There is a test for a humankind, which is almost beyond measure. Health crisis with the current pandemic, too little or complete lack of solidarity for #blacklivesmatter, environmental crisis, climate emergency: you name it, we almost seem to be moving backwards. To try to locate it in a visual-literacy sphere, it appears like a shock of an image. A complete inaccuracy of any portraiture of a situation. Yet we must. We need to find new images, create new existence for love and peace, and keep on finding creative solutions for our planet.
Artistic practices, curatorial interventions, are still valid ways to express movement forward. They show legitimate approaches to voices speaking against structural injustice and discrimination. The power of art is that it can change our perceptions and attitude. It can inform us. It can take a stance, which is strong, shocking, and informative at the same time, for example about refugees in the world. In #blacklivesmatter movement, new curatorial openings can be made, and more voices be put on center stage, so stories will be heard and seen. Not forgetting that gender equality is still a dream in the global art world.
The environmental crisis needs more of our attention as well. How to navigate a jungle of opinions in a world, and speak in creative, artistic and curatorial manners about climate emergency. Relying on ‘safe’ structures, and displaying ice cubes that are melting on concrete in front of our eyes. Are we running out of ways to create imagery of a crisis? ‘A shock of an image’ of something that would be a gathering of species dying, a globe that was burnt, and/or left behind without mankind, a nature that is not natural as we know it, but could be imagined as anthropocene. We did it already.
Water crisis, a water scarcity and the inequality that it creates in the world is almost unparalleled. AQuarterof HumanityFaces LoomingWater Crises, is a great article published in New York Times giving an introduction to the problem. Climate change creates a high risk to water resources in places that have experienced enduring droughts. Water reserves are running out in hot and populated industrialized areas. For example, the clothing industry uses groundwater in Bangladesh, and creates a severe problem for its people. Mexico City is sinking after using its relied water resources. In Mexico City, the Zócalo, the main square in the historic city centre, is at a lower elevation than ancient Lake Texcoco; the city was built on its basin.
Global fresh water scarcity can be caused by droughts, a lack of rainfall or simply pollution. Our experience economy hasn’t stopped from creating more pollution in the future. ‘Backwards’ is a metaphorical attest to imply that shock doesn’t come without imagery.
This year, World Environment Day on June 5, 2020, celebrates biodiversity. With one million species facing possible extinction, it is now time to focus on biodiversity, says the calling. Biodiversity can be imagined in the world’s forests or oceans, for example. We can safeguard the nature they provide, and prevent extinction.
Earth Day and Shakespeare’s Birthday both take place in April, a month known for its showers and blossoms. The poetry month of April resonates with the nature’s big events, and surely that of playwright and poet William Shakespeare’s imagination. Earth Day is celebrated on the 22nd, and Shakespeare gets his day on the 23rd.
Earth Day wishes to bring us back to thinking of hope in the days of chaos, and optimism for our futures during crisis. Each of us has a voice in creating our ideas for, what the future might hold, and what kind of world would we rather imagine. Perhaps a look back in the history will show us, how not to live in the future. From the point of view of conservation, Shakespeare’s times weren’t necessarily better than our more recent past.
“TheShakespearean Forest” is a book written by Anne Barton (Cambridge University Press, 2017). The book handles woodland in early modern drama. “The Shakespearean Forest” puts the playwright’s work within a historical, social and literary world of forests. It also questions, how the forests might have been staged in the early theater. Forests as surroundings were also “stages” for leisure hunting, and preparation for warfare.
Shakespeare’s birthplace, the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, was surrounded by the Forest of Arden. This forest was already in decline in his time. It is believed that during his lifetime, trees were more of a commodity, used as timber for building houses and ships, and functioning as fuel for cooking and heating.
To see nature in a positive light in Shakespeare’s work is not hard though. Nature acts as a metaphor in his writings numerous times. One of the greatest is from “King Henry“:“Let heaven kiss earth! now let not Nature’s hand Keep the wild flood-confin’d! let order die! And let this world no longer be a stage To feed contention in a lingering act.” (Henry IV, Part 2).
There are so many beautiful and accurate comparisons between seasons and our life cycles, seeing weather as a backdrop for actions, and setting its moods for our own. Not to mention how romantic sentiments are created within nature. Shakespeare’s“Sonnet 98” is an appraisal for the month of April, a song of Spring.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
The Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington D.C., opened in 1932 being an independent research library devoted to advanced study of the Renaissance and the early modern period in the Western hemisphere. It is a world-class research center with an outstanding collection of editions of Shakespeare’s plays. The Library has one of the world’s finest collections of 15th- through 18th-century rare books and manuscripts from Great Britain and Europe.
Finnish contemporary composer, oboist and music pedagogue Riikka Talvitie is an artist greatly influenced by her audience. She believes that the audience and community have an impact so important that there is a need for new notions of authorship and agency in music. Her compositions are brought into practice in performances, and so the discussion of the community’s role in collaboration is relevant. As a woman composer, Talvitie also wears an activist hat in society. Women are still in the margins as art music composers.
There are topics and ideas that Talvitie is ready to discuss more, and she collaborates with artists of many genres. She is currently in the process of doing her artistic doctorate in music at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts in Helsinki.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you pick oboe as your instrument?
Riikka Talvitie: As a child, I lived in Kerava, in a small town near Helsinki. When I was seven years old I started to play piano in a local music school which was founded in those years. (This autumn I am composing a piece for the 40-years celebration.)
When I was around 14-years old I asked our music teacher if I could start to play oboe in a school orchestra. In the orchestra, there was also an older student, oboist, who started to teach me. I didn’t know how difficult it was to start the instrument.
Later after school, I did entrance examination for Sibelius Academy with both instruments. I got in with oboe, which was a sort of coincidence. I also started to read mathematics at the University.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much did your own instrument define and influence your creations in the early face of your career?
RT: I just did a video work Self-Portrait which is dealing with this question. The main thematic issue of the work is a relationship between a composer and a musician. I am performing both persons at the same time, so I am discussing with myself. I am also improvising some bodily exercises with the oboe. (See the video here https://fmq.fi/articles/composer-at-work-a-critical-self-portrait)
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What else in your musical training and background created who you are, and what made you choose composing?
RT: I chose a high school, which was specialized in performing arts. All my friends had something to do with theatre, cinema, literature or dance. So while I was studying oboe playing I composed and improvised music to theatre plays and short movies. I was quite enthusiastic with these projects so I took composition as a secondary subject.
I was also quite interested about contemporary music in general. I played myself a lot and I was visiting many festivals.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many years ago was this, and how has your career path evolved?
RT: I had my first composition lesson in 1994 in a summer course with Jouni Kaipainen and Magnus Lindberg. At that time I had lots of ideas and plans but no craftsmanship or technical skills. After the course I started to study really seriously.
The world might have been a bit different place in the 90’s because I was able to study composition quite long at the Sibelius Academy after I had graduated with oboe.
I have also been twice in Paris. First time I was studying oboe and composition at the conservatory of Paris. And the second time I was following one-year-course of music technology at Ircam.
Finally when I got my first child, in 2004, I stopped playing oboe because I didn’t have time to practise and travel anymore. In the video work I am quite strict to myself and ask: why did you stop playing? You did not think about your career? The answer is not that simple. This autumn I have some oboe performances coming so I am still dealing with the same question.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What words describe your music?
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What kinds of themes do you usually develop in your compositions?
RT: Many themes and interests have changed during the years. When I was younger I got excited with mathematical ideas. Abstract world without social intrigues fascinated me in many ways. Then I have worked a lot with texts – poems, plays etc.
Nowadays, I am more into political and critical themes. I have a feeling that concert music is repeating some kind of old ritual where the most creative ideas are forbidden. Many things are not allowed, socially and aesthetically. I find this quite contradictory to the main purpose of art.
At this moment, my goals are more interactive and communal. I am preparing an artistic research about shared authorship and communality in a composer’s practice.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are there ways to categorize contemporary music? Do contemporary works differ from modern music, say in tonality, and in aesthetical ways?
RT: I just read an interesting book Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culturesince 1989 by Tim Rutherford-Johnson. The writer argues that contemporary music is not anymore so much linked to modernism as we tend to think. instead, it should be analysed in the context of globalization, digitization and new media. He starts the new era from the year 1989. I recommend this book to all composers and musicians who are trying to define the state of contemporary music scene today.
I see some trends among composers. The growing use of video and multimedia is now very common in concerts all over. Also the question of material is changing. In modernism a composer created his/her own material on which the composition was built. Now, there is more liberal relation to musical material which can vary from different musical styles to short samples of already existing music or sound.
One of the most important changes is the effect of social media. All the composers are marketing and presenting their works openly in the internet. It gives composers freedom to find their own paths but on the other hand it feels like a global competition of recognition.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does being a woman composer mean something special to you?
RT: Yes, it means a lot. I am a feminist, in a way. I strongly support equality and diversity in the society and correspondingly in the music field.
These values are unfortunately missing in the project of canonizing composers and art works. I am interested in artists who are left outside the canon. A year ago, I was presenting a work by Ethel Smith, a British composer from the beginning of 20th century. She was not mentioned in our music history classes in my youth. And how many others are there?
While doing my artistic research, I have many times wondered why the different waves of feminism haven’t left almost any imprint on art music composition. In Finnish composers society there are still only 10 % female composers. If we think about what happened in performance and video art in the 60’s and 70’s there were lots of artists participating in the happenings for sexual emancipation. At the same time, among contemporary music we just invented new composition techniques 🙂
I have also considered this question while teaching. What values do we forward to the next generation?
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland has a woman composing star, Kaija Saariaho, who is also well-known in New York City music world. Do you think she has developed a way for others to follow?
RT: Kaija Saariaho has an important role in Finnish music life, for sure, and in that sense her career is a sort of example for woman composers. She is also really warm and gentle person towards colleagues, especially for young students.
On the other hand, Kaija is presenting quite traditional image of a composer. Her career is based on international reputation, large commissions, prizes and so on. This position is actually quite hierarchical, and mythical.
There are plenty of artists who don’t want an individual international status. They want to work in working groups or in a pedagogical field. We are different. In that point of view Kaija is not a role model for all Finnish female composers.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your key influences as a composer, and how do you conceptually start your works?
RT: Every project is slightly different but I still try to give some concrete examples. I start every composition by discussion with other people who are involved. I try to figure out who is playing, what skills musicians have, what are the interests of a producer, what is the schedule, what else is performed in the same concert, is there a musical theme like era or an ideological theme like protection of seas etc. For me it is really important that musicians and performers are fully engaged in the big picture.
I also collaborate quite a lot with other artists. In those situations I normally wait a moment and listen to others. I feel that I have much to learn because contemporary music has been so isolated in the abstract world for a long time. I am also curious about ideas and opinions of my audience. Also different audiences like non-musicians, children, teenagers etc.
When I start to compose I spend a lot of time looking for suitable material for each situation. I sit at the piano and try out things. I look for certain ”constraints or boundaries” for each project. Almost always, I meet the musicians and give some sketches to play. Lately, I have increased to send demos while I am working, just to open up the process and get feedback.
I consciously think composing as an ongoing collaboration.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the composition process for you like, how long do you usually develop a work?
RT: I like to work slowly and develop ideas with other people.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many solo instrumental works have you composed so far, how about chamber music and orchestral works?
My works in numbers:
– 4 operas
– 1 radio-opera
– 8 works for orchestra
– 14 choir works
– 18 songs
– 12–15 chamber works
– 5 solos
– 1 radiophonic work
– pedagogical works
– theatre projects
– short movies
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Recently you have also worked with opera. Could you tell more about these projects?
RT: I have recently composed two operas. The first one is called The Judge’s Wife which is based on TV script written by Caryl Churchill at the time of IRA terrorist attacks 1972. The text deals with the power structures of social classes and the difference between terrorism and a revolutionary act.
The opera was carried out as a cross-art performance with some additional text and documentary video material by its director Teemu Mäki. The performance was closer to contemporary theater or live art than traditional opera. It included music, drama, videos, texts, humour and also a meal, vichyssoise soup, which is also written into the libretto (http://www.teemumaki.com/theater-judgeswife.html).
The second opera Queen of the cold land was a radio opera commissioned by Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle-radio). The libretto is a sort of rewriting of the Kalevala – a present-day version of some abstract life situations. The aim of the working group was to look at the Kalevala from a socio-historical point of view. Kalevala is not qualified as a source of Finnish mythology because the mythical images of folk poems have been transformed and merged into new entities by Elias Lönnrot. Lönnrot’s goal was not only to collect poems and to propose them as a coherent epic, but the goals went together with the nationalist idea to create a common image of the past, customs and culture of the Finnish people.
The opera is dealing with several issues like diversity, sexual identity, nationality and naming. As a composer, I would state that the main theme of the musical narration is nationalism or rather the future of national states. This theme is presented in the musical material.
The music consists of orchestral music, chamber music, operatic and folk singing combined with radiophonic possibilities. The composition is based on a variety of materials. The most extensive material consists of national anthems by different states and people. In addition to these I use folk music, war songs, wedding anthems and lullabies.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In Finland, composers like Jean Sibelius are master voices in the classical music world, for their emancipatory approach of voicing national myths, and yet speaking to broad international audiences. Sibelius is a widely known European composer in the United States with his Finlandia, and Violin concerto. Has this tradition created a sense of your own status as a composer who has Finnish roots?
RT: As an answer to this question, I just tell that have composed a chamber opera called One seed, one sorrow – conversations with Aino Sibelius. Aino was a wife of Jean Sibelius. At least it was an other perspective to the question of national heroes.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We met in Lapland in 2007, while doing a nature piece in Pyhatunturi. Do you still get inspired while spending time in nature?
RT: I am really worried about nature and by that – also inspired. This year I work with several pieces which are processing nature and particularly climate change.
Last spring, I carried out a project called Heinä (Grass) with playwright Pipsa Lonka. It was performed in Silence Festival in Lapland. The performance contained images that a grass had drawn. I tried to read or interpret those images by composing them for bass clarinet and voice. The performance took place in an old cottage with smoke and a dog. The atmosphere was quite unique.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you critical of your own work?
RT: Of course I am critical and I would like to rewrite all my compositions but I just don’t have time for that. So let them be…
As for the future composition, I have challenged myself to ask every time ”why do I do this piece”. I feel that every art project should have a reason or meaning or aim which is something more than a commission, a commission fee, reputation or a course credit. This goal can be both an internal musical idea or external starting point. It should be something that connects our work to the surrounding society.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who gives you the best feedback?
RT: The best feedback comes from my children when they ask ”what on earth are you doing” or ”how awkward”.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the role of commissions in your work?
RT: The art funding is quite different here in Finland than in United States. Mostly I work with small commissions by different musicians, ensembles, choirs, orchestras or festivals. However, the main income of Finnish composers comes from the working scholarships.
Some of my works are collaborations with other musicians and artists. Then we apply funding together as a working group from different foundations and institutions.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have specific plans for the future?
RT: I have plenty of plans for the future. In a near future I will finish my artistic doctorate that is about shared authorship and communality. For that, I still have couple of projects to compose. After that I will devote my time to activism.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about dreams, perhaps international presentations and residencies?
RT: An old image of a composer with a wig is quite outdated. This image contains travelling and prestige. Luckily the world has changed – women and mothers can be composer too and they don’t need to represent ”a plaster composer”.
Mainly, I don’t travel. I work nearby. I am quite often at home in the afternoons when my children come home from school. And in the evenings they have hobbies. My plan – not a dream – is to spend time in residencies after my children are grown-ups. I just need to be patient because it will take ten years still.
I don’t dream about an international career, firstly, because I like my daily local life. And, secondly, because I am at this moment interested in subjects and working methods which are rather marginal in classical music f.e. community art, live art, performance and philosophy. These are not the themes of a grand audience.
I dream about ideological aims. I hope we will see the world where the terms of consuming, owning and competing are less valued. I also hope that there would be a turn in over-consuming that finally we are saved from dystopical eco-catastrophe. I am not that worried about my own career.
RT: I have a small activist inside me who says that we should listen to different voices. So I would recommend you some other Finnish female composers here:
Stephanie A Lindquist is a New York based artist and photographer, whose photo collages gather ideas of plants with world-wide origins. Her works bring forth anscestral memories from diasporic places, and create meaning mapping our global existence as travelers and settlers. Food has always played enormous role in peoples adaptation to new places, creating and sustaining cultures. Art can have as much to say about this subject too.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I have understood your recent photography art is based on your research on plants that are native, local or indigenous to areas. How did you start this art project?
Stephanie A Lindquist: I started gardening and reading about plants and how to grow them. I was especially inspired by farmer, philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. He is the father of natural farming and a proponent of natural dieting–both of which he believed to be beneficial for the environment and human health. According to Fukuoka, a natural diet consisted of local and preferably ancient plants–something nearly impossible for any urban dweller like me to accomplish.
This sparked my interest in identifying and promoting many little-known indigenous food plants from my ancestors in Africa and Europe, to where I currently live in the Americas.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where did you grow up, and live prior to New York City?
Stephanie A Lindquist: I grew up in Los Angeles. I’ve also had opportunities to travel abroad to Europe and Central America.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As one major inspiration behind your art making are the plants, do you cultivate or grow plants yourself and have your own garden?
Stephanie A Lindquist: I garden regularly in East Harlem and the South Bronx. It is an essential part of my practice and life. Gardening allows me to cultivate, consume and appreciate some of the plants I study first-hand. It is a way to immediately begin creating a more reciprocal relationship with nature.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that flowers, fruits and vegetables, etc. as subjects of art carry ideas about sustainability and environmental philosophical concepts?
Stephanie A Lindquist: Definitely. Potawatomi scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about our need to listen, observe and learn from plants as our teachers–rather than only learn about plants. I truly believe that plants can teach us how to lead sustainable lives if we listen.
Cultures close to nature have the benefit of accumulating indigenous knowledge of a diverse number of plants and their uses than city-dwelling folks. To see, recognize and know thousands of local, indigenous food plants is a powerful way to live in communion with the world. By taking care of widely diverse plants within our local ecosystem, we begin to take care of ourselves too–physically and spiritually.
It is my aim to heighten our awareness and appreciation of indigenous food plants and to collectively reimagine the local cuisine of specific regions.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are there other concepts and philosophies attached to your art?
Stephanie A Lindquist: My work is inspired by the work of many scientists including Mary Abukutsu-Onyango. Since the 90s she has been promoting the cultivation and sustainable consumption of African indigenous vegetables and fruits. On a continent plentiful with plants, it is surprising that most do not eat a sufficient amount of vegetables.
The promotion of these plants have commercial and cultural implications as well as physical and spiritual effects on our health. Most of these plants have been purposefully displaced by genetically engineered cash crops and changing tastes. To rekindle our relationship with the oldest, local plants is also to remember the unique history of the land and how we arrived here.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do people act amazed when seeing and hearing about your work?
Stephanie A Lindquist: It has been very satisfying to hear people’s reactions to my work. Even urbanites like me are full of surprising information about plants and their uses, which I happily add to my arsenal of knowledge.
As the daughter of a Liberian-American immigrant and descendant of Swedish and Irish immigrants, I have been invested in reclaiming ancestral knowledge for a long time. Conversing with others about indigenous plants has been a very satisfying way of piecing together our ancestral knowledge of the natural world around us.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who inspires you to do your art?
Stephanie A Lindquist: I admire many artists including Julie Mehretu and Wangechi Mutu. I am also inspired by the authors I read and the emerging artists I meet everyday.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you design your collages and what is the process like in making photographic prints?
Stephanie A Lindquist: I begin by researching a number of indigenous plants to a specific region and learning about their history, uses, and the people who cultivate them. Next I collect images of them, and if accessible take original photographs of the plants.
I cut the prints by hand and arrange the composition on a smaller scale until satisfied. Next, I digitally produce and print the collage at a larger scale or sometimes hand-cut a larger collage on fine paper.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell a little more about yourself, where did you study art?
Stephanie A Lindquist: I have studied art since I was little. I received by BA in Urban Studies and Visual Arts from Columbia University. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in residencies in Rome, Berlin and Staten Island, and to exhibit my work in museums and alternative spaces in New York and California. I also work as an arts administrator.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your objects and prints seem to carry domestic ideas in them, or it gets transmitted as a feeling with the coffee cup on a table, or with the flowers. Does this resonate with your intentions?
Stephanie A Lindquist: Yes, my previous body of work in photo collage was concerned with capturing colorful, jarring, domestic still lives. I often chose the materials used to create the stage in memory of family and friends in my life, like my mother, my partner, or a particular place like the Kitchen Floor. Through collage I bring new meanings to these objects, in this case now where an okra blossoms and fruits. Their patterns are playful, somewhat minimal, abstract, full of textile, and tactile.
Stephanie A Lindquist, Kitchen Floor 2017 Photo collage 14.5“ x 17.5”.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Some collages of yours are really colorful. Do you find that colors have significance and carry meaning?
Stephanie A Lindquist: The colors reflect my mother’s textiles, family photographs, and the landscape around me.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself similar to feminist art practices in which domestic life and the everyday gives to details and form in the art?
Stephanie A Lindquist: Yes, in many ways I make my art to create space for feminism and equality among humans and all that lives in the world. I treasure these often feminized spaces of the home and garden. And I enjoy propagating this image into my viewer’s subconscious of a plentiful, sustainable earth.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Also your knitted objects would signify not only sculptural dimension as objects that hang on the wall, but also about art-historical connection to the women artists?
Stephanie A Lindquist: The knitted objects Needles and String and Rosary for me were living sculpture–something I could create and disassemble again and again as a public performance and private meditation.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you separate your own artistic practice from curating, and working with other artists in your work?
Stephanie A Lindquist: I make time for it. I also let it bleed into my research interests and writing. My practice gains a lot from being in such close contact with artists and curators on a daily basis. I am constantly listening to and collaborating with other visually creative minds.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you describe what art projects are you planning for the future?
Stephanie A Lindquist: I am thrilled to show recent work around indigenous food plants at Smack Mellon as a part of AFRICA’S OUT! inaugural benefit exhibition, Carry Over: New Voices from the Global African Diaspora curated by Kalia Brooks Nelson. To have my work in the context of Firelei Báez, Layo Bright, Melissa Calderón, Baseera Khan, Jasmine Murrell, Anna Parisi, Keisha Scarville, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum and Saya Woolfalk is a joy!
I am also looking forward to presenting work at CTRL+SHFT Collective in Oakland this summer. Other than that, I’m excited to spend part of the summer camping and learning more about plants indigenous to the eastern seaboard.
I treasure these often feminized spaces of the home and garden. And I enjoy propagating this image into my viewer’s subconscious of a plentiful, sustainable earth.
Anne Raudaskoski is a Finnish enterpreneur who wishes to create new connection to nature. Her approach can change the game of sustainability. With a background in dance, she has faith on the power of the arts:
“Arts provide a holistic approach to existence, and this is what we need to change the current linear system. Human beings are part of the nature; nature isn’t something that is “out there” to be exploited, but rather, we need to re-establish our connection with the nature to realise that we can create sustainable growth and well-being with far better rules than what we presently have”. (Anne Raudaskoski)
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When and how did you start Ethica consulting company?
Anne Raudaskoski: I started Ethica in 2013 with my business partner Paula Fontell. We actually didn’t know each other at the time, but we both had been talking to our mutual friend of having a dream to set up a company focused on sustainability and the circular economy. This friend of ours suggested we should meet and share our ideas. We had our first meeting over lunch and we realised we shared the same vision. Three months later Ethica was formally established.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you get interested in the circular economy?
AR: My approach to CSR (corporate social responsibility) and sustainability has always been very business oriented. It means that there has to be a solid business case for sustainability and it should be embedded in strategy and R&D in such a way that sustainability works as a spring-board for the strategy instead of being an add-on or philanthropy. I wrote about the circular economy (CE) in early 2012 on my blog site after reading some articles on the Ellen McArthur Foundation (the global driver for the CE) site. I felt that some of the questions and pain points that CSR could not resolve – especially the intersection around environmental, strategic and economic issues – were inherently part of the circular economy. So when we started Ethica, it was very clear to us that the circular economy would be part of our service portfolio.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is it possible to define, what circular economy actually changes?
AR: Circular economy is an economic model, so it affects all sectors and organisations in some way. I always say that the biggest hurdle in transition from a linear to a circular economy is our current mindset. All our processes, decision-making, governance and actions are based on linear thinking. In a nutshell, this means that we keep overusing natural resources, we accept the concept of waste as de facto, design processes are not based on biological and technical cycles and we haven’t figured out yet how to do business within the planetary boundaries. All this is changing as part of the transition towards the circular economy.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the basic principles that define the circular economy?
AR: The below list of six principles offers a good starting point to explore CE more in detail.
1 Circular economy is a resource wise economic model that is restorative and regenerative by nature. It operates within the planetary boundaries.
2. Materials cycle endlessly in technical and biological loops in society. Materials are safe & non-toxic.
3. The value of products, components and materials is maintained and increased through refinement.
4. All energy is renewable and is used efficiently.
5. Solutions are systemic and based on designing life cycles, ecosystems and multiple purposes.
6. Equal distribution of resources and well-being is in the heart of the circular economy.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe the ‘ethical’ core of Ethica?
AR: We want to create a circular future. To us this definition also entails equality, social well-being and in fact, a more just and transparent economic model than what we currently have as the result of the linear economy.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland seems to be a forerunner for ethical solutions when it comes to consumption, and the country is also involved in introducing new clean practices. What aspects in Finnish culture support these kind of thinking?
Indeed, there are quite a few aspects supporting this and I’d say it’s the unique combination of culture, history and welfare state: high number of clean tech innovations; excellent education system that educates children and young people about sustainability topics; frugal manners that our grandparents and parents had to adopt during the war, which then were passed on to younger generations; good recycling infrastructure with incentives…and of course ambitious policies and action plans in place. For example, circular and bio economy are one of the five flagship programmes of the current government. Finland was also the first country in the world to publish a national circular economy roadmap in 2016.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What in your mind defines good consumption?
AR: Understanding your own impact and power as a consumer. Exploring your own values; what kind of world I want to be building, do I want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? Questioning your own consumption habits: is there something that I could do and choose differently? Being your own leader when it comes to adopting new, sustainable solutions.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell more about your Relooping Fashion project?
AR:Relooping Fashion was about creating circular fashion. We piloted a circular ecosystem consisting of seven business partners ranging from waste management company to fashion retailer and packaging service. So the goal was to build, test and learn how a closed loop fashion ecosystem could work. Another important goal was to test VTT’s (Technical Research Centre of Finland) new technology for cotton dissolution that replaces the use of virgin cotton. Ethica’s role in the project was to model the business ecosystem as well as research the consumer interface. i.e. how to create demand for circular clothing.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you find your daily inspiration from?
AR: No matter how cliché it may sound, I simply and truly enjoy my work, so the work itself coupled with the opportunity learn new things is my source of inspiration. Every project is different, we have great clients and collaboration partners to work with and of course our own team is brilliant.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What can the world learn from Finnish innovation in clean practices?
AR: Great education and innovation support system are essential enablers. I also think that the Finnish way of living and thinking inherently has a fairly good level of social and environmental responsibility, and when these aspects are combined with innovation, you get the solutions that the world needs.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you like to influence and motivate people in their everyday life to incorporate more sustainable solutions and choices?
AR: There are a number of different players who all have a role to play. Of course we need businesses to develop solutions that are not only sustainable, but they’re also the best solutions available. Legislation can speed up the development and help mainstreaming new solutions. Education and the media also play a hugely important role in making sustainable choices the “new normal”.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that your background as a dancer helped you in your career path?
AR: It did in many ways. Working as a freelance dancer requires endless curiosity, self-discipline, perseverance and ambitious attitude. You’re always seeking new opportunities and you need to welcome constant change. You need to be a good team player, but at the same time you’re 100% in charge of your own development. There are hardly any permanent vacancies available, so you have to build your own career and make sure you are sufficiently networked just to be even considered to be one of the many candidates. Basically, you work as an entrepreneur without the formal status of entrepreneur.
Also my dance teacher background has been an asset when running workshops and giving presentations.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In what ways can arts support circular economy?
Arts can create connections and mental horizons that escape the typical business environment. It can bridge rational and emotional in a way that enables eureka moment, which is a prerequisite for willingness to change the status quo.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many countries have you visited to lecture and share about your business?
AR: A few so far: China, the Netherlands, Estonia and Reunion Island (France). We also exhibited in Austin (US) at the EcoExhibition a couple of years ago. Next month I’m going to Sweden.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is it easy to name clients that are best for your brand?
AR: The ones who want to work ambitiously, are truly interested in raising the bar and finding new opportunities through the circular economy thinking, no matter the size or sector of the organisation. From the circular economy perspective, we are still at the dawn of the new era and endless opportunities that this new approach can provide us with.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is the questions of climate change significant and embedded in your models?
AR: Absolutely. To start with, all energy should be renewable, this is one of the basic tenets of the circular economy. Decoupling growth from the use of virgin raw materials and resources is another key principle. In short, it means doing more with less and designing our products, systems and societies in a circular way so that emissions can be decreased significantly.
Featured image credit: textile hackathon, Sara Malve-Ahlroth.
New York city based artist Amelia Marzec has been working on a project Weather Centerfor the Apocalypse since 2015. The work is presented during Climate Week in NYC, opening taking place on September 20, 2016 at United Nations Plaza. The artist has created an ongoing and evolving Weather Tower installation, which handles a theme of change in the environment and culture where we live in. Weather Center for the Apocalypse is an alert to an uncertain future as it predicts those “changes that could affect the autonomy of citizens in the event of disaster”. According to Marzec, the project offers alternative perceptions to the media-driven forecasts we constantly encounter, and takes seriously the fears and superstitions that we as community may have. Recently, the project was on display at Sixth Extinction Howl at Billings Library in the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find weather? It is there all the time, but to become a derivative and subject for art, do you find it is common at all?
Amelia Marzec: Currently there are a lot of artists doing work either directly or indirectly on the influence of human activity on climate change. I have seen a few other weather projects since starting the Weather Center for the Apocalypse. Everyone on earth is participating in this story right now, whether they are aware of it or not.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the background for your project, which will also materialize during Climate Week in New York.
AM: The Weather Center for the Apocalypse began during an anxious time when I was in a relationship that was failing, at the same time that my Grandfather’s health was failing. It was a moment of knowing that these things were going to end, while not knowing exactly when that was going to happen. I needed to prepare and put things in perspective: what would be the most outrageous ending? The world could end, of course. With the current focus on climate change, it didn’t seem that far off.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Have you always been future oriented, foreseeing the future, as apocalypse might imply?
AM: Yes. My current work began a number of years ago, when I lost all of my hearing in one ear due to a tumor. I began to focus on the reality of daily communication failure in my life, and to pay more attention to the physical objects that make up our telecommunications infrastructure: our phones, our internet, our radios, and other devices. I began building objects to avert possible future disasters of communication in our society. The Weather Center for the Apocalypse continues this work by becoming a news media center for a pre-apocalyptic world.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about the narrative part of your Weather Center for the Apocalypse project, in which the visual implements a strong narrative element, what do you want to say about it?
AM: The story of the Weather Center unfolds over time as the project is built and refined. It began by providing forecasts to STROBE Network, a news network that was broadcast from Flux Factory in 2015. News and weather reports that were both practical and fantastical fed a daily apocalypse warning system. However, it has become clear that the Weather Center needs to be prepared for complete telecommunications failure, so the Weather Tower, which is a functioning weather station, was built mostly from salvaged materials that I gathered in my neighborhood. It collects local weather data so we don’t need to rely on major news sources. Predictions, fears, and anxieties are collected by interviewing local residents, and severe warnings are broadcast over a short distance with an FM radio transmitter.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where did you install the Weather Tower before, and how did those environments alter the direction?
The Weather Tower has traveled to different locations in New York to collect weather data and predictions from residents, including Industry City with Creative Tech Week; Governor’s Island with FIGMENT festival; Sag Harbor with Wetland, a fully sustainable houseboat; and Long Island City with Flux Factory and the Artificial Retirement exhibition. Being outdoors tends to trigger people’s memories more of changes that are happening on the earth. I’ve been caught in the rain a few times now, which has forced me to become better at weatherproofing the work.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Since you will have the UN presentation, what expectations do you have for it. Is it possible that the work will gain more global visibility with the location?
AM: There are some meetings that week at the UN about climate change, so it would be really nice to continue those conversations in a public place, as it affects all of us. I would also let passers by know about Climate Week. This type of artwork tends to happen one conversation at a time, so I don’t expect it to be a global phenomenon. Hopefully I can collect some interesting predictions.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does the work read a label climate change art, do you think that art can be a vehicle towards a better understanding on what is happening?
AM: Yes, climate change is one of the major themes of the Weather Center for the Apocalypse. I do think art is a vehicle towards better understanding of the issues, and I also think that is one of the responsibilities of an artist.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have been connected to Eyebeam in New York City, what has this education and community meant for your creative thinking?
AM: I’m currently an Impact Resident at Eyebeam, working on our conference Radical Networks. The conference brings together artists, educators, and technologists to discuss the future of alternative networks in the context of community. This could mean experimental social computer networks, local community and rural networks, network security, uses of networks for activism, and the overall question of who owns the network. The community at Eyebeam is made up of some of the most forward-thinking people on the future of art and technology, and it is an honor to be among them. Seeing how other artists live and get work done has given me the confidence to pursue these projects, in addition to expanding my thinking about the work itself.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What do you think a notion artistic research designates, a process that goes beyond a merely presentation to include research on a specific subject?
AM: It depends on the context, sometimes it simply means searching for images or text to be used in a project. But it should mean practice-based research, which has more depth in that the projects are leading a conversation, which happens in the context of previous writers and theorists. There’s other types of research where you’re mostly talking about artwork, but not making it. I’m a very hands-on person so I’m letting the work lead for now.
Amelia Marzec_Satellite launch (Video still)
Amelia Marzec, Weather data.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is so interesting how you relate to technology with a nostalgic wibe. There seems to be also a feature of old electronics and low tech involved in the making. How do the objects make you inspired?
AM: My previous project, New American Sweatshop, is a working model of an electronics manufacturing factory for a post-industrial economy, using our trash as a natural resource. I had gotten frustrated with building activist projects that were only possible for very privileged groups of people: people who could afford to buy technology, and had the education to know how to build it. I was also getting parts from international companies. During hurricane Sandy, there was no way to get supplies, as the roads were closed. So I started the New American Sweatshop to source parts locally from the resources that we had, which turned out to be our trash. It’s not so much nostalgia as necessity, knowing what we’d have to do to build communications infrastructure in a disaster scenario.
Amelia Marzec, karma, from New American Sweatshop, 2015
Amelia Marzec, Schematic, from New American Sweatshop, 2015
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have discussed a role of the digital as something that might alienate us from connecting to one another. Should we go back in time, beyond the internet in our human communication, or do you think there is something else, which is a possible way to go?
AM: We need to use the current digital technology as a tool to organize and meet up in person. We need each other as human beings, and we will never be able to duplicate the experience of being together in the same space, despite advances in technology.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the philosophies which you rely upon, and make references in you work?
AM: I’ve always been very much into DIY culture, having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: One strong sensibility which comes across in your approach is feminist art, or a community of women making societal art. You have been featured in conjunction to A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn that promotes the women’s voices. Would you like to say something about this special connection?
Women are not on equal footing worldwide, so anything that serves to amplify women’s voices and give them confidence in their work is something I appreciate. Being together to have this discussion and forming our own networks is key. It’s possible that I’ve gotten more opportunities through connections with other women than with men. The idea of women competing with each other is outdated; we are more effective when we collaborate, and that is something that I see younger women doing more and more.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does VR resonate with anything you are interested in? Can we save the world with the idea of VR offering alternative perspectives?
AM: I’m both fascinated and frightened by VR. I don’t believe it will save the world. Having different perspectives is always helpful, but people have to be open to them. Whatever happens, we have to keep working on our own morality.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you wish yourself going next in terms of plans?
AM: I’d like to build out more of the Weather Center, and I’m looking for support in order to do that.
Amelia Marzec was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, and went to college at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers in New Brunswick. She came to NYC to attend the Design and Technology MFA program at Parsons in 2003, and has lived in the city ever since.
Laura Anderson Barbata is a transdisciplinary artist known for her onsite projects in Mexico, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and Norway. She is currently working on participatory, collaborative works that combine performance, procession, protest, movement and wearable sculptures to convey a message. In this interview, Laura discusses her recent artistic work and collaborations, giving a sense of the issues that matter in our current society.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you live and work now, it seems you have multiple engagements across different continents at the moment?
LAB: I work in NY and Mexico, my home country, but I am based in Brooklyn, New York although many projects often take me to different countries such as Jamaica, Venezuela and Norway to create and present projects. The work for each project is developed in my studio and onsite.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You work with an exotic art form, stilt dancing, what is the story behind, how did you become interested in this culture?
LAB: I became involved with stilt dancing communities in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in 2001 when I was invited to Trinidad by Caribbean Contemporary Arts CCA7 for an artist residency in Grand Riviere, a small community on the north of the island. As part of the residency I began a community papermaking project in the village of Grand Riviere and while we were working on the project I wanted to expand my work to the urban areas of Trinidad and learn from the rich Carnival traditions practiced there. I had initially wanted to work with Peter Minshall, a brilliant carnival designer who I have a great admiration for, but life took me in a different direction. Through a friend of CCA7, I was introduced to Dragon, the founder and director of Keylemanjahro School of Artsand Culture in the neighborhood of Cocorite in Port of Spain. Dragon has set up in the patio of his house a place where the youth from his community after-school could learn the art of stilt dancing. This is a community project that serves his neighborhood and is open and free-of-charge for all kids in the neighborhood. The primary focus is to keep kids off-the-streets and engaged in the cultural tradition of stilt dancing as it was passed down from West Africa to the West Indies, with the objective of having the group participate in the annual Junior Carnival Parade. The group worked with little to no resources and exclusively with the help of parents in the neighborhood. I was immediately attracted to the project, the objectives of the group and the cultural tradition, and felt that we could initiate a collaboration in which each could bring forth our skills, exchange knowledge and enrich each other´s practice. I asked Dragon if he would accept me as a volunteer and he immediately accepted me into the group, I worked with Keylemanjahro for 5 years creating alongside the kids and parents, costuming and thematic development for their Carnival presentations.
This collaboration made a great impact on both of our lives and work, and to this day I continue to work with stilt dancers. I always understood that working with Keylemanjahro was for a limited time, the experience had enriched both parts equally and it was also necessary for me to work close to home. Around this time, my gallery in New York invited me to have a solo exhibition and I proposed that we turn the gallery into a workshop for kids and teens and apply what I had learned in Trinidad and to show some of the work I had made in Trinidad and Tobago and they liked the idea.
Next, I had to find partners and collaborators, I had heard about the Brooklyn Jumbies, (a group of stilt dancers from the West Indies and West Africa), and approached them with a project in which we would have weeknight workshops in the Chelsea gallery and the street to train young stilt dancers and prepare a presentation for the group for a street performance on 23rd Street in Chelsea and then for the West Indian American Junior Carnival Parade. The project was titled Jumbie Camp and it was what launched my collaboration and relationship with the Brooklyn Jumbies, and to this day we continue to work together. To date, we have presented a number of projects together such as Intervention:Wall Street, 2011, (https://youtu.be/84E877vGkpc); Intervention: Indigo, 2015, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m0wLE7dSbY), performed at MoMA in 2007; and the project for TBA21–The Current titled What Lives Beneath that was performed in Kingston Jamaica this year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs72qGXI3GU) among others.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The community aspect in the making of stilt dancing is evident, loud even. In what ways do you capture that essence in your own work within the subject, and in relation to its multiple contexts?
LAB: My interest is to integrate into my work the various traditions and customs that surround us and with an artistic lens insert them into a familiar space. Stilt dancing brings forth numerous ways of performing that include procession and carnival arts. My work brings together these different forms and, depending on the narrative, can integrate protest into the unfolding of the performative work.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How does stilt dancing appear to you first, as performance, as costumes, action, identity, visual art, or combination of all those things?
LAB: Stilt dancing for me combines many things. To start, we are working with scale– larger-than-life characters that have the possibility to capture our attention. The movement vocabulary of a dancer towering over us expands in space. They are accentuated and can extend themselves through their use of textiles and different materials. This is where costuming is essential to the performance visuals and the message. But also very important to me is the symbolism and tradition that is embedded into this practice.
Traditional Moko Jumbies are spiritual beings, whose purpose in West African communities is to protect their villages against evil or misfortune. We cannot look past the social role of the Moko Jumbie stilt dancer, and the metaphor is quite clear: to see the world from an elevated perspective. For me it is very important to always honor the historical function and cultural importance of a Moko Jumbie and to integrate that purpose into the work. So yes, it is about dance, procession, performance art, ritual, and also a vehicle for communicating a message through contemporary art.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you feel there is a line, which you cross in the making of community arts, in which the discussion turns towards the subject matter rather than the artistic medium?
LAB: I would hope that by working in this way we do away with those boundaries. Lines are usually drawn to divide and set limits, and my approach is to bring together diverse perspectives and traditions, where each one maintains its individual knowledge while at the same time exchanging and sharing diverse ways of seeing through our work together. Also, I aim for that moment when the spectator and the participants see and experience the totality of the work without disengaging the subject matter from the way it is presented. For example in Intervention: Wall Street, there comes a point where it is absolutely clear that through stilt dancing we are addressing the corporate and financial giants of Wall Street, but there is no effort in perceiving the message, they are intertwined. The metaphor in this case works off of all the layers of meaning embedded and the form through which it is expressed.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have recently been participating in the making of environmental art project titled The Kula Ring. Could you tell about the expedition that took you to the Pacific Island with the group of artists and scientists?
LAB: The environment has been a continual concern and interest of mine from the beginning of my career. I began my practice making works in the studio that addressed nature and the environment through drawings on paper, sculpture and outdoor installations. I also initiated community projects in the Amazon of Venezuela that combined environmental protection and the preservation of oral history in the communities through paper and book making with local materials. This background and experience is the reason I was invited by the curator Ute Meta Bauer to become a fellow of The Current by TBA21, Thyssen Bornemisza Contemporary titled The Kula Ring. (https://www.tba21.org/thecurrent)
The project is an ambitious and innovative approach to explore and find solutions to environmental issues such as global warming and the protection of the oceans. The project brings together scientists and artists and together we embark on a number of exploratory trips by sea to different areas of the South Pacific. Along with researchers, curators and artists, I participated in expeditionary trip that took us to Papua New Guinea.
There have been subsequent exploratory trips to other areas of the South Pacific with other participants and curators leading those groups. As part of the project, The Current brings us together after our trips for a convening to exchange ideas and share our experiences and findings with different communities, and to listen to their own experiences and responses to our work. The first convening took place in Jamaica this year–in Kingston. We met, discussed and presented our work and findings not only amongst ourselves but also with the local community. For this convening I created the performance What-Lives-Beneath in collaboration with the Brooklyn Jumbies, custodian of the Jamaican oral tradition Amina Blackwood-Meeks, choreographer Chris Walker and members of the National Dance and Theater Company of Jamaica informed by scientists, environmentalists and activists. This work integrated into one performance: dance, procession, science, text, spoken word, scientific research, music and wearable sculptures created with craft elements originating from Papua New Guinea and other materials to portray sea life and the elements.
Laura Anderson Barbata, artist on TBA21 project The Current
The Current, What Lives Beneath by Laura Anderson Barbata for TBA21, Kingston, Jamaica, 2016
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The Kula exchange or Kula ring, is a classic anthropological theme, its core idea is formed around gift and commodity exchanges. Perhaps our contemporary society and times can learn from this indigenous practice originating in Papua New Guinea? Do you personally relate to this theme, or does it have relevance to you as a principle?
LAB: One of the key tenets of my practice is reciprocity. My methodology combines an intuitive exploratory approach with a strong focus on listening. This means that I want to receive information through all my senses as well as intellectually and to find ways in which we can establish relationships built on the principles of reciprocity. So it is important for me to integrate conversations with collaborators and participants in every step of the process. The Kula Ring Exchange, as you say, is centered around gift and commodity exchanges. But there is also a secondary but equally important intention: to forge long-lasting relationships that are maintained and supported by the exchange of goods. On a personal level, this relates to my understanding of reciprocity and the value in creating kinships that transcend borders and ideologies beyond our everyday associations. I feel that contemporary society needs to focus greater attention to these forms of community building which demand personal involvement. These forms of exchange are capable of expanding our knowledge and can also bring a deeper meaning to our everyday lives, so that growth is not only personal but also expands to benefit the communities we live in.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself to be an environmentalist, if so, how do you think art serves the topic of environmentalism, and brings forth embedded action?
LAB: Through the project The Current, I have had the privilege of meeting extraordinary world-renowned scientists, thinkers and activists that have devoted their careers and lives to environmental issues and conservation. I know what a true environmentalist is, and for this reason I would hardly call myself an environmentalist in the formal sense of the word. But I can say that I am deeply concerned with the environment and committed to learning all I can and through my work as an artist address these issues, in order to contribute on both a personal and professional level. In that way I might be considered an environmentalist.
I believe that joining artists and scientists who are focused and concerned about the environment can bring us to a better understanding of the problems we are facing, to enable us to communicate these concerns and findings more effectively to our audiences in innovative, inspiring and thought-provoking ways. I believe that every person on an individual level can create change, and if more people are inspired to join in these efforts there can be a significant positive impact.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are there specific ways your art is bringing into cultural exchange, in terms of communicating between different people, and perhaps transmitting something unique into our society at large?
LAB: As I mentioned before, at the core of my work is the concept of reciprocity: the balanced exchange of ideas and knowledge. For this reason, my work methodology combines an intuitive exploratory approach with a strong focus on listening with the intention of bringing mutual benefits to all participants. It is very important to me that the bridges built between communities–the personal ties and experiences gained–continue far beyond each project. Art is the vehicle, the pretext for a conversation and for an exchange of ideas that incorporate the material as well as the personal for its execution.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your knowledge about cultures and traditions is reflected in your artistic applications. From a more philosophical point of view, are there motivational approaches that resonate through your artistic lens?
LAB: I am strongly motivated to address through my work as an artist the challenges that face our current society. I feel a sense of urgency to delve into issues of human rights, women´s rights, indigenous issues and the environment.
Feminist artists and writers are a source of great inspiration and guidance for me, Judith Butler, Carol Adams, and artists Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Melissa H. Potter and Monica Mayer, to name only a few of the women whose work always has the capacity to teach me something new no matter how many times I read or see their work. Also on my usual go-to list are Jacques Ranciere and Paulo Freire. Theater is an art form that I love and always learn from. The Wooster Group, for example, always presents challenging works in innovative formats that are thought-provoking and executed in ways that combine various techniques, all of which teach me something new. I try to find community groups, activists, artist collectives, urban dancers and performance artists that work outside of the mainstream that are expanding and challenging the concepts of community dynamics, education, dance, performance, music, and proposing ways in which to see, live and engage with each other and the world around us.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It would be interesting to hear about your future, what projects are you continuing, and what topics are you exploring further?
LAB: I am working on a number of projects, as we have discussed earlier, one very exciting project I am working on is with TBA21 The Current, coordinated by Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art, in which scientists and artists are brought together to address the urgent issues of climate change and the oceans. This project is in its first year and my involvement will be for three years. I will be creating new works for this project in the form of performances and wearable sculptures which are still in progress.
I am also continuing my work on the Julia Pastrana project. For this project, I am further working on the topics related to her story, the injustices that she lived and how these are still relevant today. I am working on a performance piece presented as a work-in-progress that is continually evolving, a series of zines that address different topics related to Julia Pastrana such as: repatriation of human remains, museum ethics, exhibition practices, the objectification of people and women, human traffic, beauty and the commercialization of women´s bodies, feminism, animal rights, love, circus arts, and more. I am publishing a book about Julia Pastrana with contributions from scientists, scholars and art historians to address the story of Julia Pastrana from different perspectives that also includes art works. And for 10 years now, I am working on collaborative project with the artist collective Apparatjik and Concha Buika to create an Opera about Julia Pastrana, which will premiere at the main stage of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, Norway in 2019.
At the Gagosian Gallery’s Chelsea location, opened a new exhibition around a theme of ‘impossible bouquet’. Known for her challenging multidisciplinary photography, artist Taryn Simon has conducted extensive research for her current project Paperwork and the Will of Capital. The idea of ‘impossible bouquet’ refers to the Dutch 17th-century economy during which the market was booming. Simultaneously the birth of modern capitalism was reflected through the rich fauna of the era’s still-life paintings. The impossible bouquet is also an imagined bouquet. It includes flower pairings that cannot coexist in the natural world; the flowers are not blooming at the same time or they originate in different geographical locations. Today this economy has changed completely, when the global supply keeps bringing diverse specimen to the consumer’s market. The exhibition includes photographs of 36 bouquets formed as centerpiece and still-life. They gather thematically around 12 unique columnal sculptures, which also trace back to the fauna accumulated in the photography. Next to the large photographs are their textual references connecting the arrangements to their sources. The flower typologies in the artworks suggest real events that create the context for the exhibition.
These flowers sat between powerful men as they signed agreements designed to influence the fate of the world. —Taryn Simon
Taryn Simon, From the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital, 2015, Archival inkjet print.
Taryn Simon, From the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital, 2015, Archival inkjet print.
Taryn Simon, From the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital, 2015, Archival inkjet print.
The exhibition is Taryn Simon’s first at the New York gallery. The sculptures displayed in the exhibition were previewed at the 56th Biennale di Venezia in 2015. Now they appear together with large-scale photographs that culminate as a complete body of work for the first time. During the process of making the photographs and sculptures, which navigate layered meanings, Taryn Simon worked together with a botanist, investigated archives, and benefited from 4000 different specimen to structure the process. Each specimen coming to the process was dried, pressed, and sewed into the herbarium paper. The artworks engage a level of communication as botanical collages, in a photographic form, and as pressed and preserved subject in the sculptures. The artist utilized George Sinclair’s nineteenth century horticultural study, which contains actual dried grass specimens.
As much as the flowers have decorative power, the art speaks with full textual meaning. The textual references attached to the photographs and sculptures, describe diverse political agreements that semantically ground the ‘flower fantasies’ into realities, which touch lives. In the past, the bouquets staged world dramas. In their present artful context they contribute to breathing new air into the archives. The level of ignorance on the agreement’s impact on actual realities is communicated through the floral that is now taken care of. In the art it represents the colorful, palpable, and vivid side of the reality. Among the textual references, there are themes of global trading of goods, and examples of the attempts to access natural resources over national boundaries and geopolitical territories. There are strategic negotiations, where commercial value has weight over human capital, or it entirely suppresses environmental viewpoint. Often the signing table puts a full stop to development projects, social welfare and economic aid. For the artistic series, Simon studied archival photographs of official signings. She examined accords, treaties, and decrees that were drafted to influence systems of governance and economics. The subjects include nuclear armament, oil deals and diamond trading.
The environmental challenge of the global flower distribution connects intimately to the exhibition narrative. Paperwork and the Will of Capital, implies the complications behind the global consumption. The underlying political themes communicate about environmental fragility. One of the flower narratives introduce a plan that was created around the Caspian Sea oil reserves, known as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline. As an outcome of this plan, Western nations would have more ideal access to the area’s natural resources and allude strategic presence in Central Asia. The February 3, 2004 flower bouquet, testifying the signing of the finance package for constructing the BTC pipeline in Baku Azerbaijan, included: Baby’s Breath from Kenya; Dutch Iris from Netherlands; Israeli Ruscus; and Hybrid Tea Rose from Kenya.
Another environmental flower arrangement relates to the 2014 agreement to conduct studies on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Damn, bringing in parties from Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt to negotiations. The construction of the damn contests the neighboring countries, because the negotiations handle the water rights to the Nile. While still in the construction process, the dam will be Africa’s largest hydropower project taking massive segment of its infrastructure. The discussion challenges larger schemes linking back to the colonial history, which places Egypt as majority holder of the Nile’s water, when in reality Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and five other African states share access to its waters. The flowers present at the negotiations were: Gerbera from Netherlands; and Hybrid Tea Rose from Ethiopia.
Can flowers change attitudes toward things and ideas? At least, the commerce between flowers from different territories and geographical locations stretches boundaries as we know them. Sometimes flowers travel further than people. Anthurium, Netherlands; Dendrobium, Thailand; Orchid Venezuela; and Hybrid Tea Rose, Kenya, were at present in the memorandum held to negotiate the status of refugees and asylum seekers to Australia. The negotiations took place in Cambodia on September 26, 2014. Australian refugees from the refugee center located on the Pacific Island of Nauru were to be transferred to Cambodia into a permanent resettlement. By shifting their refugee responsibilities elsewhere, the economically advantaged Australia signed to exploit one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.
Highly conceptual thoughts embed the large photographic prints and their similarly intentional sculptures within a frame of time that scopes past and attains to preserve some for the future. It seems that the fragility of flowers echo past remnants, but more forcibly introduce newly fluid forms. The photographs speak through large canvas. They accumulate painterly softness through the backdrops, and the archival feel responds to the dimensionality of the bouquets. The floral appears as richly layered; the bouquets were photographed multiple times. Sometimes the setting stands still as if being part of a funeral setting, then the collage screams out from the mahogany frames. The bouquets are in a state of being and emerging.
Teresita Fernández’s current solo exhibition is on view until December 31 at Lehmann Maupin’s 536 West 22nd Street location. Her seventh solo exhibit with the gallery coincide with her sculptural installation Fata Morgana, which is on view in Madison Square Park in New York. The gallery shows her latest body of work, including sculptures that are composed of intimate interior landscapes in concrete, cast bronze, and glazed ceramic. Recalling the artist’s earlier Rorschach pieces (2014) – a sculpture made of gold chroming, fused nylon, and aluminum – the new multidimensional works play with the idea of landscape and terrain. The theme of landscape in these Viñales pieces convey three-dimensional forms. The sculptures are detailed yet rough as they are somewhat fragmented, echoing of darkness and distortion, interior and exterior.
Best known for her unique works and public projects, Fernández explores the natural world, as well as the scale, being sensitive to the act of looking, perhaps finding out about the human versus the landscape. Her conceptually-based art making includes research, and communicates with an entire world of references coming from different sources. In the exhibition, Fernández has created a series of darkened and intimately sized ink and graphite drawings, which are mounted on small-size wooden panels.
These small pieces in sequences show her innate interest in scale. The dynamics between the immense and the intimate; the vast and the miniature; the macro and the micro are definitely part of the exploration. As the natural world as a reference is often large, the human viewpoint brings it closer; in other words we can grasp what we may or could see, if we had time and body to get to these places. Nature’s body is too vast to be created as miniatures, but this is what Fernández actually does. She has looked closely into the malachite mineral rocks and at their interiors comparing their material formula into full-sized landscape of the Viñales Valley, an iconic landscape in rural Cuba. She took up the saturated rich greens and turquoise colors from the malachite, being inspired by their clustered formations. These reminded of the aerial views of the green and lustrous landscapes of the rainforests.
Fernández draws huge parallels between the malachite rocks and her own experience of the caves in Viñales. The whole project is tricky and fascinating. She reflects the idea of the landscapes both visually and physically, taking in both extremities of light and darkness, inside and outside, containment and amplification. In the exhibition, the Viñales landscape merges with the malachite rocks, which come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and with the sculptural materials that of concrete, bronze, and ceramic. Fernández fuses with these materials and plays with the scale creating metaphorical “stacked landscapes”, which narrate several layers of references to a place.
The exhibition includes three large-scale works made as glazed ceramic panels. The panels shine as saturated greens forming abstracted images. Their inspiration is the actual landscape of the Viñales Valley with its otherworldly mogotes (rare, limestone tower formations), cave interiors, and the exposed surfaces of minerals. Again, the artist is using clay, which is earthbound material. Yet the result is as if the accumulation of this material creates completely imaginary sense of the landscape itself. This is maybe the way art meets a complex surface of the natural world.
The central sculpture in the exhibition, Viñales (Reclining Nude), is a horizontal configuration of trapezoidal cast concrete structures of various sizes and heights with descending malachite and bronze forms that evoke the sprawling, verdant landscape from distant to close-up perspectives. As viewers engage with the full-round sculpture, the suggested landscape expands and contracts, prompting viewers to visually construct the image and become the size of what they are looking at.
Teresita Fernández have a deep rooted association for the cultural and aesthetic language of nature, as she has explored the surfaces of the landscape. She has visited the place, grasping intuitively about something unique of it. Thus the language of the place pours in richly textured forms, being poetic and narrative, echoing about rootedness, history, and different contextual phases. The forms shine through layers, ceramic bits, detailed and yet rough edges of pieces, depicting large and small fragmented knitbits of information. The old, or ancient speaks with the natural, as they have become entangled to stand for their environmental presence. Fernández uses devices like proportion and unconventional materials to draw the viewer into her works. She stands for individualized experiences that ask questions of place and us as humans. Ultimately, the essence reflected in each work could be described as tactile.
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Teresita Fernández at Lehmann Maupin
November 6-December 31, 2015
536 West 22nd Street, New York
ETH Zurich pavilion was constructed of waste materials and opened to visitors during the IDEAS CITY Festival in May 28-30, 2015. The 3-day biennial festival takes place in New York City in May mapping the future of cities with culture as a driving force. It is a collaborative event, including a conference and street festival, inviting to civic action, as well as giving a platform for creative ideas to be exchanged. This year’s theme was inspired by Italo Calvino’s literary work Invisible Cities (1972). Participants explored questions such as transparency and surveillance, citizenship and representation, expression and suppression, in their daily lives.
Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else. (Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities)
TheETH Zurichpavilion hosted events through the festival. What does a truly smart city mean to us was a highlighted theme around the site. The pavilion was entirely made of waste, so while our answers to what smart cities are can be many, an important question is the future scaling of consumption in the cities. ETH Zurich poses a sustainable approach where we need to reconsider what we can do with all the waste that now ends up in landfills. Some solutions include tackling the pre- and post-consumer waste, while transforming it into construction materials like bricks and panels, which then can be used in making future buildings, homes and new products.
The pavilion is designed with a vault-like roof, showcasing bricks made of waste. It displays engineering technique that minimizes the use of material through the structure of the design. It lets in a good amount of daylight and feels airy. The structure brings into mind Guastavino tile vaulting as source of inspiration. Some of the Guastavino vaulting can be seen for example in New York subway’s abandoned City Hall station. In that context, the vaulting benefits from a technique that uses self-supporting arches with standardized size tiles. What this Pavilion truly showcases is that in the future, cities will hopefully optimize the designs so the structures will occupy less space. Big cities like New York struggle with lack of space, so fitting the pavilion in-between the buildings in downtown 1st avenue looked and felt smart and savvy.
The expressive Pavilion was designed to ‘visually float in the narrow slot between the buildings of First Street Garden.’ It is designed by the ETH Assistant Professorship for Architecture and Construction, Dirk E. Hebel and the Block Research Group. What the structure also implies aesthetically and visually is the potential of design to utilize so unstandardized and ‘weak’ materials in construction. The Pavilion’s shape follows the flow of forces, resulting in a compression-only vaulted structure. It has a double curvature and triangular beam-section, giving the structure a higher depth for the same thickness and weight.