, and that is something that I see younger women doing more and more.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does VR resonate with anything you are interested in? Can we save the world with the idea of VR offering alternative perspectives?

AM: I’m both fascinated and frightened by VR. I don’t believe it will save the world. Having different perspectives is always helpful, but people have to be open to them. Whatever happens, we have to keep working on our own morality.

amelia-marzec-forecast-portal-from-weather-center-for-the-apocalypse-2016
Amelia Marzec, Forecast Portal, from the Weather Center for the Apocalypse.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you wish yourself going next in terms of plans?

AM: I’d like to build out more of the Weather Center, and I’m looking for support in order to do that.

***

Amelia Marzec was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and went to college at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers in New Brunswick. She came to NYC to attend the Design and Technology MFA program at Parsons in 2003, and has lived in the city ever since.

Check out artist website: http://www.ameliamarzec.com/

Interview: Katsutoshi Yuasa, from photographic imagination to woodcut reality

Katsutoshi Yuasa is a Japanese artist who has revitalized the original idea of photography, thinking about its early techniques, and bringing the digital production close to ancient Japanese printmaking practices. His detailed and lengthy artistic process starts usually with a digital snapshot. Eventually the image finds a new life as woodcut print or relief work, which the artist carves and prints all by a hand. In this production the original alters into something else, depicting a feeling or experience. Katsutoshi Yuasa was born in Tokyo. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, and has exhibited internationally for over a decade now.

For Katsutoshi Yuasa, the photography contains several layers of meaning. The complexity of the medium implies that the production cannot be perceived as pure images.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your woodcutting is based on photography, did this practice in your mind transform the idea of photography?

Katsutoshi Yuasa: Yes, my process of making art works is a way of thinking about an origin of photography. Or it is about image-making. How we understand and transform an image in front of our eyes to our mind.

I start from a photographic snapshot, but re-emergence of a photographic image is not my goal. My purpose of using a photograph is to make visible something which is perceived but no one sees.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2014, After a long pause  60cm x 150cm  Oil-based woodcut on paper
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2014, After a long pause, 60cm x 150 cm, oil-based woodcut on paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in the arts, how did you end up choosing woodcutting?

KY: I studied painting at first when I was a student. But I gave up my paintings because I couldn’t find a good future in my paintings. So I participated in a short printmaking course, and then found positive possibilities in the printmaking. Even that time my interest was photography, so I was thinking photo etching or screen print technique as my primary expression. At first, woodcut print seemed to be too far from photography. But later I concerned carving lines on wood as a similar process to making lights in the dark room. Now I’ve been making woodcut prints and works related to wood for over 10 years. Basically, woodcut print includes questions about light, image, water and colour.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In how many countries have you exhibited so far, including art galleries and art fairs?

KY: Maybe about 15 or 16 countries.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Coming from Japan, do you find that there are common approaches to making art in Japanese and Nordic cultures, asking this also because your art has been showed in Nordic countries quite often?

KY: My main subject is woodcut print but it is about light, image, water and colour. So I made a project with an idea of these and created a concept from a place where I stayed. When I visited Norway with the art project “20 Coastal Stations”, my subject was water & colour. I’m going to have a exhibition in October 2016 with artists who traveled together in Norway last year (see info here  http://www.sfk.museum.no/nn/node/48).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You spent also some artist residence time in Finland, how was this experience like, did it change your artistry, how about finding new influences?

KY: I spend a really good time in Finland. During the artist residence in Finland, I searched Scandinavian myths and poems. I’m interested in how myths are made. I made woodcut prints titled as “Illmatar” and “The world without words”. Also “Listen, Nature is full of songs and truth” is a phrase that I borrowed from Finland.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2013, The world without words, water-based woodcut on paper
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2013, The world without words, water-based woodcut on paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that many of your photographs carry nature imagery, what is your artistic philosophy about nature and how does it change in the process of making your works?

KY: I am not interested in making just beautiful pictures. My interest are words, stories and myths behind the nature and the landscape. The topics are words, images, art, nature, politics and beauty. I would also like to show and include ambivalence in my works.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In recent years, you have made a series of works that imply thematic concerns about what is happening in the world. You did a series titled  “The Colors of the Innocents”; the theme is based on events in the Middle East adopting Syrian crisis. How did this project come about?

KY: Everyday we see many shocking images on TV or on a screen. There are too many images around us via the internet. I have the works titled as “We lost something but we don’t know what we lost”. And, we can say “We see anything but we don’t remember what we saw” and also “We know something is happening in the world but we don’t know the smell and temperature”. These topics are about cruelty and colour.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, The colours of the Innocents #4  60cm x 90.5cm  Water-based woodcut on paper
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, The colours of the Innocents #4 60cm x 90.5cm. Water-based woodcut on paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The result of these prints is quite amazing. Tell about the aesthetic choices of making “The Colors of the Innocents”? They are quite different from your other works, which are more representational.

KY: For these works, I was more interested in making colourful works because colour is getting more important in my practice. One colour work is following up from my CMYK printing system. So I made 4 wood blocks with different lines and printed with 4 CMYK colours.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You can see that in 2015 there are new lines and shapes emerging, and result is perhaps more geometry and color. The prints titled All is Vanity, CMYCYMMCYMYCYCMYMC, and Nordlys, to name a few, have this form. Can you say that there is a fine line between design and art in the project that you are doing with these shapes?

KY: The most important idea for these works is “A Throw of the Dice Never Abolish Chance”. My interest is making an Image by a chance. Especially the I Ching is very interesting. There is a question that we choose something by a will or a chance. So my latest solo exhibition was titled as Colour/Numbers. How we choose numbers or how a number was chosen by us.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the “Beyond assumption” exhibition, which you had in Copenhagen in 2011, you kind of wanted to create an oppositional imagery of disaster, could you tell about this background, and what did you choose to be part of the imagery beyond assumption?

Yes, the exhibition “Beyond assumption” is a word from the Natural disaster that hit in Japan in 2011. Artists want to make their art works beyond assumption in the end. And of course Nature is always beyond our assumption. But we made a system under an unstable base. So here art connects to nature.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The works from 2016 also are experimenting with different shapes, reflecting pattern explorations, and bringing forth new influences. It seems that you have a flux of going between geometry and nature, to create and implement beauty?

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, Observation point  95.5cm x 190cm  Oil-based woodcut on aluminum leaf paper
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, Observation point 95.5cm x 190cm Oil-based woodcut on aluminum leaf paper.

KY: Yes, I’m very interested in geometry and patterns. It is about image-making. History and culture are included behind an image.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2016, Aesthetics of 12 #1  28cm x 45cm  Oil-based woodcut on paper
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2016 Aesthetics of 12 #1 28cm x 45 cm, oil-based woodcut on paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are you heading next with your art and career?

KY: My next exhibition will be in Norway in October. It includes works from 20 Coastal Stations project. So 6 artists will be showing together, presenting the project. Also, I will have a group exhibition with young Japanese artists, who make water-based woodcut prints, in Melbourne in October.

Artist website: http://www.katsutoshiyuasa.com/

Aimee Lee about sound, art books and hanji

Aimee Lee is an artist, papermaker, writer, and the leading hanji researcher and practitioner in the United States. With paper, she makes thread, sculpture, books, drawings, prints, garments, and installations. Aimee Lee’s background as a performing artist and musician carries traces of paper as sets and costumes. Her installations are artistic research on paper and sound. She has pursued a career with traditional Korean hanji, coming up with new aesthetic concerns and techniques for her artistic practice.  As a scholar, she is author of award-winning book, Hanji Unfurled (The Legacy Press).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are a musician, a performer with live violin. How did you start creating performances onsite, including your own installations, manifesting set designs and creating costumes? Did everything start with music?

Aimee Lee: My early aspirations were to become a concert violinist, but I learned in college that I was not serious enough to devote the requisite hours of practice and study. However, I still loved music and wanted to stay close to musicians, so I continued to play and my first jobs were in music administration—bringing music to people who did not have access, or bringing people together through music.

When I moved to Chicago for graduate school, I entered an interdisciplinary program that encouraged combining different media, especially performance. It was a book and paper program, but I was interested in the intersection of books and performance. Once I began to make paper, the connection between paper and performance was so compelling that I created installations that were dependent on paper that I made. The performances, which almost always included sound from my violin, activated the installations.

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Some of the live performances, which you composed and put together implement almost haunting kind of sound that responds back from the architecture of the venue, and then audience is stretched to interactive listening and feedback, where did you get the ideas to make these works?

AL: Mostly, I studied classical music, but later learned improvisation and jazz. The heart of what I have always loved to do is rooted in improvisation, whether or not I was aware of it. Human communication, which sound and music are, has always fascinated me, so I wanted immediate feedback and interaction with my audiences. In Chicago, I was influenced by performance residencies with Aaron Williamson and Greg Allen, and by Julie Laffin.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Now, we can perhaps say that you have become a master of hanji, the Korean traditional paper making. Where did you find the enthusiasm to start exploring it, and how did it come about?

AL: While I studied papermaking history in the graduate school, I noticed that it began in China, moved to Korea, and then traveled to and flourished in Japan. Most of the existing research in English on East Asian paper was based in Japan, and I was unable to find much about hanji (Korean paper). I grew up at a time and place in the US where people always tried to guess my heritage, but they could only imagine that I was Chinese or Japanese. This sense of Korea being overshadowed affected me deeply, so I felt a curiosity about Korean paper history. My Fulbright research in Korea uncovered an entire history and culture that fascinated me on all levels, as an artist, a researcher, a Korean American, a person in the world. After my return to the U.S., I felt a strong responsibility to share what I had learned. I would never call myself a hanji master, but will always be a steadfast hanji ambassador and artist (read Aimee Lee’s exhibition review in Firstindigo&Lifestyle)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is the knowledge of making hanji widespread in Korea today, how about the new generations and passing down this historic form that goes back hundreds of years?

AL: Korea has similar issues to the U.S. and other cultures where the current knowledge of traditional craft by the general public is quite limited. It is not a priority in contemporary life, so not many people in Korea are aware of the process of making hanji and its impact on Korean history. There are less than 25 paper mills remaining in Korea, and very few have serious apprentices, because it’s not an easy living. In a world where you could live and work in an urban center with all the amenities you need, why would someone decide to live in a rural area doing manual labor for very little money? There are no good incentives to do the work, even if you believe in continuing an ancient and important tradition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How sustainable is the process, could you tell about the ecological aspect of the paper making?

AL: Papermaking on a small scale (meaning individuals or families who are in business) in Korea is ecologically sustainable, though it may not be financially so. The main raw material is the paper mulberry tree, which is cut each year. This coppicing practice encourages the plant to grow back every year, so the same plant can produce material for over 20 years. These are not trees in the way Western minds think of hardwood lumber: they are tall and skinny, almost shrublike, and cutting them down does not kill the plant. The traditional methods of processing always used plant materials so that production byproducts were easy and not toxic to dispose of or reuse. The bulk of the energy that goes into making hanji is human energy, which means that the process is very labor intensive but has a very light ecological footprint.

Aimee Lee discussing hanji at the Korean Cultural Center, NY, March 2016
Aimee Lee discusses hanji objects at the Korean Cultural Center in New York, March 2016

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is it correct that Hanji derives from nature, or implies a closeness to it?

AL: Hanji is made from plants, and could never have been invented without a human closeness to non-human nature by observing the possibilities of certain species and experimenting over time. Dorothy Field, artist and author (my favorite is her book Paper and Threshold) writes beautifully about how certain plants long to become paper, and all they needed was the human hand to let them reach that state.

Firstindigo&LifestyleCan Hanji accessories, or clothing, be compared to textiles, or is it irrelevant?

Paper and textile have a very strong connection, aside from each being able to be transformed into the other. The first paper was made from hemp cloth, and hanji can be cut, spun, and woven into cloth. Hanji has been used to make clothing, and today’s contemporary designers and manufacturers are including hanji into their textile production.

 

Aimee Lee, All there, 2016. Dye on paper, thread. 11 x 11.5″. Private collection.
Aimee Lee, All there, 2016, Dye on paper, thread, private collection.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are teaching as well, could you tell about the workshops and education aspect?

AL: I mentioned before that sense of responsibility to share knowledge about hanji to a much wider audience. Part of this is from a conservation instinct, out of a fear that hanji is disappearing. But most of it comes from a joyous instinct, out of my love for this material that is so endlessly versatile. I always knew that handmade paper had great range, but even after almost a decade, I continue to find possibilities for hanji. If the substrate was not impressive, I would not feel compelled to promote it. However, I want people to know about hanji as an option, so that they can have another tool in the toolkit. This means that I teach a range of workshops, from preparing fiber to making hanji to manipulating it by hand. I travel continually to spread the word, in the hopes that eventually hanji will become as familiar as other papers, and that paper itself can be regarded on the same level as canvas, clay, metal, glass, wood, and so on.

Aimee Lee, Beating fiber to make hanji while teaching students at Paper Book Intensive 2016 at Ox-Bow in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Aimee is beating fiber to make hanji while teaching at Paper Book Intensive 2016 in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The aesthetic form of Hanji art and folk art influences your making, how do people receive these traditional objects, which you are making today?

AL: Most people don’t know about the lineage of the objects, so the responses are mostly of wonder—they are amazed that my pieces are made of paper in the first place. This provides an opening to share the stories of their historical use, and illuminate the ways that humans have always made objects that are not only useful, but embedded with meaning. Some have asked if I am interested in using the techniques to make much more contemporary ‘looking’ art. I have wanted for years to extend crafts like jiseung into installation and larger work that goes past the original shapes and functions of their predecessors. The issue is that the time and labor that it takes to make one piece is so great that I could only go in that direction if I had a very long and uninterrupted stretch of time to work. However, I am gratified to see that some of my students are moving in that direction after learning about hanji and its applications.

Aimee Lee, hanji duck, Korean Cultural Center, March 2016
Aimee Lee, hanji duck, exhibition at the Korean Cultural Center, NY, March 2016

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What other materials do you use today in the making of your art?

AL: For the longest time, I have been very strict about using hanji whenever possible, or other handmade papers. My thread box is always full of different paper threads I have made, though I use cotton, linen, and silk thread to sew my hanji dresses. I also use the raw materials that make these papers, such as the cooked bark before it is beaten to a pulp. I use mostly natural dyes and finishes, which add color, structure, and protection to the paper. Last year, I collaborated with Kristen Martincic on a paper and ceramic installation, and recently had a couple of jewelry metals artists help me with additions to my paper ducks at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. I’m interested in continuing this last investigation further.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is fascinating about your use of paper is its multiple dimensions from small objects to books. Your own writing and art (illustration) is sealed into these art books. Tell about the books, which you have made, how did the stories develop?

AL: Books came first for me, before paper. I was making artists’ books at Oberlin College while studying with Nanette Yannuzzi Macias, which was a game changer. It was a way to combine writing, drawing, storytelling, and all kinds of other media into a form that felt very familiar and yet new. I don’t remember when I started to draw comics, but like improvisation, it was something that came naturally to me. I always thought that the point of being able to make my own books was the ability to create all of my own content. Most of my books contain original writing and stories that come from my own life experience, literature that I love, and the immediate present moment—whether an emotional space or an actual time in history that could be marked in the news cycle.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you travel to Korea to get new ideas and exchange?

AL: I am able to get back every several years, whenever I am funded. However, because of the distance and difficulty of making enough time to visit (I prefer going for longer periods of time), it’s not a journey I make often. Certainly it is inspiring, but it is a challenge as well because the expectations of me as a Korean American woman can be stressful.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Often you hear that there is a division of thought between Eastern and Western approaches or philosophies. Do you feel you are bridging the gap between east and west in your practice, or do you think about these questions?

AL: This idea comes up often and much of my work can be seen as bridge building between cultures. However, I do my best to stay away from the reductive nature of “East/West” because it sets up an automatic “Us/Them” mentality that can become dangerous. My life experience of feeling reduced to a single word, automatically, because of how I looked, keeps me aware of the unconscious instincts we have to categorize everything. I prefer to present my scholarship and artwork as being rooted in and inspired by many different traditions and cultures. It’s impossible for me to work any other way because I was born to immigrant parents and always lived between at least two disparate cultures.

The “east meets west” cliché is one I particularly dislike, as if it has just happened, and as if there are only two monoliths in the world. It also comes from the point of view of a certain place being the center or more superior, which is problematic. Most cultures around the world have been in contact with each other for centuries, so cross-cultural understanding is not a new thing or an anomaly. Rather, it’s the norm.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you see yourself as an artist and educator in the future?

AL: My goal is to build a new hanji studio for myself, where I can work, make paper, and teach independently, while continuing to travel to teach and exhibit. I want to train apprentices in this new space so that I can increase the number of people who can support hanji. There’s at least one more scholarly book left in me as well, so I look forward to finding the ideal setting to properly research and write it. All of this will be unlocked, I think, once I find the right place for myself to be.

… … …

Check out Aimee Lee on web: http://aimeelee.net/

Her artists’ books can be found under the Bionic Hearing Press imprint from Vamp & Tramp.

 

 

Bettina Pousttchi explores world time and architectural history in east coast premiere

Bettina Pousttchi: World Time Clock at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Bettina Pousttchi is a Berlin-based artist working in photography, video, and sculpture. German-Iranian artist studied at the Kunstackademie Düsseldorf, and participated in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York from 1999–2000. Pousttchi has exhibited throughout Europe, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Köln, and London, and participated in the Venice Biennale in 2003 and 2009. She held her first U.S. solo exhibition in 2014 at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas.

Through photography and sculpture, Bettina Pousttchi is interested in altering architectural buildings and monuments as indicators of the past and media of remembrance. Currently, the artist exhibits in two different museum spaces in Washington D.C. First exhibition titled Bettina Pousttchi: World Time Clock is on view until May 29, 2017, at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden filling the museum’s third-level inner-ring galleries. Concurrently with the World Time Clock series, The Phillips Collection presents her second D.C. appearance with the works titled Double Monuments. This exhibition by Bettina Pousttchi  is on view until October 2, 2016.

Pousttchi’s exhibition at the Hirshorn is a premiere of her World Time Clock series, a project the artist began in 2008 and recently completed. The installation consists of a group of photographs that she created in 24 time zones around the globe over the last eight years. The artist has often contemplated systems of time and space in her art. To accomplish the World Time Clock photography, she traveled the globe capturing a portrait of a public clock in each time zones. In the final production, represented are locales far apart from each other, such as Bangkok, Moscow, Los Angeles and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The circular format of the Hirshhorn’s inner-ring galleries on third floor works well with the theme of this exhibition.

Bettina Pousttchi's World Time Clock at the Hirshorn's third floor is on view until May 29, 2017.
Bettina Pousttchi’s World Time Clock at the Hirshorn’s third floor is on view until May 29, 2017.

 

The photographs each show a clock displaying the same local time: five minutes before two. Together the images suggest a sense of suspended time and what the artist calls “imaginary synchronism.” Seen in close-up, the clocks are united in a single scheme that calls to mind the historic role of Washington as the site of the International Meridian Conference in 1884. It was here that the Greenwich Meridian was adopted as a universal standard, determining a zero point for the measurement of both longitude and time.

Bettina Pousttchi’s second display, on view at the Phillips Collection until October 2, takes on from the notion of history and memory of architecture. The exhibition is part of the Phillips’s ongoing series Intersections, which interestingly highlights contemporary art and artists in conjunction to the museum’s permanent collection, history, and architecture. With her works Double Monuments for Flavin and Tatlin (2013), Pousttchi is in conversation with art and architectural histories, addressing the historic works of Russian Constructivist sculptor and architect Vladimir Tatlin from the 1920s, and American minimalist artist Dan Flavin from the 1960s. Pousttchi’s sculptural installation is composed of materials deriving from street barricades, and metal crowd barriers, which the artist transformed into sculptural forms. The objects create contrast and volume with neon that grows inside the powder-coated abstract forms. The sculptures include spiraling neon light tubes reminiscing those fluorescent light works created by Dan Flavin. The five sculptures range from 5 to 12 feet creating dramatic presence and enhancing both sculptural form and architectural setting at the Phillips. Their tower-like shape is a homage to Tatlin’s sculptural works, yet they have a theme and form of their own. Pousttchi’s works carry an idea of mystery of bringing in outdoor elements into the white gallery space. The white paint creates sophistication out of the raw urban elements while neon makes them settle somewhere in between the indoors-outdoors -scale.

Bettina Pousttchi Double Monuments
Bettina Pousttchi with Double Monuments on view at the Phillips Collection.

Artist in focus: Laura Anderson Barbata on art and community

Laura Anderson Barbata is a transdisciplinary artist known for her onsite projects in Mexico, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and Norway. She is currently working on participatory, collaborative works that combine performance, procession, protest, movement and wearable sculptures to convey a message. In this interview, Laura discusses her recent artistic work and collaborations, giving a sense of the issues that matter in our current society.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you live and work now, it seems you have multiple engagements across different continents at the moment?

LAB: I work in NY and Mexico, my home country, but I am based in Brooklyn, New York although many projects often take me to different countries such as Jamaica, Venezuela and Norway to create and present projects. The work for each project is developed in my studio and onsite.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You work with an exotic art form, stilt dancing, what is the story behind, how did you become interested in this culture?

LAB: I became involved with stilt dancing communities in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in 2001 when I was invited to Trinidad by Caribbean Contemporary Arts CCA7 for an artist residency in Grand Riviere, a small community on the north of the island. As part of the residency I began a community papermaking project in the village of Grand Riviere and while we were working on the project I wanted to expand my work to the urban areas of Trinidad and learn from the rich Carnival traditions practiced there. I had initially wanted to work with Peter Minshall, a brilliant carnival designer who I have a great admiration for, but life took me in a different direction. Through a friend of CCA7, I was introduced to Dragon, the founder and director of Keylemanjahro School of Arts and Culture in the neighborhood of Cocorite in Port of Spain. Dragon has set up in the patio of his house a place where the youth from his community after-school could learn the art of stilt dancing. This is a community project that serves his neighborhood and is open and free-of-charge for all kids in the neighborhood. The primary focus is to keep kids off-the-streets and engaged in the cultural tradition of stilt dancing as it was passed down from West Africa to the West Indies, with the objective of having the group participate in the annual Junior Carnival Parade. The group worked with little to no resources and exclusively with the help of parents in the neighborhood. I was immediately attracted to the project, the objectives of the group and the cultural tradition, and felt that we could initiate a collaboration in which each could bring forth our skills, exchange knowledge and enrich each other´s practice. I asked Dragon if he would accept me as a volunteer and he immediately accepted me into the group, I worked with Keylemanjahro for 5 years creating alongside the kids and parents, costuming and thematic development for their Carnival presentations.

This collaboration made a great impact on both of our lives and work, and to this day I continue to work with stilt dancers. I always understood that working with Keylemanjahro was for a limited time, the experience had enriched both parts equally and it was also necessary for me to work close to home. Around this time, my gallery in New York invited me to have a solo exhibition and I proposed that we turn the gallery into a workshop for kids and teens and apply what I had learned in Trinidad and to show some of the work I had made in Trinidad and Tobago and they liked the idea.

Next, I had to find partners and collaborators, I had heard about the Brooklyn Jumbies, (a group of stilt dancers from the West Indies and West Africa), and approached them with a project in which we would have weeknight workshops in the Chelsea gallery and the street to train young stilt dancers and prepare a presentation for the group for a street performance on 23rd Street in Chelsea and then for the West Indian American Junior Carnival Parade. The project was titled Jumbie Camp and it was what launched my collaboration and relationship with the Brooklyn Jumbies, and to this day we continue to work together. To date, we have presented a number of projects together such as Intervention: Wall Street, 2011,  (https://youtu.be/84E877vGkpc); Intervention: Indigo, 2015, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m0wLE7dSbY), performed at MoMA in 2007; and the project for TBA21The Current titled What Lives Beneath that was performed in Kingston Jamaica this year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs72qGXI3GU) among others.

Laura Anderson Barbata_Intervention_WallStreet
Laura Anderson Barbata, Intervention: Wall Street

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The community aspect in the making of stilt dancing is evident, loud even. In what ways do you capture that essence in your own work within the subject, and in relation to its multiple contexts?

LAB: My interest is to integrate into my work the various traditions and customs that surround us and with an artistic lens insert them into a familiar space. Stilt dancing brings forth numerous ways of performing that include procession and carnival arts. My work brings together these different forms and, depending on the narrative, can integrate protest into the unfolding of the performative work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How does stilt dancing appear to you first, as performance, as costumes, action, identity, visual art, or combination of all those things?

LAB: Stilt dancing for me combines many things. To start, we are working with scale– larger-than-life characters that have the possibility to capture our attention. The movement vocabulary of a dancer towering over us expands in space. They are accentuated and can extend themselves through their use of textiles and different materials. This is where costuming is essential to the performance visuals and the message. But also very important to me is the symbolism and tradition that is embedded into this practice.

Traditional Moko Jumbies are spiritual beings, whose purpose in West African communities is to protect their villages against evil or misfortune. We cannot look past the social role of the Moko Jumbie stilt dancer, and the metaphor is quite clear: to see the world from an elevated perspective. For me it is very important to always honor the historical function and cultural importance of a Moko Jumbie and to integrate that purpose into the work. So yes, it is about dance, procession, performance art, ritual, and also a vehicle for communicating a message through contemporary art.

Laura Anderson Barbata, 7 king nyame, 2005
Laura Anderson Barbata, 7 king nyame, 2005

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you feel there is a line, which you cross in the making of community arts, in which the discussion turns towards the subject matter rather than the artistic medium?

LAB: I would hope that by working in this way we do away with those boundaries. Lines are usually drawn to divide and set limits, and my approach is to bring together diverse perspectives and traditions, where each one maintains its individual knowledge while at the same time exchanging and sharing diverse ways of seeing through our work together. Also, I aim for that moment when the spectator and the participants see and experience the totality of the work without disengaging the subject matter from the way it is presented. For example in Intervention: Wall Street, there comes a point where it is absolutely clear that through stilt dancing we are addressing the corporate and financial giants of Wall Street, but there is no effort in perceiving the message, they are intertwined. The metaphor in this case works off of all the layers of meaning embedded and the form through which it is expressed.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have recently been participating in the making of environmental art project titled The Kula Ring. Could you tell about the expedition that took  you to the Pacific Island with the group of artists and scientists?

LAB: The environment has been a continual concern and interest of mine from the beginning of my career. I began my practice making works in the studio that addressed nature and the environment through drawings on paper, sculpture and outdoor installations. I also initiated community projects in the Amazon of Venezuela that combined environmental protection and the preservation of oral history in the communities through paper and book making with local materials. This background and experience is the reason I was invited by the curator Ute Meta Bauer to become a fellow of The Current by TBA21, Thyssen Bornemisza Contemporary titled The Kula Ring. (https://www.tba21.org/thecurrent)

The project is an ambitious and innovative approach to explore and find solutions to environmental issues such as global warming and the protection of the oceans. The project brings together scientists and artists and together we embark on a number of exploratory trips by sea to different areas of the South Pacific. Along with researchers, curators and artists, I participated in expeditionary trip that took us to Papua New Guinea.

There have been subsequent exploratory trips to other areas of the South Pacific with other participants and curators leading those groups. As part of the project, The Current brings us together after our trips for a convening to exchange ideas and share our experiences and findings with different communities, and to listen to their own experiences and responses to our work. The first convening took place in Jamaica this year–in Kingston. We met, discussed and presented our work and findings not only amongst ourselves but also with the local community. For this convening I created the performance What-Lives-Beneath in collaboration with the Brooklyn Jumbies, custodian of the Jamaican oral tradition Amina Blackwood-Meeks, choreographer Chris Walker and members of the National Dance and Theater Company of Jamaica informed by scientists, environmentalists and activists. This work integrated into one performance: dance, procession, science, text, spoken word, scientific research, music and wearable sculptures created with craft elements originating from Papua New Guinea and other materials to portray sea life and the elements.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The Kula exchange or Kula ring, is a classic anthropological theme, its core idea is formed around gift and commodity exchanges. Perhaps our contemporary society and times can learn from this indigenous practice originating in Papua New Guinea? Do you personally relate to this theme, or does it have relevance to you as a principle? 

LAB: One of the key tenets of my practice is reciprocity. My methodology combines an intuitive exploratory approach with a strong focus on listening. This means that I want to receive information through all my senses as well as intellectually and to find ways in which we can establish relationships built on the principles of reciprocity. So it is important for me to integrate conversations with collaborators and participants in every step of the process. The Kula Ring Exchange, as you say, is centered around gift and commodity exchanges. But there is also a secondary but equally important intention: to forge long-lasting relationships that are maintained and supported by the exchange of goods. On a personal level, this relates to my understanding of reciprocity and the value in creating kinships that transcend borders and ideologies beyond our everyday associations. I feel that contemporary society needs to focus greater attention to these forms of community building which demand personal involvement. These forms of exchange are capable of expanding our knowledge and can also bring a deeper meaning to our everyday lives, so that growth is not only personal but also expands to benefit the communities we live in.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself to be an environmentalist, if so, how do you think art serves the topic of environmentalism, and brings forth embedded action?

LAB: Through the project The Current, I have had the privilege of meeting extraordinary world-renowned scientists, thinkers and activists that have devoted their careers and lives to environmental issues and conservation. I know what a true environmentalist is, and for this reason I would hardly call myself an environmentalist in the formal sense of the word. But I can say that I am deeply concerned with the environment and committed to learning all I can and through my work as an artist address these issues, in order to contribute on both a personal and professional level. In that way I might be considered an environmentalist.

I believe that joining artists and scientists who are focused and concerned about the environment can bring us to a better understanding of the problems we are facing, to enable us to communicate these concerns and findings more effectively to our audiences in innovative, inspiring and thought-provoking ways. I believe that every person on an individual level can create change, and if more people are inspired to join in these efforts there can be a significant positive impact.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are there specific ways your art is bringing into cultural exchange, in terms of communicating between different people, and perhaps transmitting something unique into our society at large?

LAB: As I mentioned before, at the core of my work is the concept of reciprocity: the balanced exchange of ideas and knowledge. For this reason, my work methodology combines an intuitive exploratory approach with a strong focus on listening with the intention of bringing mutual benefits to all participants. It is very important to me that the bridges built between communities–the personal ties and experiences gained–continue far beyond each project. Art is the vehicle, the pretext for a conversation and for an exchange of ideas that incorporate the material as well as the personal for its execution.

Laura Anderson Barbata's art. photo by Dora Somosi
Laura Anderson Barbata’s studio photographed by Dora Somosi.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your knowledge about cultures and traditions is reflected in your artistic applications. From a more philosophical point of view, are there motivational approaches that resonate through your artistic lens? 

LAB: I am strongly motivated to address through my work as an artist the challenges that face our current society. I feel a sense of urgency to delve into issues of human rights, women´s rights, indigenous issues and the environment.

Feminist artists and writers are a source of great inspiration and guidance for me, Judith Butler, Carol Adams, and artists Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Melissa H. Potter and Monica Mayer, to name only a few of the women whose work always has the capacity to teach me something new no matter how many times I read or see their work. Also on my usual go-to list are Jacques Ranciere and Paulo Freire. Theater is an art form that I love and always learn from. The Wooster Group, for example, always presents challenging works in innovative formats that are thought-provoking and executed in ways that combine various techniques, all of which teach me something new. I try to find community groups, activists, artist collectives, urban dancers and performance artists that work outside of the mainstream that are expanding and challenging the concepts of community dynamics, education, dance, performance, music, and proposing ways in which to see, live and engage with each other and the world around us.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It would be interesting to hear about your future, what projects are you continuing, and what topics are you exploring further?

LAB: I am working on a number of projects, as we have discussed earlier, one very exciting project I am working on is with TBA21 The Current, coordinated by Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art, in which scientists and artists are brought together to address the urgent issues of climate change and the oceans. This project is in its first year and my involvement will be for three years. I will be creating new works for this project in the form of performances and wearable sculptures which are still in progress.

I am also continuing my work on the Julia Pastrana project. For this project, I am further working on the topics related to her story, the injustices that she lived and how these are still relevant today. I am working on a performance piece presented as a work-in-progress that is continually evolving, a series of zines that address different topics related to Julia Pastrana such as: repatriation of human remains, museum ethics, exhibition practices, the objectification of people and women, human traffic, beauty and the commercialization of women´s bodies, feminism, animal rights, love, circus arts, and more. I am publishing a book about Julia Pastrana with contributions from scientists, scholars and art historians to address the story of Julia Pastrana from different perspectives that also includes art works. And for 10 years now, I am working on collaborative project with the artist collective Apparatjik and Concha Buika to create an Opera about Julia Pastrana, which will premiere at the main stage of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, Norway in 2019.

Artist Website: http://www.lauraandersonbarbata.com/

Julia Pastrana projecthttp://www.lauraandersonbarbata.com/work/mx-lab/julia-pastrana/1.php 

Curator Dalaeja Foreman’s recent interventions

'Speak Out' -exhibition installation view.

Dalaeja Foreman is a curator, community organizer, first generation Caribbean-American and Brooklyn native. Her curatorial practice seeks to combat misconceptions of oppressed people and resistance through direct action, cultural esteem and the arts. She is a graduate from the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Dalaeja is also alumni of No Longer Empty Curatorial Lab 2015. In January-February 2016, she co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for the BronxArtSpace. The exhibition addressed legacies of injustice and practices of institutional racism, offering alternative views and acts of empowerment for the artist in their communities, creating realities that affirm that #BlackLivesMatter.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for The Bronx Art Space. Could you tell about the roots for establishing that collaboration?

Dalaeja Foreman: That I have! Alongside Linda Cunningham and Eva Mayhabal Davis.

After working with her on a No Longer Empty curatorial fellowship exhibition, Linda (Director of BronxArtSpace) asked me if I would be interested in co-curating an exhibition she was conceptualizing. An exhibition about institutionalized racism, as a white woman, Linda did not feel as though this was an exhibition she should be curating without the voice of a person of color (A decision I respected and cherished deeply, giving me the assurance of her allyship ). After meeting with one another and having a long conversation about the significance of this discourse she told me she would give me curatorial license over the exhibition and asked if I would want to work with anyone. I suggested we work with another No Longer Empty fellow, Eva Mayhabal Davis.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The concept had several outcomes as art works, performances, and community events. Could you tell how it all came together and succeed?

Dalaeja: The exhibition was submission based, inspired by the Respond exhibition at Smack Mellon Gallery. Linda selected a panel of artists (including Eva and I) to review the 80+ submissions. Once we selected the works,  Eva and I thought very thoroughly about the themes and counter themes in each selected work and put them in conversations with one another accordingly. We decided it would be best to give extended labels to the works to give our audience as much contextual knowledge as possible. Since the Mott Haven area of the Bronx is heavily Spanish speaking, we also provided the labels in Spanish.

As a strong believer in activating art spaces for radical acts, I wanted to be sure the exhibition had as many programs that responded to the many intersections of racism in our society as our capacity could handle. These themes varied from the criminalization of black and brown youth to the celebration and use of black love and Black Girl Magic as a radical acts.

'Speak Out' -exhibition poster in Bronx Art Space #blacklivesmatter
Illustration by Rafael Melendez

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How was your experience in Bronx, in comparison to Brooklyn, where you are from?

Dalaeja: Aside from being a Curator and Arts administrator, I am a first generation Caribbean-American, community organizer and Brooklyn Native. As an organizer, I have done a considerable amount of work around the mass-displacement of working-class communities (most often communities of color) in Brooklyn. Sadly, Art has been used as as a catalyst for what I consider the cultural erasure of my native borough.

I see the arts as yet another tool for social change, and art has been used historically to work as ancillary support for communities of color. Whether it be thru healing or practical solutions for community issues. Although this is a truth for Brooklyn’s artistic history, I feel as though this concept has been stronger in Bronx history due to the many ways State and city institutions have historically neglected Bronx county.

Artists can use their talents for exposing truth for the benefit of their communities and this seems to be particularly weaved into the fabric of the artistic history of the Bronx. A history I have incredible respect for, that continues on.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How important was the role of social media in creating networks, and establishing new audiences?

Dalaeja: Eva is more of the social media wiz. I was more concerned about the ways in which we could ensure the community members knew about the exhibition and we’re involved in our programming. This outreach included, working with the BronxArtSpace interns to outreach to local high schools, doing physical flying for the exhibition, dropping flyers off at local bodegas and restaurants. As well as dropping information of at local libraries and speaking/building relationships with community members. Some of whom were artists in the exhibition, which made me soon happy!

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your ideal audience for the art?

Dalaeja: Since I truly see art as a tool for inspiring radical action, my ideal audience is always working-class people (some of whom also happen to be artists and art enthusiast). Especially in the case of the ‘Speak Out’ exhibition because, it took place in a working class community. If these spaces aren’t intended for their own communities, why should they exist there? This is a concept Linda truly understands which is yet another reason I LOVE working with her.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in coming to curating arts?

Dalaeja: I began working in the arts as a part-time Gallery Assistant at the Milk Gallery then began working as an exhibition manager for a small gallery that specialized in 20th and 21st century counter-cultural ephemera (say that 10 times fast. bahaha). This experience helped me realize the significance the arts have had on social movements of the past and inspired me to pursue curation.  I began taking online course with Node Center to learn more. After the gallery lost funding and I lost my job I decided to use the little bit of money I had saved to invest in my interest and started applying for fellowship programs. After my incredible experience with the No Longer Empty fellowship, I decided this is surly a way I could use my interest in the arts pragmatically to help plant the psychological seeds for social change. I still have so much to learn to pursue my practice as radically and community-collaboratively as I can, and am currently a Create Change Fellow with the INCREDIBLE Laundromat Project.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you education support your current directions and help you to develop your vision?

Dalaeja: I studied Visual Presentation and Exhibition design at The Fashion Institute of Technology, this experience helped me truly understand my love of space and it’s possibilities. I minored in International politics which further introduced me to the ways in which politics (on a community level) and exhibitions/display can merge. Most of my curatorial focused knowledge has been from lived experience, work experience and continuing education programs. As a lover of knowledge, I am interested in perusing a Masters degree in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Africa and Asia.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you develop your curatorial concepts, is there a phase of writing or visualizing things in a specific manner, or talking?

Dalaeja: It is a bit of all of those things. I am a ranter by nature so that really helps with getting concepts across that I believe are worth exploring.

Often I am inspired by the political education meetings with the organization I am a part of (The People Power Movement) as well as my friends and family members. Or I may have a design concept in mind that I think is worth collaborating with artists one. BUT most importantly, I am inspired by the Art work and the concepts that artist is exploring.

Dalaeja Foreman at the 'Speak Out' exhibition.
Dalaeja Foreman (right), at the ‘Speak Out’ -exhibition. Photos: Alex Seel. Courtesy of Order Vision Productions for Bronx Art Space.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think is a role of a curator in society in large, in other words, how do you think the micro ideas meet the macro levels?

I believe Curators have a powerful platform, giving us the ability to work with artists and communities to push narratives into the mainstream consciousness. These narratives can help people critically think and sympathize deeply about concepts in which they weren’t even aware of. This is a responsibility of utmost importance, one with the opportunity to empower a community, a people and a generation. -Dalaeja Foreman

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your political activism has a mind of a movement, in which people power takes a different stance. Does New York City represent a special place for activism to you?

Dalaeja: New York City means a great deal to me in regards to activism, but that is because it is the only place I’ve ever known as home. Although a wide array of injustices are happening in my city, they are also happening everywhere in the country. A political revolution could be sparked anywhere at anytime, the important thing is that we support one another’s actions and grow together using people power and a thirst or justice as our binding force toward a political system that works for the majority.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have favorite art forms, or is the medium secondary to other things that matter?

Dalaeja: I do, I love sculpture and painting, textured art objects and photographs. I’m trying to challenge myself to work more with performing artists since it’s not my go-to. However, content that compliments aesthetics and artistic merit (according to my opinion of those concepts) are of most importance.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you identify and experience yourself as a black woman art professional in NYC art community, or does that resonate in a professional level to you personally? 

Dalaeja: My Black woman experience is at the forefront of all of my experiences because it is the only lens in which I can see the world and is often the most determining lens in which the world sees me.  With that being said, as a young arts professional I believe it is my duty to ensure that people who are marginalized (like myself) demand their voices heard in institution that effect our lived experiences. Whether they be our schools, museums or workplaces. And MOST IMPORTANTLY create our own institutions that work for us from conception onward.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your next dream of consciousness, where are you heading to collaborate next?

Dalaeja: As an Art Administrator in the Bronx, I am really excited to learn more about what artists are and have been doing in the borough and figuring out how I can best support them and the communities they collaborate with. As well as, continuing and improving my organizing and hopefully trying to figure out some more schooling while doing all of that (inside and outside the education institutions).

Dalaeja Foreman’s website: http://www.dalaeja.co/

Teresa Dunn: Motherload

Teresa Dunn, Motherload -exhibition

Painter Teresa Dunn has her new exhibition Motherload on view until June 18 at the First Street Gallery in New York. Her current show depicts recent oil paintings and mixed media works on paper and canvas. For this exhibition, the artist who masters the Renaissance school of nature and human portraiture to the fullest forms has adopted new richness of palette. Her repertoire has gotten fuller, perhaps partially due to the size of the panels, paper and the use of triptychs, which allow larger developments and almost surgical dimensionality. Now the center is the body as tissues and palpable beats. In these new works, the body is joined with the amounts of vegetation, which makes the skin appear as fruitful foliage. Painter Teresa Dunn is making serious rising; she is represented by the Hooks-Epstein Galleries in Houston, Texas, and by Galerie l’Échaudé in Paris in France.

In an action packed painting there was a pause, when Teresa Dunn imagined communities within narrative landscapes full of thick Renaissance color and light. The water rose through the images, leaving behind people on their isolated islands, together, alone, breathing air, figuring the scenes of us existing on the planet. The scenes were almost apocalyptic, borrowing from Biblical and mythological imageries of human drama and emotion. And it all made sense, as her paintings were influenced by the Venetian school, especially by the works of its great master Titian. Drama and poesia in the same theme, when color and light create unparalleled resonance.

Now, the next pause was different. Teresa became a mother. From artistic point of view, the dreaming in her works became increasingly about the simultaneously occurring events. These happenings were seemingly not relating, but arbitrarily meeting in the same future. This time the fragments of narration made sense as islands of vegetation. The theme of water from previous paintings had changed into the vegetation. Or the water had become an overflow, which got mixed into and within the vegetation becoming moisture, as palpable like a touch of mist on the skin. An underpinning, a reflection on canvas. Like her inspiration of the magical realism, Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez imagined fog. Can you see distances through the fog. Or how a distant place somewhere far resonates here in this place. How everything connects and makes a reason, but not as univocality. The story is about bringing together universal fragility of existence and our mortality.

In the new works, the colors have become evidentially subtler with more visible brushstrokes, with circular patterns of movement. The palette is lighter, and the narration seems to be settled in the background in the midst of a natural flow and overgrow of things; more than objects. The natural life and still life has found a lingering attachment inside the palette, showing that humans as actors play no longer the central role. In a triptych ‘Interlaced’ (2015), a loose tire rolls through the canvas, as if being a sign of an uncontrolled human motion. In another triptych, ‘Slippage’ (2015), a woman is growing out of a bush representing the nature herself and our origin. In this triptych, the panels together seem to be cumulating as a force, which becomes a wave. A water splash is running from one panel to the other in ‘Slippage’. Teresa Dunn’s triptych form borrows from the Renaissance art. In her paintings, the occurring shapes are creating new terms to reinvent the classic.

Artist website: http://www.teresa-dunn.com

FIRST STREET GALLERY: http://www.firststreetgallery.org/

526 West 26th Street, Suite 209, New York
Gallery hours: 11 am – 6 pm, Tuesday through Saturday