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.
New York City based performer Marina Celander crosses boundaries in her artistic practice, which combines a variety of genres and approaches to making art. Her solo performances echo authentic voice, and her deep participation on stage with theater groups comes across as statuesque, moving, gentle and charismatic. Marina Celander is born as Swedish-Korean, and is a recipient of 2014 Lilah Kan Red Socks Award for her outstanding contribution to the Asian American professional theater in New York City.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What choices did you make to become an actor, what is your background in the field?
MC: I started out as a modern dancer. After I graduated from London Contemporary Dance School I moved to New York and danced for a bit with various companies and choreographers. At one point I decided to take acting classes, which was something I had always felt I wanted to try but was afraid to do, and started studying with Gene Frankel at the Gene Frankel Theatre Workshop on Bond Street. Despite my fears, I took that first class with Gene and I remember feeling so elated and high, almost, as I stepped out from the darkness of the theater and in to the sunshine on the street. From that moment on I knew I had found what I needed to do with the rest of my life.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where were you born and raised, at least Sweden is on the map?
MC: I was born and raised in Sweden. I grew up in Malmö which is in southern Sweden, right across the strait from Copenhagen, Denmark. I lived in London for three years while I was studying dance, and then I moved to New York when I was in my early twenties. I have been in New York ever since! I go back to Sweden every other year or so to visit my family.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have performed with Yara Arts Group that is based in La MaMa Theatre for many years. How did you find yourself part of the company?
MC: I auditioned for a show that Virlana Tkacz, the artistic director of Yara Arts group, was putting up at La MaMa in 2000, called Circle. This particular show was special in that it had actors and musicians from Buryatia and Mongolia, as well as us New York actors. We had the chance to learn to sing these hauntingly beautiful Buryat songs from the Altai mountains. Two years later I traveled with Yara to Ukraine to sing Ukrainian folksongs, and visit Babushki, the grandmas, in the villages of Kratchkivka in Poltava and Svaritsevichiy in Polissia, and then we performed in Kyiv. This trip was also lead by Ukrainian singer, Mariana Sadovska, who was the musical director for our performance. Ever since then I have come back to work for Virlana in various poetry readings and events that she hosts, as well as being part of some of her theater productions.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Virlana Tkacz, one of the founders of Yara, and the director of the company, and many company members have a Ukrainian cultural background, But Yara is appreciated as multicultural in its productions echoing ideas of a World Theater. Did you find this conception as a great home for your own performance identity?
MC: Yes, I am really attracted to the idea of World theater. It is very fitting that Yara Arts Group is a resident theater company at La MaMa, because it is the home of World theater. Ellen Stewart, the founding mother of La MaMa Experimental Theatre, bravely and courageously invited individuals and companies from all over the world to perform and work at La MaMa.
Yara is an exciting company to work with, because of the always multi-lingual performances and multi ethnic cast. Lately, Virlana has been working with Ukrainian artists, but in the past she has worked with artists from Buryatia (in Siberia) and Kyrgyzstan. As a woman of color and a theater artist, I always deeply appreciate directors who are not type-casting based on ethnicity and race. In downtown theater in general, but at La MaMa in particular, I have always been given opportunities to act in a myriad of roles where my ethnic make up is not important. Virlana has given me and many other actors of color opportunities. I believe that putting a minority actor on stage for no other reason than the fact that (s)he is a good person to have in the show, is always a strong choice against the established order of theater in the West.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In 2015, you were part of a production that directly was touching Ukraine and the war that was happening on a huge crisis level there. Yara’s production premiere ‘Hitting Bedrock’ took place in La MaMa, (it was conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, set & light by Watoku Ueno, music by Julian Kytasty, assistant director: Wanda Phipps). Your role in the work was central. Tell more about your role and how it shaped in the context?
MC: The production Hitting Bedrock, was an important production as it addressed the war in Eastern Ukraine. My character was The Refugee, and her significance in the piece was that she represented all of those humans, women, children, men, the elderly, that have been rendered homeless because of the war in Ukraine, and elsewhere in the world. She represented all of those that have had to leave something important behind, a memory, a treasure, a family member, a secret, a lover, old letters, a photograph… It was a role that moved me deeply. As a result, that summer (2015) I went on a self financed, crowd-funded trip to face paint and give dance workshops to children in refugee centers in Ukraine.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In this play, the audiences had a participatory role. At one point, we were asked to give our belongings away, and were offered big tote bags instead, to put our coats and personal items in them. This was altering a perception from an audience member’s point of view into the experimental, perhaps reminiscing the point of view of people in the war. In what ways did being a central actor discussing your war losses while audience is so close to you, alter your own performance? Did this event change you?
MC: Yes, the audience were forced to walk through a long corridor in the basement of the theater, and thereafter they were asked to give away their personal belongings only to have them put into bags. The audience immediately got those bags back to hold for the remainder of the show, but many felt uncomfortable and some refused to give up their belongings even for a second. We had brusque and insistent “guards” in uniforms commanding people to go here, put their stuff there, go up, sit down, etc. When the audience had finally arrived in a “holding area” after having been shuttled around with their big bags, they had to witness the guards doing the same to me. The guards demanded to see what was in my back-back, and I showed them my toothbrush and my papers. At this point the audience is really right next to me in the holding area. Having the audience being so close to me, being one of them, really does something to the performance. As an actor I loved feeling them so close, feeling their reactions to me, their doubts, their fears, and them feeling my fears. It was also a little intimidating when on one occasion we had a lady who was a little drunk in the audience, and she was shouting quite aggressively at the stuff I said. That was worrisome, because she was so close.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Besides being an actor and performer, you handle multiple different roles. How did you come to dancing and performing Hula?
MC: Yes, I handle multiple different roles in my life on a daily basis. I am a mother, and an artist, a teaching artist, performer, face painter, a freelancer. I wake up every morning thinking, what am I doing today?
I started dancing Hula, traditional Hawaiian dance, in 2000, after finding an organization that gave beginner hula classes. I was very fortunate to stumble upon the Hawaiian Cultural Foundation (HCF), and there I studied with Michelle Akina, Janu Cassidy, Keo Woolford and kumu hula June Tanoue. I have since been involved with a hula halau, hula school, Pua Ali’i ‘Ilima o Nuioka, under the leadership of kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your connection to the hula/Hawaiian community in New York?
MC: It’s a small, but growing, community of Hawaiians, and Hawaiians at heart, hula lovers, and Hawaiian language and music lovers and enthusiasts. It is a beautiful and loving and inclusive community of people from all over. My connection is through hula.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: A very interesting part of your practice is also face painting. That is a skill that requires another set of imagination and sense of personality in people. How did you start?
MC: I started face painting for my own children’s birthday parties, and it grew from there. Now I do other kids’ birthday parties. It’s a small side business, and I get clients usually through word of mouth. I really enjoy the face painting, and it makes me happy to paint kids’ faces.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In 2016, you created a solo work for yourself that was performed in Sweden. The work titled Mermaid’s Howl, handled a theme of you mother, and her Korean identity. How did you experience the project from the point of view of her identity, and your own, adding into the narratives that are so personal?
MC: I created a solo show called Mermaid’s Howl and performed it at the Stockholm Fringe in 2016. The story had been a long time in the making. As early as 2013, I had talked to my friend and mentor, Fred Ho, about my idea of writing a solo show. He quickly said, in typical Fred Ho style “Write it, I’ll produce it. Here is your deadline, use it.” He unfortunately passed away before that came to fruition, but I stayed true to my promise to myself and to Fred, to finish writing that piece. I am grateful to the Stockholm Fringe Festival for inviting me and giving Mermaid’s Howl its premier.
The story is about me growing up in Sweden and finding out who my mother was, and finally being able to connect the dots in my adult years. Connecting the dots from me, to her, to all of our maternal ancestors. The play is part dream, part real memory snippets, part madness and part immigrant mother-daughter story. It was a deeply personal process, of course, to write this play, which delved into questions of what is must have been like to an immigrant woman, all alone in a completely foreign country, without family, to raise a child on her own, have her dreams crushed or set aside. It also explores the question of women and madness, and what it means for women to not be able to fully express themselves as artists and human beings in a society that sees women as less valued than men.
MARINA CELANDER, MERMAID’S HOWL – PHOTO YOUN JUNG KIM
MARINA CELANDER, MERMAID’S HOWL – STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN 2016
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Was the theme of mental illness and it’s feminine counter-narrative hard to project into a play?
MC: Mental illness is a topic that is still not openly talked about, it’s a little taboo. I wanted to bring it to the forefront and not skirt around the issue. Without glorying mental illness, I wanted to shine a light on it from a different angle, to let people see that there may be a societal value to possessing a different sight and different viewpoint from what is deemed “normal”. Normal is a societal rule, and normal is different in other cultures. In the West there is absolutely no point to mental illness at all. It is just a nuisance, a bother, a hindrance, a difficulty, something to be shunned and stowed away, far far away. I am not saying that it is not utterly devastating when serious mental illness occurs in a family, but I am saying that there are options as to how you would view someone with a divergent view of the world. Those with divergent behavior can actually have value in society, their divergence is seen as highly creative as well as highly unusual and abnormal. At the same time, madness in women have always been a tool to belittle and demean women, to incarcerate “difficult” women, and put women in their place by the patriarchic machinery.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The play also involved projections as part of it, tell more about the visual and performance collaboration?
MC: I had three amazing collaborators. The electronic score was composed by Dåkot-ta Alcantara-Camacho. The costumes were designed and made by Jane Catherine Shaw, and the projection design was made by Youn Jung Kim. Youn Jung knew my play very well. She was a student of Fred Ho, that is how we met. In the beginning of the writing process she and I used to meet regularly and have our little mini-writing labs, where we shared, read and discussed our work. Because of her connection to the piece from the start, she really knew the flow, the pace, the colors, the feelings of the piece. The projections grew out of her intimate knowledge of the story I wanted to tell, and her receptiveness to my suggestions made the working process so easy.
Dåkot-ta created a score that was so sensitive and evocative, and reminiscent of water and forests and shaman drums. His sounds were instrumental in setting the scenes for particularly relevant moments in the piece. It really was amazing to hear the music loud, with real speakers, for the first time! Goosebumps moment! Cathy made these amazing creations that felt magical to wear, and helped me grow into the characters I was portraying in the various environments.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What would you like to say about the performance experience in Sweden, did you feel you were at the crossroads of cultures while bringing the work there?
MC: I didn’t necessarily feel I was at a cultural crossroads in Sweden, but my piece, Mermaid’s Howl, is an exploration of my cultural heritage, so it was very fitting to have its premier in Sweden. Performing in Sweden was a homecoming of sorts. Being bi-racial I guess means you are a hub for cross-cultural activities within you.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: This play involved also a Kickstarter- fundraising, and the audience was able to have a glimpse into the concept and to you as a person. What was this campaign process like?
MC: Yes, I decided to crowd-fund with Kickstarter as it seemed as the most reputable and an easy way to go. The opportunity to go to Sweden came up very quickly as I was invited to perform with Mermaid’s Howl just a couple of months before the festival started. I had to come up with the funds to go very quickly.
Youn Jung Kim is a great conceptual artist and photographer and film artist. She has a great eye and a great feel for what works and she listened to what I wanted to convey in my little promo video. From the short interaction we had on camera she created a little gem of a video for my Kickstarter campaign. (You can view the campaign here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq4-2zW7GZ0)
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are an activist in social platforms. You have performed radical acts in public places, closing yourself in a body-bag for instance.Tell more about the involvement. Do you think activism can change the dominant narratives in crisis? Are you an optimist?
MC: Yes, I’m always an optimist. The particular event you are mentioning was Belarus Free Theatre’s demonstration in NYC against Capital punishment in Belarus, where young people disappeared and their families were not notified of their deaths, and never received their bodies back. This was an event planned together with La MaMa. We gathered by City Hall, and then walked over to Foley Square, where we crawled in to body bags, zipped ourselves up and laid still for 30 minutes to raise awareness of the issue. We had monitors who were watching us to make sure nothing came to pass as we were inside the body bags, or in case anyone would freak out they could quickly zip us open again. It was a very intense experience, I have to say.
As artists we have an obligation to tell stories where we stand up for the underdogs, speak up for those weaker than us, for those who do not have a voice or platform with which to tell of their story.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What new adventures do you have planned?
MC: I performed a first draft, a first work-in-progress version, of a new solo show called Shakespeare’s Sistersat Dixon Place in NYC in January of 2017. My plan is to perform it again in a larger venue and to see the piece grow. Mermaid’s Howl will also be traveling to Massachusetts sometime in the near future. We are working out the details now, so I will tell you more when I can reveal more, but I am very excited that this show will have a future life.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are also performing with Yara in their new production?
MC: I’m currently performing with Yara Arts Group’s new show at La MaMa called 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan and the Dogs. Again, it is a project based on Serhiy Zhadan’s poetry. It was shown this spring in Kyiv, by a Ukrainian cast, and now it’s our turn to put our spin on it. Serhiy and his punk-rock band, The Dogs, are in New York performing with us. It’s an exciting show! It’s always very special to perform with a live band. Other musical elements in the show are Julian Kytasy’s bandura compositions. This piece makes us reflect on the concept of tyranny and how easily it arises – it did in Europe in 1917, and now in 2017 we are currently in danger of allowing it to rise again. The show opened on Friday June 9 and runs at LaMama ETC until June 25, 2017.
Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City is an exhibition full of history that is so relevant today. Al-Hadid’s solo show is currently on view through September 24, 2017 at San Jose Museum of Art in San Jose, California. Liquid City is like a micro-cosmos of a world, in which the observer has carefully assembled her sharp point of view towards the core. It features an art-historical study on a matter that is hybrid and timely in the world, where archaeological sites and cultural homes are disappearing in front of our eyes. The subject is immense, but in this exhibition, the history gets rewritten in more pleasant terms.
The exhibition focuses on Al-Hadid’s creative process by bringing together works and related primary source materials. One example of this fruitful exchange is a large sculptural installation titled Nolli’s Orders (2012), which refers to Giambattista Nolli’s landmark 1748 map of Rome. The artist has included a reprinted folio of Nolli’s map and works on paper by old masters, to support the idea for the sculpture. The two-dimensional papers are an interesting contrast to the three-dimensional sculpture, perhaps showing how the process evolves from sketches to more complete forms. The constellation addresses how works are fluid and in-between states before their final spatial configurations.
Sculptural centerpiece Nolli’s Orders brings Al-Hadid’s installation idea to the museum space. With the multiple references, the sculpture addresses an idea of a city as public and shared space. Showing private and public structures of contemporary life, it anchors the idea of the sculpture into city with piazzas and fountains. Cities have been shaped around sources of water, around which the people have gathered and shared their belongingness. The conflict, which this work implies, is embedded in the idea of not belonging. It touches on the private spheres in which people feel uncertainty and alienation from firm structures, lacking the real connection to the architecture of the city. Resulting in the shapes as structures without roots, narrative and story?
The idea of the sculpture continues also in Al-Hadid’s two-dimensional works, which aesthetically relate to its colors and patterns. On the other hand, Diana Al-Hadid has employed yet another ephemeral pattern and style on their surface. In these works, the historical evidence is present as influence of ruins. The dripping paint creates the delicate surface as if showing traces of archeology as rendering marks. During her graduate studies, the artist was influenced by Hellenistic history that is visible in the ruins near Aleppo. She also explored Moorish layers in Spanish cathedrals.
Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City is displayed in the SJMA’s central skylight gallery, and as such fits to the space eloquently. The work questions boundaries of the space. Putting together the reference materials is brilliant, as all surrounding works add to the monumental scale of the sculpture. The visual of the artist’s own works is compelling, interwoven, giving a context to a deeper thinking of history. Al-Hadid’s thinking is full of vivid ideas of fusing materials into new order, rewriting history from today’s point of view. How the artist got interested in the borderlines and beloningness/alienation thematic, comes from her own background as an immigrant to the United States. The artist was born in Aleppo, Syria, but was brought up in Ohio, US. Being contradicted with different experiences was a nourishing source for imagination and thinking. The theme connects many fragmented ideas across continents, beyond physical and social realms, and certainly travels across the world with its relevance. The works in the exhibition are far from being literal.
After four decades in painting, American artist Francie Lyshak has a deep knowledge on her practice. A woman-artist who has a lifelong approach to learning, finds nature and it’s varying stages influencing her work. The artist examines nature also with photography. It seems, as if those pictorial notes would transfer into her paintings with subtle poetry and movement. In this interview, she discusses her career, love of painting and the meditative approach to being with her art. Remarkable is how the artist views art as a career, also in psychological terms as a radical act. Francie Lyshak’s recent paintings, which examine movement and gestures, will be on view until April 27, 2017 in the Carter Burden Gallery of NYC.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How did you find yourself doing painting? Where did you grow up?
Francie Lyshak: I will share with you two central memories that are at the very early roots of my art career (before it begun):
I am in Detroit, Michigan, in a single family home with a nice yard. I am a small child, somewhere between toddler and latency age. I am sitting in the mud, alone making a mess and enjoying it totally.
In the second memory, I am 18 years old, attending my first art history class. As I watch the projected images of works by modern artists, it is suddenly clear that making paintings is what I need to do with my life. I began to paint was when I went to a summer art school in Paris around the age of 19. I haven’t stopped since that time, except for one year in Boston in the early 70’s. After that point I switched from abstraction to figuration.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: You have an exhibition opening now at the Carter Burden Gallery in NYC, tell more about the theme of your paintings in the show?
FL: These paintings focus purely on the physicality of painting, of paint, painter’s tools and the interaction of the painting surface with light. The use of a palette knife can be a violent destructive attack on a painting’s under-layer. A flowing brush mark can be evidence of the painter’s sweeping gesture. The painting then becomes a stop-action image of what was either a waltz or a wrestling match between the artist and the medium. It is painting without any intention other than leaving the physical evidence of its own dynamic birth.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What is really interesting is that your career spans for four decades, and there can be so many changes that fit into that time frame. Did you start with figurative or representational art?
FL: In my early work, my visual language was a figurative and a metaphorical narrative with strong feminist overtones. This work lasted for two decades in the 1970s and 80s. Animals, humans, dolls and toys populate these paintings, each one describing the psyche captured in a critical moment of time. Influenced by art therapy theory and practice, their emotional rawness challenged the viewer to contemplate disturbing aspects of life that are typically overlooked or avoided. After years of these explorations, I unearthed evidence of my own childhood sexual abuse. With the support of the late Ellen Stuart and La MaMa/La Galleria, this work resulted in a one-woman exhibition in 1993 narrating my own trauma recovery through my paintings. The series of paintings with accompanying prose was published in a book in 1999 entitled, The Secret: Art and Healing from Sexual Abuse. This exhibition provided me with a release from the narratives of the past. After that show, my work changed slowly but radically, moving towards landscape, then abstraction.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How did you choose painting and photography, how are they similar or different to you?
FL: I am a painter. However, I believe that no matter what medium an artist chooses, they cannot escape their artist’s sensibility. That means that we cannot help but consider the aesthetics in our environment. Also, we cannot help but be creative. It is a kind of compulsion that requires an outlet. In that vein, I took up photography. This was in part because I found it offensive that paintings are generally only affordable by the wealthy. I experimented with printing and multiples as a way to make my work more accessible to those with less means.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Can you say that what you do is abstract art, and if so what would this kind of abstraction be?
FL: The best way to describe my new work is ‘pre-verbal’. Before words, ideas and memories there is a mental space that is responsive to shape and texture, color and amorphous mood. That is the space that my paintings occupy. My abstract work is not expressionistic, nor is it minimal or conceptual. My newest work has something in common with action painting. Over the long haul, the trend of my work has been increasingly reductive. I seem to be constantly trying to reduce the content of my work to its simplest components. I removed the figure. I removed the narrative. I removed the symbolism. I removed the suggestion of landscape. Then I tried to suggest empty space alone (which made the work illusionist). Now I am just looking at the surface, the medium and the tools of application.
I recently saw a show that was simply lighting in an empty gallery. I understand that.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How do you choose your works for the exhibition, do you ‘curate’ yourself?
FL: No, my dealer is fully in control of the choice of work and the hanging. Of course, it is up to me to choose the paintings from which she makes her selection.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: The process is of course different with each artist, do you like to add older paintings into the show, or is it mostly recent works?
FL: Mostly very recent works are shown in April exhibition. My first exhibition at Carter Burden had some pieces that were several years old but had never been displayed.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: You are watching a lot of movies, how apparent is it that those moods or aesthetics you gain from films enter your works somehow? FL: I don’t think that the aesthetics of film influence my work, but perhaps the moods do on a subconscious level. I find great solace in the work of these great, underappreciated independent film makers. They address very important, very real aspects of being human. Hollywood spends mountains of capital selling fantasy worlds to viewers because it is a natural,human inclination to avoid and escape harsh reality. The filmmakers that I love make me look at the challenging underbelly of being human. This gives me courage and support in my effort to stay honest as a painter, to not be fooled by the illusionary rewards of commercial success, to lead my viewers to the challenging aspects of being human.
I have a fantastic list of my list of favorite movies. It is a long list and the titles are unrecognizable to most people. Almost all of the films were borrowed from the New York Public Library which has a treasure trove of great films.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What does a notion of ‘zen’ mean to you as an approach?
FL: I am not formally trained in Zen practice. However, I understand that Zen does not have a god head, and is focused on what westerners call mindfulness practices. My mind is constantly racing. I hunger for empty space and quietude. (Perhaps this is reflected in my urge to constantly minimize the content in my paintings.) We live in an overheated, overstimulating world (at least in NYC). I know, however, that it is not the fault of my environment that I am so mentally restless. I reach for ‘zen’ as a pathway towards a quiet mind or to attain full attention. When I paint, I am in a ‘full attention’ mode. In this sense, painting is a mindfulness practice. (Click the link to see a series of paintings that were specifically intended to be ‘meditations spaces.’ http://www.francielyshak.com/archive/New%20Monochromes/index.html)
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What else do you do to balance with making art?
FL: Not much. I do some Yoga practice, go to the gym, take walks and, of course, watch movies. I would add that there isn’t anything much more rewarding that good conversation with other artists and intellectuals.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Where do your influences come from other than abstractions? Do you blend in narrative contents from today’s world and events? FL: My goodness, the political climate has a tremendous impact on the ‘climate’ of my work. There is very little joy in my work these days. On the other hand, I am finding surprising strength and power there. My work is definitely a mirror of my psychological condition. My psychological condition is a mirror of my personal and social life (which in these times encompasses the political environment). A new painting included in this April exhibition is entitled “Silence equals Extinction”. It was clearly a response to the nightmare political situation in the US.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: In your photography there is a lot of nature in them; fog, mountains, trees, moon, and so on. How do you find your photographic subjects, do you just happen to be in those places in the moment?
FL: Yes, everything was done either in Michigan, where my family has a summer home, or NYC. I also did some photography when I did some traveling along the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean Seas and along the Pacific Ocean shore. I am wild about landscapes.
I am not influenced by art theory nearly as much as I am influenced by psychoanalytic theory, philosophy and religion. I have no belief in any religion. However, I find the search for self and meaning to be central to my practice as an artist. I am most affected by any work of art that creates a space for the viewer to engage in this search for identity or meaning. Works by Frieda Kahlo, Mark Rothko and Fred Sandback all succeed at doing this for me; although each uses a radically different method to set a stage for this to happen to the viewer.
Colors have a strong valence, a kind of personality. My latest pieces have been in various shades of black. I am choosing black because I have always feared it. Black oils cannot be controlled because they are wildly interactive with the light in the environment as it reacts to the surface of the painting. The color black, for me, has much to do with loss, change and the unknown. So colors themselves have a kind of personality and meaning and different oil colors also have a unique physicality, such as color density.
On my use of color in photography and painting:
I think of myself as a painter. I have spent forty years painting. Photography has been secondary to my work as a painter. My photography is in the early stages of development; but is created on a foundation of 40 years of evolved aesthetic sensibility and artistic practice. My photography is mostly rooted in local color or black and white. My new paintings, on the other hand, are each a deep explorations of color, the oil paint medium, the painters tools and methods of application. In other words, my practice as a painter has evolved to a point where I am exploring the very basics of the medium. It is full circle, back to the beginning.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Do you find inspiration in your travels to foreign places, how about those leaving an impact on your thinking and aesthetics?
FL: I just traveled to Japan. Their aesthetic and social values were a great comfort to me. The Japanese seemed so much more civilized than Americans. It was heartening to experience their aesthetic and their culture. I felt that my own values were much more supported by the Japanese culture than they are in my own culture.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Did you ever come up with a notion, who would be your best art audience, or collector? FL: Probably intellectuals, other painters and psychologically-minded people. It is hard to tell who is most taken by my work because people usually don’t say much. Most of us become a little inarticulate in the face of meaningful visual art. Art takes us to a non-verbal place. I admire people like you who are willing and able to give us language in the face of visual art.
Firstindigo and Lifestyle: With so much insight in the practice, we all want to know, what would you like to teach or say for younger generation artists and painters?
FL: I would like to say to them that it is worth the battle to stay true to their artistic sensibility. This is because, in the long term, losing touch with one’s core strivings (to be an artist, to be creative) has an unbearable cost. I would tell them, however, that they shouldn’t expect to be rewarded. Artmaking is essentially a radical act, because it means turning away from the influence of others and, instead, opening a channel to one’s true self. Being true to one’s core self usually means letting go of many of the rewards of social/commercial success. After all, in the short term we are nurturing ourselves rather than others. Who knows if our art will nurture others in the long term. That is in the hands of the vagaries of the art market.
Achieving commercial success in the art world is a totally different side of being an artist. It takes a combination of ambition, talent, personality, timing, social resources (such as health, social networks, time and money) to make income from making art. To have these resources is often a matter of privilege and other random social events. Artists don’t have control over most of these factors.
Francie Lyshak’s exhibition info:
April 6 – 27, 2017
Examining Movement & Gestures: Jonathan Bauch and Francie Lyshak
· Pratt Institute, Art Therapy and Creativity Development, Masters of Professional Studies, NYC, 9-76 to 5-78
· Wayne State University, Painting and Drawing, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Detroit, Michigan, 1-69 to 5-70.
· Center for Creative Studies, Fine Arts, Detroit, Michigan, 9-68 to 5-69
· University of Michigan, Humanities, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 9-66 to 5-68
Sasha Huber is a multidisciplinary artist who hopes that our world would be a better place for people with different ethnic and racial backgrounds. She is determined to continue her family’s Haitian heritage in the arts, and has challenged the postcolonial controversies left behind by figures like Christopher Columbus and Louis Agassiz. Her artistic career has brought her international merit across continents. Sasha Huber’s art is currently shown in theDNA of Water -exhibition at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art inStaten Island, New York City.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You were born in Switzerland with Swiss and Haitian heritage, how did this dynamic and background influence your youth and early artistry? Where did you get your education from, and how did you eventually find yourself living in Finland?
Sasha Huber: Being from two such opposite cultures inspired me from the start, although becoming an artist was not my first choice in my professional live. My interest was first in graphic design that I learned in Zurich, Switzerland. I then worked some years as a graphic designer at different studios and agencies and then applied and was accepted for a one year scholarship at the research and design and research centre Fabrica by Benetton in Treviso in 2000. Its a multidisciplinary and international environment that I missed in Switzerland. That is also where I met my husband and collaborator Petri Saarikko who is from Finland. So love brought me to Finland at the first place. There I also graduated in 2006 with the Masters Degree in Visual Culture from the University of Art and Design, today known as Aalto University.One situation that triggered the idea for my first art project that I made in 2004 was related to that I was not allowed to visit my mother’s home country and family in Haiti, due to the political situation there. My mother was especially worried for me, and basically forbade me to go when I was younger. Starting to make my art about Haiti served as a compensation instead, and eventually brought the place closer. As an adult I’ve visited Haiti so far twice and each time within the artist context. First time Petri and I took part in the 2nd Ghetto Biennale in 2011, and the second time we were invited to make projects at the Le Centre D’Art in Port-au-Prince during one month in 2016. Both visits went very well and allowed us to work collaboratively with multidisciplinary artists. Working with the Centre D’Art was also special for me since my artist grandfather Georges Remponeau was one of the co-founders of the school in 1944.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell more about in what ways your European upbringing was intercultural. Do you have an opinion that European culture and heritage changed in recent years in relation to migration, and with the impacts of globalization?
Sasha Huber: Coming from a rich cultural background with over ten different nationalities, including the joining families through the different unions in our family, made me aware of the differences and similarities in cultures, and broadened my horizon. I think it helped me to feel comfortable in new places very quickly. For me this is a positive experience. Now when Europe is growing, as we can see with the influx of the newcomers and others too, there are also conflicts, and that brings sorrow to the people trying to find safety.
I would hope there could be other, more human and respectful ways to handle this situation. Luckily there are creative initiatives by grass roots organisations, and individuals who help to contribute to make welcoming people more dignified. Sometimes its forgotten that Europe is also made of very many cultures after all. In a time like this, where racism against the black and brown people is in the rise, and not only in Europe, I’d came to think that it would be good for people to read more such books as James Baldwin’s book I’m not your Negro, or watch the documentary by Haitian film maker Raoul Peck (1953–) under the same name. And read the Orientalism by Edward Said (1935–2003) who founded the academic field of postcolonial studies. Both books were written long ago, but are very relevant in the current climate we live in.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: One of your artistic discoveries relates to the historical context of the colonization and cultural imperialism. What did you find out about the subject from your specific study, and how did you translate it into your artistic practice?
SH: I would say that the starting point of my career was to deal with the colonialism, and the topic has actually been a red thread throughout my entire practice ever since. In my first project, which was a portraiture series named Shooting Back – Reflection on Haitian Roots, I for instance portrayed people that were responsible of the troubles in Haiti. I started from the beginning and portrayed Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), a figure that has in recent years become more and more challenged; which I find is very important. For instance, in the United States several cities don’t celebrate the Christopher Columbus Day anymore in October as his first arrival in the “New World”. Instead they highlight the meaning as Indigenous Peoples Day. Or, in 2015 in Argentina his statue was replaced with the large statue of freedom fighter Juana Azurduy. We should not forget that some 95 % of the indigenous population in the Americas were killed after his arrival, and the European invasion that followed brought disease and slavery.
Sasha Huber, Installation view within the Share/Cheat/Unite group exhibition curated by Bruce E. Phillips at the Te Tuhi in 2016. Photo: Sam Hartnett. Courtesy of Te Tuhi, Auckland.
KARAKIA – THE RESETTING CEREMONY, 2015 5:20 min Direction: Sasha Huber, Karakia: Jeff Mahuika (Kāti Māhaki, Poutini Kāi Tahu). Videostill.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is a question of taking over land and leaving marks on its surface, in the environmental sense perhaps, part of the colonization history as you understand it and discuss it in your artistry?
SH: I became conscious about this in 2007, when I joined part of the Demounting Louis Agassiz campaign that was launched by historian and political activist Hans Fässler. Until recently, the life and work of Louis Agassiz (1807, Switzerland – 1873, USA) have been intentionally embellished. He has mainly been presented as a glaciologist, scientist, and director of academic institutions, both in his country of origin, Switzerland, and in his adopted country, the USA. The campaign raised awareness that Agassiz was a proponent of scientific racism and a pioneering thinker of segregation and “racial hygiene”. The aim was at removing Louis Agassiz’s name from a 3946 m peak in the Swiss Alps and renaming it Rentyhorn in honour of the Congolese-born slave Renty, and of those who met similar fates. Agassiz ordered Renty to be photographed on a South Carolina plantation in 1850, “to prove the inferiority of the black race”. This initiative began to open the eyes of the Swiss public, and exposed Louis Agassiz’s involvement in the crimes against humanity. Today, there are over sixty places all over the world, and in our Solar System (the Moon and Mars) that bear Agassiz’s name. I call this micro colonialism of a single person marking his existence around the world while ignoring the local perspective.
My way to react and act through my work as an artist manifested for the first time after I joined the transatlantic committee of Demounting Louis Agassiz, as I started to plan my first intervention to the Agassizhorn in 2008. I airlifted a metal plaque bearing a graphic representation of Renty to the top of Agassizhorn, on the borders of the Swiss cantons of Berne and Valais. In doing so, I took the first step towards renaming the mountain into Rentyhorn. I also started the petition website rentyhorn.ch which is still online. Even though for now, the mountain will not be renamed officially after many years of negotiating with the communes. In New Zealand’s Te Waipounamu – South Island in comparison, I traveled to the Agassiz Glacier with local Māori greenstone carver Jeff Mahuika who performed a karakia (Māori blessing) on the glacier to symbolically de-name the glacier and hens cleanse it from it’s associations to Agassiz’s racism. *
Prototype of Sasha Huber and Thomas Götz as Louis Agassiz, Wet plate collodion photography by Borut Peterlin, comissioned by Sasha Huber, 2013, 10” x 12”.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your background is in graphic design, and you have also worked with video; how do these mediums and techniques correlate with your artistic vision and outcome?
SH: I use a variety of mediums to realize projects. For me the defining reason to choose a specific medium is, first the idea I want to realize and then to decide based on that. I also often collaborate with experts to help me realize a work, such as videographers, editors and photographers.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you also work with text, for example, to generate ideas, which then take visual forms and so forth?
SH: My artworks are predominately visual, but finding the title of the works is important, and for each project I write a text as well. Sometimes the artwork idea is inspired by text, poem or song as for instance the Strange Fruit poem. I made two projects about this poem that were performed by Billy Holiday and Nina Simone as well. The poem was written by a teacher Abel Metropol in 1937. It protests American racism and tells about the lynching of African Americans.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you write about your own art, keep diary, and perhaps discuss it in essays?
SH: Mostly curators, academics and journalists write about my work. I participate in conferences to speak about my work. As an example, last year I was a keynote speaker at the Archival Re-enactments Symposium arranged by the Living Archive project of the University of Malmö in Sweden. This summer, I will participate in the 6th International Afroeuropeans: Black Cultures and Identities in Europe conference (http://www.uta.fi/yky/en/6thafroeuropeans/index.html) in Tampere, Finland. I’m currently also doctoral student at the Art Department of the Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design, and Architecture in Helsinki, Finland. So far, I’ve published two books as part of my doctoral project, which I started several years before in collaboration with some historians. I edited Rentyhorn published by Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. Then, I co-edited (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today published as part of the 29th Sao Paulo Biennale in 2010.
Sasha Huber in collaboration with Petri Saarikko, The Prototype, 2013, installation view.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As a result of your investigations through several years, do you see that your art is influenced by Haitian aesthetics, nature and environment in multiple ways?
SH: As mentioned earlier, the starting point of my art practice was inspired by Haiti’s history. As a matter of fact, I developed a technique for myself with metal staples shot with air pressure onto abandoned wood, as for instance in the Shooting Back – Reflection on Haitian Roots (2004) portrait series. For me the staple gun is like a weapon and I use this technique only when the project relates in some ways to the historic trauma. But aesthetically it could perhaps remind of the traditional beading and stitching as for instance utilized in the creation of the colourful Voodou flags.
You Are Missed, is a work in progress project by Sasha Huber, depicting a new portrait series that uses wood and metal staples stitching. Started in Huber’s artist residency at Axenèo7 in Gatineau, Canada in 2017.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In the fall of 2016, there was a curated group exhibition titled “Botany under Influence” taking place at Apexart in New York City. Your collaboration with Petri Saarikko was included in the show. How did you get involved in this special exhibition?
SH: We met curator Clelia Coussonnet in Paris, where I participated in the Haïti exhibition about contemporary and historical Haitian art at the Grand Palais in 2014. When she was planning her group exhibition Botany under Influence I told her about our Australian remedies video that she then included into her exhibition at Apexart (http://apexart.org/exhibitions/coussonnet.php). The exhibition delves into the politics of plants, and explores systems of meaning that have been impressed upon nature, flora, and seeds throughout the eras of imperialism, colonialism, and globalization.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell more about the video work that you showed in Apexart. The title of it is ‘Remedies Australia’ (2014). Does this work include material from several geographical locations and have different cultural components in it? Is this process still ongoing?
SH: Remedies is a series I initiated with my artist husband Petri Saarikko during an artist residency at Botkyrka Konsthall in Sweden in 2010-11. It was inspired by our interest in aurally transmitted family knowledge and remedies that we learned from our own families. Later we expanded the project to New Zealand, Australia, Haiti, Russia, Germany and back in Sweden. The Australian edition of Remedies casted Mildura based inhabitants to contribute eucalyptus tree related unwritten narratives and oral histories for an individual and collective portraiture.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are currently in New York City taking part in an exhibition DNA of Water, what kind of works do you have in Staten Island?
SH: Together with my family we just came from a residency in Canada, and continued directly to our current artist residency on Staten Island. We are participating in the group exhibition DNA of Water at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art which is curated by Sasha Dees. I am showing couple projects of which two are portraits from the ongoing Shooting Stars series, which is dedicated to worldwide victims of gunshot assassinations and killing perpetrated for political, ethnic, ideological or economic reasons (http://sashahuber.com/?cat=10040). I will show the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). I also made a new portrait of Eric Garner (1970-2014) who was living on Staten Island. At the end of the exhibition in September, I will gift the portrait to his mother Gwen Carr.
Sasha Huber & Petri Saarikko, Black Lives Matter, performance, actor Joseph T. Shavel, 2017. Installation view from The DNA of Water exhibition.
Sasha Huber, Shooting Stars Series, Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968), white leaf gold on metal staples and wood, 27 x 32 x 4 cm, 2014. Installation view from DNA of Water exhibition in Staten Island.
Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait is a retrospective exhibition happening at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The exhibition, on view until until May 2017, is celebrating a career of a pioneering video artist Bill Viola. The artist isrecognized for his groundbreaking use of video technologies; and his works are known as poetic and performative, exploring the spiritual and perceptual side of human experience. Installed in multiple darker rooms, the show takes a viewer into a few episodes with the moving portraits. They are diverse, as one can imagine, and with each work the viewer’s experience becomes more fluid than staged or patterned. The works follow more circular way of reasoning than linear logic in storytelling.
The portrait of Bill Viola himself is titled Self Portrait, Submerged, 2013 (color high-definition video on LED display; stereo sound; 10:18 minutes). This portrait connects to an idea of mortality, the artist himself is appearing underwater. He looks as if being still with his eyes closed, and he does not seemingly breath. However, the movement becomes present with the unfolding effect of the water moving and altering the stage so to speak. For Viola, self-portrait is an evergoing reflective way to figure oneself out. Self-portrait is always a self-representation. As an artistic discovery it would be more like looking beyond a merely simple representation of oneself; attaching a subjective and changing viewpoint into a larger psychological canvas. We live in an era of selfies, so what more is there to discover, beyond a representation? Where does the normative cultural portrait end, and the new interpretation start?
In many of his works, Bill Viola summons the characters, young and old, male and female. These portraits are submerged underwater in a similar manner as his Self Portrait Submerged. A group of seven works are titled The Dreamers (2013). The portraits appear in a dark room as an installation of plasma displays mounted on the wall. They radiate very subtle visuality. There is water underneath of each character as their personal stage. It is the essence of the water that animates the otherwise still portraits to become sifting moments in space. The plasma videos are accompanied with a sound of a running water, which appears as a surrounding pulse for the portraits. These portraits take form as immersing works. In a way they are virtual, or the time is stopped as if there was an episode happening in another realm or in outer space. Each personality emerges as colors, when their fabric and hair covered bodies measure the dimensionality of the water. They contour and camouflouge barely within its surface.
Bill Viola, The Dreamers,2013. Video/sound installation, seven channels of color high-definition video on seven plasma displays mounted vertically on the wall; four channels of stereo sound; installation view at the National Portrait Gallery.
Bill Viola, The Reflecting Pool, 1977-79, Videotape, color; two channels of mono sound; 7:00 minutes, Performer: Bill Viola. Installation view to videostill at the National Portrait Gallery.
A very different video setting is formed around a work titled The Reflecting Pool originating from 1977-79. In the video, a man is emerging from the forest standing in front of the pool. As he is leaping up in a sudden movement, jumping into the water, the image freezes. The person remains still in the center of the image; he is frozen whilst the water in the pool is slightly moving and changing. Another take on a theme of time passing. This time, the person is also immersed into the surroundings even more, and perhaps becoming one with the green lush with all his senses.
In a massive one screen video installation, a group of nineteen men and women from various ethnic backgrounds are struck by a great amount of water coming from a high pressure hose. The video called The Raft (May 2004), expresses different actions and reactions from the people to a seemingly catastrophic situation. Some are struggling physically showing hardship of survival with their bodies, the others remain more upright; yet all characters are touched and moved by the sudden force. The scene of the people reacting with their personal response, with their bodies moving, resisting, twisting, and falling, is effective. In the end, the water stops and leaves people with altered positions. The narrative brings into mind a natural force, which takes over peoples’ lives and controls their surroundings. An occurrence, which people cannot control. The video story opens a new stance to altered ways of being flooded, or being carried away with life occurrences.
Bill Viola, The Raft, May 2004, video/sound installation. Color high-definition video projection on wall in a darkened space; 5.1 channels of surround sound; 10:33 minutes. Videostill/installation view at the National Portrait Gallery.
Bill Viola, The Raft, May 2004, video/sound installation. Color high-definition video projection on wall in a darkened space; 5.1 channels of surround sound; 10:33 minutes. Videostill/installation view at the National Portrait Gallery.
Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait exhibition is a well curated retrospective to the artist’s forty year career. It includes several works investigating life cycles, and the process of aging. It touches a question of gender, and the metaphysical place for people in the world. His video works speak with the language and gesture of the body and face. They confront us with emotion and presence. Portraits are not always beautiful, or the characters are not always beautiful in a sense of how we measure our bodily image. But they echo beauty with their truthfulness and soul, which goes further than a normative cultural presentation.
Bill Viola started his discovery with a Portapak camera in the early 1970s. Since that time, the video has been his medium of expression.