Ernest Hemingway once said, “In every port in the world, at least two Estonians can be found”. This is also true about New York, where more than a few community members share their Estonian House, New Yorgi Eesti Maja. The New York Estonian Educational Society was founded in 1929. As a great coincidence, and as a brilliant and thoughtful part of the Performa 17 biennial, which took place from November 1 to 19, Estonian artist Flo Kasearu created a nostalgic ode to this members’ club house. Her site-specific performance tour guided groups through different rooms of the house. Her artist-led tour highlighted the very house’s past, changing its authentic traditional feeling into an updated stage, in which the local members themselves took part in the performing. All staged and directed by Flo Kasearu.
Kasearu runs also an artmuseum in her native Estonia. In Tallinn, visitors can book special guided tours in the Flo Kasearu House Museum. The historic wooden house belonged to the artist’s family from the time of its construction.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your great great-grandmother was building the house in which you live now in Tallinn. How did that heritage inspire you to pick up the idea of bringing performative component of your family house to New York Estonian House?
Flo Kasearu: Both of my great great grandparents built the house. (I just have a photo of my great grandmother, so I mentioned her in the tour).
While living there since 2009, and getting involved with so many domesticity issues and problems of living in an over 100-year-old house, many ideas have grown out of the problems. I like to solve my problems through artistic practice, turning them into objective artworks. So I established a Flo Kasearu House Museum in the house, which is open by appointment only. I do guided tours to visitors through the house and its garden. Otherwise it would be difficult to find artworks from the middle of my everyday things.
The house tour is a sight-specific art project, and as such it’s difficult to transport it elsewhere. I can partly exhibit the tour, or works from it somewhere else.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How long ago was it when your family built the house, and how did Tallinn preserve its old buildings during the times of the Soviet Union?
FK: The house was built in 1911 and my museum and the tours started in 2013.
During the Soviet era, most of the private property was nationalised and belonged to the state. After 1991, 20 year-long restitution started taking place, during which the property was given back to successors of original lawful owners. Houses that belonged to the city were taken care by the renters. City of Tallinn, for example, did not put any money into renovating them. During the restitution process houses were in a legal loophole in terms of their ownership, and thus were not dealt with by the renters, as they thought that any original lawful owners could come back and take the houses over.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you end up doing a similar kind of tour in New York at the Estonia house as part of Performa 17?
FK: Just the method of being a tour guide is the same anywhere, and talking about the history of my museum house is also the same. But otherwise it is a very different project.
‘The Members Only tour’ (Performa 2017 project), is a sight-specific work for New York Estonian House and its community. As I am not a big performer, I did not want to perform it on stage. So doing the guided tour seemed a logical method. The work also included the community members participating in the performance. Guiding people to go through the house, and then becoming like a tour guide in a museum which New York Estonian House is in a way. Everything in the house looks so authentic to its original times and everything is based on old traditions and rituals.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:Do you feel that NYC local community members joined your project easily? From an audience member viewpoint everything seemed going smoothly and appeared well rehearsed.
FK: I took the time to talk with them, listen their stories, so then it was not too difficult to convince them to join. I got recommendations from one member to talk to another member, and then it developed on until I had enough members to invite. I had two ladies cancelling in a last-minute, for example an older lady’s husband got so sick that she had to take care of him and she could not join in the end. But luckily I had also backup members in mind.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You’re a multidisciplinary artist in the true sense. Did performance enter into your working methodology from the very start of your practice?
FK: I started doing video-performances while I was an exchange student in UDK, Berlin. I was in Rebecca Horn studio, a performance and installation artist, and she told me that there is no point for me to paint for her, as she doesn’t know much to comment on painting. I started doing video-performances, relating myself and my Eastern European identity with this new city and new space. So from that time I have been doing performances once in a while.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In New York City, the visual components in ‘The Members Only’ tour were really stretching the context of the Estonian House in a unique way. How did the imagination for the ‘sets’ evolve?
FK: They are a combination of ideas that evolve from speaking with people and wanting to bring them and their stories to this very abstract and minimal level. And mixing them with some of my older haunting ideas. It is very sight-specific. And I wanted to bring also humour and irony level in, as I felt this is really lacking in this house.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Now thinking also how the music room was evolving, with the grand piano in it. In your tour, you mentioned that behind the doors there is a choir practice going on, but the scene was so surprising?
FK: My point was not to repeat the same things that are happening in the house otherwise regularly. I went to see the choir rehearsal happening there, and I noticed the choir teacher who is such a strong character putting also chairs. So I wanted to highlight the choir teacher and show her alone. I have had this kissing-ticking sound long time haunting in my head and I thought to display this in the room as it is kind of abstraction from the emotions that I felt in the choir rehearsal.
For example, in the choir singing room, instead of singing patriotic songs, the notes are made of this kissing-ticking, which has similar emotion and a character being nostalgic, but abstracted. And then the humor comes in, with over-reacting with this kissing note, and this way it’s also more open to interpretation.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Going back to Estonia. How would you describe the Estonian contemporary art scene today?
FK: Its tiny but rather interesting. Some years ago art used to be dealing more with the social and political problems, now it is much more in its comfort zone. Although the fees in Estonian art are still quite minimal. The younger generation is more similar to Western formalistic approach, seems to me.
The Eye of the Beholder: Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey Home is a new book edited by Laura Anderson Barbata and Donna Wingate. The essay collection sheds light on the life of historic sensation, Mexican international performer Julia Pastrana, expanding the storyfrom anthropological and art historical perspectives. The book can also be viewed as a personal story of discovery. Artist and writer Laura Anderson Barbata remembers her own process of starting the project that eventually led to this book. How she got engaged in the controversial subject propels ideas of activism, and a passion to rewrite Pastrana’s history from new humanitarian and feminist points of view.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you originally get interested in Pastrana’s life?
Laura Anderson Barbata: In 2003, Amphibian Stage Productions, a theater company directed by my sister Kathleen Culebro, invited me to collaborate with designs for a play that they were about to premiere in New York: The True History of the Tragic Life and the Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World, by Shaun Prendergast. This is how I learned about Julia Pastrana. The story, unfolding in complete darkness, details the life of Julia as she traveled through Europe, a performer in a freak show, until her death in Moscow. It also briefly recounts the fate of her mummified body, and that of her baby, until they were added to the Schreiner Collection of human remains in the anatomy department of the University of Oslo. Upon hearing her story, I felt that my duty as a Mexican artist, and as a human being, was to do everything possible to have Pastrana removed from the anatomy collection and returned to Mexico, her place of birth—where she was at the time practically unknown—to receive a proper burial.
After nearly ten years of effort, Julia Pastrana was finally transferred to Mexican officials in Norway; I represented Mexico. After more than 150 years of being exhibited for her unique physical condition, Ms. Pastrana (1834–1860) was repatriated to Mexico and buried in Sinaloa, Mexico in 2013.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It’s been really a longitudinal project for you personally. How did you get others to get involved?
I was not the first person to request the burial of Julia Pastrana and have often asked myself, why was I able to succeed? Why did other efforts fail? What did I do differently? I think the answer lies in the fact that I am an artist and therefore my methodology was radically different from all others from the start. My extensive collaborative artistic experiences in Mexico, Venezuela, and Trinidad prepared me for a project of this magnitude that ultimately involved international institutions, government officials, various organizations, and scientists.
LAB: The ten-year plight for Julia’s return for burial began with letters I wrote to the National Research Ethics Committee for the Social Sciences and Humanities, the National Committee for Ethical Evaluation of Research on Human Remains of Norway, the Governor of Sinaloa in Mexico, the Foreign Affairs Department of Mexico, the University of Oslo, journalists, artists, anthropologists, individuals, and various institutions that I reached out to for their professional opinion, advice, and guidance. During this process, they became deeply involved and invested in the outcome. Each one was fundamental for the success of the repatriation and I consider them to be my collaborators.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many authors are participating in the publication that is coming out now, and what perspectives do they cover from visual and historic perspectives?
LAB: I edited the book with Donna Wingate, and it includes texts by Jan Bondeson, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Grant Kester, Nicolas Márquez-Grant, Bess Lovejoy, and myself. Donna and I researched and selected more than fifty illustrations from the public domain, library collections, archival materials, and works commissioned especially for the project.
The authors are as follows:
Dr. Jan Bondeson is a Swedish-born rheumatologist, scientist and author, working as a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at the Cardiff University School of Medicine. Outside of his career in medicine, he has written several nonfiction books on a variety of topics, such as medical anomalies and unsolved murder mysteries.
As an expert on Julia Pastrana, Bondeson contributed two chapters to the book; the first is a general introduction to the story of Julia Pastrana, and the second recounts how he found her remains in the basement of the Forensic Institute of Oslo in 1988, and how his extensive research established that she suffered from hypertrichosis terminalis rather than hypertrichosis lanuguinosa, as previously believed.
Dr. Nicholas Márquez-Grant is a Specialist Forensic Practitioner in Anthropology and Archaeology at Cellmark Forensic Services, Abingdon, UK. He is also a Research Associate of the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford.
His text addresses the history of collections and the anthropological framework of the nineteenth century; the ethics surrounding human remains; the case of Julia Pastrana’s repatriation and its significance; witnessing Pastrana’s body in the chapel during the repatriation process.
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Emory University. Her fields of study are feminist theory, American literature, and disability studies. Her work develops the field of disability studies in the humanities and women’s and gender studies.
Dr. Garland-Thomson’s essay considers the ways that the public display of Julia Pastrana both reinforces and challenges the lines between the self and other, human and non-human, ordinary and extraordinary, that such spectacles rely upon. By analyzing how Pastrana’s display and recent repatriation and burial in Sinaloa invest her body with different meanings, it traces the processes that socially mark human bodies in order to reveal and explicate the inner workings of representational systems, such as race, gender, ethnicity, and disability.
Grant Kester is Professor of Art History, and Director of the University Art Gallery at the University of California, San Diego. Kester is one of the leading figures in the emerging critical dialogue around “relational” or “dialogical” art practices.
Dr. Kester’s text discusses how European colonizers were unable to attach specific meaning to the objects they acquired through colonization and thus developed larger meanings for art more generally. Recovering Pastrana’s remains becomes an act of restitution that encourages a confrontation with the historical status of “stolen” objects and encourages a renegotiation of and reconnection to the understanding of the past.
Bess Lovejoy is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Ms. Lovejoy’s essay contextualizes Julia Pastrana’s afterlife by considering a number of other notable individuals whose bodies have been preserved in museums. Like Pastrana, many of these individuals possessed bodies that differed from the European norm, either because they were born with physical abnormalities or because they were of non-European ethnicities. Her chapter considers how scientific and ethical considerations complicate the collection and display of such bodies, and how some of these bodies have been the focal point of successful repatriation campaigns, while others have not.
Laura Anderson Barbata
My essay describes my own journey: the process, challenges, and partnerships that were formed as I worked for ten years for the repatriation of Julia Pastrana.
Books by Laura Anderson Barbata. Images by Firstindigo&Lifestyle.
Laura Anderson Barbata in her studio.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your own artistic research work on Pastrana has included performative phases, how are you implementing this approach on the book?
LAB: While Julia Pastrana was billed as “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” what is most important to mention is that she was a gifted mezzo-soprano and dancer—she was a very successful performer during her lifetime. Julia Pastrana’s life story and the fate of her body after her death (including her successful repatriation) brings to light issues that remain deeply relevant: beauty, ownership, science and racism, commercialization, objectification, exploitation, human rights, public versus private, international law, colonialism, sexism, respect, responsibility, indigenous rights, memory, sensitivity, the physical body, and the spiritual body.
In order to unpack all of these subjects, I felt that they must be addressed through different mediums. First, it was important to create a publication to gather the most significant material concerning her life with critical essays from different scholars. Donna Wingate and I worked on this book for over four years—researching archives and discussing the various lenses through which we could gain a deeper understanding of Julia Pastrana. At the same time, our goal was to present a full account of Pastrana as a person, a woman, and an artist, with the dignity she had been denied during her life and after her death. The book includes images of my artworks—works on paper and performances—based on the story of Julia Pastrana.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:How would you describe the cultural life in Mexico at the time of Julia over hundred years ago? Also, what was the context that she was surrounded by that addressed her as a celebratory oddity?
LAB:Julia only lived in Mexico for the first twenty years of her life. She was born in 1834 in the State of Sinaloa, and according to popular legend, was born in the indigenous village of Ocoroni—or thereabout—in 1834. Today Ocoroni belongs to the municipality of Sinaloa, in the state of the same name, and is located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
In the decades of the first half of the nineteenth century, Mexico was searching for its own destiny and independence. Since the establishment of the first settlements by European Hispanics in the sixteenth century until the early nineteenth century, the territory of Sinaloa was mainly a mining state. The population, therefore, settled in the mountains and in the valleys. Mining camps and towns were established throughout Sinaloa for the search and exploitation of metallic resources that were coveted by the monarch of Spain.
Nothing is known about Julia’s parents or siblings, and there are no documents of her birth or baptism. It should be noted that the Office of Public Records (Registro Público) had not yet been created in Mexico; it was legally established on January 27, 1857. Little is known about her childhood, although it is said that an uncle took charge of her after the death of her mother, and in an effort to make a quick buck, sold to her to a small traveling circus—the kind that occasionally passes through these remote villages. Sometime around 1836 until April 1854, Julia was a maid in the residence of Mr.Pedro Sánchez, who had been in charge of the government of Sinaloa from September 28, 1836 to June 3rd, 1837. It is possible that he purchased Julia from the circus that had exhibited her throughout the northwest of the country.
We believe that her training as a mezzo-soprano and dancer began when she lived at the governor’s house, and he likely presented her before audiences. She spoke four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Cahita, her native tongue. She was taken to Guadalajara to perform in 1854, and news of her reached the United States, as we found in an article in the New York Post. This must have been what sparked the interest of the American Theodore Lent, who worked for Barnum and Bailey and later became Julia’s husband. He traveled to Mexico to meet with Pedro Sánchez and Francisco Sepulveda to discuss a business venture that involved the sale and purchase of Julia Pastrana.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As a phenomenon she became extremely internationalized so to speak. How would you explain this to contemporary audiences, from the perspectives of art, science, and women’s history?
When Julia Pastrana left Mexico and traveled to the United States with Francisco Sepulveda to meet Theodore Lent to complete a business transaction between Sepulveda and Lent, Theodore Lent secretly convinced Julia Pastrana to marry him, and he immediately became her manager. He presented her to audiences and billed her as the Bear-woman, the Nondescript, the Ape Woman, the Female Hybrid, the Wonderful Hybrid, and Baboon Lady, among other sobriquets.
LAB: Julia Pastrana was taken to perform in Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and New York, among other cities. After a number of presentations in the US and Canada, Lent decided to take his show to Europe. They traveled to London, and extensively throughout Germany, Poland, and Russia. Julia Pastrana’s shows were very successful, and newspapers throughout Europe wrote about her.
Julia Pastrana’s story is a reminder that what happened to her is not an experience exclusively from the past—today there are far too many cases of exploitation, abuse, neglect, cruelty, human trafficking, and discrimination. Julia Pastrana is a reminder that we urgently need to forward women’s rights, indigenous rights, children’s rights, and eliminate human traffic to start. We must end gender discrimination, defend the rights of people with differences, protect religious choices and end the voracious dehumanization of people in the name of political, commercial, religious, and scientific purposes. For me, it means that I continue working on the topics related to her, the injustices she lived and how they are still relevant today.
LAB: Among the works are: a performance piece 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, among others; in addition, we are working towards an Opera about Julia Pastrana in collaboration with the artist collective Apparatjik, Concha Buika, and Void Design.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:Do you think she is appreciated in Mexico today, and how will the book contribute to that?
LAB: The repatriation of Julia Pastrana sparked a great interest worldwide and in Mexico. Since Julia Pastrana’s repatriation there have been at least three plays written and performed in Mexico about her, and I understand there is a feature film in development by a Mexican director. I have also learned about a woman’s health center that opened recently in Argentina that is named after Julia Pastrana. Because of my work on the repatriation of Julia Pastrana, I recently received an award by the Instituto de Administración Pública of the State of Tabasco, Mexico for the Defense of Human Rights.
It is clear to me that all of these responses show that Mexico is embracing Julia Pastrana and is working towards restorative actions for her memory, for the promotion of dignity and justice, and in humanitarian efforts to defend the rights of all.
Tamara Piilola is a young generation Finnish painter with almost enigmatic ability to capture natural processes on the canvas. Or more than a process, her images offer views with a hint of gold in them. As a painter her perception seems thoroughly personal, and therefore can touch many. Piilola started the arts as a musician, and perhaps its possible to hear music when looking in to the painter’s landscapes.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where in Finland did you grow up and study art?
TP: I grew up in the small city in the west coast of Finland. I studied in the south, in Turku and in Helsinki in theAcademy of Fine Arts. I was an exchange student for one year in Leipzig in Hochshule für Grafik Und Buchkunst and spend months in Reykjavik during my studies.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your story of becoming an artist?
TP: I’m the only child, and I started to think about art first through music. I studied in a conservatory for ten years, but in classical music you don’t have the freedom to play how you like it, or if you do, people think you’re wrong. It’s much longer process, with a lot more technique involved.
I went through every book that we had in the house. As a child, I remember I was deeply interested about the Old Masters and portraiture by Rembrandt, Holbein and Gainsborough. I was mesmerized by the use of light and the extraordinary talent itself. I wanted to do something similar.
I got my first camera and Marie’s oil paints as a ten-year old. Around the same time I enlisted myself to a painting course with some grannies (they’re organized everywhere even in the countryside in Finland). As I got a bit older it was certain I wanted to go to art school and quit classical music.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you choose oils and painting as your medium?
TP: I did some photographs as well but in the end paintings have turned out to be the most flexible media for me. The texture is very important for me. Although I did photos in which I used for example liquid chocolate and velvet, the outcome was too cold and the end product had an industrial feel to it. In black and white pictures, you have the softness, but then you lose the colors. I have learned to use only the best materials in my paintings and usually paint just one layer to keep the colors pure and bright. Oils can become dull and lifeless when applied thick. Oil paint is so flexible that I can adjust what I’m doing, and because of the way the pigment is held in the oil, it is beautifully luminescent.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What defines a good painting to you?
TP: Color, light, composition – all these things make the painting interesting to look at. The eye has to wonder. I love if you are able to grab something, it has some kind of energy, or you can relate to something. Paintings have the ability to embody a series of thoughts and feeling processes, and good paintings are very personal. It’s all there on the canvas as a record.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is there in the landscape painting that fascinates you, maybe the history of it too. How about the influences?
The heavy load that comes with the term landscape was at first turnoff for me. When I got in terms with the subject (which I felt I had to do), the whole world opened up to me. It was like a flower that was opening in front of my eyes. I felt I was completely free to do whatever I felt like with this subject. It felt like it was mine, all mine to explore, and that was beautiful. My large canvases of imaginary landscapes present viewers with startling experiences of nature. These detailed views, full of mystery and light, colour and verdancy, draw viewers to their essence and idea.
TP: These are not recognisable landscapes but the creations of countless memories stored over time as photographs and sketches. Thin layers of paint, bold fluent brushstrokes and the use of pure pigments combined flood the paintings with light. Landscapes do not always have to be beautiful. I paint wastelands, timber stacks and dunghill, emphasising their decorativeness. I depict decaying beauty and allow natural forms to blend into almost abstract surfaces. I’m soaked with art history because I have been interested in art all my life. My favourite painter is Lucian Freud, the master of seductive and complex psychological portraits. My favourite movie directors are Kubrick and Lynch. In music it’s much harder to point out the most influential ones, I listen to music in my studio all the time from almost all genres. In literature there are many great minds that speak to me, Hesse, Nabokov, Murakami, Knausgård, Hustved, Woolf, Wilde. I don’t have a specific landscape painter that has influenced me.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is being a figurative painter these days a rare thing. How do you feel the genre is approached in the contemporary art world?
TP: With suspicion – no just kidding. I think now it’s much more acceptable to be a painter. I think there is the audience and professionals who recognizes the talent and accepts it as it is: A viable art form. As an artist, you always have to be interested of what other artists do. I think there is a lot of theoretical confusion about art. Everybody thinks they have to make theoretical work and be able to explain what they do. I think if you hear this long enough, this kind of stuff gets in your way when you’re coming up with ideas, because you start thinking through a filter.
TP: I always thought that art could move more on the emotional level. You should work with your feelings, because if you’re using language to put things to action, you limit yourself. Many times things in art don’t make sense.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is almost a photographic precision to your works. Do you layer the works, plan the works with meticulous detail, and come up with the entire idea before starting to paint?
I have photographic memory and I often work with images that have a lot of details. I start sketching by doing a collage with a computer (I used to work with paper and scissors before). At the end, there is a sketch that gives me a solid structure, the composition to work on top of. This is extremely important stage. After that I can start painting and I have quite a lot of freedom to choose which colors to use, how the brushstrokes will look, and overall how the end result will look. This structure gives me freedom to improvise. The motives have to be challenging, full of details and light to keep the painting process interesting. I love to see a big painting almost ready, I get excited about my own work.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe your method or process of working?
TP: I’m a deadline worker and I do exhibitions, not just one painting at a time. I work with about eight paintings at the same time. If I get an idea or a feeling that something should be done it usually takes years to pass through. I have a solid confidence in what I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with everything I do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to question your work. On the contrary – the best thing is to view the work from every angle and to be very skeptical at first if you get a “good idea”. I’m very patient to give my ideas the time they need to develop. I need to build a relationship with the motives: I want them to be familiar. When I know I can start, I go through my picture bank to fill the missing pieces in the collage. I focus on the composition and not so much on the colors.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have an artist motto?
TP: Yeah, trust your intuition.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you in love with nature as it is your playground in a way, how about the trees that come out so vividly in your works?
TP: I think it’s not about loving though I love nature, it’s about respect. I recognize certain similarities in Finnish and Japanese cultures. We have both had our animistic past. The recognition of energy in things was very natural for me as I was raised up by the sea, and the wilderness started right behind the fence. I think materials can be very sensual to look at and touch. In our times, it’s a luxury to have the time to look at things in peace. That’s what I do, I look and appreciate things.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Did you ever think of becoming an environmental artist?
TP: No. I’m afraid to destroy things in the nature and I have no interest to mess with wild things. I think there is such perfection in natural order, and to show “art” in that context feels utterly fake.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When looking back at your career, how have your paintings developed through the years?
TP: I went here and there in the beginning. About ten years ago I accepted the fact that it’s OK to do what I do best: Big paintings with a lot of details.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is there anything particularly special to you about being a ‘woman’ artist?
TP: I don’t consider myself a woman artist, I am simply an artist. My works can be labeled feminine because they can be quite decorative. But I think it’s a drag to label things. I don’t think artist’s gender makes the work interesting unless the gender is the concept of the work. What is feminine and masculine? I’d like to go around those labels, because everyone and everything can be both depending on the culture.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You recently attended a group show in Galleria Heino in Helsinki. Have you collaborated with the gallery before?
TP: This was the first show I did with Heino. I love to work with them because they have the courage to show artistically ambitious shows, with basically no art market to sell them in Finland. Rauli Heino is a true art lover and I consider myself to be very lucky to be in their team.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you work with curators or more directly with museum and gallery directors? What is your experience on building a show?
TP: I work with all of them, it depends on the project. I listen very carefully what people are after and it’s always a pleasure to work with professional people. The structure of the new show is in my hands and it has to be, otherwise it’s not my show. I will do the best I can to make things work. To have the atmosphere of support and trust is very rewarding. To have fun, to discover and do wonderful things together, isn’t that what life’s about?
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that you have had many successful shows?
TP: Yes, I think so. Success for me means that I am able to do the things the way I intend to. To do a good show means you must have the time to do it. It helps a lot when you learn to say no to projects that are not that beneficial to you.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about such labels as ‘Finnish’ painter? If you consider to be one, what do you think about an international career?
TP: The world is definitely smaller than let’s say in the beginning of the nineties. Long stays abroad, mainly in France and Germany have influenced my work. I live and work in Helsinki, and I guess nowadays the place you live defines you. It’s an interesting question. I certainly recognize my subject matter to be very Finnish, and that’s fine. Does that make me a Finnish artist?
To be able to build an international career I need contacts to good international galleries. I would love to show my work especially in the Nordic countries, in the U.S. and in Canada. I think my work could meet some interest in these places since we have similar cultural values.
I moved to Los Angeles in 2014, after 11 years as a New Yorker. During those years, I went to graduate school, began and finished a career, learned to love opera, and mounted my first fine art exhibition – a crowd-sourced photography group show that was simultaneously a fundraiser for the nonprofit where I was a board member. What I never did in New York City was paint. At the time, my relationship to painting was purely as a viewer, standing a respectful distance away, wondering how in the world they did that. Who would have thought that three years later, at the instigation of my Los Angeles painting professor, the indomitable Barbara Kerwin, that I would find myself pursuing a graduate degree in painting?
Our first-year MFA group show was titled “Twelve,” for the 12 of us that started the MFA in Art program at Claremont Graduate University this past August. The works I created for the show were made with oil pigment sticks, built up into a thick impasto texture by smashing them onto the canvas with a palette knife and mixing colors alla prima. The paintings are about the loss of meaning and culture through the generations and across the seas. Words, behaviors, rituals become hybridized, sometimes beyond recognition, when transplanted to a different environment, just as language and writing change over time, eventually past the point of intelligibility. Each of my paintings starts with a Chinese calligraphic text, drawn in black, that becomes obscured through layers of superimposed texture and color, ending in a very different visual experience compared to the black and white text that “birthed” it.
The largest painting (60 x 48 in.) is titled “Outremer” (French for “ultramarine”). The cool colors and coral-like shapes evoke underwater life, but the title also refers to the French territories in the South Pacific (called “outre-mer” in French, meaning “overseas”), that were visited by Gauguin and others interested in the decidedly un-PC idea of “primitivism,” and also where France has conducted a large number of controversial nuclear tests. Thus, in addition to the Chinese text being washed away “underwater,” the painting’s title also alludes to aspects of modern world history that some might prefer to be swept under the rug.
Each of my paintings starts with a Chinese calligraphic text, drawn in black, that becomes obscured through layers of superimposed texture and color, ending in a very different visual experience compared to the black and white text that “birthed” it.
Patricia Chow is a Los Angeles-based artist whose abstract paintings engage the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures across time and space, and the hybridization and reinterpretation of meaning. She is currently a first-year MFA student in Los Angeles, CA.
A 90-year old Chinese artist An Ho finds inspiration from nature and its serene beauty. Still a steady brush in her hand, she invents nature with her visionary approach. The landscapes seem like in many Chinese classical paintings, where the vision engages in the detail. Stillness of a landscape is poetic, without rush forward, yet bearing undertones of memories and dreamlike solitude. The artist who lives in Upstate New York, shows her love towards the trees and landscapes of her environment.
An Ho’s six recent paintings are on display at the CHINA 2000 FINE ART in New York City. In a way, the works on silk and paper are telling an ancient story. Ho studied techniques that were forgotten many centuries ago. The artisthas revitalized this history by bringing the painting styles into life in modern times. Eventually, there is a play of translucent refinement that of color and movement.
An Ho’s mastery of the Chinese brushwork lays the basis of the landscapes. There is a sense of perception in the works, as her artistic vision develops in a close observance of nature. Each composition has its own reality, and perfection, or an entire world to narrate. If the works were a dream, they would be more perfect than a reality. They propose harmony and co-existence between man and nature.
An Ho, also known as Wen-ying, was born in 1927 in Beijing, China. Her father was chief newspaper editor, and mother was a painter of flowers. Her parents were senior members of Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary movement.
An Ho got introduced to famous Chinese traditional painter Pu Ru (1896-1963), who took her as his student and protégée. She studied 17 years with him, learning that Chinese painting takes into account both the fine quality of the art, and the personal approach and attitude of an artist. She studied with him initially in China and then in Taiwan. Master Pu Ru came from the Qing royal family. He was a poet, calligrapher and painter. Also, An Ho studied first classics and poetry, before starting arts and painting. The artist started with calligraphy, and finally learned the techniques of painting. Pu Ru’s teaching method cultivated her character as the basis for the skillful using of brush and ink. The brush is profound and important part of the technique, and the character of an artists rehearses for it.
In 1952, An Ho’s work began to be noticed by the Chinese art world. Her works have been exhibited in China, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, France and the United States.
Olena Jennings’s recent poetry narrates travel to Georgia in the summer of 2017. Her lyric lingers between urbanness and coupling, remembering moments, and capturing an essence of absurdity.
September 2, 2017, NYC
Stray cats begged at our table, as our faces
grew moist, looking up at the sun.
Enclosures followed: the tight
space on the plane and then the cubicle.
I ignored the eclipse, the way the shadows
on the pavement repeated themselves
like the words that fall in steady drops,
overpowering the notations on calendars
and to-do lists. We wake beneath
the blanket from the market
near the dry bridge. Once we drove
towards the light, the tires against
cobblestones, the shape of the moon
calling us to the rows of jewelry,
the repetition of desire for translucent beads
around your neck.
September 13, 2017, NYC
You gave me the key. There is a trick
you didn’t teach me, though there were often lessons:
the way to peel a carrot, to cut an onion without
crying, and to buy carnations instead of roses.
You spun daily life like the plot
of one of your romance novels. Your dress is always
caught in the wind even when there is only the breeze
from the window. You invite the men over who leave
their newspapers on the table, so that you are subject
to the nightly violence. Sometimes
there is even a hand against your cheek emphasizing
the glow. The street signs shine green, creating a map
of our memories. Together we lived in this house
until you started filling the walls with other peoples’
GHOSTS OF CATS
They prance down
the hall to the studio
Making it even easier
the view of the lake
from my window.
I’m always working
on the same translation,
anarchy in my head
and cancelled European
adventures, my body
already halfway there.
He is shocked by
the connection with his
words, as if they are mine:
the moment he looked up
at the hall light
on his way to borrow stamps
and saw the world. I wake up
early to caress his heart,
but I know in this studio
when we finally meet
everything is too real to exist
the way we dreamed it. There
is the blue door, the water boiling for
the French press, and my bare feet
against the soft rug.
Olena Jennings’s collection of poetry “Songs from an Apartment” was released in 2017 by Underground Books. Her translations of poetry from Ukrainian can be found in Chelsea, Poetry International, and Wolf. She has published fiction in Joyland, Pioneertown, and Projecttile. Her novel Shut Mouth will be published in 2018. She completed her MFA in writing at Columbia and her MA focusing in Ukrainian literature at the University of Alberta.
A tree blossoms, meadow is green, horizon is filled with stillness, which is almost touchable. The rich video footage by Jumana Emil Abboud narrates without noise. Palestinian artist, who lives and works in Jerusalem, uses video and audio to add into other mediums of storytelling. For her exhibition in Bildmuseet, The Horse, The Bird, The Tree and The Stone, the artist has added murals, and included drawings and sculptural objects to create installations that open up about personal and communal memories and losses. Her art handles belonging and peoples’ attachments to territories. For her project, she has visited sites, which carry haunted memory of the past. The artist visited wells and other water sites that no longer exist, but are retold in the oral history. Abboud’s current artwork carries magical components that mix with reality. The imaginary intertwines with researched material, which both influenced the art. The artist has collected stories and reinterpreted fairy tales from new perspectives. She used a story of Rapunzel, for example, to imagine lives of Arab women from a domestic point of view, to make it a women’s story that has universal visibility and resonance.
Abboud was born in Shefa-‘Amr, Galilee and moved to Ontario, Canada with her family. After returning back home, and moving to Jerusalem, she encountered personal questions of belonging, and started making her journey towards finding her own connection to the place. Her exhibition at the Bildmuseet, asks through visual images and oral performances, what the personal and collective memories can be, and what the myths can tell us about ourselves and our history. What stories connect us to the places that we live in?
Abboud’s three-channel video installation Hide Your Water from the Sun (2016), goes back to 1920. The video is based on a study by ethnographer Tawfiq Canaan who dived into the Palestinian customs and folklore. The ‘haunted locations’ presented in the study, connect to multiple water sources, which are inhabited by demons, good or bad. Abboud visited these locations together with cinematographer Issa Freij. The original wells and springs pointed in the study have disappeared. The artist applied the notion that in the Palestinian traditions the haunted or blessed sites become activated with storytelling and through fairy-tale practices.
Upon returning home as a young adult, the artist did not feel connection to the place called home. She found a new connection by looking at the landscape, which played an important part of her childhood. It acted again as a direct link to her past. Abboud had also experienced stories as a child. The stories were not written down, so she wanted to ask questions about them and find out, how the political layer attached to Palestinians had pushed the oral history down. In her mind, the landscape related to all the stories told about the people, creatures, monsters and goblins. Landscape related to the past, and what she had learned as a child, but also to collective memory, which belonged to others as well.
Abboud’s artistic whole, The Horse, The Bird, The Tree and The Stone, relocates the disappeared landscape, which went through alteration and changes of infrastructure. Many of the original sites have been buried. Only the older generation has memory of the haunted sites. Abboud’s installation include film, drawing and painting, reflecting the journey to the past that confronts the current political reality. The artist has also created recent performances out of the Palestinian folktales, which connect to contemporary life-stories of the people.
Jumana Emil Abboud installation view, Bildmuseet, 2017.
Jumana Emil Abboud installation view, Bildmuseet, 2017.
Besides Bildmuseet, Umeå, Jumana Emil Abboud has had solo exhibitions in Tel Aviv and in Switzerland, among other places. Her work has been exhibited at venues such as the Istanbul Biennial (2009); Acción! MAD-Festival, Madrid (2010); Sharjah Biennial (2011); Bodies that Matter, Galeri Man, Istanbul (2013); the Venice Biennale (2009, 2015); Baltic, Newcastle (2016); and Kunstraum, London (2016). Bildmuseet represents artist’s first major solo exhibition in Scandinavia.
Danish designer MargretheOdgaard’s exhibition was on view at the DesignMuseum in Helsinki during this summer. An introduction to her work put the creative aspect of design in focus. Odgaard’s study of color and the cultural signification of it is very relevant and timely for innovative design conversation, in which we are looking for perspectives that see beyond the pure form.
It feels timely to give design process a platform, which naturally builds discussion about contemporary creative culture. In the world of high tech platforms, we may say that the DNA of design can be found in those practices, which designers organically share with the world in which they live. Without the personal and playful approach, perhaps the future of design would find itself in trouble.
The Helsinki exhibition featured MargretheOdgaard’s collaborations and use of materials bringing forth an idea of process. What it highlights is that design should not abandon creativity and art. MargretheOdgaard was assisting late LouiseBourgeois in the artist’s large scale work, which she created for MoMA in 2005-2006. The young designer learned from this experience with the famous artist. Bourgeois shared an approach that artist has to believe 100 percent in the work, even if the outside world is not able to see the same thing. According to her, ideas and vision come with a careful attention to detail, and from a non-compromising attitude.
In the future, Odgaard hopes to work more from her own studio base, and focus on the quality of the materials and colors. There is still huge call for colors in our contemporary cultural environment. Tactility of design does not come to mind as a top priority, and the colors still belong to a neglected area in the design world and architecture. Odgaard’s dream is to bring colors back to the black and grey field of architecture, which she frequently collaborates with.
Odgaard’s design can appear as minimal, yet playful, featuring bold ideas and patterns. It is important for her that the work has emotive response from various audiences. She hopes that the designs bring comfort and energy to our everyday life. Colors have so much potential to give birth to moods and create different atmospheres. Odgaard has focused on the cultural context of colors. She traveled to Japan in 2015, and to Morocco in 2016 investigating culturally specific domains for colors. The designer aimed to find out if there are specific ways to code the local colors from architecture and objects that are attached to particular places.
Odgaard trusts that as a younger generation Scandinavian designer, she is aware of the craft that carries a long cultural history. This means that she is able to add on the existing knowledge, and offer solutions to design questions and problems, which can be both beautiful and functional. At the heart of her color thinking is ThePopsicleIndex, which she created as a tool. It comes out in rich color hues that appeal to the senses and relate to the body.
Copenhagen based Odgaard studied at the RoyalDanishAcademyofFine Arts and the RhodeIslandSchoolofDesign in the United States. After graduating in 2005, she worked as a textile designer in Philadelphia. Before opening her own studio in Copenhagen in 2013, she also designed in Paris. In 2016, the designer received a prestigious TorstenandWanjaSöderbergPrize, which is the largest design prize in the world.
The textile designer looks for the purpose behind the design, and confirms that it should be always clearly attached to the process. The product is the end result of what the process entails. MargretheOdgaard keeps diary of the colors which are inspirational for the designs. Details of colors have become a crucial part of her process. Nuances are extremely important, and the diary is a great tool as part of the investigation. Results are far away from being shy. It is truly a matter of sharing as well.
“Share your knowledge, ideas and skills without hesitation. Be specific to order to become general. Use good tools and create new if necessary. Think through your hands. Free yourself from the limits of coolness. Allow things to evolve in their own pace. Listen. Laugh. Dance.” – Margrethe Odgaard.
The designer investigates colors.
For Odgaard wood can offer pattern and color combination to textile ply.
MargretheOdgaard’s exhibition was on view until August 28, at the DesignMuseum in Helsinki, more info:
Brooklyn based Mexican-born artist Laura Anderson Barbata got interested in stilt dancing in 2001, while being a resident artist at the Caribbean Contemporary Arts CCA7 in Trinidad and Tobago. She studied local carnival traditions embedded in the surrounding places, and started fusing her visual arts practice with elements of local performance. While working on a project which included paper making, the performance element stepped naturally into the costumes she was making from paper. The resulting works had a connection to local carnivals. In this context, she ran into workshops that were targeted for young people, in which local youth was learning stilt dancing as an alternative hangout to the streets. Eventually, Anderson Barbata brought her experience back to her home in New York, finding new collaborators who were based in the city. The artist has ever since worked on various projects with the Brooklyn Jumbies, a NYC group specialized in the African Diaspora performances, including stilt dancing of the West Indies and West Africa.
On August 10, 2017, Laura Anderson Barbata’s new work InterventionRaphael Red was performed as part of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Neighborhood Night Block Partyin Boston. For the event, the Brooklyn Jumbies were joined with local Spontaneous Celebrationsin Jamaica Plain performers, all dressed in strong and dramatic red and white costumes that have their source of inspiration in the art museum’s interior. Anderson Barbata created the costumes and headgear for the performers from the luxurious silk velvets that were recently added on the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s renovated Raphael Room. She found inspiration on the brocades and patterns, and developed the ideas and materials into new styles of costumes. Even as the artist does not consider herself to be a costume designer intrinsically, she has found a prominent voice with projects that involve textiles. Her work presents meticulous details, and is her artistic tool for innovation. Anderson Barbata found the current project InterventionRaphael Red, while the conservators at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum were transforming the historic Raphael Room. She has been an Artist-In-Residence at the museum.
Over the past year, the art museum in Boston has added new ways to connect audiences to its historic galleries. The programming at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museumhas involved contemporary performances from sound art to pop-up dance performances. This Block Party introduced museum’s Raphael Room to the outside world, namely bringing its aesthetics and content in a contemporary form to the streets. AndersonBarbata’s project brought the costumed dancers and musicians as a procession down the Boston’s streets. Together with the Brooklyn Jumbies, who are the masters on stilts, there was a queen as part of the procession. It introduced also a herd of zebras as puppets that were animated by volunteers and the museum’s Teens Behind The Scenes, who are there to learn about the life and work in the museum. Guests were also invited to take part in the gallery activities and art-making in the studio. The evening filled with art and party had more performances in the gardens, Palace, and Calderwood Hall of the museum.
Anderson Barbata’s collaboration with the Brooklyn Jumbies started in 2007. The group performs stilt dancing, which is considered one of the numerous cultural forms that come with the African and Caribbean diaspora.
Jumby means “ghost” in Afro-Caribbean, and also serves as a substitute for “stilt-walkers” who function like above ground roots connecting the undead with the rituals of the ancestral African world. Barbata and the Brooklyn Jumbies blend tradition with elements of social contemporary culture, group participation, and protest.
What is remarkable in Anderson Barbata’s focus and approachis that she has anthropological sensitivity to the subject matter. The artist has studied the ancestral components behind the performance tradition. She has brought contemporary messages into its form constantly adding new aspects to its current performing context.
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. -Laura Anderson Barbata
Linda Cunningham’s sculptural installations speak many languages. Much of her recent work has been tapping into environmental specificity relating to the South Bronx waterfront. The artist has explored a topic of climate change in urban environments. Through July-August, Cunningham has her solo exhibition up in Brooklyn at the celebrated ODETTA. The current show features a large installation of her sculptural pieces well put together with drywall photo collages, both mediums that Cunningham frequently works with. This time Cunningham’s exhibition features textual patterns as mixed media works. The images display historic texts, which carry references to three monotheist World religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) in earlier times when the cultures co-existed peacefully, a scenario impossible to imagine now. Many of the texts seem to be fragments that have been saved, depicting religious writings in Coptic, Hebrew and Arabic. The title of her exhibition: Whose Land? Whose God?, also includes remnants, which the artist acquired from the Berlin Wall in 1989. As the artist herself is well-traveled, behind the exhibition story is an expedition.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Let’s talk a bit about the bronze as a material in the exhibition. As I understood, you were running your own bronze workshop in Pennsylvania?
LC: As a young professor at Franklin & Marshall College, I was challenged to create a bronze casting facility to make use of a very old oil burning furnace that a former professor had acquired for the sculpture facility. Enthusiastic art students and guest professors helped me build the facility and develop the expertise to do traditional bronze casting which I later taught in Advanced Sculpture classes. I eventually ran some women’s bronze casting weekend workshops which was wonderfully empowering for the participants who never had had such an opportunity.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: About the process of pouring the metal, how do you create the movement so evident in your sculptures. What is the methodology behind the pouring, and using sand in the process?
LC: I eventually became interested in much more experimental casting methods that sculptors like Isaac Witkin were using, pouring bronze in single sided shallow molds filled with foundry sand. I developed the technique of pouring long thin forms that record the flow of the hot melted bronze. The bronze freezes the flow patterns and splatters creating the highly textured surface as it solidifies in seconds. Early on I found a way to acquire scrap military bronze and was using these lacy bronze forms to create 11 ft high shells of figures I called “War Memorial.” I thought of them of as vulnerable survivors. Five of those bronze images framed the entrance to the City University Graduate Center when it still stood for many years on 42nd St across from Bryant Park. They are now owned by Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your exhibition Whose Land? Whose God? is inspired by an exhibition that you saw in Germany, when and where did this exhibition take place?
LC: The text Images were taken from the catalog of an exhibition I saw and was deeply impressed by in Berlin, 2015 titled: ‘One God: Abraham’s descendants on the Nile. Jews, Christians and Muslims in Egypt from late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages’ at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, known as the Bode Museum on the Museum island in Berlin.
Bronze features movement in Linda Cunningham’s work.
Artist Linda Cunningham in her exhibition at the Odetta Gallery.
Linda Cunningham’s mixed media depict layers of text with sculptural materiality.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many texts, including a variety of liturgical, bible & prayer books, are there included in your exhibition?
LC: I used 16 different examples. Many more were included in the exhibit in Berlin.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about the pieces in the exhibition that you acquired from the Berlin Wall, what is the story behind them?
LC: I was invited to create a sizable installation in an alternative arts factory building in Kassel as an alternative documenta exhibit in 1992 about 2 1/2 years after the wall had opened up. A man who worked in the factory that was sponsoring the project took me to the town where he lived that was just over the former border where mountains of posts, fence, electrical cable and barbed wire were assembled as they dismantled the border that reach across the entire country. They were happy to have me take what I could fit in his van and charged me 50 Deutschmarks. The elements fit perfectly into the theme of the installation I was working on at that time.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did the transportation of the wall pieces take place, literally from Germany to the US?
LC: When the exhibition came to an end after 90 days, I couldn’t bear to throw them out and storing was also prohibitive. My German friends helped me to get crates built and one friend drove the crates to Hamburg to get them loaded on a freighter. I picked them up with a van at a New Jersey port outside Newark. I always intended to exhibit them again and they have been schlepped from one studio to the next ever since.