Categories
art education&management design urban planning

SFMOMA Serendipity

The opening of a new expansion of the SFMOMA art museum was celebrated just a couple of weeks ago. The intention of the new Snøhetta designed museum, is to increase public access to the museum by creating more room for education for the arts and related fields, to bridge the gap between the exhibiting gallery spaces and unticketed areas, as well as connect the outdoor spaces around the museum. More room to hang out, to meet, to educate, to inspire and to be inspired. SFMOMA opened at its current location in 1995, when the construction was designed by Mario Botta. For the reconstruction, Snøhetta design team had a challenge to double the gallery spaces, and help create a museum, which is a hub for new things to emerge. The refurbished museum aims to bring together American and International arts, while the collections span through gestural modernism and conceptual art, to the emerging contemporary art from the Bay Area. SFMOMA has also promised to reach out to global art communities at large.

The new SFMOMA proves that it is possible to reinvent an art museum. First, the museum architecture plays a huge role in creating the potential for the artworks that are being installed, as innovative architecture contests the boundaries of the space. This time, museum interior communicates with the exterior. Snøhetta has created a construction, which is seamlessly woven into the existing building, adding into the city’s urban dreams. As a result, the museum goes beyond its construction site, and communicates with surrounding parks and alleys. This proves that the ‘institutional’ side of the museum’s bureaucracy is set in the background, and the numerous stages of the public dwellings offered to the visitors is more apparent. A visitor attains the key role through the alteration of the spatial elements. Having so many choices to play with, the architecture transmits the perception, and creates together with the artworks a unique encounter for each visitor. The architectural line, it’s material continuation inside and outside sparks into multiple directions. Second, art plays with architecture in a new and unexpected ways, and changes the constructions too. With Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt, and Alexander Calder, among others, it’s hard to make the space appear as null. But there is so much art in the world to add into the master classics. New works show as much potential to communicate with the space.

A new contemporary art installation inaugurates the museum’s New Work -space. Leonor Antunes, has created work with a title ‘a spiral staircase leads down to the garden’ (2016).  This piece communicates with the architecture, showing diverse angles to enter the gallery space. The artist has stated that she carries ghosts with her into her works, in bringing artists, designers, and architects whom she admires to her installations. ‘a spiral staircase leads down to the garden’ is no different, appearing as a continuation of the space as an interior. The handcrafted materials cover the floor, hang from the ceiling, light the space, and block a direct path. The installation shows the artist’s interest in the Modernism, highlighting especially the woman practitioners in the history of craft and design.

Leonor Antunes, installation view at SFMOMA.
Leonor Antunes, 2016, installation views of her new work at SFMOMA.
Leonor Antunes, new work at SFMOMA.
Leonor Antunes, ‘a spiral staircase leads down to the garden’, 2016, Brass, cork, leather, hemp rope, nylon yarn, monofilament yarn, steel, electric cables, light pulps, brass and Bakelite light bulb sockets, and foam. Courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City.

The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection creates much of the museum’s art collection. In particular, noteworthy is the display around the historic gestural abstraction, which started molding the American Art after the end of the World War II. The movement started to erase questions about the art’s capability to evoke thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it originated in the idea of believing in the healing mechanisms of the art. One work is particularly interesting. Joan Mitchell’s large size triptych ‘Bracket’ (1989), is a great example of the instantaneous moment in art. For her, painting could represent similar forces as the sculpture, forging out the movement and physicality.

Joan Mitchell, Bracket, 1989, oil on canvas, is an example of the gestural modernism.
Joan Mitchell, Bracket, 1989, oil on canvas, is an example of the gestural modernism.

The show around gestural modernism is well thought out as part of the SFMOMA’s new opening. It reaches up to redefining the concept of a gesture via selection of works. This becomes a red thread to other artistic displays as well. The museum exhibits plenty of work coming from the plural identities of the Bay Area, yet, some combining elements construct a more cohesive palette. The best part is that the transitional space of the West Coast and its cultural crossroads confuses the pattern of the gesture as something fixed, measured, white and universal. The inside of the culture is turned outside, as much as the architectural environment overlaps both domains.

Hung Liu's oil on canvas.
Hung Liu, The Botanist, 2013, oil on canvas.

The contemporary artworks do not create separation, but quite wisely culminate in supporting each other. Series of contemporary works follow black and white patterns, with a hip touch of pop art, and borrowing from chic minimalism of American interiors. These could of course be easily absorbed into the world of design and culture lending to Modernist and Postmodernist architectural patterns. Over all, the sometimes too heavy collective experiences are not so much emphasized, and there is more room for subdued artistic politics. Fragmented selves and posthumous experiences, ghosts of the artist’s personal influences as part of the installation define the process in the contemporary art.

 

Images: Firstindigo&Lifestyle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
art education&management fine and contemporary art interviews

Interview: Eric Decastro, a French painter

French artist Eric Decastro is known for his large-sized paintings that he constructs using the dripping technique. He is focused on creating a balance of color and light by applying thick impasto into canvas. Since 2008, Decastro has been running an art space Kunstraum Dreieich | Artspace Frankfurt in Germany that promotes artists with the motto of welcoming them back. The artist himself has a solo exhibition A Whiter Shade of Pale, Level 2 in New York City at The Bronx Art Spaceuntil April 30. Decastro is also showing as part of the DOPPELGÄNGER -exhibition, which is currently at Torrance Art Museum in California, and runs until May 28. The group show is a dialogue between German and US artists, and is curated by Dr. Julia-Constance Dissel and Sandra Mann from Germany together with Los Angeles-based curators Ichiro Irie and Max Presneill. The exhibition explores similarities of practices within globally expansive and hyper-connected art production.

In the solo exhibition at the Bronx Art Space, the visitor encounters a poetic cosmos, ‘which is intentionally designed to allow the illusion of landscapes or outer spaces.’ The theme of the Whiter Shade of Pale, Level 2 -exhibition is to explore issues of fugacity.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you decide to become a painter? 

EricD: I already knew as a child that I wanted to be an artist. When I was 5 years old I was able to paint in my mothers atelier. It was something I was destined to do and I finally fulfilled my dream.

So what did you learn from your mother, who is the painter Mirei de Castro? How about your other influencers?

EricD: I learned the basics from my mother. Painters like Richard Poussette Dart, Lee Krasner but also Cecily BrownFabienne Verdier, Paul Rebeyrolle, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, have all also influenced me.

There is installation and performance development mixed with your paintings. In one installation you used, or it looks like, fake grass in the gallery as part of the show?  

EricD: The installation Prevenue d’avance (Warned in advance) from the performance artist Mike Hentz (USA) and myself at a Kunstverein near Heidelberg 2012  has been furthering me a lot. Through Mike I was able to get a perspective for what one can call art. The lawn was actually real and has been tended and watered for a week in Kunstraum-Dreieich. After the event, it was fully removed. Then, the over dimensional “Dejeuner sur l’herbe” was a parody of the famous works of Edouard Manet.

prevenudavance
Eric Decastro, Dejeuner sur l’herbe, installation view.

You have also painted tsunami? 

EricD: After the Fukushima Tsunami, I did a complete series of works that looked like aerial shots of Tsunamis.

Some of the dripping technique paintings come out with natural confrontations, what do you see yourself in the works, are there reoccurring themes that come out?

EricD: One topic has been on my heart since 2008. My near death experiences have been both positive and negative for me, and I’ve been trying to depict this experience on canvases through a dripping technique in a meditative state. That’s how those paintings mostly have been created.

A really interesting one is the point when you washed some of the acrylic painting out of the canvas, and went on the real action forward method of making art. Tell about the work, in which the canvas and you are hanging from the tree?

EricD: This artwork was actually not created in the woods. I was walking with my dogs and saw this tree who looked like it could be a perfect frame for a canvas. I called a good friend of mine, a renowned Art-photographer Sandra Mann. We decided to do a photoshoot with one of my green paintings and put it in the natural frame of the tree.

How does the performance aspect work with the painting, are they part of the same discipline for you?

EricD: Of course the performance on a canvas in a natural state is my art. The work is being created, the performance oftentimes is the beginning of an idea that develops through painting.

For example, in “suffocating performance” the artist wrapped cellophane around his head to represent a type of suffocation. He was filmed and was also supervised (Don’t try at home). Afterwards I painted his performance “Suffocating Performance” for the exhibition “CARNAL DESIRE” in Museum Villa Rot. The other artists were Wim Delevoye, Hermann Nitsch,  and Fischli and Weiss. It’s a hommage to a boy from Kosovo who was suffocated and skewed and grilled all while his father was watching. I tried to depict the cruelty of this war.

suffocate
Eric Decastro, Suffocating Performance, Acrylic on canvas.

Then, few questions about identity, how do you criss-cross between different countries, locations, and even continents? 

EricD: I’ve been traveling my whole life. I really enjoy it and have been able to visit over 110 countries in this world. I’m getting my inspiration and positive energy from exceptional places. In the next time I’ll be traveling to Tibet, Nepal, Buthan and North India.

You have recently been exhibiting in Peru, and one of your galleries is in France, how are these art cultures different from each other?

My gallerist Mathias Bloch from Gallery Younique is French and my last exhibition was in “Alliance Française de Lima” so it was a home match for me as a French man myself. My abstract art is established in South America. A subsidiary of Coca-Cola (Inca-Cola) has recently bought one of my works.

You must feel that you are dealing with a variety of roles, a gallerist being one, and then a painter, is there a difference that is significant?

EricD: I’m not a traditional gallerist. I don’t participate in the art fairs. Kunstraum Dreieich  is an Artspace with the motto “Rendes-Vous des Artistes.” It’s supposed to be an opportunity for artists to be displayed in the circles of art collectors that I have tended. This concept works well in Europe and especially in a city like Frankfurt the art will sell really quickly.

Art world is a phenomenon for its own sake yet many artists are involved in societal practice, mending the world so to speak. What do you wish to say about that? 

EricD: Jonathan Meese said at Art-Basel in Miami in 2012 „Art is the new currency.“ He’s right, art is seen more like an investment nowadays. Never have people previously in history spent so much money on art as it is done today. Independently from whatever the artist wanted to reach with his art, whether a political message, improving the world, to amuse someone or as a wakeup call, art is and will be a good that can be traded in stock. Most buyers, buy art because they have a mindset to leverage the art.

 

unnamed
Eric Decastro uses dripping technique to create acrylic color patterns on canvas

As April is the Earth Month, could you say something about, how does art and preserving our planet correlate, or meet thematically?

EricD: To preserve the planet and to make it better for our children is more vital than to collect art and display it in museums. What kind of benefit comes from a world that has been destroyed when museums are full of artworks, and there are no humans to enjoy the art, because then all of humankind will be too busy to focus on survival than to look at art. Politics don’t react to the signs of mother earth, the glaciers have been melting, global warming is unstoppable, and still there is no change of mind or thinking. One should replace the democracy through Geniocracy.

Tell a little bit about the project in Nepal, how long has it been in progress, and how did it start?

EricD: My wife is buddhist, and through her Master Lopen Tensing Namdak Rinpoche we got the idea to build a boarding school for children from Nepal in Tibet through fundraising and even some profit from selling my paintings. Since then it was possible to finance the first step of the project. We have already built a hospice in Katmandu in 2012. I myself volunteer as a hospice worker in a hospice in Frankfurt for about 4 years now. The experiences I have made there have helped me to stay grounded and to be confronted with the topic of death and what happens after death. This has been something I have been processing for years.

 

Eric Decastro online:

Artist website: http://www.decastro-art.net/

Artspace Frankfurt: http://www.kunstraum-dreieich.de/

Current exhibitions:

A Whiter Shade of Pale – Level 2 -solo exhibition at the Bronx Art Space, until April 30, 2016

http://www.bronxartspace.com/

DOPPELGÄNGER, at Torrence Art Museum, until May 28, 2016

http://www.torranceartmuseum.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
art education&management asian art

Cho Kuwakado: making murals

Cho Kuwakado is a Buddhist priest and director of Lumbini Kindergarten in Saiki City in Japan. He is an Arts educator together with his team that makes Chara-Rimpa mural projects in Japan and abroad. The most recent international collaboration was for the opening event for the celebration of Colegio Madrid’s 75th anniversary in Mexico. In the interview, Cho discusses the background of these projects, and encourages us to think together with his educational philosophy, which is rooted in the history of Art and in the Buddhist thinking.

There are two levels of nature in my thinking. One is a superficial level like weather, vegetation, and ecosystem. Another is a cosmological level from which the superficial workings of nature emerge. Valuable works of art for me entail some elements of nature at a cosmological level. I think that is the source of the universal appeal of fine art work.

 

Chara-Rimpa is an art project initiative with a global production perspective, how did it get started and when?

It started in Spring 2013 when I began planning for our kindergarten’s 50th anniversary event. I contacted Dr. Yasuyuki Sakura, a graduate of our school and an established artist based in Tokyo, to ask him to be involved in our celebration event. Dr. Sakura agreed to be the art director of our kindergarten as well as to be a co-planner of our anniversary celebration- this was the initiation of the Chara-Rimpa project.

The global production idea came up when teachers from our sister school in California visited our school in Saiki. They were quite attracted by the professional work of Dr. Sakura and in the large mural in our school play yard that was created with 64 kindergartners in one day. I then thought about the possibility of doing a Chara-Rimpa art project in California and was interested to see how it could be carried out. I made a proposal to one of the teachers, Sarah Clark, to visit her school with my artist team. Then we started to talk about the details of a possible mural making project in California. After six months, in June 2014, we visited the town of Burney, CA where the movie “Stand by Me” was filmed. We worked with the sixth graders of Burney Elementary School. Our Chara-Rimpa project in Burney was a great success.

I’m very curious, what is your own background in the intersection of the arts and community involvement/community work?

My family has resided in Saiki City, Oita Prefecture, Japan since the 17th century as a hereditary Buddhist temple chief-priest/caretaker family. I am the 17th head priest of a Shin Buddhist temple, Zenkyoji, as well as the director of its kindergarten. As I grew up, I often looked into the writings and possessions of the former head priests, and I learned that india-ink painting, calligraphy, and mastery in classical Chinese poetry were common practices of former Buddhist priests until a century ago. Nowadays some limited groups of priests do continue these traditional practices. My interest in art came from my predecessor’s interest in Chinese art culture.

With 1500 households belonging to my temple, I think it is an important part of my responsibility to serve our community. Planning art events and workshops building relationships between children and adults is one of my community commitments.

Where did you study, and how did you find your international networks?

I was trained in Buddhist practice at my temple since the age of five. I studied social anthropology at Claremont Colleges (Pitzer) in Southern California, University College London, and Cornell University. My father was a Buddhist priest and a child education specialist. He studied in the US for one year. He developed a scholarly network then, which later led to my interest in studying at a university in the US. When I was a student there, I was fortunate to make friends from various countries, though I lost contact with many of them after graduation. However, through Internet SNS, mainly Facebook, I have reconnected with many friends that I studied with in the US and the UK.

Your recent project took place in Mexico City, how did the murals come about? How do you feel, what was the impact at the local level?   Do you use multicultural tactics?

Dr. Sakura and his partner Toshie Yoshioka worked together to develop the design theme of the mural. In a photograph of the elementary school wall, they noticed a water fountain in the lower central part of the wall. The shape of the water fountain resembled a plant pot and they decided to draw a big tree growing from ‘the pot.’ It came out incredibly vibrant and beautiful and the impact of the mural was greater than I had expected. It was an opening event for the celebration of Colegio Madrid’s 75th anniversary. About 20 teachers and 70~80 students participated in making a giant mural on its elementary school building wall. I felt the power of the artists’ imaginations, which enabled many people to work together for the same purpose enthusiastically. The directors, teachers, students, and invited guests all looked happy and marveled to see the beauty of the completed mural. We also organized and ran workshops which incorporated elements of traditional Japanese culture. Our photographer took photographs of Mexican people in “on the job/off the job” style to be used for later workshops in other countries.

Who are your greatest influencers in terms of the arts and creativity?

I have always been influenced by the thoughts and activities of Ryuichi Sakamoto (Japanese composer/musician), Levi-Strauss (Claude) for his work “La Pensée Sauvage,” and the Vienna Secession for their quest for freedom in art, departure from historicism and conservatism.

Could you tell us about your most important collaborators, who are they and what is their role in the projects?

Dr. Yasuyuki Sakura is the key artist of our project, conceptualizing the overall plan. His partner Toshie Yoshioka is a splendid designer who creates our workshops and mural design. Hiroaki Seo is our indispensable photographer who records the process of our activities, the finished work, and also captures the fleeting expressions of the participants. Hiroaki is responsible for all those vibrant images of the project and the people involved. Hanako Suro, our writer, communicates in a friendly and warm style to share information about our projects for a Japanese audience. Keiko, my wife, helps me making plans and doing projects. Kate Milling Yonezawa always helps me with English wording. Hao Phan, my friend from Cornell University, has been very helpful in planning overseas projects. It was thanks to Hao that our project in Mexico was so successful. I am very appreciative of Hao’s support with her global network. Another Cornell alumna, Young Ju Kwon, owner of the sushi restaurant YUZU, is helping us with possible project development in New York City.

When we plan our overseas projects, it is crucial to have a devoted, experienced person in charge of the art project. Sarah Clark in Burney and Laura Gilabert at Colegio Madrid were such teachers. We were very lucky to have Sarah and Laura in charge of the project at each school.

Do you have a specific education philosophy that gives you guidelines? Does being Japanese implement ideas that you think are unique, and that the world should learn about?

My education philosophy has its base in Buddhism; every individual’s potential is valued equally and is educated accordingly, everyone needs to play a role for a peaceful society.

A former professor of Tokyo University of Arts, art critic Hideto Fuse points out that one of the distinctive characteristics of Japanese art throughout its history is to cultivate “the mind of children” as expressed in the facial beauty of Buddhist statues. I agree with him that the Japanese art tradition valued “the mind of a child” in the sense that Picasso expressed, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. “ I think that if there is something Japanese artists can offer to the world, one thing is its artistic tradition of expressing “the mind of a child” in art forms as can be seen in the contemporary works of Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.

Do you have a favorite art form, performing arts or visual arts, what does being so multidisciplinary mean to you?

Visiting museums is always a treat for my mind. I was fascinated by William Turner’s work in London. I love music very much. A solo performance by Rostropovich that I attended at Cornell Concert Hall was one of my most fortunate experiences. A Sankaijuku dance performance that I saw in LA was impressive. Form itself does not define my preference. I am more attracted to the spirit expressed in any kind of art form. I think multidisciplinary is a very stimulating concept. It is a very effective approach to reach more audience in the context of technologically progressing diversified modern society. I think our art project can be viewed as a type of participatory art or relational art, which is usually, categorized as multidisciplinary art.

What kind of role does nature play in your thinking? Are there any specific metaphors in the nature that are important for you personally, and in your creative process?

There are two levels of nature in my thinking. One is a superficial level like weather, vegetation, and ecosystem. Another is a cosmological level from which the superficial workings of nature emerge. Valuable works of art for me entail some elements of nature at a cosmological level. I think that is the source of the universal appeal of fine art work.

What kinds of projects you have in mind for the future in Japan and overseas?

Dr. Sakura and I are planning mural making projects in Japanese towns. We are also planning another overseas art project for the next year involving mural making and cultural exchange art workshops. The mural design and the workshops are planned taking into account the project location and the country’s unique culture and traditions.

We are also planning to partake in a local festival here to attract more people and to create an improvisational call-and-response singing event. We are hoping that more people will experience and enjoy the spirit of Chara-Rimpa.

The mural design and the workshops are planned taking into account the project location and the country’s unique culture and traditions.

Categories
art education&management interviews women in art

Leah Oates in spotlight: artist, curator, gallerist

A woman to watch now in the art world is an artist with multiple roles. Leah Oates runs her own art gallery Station Independent Projects in New York’s Lower East Side. In the interview she sheds light on how she found her path. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your photography reflects multiple textures, showing light, contrast, opening up to magical worlds, how did you find your own medium?

Leah Oates: I started as a painter and printmaker, and I still see the influence of both in my current work with the layering and density of color and light. The common thread with my past work in other medias was always photography as I painted and printed from photographs but in the past I saw the photos I took at support materials or documentation. At some point I realized that the photography was the main and most continuous thread in my work so transitioned to how I work now.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you feel that memories, or where you come from resonates in your art?  Your works have been also exhibited overseas, how was the experience in China, for instance?

LO: Where I was raised and my specific family definitely connects to my current work. My grandmother is a biologist who studied at Harvard and one of my uncles worked for the Environmental Protection Agency (he is now a private consultant on environmental issues) and another worked for the Army Corp of Engineers. Thus there was a lot of dialogue about the environment, nature, human rights and politics.

My mom, brother and grandmother are painters and my grandfather was a painter and photographer who ran a photo studio when he was young taking family, wedding and baby photos. He later became a real estate lawyer with a big Irish Catholic brood of six kids including my dad Danny who was a writer and carpenter. I have an uncle who is a successful ceramic artist in Maine and an aunt who is a glass artist in Massachusetts.

This mix very much informed my work as well as growing up in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts and in rural town in Sanford, Maine where my family goes back in both states to the 1600s.

Being and working in China was amazing. We all absolutely loved it there from the street culture to the food to the parks to the incredible energy there. It was wonderful to photograph there and yes its polluted and yes it can be messy but the light is wonderful and the people are friendly, sweet and almost old fashioned. We would go back in a heartbeat.

With China I had a lot of reverence for their history beyond Mao and the revolution etc. China is an ancient place and much older than the US or Europe with so much amazing history. China is a work in progress and like all places has things to work on but it’s a really vibrant, alive and interesting place.

My work there dealt with the changes happening in the culture related to climate change, random urban planning that is erasing local culture and customs and how nature reacts to all of this within a rapidly expanding urban setting.

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Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you describe in few words how did your road lead to New York?

LO: My husband Pierre traveled to NYC on a few business trips and instantly loved the NYC. We where living in Chicago at the time and liked it but NYC is closer to both our families in New England and Canada and it has a thriving and large art community so we moved here when I finished up my MFA.  At first I was not sure about living in NYC for that long but gave it a try.

I began ironically to love NYC after September 11th as the city just melted ones heart. I saw how the city came together in a way I would not have imagined as you know normally is like ‘get outta my way’, or ‘move it fast’, on a daily basis here.  But the thing about New Yorkers is that in a crisis situation they have your back and this is what I learned about NYC that made me really fall for this city.

And the art community is the best I’ve experienced. People are energetic, they work hard and like to do so, are open to new things and they make things happen and quickly. It’s a hopping, creative, and no nonsense art city. Yes there is the regular nonsense you have in any city but things really get done here and in high volume and at top quality too.  You see the best here and yes the worst too but here we move so fast that there is no time for that stuff. It’s a very discerning crowd here.

 

I’ll give an example. Pierre, my husband has shot films in other cities and it always move so much slower than in NYC and he often hits walls initially either from unions or agents etc. In NYC it’s the total opposite where he finds what he needs easily and hears yes a lot! It gets done here without the baloney. Here it’s a YES lets do it mentality which I really like, and opens things potentially for innovation, creativity and hybrids. I now cannot conceive of living anywhere else, and I’m now head over heals in love with this city.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It’s quite easy to imagine that last few years have been truly busy in leading your own art space. How do you feel the transition has been in terms of becoming a gallerist?

LO: I love running a gallery, and working with my artists to plan their shows.  I’m really happy about the quality of the shows, level of press and number of curator visits and attention that the gallery shows have received and sales have been good.

It’s been an amazing experience all around. The first few months when I initially opened where very exciting and there was a bit of anxiety about how it would impact our family. Mainly it was our son Max who wanted his mom to be around 24/7 but he really got behind the gallery when he saw the space and saw that it made me happy. He even wanted to serve drinks and where a suit which was so cute! There has been a good balance between family, the gallery and my studio practice for quite some time now so it all good.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle> What is your secret in balancing between different roles in the art world?

LO: Most artists or art professionals have jobs so it’s the norm in most cases unless you’re very rich.

A quote I like is ‘A good artist studies art and a great artist studies everything’. My dream is to be an artist, curator and gallerist, so I’ve followed this to see where it leads. It’s an interesting and rich journey that is worth taking. What I’ve learned too is to plan out the week and get the work done. Just do it and don’t think too much about it. Get your self into studio and get working as through the work interesting stuff happens and if your not there it’s less likely to happen. The same goes for running the gallery.

Additionally, trust yourself and go for it, plan strategically and it’s ok to say no, rest when needed and spend time with those that make you feel good and even better loved.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have also featured artists in the art fairs; do you find attending art fairs rewarding?

LO: The gallery participated in Pulse NY last year and it went really well with sales and press, work placed in a corporate collection and several private collections and so much great feedback and contacts. It was a complete buzz and reinforced that the gallery artists and program was as good as I thought it was. People who visited our booth loved it and where so positive. But with all of this great stuff we only broke even and fairs are expensive to do. But they are now so much a part of the art world that it’s a must to do them as a gallery and again I think it best to be strategic with this and keep to a budget. I have only good thing to say about Pulse from a gallery perspective. This fair is run very professionally and everyone is super nice and efficient. Everything they promised they delivered on.

As an artist I’m not a huge fan of fairs overall but I do love Pulse, Spring Break and The Independent art fairs. They are so different as fairs but seem to push the dialogue forward and are visually interesting.

As an artist at fairs I like running into so many people and taking about art but think that fairs can be too formulaic and favor art that is easy to process with too much surface and not enough depth.  As an artist I think fairs are a survey of trends, are about status and art world hierarchy and not so much about art or pushing the dialogue ahead. But again as a gallerist, curator or as an artist participating in a fair you have to do it as it’s for the potential for so much attention in a short period of time and in a condensed fashion.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is very delighting that Station Independent features Finnish artists. Could you tell in few words about the Finnish collaborations that are coming up this summer?

LO: Yes I’m pleased that the gallery will be hosting two guest curated shows this summer by Ilari Laamanen and Leena-Maija Rossi both from Finnish Cultural Institute.

Ilari has curated a group show of Finnish artists called  ‘The Powers That Be’ which is on view from July 17-August 9th. This show is part of FCINY’s 25th Anniversary year’s program on Urban Nature and explores human’s relationship to the environment.

Rossi has curated a two person show that explores shifting ideas on dwellings in urban space called  ‘(Un)livable’ with work by Kari Soinio and Janet Biggs which opens August 13th and is on view through September 6th.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you define your own curatorial motto?

LO: My curatorial motto is to not follow trends but to follow art and artists. I’ve been following the gallery artists from between 5-25 years. Also, it’s important to love the work your showing and to choose work based on its merits and not on if it’s easy to sell. It’s all about the artwork itself and about dialogues about art within a larger context of the past, present and future.

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The gallery and artist websites:

www.stationindependent.com
www.leahoates.com

Categories
art education&management interviews performance&dance women in art

Artist spotlight: Johanna Tuukkanen, The Outstanding performer

I interviewed Johanna Tuukkanen, who is currently preparing her PhD in art education and cultural policy. She is a well-known curator and art-maker herself, and the Artistic Director of ANTI festival based in Finland’s Kuopio. This week, January 30, 2015, she will also have a premiere of a new work Panopticon together with her colleague, choreographer Pirjo Yli-Maunula in Oulu, which is a vibrant capital in Northern Finland. Their new multidisciplinary work will articulate a hot topic of women’s ‘controlled bodies’, as they are often portrayed in fashion industry and magazines, taking a theme of aesthetic violence in relation to women’s bodies as a starting point in their performance. Simultaneously, their performance asks, are we allowed to mock this phenomenon, and even make fun of it in the arts? Johanna Tuukkanen has been making noise with her performance art for good 15 years now, highlighting women’s bodies in her performances many times before.

Johanna Tuukkanen in Huippusuoritus, Outstanding Performance, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen
Johanna Tuukkanen in Huippusuoritus, Outstanding Performance, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Johanna, I have known you from the early 2000s onwards. It seems that there has been a lot of currency exchange around your artistry since that time. Finnish art scene, I believe, has also developed and changed during the past 15 years. Could you highlight in a nutshell, how did the 21-century look so far in the art world from your personal point of view? What are your greatest pros and cons in the field as a participant with so many roles?

Johanna Tuukkanen: You are right, things really have changed! After studying performance and new dance in the Netherlands and Germany in 1990s, I moved back to Finland in 1997. In terms of the art scene, it was a kind of culture shock for me and it definitely took some time to find my way around it. From very early on, I found myself thinking how else I could make a difference in the arts other than working just as an artist.

Since then, I do see and have also personally experienced that the field has expanded greatly, it has opened and it is accepted – not totally but more and more – that for example in the field of dance, there are multiple traditions from which an artistic practice can stem from, not only one or two. Also the growing interest in site-specifity, a kind of ‘trend’, has resulted in other kinds of expansions and effected how a cultural production organization whether a museum, a theatre, a festival or a freelance collective might operate. Currently I’m thinking a lot about the concept of social in the arts as many artists are producing socially engaged works in collectives and communities where the artist is not the central point of the work but the interest in a process, in shared authorship, in participation and dialogue…

As a participant in the field, I feel that there are several communities in the art world where one can find a kind of ideological home and vast amount of possibilities. Yet, at the same time, although we do have some rather brave funding bodies, generally speaking our funding structures have not been able to develop in line with the field – thinking especially the amount of work that it produced by the freelance artists and companies in comparison with the institutions established in the 70s.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are known as a hardcore doer, and as a hands on professional when it comes to performance and to its management, to your curator’s role as well, and to a founder of a successful art-festival. Where lies the secret behind it all, how do you manage all your roles, or your doings, and don’t get burned-out at the same time? You seem to be shining.

JT: Wow, thank you! I don’t really see myself that way… But yes, to say that I’m a doer is perhaps a good way to put it. I suppose I’ve been interested in many things and just started doing them, rather naively sometimes. I’ve not been waiting around for someone else to do the work but really dug my hands into stuff, working beyond my comfort zones, not counting hours… I can’t recommend it to anyone! To be enthusiastic, to get excited is a great energy and force also. For me doing different things is also very energizing, things feed off each other and I never feel that ‘I’m doing the same job’. Maybe also because I’m not a very organized person!

But to be honest, time management is a big issue for me. I’m a very work oriented person and I have to actively work on prioritizing time for my family and friends and my own well-being. But I do do it! These days I prioritize regular exercise, try to eat well and sleep enough. I try to have one day off every week but if it’s not possible, I’ll make up for it by taking extended weekends off or mini holidays.

I’m lucky to be working for organizations and things I really believe in and I feel connected to and supported by an international community. I’ve also managed to organize my life so that I live with my lovely family in a beautiful house where I can enjoy everyday aesthetics, quietness, the Finnish lake landscape, the forest and an amazing sauna.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I associate you strongly with ANTI Contemporary Art Festival. How did this idea come forth, and develop into an international success story?

JT: This is a long story but to put it short, I was working in the Regional Arts Council of North Savo at that time and with my regional artist colleague we wanted to create a new, international multidisciplinary contemporary art festival in Kuopio, to create international networking opportunities for local artists and to active the city and different sites in Kuopio through art. We really didn’t know how it would turn out, it was a real experiment! But already since the first festival, there was a lot of international interest and the festival was a great success. The networks I’d started building in the early 2000 were crucial for our international growth and reputation and of course artists themselves are great messengers of a quality festival. I’ve personally always thought that international networking is very important and for me it has also set the standards how to run a festival. But I suppose the most important thing is that ANTI has a unique concept and in fact, it’s also modelled in different parts of the world. This all has taken an enormous amount of work and I’m grateful for the wonderful individuals who have worked for the festival over the years.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I admire your knowledge on the performance field, internationally you seem to have a network of artists that resonate with your own way of working. Was it organic to find collaborators accross the country borders?

 JT:  Yes, it all has happened very organically. ANTI has also been a partner in two European projects and it has been a great gift and learning process to collaborate with international live art curators and festival directors.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland is getting a Dance House finally, how did the miracle happen?

 JT: Well, I’m extremely happy to be working for the Dance House but the background work with the private funding bodies was done and negotiated before I even started so I can’t take any credit for it. The Dance House initiative is very lucky to have a fantastic project manager, Hanna-Mari Peltomäki, but also the time was right – the Finnish dance sector was ready, the private funding partners were ready and lots work was done in a rather short amount of time.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does living and working in Finland mean to you? Where else in the world would you imagine to live?

JT:  Living in Finland and outside the Helsinki area has been a very conscious cultural political choice for me. I’ve wanted to show that great art can be made anywhere and it is really crucial to have artists and cultural professional working and making an impact in different regions. These days, especially with digitalisation and good connections, I don’t really think it matters so much where you live.

But in recent years, as my children are getting older and as I want to find new professional challenges, I’ve become open to other options as well. Like I said earlier, I’m very work oriented so it’s probably work that will take me somewhere… There many places I could imagine living i.e. Australia and Denmark. But where ever I’d go, my work has to be meaningful. I can’t really imagine moving somewhere for the sake of the place or city.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are you heading next, any specific plans for the future?

JT: Good question. I’m open and up for new challenges. I completed an MA in Cultural Policy last year and enjoyed that process greatly. What a luxury to deepen one’s knowledge and expertise! I’m the beginning of my PhD so probably for the next years I will be juggling my time between the Dance House, ANTI Festival and my research…unless something totally unexpected happens. Which of course is very likely in this life.

Johanna Tuukkanen and Pirjo Yli-Maunula, Panopticon, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen
Johanna Tuukkanen and Pirjo Yli-Maunula, Panopticon-premiere, Jan 30, 2015. Photo: Pekka Mäkinen
Categories
art education&management art review&curating

Training artists for innovation: Competencies for New Contexts

photo: Wilma Hurskainen: “He Doesn’t Like Water”, 2012

The book Training artist for innovation: Competencies for new Contexts was published in 2013, (the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts in Helsinki in Finland). It discusses the topic of artists who are trained for creating innovation in various contexts outside their own artistic practice. The book is  based on a  project, which  gathers together different agents in European countries, who are leading artistic innovation. Kai Lehikoinen and Joost Heinsius are the editors of the book.

The book-project brought together artists, companies, organizations, universities and cities, which have experienced artists working with them.  The idea for the publication came from the challenge that both society and businesses need new solutions and interventions, as they face changes.  Professional artists with artistic interventions can respond to challenges of today, bringing in new questions and ways of thinking. Artists “offer contradiction, as well as confrontation and friction, and they provoke new ideas.”  

Training Artists for Innovation: Competencies for New Contexts argues that artists who take the challenge for artistic interventions need specific training to establish their artistic know-how for new contexts. Artistic competencies can be trained, so to speak. Innovation can occur where artists, with their own practice and methods, contribute to the arts sectors and organizations, to the business world and sectors, where societal policies are made. The book responses to a framework of European context, but the idea can be shifted to other parts of the world.

A very basic question; are artists not innovative by nature, opens up a dialogue between artists and new contexts.  According to editors Heinsius and Lehikoinen, “A gap has risen between the arts and society that needs to be bridged and closed” .

Art can intervene not only on the walls of office spaces, but it can come to peoples’ working life as well.  This statement is inspired by models learned from community art, and by the experience coming from social and health sectors, where art has always been respected as part of human life.  The new innovation comes in the intersection, where businesses and organizations want to raise their creativity,  and understand their creator capacity in conjunction to human-based factors. As the book shows, the arts can add value, for example, by  bringing in emotional and aesthetic dimensions. Artistic interventions can boost creativity and raise energy, bring in new ways of listening, managing, and interacting with others. The book emphasizes that the term artistic intervention is understood as “interdisciplinary professional practice that takes places in business settings and involve professional art-making and creative arts practices”.

What are, then, the issues that interventions can tackle? Topics and issues of course vary, and depend on each context. Artistic interventions can be connected to strategy and concept development, to work processes, to team-building and social interactions, and to public relations, for instance. In the level of cultural policy, the arts have a key role, together with other creative sectors, to add into the diversity of society. In a larger societal (European) policy level, the following seems very relevant and welcomed, when thinking of the creative economy:

“At the national level, the starting points differ from country to country.  In some countries, it is the perceived gap between the arts sector and the rest of society that needs to be acknowledged – that is, the need for the arts to appear as relevant to other sectors in society. In other countries, innovation development welcomes the arts as the perception of shifting from technological innovations to social innovations and creativity.”

Training Artists for Innovation: Competencies for New Contexts  is a book that asks a relevant question of,  how to do it with the arts. It gives several examples of the relevant competencies that artists can embody for their interventions. Gerda Hempel and Lisbeth Rysgaard,  from Danish Artlab, write in their chapter Competencies – in real life, about their own model of working with artists and businesses.  What they suggest is that artists need to manage a variety of specific tasks that relate to understanding the culture of the organization: such as developing and describing the concept, knowing how to sell and negotiate, and,“how to engage and conduct the process, how to extract learning and evaluate, and how to support the implementation within the organization.”

Their chapter reveals that when artists share a common denominator, the artistic base, methods and tools vary in different art forms. For example, a violinist in the opera house has a different approach than an avant-garde performer who works in an experimental performance space.

Artlab founders and consultants Gerda Hempel and Lisbeth Rysgaard bring in the artist perspective of working with businesses. They open their Artlab Entrepreneurial Model (that is based on their 12-year experience in the field) and reflect this in relation to real artists, who they interviewed. This shows how artistic interventions function from the artists point of view. The model itself is like a metaphoric artistic house, which includes 4 interactive work spaces and a storage. Its aim has been to help professional artist who want to go entrepreneurial and find new job opportunities, or look for new management skills for their career. The house allegory with 4 spaces  includes: The Shop/Back office, The Workshop/Development, The Scene/Artistic intervention, The Shop/Front office, and Storage/place for new ideas. Artlab’s  model functions as a visual guideline to see  parallel tracks. It offers artists a tool to plan and prioritize their work.

Training Artists for Innovation: Competencies for New Contexts has a message for everybody working in creative industries. It offers chapters with real examples, and discusses  how real artists have solved their tasks, approached different organizations and worked with businesses. The book is a guideline to discussing competencies that artists need in order to work with various sectors.  It clearly opens a discussion, which goes to two directions. 1. Artists need more than ‘just’ their own artistic skills and competencies to go outside their craft. 2. Yet, artist have special skills and innovative qualities that (only) come from their artistic work and expertise.  To bring these two to meet; some common ways can be created.

In summary, artists need special qualities to work with organizations and companies; this includes knowledge of those cultures. They should have pedagogic competencies to set up methods and approaches for intervention. Artists also benefit from research competencies to find information, and to critically view the information and other collected material. What artists also should learn about, are skills in project management and marketing. 

(The book Training Artists for Innovation: Competencies for New Contexts is licensed under Creative Commons as BY/NC/ND, and it can be downloaded from the page/click the book’s link)

Categories
art education&management design lifestyle photography&video

"Elephant Love" Pop-up Shop: Crowdsourcing for art and charity

By Patricia Chow
Last weekend I had my first photography show in Chelsea (New York City), as part of the High Line Open Studios.  Since my day job is in statistical research, this was my first experience putting together an art show – and it was fabulous!  The show was a great way for me to combine three completely separate facets of my life: the artistic side (I am a photographer and graphic artist); the volunteer side (I teach ESL 3 days a week); and my personal and professional networks, which were instrumental in ensuring the success of the show.
 
 
I first started to photograph when I was living in Spain in 1995, and much of my photography focuses on the different perceptions that a newcomer has of ordinary surroundings. Since beauty can only exist in the eye of the beholder, I have tried to convey the essence of what I find beautiful in a place, rather than what is commonly considered beautiful, which, in many cases, is simply familiar.  There are a few images below – you can view more of my work on my photo blog.  Selected images are available for purchase as prints on Society6 and facebook.
 
 
 
In addition to photography, I also create whimsical, stylized elephant designs.  “Elephant Love” is the brand name for these designs, which are also sold on Society6 and facebook.  They are inspired by artists and design companies such as Marimekko, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Walasse Ting, as well as by traditional folk arts such as Russian matryoshka (nesting) dolls and the molas that are embroidered by the Kuna Indians in Panama.  A variety of home decor and novelty items are available with these designs, such as posters/prints, blank stationery cards, throw pillows, iPhone covers, tote bags and clothing (t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, etc.).  The bright colors are great for decorating your apartment or nursery/kid’s room.
 

Because my work is primarily digital, I appealed to my friends and family for donations to cover the cost of producing physical items for my show. This was my first attempt at crowdsourcing and I was very impressed by how supportive everyone was.   
In order to encourage people to support my show, I promised to donate the profits from the sale of artwork and merchandise to a good cause: the Institute for Immigrant Concerns, where I am a board member.  The Institute is a New York City non-profit that provides free English classes and basic social services to low income immigrants, refugees and asylees.  The amazing stories of our alumni have been featured in the New York Times and other newspapers.  I was a volunteer English teacher with them for two years before becoming a board member, and 
 
I continue to volunteer with them about 12 hours a week.  The combination of the artistic cause and the social cause was a great way to reach a wider audience.

We are planning one more open studio day in a few weeks (possibly Thursday, November 7), so stop by if you happen to be in the area!  Details about the event to follow soon…  In the meantime, check out my website, blog and facebook page!  Thank you for your support!
 
Patricia Chow  

Photographer, Block-by-Block Photography
Graphic Artist, Elephant Love
(Read Patricia’s Firstindigo&Lifestyle interview from April 2013 here)
 
Categories
art education&management

Leevi Haapala discusses with Axel Straschnoy (2011)

Curator and art researcher Leevi Haapala (Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki), and a friend visited New York in 2011. We sipped cocktails, walked and talked. The global art scene, environment, artist-stories, what was going on in the world; inspired our conversation. Leevi was after a bunch of creative ideas. My thought was to start a blog as a platform, where to reflect what it means to be global and to stay attentive to different cultures. During the time of starting FIRSTINDIGO&LIFESTYLE, many changes had taken place in New York City. The first post was published on September 11, 2011, which was the 10 year anniversary of the tragic attack. It was all over the media, people were talking about it, artists were discussing it. The ‘darkness’ was still touching and moving. Yet, there was an opposite force as a new kind of optimism that was even more dazzling. The city was creating new urban plans. The High Line was only one example of the greener thinking.

This is to 2-year-old blog, which will feature more voices in the future. It wishes to bridge gaps between distances, worlds, body parts, artists, adventures, thinkers, beautiful minds.. Happy Fall!

Below is a link to a video where Leevi discusses with Axel Straschnoy, a visual artist (born in Buenos Aires, lives in Helsinki), who held his exhibition BOXES at the MUU gallery in Helsinki in October 2011. The themes were so timely. Enjoy!

Interview between Leevi Haapala and Axel Straschnoy from Axel Straschnoy on Vimeo.

Categories
art education&management interviews performance&dance scandinavian women in art

Minna Tervamäki and a new contemporary ballet

Minna Tervamäki, a former principal dancer from the Finnish National Ballet, is heading to a full-fledged freelance career as a choreographer and producer. This dancer étoile discusses about her current work as a multiple entrepreneur in the field of contemporary ballet. Her new premiere together with Compañía Kaari Martin and Kare Länsivuori opens at the Savoy Theatre in Helsinki on October 17, 2012.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The idea for interviewing you goes back to 2005, when you were rehearsing for your choreographic premiere “Something Else?”. This work was designed for three women dancers yourself including. You received very positive response when you hosted and produced your own evening presenting different choreographers. Would you describe how that influenced your later decisions to pursue your own productions?

Minna: That was a turning moment. I had been sketching to my desk drawer (metaphorically) for years, but I lacked the courage, which was needed to do it. All of a sudden, I just decided to take a full dance evening into production by myself, literally producing it too. Now, after I have more experience I’m only wondering how could I do it then, where did I get the courage after all to take care of the big production without previous experience. Then again, that is what usually happens, we grow together with our task, with the projects. And I had an amazing group of people to work with me who were so helpful. I had also decided that I wanted to express my artistic view to include the lobby of the Opera House. The Alminsali stage cafe and lobby were designed with certain colors and with candles. During intermission there was a saxophone player tuning, and on the walls we had an exhibition of the photography that displayed the performance works. The entire evening was carefully thought through. What I had in mind was to include women dancers and artists, who were strong and charismatic.

I feel that everything I have done; doing choreography, directing and so forth, has so greatly influenced my own dancing, it has been a positive experience. It has helped me to get oriented to other kinds of processes in my life. Right now, I look at the new productions as a whole, not just from my own perspective. Every work has given me ingredients for my own choreography and direction.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: At the moment you are preparing for a new premiere, which opens in Helsinki on October 17. What are you staging for the evening?

Minna: This evening will be my second collaboration with the Finnish flamenco company Compañía Kaari Martin. It is an evening by Tervamäki-Martin. Kaari will be dancing her amazing contemporary flamenco solo “Korppi ja kello” (“The Raven”). I will include first, my solo “SE2”, which is based on the idea that was born in 2005. “SE2” means “Something Else 2”, so the idea has developed further from the piece that I originally created.  What remains the same each time as a main theme of my solo, is that I use my huge and massive skirt structure as part of the dance. The skirt is a design made of an iron and crinoline, and it influences the movement, and how my body appears on the stage.

Janne Mikkilä
{Kaari Martin, Minna Tervamäki and Kare Länsivuori in their new premiere. Photo: Janne Mikkilä}

The main program of our evening is my new duet that I composed for myself and ballet dancer Kare Länsivuori. The duet is called “Koti/Home”. Our three works will premiere together at the Savoy theatre in Helsinki on October 17, 2012. In March 2013, I will premiere a new work called “Yksiö/Studio”, which is a continuation of the theme introduced in “Koti/Home”. It will be performed at the Aleksander Theatre in Helsinki.

The themes in my current projects Koti/Home and Yksiö/Studio are about building structures of our lives.  The works question how can we do this together and alone?  How do we define ourselves in our relationships, and are we alone? What is the role of the community in all of this? The everyday life skips over the sometimes rough and edgy parts.  These issues are also hidden behind the facades. In my mind, our society is too individualistic, and it leaves us alone too often with our struggles and questions.

My colleague Kare Länsivuori and I both want to create works that are touching the lives of our own generation and our age groups. We want to invite new, younger adult audiences to view the contemporary ballet, which has timely and challenging topics, and great storytelling. Then we use diverse venues for these performances.

Koti/Home is investigating an important topic of what it means to be in a relationship, and what constructs the every-day life in it. The duet between Minna Tervamäki and Kare Länsivuori builds up characters, who are mimicking the contemporary life. It also questions how to keep up the facade that we have to built to protect our private lives.  Like each of us today, professionals that have high public pressure lives need to built facades to protect their private life.  When changes happen, what is evident is that one survives when life is not structured around the success only.

“Yksiö/Studio” will handle a theme of modern loneliness, and the division between the private and the public. The work investigates the life in the city, where the neighbors are physically near each other, and yet people are often total strangers to each other. There is an unwritten law that people do not interfere in each others’ lives, and will stay more or less distant. The set-design in the choreography will include two apartments, and the stage will be divided into two spatial areas. There will be a wall between these areas: audience sees this contrast between the two dwellers, two dancers, each in their own apartment. However, the dancers don’t see each other.  Also the dancers will be improvising some of the material, which is adding an comical element for the work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I am so thrilled by your collaboration with the Compañía Kaari Martin. Tell me about this collaboration, how do ballet and your dancing meet flamenco and its movements? It sounds truly innovative, and I believe it is not really performed much in the world?

Minna: Yes, Kaari is a representative of a contemporary flamenco. And I am thinking about the contemporary ballet from the similar point of view.  I think that our techniques are based on our traditions very strongly, and we have found our own styles and interpretations inside of these traditions. Personally, I have worked with so many choreographers that their methods have obviously influenced my own movement interpretation. When I started to collaborate with Kaari Martin, I immediately noticed her amazing movement vocabulary that she created with her hands, how she was expressing with her hands. At times, it looked as if she was having the ‘swan hands’; she has a ballet training background, and she is using it. In Spain, for instance, the most well-known flamenco-dancers have a strong ballet training.  When I work together with Kaari, I am probably most impressed by her musicality, the exactness that comes with the musical rhythm, and how she lives in the musical moment. She is definitely as much a musician as she is a dancer.  I wanted to bring this same concept to the ballet world, because we too often focus on the technicality of the dancing. In the end, I believe, that all the dance genres are intermingling and creating fusions in the course of the time, as dancers deploy similar methods and the ways to move.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Since you come from being a well-known principal dancer in a major opera house, the Finnish National Ballet Company, you have a prominent career behind you. Yet, you are facing changes right now, as you are pursuing a free lancer career. I am convinced that the changes you are going through have been coming to you gradually. Where do you see yourself today, and what are the current questions that you have today in your career?

Minna: IT IS EXACTLY HOW YOU SAY IT, THE CHANGE HAS BEEN GRADUAL. IN FACT I AM PROUD OF IT, AS I FEEL I HAVE MYSELF CHOREOGRAPHED THE CHANGE. I STARTED TO CREATE DIFFERENT PRODUCTIONS QUITE EARLY, OR JUST IN TIME. THE EXPERIENCES WITH THE PROJECTS OUTSIDE THE OPERA HOUSE HAVE BEEN SO VALUABLE AND IMPORTANT. ALSO I HAVE COLLABORATED CLOSELY WITH OTHER CHOREOGRAPHERS WITH DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS, WHICH IMMENSELY HELPED ME TO GAIN COURAGE TO WORK WITH MY OWN PROJECTS.

In addition, I started my own firm in 2005, which includes creating dance productions, and lecturing for the business venues, companies and non-profit organizations. I tailor dance performances to these as well, and of course, teach dance courses and workshops. I decided to get training in some relaxation techniques, because I believe that the techniques that work with images and mind are a comprehensive way to take our inner and mental resources into full utilization. Almost by accident, there was suddenly a class called “Minna Tervamäki methods”, which gradually works with our body-placement, making our bodies stronger and more sustainable.

I have tried to be so open as a person that I have basically mixed everything that I have learned during my career. This includes Pilates, ingredients from different yoga traditions, from diverse dance styles,  gyrokinesis and Susan Klein technique. I have learned methods from many physiotherapists, since I have had injuries during my long career. My knowledge includes how to recover from those.  I gained a lot from my training in New York in the past years.

As we all know, the biggest question in our freelancer field is the money. I have so many ideas and creativity, but as everybody in the industry knows, nothing can really happen without thinking seriously how to fund the project. I think that it is more and more the challenge of today; when there are more freelancers and enterpreneurs out there, the money gets tighter too.  What I also reflect sometimes in my mind, is the audience: where does the audience come from? Even when there are so many amazing projects out there, the local audiences here in the greater Helsinki area are still quite limited. We are not a world metropolis like New York.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your plans and dreams for the future?

Minna: I feel that I am living a wonderful time in my life. My body is still in top condition, and I can enjoy dancing. At the same time, I am finally in the phase of my life, when I have a freedom to choose my own working rhythm, meaning when to work, and who should I collaborate with. I can basically structure my own calendar, after 28 years in a big ballet institution, this is absolutely a welcomed change.  At this moment, I am exited to have my first speaking role as well, I will be the narrator in Kenneth Greve’s new ballet “The Snow Queen”.

Esa Kyyrö
{Minna Tervamäki  as Dying Swan, The Finnish National Ballet. Photo: Esa Kyyrö}

Artist webpages:

Minna Tervamäki: (www.minnatervamaki.com/)

Compañía Kaari Martin: (www.companiakaarimartin.fi)

Categories
art education&management asian art interviews performance&dance sustainability

Talk with Isira Makuloluwe (molecular biologist – come- choreographer)

Isira Makuloluwe is a choreographer living and working in London. He has  just finished a work called 1951 to the music of Czek ’60’s Avant-Garde composer Miloslav Istvan’s 1951 String Quartet for ProART Dance Company. It premiered on 27th July 2012. His first work to pre-existing ‘classical’ music and not made by his long-term composer Jennifer McConachie, it was a new page in the choreographer’s career, entering a phase where the interpretation of music through its theoretical construction and making movement from it has become of great importance to him. The fine line between choreographing to music and re-writing the music (without changing it) via the dancing body has become his focus.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Isira, please, do not laugh; I’m wearing my glasses when I type. Tell me, how can a Molecular Biologist be a choreographer? It taught you awareness. What else? You have been choreographing since 2000, and before that you studied dance with various great dance masters in Europe and United States. Manola Asensio, William Louther, then you finished your studies at Alvin Ailey American Dance Center?

Isira: Don’t worry about the glasses, they suit you and I’m astigmatic!
I actually loved dance since I was a child, listening to music and making up complex (at least I thought so at the time!) group choreographies. I was mainly mad about hip-hop. Movement originality also became one of my obsessions. My ballet teacher is married to my physics teacher and he was the one who roped me into dance. I was told that I was always talking about dance at school and therefore should pursue it – to the disdain of my Sri Lankan immigrant parents. There are many metaphors between molecular biology and dance – spirals, DNA, life and all of those wonderful things that have little to do with my choreographic work. I got a good sense of numeracy from laboratory work; an understanding of the scientific method and writing and the rest of the time was quite bored. I should have studied Asian languages, anthropology or the fine arts – where I belong. But at that time in England, it was all about ‘following your father’s footsteps’ so I pretended I wanted to be a doctor like him until one day I woke up dancing! Manola Asensio gave me a lot of information that was transmitted to her by Rudolph Nureyev (in particular the essence of the Bournonville Classical Technique that he got from Eric Brun). William Louther got me a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey School. He secretly believed in me over his majority black students (in front of whom he was all black power) since I worked harder than everybody in class (mainly because I had to catch up so much) and stayed behind to question him endlessly. He was a genius, sad, dejected and lonely. First black soloist of Martha Graham, and co-founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – though many in the organisation would deny it now. (If ever they do – ask them who made ‘Hermit Songs’ for Alvin Ailey and co-created Blues Suite with Dudley Williams as a favour to fill an evening for the emerging Mr Ailey – it was Bill Louther).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We dance artists are quite serious people. It is all about the human content, I guess. The body is so social, cultural, affectionate, natural and unnatural at the same time. Your company name Dancetheatremedia describes it to me in a way that dance, theatre and performance are mediating something with real potential between human behaviour and movement. The body is a mediating device, as far as I think of it.  How would you explain it?

Isira: I agree. Nowadays I feel that conventional dance doesn’t have a singular place as before and we have to mix media and develop a new form of dance or theatre art in order to survive culturally. No credible state funding body has any decent money for the arts and even less for dance, so why waste time making small dance pieces when the arts community has so much more to share with us and we with them? Risky maybe, but we need to take risks to make a better and more stable world. With this reasoning, the performing arts are a fatal frontier for the closed-minded still working within the field. There is also so much to do in the area of humanitarian work, education, and corporate entrepreneurship. In Dance or moreover in choreography there are good and bad models for leadership and management. Take the good ones (not necessarily the ones making the most money) and apply them in business. This is one form of mediation. The body has been a form of mediation since prostitution was part of political negotiation! Mediation through movement is an interesting concept. Are also we talking about dance and movement’s use in therapy?

THEORIES

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I also know that you have investigated concepts of reality, alterity and transformation, as well as memory in your works. Then, you have this interest in the language, communication and in games. Tell me about the games in your works? Games are abstractions. It feels that in some sense it is possible to manipulate your viewers, or to convey your perception of the world with your works?

Isira: I love sports like Track and Field, Rugby, Tennis, Soccer, Cricket, among others. Transforming or using games’ rules as a set of choreographic codes was something I worked on in the last decade. TOUCH was born from these ideas in 2007. Language (including dance) is ultimately our only weapon against ignorance and lack of understanding. The more languages we know the better. I speak a number of languages and it still freaks me out when I can’t understand a language in a far off land like China or India. Nonetheless, if you listen closely and long enough, intonations and body gestures can give away a language’s secrets and you can avoid a lot of trouble that way! Spoken words don’t exist without tones or a musical and physical expression of them.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much do you think choreography also means theoretical designs, or a link to concepts? What is your favourite shape, or colour, or puzzle that organizes your choreographies? Games have space and bodies?

Isira: I’m not sure what you mean about theoretical designs. I have MY OWN THEORIES for making MY OWN DANCES but I would never teach them to anyone else as an absolute truth. I’m one of those people who fail to understand the purpose of MA’s or BA’s in choreography since the term in itself dares to convince students (falsely) that what they learn in some universities is HOW to choreograph. Such a personal, beautifully secret, intimate thing cannot be theorized or taught. But if someone needs to make money from that lie, so be it! I’m not against PhD’s in the analysis of practice as a reason to summarize one’s methods and ideas. But nothing more than that. Answering this question reminds me of the numerous books circulating about famous choreographers with photocopied scribbles and sketches that only they can understand. I do find it a bit ridiculous how we deify choreographers when only their works hold some degree of insight into who they are. And in any case isn’t it more interesting to know the dancers who dance their works? I usually admired them more than choreographers – all those apart from William Forsythe who also is an amazing dancer. My favourite colours (at the moment) are aubergine or pink (but it changes with the year). My favourite shape is spiral, and my favourite puzzle is the unlocking of my childhood memories in my native Sri Lanka.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your idea of where your choreographic practice is at the moment?

Isira: It has shifted a lot since I started making dance. My choreographies are completely influenced by my work as a teacher. Since beginning teaching five years ago I think more about composition and musicality than specific ‘ideas’ that may attract an audience. Like a composer of music, I try to find melodies and asymmetries that character the general harmonics and colour of a new piece. A dancer (usually my wife who is also a vocalist and pianist) helps me a great deal in this research in the studio. I like musical terms since they define dance and how to dance my choreographies. Afterwards, I start by filming a short maquette, which becomes a bigger body of work. The editing process of the dance-video clip becomes important in making choices for the actual work- camera angles, cuts and musical choices as made here.

My practice is also shaped by the global economy and my refusal to deliver a recognizable brand with commercial interest. I can further answer this question by the following observations since describing my work past and present is for the critics and less interesting that showing it to you live!

In recent years I have seen a lot of branding occurring to please promoters and producers (who are the ultimate gate-keepers) and this has led to mediocrity infiltrating the elite ranks of choreography. It has increasingly become a mundane and superficial art form whereas not only a few years ago it was a diverse and engaging one. I feel that nowadays one repeats a ‘winning formula’ that ‘sells tickets’ instead of pushing boundaries. We prefer to tour companies of dead choreographers like Pina Bausch or Merce Cunningham (which fills theatres for nostalgia sake) than to invest in young and talented choreographers. Dance therefore seems to have moved to the graveyard lately. Are we so afraid to look into the unknown and search for the talented unknown as opposed to the tried and tested (which usually means deceased). In that case we must question what is art all over again.

For me, the last great choreographer who irreversibly changed our perception is William Forsythe, who radically changed ballet and contemporary dance while leaving an indelible influence on the art world in general- fortunately he’s still alive! But why no one aspires to reach those heights cannot simply be blamed on the economy- there are few examples of pioneering leadership in our field as most dive for safety in career positions instead of living out their obligations as ARTISTS – and that means taking risks to advance the art of dance.

Also, the ‘conceptual dance’ or ‘non-dance’ movement of the French from 2000-today, while bringing about a radical ‘new way’ of thinking about dance (all stolen blatantly from 1960’s Judson Church and performance art from the US and UK) has made a joke of the art form and made quality dance education almost redundant in Europe. It has become more important to create dancers without technique but cultivate interesting ‘personalities’ in the most important schools. The basics are no longer a priority; hence the dancer therefore graduates neither as an actor nor as a dancer. Who would want to hire a 20-year-old dancer with no technique or experience but possessing an interesting ‘personality’ is beyond me. My company mainly hires dancers over 30 as a rule with strong technique and human baggage. There are exceptions to this rule but they are exceptional human beings at a young age.

I continue to make work in the hope that its singularity will not diminish its market value under the present aesthetic and political conditions imposed by the gatekeepers.  Hence, I try my best to keep making work that interests me, listen to my instincts, not satisfy trends unless I like them, and compose dance with discipline and love for dance and the dancer. I can’t do more than that.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You teach youngsters, and are concerned about what is going on in today’s society, how would you describe this connection?

Isira: The young are the future and yet most countries put them in programmed boxes that limit their creative potential and thus their ability to CHOOSE their direction in life. This added to physical frustrations coming from lack of sports in education or moreover dance in education has (in my opinion) been a factor in the increase of delinquency and religious indoctrination of kids via fundamentalist groups and child crime organisations. In Sri Lanka we have all this nature yet the kids are educated to be big money-makers (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc) without any harmony or understanding of the blessing that our natural environment provides. The system teaches them, like in India to copy Western models, proven failures, for growth, position in society via clichéd careers, and acquisition of wealth without consideration for the poor. I’m slowly working towards a dance-based program to mobilise children to achieve this harmony via dance and the practice of ecological study and maintenance. Hopefully this will make better and more conscientious students and graduates in Sri Lanka.

LABILE

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I remember the solo Labile that you created for Finnish ballet principal dancer Minna Tervamäki. The solo for Minna premiered at the Finnish National Opera’s Alminsali on 9 December 2005. It was based on Minna’s own experiences from surviving the Tsunami in Thailand’s Khao Lak, in December 2004. You really wanted to translate her experiences of this trauma and event into an intimate choreographic work. The work was reviewed well in Finland, and it was also performed in 2006 at Monaco Dance Forum. You met at the Kuopio International Dance Festival. This is the same festival, where you won the prize for choreography with your French company, VIVID.danse in 2003.

I remember this huge pink plastic bag of bubble wrap that was on stage and Minna just was inside of it, coming out in an astonishing way. It was almost as if an alien was being born, the audience was not sure what was going to happen. And, after that the movements were so different, such virtuosity, with mathematical exactitude. The image was of total vulnerability despite the technicity of the dancing.

 

Isira: The title of the piece was ‘Labile’. Here are the definitions of the word: In chemical and physical terms: labile (adjective) readily undergoing change or breakdown; and in human terms: liable to change; unbalanced or adaptable; ‘an emotionally labile person’-being or thrown out of equilibrium (or balance).

The bubble-wrapped package delivered onstage was a fragile object: the pre-packaged ballerina who then explodes into action despite the pain, fatigue or emotional challenger. Her bursting open from it was a sort of escape from the false sense of protection and perfect image that the Opera House often propagates. My collaboration with Minna was in order to question the falsehood of the Opera Ballet Company per se, where one cannot question or show feelings, as if nothing happens in one’s life.A slave to the dance, slave to the politics of a big house like National Opera Ballet and slave to the choreographic system (evoked recently as a caricature in ’Black Swan’). I was interested in Minna the ’pretty ballerina’ and all the expectations that surrounded her. Her technique was perfect and I simply wanted to challenge it through my movement style like any choreographer would when faced with such a perfect athletic and dancing specimen as she.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: And, on the soundtrack Minna was repeating ’I’m almost there, but not quite yet’. The struggle of ballet-dancer with her mathematical precision and ideal for perfection of movements and the perfect image of the body.

Isira: I noticed she was often saying ’eiku’ in the studio (among other things). In Finnish this means ’no’. It was as if someone was telling her that whatever she was doing was never good enough. I found it amusing and used it as a backdrop for highly technical variations. How would it affect her psychologically? How does the ’negative’ push a dancer to excel? And why the hell do we need such negative thinking in ballet to achieve results? This was what I wanted to question. I felt the title embodied the female dancer’s inner strength and adaptability to manifest other realities than her own at that time – which in Minna’s case was having survived the 2004 Tsunami and returning to work as if all was OK.

{Photos:Dancetheatremedia Limited}

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Jan-Peter Kaiku, a critic from Helsinki-based Hufvudstadsbladet wrote in 11/12/2005 about LABILE. The review speaks about how we received the work. What I find so intriguing is that he compares you to William Forsythe. This does not happen so often. Kaiku wrote:

The solo handled a theme of performance in an improvisational and jagged way. Phrases are repeated only to be quickly turned on their heads. The piece’s minimalism, changing dynamics and powerful pointe work are reminiscent of William Forsythe’s reforms in classical ballet. The plastic packaging, the choice of music and the text provide humorous perspectives to the portrait of a dancer considering her many self-images and the scene situation. These questions create movement and change.

Isira: Any comparison to Forsythe is a great complement though my movement style is very different. I think the critic was comparing the sense of risk and deconstruction of theoretical ideas that perhaps the great man also deals with.

COLLABORATIONS AND IDENTITY

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your collaboration with other designers, which is of course so close to my own approach. Media?

Isira: I’m interested in all forms of multi-media though the goal is to purify and often throw everything out. More recently I’ve been more interested on set and lighting design for dance. The key for me is in the music and lighting. Often media and sets can upstage the dance and one loses a sense of meaning. If someone applauds the set and says nothing about the piece or its message, I have failed. Both have to work in harmony and the choreography should still remain the principal object of desire. Often setdesigners forget this.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I love Jennifer McConachie’s music; she is a female composer working on diverse forms. You have collaborated since 2003.

Isira:  Jennifer is a genius. What I like about Jennifer’s work isthat she can easily cross from digital composition to acoustic-classical. It’s rare these days. She is Scottish but lives in Norway. I always insist on ‘open Nordic skies and changing light’ in her music. It opposes the energy and detail of my choreography,leaving breathing space for the dancers to make the piece their own and colour the dance. Recently I also collaborated with François Caffenne for Locked in Vertical, made for Phoenix Dance Theatre (Leeds. UK). This was also the beginning of a new and fruitful relationship between choreographer and composer.  Both know each other. My team is close.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Harrys Picot is your lighting designer. Tell me more how you work together?

Isira: Harrys is also a long-time collaborator. His ability to get under the skin of any choreographer and tailor the lights, transitions and effects to their needs is a unique skill. When we met, he was chief lighting designer of the CNDC d’Angers in the 90’s and 2000’s, he adapted to many guest choreographers. I was astonished with his flexibility. After No Place Like Home for the Geneva Ballet in 2008, he was kept on by the Ballet to continue to make the lights for some future works, all due to his talent and flexibility.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are Sri Lankan, and lived in Europe most of your life, in London, and also few years in Paris, recently moved back to London? Are you a World-citizen or something else? How would you describeyour identity?

Isira: Interesting question and one that I ask myself almost daily. I guess you can call me a world citizen. But moreover I am a world dance citizen. Dance made me learn languages and engage in differentcommunities. Through dance I met my wife. If I had stopped dancing at any time my life would have been very, very different. I was born in Sri Lanka and each day a part of me yearns for the sounds and smells of my country. The smiles of the people are what I miss the most. Europe and the UK occupy a large part of me.  Europe is so diverse and yet so small. It’s a maze and still has the imprint of the World War II and Communism. I’m not astonished all these events happened; I see the need for nations to have borders and identities. Everything in European history has been moving toward union (or occupation in other words) but it always seems to fail. Let’s see what happens next!

(Isira Makuloluwe’s website: Dance Theatre Media)

(Isira Makuloluwe talks about his choreography Locked in Vertical)