There is a test for a humankind, which is almost beyond measure. Health crisis with the current pandemic, too little or complete lack of solidarity for the #blacklivesmatter, environmental crisis, climate emergency: you name it, we almost seem to be moving backwards. To try to locate it in a visual-literacy sphere, it appears like a shock of an image. A complete inaccuracy of any portraiture of a situation. Yet we must. We need to find new images, create new existence for love and peace, and keep on finding creative solutions for our planet.
Artistic practices and curatorial interventions are still valid ways to express movement forward. They show legitimate approaches to voices speaking against structural injustice and discrimination. The power of art is that it can change our perceptions and attitudes. It can inform us. It can take a stance, which is strong, shocking, and informative at the same time, for example about refugees in the world. In the #blacklivesmatter movement, new curatorial openings can be made, and more voices will be put on center stage, so stories will be heard and seen. Not forgetting that gender equality is still a dream in the global art world.
The environmental crisis needs more of our attention as well. How to navigate a jungle of opinions in this world and speak in a creative, artistic and curatorial manner about the climate emergency. Relying on ‘safe’ structures, and displaying ice cubes that are melting on concrete in front of our eyes. Are we running out of ways to create imagery of a crisis? ‘A shock of an image’ of something that would be a gathering of species dying, a globe that was burnt, and/or left behind without mankind, a nature that is not natural as we know it, but could be imagined as anthropocene. We did it already.
Water crisis, a water scarcity and the inequality that it creates in the world is almost unparalleled. AQuarterof HumanityFaces LoomingWater Crises, is a great article published in New York Times giving an introduction to the problem. Climate change creates a high risk to water resources in places that have experienced enduring droughts. Water reserves are running out in hot and populated industrialized areas. For example, the clothing industry uses groundwater in Bangladesh, and creates a severe problem for its people. Mexico City is sinking after using its relied water resources. In Mexico City, the Zócalo, the main square in the historic city centre, is at a lower elevation than ancient Lake Texcoco; the city was built on its basin.
Global fresh water scarcity can be caused by droughts, a lack of rainfall or simply pollution. Will our experience economy stop from creating more pollution in the future? ‘Backwards’ is a metaphorical attest to imply that shock doesn’t come without imagery.
This year, World Environment Day on June 5, 2020, celebrates biodiversity. The mission is to educate people that with one million species facing possible extinction, it is now time to focus on biodiversity. Biodiversity can be imagined in the world’s forests or oceans, for example. We can safeguard the nature they provide, and prevent extinction.
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.
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
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
With the current exhibitions focusing on the historic works of Tyko Sallinen and Tove Jansson, The Helsinki Art MuseumHAM draws attention to modern Finnish art. Both exhibitions opened in January 27, 2017. Sallinen’s exhibition will run until the Fall of this year, and Tove Jansson’s frescos will remain on a permanent display in the museum.
The exhibition of Tyko Sallinen (1879–1955), explores works of a Finnish modernist pioneer in painting who is also a representative of expressionism in art. The exhibition consists of 50 works from the artist’s most important period, the 1910s. Tyko Sallinen’s expressionist works had a meaningful impact on Finnish art in the beginning of the 20th century. He and some other like-minded artists introduced new ideas into the Finnish art field, as their approach met open opposition and critique from the older generations of artists.
Sallinen was painting portraits of people, which became a signature marker of his often personal and intimate works. These one person and group portraits were also considered scandalous in their time because of their expressionist and emotive approach to people. Yet, many of his landscapes create a similar sense of strong moodiness. The landscapes imply that the role of nature was close to the artist’s thinking. The brushwork across different canvases come out with delicate movement, composing trees and horizons with earthy tones. The works bring forth viewer’s personal approach and feeling to the surroundings. Sallinen’s landscape compositions are both classic and reflective, confirming that human mind wishes to connect with its nature with intuitive touch and reflection. Simple blue and green hues of the two landscapes (pictured) convey messages, being poetic with a strong stance.
The other Finnish modernist artist receiving the exhibition in the HAMArt Museum is Tove Jansson (1914–2001). She is famously perceived as a creator, writer, visual artist and illustrator of the Moomin books. With a substantial global recognition, the Moomin characters are now more popular that ever around the world. It is no wonder that Tove Jansson’s visual compositions are among the most loved works in the HAM collection. The art museum has dedicated some of its galleries to an exhibition celebrating the artist’s entire life and works. These include also her less well known frescos, which she originally created on site for several public institutions. Tove Jansson stands out as an impressive woman with a long career as an artist and influential thinker. She was a skilled painter, writer of many genres, a comics artist and illustrator with a humorous larger than life approach, and a script writer. The exhibition shows the history of words and pictures bringing forth her richly illustrated stories.
Among the exhibition works are Jansson’s frescos titled Juhlat kaupungissa, Party in the City and Juhlat maalla, Party in the Country (the latter pictured above);and sketches of murals which the artist made for the Aurora Children’s Hospital (Leikki, Play I-III; Play II illustrated below) in Helsinki. The Play I-III series was created in 1955-57 for the walls of the staircases in the Aurora Hospital, and it features several Moomin characters running up the staircases. The hospital is now closed, but during the years of its operation, 1 million children were able to enjoy the art.
TheKaupunginkellari restaurant, known as Helsinki City HallRestaurant, opened in 1947 to serve as a canteen for the people working in the City Hall, and as a venue for official functions. ToveJansson painted the frescos Party in the City and Party in the Country duringthe same year for the restaurant. With these colorful works, the artist wished to express a sentiment of the joy of life, which was important for the country after its experiences and losses in the World War II. Jansson’s frescos were added to the restaurant’s interior, and were accompanied by the group of reliefs designed by Michael Schilkin, as well as pictures etched on windows by Yrjö Rosola. The HAM has also added lamps into Tove Jansson’s exhibition of frescos. They are the same lighting fixtures that were used in the restaurant. Their designer is Paavo Tynell (1890–1973), who made lighting designs for numerous public interiors.
From architectural and design point of view, Helsinki City HallRestaurant represented a remarkable example of Finnish modernism of its day. This was a time in the Finnish art history, when modernism in art was highly approaching different genres of artistry and design; bringing art, design and architecture in closer contact and communication with each other. The art and architecture union made peoples’ everyday life happier and more colorful, creating experiences for multiple senses.
HAM, The Helsinki Art Museum, concentrates on art collections, which belong to the people of Helsinki. The collection includes over 9,000 works of art, and almost half of the works are on display in parks, streets, offices, health centres, schools and city libraries.
Tyko Sallinen’s exhibition also shows works from artist’s first wife, Helmi Vartiainen, and by their daughters Taju and Eva.
Japanese sculptor Yasushi Koyama lives in Helsinki, Finland and exhibits frequently in the local galleries. In this interview, he ponders the aesthetics behind his cute wooden sculptures. The artist brings the two artistic worlds together in his deep knowledge of both Finnish and Japanese cultures. One of his revelations connects to an idea of etic (or ethic), a general belief that influences people’s behavior and attitudes.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When did you move to Finland, and how did you decide to go there to study?
Yasushi Koyama: I moved to Finland in Autumn 2007 to study Fine arts in Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in Imatra. In 2006, I met Finnish printmaker Tuula Moilanen and took her art courses in Kyoto Japan. She was a good teacher and gave me some advice for Finnish education and art school. Then I decided to come to Finland to study.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the best part of having two cultures to live in and with?
YK: The best part is to have another viewpoint beyond one culture. In addition, in my own artwork Finnish culture meets Japanese culture automatically, unconsciously and unintentionally. It is a good mixture of two cultures for me.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that new cultural heritage transforms you?
YK: I am transformed by Finnish culture on a daily basis especially with the sense of nature and with the contemporary culture of art & design in Helsinki. While in Imatra I experienced a lot of nature such as forest, lake, snow, river, waterfall etc. I took many photos of the beautiful Finnish nature during each season. In this point I was transformed to be a person who likes nature. At the same time, it reminded me of how to be a Japanese, because a life with nature is the very style of Japanese culture too. I came to Helsinki in 2012 to have my solo exhibition in NAPA Gallery. In 2012 Helsinki was the world design capital and my exhibition joined in with some events of World design capital 2012. NAPA Gallery had many artists who were related to graphic design. It was very fresh for me. The art of NAPA members inspired my own art language to absorb the feeling of contemporary graphic design into my art. So I am transformed to get the design viewpoint from the Helsinki contemporary culture.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are currently taking part of an exhibition at the Cable Factory in Helsinki. Tell about the background for this particular show.
YK: The show is called “Masters of Saimaa’16”. It is Masters of Fine Arts graduation exhibition in The Saimaa University of Applied Sciences. 9 master degree students have joined in the show. My artworks are 3 works. There are 2 wood sculptures and 1 wood installation from me.
One of the wood sculptures is titled Panda papa and child. It is a large sculpture, 160cm high and weighting more than 400 kg. The artwork is made for my Art for Children project in 2016. People can touch & hug this Panda papa sculpture, so it is interactive art, and the art also connects to our well-being. It is going to be donated to children’s public place as a public art after my upcoming solo exhibition in Galleria AARNI. I have a good memory attached to Panda. When I was 6 years old Panda came to Ueno Zoo in Japan from China. I visited the Zoo to watch the Panda with my father.
Another wood sculpture is titled Walking cat with Katja’s T-shirt – collaboration with Katja Tukiainen. It is 150 cm high and weights more than 200 kg. Artist Katja Tukiainen is my supervisor for my final works of my thesis. Both Katja and I had a similar experience of having cats as pets in our childhood, and we both like cats. Katja Tukiainen has also designed the official T-shirt for the Cable factory. I liked the T-shirts and so got the idea for the collaboration with her.
Then, my wood installation’s goes with the title The horizontal – wood installation. It is composed of 6 pieces of woods that were originally from one large tree (5m high). Each piece weights between 30 kg to 150 kg. It is made from ash wood that my friend gave me. The title is from Eija–Liisa Ahtila’s video work “The horizontal “ to use 6 screen panels to show one long tree in horizontal way. Her video work “The house” was the first contemporary Finnish art that I saw in Tokyo in 2003. Through this work I wanted to express the culture of wood in Finland and Japan, the process of wood sculpting and wood as a material itself. In Finland the forest area is 71% of the entire land area. In Japan the forest area is about 68% of the land area. In the world, the average of forest area is 31%. So in comparison, our countries have a lot of forest and woods. I think that we both have the tradition of wood culture such as wooden buildings, wooden houses, wooden tools, wooden arts etc. So wood is really important material for me.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You hear often that Finnish and Japanese cultures have something in common from the point of view of the design cultures. Do you think it’s true and in what ways?
YK: Yes, it is true. As I told, both Finland and Japan have the culture of wood. Both Finnish and Japanese like nature in life. So natural materials have an influence on the expression of our cultures of design, architecture and art. In addition simplicity, clarity and repetitive nature are similar in both cultures.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find your artistic expression with the sculpture?
YK: My artworks are animal sculptures described as “Cute, lovely and humorous”. Most of my works are made from one piece of wood by using hand chisels. The rich textures of wood sculpting give people a warm impression. My wood sculptures have the good mixture between traditional wood sculpting and contemporary expression.
I learnt traditional wood sculpturing in Japan, New Zealand, Transylvania and Finland. For example in Finland in school I learnt wood sculpting from Finnish sculptor Pasi Karjula. He cherished the traditional way of wood sculpting using axe and hand chisels as well as other methods.
In the contemporary art context my wood sculptures have the expression of cuteness and positive energy. Finnish painter Katja Tukiainen had an influence on those expressions. And Finnish sculptor Kim Simonsson inspired me with his innocence of cartoonish sculpture. In addition, the graphic design of Marimekko etc., as well as the culture of the Finnish children’s characters, especially the Moomins took effect on me.
At the same time Japanese Manga & Anime and “neo-pop” art by Japanese painter Yoshitomo Nara have influenced my art language of cuteness. The ideas of art works are inspired by animals, natural shape of wood, self-drawing, Finnish art, illustration, textile design and Japanese art & culture.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are your cute animal sculptures loved by both Finnish and Japanese audiences alike?
YK: Yes, I think so. They are loved and sold in both Finland and Japan. The interesting issue is that Finnish people say Yasushi’s works have Japanese feeling, and Japanese people say that Yasushi’s works have Finnish feeling in them. I accept their viewpoints as a good mixture between Finnish and Japanese culture.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you develop and teach your concepts to kids?
YK: I remember that I was making animal sculptures with clay almost every day when I was between 4-6 years old. My father gave me photo books of animals. After I looked at them I made animals. It was my ordinary life during my childhood. So it was natural for me to make cute animals. Although I was making a human sculpture while in school, after my graduation I remembered my enjoyment with animal sculptures. So it is normal and natural for me to make these cute animal sculptures. After starting to create animals, some friends and gallerists told me that my artworks include concepts for kids. So I will continue developing art based on my own childhood memories.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your favorite museum or museums in Finland and why?
YK: I have many favorite museums in Finland. It is difficult to tell of all the museums. So I point my favorite 3 art museums with exhibitions in 2016. I liked Ai Weiwei & Yayoi Kusamaexhibitions in Helsinki Art Museum, Ernesto Neto’s exhibition in 5th floor in Kiasma and “Suomen Taiteen Tarina” (Stories of Finnish Art) in Ateneum Art Museum. Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kusama are top well-known artists in the world. I appreciate HAM to have offered their exhibitions to people in Finland. I also like the space in Kiasma’s 5th floor. Ernesto Neto’s exhibition gave us the participation and experience, the post colonial and interdisciplinary disciplines in the contemporary art context. “Stories of Finnish Art” was very compact exhibition, but at the same time a very profound way to show Finnish art history. I thought it was a great opportunity for tourists in summer to see the exhibition in Ateneum and also for Finland to show their image through Finnish art.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe Finnish aesthetics?
YK: I want to describe 3 concepts of “less is more”, “silence” and “sorrow” as Finnish aesthetics.
When I think about aesthetics, I always think about “etic” of aesthetics. Etic (or ethic) is a general idea or belief that influences people’s behavior and attitudes. I think that Finnish etic are diligent, honest and simple. Finnish aesthetics is the general idea that influences Finnish people’s behavior to understand beauty. So in my opinion one of Finnish aesthetics is about “less is more”. When I see the simple structures of Finnish architectures, it is so obvious.
About “silence” (hiljaisuus in Finnish), and how it is connected to nature. I remember silent landscape of snow in forest during winter. It was very beautiful. One of my Finnish friends gave me the message about nature, comparing sisu to silence (sisu is a Finnish spirit against strong power). “Nature means more than forests or lakes. It means freedom for oneself. Sisu is the most important for Finns. But how can one respect the other’s freedom? To respect one’s own freedom and the other’s freedom, Finns are keeping silent.” It is poetic but precisely showing the Finnish behavior of silence.It says that silence is the expression to respect one’s own and other’s freedom. Silence is one core of beauty related to the idea of freedom in Finnish culture.
About “sorrow” (suru in Finnish). A Finnish pop singer-song writer Kaija Koo says the phrase: Niin kaunis on hiljaisuus, mutta kauniimpaa on kaipaus. It means: So beautiful is silence but more beautiful is longing. So, when a Finn misses another person or a place, they feel sorrow. The sense of sorrow is connected to the feeling of longing and missing. In addition, a Finnish sense of sorrow takes place in the melancholic climate of Finland, such as during cold, dark and snow etc. “Sorrow” is a general and profound concept in Finnish art, film, novel, mythology etc.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does innovation mean to you?
YK: Innovation is the attitude to look for new applications of old knowledge and the one to create new concepts by mixing more than two different concepts and cultures.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who do you collaborate with and where do you work? Is teamwork important to you?
YK: To meet a person is very important for me. So I would like to cherish meeting a person. This time I collaborated with Finnish painter Katja Tukiainen in Cable Factory, Helsinki. I met her in Cable Factory in 2009 coincidentally, when I was walking around the Cable Factory. She was very kind to me even though I didn’t know her at all at that time. She talked to me friendly about Japan and her exhibition in Yokohama, Japan. I think that meeting is sometimes coincidental but often meaningful. I would like to cherish such a meeting. For the collaboration it is important for me to have a similar concepts, and to be able to share ideas. It is important for me to make collaboration beyond your own culture and to create something new from it. I have collaborated with artists such as painters, sculptors and printmakers. For the future I am interested in collaborating with not only artists but also with designers, anthropologists, philosophers, children, and with ordinary people to be transforming my art.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have an opinion about Kusama’s works, she is now extremely popular in the West. How do you like the exhibition in Helsinki at the moment?
In my opinion Kusama’s exhibition includes an important concept of interdisciplinarity, the roles of post colonial and gender in the contemporary art world. So it is natural for the West to accept her art. And her exhibition shows not only art but also an idea to share an experience of her art with visitors. It means that her art works are not only objects but also the image of her art, spirit and that of the contemporary culture. Her exhibition goes beyond art and connects with people in the gallery space to share their experiences. From this point of view, the visitors can participate in her exhibition. And I find that her paintings have an influence coming from native art and aboriginal art. Then, I think that her dot art includes not only pop art but also biological consideration of a cell, Shintoism and neo animism. I imagine that those concepts are fresh and still new to the West. So I admire HAM (Helsinki Art Museum) to have her exhibition.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does Kusama have an approach that can be applied to other things, or could there be a recipe for a good idea to be developed further. There seems to be something that makes people really want to participate in it?
YK: Yayoi Kusama was the world’s most popular artist in 2014. And she is still one of the most popular artist in 2016. I think that the quality of this exhibition is among the top of the world. And her exhibition has been already developed by the point of visitor’s participation, comparing it to her exhibition that I saw in Matsumoto, Japan in 2003. It would be possible for her to use 5 senses to prompt visitors to participate in her art, such as the sense of touch, the sense of smell and auditory sense.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that art should be more sensorial, and available for people to touch?
YK: Yes, at least for me. I think touching art is a much deeper experience than seeing art. I make my large animal wooden sculptures (about 160 x 80 x70 cm) to be touchable and huggable. It is a hands-on way of “interactive art” in a sense that visitors also take action towards the art. And it is also “participation art” as you are touching and hugging a sculpture in the exhibition gallery space or in the public space. The importance of touching art is also connected to the internet period or described as a post-internet period. Although we can see a lot of images through internet, we can’t get a sense of touch through internet as well. So the sense of touch is a strong point attached to my animal sculptures. The feeling of a wood material is little warm and nice to human body. My animal sculptures have been already in some public places as public art. It gives people happiness and experiences in a way that they participate in a society through art.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is there a line between art and design in contemporary art or does there have to be?
YK: For me such a line is not so meaningful in our contemporary time. Design can be art and art can be design. I think that art and design have an effect on each other especially here in Helsinki.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are you planning next, do you have new ideas and exhibitions coming up?
YK: My next exhibition is coming soon 23.11-18.12.2016 in Galleria AARNI in Espoo, Finland. The concept is “Cute” –between SÖPÖ and Kawaii. I mix Finnish cuteness “SÖPÖ” with Japanese cuteness “Kawaii” in my art. In Japan “Kawaii” (= the quality of cuteness) has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture. This term Kawaii has taken on the secondary meanings of cool, groovy, charming and innocent. The book “Kawaii Syndrome” tells “cute” and “neat” have taken precedence over the former Japanese aesthetics of “beautiful” and “refined”. So cuteness is a new cultural wave of Japanese postwar generation especially of the ones born in 70’s and 80’s. This cultural wave has come to Europe particularly through Manga and Anime. For the design of my animal wood sculptures I use Finnish wood, and the Finnish cuteness of SÖPÖ is inspired by Finnish art and design. In the exhibition visitors can see ”Cute” animal sculptures, touch & hug a large sculpture ”Panda Papa & Child”. I am hoping the audiences will enjoy Yasushi Koyama’s world of cute animals in the exhibition coming to Galleria AARNI.
New York city based artist Amelia Marzec has been working on a project Weather Centerfor the Apocalypse since 2015. The work is presented during Climate Week in NYC, opening taking place on September 20, 2016 at United Nations Plaza. The artist has created an ongoing and evolving Weather Tower installation, which handles a theme of change in the environment and culture where we live in. Weather Center for the Apocalypse is an alert to an uncertain future as it predicts those “changes that could affect the autonomy of citizens in the event of disaster”. According to Marzec, the project offers alternative perceptions to the media-driven forecasts we constantly encounter, and takes seriously the fears and superstitions that we as community may have. Recently, the project was on display at Sixth Extinction Howl at Billings Library in the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find weather? It is there all the time, but to become a derivative and subject for art, do you find it is common at all?
Amelia Marzec: Currently there are a lot of artists doing work either directly or indirectly on the influence of human activity on climate change. I have seen a few other weather projects since starting the Weather Center for the Apocalypse. Everyone on earth is participating in this story right now, whether they are aware of it or not.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the background for your project, which will also materialize during Climate Week in New York.
AM: The Weather Center for the Apocalypse began during an anxious time when I was in a relationship that was failing, at the same time that my Grandfather’s health was failing. It was a moment of knowing that these things were going to end, while not knowing exactly when that was going to happen. I needed to prepare and put things in perspective: what would be the most outrageous ending? The world could end, of course. With the current focus on climate change, it didn’t seem that far off.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Have you always been future oriented, foreseeing the future, as apocalypse might imply?
AM: Yes. My current work began a number of years ago, when I lost all of my hearing in one ear due to a tumor. I began to focus on the reality of daily communication failure in my life, and to pay more attention to the physical objects that make up our telecommunications infrastructure: our phones, our internet, our radios, and other devices. I began building objects to avert possible future disasters of communication in our society. The Weather Center for the Apocalypse continues this work by becoming a news media center for a pre-apocalyptic world.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about the narrative part of your Weather Center for the Apocalypse project, in which the visual implements a strong narrative element, what do you want to say about it?
AM: The story of the Weather Center unfolds over time as the project is built and refined. It began by providing forecasts to STROBE Network, a news network that was broadcast from Flux Factory in 2015. News and weather reports that were both practical and fantastical fed a daily apocalypse warning system. However, it has become clear that the Weather Center needs to be prepared for complete telecommunications failure, so the Weather Tower, which is a functioning weather station, was built mostly from salvaged materials that I gathered in my neighborhood. It collects local weather data so we don’t need to rely on major news sources. Predictions, fears, and anxieties are collected by interviewing local residents, and severe warnings are broadcast over a short distance with an FM radio transmitter.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where did you install the Weather Tower before, and how did those environments alter the direction?
The Weather Tower has traveled to different locations in New York to collect weather data and predictions from residents, including Industry City with Creative Tech Week; Governor’s Island with FIGMENT festival; Sag Harbor with Wetland, a fully sustainable houseboat; and Long Island City with Flux Factory and the Artificial Retirement exhibition. Being outdoors tends to trigger people’s memories more of changes that are happening on the earth. I’ve been caught in the rain a few times now, which has forced me to become better at weatherproofing the work.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Since you will have the UN presentation, what expectations do you have for it. Is it possible that the work will gain more global visibility with the location?
AM: There are some meetings that week at the UN about climate change, so it would be really nice to continue those conversations in a public place, as it affects all of us. I would also let passers by know about Climate Week. This type of artwork tends to happen one conversation at a time, so I don’t expect it to be a global phenomenon. Hopefully I can collect some interesting predictions.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does the work read a label climate change art, do you think that art can be a vehicle towards a better understanding on what is happening?
AM: Yes, climate change is one of the major themes of the Weather Center for the Apocalypse. I do think art is a vehicle towards better understanding of the issues, and I also think that is one of the responsibilities of an artist.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have been connected to Eyebeam in New York City, what has this education and community meant for your creative thinking?
AM: I’m currently an Impact Resident at Eyebeam, working on our conference Radical Networks. The conference brings together artists, educators, and technologists to discuss the future of alternative networks in the context of community. This could mean experimental social computer networks, local community and rural networks, network security, uses of networks for activism, and the overall question of who owns the network. The community at Eyebeam is made up of some of the most forward-thinking people on the future of art and technology, and it is an honor to be among them. Seeing how other artists live and get work done has given me the confidence to pursue these projects, in addition to expanding my thinking about the work itself.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think a notion artistic research designates, a process that goes beyond a merely presentation to include research on a specific subject?
AM: It depends on the context, sometimes it simply means searching for images or text to be used in a project. But it should mean practice-based research, which has more depth in that the projects are leading a conversation, which happens in the context of previous writers and theorists. There’s other types of research where you’re mostly talking about artwork, but not making it. I’m a very hands-on person so I’m letting the work lead for now.
Amelia Marzec_Satellite launch (Video still)
Amelia Marzec, Weather data.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is so interesting how you relate to technology with a nostalgic wibe. There seems to be also a feature of old electronics and low tech involved in the making. How do the objects make you inspired?
AM: My previous project, New American Sweatshop, is a working model of an electronics manufacturing factory for a post-industrial economy, using our trash as a natural resource. I had gotten frustrated with building activist projects that were only possible for very privileged groups of people: people who could afford to buy technology, and had the education to know how to build it. I was also getting parts from international companies. During hurricane Sandy, there was no way to get supplies, as the roads were closed. So I started the New American Sweatshop to source parts locally from the resources that we had, which turned out to be our trash. It’s not so much nostalgia as necessity, knowing what we’d have to do to build communications infrastructure in a disaster scenario.
Amelia Marzec, karma, from New American Sweatshop, 2015
Amelia Marzec, Schematic, from New American Sweatshop, 2015
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have discussed a role of the digital as something that might alienate us from connecting to one another. Should we go back in time, beyond the internet in our human communication, or do you think there is something else, which is a possible way to go?
AM: We need to use the current digital technology as a tool to organize and meet up in person. We need each other as human beings, and we will never be able to duplicate the experience of being together in the same space, despite advances in technology.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the philosophies which you rely upon, and make references in you work?
AM: I’ve always been very much into DIY culture, having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: One strong sensibility which comes across in your approach is feminist art, or a community of women making societal art. You have been featured in conjunction to A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn that promotes the women’s voices. Would you like to say something about this special connection?
Women are not on equal footing worldwide, so anything that serves to amplify women’s voices and give them confidence in their work is something I appreciate. Being together to have this discussion and forming our own networks is key. It’s possible that I’ve gotten more opportunities through connections with other women than with men. The idea of women competing with each other is outdated; we are more effective when we collaborate, and that is something that I see younger women doing more and more.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does VR resonate with anything you are interested in? Can we save the world with the idea of VR offering alternative perspectives?
AM: I’m both fascinated and frightened by VR. I don’t believe it will save the world. Having different perspectives is always helpful, but people have to be open to them. Whatever happens, we have to keep working on our own morality.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you wish yourself going next in terms of plans?
AM: I’d like to build out more of the Weather Center, and I’m looking for support in order to do that.
Amelia Marzec was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and went to college at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers in New Brunswick. She came to NYC to attend the Design and Technology MFA program at Parsons in 2003, and has lived in the city ever since.
Katsutoshi Yuasa is a Japanese artist who has revitalized the original idea of photography, thinking about its early techniques, and bringing the digital production close to ancient Japanese printmaking practices. His detailed and lengthy artistic process starts usually with a digital snapshot. Eventually the image finds a new life as woodcut print or relief work, which the artist carves and prints all by a hand. In this production the original alters into something else, depicting a feeling or experience. Katsutoshi Yuasa was born in Tokyo. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, and has exhibited internationally for over a decade now.
For Katsutoshi Yuasa, the photography contains several layers of meaning. The complexity of the medium implies that the production cannot be perceived as pure images.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your woodcutting is based on photography, did this practice in your mind transform the idea of photography?
Katsutoshi Yuasa: Yes, my process of making art works is a way of thinking about an origin of photography. Or it is about image-making. How we understand and transform an image in front of our eyes to our mind.
I start from a photographic snapshot, but re-emergence of a photographic image is not my goal. My purpose of using a photograph is to make visible something which is perceived but no one sees.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in the arts, how did you end up choosing woodcutting?
KY: I studied painting at first when I was a student. But I gave up my paintings because I couldn’t find a good future in my paintings. So I participated in a short printmaking course, and then found positive possibilities in the printmaking. Even that time my interest was photography, so I was thinking photo etching or screen print technique as my primary expression. At first, woodcut print seemed to be too far from photography. But later I concerned carving lines on wood as a similar process to making lights in the dark room. Now I’ve been making woodcut prints and works related to wood for over 10 years. Basically, woodcut print includes questions about light, image, water and colour.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In how many countries have you exhibited so far, including art galleries and art fairs?
KY: Maybe about 15 or 16 countries.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Coming from Japan, do you find that there are common approaches to making art in Japanese and Nordic cultures, asking this also because your art has been showed in Nordic countries quite often?
KY: My main subject is woodcut print but it is about light, image, water and colour. So I made a project with an idea of these and created a concept from a place where I stayed. When I visited Norway with the art project “20 Coastal Stations”, my subject was water & colour. I’m going to have a exhibition in October 2016 with artists who traveled together in Norway last year (see info here http://www.sfk.museum.no/nn/node/48).
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You spent also some artist residence time in Finland, how was this experience like, did it change your artistry, how about finding new influences?
KY: I spend a really good time in Finland. During the artist residence in Finland, I searched Scandinavian myths and poems. I’m interested in how myths are made. I made woodcut prints titled as “Illmatar” and “The world without words”. Also “Listen, Nature is full of songs and truth” is a phrase that I borrowed from Finland.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that many of your photographs carry nature imagery, what is your artistic philosophy about nature and how does it change in the process of making your works?
KY: I am not interested in making just beautiful pictures. My interest are words, stories and myths behind the nature and the landscape. The topics are words, images, art, nature, politics and beauty. I would also like to show and include ambivalence in my works.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In recent years, you have made a series of works that imply thematic concerns about what is happening in the world. You did a series titled “The Colors of the Innocents”; the theme is based on events in the Middle East adopting Syrian crisis. How did this project come about?
KY: Everyday we see many shocking images on TV or on a screen. There are too many images around us via the internet. I have the works titled as “We lost something but we don’t know what we lost”. And, we can say “We see anything but we don’t remember what we saw” and also “We know something is happening in the world but we don’t know the smell and temperature”. These topics are about cruelty and colour.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The result of these prints is quite amazing. Tell about the aesthetic choices of making “The Colors of the Innocents”? They are quite different from your other works, which are more representational.
KY: For these works, I was more interested in making colourful works because colour is getting more important in my practice. One colour work is following up from my CMYK printing system. So I made 4 wood blocks with different lines and printed with 4 CMYK colours.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You can see that in 2015 there are new lines and shapes emerging, and result is perhaps more geometry and color. The prints titled All is Vanity, CMYCYMMCYMYCYCMYMC, and Nordlys, to name a few, have this form. Can you say that there is a fine line between design and art in the project that you are doing with these shapes?
KY: The most important idea for these works is “A Throw of the Dice Never Abolish Chance”. My interest is making an Image by a chance. Especially the I Ching is very interesting. There is a question that we choose something by a will or a chance. So my latest solo exhibition was titled as Colour/Numbers. How we choose numbers or how a number was chosen by us.
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015,Nordlys 45cm diameter Water-based woodcut on paper.
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, CMYCYMMCYMYCYCMYMC / Set of 24 sheets, 64cm x 48cm each / Water-based woodcut on paper.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the “Beyond assumption” exhibition, which you had in Copenhagen in 2011, you kind of wanted to create an oppositional imagery of disaster, could you tell about this background, and what did you choose to be part of the imagery beyond assumption?
Yes, the exhibition “Beyond assumption” is a word from the Natural disaster that hit in Japan in 2011. Artists want to make their art works beyond assumption in the end. And of course Nature is always beyond our assumption. But we made a system under an unstable base. So here art connects to nature.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The works from 2016 also are experimenting with different shapes, reflecting pattern explorations, and bringing forth new influences. It seems that you have a flux of going between geometry and nature, to create and implement beauty?
KY: Yes, I’m very interested in geometry and patterns. It is about image-making. History and culture are included behind an image.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are you heading next with your art and career?
KY: My next exhibition will be in Norway in October. It includes works from 20 Coastal Stations project. So 6 artists will be showing together, presenting the project. Also, I will have a group exhibition with young Japanese artists, who make water-based woodcut prints, in Melbourne in October.
Laura Anderson Barbata is a transdisciplinary artist known for her onsite projects in Mexico, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and Norway. She is currently working on participatory, collaborative works that combine performance, procession, protest, movement and wearable sculptures to convey a message. In this interview, Laura discusses her recent artistic work and collaborations, giving a sense of the issues that matter in our current society.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you live and work now, it seems you have multiple engagements across different continents at the moment?
LAB: I work in NY and Mexico, my home country, but I am based in Brooklyn, New York although many projects often take me to different countries such as Jamaica, Venezuela and Norway to create and present projects. The work for each project is developed in my studio and onsite.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You work with an exotic art form, stilt dancing, what is the story behind, how did you become interested in this culture?
LAB: I became involved with stilt dancing communities in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in 2001 when I was invited to Trinidad by Caribbean Contemporary Arts CCA7 for an artist residency in Grand Riviere, a small community on the north of the island. As part of the residency I began a community papermaking project in the village of Grand Riviere and while we were working on the project I wanted to expand my work to the urban areas of Trinidad and learn from the rich Carnival traditions practiced there. I had initially wanted to work with Peter Minshall, a brilliant carnival designer who I have a great admiration for, but life took me in a different direction. Through a friend of CCA7, I was introduced to Dragon, the founder and director of Keylemanjahro School of Artsand Culture in the neighborhood of Cocorite in Port of Spain. Dragon has set up in the patio of his house a place where the youth from his community after-school could learn the art of stilt dancing. This is a community project that serves his neighborhood and is open and free-of-charge for all kids in the neighborhood. The primary focus is to keep kids off-the-streets and engaged in the cultural tradition of stilt dancing as it was passed down from West Africa to the West Indies, with the objective of having the group participate in the annual Junior Carnival Parade. The group worked with little to no resources and exclusively with the help of parents in the neighborhood. I was immediately attracted to the project, the objectives of the group and the cultural tradition, and felt that we could initiate a collaboration in which each could bring forth our skills, exchange knowledge and enrich each other´s practice. I asked Dragon if he would accept me as a volunteer and he immediately accepted me into the group, I worked with Keylemanjahro for 5 years creating alongside the kids and parents, costuming and thematic development for their Carnival presentations.
This collaboration made a great impact on both of our lives and work, and to this day I continue to work with stilt dancers. I always understood that working with Keylemanjahro was for a limited time, the experience had enriched both parts equally and it was also necessary for me to work close to home. Around this time, my gallery in New York invited me to have a solo exhibition and I proposed that we turn the gallery into a workshop for kids and teens and apply what I had learned in Trinidad and to show some of the work I had made in Trinidad and Tobago and they liked the idea.
Next, I had to find partners and collaborators, I had heard about the Brooklyn Jumbies, (a group of stilt dancers from the West Indies and West Africa), and approached them with a project in which we would have weeknight workshops in the Chelsea gallery and the street to train young stilt dancers and prepare a presentation for the group for a street performance on 23rd Street in Chelsea and then for the West Indian American Junior Carnival Parade. The project was titled Jumbie Camp and it was what launched my collaboration and relationship with the Brooklyn Jumbies, and to this day we continue to work together. To date, we have presented a number of projects together such as Intervention:Wall Street, 2011, (https://youtu.be/84E877vGkpc); Intervention: Indigo, 2015, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m0wLE7dSbY), performed at MoMA in 2007; and the project for TBA21–The Current titled What Lives Beneath that was performed in Kingston Jamaica this year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs72qGXI3GU) among others.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The community aspect in the making of stilt dancing is evident, loud even. In what ways do you capture that essence in your own work within the subject, and in relation to its multiple contexts?
LAB: My interest is to integrate into my work the various traditions and customs that surround us and with an artistic lens insert them into a familiar space. Stilt dancing brings forth numerous ways of performing that include procession and carnival arts. My work brings together these different forms and, depending on the narrative, can integrate protest into the unfolding of the performative work.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How does stilt dancing appear to you first, as performance, as costumes, action, identity, visual art, or combination of all those things?
LAB: Stilt dancing for me combines many things. To start, we are working with scale– larger-than-life characters that have the possibility to capture our attention. The movement vocabulary of a dancer towering over us expands in space. They are accentuated and can extend themselves through their use of textiles and different materials. This is where costuming is essential to the performance visuals and the message. But also very important to me is the symbolism and tradition that is embedded into this practice.
Traditional Moko Jumbies are spiritual beings, whose purpose in West African communities is to protect their villages against evil or misfortune. We cannot look past the social role of the Moko Jumbie stilt dancer, and the metaphor is quite clear: to see the world from an elevated perspective. For me it is very important to always honor the historical function and cultural importance of a Moko Jumbie and to integrate that purpose into the work. So yes, it is about dance, procession, performance art, ritual, and also a vehicle for communicating a message through contemporary art.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you feel there is a line, which you cross in the making of community arts, in which the discussion turns towards the subject matter rather than the artistic medium?
LAB: I would hope that by working in this way we do away with those boundaries. Lines are usually drawn to divide and set limits, and my approach is to bring together diverse perspectives and traditions, where each one maintains its individual knowledge while at the same time exchanging and sharing diverse ways of seeing through our work together. Also, I aim for that moment when the spectator and the participants see and experience the totality of the work without disengaging the subject matter from the way it is presented. For example in Intervention: Wall Street, there comes a point where it is absolutely clear that through stilt dancing we are addressing the corporate and financial giants of Wall Street, but there is no effort in perceiving the message, they are intertwined. The metaphor in this case works off of all the layers of meaning embedded and the form through which it is expressed.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have recently been participating in the making of environmental art project titled The Kula Ring. Could you tell about the expedition that took you to the Pacific Island with the group of artists and scientists?
LAB: The environment has been a continual concern and interest of mine from the beginning of my career. I began my practice making works in the studio that addressed nature and the environment through drawings on paper, sculpture and outdoor installations. I also initiated community projects in the Amazon of Venezuela that combined environmental protection and the preservation of oral history in the communities through paper and book making with local materials. This background and experience is the reason I was invited by the curator Ute Meta Bauer to become a fellow of The Current by TBA21, Thyssen Bornemisza Contemporary titled The Kula Ring. (https://www.tba21.org/thecurrent)
The project is an ambitious and innovative approach to explore and find solutions to environmental issues such as global warming and the protection of the oceans. The project brings together scientists and artists and together we embark on a number of exploratory trips by sea to different areas of the South Pacific. Along with researchers, curators and artists, I participated in expeditionary trip that took us to Papua New Guinea.
There have been subsequent exploratory trips to other areas of the South Pacific with other participants and curators leading those groups. As part of the project, The Current brings us together after our trips for a convening to exchange ideas and share our experiences and findings with different communities, and to listen to their own experiences and responses to our work. The first convening took place in Jamaica this year–in Kingston. We met, discussed and presented our work and findings not only amongst ourselves but also with the local community. For this convening I created the performance What-Lives-Beneath in collaboration with the Brooklyn Jumbies, custodian of the Jamaican oral tradition Amina Blackwood-Meeks, choreographer Chris Walker and members of the National Dance and Theater Company of Jamaica informed by scientists, environmentalists and activists. This work integrated into one performance: dance, procession, science, text, spoken word, scientific research, music and wearable sculptures created with craft elements originating from Papua New Guinea and other materials to portray sea life and the elements.
Laura Anderson Barbata, artist on TBA21 project The Current
The Current, What Lives Beneath by Laura Anderson Barbata for TBA21, Kingston, Jamaica, 2016
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The Kula exchange or Kula ring, is a classic anthropological theme, its core idea is formed around gift and commodity exchanges. Perhaps our contemporary society and times can learn from this indigenous practice originating in Papua New Guinea? Do you personally relate to this theme, or does it have relevance to you as a principle?
LAB: One of the key tenets of my practice is reciprocity. My methodology combines an intuitive exploratory approach with a strong focus on listening. This means that I want to receive information through all my senses as well as intellectually and to find ways in which we can establish relationships built on the principles of reciprocity. So it is important for me to integrate conversations with collaborators and participants in every step of the process. The Kula Ring Exchange, as you say, is centered around gift and commodity exchanges. But there is also a secondary but equally important intention: to forge long-lasting relationships that are maintained and supported by the exchange of goods. On a personal level, this relates to my understanding of reciprocity and the value in creating kinships that transcend borders and ideologies beyond our everyday associations. I feel that contemporary society needs to focus greater attention to these forms of community building which demand personal involvement. These forms of exchange are capable of expanding our knowledge and can also bring a deeper meaning to our everyday lives, so that growth is not only personal but also expands to benefit the communities we live in.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself to be an environmentalist, if so, how do you think art serves the topic of environmentalism, and brings forth embedded action?
LAB: Through the project The Current, I have had the privilege of meeting extraordinary world-renowned scientists, thinkers and activists that have devoted their careers and lives to environmental issues and conservation. I know what a true environmentalist is, and for this reason I would hardly call myself an environmentalist in the formal sense of the word. But I can say that I am deeply concerned with the environment and committed to learning all I can and through my work as an artist address these issues, in order to contribute on both a personal and professional level. In that way I might be considered an environmentalist.
I believe that joining artists and scientists who are focused and concerned about the environment can bring us to a better understanding of the problems we are facing, to enable us to communicate these concerns and findings more effectively to our audiences in innovative, inspiring and thought-provoking ways. I believe that every person on an individual level can create change, and if more people are inspired to join in these efforts there can be a significant positive impact.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are there specific ways your art is bringing into cultural exchange, in terms of communicating between different people, and perhaps transmitting something unique into our society at large?
LAB: As I mentioned before, at the core of my work is the concept of reciprocity: the balanced exchange of ideas and knowledge. For this reason, my work methodology combines an intuitive exploratory approach with a strong focus on listening with the intention of bringing mutual benefits to all participants. It is very important to me that the bridges built between communities–the personal ties and experiences gained–continue far beyond each project. Art is the vehicle, the pretext for a conversation and for an exchange of ideas that incorporate the material as well as the personal for its execution.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your knowledge about cultures and traditions is reflected in your artistic applications. From a more philosophical point of view, are there motivational approaches that resonate through your artistic lens?
LAB: I am strongly motivated to address through my work as an artist the challenges that face our current society. I feel a sense of urgency to delve into issues of human rights, women´s rights, indigenous issues and the environment.
Feminist artists and writers are a source of great inspiration and guidance for me, Judith Butler, Carol Adams, and artists Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Melissa H. Potter and Monica Mayer, to name only a few of the women whose work always has the capacity to teach me something new no matter how many times I read or see their work. Also on my usual go-to list are Jacques Ranciere and Paulo Freire. Theater is an art form that I love and always learn from. The Wooster Group, for example, always presents challenging works in innovative formats that are thought-provoking and executed in ways that combine various techniques, all of which teach me something new. I try to find community groups, activists, artist collectives, urban dancers and performance artists that work outside of the mainstream that are expanding and challenging the concepts of community dynamics, education, dance, performance, music, and proposing ways in which to see, live and engage with each other and the world around us.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It would be interesting to hear about your future, what projects are you continuing, and what topics are you exploring further?
LAB: I am working on a number of projects, as we have discussed earlier, one very exciting project I am working on is with TBA21 The Current, coordinated by Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art, in which scientists and artists are brought together to address the urgent issues of climate change and the oceans. This project is in its first year and my involvement will be for three years. I will be creating new works for this project in the form of performances and wearable sculptures which are still in progress.
I am also continuing my work on the Julia Pastrana project. For this project, I am further working on the topics related to her story, the injustices that she lived and how these are still relevant today. I am working on a performance piece presented as a work-in-progress that is continually evolving, a series of zines that address different topics related to Julia Pastrana such as: repatriation of human remains, museum ethics, exhibition practices, the objectification of people and women, human traffic, beauty and the commercialization of women´s bodies, feminism, animal rights, love, circus arts, and more. I am publishing a book about Julia Pastrana with contributions from scientists, scholars and art historians to address the story of Julia Pastrana from different perspectives that also includes art works. And for 10 years now, I am working on collaborative project with the artist collective Apparatjik and Concha Buika to create an Opera about Julia Pastrana, which will premiere at the main stage of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, Norway in 2019.
Dalaeja Foreman is a curator, community organizer, first generation Caribbean-American and Brooklyn native. Her curatorial practice seeks to combat misconceptions of oppressed people and resistance through direct action, cultural esteem and the arts. She is a graduate from the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Dalaeja is also alumni of No Longer Empty Curatorial Lab 2015. In January-February 2016, she co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for theBronxArtSpace. The exhibition addressed legacies of injustice and practices of institutional racism, offering alternative views and acts of empowerment for the artist in their communities, creating realities that affirm that #BlackLivesMatter.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You co-curated a show ‘Speak Out’ for The Bronx Art Space. Could you tell about the roots for establishing that collaboration?
Dalaeja Foreman: That I have! Alongside Linda Cunningham and Eva Mayhabal Davis.
After working with her on a No Longer Empty curatorial fellowship exhibition, Linda (Director of BronxArtSpace) asked me if I would be interested in co-curating an exhibition she was conceptualizing. An exhibition about institutionalized racism, as a white woman, Linda did not feel as though this was an exhibition she should be curating without the voice of a person of color (A decision I respected and cherished deeply, giving me the assurance of her allyship ). After meeting with one another and having a long conversation about the significance of this discourse she told me she would give me curatorial license over the exhibition and asked if I would want to work with anyone. I suggested we work with another No Longer Empty fellow, Eva Mayhabal Davis.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The concept had several outcomes as art works, performances, and community events. Could you tell how it all came together and succeed?
Dalaeja: The exhibition was submission based, inspired by the Respond exhibition at Smack Mellon Gallery. Linda selected a panel of artists (including Eva and I) to review the 80+ submissions. Once we selected the works, Eva and I thought very thoroughly about the themes and counter themes in each selected work and put them in conversations with one another accordingly. We decided it would be best to give extended labels to the works to give our audience as much contextual knowledge as possible. Since the Mott Haven area of the Bronx is heavily Spanish speaking, we also provided the labels in Spanish.
As a strong believer in activating art spaces for radical acts, I wanted to be sure the exhibition had as many programs that responded to the many intersections of racism in our society as our capacity could handle. These themes varied from the criminalization of black and brown youth to the celebration and use of black love and Black Girl Magic as a radical acts.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How was your experience in Bronx, in comparison to Brooklyn, where you are from?
Dalaeja: Aside from being a Curator and Arts administrator, I am a first generation Caribbean-American, community organizer and Brooklyn Native. As an organizer, I have done a considerable amount of work around the mass-displacement of working-class communities (most often communities of color) in Brooklyn. Sadly, Art has been used as as a catalyst for what I consider the cultural erasure of my native borough.
I see the arts as yet another tool for social change, and art has been used historically to work as ancillary support for communities of color. Whether it be thru healing or practical solutions for community issues. Although this is a truth for Brooklyn’s artistic history, I feel as though this concept has been stronger in Bronx history due to the many ways State and city institutions have historically neglected Bronx county.
Artists can use their talents for exposing truth for the benefit of their communities and this seems to be particularly weaved into the fabric of the artistic history of the Bronx. A history I have incredible respect for, that continues on.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How important was the role of social media in creating networks, and establishing new audiences?
Dalaeja: Eva is more of the social media wiz. I was more concerned about the ways in which we could ensure the community members knew about the exhibition and we’re involved in our programming. This outreach included, working with the BronxArtSpace interns to outreach to local high schools, doing physical flying for the exhibition, dropping flyers off at local bodegas and restaurants. As well as dropping information of at local libraries and speaking/building relationships with community members. Some of whom were artists in the exhibition, which made me soon happy!
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your ideal audience for the art?
Dalaeja: Since I truly see art as a tool for inspiring radical action, my ideal audience is always working-class people (some of whom also happen to be artists and art enthusiast). Especially in the case of the ‘Speak Out’ exhibition because, it took place in a working class community. If these spaces aren’t intended for their own communities, why should they exist there? This is a concept Linda truly understands which is yet another reason I LOVE working with her.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in coming to curating arts?
Dalaeja: I began working in the arts as a part-time Gallery Assistant at the Milk Gallery then began working as an exhibition manager for a small gallery that specialized in 20th and 21st century counter-cultural ephemera (say that 10 times fast. bahaha). This experience helped me realize the significance the arts have had on social movements of the past and inspired me to pursue curation. I began taking online course with Node Center to learn more. After the gallery lost funding and I lost my job I decided to use the little bit of money I had saved to invest in my interest and started applying for fellowship programs. After my incredible experience with the No Longer Empty fellowship, I decided this is surly a way I could use my interest in the arts pragmatically to help plant the psychological seeds for social change. I still have so much to learn to pursue my practice as radically and community-collaboratively as I can, and am currently a Create Change Fellow with the INCREDIBLE Laundromat Project.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you education support your current directions and help you to develop your vision?
Dalaeja: I studied Visual Presentation and Exhibition design at The Fashion Institute of Technology, this experience helped me truly understand my love of space and it’s possibilities. I minored in International politics which further introduced me to the ways in which politics (on a community level) and exhibitions/display can merge. Most of my curatorial focused knowledge has been from lived experience, work experience and continuing education programs. As a lover of knowledge, I am interested in perusing a Masters degree in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Africa and Asia.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you develop your curatorial concepts, is there a phase of writing or visualizing things in a specific manner, or talking?
Dalaeja: It is a bit of all of those things. I am a ranter by nature so that really helps with getting concepts across that I believe are worth exploring.
Often I am inspired by the political education meetings with the organization I am a part of (The People Power Movement) as well as my friends and family members. Or I may have a design concept in mind that I think is worth collaborating with artists one. BUT most importantly, I am inspired by the Art work and the concepts that artist is exploring.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think is a role of a curator in society in large, in other words, how do you think the micro ideas meet the macro levels?
I believe Curators have a powerful platform, giving us the ability to work with artists and communities to push narratives into the mainstream consciousness. These narratives can help people critically think and sympathize deeply about concepts in which they weren’t even aware of. This is a responsibility of utmost importance, one with the opportunity to empower a community, a people and a generation. -Dalaeja Foreman
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your political activism has a mind of a movement, in which people power takes a different stance. Does New York City represent a special place for activism to you?
Dalaeja: New York City means a great deal to me in regards to activism, but that is because it is the only place I’ve ever known as home. Although a wide array of injustices are happening in my city, they are also happening everywhere in the country. A political revolution could be sparked anywhere at anytime, the important thing is that we support one another’s actions and grow together using people power and a thirst or justice as our binding force toward a political system that works for the majority.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have favorite art forms, or is the medium secondary to other things that matter?
Dalaeja: I do, I love sculpture and painting, textured art objects and photographs. I’m trying to challenge myself to work more with performing artists since it’s not my go-to. However, content that compliments aesthetics and artistic merit (according to my opinion of those concepts) are of most importance.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you identify and experience yourself as a black woman art professional in NYC art community, or does that resonate in a professional level to you personally?
Dalaeja: My Black woman experience is at the forefront of all of my experiences because it is the only lens in which I can see the world and is often the most determining lens in which the world sees me. With that being said, as a young arts professional I believe it is my duty to ensure that people who are marginalized (like myself) demand their voices heard in institution that effect our lived experiences. Whether they be our schools, museums or workplaces. And MOST IMPORTANTLY create our own institutions that work for us from conception onward.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your next dream of consciousness, where are you heading to collaborate next?
Dalaeja: As an Art Administrator in the Bronx, I am really excited to learn more about what artists are and have been doing in the borough and figuring out how I can best support them and the communities they collaborate with. As well as, continuing and improving my organizing and hopefully trying to figure out some more schooling while doing all of that (inside and outside the education institutions).