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/

Olena Jennings: Correspondence

Olena Jennings’s recent poetry narrates travel to Georgia in the summer of 2017. Her lyric lingers between urbanness and coupling, remembering moments, and capturing an essence of absurdity.

September 2, 2017, NYC

Stray cats begged at our table, as our faces
grew moist, looking up at the sun.
Enclosures followed: the tight
space on the plane and then the cubicle. 
I ignored the eclipse, the way the shadows
on the pavement repeated themselves
like the words that fall in steady drops, 
overpowering the notations on calendars
and to-do lists. We wake beneath
the blanket from the market 
near the dry bridge. Once we drove 
towards the light, the tires against
cobblestones, the shape of the moon
calling us to the rows of jewelry, 
the repetition of desire for translucent beads
around your neck.

September 13, 2017, NYC

You gave me the key. There is a trick
you didn’t teach me, though there were often lessons:
the way to peel a carrot, to cut an onion without 
crying, and to buy carnations instead of roses. 
You spun daily life like the plot
of one of your romance novels. Your dress is always
caught in the wind even when there is only the breeze
from the window. You invite the men over who leave
their newspapers on the table, so that you are subject
to the nightly violence. Sometimes
there is even a hand against your cheek emphasizing
the glow. The street signs shine green, creating a map
of our memories. Together we lived in this house 
until you started filling the walls with other peoples’ 
portraits.
Olena Jennings, Georgia Kitten.
Olena Jennings, Georgia Kitten, 2017.

GHOSTS OF CATS

They prance down
 the hall to the studio
 where scent
 is outlawed.
 Making it even easier
 to forget
 the view of the lake
 from my window.
 I’m always working
 on the same translation,
 anarchy in my head
 and cancelled European
 adventures, my body
 already halfway there.
 He is shocked by
 the connection with his
 words, as if they are mine:
 the moment he looked up
 at the hall light
 on his way to borrow stamps
 and saw the world. I wake up
 early to caress his heart,
 but I know in this studio
 when we finally meet
 everything is too real to exist
 the way we dreamed it. There
 is the blue door, the water boiling for
 the French press, and my bare feet
 against the soft rug.

Olena Jennings’s collection of poetry “Songs from an Apartment” was released in 2017 by Underground Books. Her translations of poetry from Ukrainian can be found in Chelsea, Poetry International, and Wolf. She has published fiction in Joyland, Pioneertown, and Projecttile. Her novel Shut Mouth will be published in 2018. She completed her MFA in writing at Columbia and her MA focusing in Ukrainian literature at the University of Alberta.

Artist website: olenajennings.com

Bettina Pousttchi explores world time and architectural history in east coast premiere

Bettina Pousttchi: World Time Clock at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Bettina Pousttchi is a Berlin-based artist working in photography, video, and sculpture. German-Iranian artist studied at the Kunstackademie Düsseldorf, and participated in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York from 1999–2000. Pousttchi has exhibited throughout Europe, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Köln, and London, and participated in the Venice Biennale in 2003 and 2009. She held her first U.S. solo exhibition in 2014 at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas.

Through photography and sculpture, Bettina Pousttchi is interested in altering architectural buildings and monuments as indicators of the past and media of remembrance. Currently, the artist exhibits in two different museum spaces in Washington D.C. First exhibition titled Bettina Pousttchi: World Time Clock is on view until May 29, 2017, at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden filling the museum’s third-level inner-ring galleries. Concurrently with the World Time Clock series, The Phillips Collection presents her second D.C. appearance with the works titled Double Monuments. This exhibition by Bettina Pousttchi  is on view until October 2, 2016.

Pousttchi’s exhibition at the Hirshorn is a premiere of her World Time Clock series, a project the artist began in 2008 and recently completed. The installation consists of a group of photographs that she created in 24 time zones around the globe over the last eight years. The artist has often contemplated systems of time and space in her art. To accomplish the World Time Clock photography, she traveled the globe capturing a portrait of a public clock in each time zones. In the final production, represented are locales far apart from each other, such as Bangkok, Moscow, Los Angeles and Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The circular format of the Hirshhorn’s inner-ring galleries on third floor works well with the theme of this exhibition.

Bettina Pousttchi's World Time Clock at the Hirshorn's third floor is on view until May 29, 2017.
Bettina Pousttchi’s World Time Clock at the Hirshorn’s third floor is on view until May 29, 2017.

 

The photographs each show a clock displaying the same local time: five minutes before two. Together the images suggest a sense of suspended time and what the artist calls “imaginary synchronism.” Seen in close-up, the clocks are united in a single scheme that calls to mind the historic role of Washington as the site of the International Meridian Conference in 1884. It was here that the Greenwich Meridian was adopted as a universal standard, determining a zero point for the measurement of both longitude and time.

Bettina Pousttchi’s second display, on view at the Phillips Collection until October 2, takes on from the notion of history and memory of architecture. The exhibition is part of the Phillips’s ongoing series Intersections, which interestingly highlights contemporary art and artists in conjunction to the museum’s permanent collection, history, and architecture. With her works Double Monuments for Flavin and Tatlin (2013), Pousttchi is in conversation with art and architectural histories, addressing the historic works of Russian Constructivist sculptor and architect Vladimir Tatlin from the 1920s, and American minimalist artist Dan Flavin from the 1960s. Pousttchi’s sculptural installation is composed of materials deriving from street barricades, and metal crowd barriers, which the artist transformed into sculptural forms. The objects create contrast and volume with neon that grows inside the powder-coated abstract forms. The sculptures include spiraling neon light tubes reminiscing those fluorescent light works created by Dan Flavin. The five sculptures range from 5 to 12 feet creating dramatic presence and enhancing both sculptural form and architectural setting at the Phillips. Their tower-like shape is a homage to Tatlin’s sculptural works, yet they have a theme and form of their own. Pousttchi’s works carry an idea of mystery of bringing in outdoor elements into the white gallery space. The white paint creates sophistication out of the raw urban elements while neon makes them settle somewhere in between the indoors-outdoors -scale.

Bettina Pousttchi Double Monuments
Bettina Pousttchi with Double Monuments on view at the Phillips Collection.

Interview: Eric Decastro, a French painter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have also painted tsunami? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

suffocate
Eric Decastro, Suffocating Performance, Acrylic on canvas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eric Decastro online:

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

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

Current exhibitions:

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

http://www.bronxartspace.com/

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

http://www.torranceartmuseum.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taryn Simon’s emerging bouquets

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

Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of Australia Relating to the Settlement of Refugees in Cambodia. Ministry of Interior, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 26, 2014, From the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital, 2015. Archival inkjet print in mahogany frames with text in windowed compartment on archival herbarium paper 85 × 73 1/4 × 2 3/4 inches framed. © Taryn Simon

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.

Artist website: http://tarynsimon.com/

Taryn Simon: Paperwork and the Will of Capital

February 18 – March 26, 2016

Gagosian Gallery

555 West 24th Street,

New York

http://www.gagosian.com/

Hours: Tue–Sat 10-6

Cho Kuwakado: making murals

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leevi Haapala discusses with Axel Straschnoy (2011)

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

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

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

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

Riikka Theresa Innanen on dances

Riikka Theresa Innanen: After I had decided to stop dancing at the age of 6, (I was to dance a duet with a boy, and I got too embarrassed and offended to go on), I totally got swept away with Break dancing at the age of 12, and had to start again. For a girl in 1980’s in a small town in Finland it wasn’t too easy to develop my passion, but I was equally inspired by the Fame that was on TV. I though I could support my street dancing with jazz dance classes. This developed further to ballet and modern dance until I stopped again. After a year of dancing flamenco as a hobby and trying to find a “real profession”, I realized that the only thing I really love and know to do is dancing. I studied dance and choreography 4 years in Amsterdam at SNDO (1993-1997). SNDO together with working a year in a residency at Daghdha Dance Company in Ireland has possibly left the biggest imprint on me as an artist. In both these places I was lucky enough to study there when it still was very mixed with varying trainings and aesthetics. The students came from the world continents and from different walks of life. Then I could also learn how to use my passion in visual arts, music and computers as an asset for my dance work and artistic thinking. I taught at the Theatre school for 4 years before moving back to Finland in 2001. In Finland, working with Side Step Festivalhas been important as well as connecting with various “off ” groups such as Reality Research Center, and z-score. After 8 year in Finland, I felt more supported abroad and left for Daghdha Dance Company. The structure (now sadly finished) of daily commitment, small salary and a workspace (even if open and shared) together with the support of the fellow resident artists and staff, made a big change in how I see my work placed, and how I want to continue developing my work.

YOUR STORY IS VERY INTERESTING, YOU HAD AN INTERNATIONAL CAREER, AND THEN YOU CAME BACK TO FINLAND. YOU DESCRIBE THAT WORKING WITH ‘OFF’ SCENES FITS YOU BETTER. IN ANY EVENT, YOU ARE A MULTIPLE DANCE ARTIST.

R-T: Well, in a nutshell my career is a weave made of many different lines varying from improvising to creating choreographies to working as a dancer to teaching dance for camera for professionals to creating work with immigrant youth in Finland. I guess I’m mostly looking from outside-in: I grew up between cultures and still live in mix of different languages, social statuses and religions, I studied abroad and then moved back yet never stopped working abroad, so it’s just how life has made me. My aim as a maker is to take the audience to/through situations of reflection and enable subtle, personal experiences that can people move from within. To provoke non-violently but consciously. In my soul I’m a lonely nomad yet I work best in collaborations and groups. I truly get inspired by difference and excellence, despite of the discipline, of which working with the Irish mathematician Alex Clancy on Number is a good example. I tend to go for cross pollination rather than for purity. I’m interested how to choreograph beneath the surface rather than shapes and how systems or Minds grow from that mix of different elements into “self sustained intelligent systems” and surprise me. Keeping control over the work becomes besides the point when you can instead be watching creation happen. Probably my early attempts to program on my first Commandore 64 computer left it’s traces. This together with starting dancing on the street during the first wave of hip hop mixes with the later dance education during the 90’s at SNDO has create my attitude.  I’m passionate about composition and systems, of improvisation and danger and about dancing, purely and plainly. The brain needs to be be busy with science, philosophy and understanding life and structures but it’s pretty amazing to be “just taken” by dance and be led to unknown, unthought territories as well.

TELL ABOUT YOUR RECENT PERFORMANCE PROJECT AT FULL MOON DANCE FESTIVAL IN FINLAND, WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE, HOW ABOUT THE CONCEPT AND AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION? DO YOU HAVE OTHER REMARKS FROM THE FESTIVAL?

R-T: The project is about Happiness with a version called Tree of Happiness. The work is fundamentally a choreographed interface to make people move, think and interact on one level with me but also collectively through actions in a civic spaces and by being emotionally moved in a way which can ripple into their own lives. Practically it is a durational piece: for 3 days I meet with people, discuss and propose to answer 3 questions about Happiness on a peace of paper, which they then can hang on a tree as a leaf. The individual actions are multiplied, and make a visible installation grow, which anyone interact with. It is a very simple structure but as always, the human factor is multiplied with many participants, and creates complexity and variation, and depth. This work is very much based on a source code- choreographing approach, and the participants do not need to see or understand the structure, which happens beneath the surface to engage with and contribute to the work.

At the Full Moon Dance Festival, I also wanted to extend the movement into the social media as well, as I’m convinced Internet has radically changed how we interact, think and construct social relations and realities. Additionally I wanted to involve locals, and so through during 3 pop up events we could experience something unique, a shared personal experience of Happiness. We had a silent walk in the nature with local wilderness guide, a session to learn how to play ukulele with the local Uke-guru and a “How to be your own Tree of Happiness in 15 min” – of course led by myself.

YOU ALSO DID A PROJECT WITH DEBORAH HAY, WHO IS SUCH LEGEND IN THE FIELD. WAS THIS EXPERIENCE A KIND OF LANDMARK IN YOUR CAREER? HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO JOIN THE PROJECT, WHERE DID YOU PERFORM, AND WHAT DID YOUR LEARN?

R-T: Yes and no. Deborah Hay has been landmarking my career on regular 10 year intervals since I 1st saw her perform in 1993 during my 1st year at SNDO. She was such an odd appearance which stayed with. Ten years later we invited her to Helsinki for Side Step festival. I followed closely and filmed the process as she worked with a group of soloists adapt her work. Even if I read her books, listen to her closely I did not feel dancing her work was something for me. Only in 2012, 19 years after I first saw her, did I finally feel ready to dance the Dance. It came along at period with many changes in all aspects of my life including learning the solo while still relearning how to walk after an operation on both of my knees, so I Think Not (the choreography I learned with Deborah Hay), fitted to that perfectly. So she has been landmarking my life on regular intervals, always in different ways. I’m very attached to dancing the solo adaptation, even if I will ever totally “get it”, or Deborah but somehow realizing the impossibility of theconundrum (that there is nothing to “get”) will keep me engaged with the dance for the rest of my life. And Deborah might keep landmarking my career even the next 10 and 20 years with new inputs.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CITY IN AMERICA, AND WHY?

R-T: That’s a really hard question to answer. The country is so wast and varied. I did fall in love with San Francisco, but I might have been most surprised with Austin, TX. Never expected it to be so lovely, lively and arts-friendly place, good to live and work in. Also I felt a strong spiritual connection to the land and its native history, which touched me deeply.

THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON IN YOUR OWN CAREER. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FINNISH CONTEMPORARY DANCE AT THE MOMENT?

R-T: That is the toughest question. I’ve been so much away and I don’t really follow what is being programmed as I’m not a great consumer of dance but I know most of the makes as friends and colleagues, so hard to get an objective perspective. I guess the main stream Finnish dance scene struggles with being relevant. In a social and political climate, which is very anti-art, the big work to be done is to make art and dance a vital and essential part of the society. From the US we have learned the new independent funding methods are possible together with the old, which in very short time has created a stronger footing of freelance dancers. They are joining forces creating collectives and sharing spaces more courageously than before. This is great as in the end of the day 80% of all dance performances in Finland are created not by big institutions but by freelancers. The existing Funding structures are also looking for new ways to support the field but I’m not to optimistic in their abilities to truly change. But after the Full Moon Dance Festival, I’m hopeful. The new generation of makers is wild. They are totally renegotiating the premises and aesthetics of Finnish dance, which is really not easy to reinvent: Thanks to the strong heritage of Finnish architecture and design, and the lack of social struggle, the works tend to be more visual than topic oriented and that is what audience and funding sources are accustomed to go for. The really cool side of Finnish art is that we really don’t belong to neither Western nor the Slavic culture. Our heritage and mentality is strongly connected to Nature and our shamanistic heritage lurking just beneath our modern surface. We have a knack in being potentially totally bizarre and unique, if we only allow it to come out.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?

R-T: I hope to keep up with the mosaic. The big process brewing inside is the aftermath of spending last winter in residency in West Africa. My research there was into how we create realities, how art is a part of the daily and social life, and to observe and finally live the difference. Living the difference made something very deep inside of me change. To live in the world were art, dreamworld, work life, family life and big and small rituals are totally integrated together, was striking in Africa. Returning back to a reality where everything is divided in to factions has been interesting but not easy: art being a separate part of an institutionalized system of money, power and consumption feels very violating and unsustainable for me right now. I don’t feel out of tune with my work but rather the structures and my relation to funding and producing.  Luckily projects like Tree of Happiness, helps me ponder through my work how things could be differently supported to grow. In any case this kind of reassessment seems to happen regularly through out my career. I seem to need to push myself of the beaten track to find substance and interest. In the end of the day, I see my career as a long path, based on an ongoing search with the daily practices, bringing out the “branches”, which develop into specific manifestations and can be shared with the public/audience. Ever branch is different and unique but connected to the core trunk. I will keep developing further the Happiness project and the Tree of Happiness piece, and working on developing new choreographic systems. Hopefully my adaptation of Hay’s solo will follow me the rest of my life. This autumn I’ll mostly work as a dancer and maybe in the future I will return to curating and organizing, after the experience of Side Step and Daghdha there are interesting structures to keep developing further.

I’m very happy to be able to stay in Finland this autumn and work as a dancer for other makers: first for the Danish Hello!Earth group and then with Liisa Pentti+Co in Liisa’s work Space Particles. Playing music and drawing seems to occupy more of my time so I’m curious to see how it will seep into my works. I will keep teaching and traveling with residencies, hopefully returning to Africa but at least there will be working in Island next January with  Hello!Earth continuing our Kedja Wilderness residency there.

FOLLOW Riikka Theresa Innanen’s website here.

SEE HER VIMEO here..

 

Oblivia performance group and the Museum of Postmodern Art

Founded in 2000 in Helsinki, the international performance company Oblivia is truly a unique phenomena in the Finnish performance scene. The group transforms larger than life themes into minimalist performances. Oblivia’s group fuses different genres and nationalities. The members are from Finland and the UK have experiences in music, dance and theory, which allows them to play between suspended tension and sense of humor. Since its beginning, the group has attempted to create a common language in the performance. In June 2013, Oblivia will perform its recent work ‘Museum of Postmodern Art’ in the NEW Performance Turku Festival in Turku Finland. The performance is co-produced by at PACT Zollverein and Espoo City Theatre. The premier took place at PACT Zollverein, Essen in November 2012 and the Finnish premier was at Espoo City Theatre in November 2012. The performance is the first in a series of five and part of the five-year project Museum of Postmodern Art – MOPMA. Annika Tudeer, the founding member of Oblivia tells about the history of the group and about her own background in dance.

AT: In the late eighties I trained dance, contact improvisation and what was called new dance then. I then worked as a dancer and choreographer until I started at the Helsinki University in 1994 where I studied literature as a main subject, philosophy, theater studies and gender studies. I belong to the rather self-taught generation that mainly acquired knowledge and experience through training and working. I also did amdram and studenthteatre that was quite important as well. Oblivia was founded in 2000 in Helsinki during the European Cultural Capital year. I had this grand idea of creating a network and collective of artists doing site-specific work. However I had not realized that a collective does not have a leader who decides most things (that was me, of course) and is in charge, but that kind of leadership is better suited in a smaller group. We did 4 site specific pieces during that year that were very popular and had therefore a great start, and in the autumn Anna Krzystek from UK joined us and the smaller Oblivia that is still exists was formed.

I basically wanted to create an alternative working environment to most of what I had experienced in the dance and theater field in Finland, experiment how to work together and have fun and create high quality work, merging theory and art in an organic way, not paying too much attention to theory but rely on the fact that it is there. I was also very interested in structures, all kind of structures: working environmental structures, political structures, artistic structures, architectonical structures, and that was always part for the work somehow. I still organize the practical stuff together with our producer, but the artistic work is purely collective.

 How has the concept developed during the years?

AT: After doing site-specific work for a few years we decided to move into the black box using light and sound and start to explore the black box. It is the most challenging place and also the place for most concentration and innovation in performing arts we think. We are super organized, working away from 10-17 Monday to Friday over 4 months that are divided over the year. The work has evolved a lot, we work over several months with a piece, with pauses in-between where we tour or do other things (me mainly admin and networking). I also think that we have become much more many faceted in the work and how we perform and at the moment we are very much concerned with ideas of collaboration. Which means a lot of discussions and trials and errors. The work becomes richer and bolder all the time. It is minimalistic and maximalist at the same time. We work with an empty stage and fill it with ideas and images that are created in the heads of the audience.

How international are you as a group in terms of performances, touring, attending festivals?

AT: Anna Krzystek lives in Glasgow, so she commutes to Helsinki for rehearsals, we are occasionally on residencies in Europe, and our current project Museum of Postmodern Art that contains 5 performances over 5 years (2012-2016) has first an international premier and then a national premier. We tour as much as we possible internationally and although the growth could be swifter, we are touring quite nicely.

How do you generate and create the concepts, what are the terms of collaboration?

AT: Well, we decide on a theme, and since we like long term planning so the previous project Entertainment Island became a trilogy that was finished in 2010 and has toured since and now we have MOPMA (Museum of Postmodern Art) going. We decide on the big theme that is now art for five years and previously was entertainment. Then we decide on what kind of take we take for each new performance a little before we start to work on it. Then we start to improvise, devise material and do free association and a lot of talking and some field trips. Now we are working on the idea of bad art, and what that means to us and what it foes to us. We talked a lot at the beginning, had a workshop and at the moment we are in the second working phase where we go deeper in the material and slowly start to make sense of it and structure it. Basically we are the three of us (Anna, myself and Timo Fredriksson) working away, popping in and out of impros. But we have worked for 13 years together now so we have a secure sense of being in the studio without outside eyes. We have also started to involve our light and sound designers much more that is wonderful, so they share the process, the talking, and the figuring out a lot from the beginning. They also watch rehearsals and comment.


What is your opinion of the performance field currently, how do art and performance co-exist?

AT: I have a feeling that the field is growing rapidly, and that the boundaries are blurred totally. We have all diverse trainings: Anna studied at the Cunningham studio in New York for several years, you saw my background and Timo is a classical pianist. This kind of heterogenic diversity is perhaps not that common, but nevertheless companies and projects are vibrant and mixed. It is interesting and exciting times we are living in re: performances. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the quantity of performances, and work and activities and sometimes I miss a feeling of a clear trend and some leading stars and high quality work is not all too common skilled yes, but work that moves me is not that common at the moment. But in general I think that there is a very exciting scene going on at the moment.


Your most important influences?

AT: The old companies like Needcompany, Forced Entertainment, Pina Bausch, John Cage, – the usual suspects…

 Where do you see your project going, how do you balance the work and life, how about the ‘other interventions’?

AT: We are starting to reach out and are discussing several collaborations with other companies, which is a totally new situation. We intend to tour more and more for each year, and also to communicate more with other artists in various ways. Sometimes we feel a little isolated here, so we are working on breaking out from that isolation and become more part of the world, so to say. For me work and life are intertwined since my husband is Timo who is part of the Oblivia core and we have to deal with how to take care of our 9-year-old daughter as well. I have also been very active in founding the Performance center, ESKUS in Helsinki for working: with three studios, and a shared office for companies and individuals in the performance scene and independent scene in Helsinki. We have residencies, rent out spaces and work on different levels to be a supportive structure without being a venue or a production house.

 Oblivia will premier MOPMA 2 (that is the working title, the real title will emerge soon) in mid September in Trondheim, Norway at the Bastard festival. Until then the company will tour MOPMA 1 in Finland and Entertainment Island in Poland

MOPMA_v2_06
(Annika Tudeer and Timo Fredriksson. capture: Eija Mäkivuoti)

Oblivia’s website and Facebook page...

Artist Interview: Heino Schmid

Heino Schmid is an artist living and working in Nassau, Bahamas. He completed his MA in Fine Arts at the Utrecht School of the Arts in The Netherlands, and got his BFA degree in Photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, US. Heino Schmid participated at the VOLTA NY Show with Nassau-based Popopstudios International Center for the Visual Arts in March 2013.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You were born in Bahamas, how did that build your artist identity?

HS: My father is German and my mother is Bahamian but I was born and raised in the Bahamas where I’ve lived my whole life outside of my education. I did my undergraduate studies in the US and my graduate studies in The Netherlands. My artistic identity is very much rooted in my experiences here and I find a great deal of fodder and inspiration in my immediate environment. As a country The Bahamas really lends itself to a lot of material investigation and I’ve really enjoyed having my studio and my creative practice based here. It’s close enough to the US where I am still able to see significant exhibitions but it’s private enough for me to develop a body of work on my own terms.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does globalization mean to you?

HS: Globalization, in terms of the creative process, means communication. Through social media it’s never been easier to have constructive conversations with your peers and that is really exciting. The Internet also levels the playing field in terms of information. It’s a wonderful time to be a creative thinker because there’s so much information available, which I can filter at my own pace and discretion to construct a viable practice.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you experience VOLTA, what did it offer you personally?

HS: The VOLTA NY experience was extremely constructive to me. I believe that as an artist you initially control the medium of the work, the content, the presentation and the context of the work, but the context is the most fluid and gives your work life. It was hugely exciting for me to take my work out of the context in which it was made and place it in an environment where the dialogue would be completely different. The conversations that I had at VOLTA NY were constructive, positive and completely impossible to have, I think, in The Bahamas given the change of context.

HEINO SCHMID, Mixed media on paper with painted coconuts, 45 x 45 in, 2003/2013.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where is your focus as an artist, the media and the location?

HS: As an artist I try to really approach art in itself as a visual dialogue so the media and the location hold equal sway in the production of my projects. The balance between media and location is always an interesting problem to solve. On the one hand you want to stay open to your environment you’re in no matter where you are to produce work, and on the other hand you want to make the work that’s relevant to your own practice in a sustainable way. When considered responsibly I think the tension between the two is always an exciting and productive challenge to embrace.