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interviews performance&dance women in art

Laura Anderson Barbata on Julia Pastrana

The Eye of the Beholder: Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey Home is a new book edited by Laura Anderson Barbata and Donna Wingate. The essay collection sheds light on the life of historic sensation, Mexican international performer Julia Pastrana, expanding the story from anthropological and art historical perspectives. The book can also be viewed as a personal story of discovery. Artist and writer Laura Anderson Barbata remembers her own process of starting the project that eventually led to this book. How she got engaged in the controversial subject propels ideas of activism, and a passion to rewrite Pastrana’s history from new humanitarian and feminist points of view.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you originally get interested in Pastrana’s life?

Laura Anderson Barbata: In 2003, Amphibian Stage Productions, a theater company directed by my sister Kathleen Culebro, invited me to collaborate with designs for a play that they were about to premiere in New York: The True History of the Tragic Life and the Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World, by Shaun Prendergast. This is how I learned about Julia Pastrana. The story, unfolding in complete darkness, details the life of Julia as she traveled through Europe, a performer in a freak show, until her death in Moscow. It also briefly recounts the fate of her mummified body, and that of her baby, until they were added to the Schreiner Collection of human remains in the anatomy department of the University of Oslo. Upon hearing her story, I felt that my duty as a Mexican artist, and as a human being, was to do everything possible to have Pastrana removed from the anatomy collection and returned to Mexico, her place of birth—where she was at the time practically unknown—to receive a proper burial.

After nearly ten years of effort, Julia Pastrana was finally transferred to Mexican officials in Norway; I represented Mexico. After more than 150 years of being exhibited for her unique physical condition, Ms. Pastrana (1834–1860) was repatriated to Mexico and buried in Sinaloa, Mexico in 2013.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It’s been really a longitudinal project for you personally. How did you get others to get involved? 

I was not the first person to request the burial of Julia Pastrana and have often asked myself, why was I able to succeed?  Why did other efforts fail? What did I do differently? I think the answer lies in the fact that I am an artist and therefore my methodology was radically different from all others from the start. My extensive collaborative artistic experiences in Mexico, Venezuela, and Trinidad prepared me for a project of this magnitude that ultimately involved international institutions, government officials, various organizations, and scientists.

LAB: The ten-year plight for Julia’s return for burial began with letters I wrote to the National Research Ethics Committee for the Social Sciences and Humanities, the National Committee for Ethical Evaluation of Research on Human Remains of Norway, the Governor of Sinaloa in Mexico, the Foreign Affairs Department of Mexico, the University of Oslo, journalists, artists, anthropologists, individuals, and various institutions that I reached out to for their professional opinion, advice, and guidance. During this process, they became deeply involved and invested in the outcome. Each one was fundamental for the success of the repatriation and I consider them to be my collaborators.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many authors are participating in the publication that is coming out now, and what perspectives do they cover from visual and historic perspectives?

LAB: I edited the book with Donna Wingate, and it includes texts by Jan Bondeson, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Grant Kester, Nicolas Márquez-Grant, Bess Lovejoy, and myself. Donna and I researched and selected more than fifty illustrations from the public domain, library collections, archival materials, and works commissioned especially for the project.

Julia Pastrana, book cover.
The Eye of the Beholder: Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey Home, book cover. 

The authors are as follows:

Dr. Jan Bondeson is a Swedish-born rheumatologist, scientist and author, working as a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at the Cardiff University School of Medicine. Outside of his career in medicine, he has written several nonfiction books on a variety of topics, such as medical anomalies and unsolved murder mysteries.

As an expert on Julia Pastrana, Bondeson contributed two chapters to the book; the first is a general introduction to the story of Julia Pastrana, and the second recounts how he found her remains in the basement of the Forensic Institute of Oslo in 1988, and how his extensive research established that she suffered from hypertrichosis terminalis rather than hypertrichosis lanuguinosa, as previously believed.

Dr. Nicholas Márquez-Grant is a Specialist Forensic Practitioner in Anthropology and Archaeology at Cellmark Forensic Services, Abingdon, UK. He is also a Research Associate of the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford.

His text addresses the history of collections and the anthropological framework of the nineteenth century; the ethics surrounding human remains; the case of Julia Pastrana’s repatriation and its significance; witnessing Pastrana’s body in the chapel during the repatriation process.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Emory University. Her fields of study are feminist theory, American literature, and disability studies. Her work develops the field of disability studies in the humanities and women’s and gender studies.

Dr. Garland-Thomson’s essay considers the ways that the public display of Julia Pastrana both reinforces and challenges the lines between the self and other, human and non-human, ordinary and extraordinary, that such spectacles rely upon. By analyzing how Pastrana’s display and recent repatriation and burial in Sinaloa invest her body with different meanings, it traces the processes that socially mark human bodies in order to reveal and explicate the inner workings of representational systems, such as race, gender, ethnicity, and disability.

Grant Kester is Professor of Art History, and Director of the University Art Gallery at the University of California, San Diego. Kester is one of the leading figures in the emerging critical dialogue around “relational” or “dialogical” art practices.

Dr. Kester’s text discusses how European colonizers were unable to attach specific meaning to the objects they acquired through colonization and thus developed larger meanings for art more generally. Recovering Pastrana’s remains becomes an act of restitution that encourages a confrontation with the historical status of “stolen” objects and encourages a renegotiation of and reconnection to the understanding of the past.

Bess Lovejoy is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.
Ms. Lovejoy’s essay contextualizes Julia Pastrana’s afterlife by considering a number of other notable individuals whose bodies have been preserved in museums. Like Pastrana, many of these individuals possessed bodies that differed from the European norm, either because they were born with physical abnormalities or because they were of non-European ethnicities. Her chapter considers how scientific and ethical considerations complicate the collection and display of such bodies, and how some of these bodies have been the focal point of successful repatriation campaigns, while others have not.

Laura Anderson Barbata
My essay describes my own journey: the process, challenges, and partnerships that were formed as I worked for ten years for the repatriation of Julia Pastrana.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your own artistic research work on Pastrana has included performative phases, how are you implementing this approach on the book?

LAB: While Julia Pastrana was billed as “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” what is most important to mention is that she was a gifted mezzo-soprano and dancer—she was a very successful performer during her lifetime. Julia Pastrana’s life story and the fate of her body after her death (including her successful repatriation) brings to light issues that remain deeply relevant: beauty, ownership, science and racism, commercialization, objectification, exploitation, human rights, public versus private, international law, colonialism, sexism, respect, responsibility, indigenous rights, memory, sensitivity, the physical body, and the spiritual body.

In order to unpack all of these subjects, I felt that they must be addressed through different mediums. First, it was important to create a publication to gather the most significant material concerning her life with critical essays from different scholars. Donna Wingate and I worked on this book for over four years—researching archives and discussing the various lenses through which we could gain a deeper understanding of Julia Pastrana. At the same time, our goal was to present a full account of Pastrana as a person, a woman, and an artist, with the dignity she had been denied during her life and after her death. The book includes images of my artworks—works on paper and performances—based on the story of Julia Pastrana.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe the cultural life in Mexico at the time of Julia over hundred years ago? Also, what was the context that she was surrounded by that addressed her as a celebratory oddity? 

LAB: Julia only lived in Mexico for the first twenty years of her life. She was born in 1834 in the State of Sinaloa, and according to popular legend, was born in the indigenous village of Ocoroni—or thereabout—in 1834. Today Ocoroni belongs to the municipality of Sinaloa, in the state of the same name, and is located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental.

In the decades of the first half of the nineteenth century, Mexico was searching for its own destiny and independence. Since the establishment of the first settlements by European Hispanics in the sixteenth century until the early nineteenth century, the territory of Sinaloa was mainly a mining state. The population, therefore, settled in the mountains and in the valleys. Mining camps and towns were established throughout Sinaloa for the search and exploitation of metallic resources that were coveted by the monarch of Spain.

Nothing is known about Julia’s parents or siblings, and there are no documents of her birth or baptism. It should be noted that the Office of Public Records (Registro Público) had not yet been created in Mexico; it was legally established on January 27, 1857. Little is known about her childhood, although it is said that an uncle took charge of her after the death of her mother, and in an effort to make a quick buck, sold to her to a small traveling circus—the kind that occasionally passes through these remote villages. Sometime around 1836 until April 1854, Julia was a maid in the residence of Mr. Pedro Sánchez, who had been in charge of the government of Sinaloa from September 28, 1836 to June 3rd, 1837. It is possible that he purchased Julia from the circus that had exhibited her throughout the northwest of the country.

We believe that her training as a mezzo-soprano and dancer began when she lived at the governor’s house, and he likely presented her before audiences. She spoke four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Cahita, her native tongue. She was taken to Guadalajara to perform in 1854, and news of her reached the United States, as we found in an article in the New York Post. This must have been what sparked the interest of the American Theodore Lent, who worked for Barnum and Bailey and later became Julia’s husband. He traveled to Mexico to meet with Pedro Sánchez and Francisco Sepulveda to discuss a business venture that involved the sale and purchase of Julia Pastrana.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As a phenomenon she became extremely internationalized so to speak. How would you explain this to contemporary audiences, from the perspectives of art, science, and women’s history?

When Julia Pastrana left Mexico and traveled to the United States with Francisco Sepulveda to meet Theodore Lent to complete a business transaction between Sepulveda and Lent, Theodore Lent secretly convinced Julia Pastrana to marry him, and he immediately became her manager. He presented her to audiences and billed her as the Bear-woman, the Nondescript, the Ape Woman, the Female Hybrid, the Wonderful Hybrid, and Baboon Lady, among other sobriquets.

LAB: Julia Pastrana was taken to perform in Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and New York, among other cities. After a number of presentations in the US and Canada, Lent decided to take his show to Europe. They traveled to London, and extensively throughout Germany, Poland, and Russia. Julia Pastrana’s shows were very successful, and newspapers throughout Europe wrote about her.

Julia Pastrana’s story is a reminder that what happened to her is not an experience exclusively from the past—today there are far too many cases of exploitation, abuse, neglect, cruelty, human trafficking, and discrimination. Julia Pastrana is a reminder that we urgently need to forward women’s rights, indigenous rights, children’s rights, and eliminate human traffic to start. We must end gender discrimination, defend the rights of people with differences, protect religious choices and end the voracious dehumanization of people in the name of political, commercial, religious, and scientific purposes. For me, it means that I continue working on the topics related to her, the injustices she lived and how they are still relevant today.

LAB: Among the works are: a performance piece that is continually evolving, a series of zines that address different topics related to Julia Pastrana such as: repatriation of human remains, museum ethics, exhibition practices, the objectification of people and women, human traffic, beauty and the commercialization of women’s bodies, feminism, animal rights, love, circus arts, among others; in addition, we are working towards an Opera about Julia Pastrana in collaboration with the artist collective Apparatjik, Concha Buika, and Void Design.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think she is appreciated in Mexico today, and how will the book contribute to that?

LAB: The repatriation of Julia Pastrana sparked a great interest worldwide and in Mexico. Since Julia Pastrana’s repatriation there have been at least three plays written and performed in Mexico about her, and I understand there is a feature film in development by a Mexican director. I have also learned about a woman’s health center that opened recently in Argentina that is named after Julia Pastrana.  Because of my work on the repatriation of Julia Pastrana, I recently received an award by the Instituto de Administración Pública of the State of Tabasco, Mexico for the Defense of Human Rights.

It is clear to me that all of these responses show that Mexico is embracing Julia Pastrana and is working towards restorative actions for her memory, for the promotion of dignity and justice, and in humanitarian efforts to defend the rights of all.

***

The Eye of the Beholder: Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey HomeAvailable through Art Book/DAP http://www.artbook.com/9780692762189.html

More on Laura Anderson Barbata

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

Categories
fine and contemporary art interviews scandinavian women in art

Tamara Piilola: Painter from Finland

Tamara Piilola is a young generation Finnish painter with almost enigmatic ability to capture natural processes on the canvas. Or more than a process, her images offer views with a hint of gold in them. As a painter her perception seems thoroughly personal, and therefore can touch many. Piilola started the arts as a musician, and perhaps its possible to hear music when looking in to the painter’s landscapes.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where in Finland did you grow up and study art?

TP: I grew up in the small city in the west coast of Finland. I studied in the south, in Turku and in Helsinki in the Academy of Fine Arts. I was an exchange student for one year in Leipzig in Hochshule für Grafik Und Buchkunst and spend months in Reykjavik during my studies.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your story of becoming an artist? 

TP: I’m the only child, and I started to think about art first through music. I studied in a conservatory for ten years, but in classical music you don’t have the freedom to play how you like it, or if you do, people think you’re wrong. It’s much longer process, with a lot more technique involved.

I went through every book that we had in the house. As a child, I remember I was deeply interested about the Old Masters and portraiture by Rembrandt, Holbein and Gainsborough. I was mesmerized by the use of light and the extraordinary talent itself. I wanted to do something similar.

I got my first camera and Marie’s oil paints as a ten-year old. Around the same time I enlisted myself to a painting course with some grannies (they’re organized everywhere even in the countryside in Finland). As I got a bit older it was certain I wanted to go to art school and quit classical music.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you choose oils and painting as your medium?

TP: I did some photographs as well but in the end paintings have turned out to be the most flexible media for me. The texture is very important for me. Although I did photos in which I used for example liquid chocolate and velvet, the outcome was too cold and the end product had an industrial feel to it. In black and white pictures, you have the softness, but then you lose the colors. I have learned to use only the best materials in my paintings and usually paint just one layer to keep the colors pure and bright. Oils can become dull and lifeless when applied thick. Oil paint is so flexible that I can adjust what I’m doing, and because of the way the pigment is held in the oil, it is beautifully luminescent.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What defines a good painting to you?

TP: Color, light, composition – all these things make the painting interesting to look at. The eye has to wonder. I love if you are able to grab something, it has some kind of energy, or you can relate to something. Paintings have the ability to embody a series of thoughts and feeling processes, and good paintings are very personal. It’s all there on the canvas as a record.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is there in the landscape painting that fascinates you, maybe the history of it too. How about the influences?

The heavy load that comes with the term landscape was at first turnoff for me. When I got in terms with the subject (which I felt I had to do), the whole world opened up to me. It was like a flower that was opening in front of my eyes. I felt I was completely free to do whatever I felt like with this subject. It felt like it was mine, all mine to explore, and that was beautiful. My large canvases of imaginary landscapes present viewers with startling experiences of nature. These detailed views, full of mystery and light, colour and verdancy, draw viewers to their essence and idea.

 

TP: These are not recognisable landscapes but the creations of countless memories stored over time as photographs and sketches. Thin layers of paint, bold fluent brushstrokes and the use of pure pigments combined flood the paintings with light. Landscapes do not always have to be beautiful. I paint wastelands, timber stacks and dunghill, emphasising their decorativeness. I depict decaying beauty and allow natural forms to blend into almost abstract surfaces. I’m soaked with art history because I have been interested in art all my life. My favourite painter is Lucian Freud, the master of seductive and complex psychological portraits. My favourite movie directors are Kubrick and Lynch. In music it’s much harder to point out the most influential ones, I listen to music in my studio all the time from almost all genres. In literature there are many great minds that speak to me, Hesse, Nabokov, Murakami, Knausgård, Hustved, Woolf, Wilde. I don’t have a specific landscape painter that has influenced me.

Tamara Piilola, installation view at Gallery Heino.
Tamara Piilola, installation view at Gallery Heino.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is being a figurative painter these days a rare thing. How do you feel the genre is approached in the contemporary art world?

TP: With suspicion – no just kidding. I think now it’s much more acceptable to be a painter. I think there is the audience and professionals who recognizes the talent and accepts it as it is: A viable art form. As an artist, you always have to be interested of what other artists do. I think there is a lot of theoretical confusion about art. Everybody thinks they have to make theoretical work and be able to explain what they do. I think if you hear this long enough, this kind of stuff gets in your way when you’re coming up with ideas, because you start thinking through a filter.

Tamara Piilola's oil on canvas in Galleria Heino, August 2017, installation view.
Tamara Piilola’s oil on canvas in Galleria Heino, August 2017, installation view.

TP: I always thought that art could move more on the emotional level. You should work with your feelings, because if you’re using language to put things to action, you limit yourself. Many times things in art don’t make sense.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is almost a photographic precision to your works. Do you layer the works, plan the works with meticulous detail, and come up with the entire idea before starting to paint?

I have photographic memory and I often work with images that have a lot of details. I start sketching by doing a collage with a computer (I used to work with paper and scissors before). At the end, there is a sketch that gives me a solid structure, the composition to work on top of. This is extremely important stage. After that I can start painting and I have quite a lot of freedom to choose which colors to use, how the brushstrokes will look, and overall how the end result will look. This structure gives me freedom to improvise. The motives have to be challenging, full of details and light to keep the painting process interesting. I love to see a big painting almost ready, I get excited about my own work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe your method or process of working?

TP: I’m a deadline worker and I do exhibitions, not just one painting at a time. I work with about eight paintings at the same time. If I get an idea or a feeling that something should be done it usually takes years to pass through. I have a solid confidence in what I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with everything I do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to question your work. On the contrary – the best thing is to view the work from every angle and to be very skeptical at first if you get a “good idea”. I’m very patient to give my ideas the time they need to develop. I need to build a relationship with the motives: I want them to be familiar. When I know I can start, I go through my picture bank to fill the missing pieces in the collage. I focus on the composition and not so much on the colors.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have an artist motto?

TP: Yeah, trust your intuition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you in love with nature as it is your playground in a way, how about the trees that come out so vividly in your works?

TP: I think it’s not about loving though I love nature, it’s about respect. I recognize certain similarities in Finnish and Japanese cultures. We have both had our animistic past. The recognition of energy in things was very natural for me as I  was raised up by the sea, and the wilderness started right behind the fence. I think materials can be very sensual to look at and touch. In our times, it’s a luxury to have the time to look at things in peace. That’s what I do, I look and appreciate things.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Did you ever think of becoming an environmental artist?

TP: No. I’m afraid to destroy things in the nature and I have no interest to mess with wild things. I think there is such perfection in natural order, and to show “art” in that context feels utterly fake.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When looking back at your career, how have your paintings developed through the years?

TP: I went here and there in the beginning. About ten years ago I accepted the fact that it’s OK to do what I do best: Big paintings with a lot of details.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Is there anything particularly special to you about being a ‘woman’ artist?

TP: I don’t consider myself a woman artist, I am simply an artist. My works can be labeled feminine because they can be quite decorative. But I think it’s a drag to label things. I don’t think artist’s gender makes the work interesting unless the gender is the concept of the work. What is feminine and masculine? I’d like to go around those labels, because everyone and everything can be both depending on the culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  You recently attended a group show in Galleria Heino in Helsinki. Have you collaborated with the gallery before?

TP: This was the first show I did with Heino. I love to work with them because they have the courage to show artistically ambitious shows, with basically no art market to sell them in Finland. Rauli Heino is a true art lover and I consider myself to be very lucky to be in their team.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Do you work with curators or more directly with museum and gallery directors? What is your experience on building a show? 

TP: I work with all of them, it depends on the project. I listen very carefully what people are after and it’s always a pleasure to work with professional people. The structure of the new show is in my hands and it has to be, otherwise it’s not my show. I will do the best I can to make things work. To have the atmosphere of support and trust is very rewarding. To have fun, to discover and do wonderful things together, isn’t that what life’s about?

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Do you think that you have had many successful shows?

TP: Yes, I think so. Success for me means that I am able to do the things the way I intend to. To do a good show means you must have the time to do it. It helps a lot when you learn to say no to projects that are not that beneficial to you.

Tamara Piilola, Kruunu, oil on canvas.
Tamara Piilola, Kruunu, oil on canvas.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  How about such labels as ‘Finnish’ painter? If you consider to be one, what do you think about an international career?

TP: The world is definitely smaller than let’s say in the beginning of the nineties. Long stays abroad, mainly in France and Germany have influenced my work. I live and work in Helsinki, and I guess nowadays the place you live defines you. It’s an interesting question. I certainly recognize my subject matter to be very Finnish, and that’s fine. Does that make me a Finnish artist?

To be able to build an international career I need contacts to good international galleries. I would love to show my work especially in the Nordic countries, in the U.S. and in Canada. I think my work could meet some interest in these places since we have similar cultural values.

Categories
art review&curating fine and contemporary art interviews women in art

Linda Cunningham’s Whose Land? Whose God?

Linda Cunningham’s sculptural installations speak many languages. Much of her recent work has been tapping into environmental specificity relating to the South Bronx waterfront. The artist has explored a topic of climate change in urban environments. Through July-August, Cunningham has her solo exhibition up in Brooklyn at the celebrated ODETTA. The current show features a large installation of her sculptural pieces well put together with drywall photo collages, both mediums that Cunningham frequently works with. This time Cunningham’s exhibition features textual patterns as mixed media works. The images display historic texts, which carry references to three monotheist World religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) in earlier times when the cultures co-existed peacefully, a scenario impossible to imagine now. Many of the texts seem to be fragments that have been saved, depicting religious writings in Coptic, Hebrew and Arabic. The title of her exhibition: Whose Land? Whose God?, also includes remnants, which the artist acquired from the Berlin Wall in 1989. As the artist herself is well-traveled, behind the exhibition story is an expedition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Let’s talk a bit about the bronze as a material in the exhibition. As I understood, you were running your own bronze workshop in Pennsylvania? 

LC: As a young professor at Franklin & Marshall College, I was challenged to create a bronze casting facility to make use of a very old oil burning furnace that a former professor had acquired for the sculpture facility. Enthusiastic art students and guest professors helped me build the facility and develop the expertise to do traditional bronze casting which I later taught in Advanced Sculpture classes. I eventually ran some women’s bronze casting weekend workshops which was wonderfully empowering for the participants who never had had such an opportunity.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: About the process of pouring the metal, how do you create the movement so evident in your sculptures. What is the methodology behind the pouring, and using sand in the process?

LC: I eventually became interested in much more experimental casting methods that sculptors like Isaac Witkin were using, pouring bronze in single sided shallow molds filled with foundry sand. I developed the technique of pouring long thin forms that record the flow of the hot melted bronze. The bronze freezes the flow patterns and splatters creating the highly textured surface as it solidifies in seconds. Early on I found a way to acquire scrap military bronze and was using these lacy bronze forms to create 11 ft high shells of figures I called “War Memorial.” I thought of them of as vulnerable survivors. Five of those bronze images framed the entrance to the City University Graduate Center when it still stood for many years on 42nd St across from Bryant Park. They are now owned by Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

detail_panel_wire_nails.jpg
Linda Cunningham’s innovative bronze becomes part of a drywall sculpture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your exhibition Whose Land? Whose God? is inspired by an exhibition that you saw in Germany, when and where did this exhibition take place?

LC: The text Images were taken from the catalog of an exhibition I saw and was deeply impressed by in Berlin, 2015 titled: ‘One God: Abraham’s descendants on the Nile. Jews, Christians and Muslims in Egypt from late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages’ at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, known as the Bode Museum on the Museum island in Berlin.

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many texts, including a variety of liturgical, bible & prayer books, are there included in your exhibition? 

LC: I used 16 different examples. Many more were included in the exhibit in Berlin.

Detail of Coptic and Hebrew.
Linda Cunningham, installation detail at ODETTA. Textual imagery is relevant to early history of three monotheist World religions. Often saved as fragments like this.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about the pieces in the exhibition that you acquired from the Berlin Wall, what is the story behind them?

LC: I was invited to create a sizable installation in an alternative arts factory building in Kassel as an alternative documenta exhibit in 1992 about 2 1/2 years after the wall had opened up. A man who worked in the factory that was sponsoring the project took me to the town where he lived that was just over the former border where mountains of posts, fence, electrical cable and barbed wire were assembled as they dismantled the border that reach across the entire country. They were happy to have me take what I could fit in his van and charged me 50 Deutschmarks. The elements fit perfectly into the theme of the installation I was working on at that time.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did the transportation of the wall pieces take place, literally from Germany to the US?

LC: When the exhibition came to an end after 90 days, I couldn’t bear to throw them out and storing was also prohibitive. My German friends helped me to get crates built and one friend drove the crates to Hamburg to get them loaded on a freighter. I picked them up with a van at a New Jersey port outside Newark. I always intended to exhibit them again and they have been schlepped from one studio to the next ever since.

Linda Cunningham's installation view at Odetta Gallery.
Installation view to Linda Cunningham’s exhibition at ODETTA. Remnants of the Berlin Wall are on the right.

***

More exhibition info: 

Linda Cunningham Whose Land? Whose God? 

July 7 – August 20, 2017

ODETTA | 229 Cook Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206

Artists Talk: Sunday, August 6, 3 pm

Odetta Gallery: http://www.odettagallery.com/

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

Read about the visit to Linda Cunningham’s studio as featured in Firstindigo&Lifestyle.

 

Categories
asian art interviews performance&dance scandinavian women in art

Interview: Marina Celander explores theater with intention

New York City based performer Marina Celander crosses boundaries in her artistic practice, which combines a variety of genres and approaches to making art. Her solo performances echo authentic voice, and her deep participation on stage with theater groups comes across as statuesque, moving, gentle and charismatic. Marina Celander is born as Swedish-Korean, and is a recipient of 2014 Lilah Kan Red Socks Award for her outstanding contribution to the Asian American professional theater in New York City.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What choices did you make to become an actor, what is your background in the field?

MC: I started out as a modern dancer. After I graduated from London Contemporary Dance School I moved to New York and danced for a bit with various companies and choreographers. At one point I decided to take acting classes, which was something I had always felt I wanted to try but was afraid to do, and started studying with Gene Frankel at the Gene Frankel Theatre Workshop on Bond Street. Despite my fears, I took that first class with Gene and I remember feeling so elated and high, almost, as I stepped out from the darkness of the theater and in to the sunshine on the street. From that moment on I knew I had found what I needed to do with the rest of my life.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where were you born and raised, at least Sweden is on the map?

MC: I was born and raised in Sweden. I grew up in Malmö which is in southern Sweden, right across the strait from Copenhagen, Denmark. I lived in London for three years while I was studying dance, and then I moved to New York when I was in my early twenties. I have been in New York ever since! I go back to Sweden every other year or so to visit my family.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have performed with Yara Arts Group that is based in La MaMa Theatre for many years. How did you find yourself part of the company?

MC: I auditioned for a show that Virlana Tkacz, the artistic director of Yara Arts group, was putting up at La MaMa in 2000, called Circle. This particular show was special in that it had actors and musicians from Buryatia and Mongolia, as well as us New York actors. We had the chance to learn to sing these hauntingly beautiful Buryat songs from the Altai mountains. Two years later I traveled with Yara to Ukraine to sing Ukrainian folksongs, and visit Babushki, the grandmas, in the villages of Kratchkivka in Poltava and Svaritsevichiy in Polissia, and then we performed in Kyiv. This trip was also lead by Ukrainian singer, Mariana Sadovska, who was the musical director for our performance. Ever since then I have come back to work for Virlana in various poetry readings and events that she hosts, as well as being part of some of her theater productions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Virlana Tkacz, one of the founders of Yara, and the director of the company, and many company members have a Ukrainian cultural background, But Yara is appreciated as multicultural in its productions echoing ideas of a World Theater. Did you find this conception as a great home for your own performance identity?

MC: Yes, I am really attracted to the idea of World theater. It is very fitting that Yara Arts Group is a resident theater company at La MaMa, because it is the home of World theater. Ellen Stewart, the founding mother of La MaMa Experimental Theatre, bravely and courageously invited individuals and companies from all over the world to perform and work at La MaMa.

Yara is an exciting company to work with, because of the always multi-lingual performances and multi ethnic cast. Lately, Virlana has been working with Ukrainian artists, but in the past she has worked with artists from Buryatia (in Siberia) and Kyrgyzstan. As a woman of color and a theater artist, I always deeply appreciate directors who are not type-casting based on ethnicity and race. In downtown theater in general, but at La MaMa in particular, I have always been given opportunities to act in a myriad of roles where my ethnic make up is not important. Virlana has given me and many other actors of color opportunities. I believe that putting a minority actor on stage for no other reason than the fact that (s)he is a good person to have in the show, is always a strong choice against the established order of theater in the West.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In 2015, you were part of a production that directly was touching Ukraine and the war that was happening on a huge crisis level there. Yara’s production premiere ‘Hitting Bedrock’ took place in La MaMa, (it was conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, set & light by Watoku Ueno, music by Julian Kytasty, assistant director: Wanda Phipps). Your role in the work was central. Tell more about your role and how it shaped in the context?

MC: The production Hitting Bedrock, was an important production as it addressed the war in Eastern Ukraine. My character was The Refugee, and her significance in the piece was that she represented all of those humans, women, children, men, the elderly, that have been rendered homeless because of the war in Ukraine, and elsewhere in the world. She represented all of those that have had to leave something important behind, a memory, a treasure, a family member, a secret, a lover, old letters, a photograph… It was a role that moved me deeply. As a result, that summer (2015) I went on a self financed, crowd-funded trip to face paint and give dance workshops to children in refugee centers in Ukraine.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In this play, the audiences had a participatory role. At one point, we were asked to give our belongings away, and were offered big tote bags instead, to put our coats and personal items in them. This was altering a perception from an audience member’s point of view into the experimental, perhaps reminiscing the point of view of people in the war. In what ways did being a central actor discussing your war losses while audience is so close to you, alter your own performance? Did this event change you?

MC: Yes, the audience were forced to walk through a long corridor in the basement of the theater, and thereafter they were asked to give away their personal belongings only to have them put into bags. The audience immediately got those bags back to hold for the remainder of the show, but many felt uncomfortable and some refused to give up their belongings even for a second. We had brusque and insistent “guards” in uniforms commanding people to go here, put their stuff there, go up, sit down, etc. When the audience had finally arrived in a “holding area” after having been shuttled around with their big bags, they had to witness the guards doing the same to me. The guards demanded to see what was in my back-back, and I showed them my toothbrush and my papers. At this point the audience is really right next to me in the holding area. Having the audience being so close to me, being one of them, really does something to the performance. As an actor I loved feeling them so close, feeling their reactions to me, their doubts, their fears, and them feeling my fears. It was also a little intimidating when on one occasion we had a lady who was a little drunk in the audience, and she was shouting quite aggressively at the stuff I said. That was worrisome, because she was so close.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Besides being an actor and performer, you handle multiple different roles. How did you come to dancing and performing Hula?

MC: Yes, I handle multiple different roles in my life on a daily basis. I am a mother, and an artist, a teaching artist, performer, face painter, a freelancer. I wake up every morning thinking, what am I doing today?

I started dancing Hula, traditional Hawaiian dance, in 2000, after finding an organization that gave beginner hula classes. I was very fortunate to stumble upon the Hawaiian Cultural Foundation (HCF), and there I studied with Michelle Akina, Janu Cassidy, Keo Woolford and kumu hula June Tanoue. I have since been involved with a hula halau, hula school, Pua Ali’i ‘Ilima o Nuioka, under the leadership of kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your connection to the hula/Hawaiian community in New York?

MC: It’s a small, but growing, community of Hawaiians, and Hawaiians at heart, hula lovers, and Hawaiian language and music lovers and enthusiasts. It is a beautiful and loving and inclusive community of people from all over. My connection is through hula.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: A very interesting part of your practice is also face painting. That is a skill that requires another set of imagination and sense of personality in people. How did you start?

MC: I started face painting for my own children’s birthday parties, and it grew from there. Now I do other kids’ birthday parties. It’s a small side business, and I get clients usually through word of mouth. I really enjoy the face painting, and it makes me happy to paint kids’ faces.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In 2016, you created a solo work for yourself that was performed in Sweden. The work titled Mermaid’s Howl, handled a theme of you mother, and her Korean identity. How did you experience the project from the point of view of her identity, and your own, adding into the narratives that are so personal?

MC: I created a solo show called Mermaid’s Howl and performed it at the Stockholm Fringe in 2016. The story had been a long time in the making. As early as 2013, I had talked to my friend and mentor, Fred Ho, about my idea of writing a solo show. He quickly said, in typical Fred Ho style “Write it, I’ll produce it. Here is your deadline, use it.” He unfortunately passed away before that came to fruition, but I stayed true to my promise to myself and to Fred, to finish writing that piece. I am grateful to the Stockholm Fringe Festival for inviting me and giving Mermaid’s Howl its premier.

The story is about me growing up in Sweden and finding out who my mother was, and finally being able to connect the dots in my adult years. Connecting the dots from me, to her, to all of our maternal ancestors. The play is part dream, part real memory snippets, part madness and part immigrant mother-daughter story. It was a deeply personal process, of course, to write this play, which delved into questions of what is must have been like to an immigrant woman, all alone in a completely foreign country, without family, to raise a child on her own, have her dreams crushed or set aside. It also explores the question of women and madness, and what it means for women to not be able to fully express themselves as artists and human beings in a society that sees women as less valued than men.

(For a little more detail to this story and an except of the play you can go here: http://riksha.com/mermaids-howl-an-excerpt/)

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Was the theme of mental illness and it’s feminine counter-narrative hard to project into a play?

MC: Mental illness is a topic that is still not openly talked about, it’s a little taboo. I wanted to bring it to the forefront and not skirt around the issue. Without glorying mental illness, I wanted to shine a light on it from a different angle, to let people see that there may be a societal value to possessing a different sight and different viewpoint from what is deemed “normal”. Normal is a societal rule, and normal is different in other cultures. In the West there is absolutely no point to mental illness at all. It is just a nuisance, a bother, a hindrance, a difficulty, something to be shunned and stowed away, far far away. I am not saying that it is not utterly devastating when serious mental illness occurs in a family, but I am saying that there are options as to how you would view someone with a divergent view of the world. Those with divergent behavior can actually have value in society, their divergence is seen as highly creative as well as highly unusual and abnormal. At the same time, madness in women have always been a tool to belittle and demean women, to incarcerate “difficult” women, and put women in their place by the patriarchic machinery.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The play also involved projections as part of it, tell more about the visual and performance collaboration?

MC: I had three amazing collaborators. The electronic score was composed by Dåkot-ta Alcantara-Camacho. The costumes were designed and made by Jane Catherine Shaw, and the projection design was made by Youn Jung Kim. Youn Jung knew my play very well. She was a student of Fred Ho, that is how we met. In the beginning of the writing process she and I used to meet regularly and have our little mini-writing labs, where we shared, read and discussed our work. Because of her connection to the piece from the start, she really knew the flow, the pace, the colors, the feelings of the piece. The projections grew out of her intimate knowledge of the story I wanted to tell, and her receptiveness to my suggestions made the working process so easy.

Dåkot-ta created a score that was so sensitive and evocative, and reminiscent of water and forests and shaman drums. His sounds were instrumental in setting the scenes for particularly relevant moments in the piece. It really was amazing to hear the music loud, with real speakers, for the first time! Goosebumps moment! Cathy made these amazing creations that felt magical to wear, and helped me grow into the characters I was portraying in the various environments.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What would you like to say about the performance experience in Sweden, did you feel you were at the crossroads of cultures while bringing the work there?

MC: I didn’t necessarily feel I was at a cultural crossroads in Sweden, but my piece, Mermaid’s Howl, is an exploration of my cultural heritage, so it was very fitting to have its premier in Sweden. Performing in Sweden was a homecoming of sorts. Being bi-racial I guess means you are a hub for cross-cultural activities within you.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: This play involved also a Kickstarter- fundraising, and the audience was able to have a glimpse into the concept and to you as a person. What was this campaign process like?

MC: Yes, I decided to crowd-fund with Kickstarter as it seemed as the most reputable and an easy way to go. The opportunity to go to Sweden came up very quickly as I was invited to perform with Mermaid’s Howl just a couple of months before the festival started. I had to come up with the funds to go very quickly.

Youn Jung Kim is a great conceptual artist and photographer and film artist. She has a great eye and a great feel for what works and she listened to what I wanted to convey in my little promo video. From the short interaction we had on camera she created a little gem of a video for my Kickstarter campaign.  (You can view the campaign here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq4-2zW7GZ0)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are an activist in social platforms. You have performed radical acts in public places, closing yourself in a body-bag for instance. Tell more about the involvement. Do you think activism can change the dominant narratives in crisis? Are you an optimist?

MC: Yes, I’m always an optimist. The particular event you are mentioning was Belarus Free Theatre’s demonstration in NYC against Capital punishment in Belarus, where young people disappeared and their families were not notified of their deaths, and never received their bodies back. This was an event planned together with La MaMa. We gathered by City Hall, and then walked over to Foley Square, where we crawled in to body bags, zipped ourselves up and laid still for 30 minutes to raise awareness of the issue. We had monitors who were watching us to make sure nothing came to pass as we were inside the body bags, or in case anyone would freak out they could quickly zip us open again. It was a very intense experience, I have to say.

As artists we have an obligation to tell stories where we stand up for the underdogs, speak up for those weaker than us, for those who do not have a voice or platform with which to tell of their story.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What new adventures do you have planned?

MC: I performed a first draft, a first work-in-progress version, of a new solo show called Shakespeare’s Sisters at Dixon Place in NYC in January of 2017. My plan is to perform it again in a larger venue and to see the piece grow. Mermaid’s Howl will also be traveling to Massachusetts sometime in the near future. We are working out the details now, so I will tell you more when I can reveal more, but I am very excited that this show will have a future life.

MARINA CELANDER, SHAKESPEARE'S SISTERS, DIXON PLACE, NYC 2017 - PHOTO SALLY MINKER
MARINA CELANDER, SHAKESPEARE’S SISTERS, DIXON PLACE, NYC 2017 – PHOTO SALLY MINKER.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are also performing with Yara in their new production?

MC: I’m currently performing with Yara Arts Group’s new show at La MaMa called 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan and the Dogs. Again, it is a project based on Serhiy Zhadan’s poetry. It was shown this spring in Kyiv, by a Ukrainian cast, and now it’s our turn to put our spin on it. Serhiy and his punk-rock band, The Dogs, are in New York performing with us. It’s an exciting show! It’s always very special to perform with a live band. Other musical elements in the show are Julian Kytasy’s bandura compositions.  This piece makes us reflect on the concept of tyranny and how easily it arises – it did in Europe in 1917, and now in 2017 we are currently in danger of allowing it to rise again. The show opened on Friday June 9 and runs at LaMama ETC until June 25, 2017.

***

Information about the Yara’s 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan and the Dogs at La Mama here: http://lamama.org/tychyna/

Marina Celander on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user26138773

Categories
art education&management fine and contemporary art interviews women in art

Francie Lyshak about painting

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.

 

Lyshak_BlackCurtain_16x20_500
Francie Lyshak, Black Curtain, oil on canvas, 16×20, Courtesy of the artist.

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.

 (Images from The Secret: http://www.francielyshak.com/archive/Secret/index.html).

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.

Francie Lyshak_BrushedBlue_34x44_1400
Francie Lyshak, Brushed Blue, oil on canvas, 34×44, Courtesy of the artist.

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.

Francie Lyshak_KnifedWhite_34x26.
Francie Lyshak, Knifed White, oil on canvas, 34×26, Courtesy of the artist.

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.

On influences: 
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.

On color: 
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

CARTER BURDEN GALLERY, 548 West 28th Street, #534
New York, NY 10001,  
http://www.carterburdengallery.org/current-exhibition

Francie Lyshak, education:

·      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

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

Categories
interviews photography&video women in art

Artist in focus: Sasha Huber

Sasha Huber is a multidisciplinary artist who hopes that our world would be a better place for people with different ethnic and racial backgrounds. She is determined to continue her family’s Haitian heritage in the arts, and has challenged the postcolonial controversies left behind by figures like Christopher Columbus and Louis Agassiz. Her artistic career has brought her international merit across continents. Sasha Huber’s art is currently shown in the DNA of Water -exhibition at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art in Staten Island, New York City.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You were born in Switzerland with Swiss and Haitian heritage, how did this dynamic and background influence your youth and early artistry? Where did you get your education from, and how did you eventually find yourself living in Finland? 

Sasha Huber: Being from two such opposite cultures inspired me from the start, although becoming an artist was not my first choice in my professional live. My interest was first in graphic design that I learned in Zurich, Switzerland. I then worked some years as a graphic designer at different studios and agencies and then applied and was accepted for a one year scholarship at the research and design and research centre Fabrica by Benetton in Treviso in 2000. Its a multidisciplinary and international environment that I missed in Switzerland. That is also where I met my husband and collaborator Petri Saarikko who is from Finland. So love brought me to Finland at the first place. There I also graduated in 2006 with the Masters Degree in Visual Culture from the University of Art and Design, today known as Aalto University. One situation that triggered the idea for my first art project that I made in 2004 was related to that I was not allowed to visit my mother’s home country and family in Haiti, due to the political situation there. My mother was especially worried for me, and basically forbade me to go when I was younger. Starting to make my art about Haiti served as a compensation instead, and eventually brought the place closer. As an adult I’ve visited Haiti so far twice and each time within the artist context. First time Petri and I took part in the 2nd Ghetto Biennale in 2011, and the second  time we were invited to make projects at the Le Centre D’Art in Port-au-Prince during one month in 2016. Both visits went very well and allowed us to work collaboratively with multidisciplinary artists. Working with the Centre D’Art was also special for me since my artist grandfather Georges Remponeau was one of the co-founders of the school in 1944.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell more about in what ways your European upbringing was intercultural. Do you have an opinion that European culture and heritage changed in recent years in relation to migration, and with the impacts of globalization? 

Sasha Huber: Coming from a rich cultural background with over ten different nationalities, including the joining families through the different unions in our family, made me aware of the differences and similarities in cultures, and broadened my horizon. I think it helped me to feel comfortable in new places very quickly. For me this is a positive experience. Now when Europe is growing, as we can see with the influx of the newcomers and others too, there are also conflicts, and that brings sorrow to the people trying to find safety.

I would hope there could be other, more human and respectful ways to handle this situation. Luckily there are creative initiatives by grass roots organisations, and individuals who help to contribute to make welcoming people more dignified. Sometimes its forgotten that Europe is also made of very many cultures after all. In a time like this, where racism against the black and brown people is in the rise, and not only in Europe, I’d came to think that it would be good for people to read more such books as James Baldwin’s book I’m not your Negro, or watch the documentary by Haitian film maker Raoul Peck (1953–) under the same name. And read the Orientalism by Edward Said (1935–2003) who founded the academic field of postcolonial studies. Both books were written long ago, but are very relevant in the current climate we live in.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: One of your artistic discoveries relates to the historical context of the colonization and cultural imperialism. What did you find out about the subject from your specific study, and how did you translate it into your artistic practice? 

SH: I would say that the starting point of my career was to deal with the colonialism, and the topic has actually been a red thread throughout my entire practice ever since. In my first project, which was a portraiture series named Shooting Back – Reflection on Haitian Roots, I for instance portrayed people that were responsible of the troubles in Haiti. I started from the beginning and portrayed Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), a figure that has in recent years become more and more challenged; which I find is very important. For instance, in the United States several cities don’t celebrate the Christopher Columbus Day anymore in October as his first arrival in the “New World”. Instead they highlight the meaning as Indigenous Peoples Day. Or, in 2015 in Argentina his statue was replaced with the large statue of freedom fighter Juana Azurduy. We should not forget that some 95 % of the indigenous population in the Americas were killed after his arrival, and the European invasion that followed brought disease and slavery.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is a question of taking over land and leaving marks on its surface, in the environmental sense perhaps, part of the colonization history as you understand it and discuss it in your artistry?

SH: I became conscious about this in 2007, when I joined part of the Demounting Louis Agassiz campaign that was launched by historian and political activist Hans Fässler. Until recently, the life and work of Louis Agassiz (1807, Switzerland – 1873, USA) have been intentionally embellished. He has mainly been presented as a glaciologist, scientist, and director of academic institutions, both in his country of origin, Switzerland, and in his adopted country, the USA. The campaign raised awareness that Agassiz was a proponent of scientific racism and a pioneering thinker of segregation and “racial hygiene”. The aim was at removing Louis Agassiz’s name from a 3946 m peak in the Swiss Alps and renaming it Rentyhorn in honour of the Congolese-born slave Renty, and of those who met similar fates. Agassiz ordered Renty to be photographed on a South Carolina plantation in 1850, “to prove the inferiority of the black race”. This initiative began to open the eyes of the Swiss public, and exposed Louis Agassiz’s involvement in the crimes against humanity. Today, there are over sixty places all over the world, and in our Solar System (the Moon and Mars) that bear Agassiz’s name. I call this micro colonialism of a single person marking his existence around the world while ignoring the local perspective.

My way to react and act through my work as an artist manifested for the first time after I joined the transatlantic committee of Demounting Louis Agassiz, as I started to plan my first intervention to the Agassizhorn in 2008. I airlifted a metal plaque bearing a graphic representation of Renty to the top of Agassizhorn, on the borders of the Swiss cantons of Berne and Valais. In doing so, I took the first step towards renaming the mountain into Rentyhorn. I also started the petition website rentyhorn.ch which is still online. Even though for now, the mountain will not be renamed officially after many years of negotiating with the communes. In New Zealand’s Te Waipounamu – South Island in comparison, I traveled to the Agassiz Glacier with local Māori greenstone carver Jeff Mahuika who performed a karakia (Māori blessing) on the glacier to symbolically de-name the glacier and hens cleanse it from it’s associations to Agassiz’s racism. *

Prototype of Sasha Huber and Thomas Götz as Louis Agassiz, Wet plate collodion photography by Borut Peterlin, comissioned by Sasha Huber, 2013, 10” x 12”.

Prototype of Sasha Huber and Thomas Götz as Louis Agassiz, Wet plate collodion photography by Borut Peterlin, comissioned by Sasha Huber, 2013, 10” x 12”.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your background is in graphic design, and you have also worked with video; how do these mediums and techniques correlate with your artistic vision and outcome?  

SH: I use a variety of mediums to realize projects. For me the defining reason to choose a specific medium is, first the idea I want to realize and then to decide based on that. I also often collaborate with experts to help me realize a work, such as videographers, editors and photographers.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you also work with text, for example, to generate ideas, which then take visual forms and so forth? 

SH: My artworks are predominately visual, but finding the title of the works is important, and for each project I write a text as well. Sometimes the artwork idea is inspired by text, poem or song as for instance the Strange Fruit poem. I made two projects about this poem that were performed by Billy Holiday and Nina Simone as well. The poem was written by a teacher Abel Metropol in 1937. It protests American racism and tells about the lynching of African Americans.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you write about your own art, keep diary, and perhaps discuss it in essays?

SH: Mostly curators, academics and journalists write about my work. I participate in conferences to speak about my work. As an example, last year I was a keynote speaker at the Archival Re-enactments Symposium arranged by the Living Archive project of the University of Malmö in Sweden. This summer, I will participate in the 6th International Afroeuropeans: Black Cultures and Identities in Europe conference (http://www.uta.fi/yky/en/6thafroeuropeans/index.html) in Tampere, Finland. I’m currently also doctoral student at the Art Department of the Aalto University’s School of Arts, Design, and Architecture in Helsinki, Finland. So far, I’ve published two books as part of my doctoral project, which I started several years before in collaboration with some historians. I edited Rentyhorn published by Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. Then, I co-edited (T)races of Louis Agassiz: Photography, Body and Science, Yesterday and Today published as part of the 29th Sao Paulo Biennale in 2010.

 

Sasha Huber in collaboration with Petri Saarikko, The Prototype, 2013, installation view.Sasha Huber in collaboration with Petri Saarikko, The Prototype, 2013, installation view.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As a result of your investigations through several years, do you see that your art is influenced by Haitian aesthetics, nature and environment in multiple ways? 

SH: As mentioned earlier, the starting point of my art practice was inspired by Haiti’s history. As a matter of fact, I developed a technique for myself with metal staples shot with air pressure onto abandoned wood, as for instance in the Shooting Back – Reflection on Haitian Roots (2004) portrait series. For me the staple gun is like a weapon and I use this technique only when the project relates in some ways to the historic trauma. But aesthetically it could perhaps remind of the traditional beading and stitching as for instance utilized in the creation of the colourful Voodou flags. 

You Are Missed, is a work in progress project by Sasha Huber, depicting a new portrait series that uses wood and metal stitching. Huber's artist residency at Axenèo7 in Gatineau, Canada in 2017.
You Are Missed, is a work in progress project by Sasha Huber, depicting a new portrait series that uses wood and metal staples stitching. Started in Huber’s artist residency at Axenèo7 in Gatineau, Canada in 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In the fall of 2016, there was a curated group exhibition titled “Botany under Influence” taking place at Apexart in New York City. Your collaboration with Petri Saarikko was included in the show. How did you get involved in this special exhibition?

SH: We met curator Clelia Coussonnet in Paris, where I participated in the Haïti exhibition about contemporary and historical Haitian art at the Grand Palais in 2014. When she was planning her group exhibition Botany under Influence I told her about our Australian remedies video that she then included into her exhibition at Apexart (http://apexart.org/exhibitions/coussonnet.php). The exhibition delves into the politics of plants, and explores systems of meaning that have been impressed upon nature, flora, and seeds throughout the eras of imperialism, colonialism, and globalization.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell more about the video work that you showed in Apexart. The title of it is ‘Remedies Australia’  (2014). Does this work include material from several geographical locations and have different cultural components in it? Is this process still ongoing? 

SH: Remedies is a series I initiated with my artist husband Petri Saarikko during an artist residency at Botkyrka Konsthall in Sweden in 2010-11. It was inspired by our interest in aurally transmitted family knowledge and remedies that we learned from our own families. Later we expanded the project to New Zealand, Australia, Haiti, Russia, Germany and back in Sweden. The Australian edition of Remedies casted Mildura based inhabitants to contribute eucalyptus tree related unwritten narratives and oral histories for an individual and collective portraiture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are currently in New York City taking part in an exhibition DNA of Water, what kind of works do you have in Staten Island?  

SH: Together with my family we just came from a residency in Canada, and continued directly to our current artist residency on Staten Island. We are participating in the group exhibition DNA of Water at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art which is curated by Sasha Dees. I am showing couple projects of which two are portraits from the ongoing Shooting Stars series, which is dedicated to worldwide victims of gunshot assassinations and killing perpetrated for political, ethnic, ideological or economic reasons (http://sashahuber.com/?cat=10040). I will show the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968). I also made a new portrait of Eric Garner (1970-2014) who was living on Staten Island. At the end of the exhibition in September, I will gift the portrait to his mother Gwen Carr.

 — — —

The DNA of Water exhibit is open from March 26 until September 3, 2017 on Wednesdays through Sundays from 10;00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at the Main Hall of Snug Harbour, Staten Island (http://snug-harbor.org/event/the-dna-of-water/?instance_id=3179). 

More info about the artist: www.sashahuber.com

*(see: http://www.sashahuber.com/?cat=10046&lang=fi&mstr=4)

Categories
interviews performance&dance women in art

Favela Vera Ortiz: Choreography unplugged

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

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

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

deux2-choreography-favela-vera-ortiz-photo-anna-diehl
deux2, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz. Photo Anna Diehl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

opus-corpus-iii-choreography-favela-vera-ortiz-2016-photo-valdis-jansons
Opus Corpus III, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, 2016. Photo Valdis Jansons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21-muistiota-2011-choreography-favela-vera-ortizuupi
21 notations on human, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, Dancer Hanna Ahti. Photo Uupi Tirronen.

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

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

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

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

myoclonic-choreography-favela-vera-ortiz-dancer-sanna-from-photo-kelly-russ
Myoclonic, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, 2013. Dancer Sanna From. Photo: Kelly Russ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Categories
asian art fine and contemporary art frieze art fair interviews women in art

Artist in focus: Liu Shiyuan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you feel Scandinavian now?

Not very.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

liu-shiyuan-as-simple-as-clay-2013-photography-installation
Liu Shiyuan, As Simple As Clay, 2013, Photography exhibition, C-prints. Courtesy of Liu Shiyuan and Leo Xu projects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Categories
art education&management asian art interviews scandinavian world design capital helsinki 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yasushi-koyama-panda-papa-and-child-2016-birch-house-paint-oil-color-162x85x80cm
Yasushi Koyama, Panda papa & child, 2016, birch, oil color, house paint, 162 x 85 x 80 cm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe Finnish aesthetics?

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

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

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

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

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does innovation mean to you?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Categories
art education&management interviews women in art

Amelia Marzec’s Weather Center for the Apocalypse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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