Riikka Talvitie: A Finnish composer

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.

Self Portrait (video still), Riikka Talvitie, 2018.
Self Portrait (video still), Riikka Talvitie, 2018.

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?

RT: Light, airy, ironical, tasteless, fluent – perhaps.

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 Culture since 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

Riikka Talvitie, The Judge_s Wife, Juha Uusitalo as the Judge. Photo Teemu Mäki.
Riikka Talvitie (composer), The Judge’s Wife, Juha Uusitalo as the Judge. Photo Teemu Mäki, 2017.

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).

Riikka Talvitie (composer),Tuomari (The Judge's Wife), performance photo by Teemu Mäki, 2017 (2).
Riikka Talvitie (composer), The Judge’s Wife, Tuuli Lindeberg as Judge’s wife. Photo Teemu Mäki, 2017.

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.

(here I am pictured as a bird in the project: https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2017/12/02/queen-of-the-cold-land)

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.

Riikka Talvitie at the Silence-festival, Hiljaisuus Festivaali, Day3, Thursday. Photo Jouni Ihalainen, 2018.
Riikka Talvitie at the Silence Festival, Hiljaisuus Festivaali, Day3. Photo Jouni Ihalainen, 2018.

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:

Minna Leinonen www.minnaleinonen.com
Jennah Vainio www.fennicagehrman.fi/composers/vainio-jennah
Lotta Wennäkoski www.lottawennakoski.com
Outi Tarkiainen www.outitarkiainen.fi/en
Asta Hyvärinen core.musicfinland.fi/composers/asta-hyvarinen
Sanna Ahvenjärvi www.sannaahvenjarvi.com
Maija Hynninen www.maijahynninen.com
Maija Ruuskanen www.maijaruuskanen.com
Sanna Salmenkallio https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanna_Salmenkallio

Also Paola Livorsi, Italian composer living in Helsinki, is worth of listening:
core.musicfinland.fi/composers/paola-livorsi

 

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Featured image: Saara Kiiveri as Peg in The Judge’s Wife. Photo Teemu Maki, 2017.

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website: https://www.riikkatalvitie.com/

Francie Lyshak about painting

After four decades in painting, American artist Francie Lyshak has a deep knowledge on her practice. A woman-artist who has a lifelong approach to learning, finds nature and it’s varying stages influencing her work. The artist examines nature also with photography. It seems, as if those pictorial notes would transfer into her paintings with subtle poetry and movement. In this interview, she discusses her career, love of painting and the meditative approach to being with her art. Remarkable is how the artist views art as a career, also in psychological terms as a radical act. Francie Lyshak’s recent paintings, which examine movement and gestures, will be on view until April 27, 2017 in the Carter Burden Gallery of NYC.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How did you find yourself doing painting? Where did you grow up?

Francie Lyshak: I will share with you two central memories that are at the very early roots of my art career (before it begun):

I am in Detroit, Michigan, in a single family home with a nice yard. I am a small child, somewhere between toddler and latency age.  I am sitting in the mud, alone making a mess and enjoying it totally.

In the second memory, I am 18 years old, attending my first art history class.  As I watch the projected images of works by modern artists, it is suddenly clear that making paintings is what I need to do with my life.  I began to paint was when I went to a summer art school in Paris around the age of 19.  I haven’t stopped since that time, except for one year in Boston in the early 70’s.  After that point I switched from abstraction to figuration.

 

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

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: You have an exhibition opening now at the Carter Burden Gallery in NYC, tell more about the theme of your paintings in the show?

FL: These paintings focus purely on the physicality of painting, of paint, painter’s tools and the interaction of the painting surface with light.  The use of a palette knife can be a violent destructive attack on a painting’s under-layer.  A flowing brush mark can be evidence of the painter’s sweeping gesture. The painting then becomes a stop-action image of what was either a waltz or a wrestling match between the artist and the medium.  It is painting without any intention other than leaving the physical evidence of its own dynamic birth.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What is really interesting is that your career spans for four decades, and there can be so many changes that fit into that time frame. Did you start with figurative or representational art?

FL: In my early work, my visual language was a figurative and a metaphorical narrative with strong feminist overtones. This work lasted for two decades in the 1970s and 80s. Animals, humans, dolls and toys populate these paintings, each one describing the psyche captured in a critical moment of time.  Influenced by art therapy theory and practice, their emotional rawness challenged the viewer to contemplate disturbing aspects of life that are typically overlooked or avoided. After years of these explorations, I unearthed evidence of my own childhood sexual abuse.  With the support of the late Ellen Stuart and La MaMa/La Galleria, this work resulted in a one-woman exhibition in 1993 narrating my own trauma recovery through my paintings.  The series of paintings with accompanying prose was published in a book in 1999 entitled, The Secret: Art and Healing from Sexual Abuse. This exhibition provided me with a release from the narratives of the past.  After that show, my work changed slowly but radically, moving towards landscape, then abstraction.

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

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How did you choose painting and photography, how are they similar or different to you?

FL: I am a painter.  However, I believe that no matter what medium an artist chooses, they cannot escape their artist’s sensibility. That means that we cannot help but consider the aesthetics in our environment.  Also, we cannot help but be creative.  It is a kind of compulsion that requires an outlet.  In that vein, I took up photography.  This was in part because I found it offensive that paintings are generally only affordable by the wealthy.  I experimented with printing and multiples as a way to make my work more accessible to those with less means.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Can you say that what you do is abstract art, and if so what would this kind of abstraction be?

FL: The best way to describe my new work is ‘pre-verbal’. Before words,  ideas and memories there is a mental space that is responsive to shape and texture, color and amorphous mood. That is the space that my paintings occupy. My abstract work is not expressionistic, nor is it minimal or conceptual. My newest work has something in common with action painting.  Over the long haul, the trend of my work has been increasingly reductive.  I seem to be constantly trying to reduce the content of my work to its simplest components.  I removed the figure.  I removed the narrative.  I removed the symbolism.  I removed the suggestion of landscape.  Then I tried to suggest empty space alone (which made the work illusionist).  Now I am just looking at the surface, the medium and the tools of application.

I recently saw a show that was simply lighting in an empty gallery.  I understand that.

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

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How do you choose your works for the exhibition, do you ‘curate’ yourself?

FL: No, my dealer is fully in control of the choice of work and the hanging.  Of course, it is up to me to choose the paintings from which she makes her selection.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: The process is of course different with each artist, do you like to add older paintings into the show, or is it mostly recent works?

FL: Mostly very recent works are shown in April exhibition.  My first exhibition at Carter Burden had some pieces that were several years old but had never been displayed.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: You are watching a lot of movies, how apparent is it that those moods or aesthetics you gain from films enter your works somehow?
 
FL: I don’t think that the aesthetics of film influence my work, but perhaps the moods do on a subconscious level. I find great solace in the work of these great, underappreciated independent film makers.  They address very important, very real aspects of being human.  Hollywood spends mountains of capital selling fantasy worlds to viewers because it is a natural,human inclination to avoid and escape harsh reality.  The filmmakers that I love make me look at the challenging underbelly of being human.  This gives me courage and support in my effort to stay honest as a painter, to not be fooled by the illusionary rewards of commercial success, to lead my viewers to the challenging aspects of being human.

I have a fantastic list of my list of favorite movies.  It is a long list and the titles are unrecognizable to most people.  Almost all of the films were borrowed from the New York Public Library which has a treasure trove of great films.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What does a notion of ‘zen’ mean to you as an approach?

FL: I am not formally trained in Zen practice.  However, I understand that Zen does not have a god head, and is focused on what westerners call mindfulness practices.  My mind is constantly racing.  I hunger for empty space and quietude.  (Perhaps this is reflected in my urge to constantly minimize the content in my paintings.)  We live in an overheated, overstimulating world (at least in NYC).  I know, however, that it is not the fault of my environment that I am so mentally restless.  I reach for ‘zen’ as a pathway towards a quiet mind or to attain full attention.  When I paint, I am in a ‘full attention’ mode.  In this sense, painting is a mindfulness practice.  (Click the link to see a series of paintings that were specifically intended to be ‘meditations spaces.’
http://www.francielyshak.com/archive/New%20Monochromes/index.html)

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What else do you do to balance with making art?

FL: Not much.  I do some Yoga practice, go to the gym, take walks and, of course, watch movies.  I would add that there isn’t anything much more rewarding that good conversation with other artists and intellectuals.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Where do your influences come from other than abstractions? Do you blend in narrative contents from today’s world and events?
 
FL: My goodness, the political climate has a tremendous impact on the ‘climate’ of my work.  There is very little joy in my work these days.  On the other hand, I am finding surprising strength and power there.  My work is definitely a mirror of my psychological condition.  My psychological condition is a mirror of my personal and social life (which in these times encompasses the political environment).  A new painting included in this April exhibition is entitled “Silence equals Extinction”.  It was clearly a response to the nightmare political situation in the US.

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

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: In your photography there is a lot of nature in them; fog, mountains, trees, moon, and so on. How do you find your photographic subjects, do you just happen to be in those places in the moment? 

FL: Yes, everything was done either in Michigan, where my family has a summer home, or NYC.  I also did some photography when I did some traveling along the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean Seas and along the Pacific Ocean shore. I am wild about landscapes.

On influences: 
I am not influenced by art theory nearly as much as I am influenced by psychoanalytic theory, philosophy and religion.  I have no belief in any religion.  However, I find the search for self and meaning to be central to my practice as an artist.  I am most affected by any work of art that creates a space for the viewer to engage in this search for identity or meaning.  Works by Frieda Kahlo, Mark Rothko and Fred Sandback all succeed at doing this for me; although each uses a radically different method to set a stage for this to happen to the viewer.

On color: 
Colors have a strong valence, a kind of personality.  My latest pieces have been in various shades of black.  I am choosing black because I have always feared it.  Black oils cannot be controlled because they are wildly interactive with the light in the environment as it reacts to the surface of the painting.  The color black, for me, has much to do with loss, change and the unknown.  So colors themselves have a kind of personality and meaning and different oil colors also have a unique physicality, such as color density.

On my use of color in photography and painting:
I think of myself as a painter.  I have spent forty years painting.  Photography has been  secondary to my work as a painter.  My photography is in the early stages of development; but is created on a foundation of 40 years of evolved aesthetic sensibility and artistic practice.   My photography is mostly rooted in local color or black and white.  My new paintings, on the other hand,  are each a deep explorations of color, the oil paint medium, the painters tools and methods of application.  In other words, my practice as a painter has evolved to a point where I am exploring the very basics of the medium.  It is full circle, back to the beginning.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Do you find inspiration in your travels to foreign places, how about those leaving an impact on your thinking and aesthetics?

FL: I just traveled to Japan.  Their aesthetic and social values were a great comfort to me.  The Japanese seemed so much more civilized than Americans.  It was heartening to experience their aesthetic and their culture.  I felt that my own values were much more supported by the Japanese culture than they are in my own culture.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Did you ever come up with a notion, who would be your best art audience, or collector?
 
FL: Probably intellectuals, other painters and psychologically-minded people.  It is hard to tell who is most taken by my work because people usually don’t say much.  Most of us become a little inarticulate in the face of meaningful visual art.  Art takes us to a non-verbal place.  I admire people like you who are willing and able to give us language in the face of visual art.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: With so much insight in the practice, we all want to know, what would you like to teach or say for younger generation artists and painters?

FL: I would like to say to them that it is worth the battle to stay true to their artistic sensibility.  This is because, in the long term, losing touch with one’s core strivings (to be an artist, to be creative) has an unbearable cost.  I would tell them, however, that they shouldn’t expect to be rewarded.  Artmaking is essentially a radical act, because it means turning away from the influence of others and, instead, opening a channel to one’s true self.  Being true to one’s core self usually means letting go of many of the rewards of social/commercial success.  After all, in the short term we are nurturing ourselves rather than others.  Who knows if our art will nurture others in the long term.  That is in the hands of the vagaries of the art market.

Achieving commercial success in the art world is a totally different side of being an artist.  It takes a combination of ambition, talent, personality, timing, social resources (such as health, social networks, time and money) to make income from making art.  To have these resources is often a matter of privilege and other random social events.  Artists don’t have control over most of these factors.


Francie Lyshak’s exhibition info: 

April 6 – 27, 2017

Examining Movement & Gestures: Jonathan Bauch and Francie Lyshak

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

Francie Lyshak, education:

·      Pratt Institute, Art Therapy and Creativity Development, Masters of Professional Studies, NYC, 9-76 to 5-78
·      Wayne State University, Painting and Drawing, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Detroit, Michigan, 1-69 to 5-70.
·      Center for Creative Studies, Fine Arts, Detroit, Michigan, 9-68 to 5-69
·      University of Michigan, Humanities, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 9-66 to 5-68

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

Artist in focus: Sasha Huber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 — — —

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

More info about the artist: www.sashahuber.com

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

Amelia Marzec’s Weather Center for the Apocalypse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Aimee Lee about sound, art books and hanji

Aimee Lee is an artist, papermaker, writer, and the leading hanji researcher and practitioner in the United States. With paper, she makes thread, sculpture, books, drawings, prints, garments, and installations. Aimee Lee’s background as a performing artist and musician carries traces of paper as sets and costumes. Her installations are artistic research on paper and sound. She has pursued a career with traditional Korean hanji, coming up with new aesthetic concerns and techniques for her artistic practice.  As a scholar, she is author of award-winning book, Hanji Unfurled (The Legacy Press).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are a musician, a performer with live violin. How did you start creating performances onsite, including your own installations, manifesting set designs and creating costumes? Did everything start with music?

Aimee Lee: My early aspirations were to become a concert violinist, but I learned in college that I was not serious enough to devote the requisite hours of practice and study. However, I still loved music and wanted to stay close to musicians, so I continued to play and my first jobs were in music administration—bringing music to people who did not have access, or bringing people together through music.

When I moved to Chicago for graduate school, I entered an interdisciplinary program that encouraged combining different media, especially performance. It was a book and paper program, but I was interested in the intersection of books and performance. Once I began to make paper, the connection between paper and performance was so compelling that I created installations that were dependent on paper that I made. The performances, which almost always included sound from my violin, activated the installations.

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Some of the live performances, which you composed and put together implement almost haunting kind of sound that responds back from the architecture of the venue, and then audience is stretched to interactive listening and feedback, where did you get the ideas to make these works?

AL: Mostly, I studied classical music, but later learned improvisation and jazz. The heart of what I have always loved to do is rooted in improvisation, whether or not I was aware of it. Human communication, which sound and music are, has always fascinated me, so I wanted immediate feedback and interaction with my audiences. In Chicago, I was influenced by performance residencies with Aaron Williamson and Greg Allen, and by Julie Laffin.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Now, we can perhaps say that you have become a master of hanji, the Korean traditional paper making. Where did you find the enthusiasm to start exploring it, and how did it come about?

AL: While I studied papermaking history in the graduate school, I noticed that it began in China, moved to Korea, and then traveled to and flourished in Japan. Most of the existing research in English on East Asian paper was based in Japan, and I was unable to find much about hanji (Korean paper). I grew up at a time and place in the US where people always tried to guess my heritage, but they could only imagine that I was Chinese or Japanese. This sense of Korea being overshadowed affected me deeply, so I felt a curiosity about Korean paper history. My Fulbright research in Korea uncovered an entire history and culture that fascinated me on all levels, as an artist, a researcher, a Korean American, a person in the world. After my return to the U.S., I felt a strong responsibility to share what I had learned. I would never call myself a hanji master, but will always be a steadfast hanji ambassador and artist (read Aimee Lee’s exhibition review in Firstindigo&Lifestyle)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is the knowledge of making hanji widespread in Korea today, how about the new generations and passing down this historic form that goes back hundreds of years?

AL: Korea has similar issues to the U.S. and other cultures where the current knowledge of traditional craft by the general public is quite limited. It is not a priority in contemporary life, so not many people in Korea are aware of the process of making hanji and its impact on Korean history. There are less than 25 paper mills remaining in Korea, and very few have serious apprentices, because it’s not an easy living. In a world where you could live and work in an urban center with all the amenities you need, why would someone decide to live in a rural area doing manual labor for very little money? There are no good incentives to do the work, even if you believe in continuing an ancient and important tradition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How sustainable is the process, could you tell about the ecological aspect of the paper making?

AL: Papermaking on a small scale (meaning individuals or families who are in business) in Korea is ecologically sustainable, though it may not be financially so. The main raw material is the paper mulberry tree, which is cut each year. This coppicing practice encourages the plant to grow back every year, so the same plant can produce material for over 20 years. These are not trees in the way Western minds think of hardwood lumber: they are tall and skinny, almost shrublike, and cutting them down does not kill the plant. The traditional methods of processing always used plant materials so that production byproducts were easy and not toxic to dispose of or reuse. The bulk of the energy that goes into making hanji is human energy, which means that the process is very labor intensive but has a very light ecological footprint.

Aimee Lee discussing hanji at the Korean Cultural Center, NY, March 2016
Aimee Lee discusses hanji objects at the Korean Cultural Center in New York, March 2016

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is it correct that Hanji derives from nature, or implies a closeness to it?

AL: Hanji is made from plants, and could never have been invented without a human closeness to non-human nature by observing the possibilities of certain species and experimenting over time. Dorothy Field, artist and author (my favorite is her book Paper and Threshold) writes beautifully about how certain plants long to become paper, and all they needed was the human hand to let them reach that state.

Firstindigo&LifestyleCan Hanji accessories, or clothing, be compared to textiles, or is it irrelevant?

Paper and textile have a very strong connection, aside from each being able to be transformed into the other. The first paper was made from hemp cloth, and hanji can be cut, spun, and woven into cloth. Hanji has been used to make clothing, and today’s contemporary designers and manufacturers are including hanji into their textile production.

 

Aimee Lee, All there, 2016. Dye on paper, thread. 11 x 11.5″. Private collection.
Aimee Lee, All there, 2016, Dye on paper, thread, private collection.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are teaching as well, could you tell about the workshops and education aspect?

AL: I mentioned before that sense of responsibility to share knowledge about hanji to a much wider audience. Part of this is from a conservation instinct, out of a fear that hanji is disappearing. But most of it comes from a joyous instinct, out of my love for this material that is so endlessly versatile. I always knew that handmade paper had great range, but even after almost a decade, I continue to find possibilities for hanji. If the substrate was not impressive, I would not feel compelled to promote it. However, I want people to know about hanji as an option, so that they can have another tool in the toolkit. This means that I teach a range of workshops, from preparing fiber to making hanji to manipulating it by hand. I travel continually to spread the word, in the hopes that eventually hanji will become as familiar as other papers, and that paper itself can be regarded on the same level as canvas, clay, metal, glass, wood, and so on.

Aimee Lee, Beating fiber to make hanji while teaching students at Paper Book Intensive 2016 at Ox-Bow in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Aimee is beating fiber to make hanji while teaching at Paper Book Intensive 2016 in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The aesthetic form of Hanji art and folk art influences your making, how do people receive these traditional objects, which you are making today?

AL: Most people don’t know about the lineage of the objects, so the responses are mostly of wonder—they are amazed that my pieces are made of paper in the first place. This provides an opening to share the stories of their historical use, and illuminate the ways that humans have always made objects that are not only useful, but embedded with meaning. Some have asked if I am interested in using the techniques to make much more contemporary ‘looking’ art. I have wanted for years to extend crafts like jiseung into installation and larger work that goes past the original shapes and functions of their predecessors. The issue is that the time and labor that it takes to make one piece is so great that I could only go in that direction if I had a very long and uninterrupted stretch of time to work. However, I am gratified to see that some of my students are moving in that direction after learning about hanji and its applications.

Aimee Lee, hanji duck, Korean Cultural Center, March 2016
Aimee Lee, hanji duck, exhibition at the Korean Cultural Center, NY, March 2016

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What other materials do you use today in the making of your art?

AL: For the longest time, I have been very strict about using hanji whenever possible, or other handmade papers. My thread box is always full of different paper threads I have made, though I use cotton, linen, and silk thread to sew my hanji dresses. I also use the raw materials that make these papers, such as the cooked bark before it is beaten to a pulp. I use mostly natural dyes and finishes, which add color, structure, and protection to the paper. Last year, I collaborated with Kristen Martincic on a paper and ceramic installation, and recently had a couple of jewelry metals artists help me with additions to my paper ducks at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. I’m interested in continuing this last investigation further.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is fascinating about your use of paper is its multiple dimensions from small objects to books. Your own writing and art (illustration) is sealed into these art books. Tell about the books, which you have made, how did the stories develop?

AL: Books came first for me, before paper. I was making artists’ books at Oberlin College while studying with Nanette Yannuzzi Macias, which was a game changer. It was a way to combine writing, drawing, storytelling, and all kinds of other media into a form that felt very familiar and yet new. I don’t remember when I started to draw comics, but like improvisation, it was something that came naturally to me. I always thought that the point of being able to make my own books was the ability to create all of my own content. Most of my books contain original writing and stories that come from my own life experience, literature that I love, and the immediate present moment—whether an emotional space or an actual time in history that could be marked in the news cycle.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you travel to Korea to get new ideas and exchange?

AL: I am able to get back every several years, whenever I am funded. However, because of the distance and difficulty of making enough time to visit (I prefer going for longer periods of time), it’s not a journey I make often. Certainly it is inspiring, but it is a challenge as well because the expectations of me as a Korean American woman can be stressful.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Often you hear that there is a division of thought between Eastern and Western approaches or philosophies. Do you feel you are bridging the gap between east and west in your practice, or do you think about these questions?

AL: This idea comes up often and much of my work can be seen as bridge building between cultures. However, I do my best to stay away from the reductive nature of “East/West” because it sets up an automatic “Us/Them” mentality that can become dangerous. My life experience of feeling reduced to a single word, automatically, because of how I looked, keeps me aware of the unconscious instincts we have to categorize everything. I prefer to present my scholarship and artwork as being rooted in and inspired by many different traditions and cultures. It’s impossible for me to work any other way because I was born to immigrant parents and always lived between at least two disparate cultures.

The “east meets west” cliché is one I particularly dislike, as if it has just happened, and as if there are only two monoliths in the world. It also comes from the point of view of a certain place being the center or more superior, which is problematic. Most cultures around the world have been in contact with each other for centuries, so cross-cultural understanding is not a new thing or an anomaly. Rather, it’s the norm.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you see yourself as an artist and educator in the future?

AL: My goal is to build a new hanji studio for myself, where I can work, make paper, and teach independently, while continuing to travel to teach and exhibit. I want to train apprentices in this new space so that I can increase the number of people who can support hanji. There’s at least one more scholarly book left in me as well, so I look forward to finding the ideal setting to properly research and write it. All of this will be unlocked, I think, once I find the right place for myself to be.

… … …

Check out Aimee Lee on web: http://aimeelee.net/

Her artists’ books can be found under the Bionic Hearing Press imprint from Vamp & Tramp.

 

 

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.

Artist in focus: Laura Anderson Barbata on art and community

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 Arts and 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 TBA21The Current titled What Lives Beneath that was performed in Kingston Jamaica this year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs72qGXI3GU) among others.

Laura Anderson Barbata_Intervention_WallStreet
Laura Anderson Barbata, Intervention: Wall Street

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.

Laura Anderson Barbata, 7 king nyame, 2005
Laura Anderson Barbata, 7 king nyame, 2005

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.

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.

Laura Anderson Barbata's art. photo by Dora Somosi
Laura Anderson Barbata’s studio photographed by Dora Somosi.

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.

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

Julia Pastrana projecthttp://www.lauraandersonbarbata.com/work/mx-lab/julia-pastrana/1.php 

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

Jasmin Anoschkin’s clever sculptures

Jasmin Anoschkin is a Finnish artist working with ceramics, wooden sculptures, drawings and painting. She is a member of the Arabia Art Department Society and has exhibited widely for the past ten years. The unique world of sculptures crafted by the artist includes expressive statement pieces. These works feature something of the magical world of animals that have spirits. As if animated, they are calling you to bond with them and follow them into the world of stories. Some of the sculptures also speak slightly of the aesthetic language borrowed from contemporary folk art.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell your story of becoming an artist?

Jasmin Anoschkin: When I was five years old, I figured out how to draw from a visual image. I was able to copy an image to another page, which made me feel pure amazing. At that time, I also started to sew and crochet small sculptural objects and flowy skirts. I guess I had a chance to do this since my mother was staying at home with me, and my siblings were all in school. Then, while I was at the junior high school, being an eight-grader, I was convinced that I would become a painter. During my studies at the Art High School, I got inspired to work on sculpture. When I later studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki, I took sculpture as my major.

You have a very impressive career with exhibitions, how did it progress?

JA: I graduated from the Academy in 2004, after which I have been continuously exhibiting. Often a current exhibition has birthed a new one, and so forth. I would say that my breakthrough exhibition and artwork was Bambi that was shown at the Mänttä Art Festival in 2009. The same sculpture was also in 2010 at the 100th Anniversary of the Association of Finnish Sculptors in Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art. Today it belongs to the Finnish State Art Collection.

In 2012, I was chosen to be the year’s young artist in the Satakunta region of Finland. During the years of 2009-2010, I was a visiting artist at the Arabia Art Department Society (it was established in 1922). And in 2014, I became a member of the society.

Are there any other artists in your family?

JA: My mother studied painting, but has not worked as a painter professionally, except having it as her hobby.

Your sense of color is very strong and expressive. I would say that this is the case in both of the paintings and sculptures. Do you attach to a particular philosophy of color?  

JA: I like many colors, especially the neon-colors, but white is my absolute favorite. In my paintings (I have painted life models always), the colors create the atmosphere of the room and the mood around the model. As it comes to my wooden sculptures, I pick the colors on the go, or they appear as coincidentally according to what jars or pigments I have available. When working with the wood sculptures, I start marking the wood with colors seeing which parts to leave and what to carve out. If the initial colors fit to the work they can stay.

In my ceramic works I use glazing that is actual leftovers from other artists, or opt for the colors that Arabia factory has used in its history of making utensils and everyday objects. I don’t really make samples, and sometimes you have to be firing the clay several times before the end result is perfect.

You seem to have two mediums in your art making, do you intentionally make paintings around humans, and then create the sculptures about animals?

JA: I would like to have animals as pets, but I cannot take care of them. It is easier to take care of the sculptures than real living animals. I don’t have to feed them, just dust them occasionally, nor do I have to take them out, except to museums. Painting is fast for me, and sculpting is very slow.

How about the paintings, which are portraits, how did you choose your models?

JA: I like to work with life models, and almost all of them are artists or other friends.

Do you start with emotional or affective state of a person?

JA: The painting sessions I plan always three weeks in advance, so I can prepare myself to the work itself.  I do not sketch or do other kid of preparations, but what I do is to more intuitively process the work out. I’m always nervous to meet my models so it’s really hard to get any sleep the night before.

Your paintings also bring to mind expressive fluidity and specificity of the line, which is almost drawing-like.

JA: I draw and paint a life model, and its pretty fast-paced taking only 3-5 minutes, so perhaps this methodology has left some marks on my works.

Could you explain where the themes to your sculptures come from?

JA: Many of my sculptures have a story implied in them, either I heard them from others, or they are based on my own experiences. A friend of mine lived three year in China, and they had two servants. The other friend of mine went to India and brought back a sari. Third bought a dog from a faraway place. So I have this blue servant dog –sculpture who wears a sari as a hat. It is serving coffee from an earring, and the soap is like a pastry. The sculpture is called: Would You like to have some breakfast, Sir? Eventually, as you can hear, the artwork includes all three stories told by three different people.

My other sculpture, which is called Huulipunankoemaistaja, Lipstick taster, is an animal. A friend of mine worked at the Lumene cosmetic company in a laboratory. I imagined that the person was inventing and creating new shades for lipsticks while at work.

Do these fascinating animal figurines represent any specific animals?

JA: I cannot say it myself. Many customers tell me that this particular work is my personal power animal, and then they want to acquire it. And, I often call my sculptures as ‘random varieties’.

One more thing about the sculptures, how do you construct them, what is your technique?

JA: The clay sculptures I build by hand starting from the bottom and moving towards the top. With the wood, I start with cutting off the extra material, and adding pieces. The process goes basically cutting off from the material, and adding repetitively, and incorporating the colors from the start.

Artist website:

http://www.jasminanoschkin.com

 

Discover Teresita Fernández

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.

TERESITA FERNÁNDEZ Viñales (8 Nights), 2015 mixed media on wood panel
TERESITA FERNÁNDEZ Viñales (8 Nights), 2015, detail. mixed media on wood panel.

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.

TERESITA FERNÁNDEZ Viñales (Reclining Nude), 2015
TERESITA FERNÁNDEZ Viñales (Reclining Nude), 2015
TERESITA FERNÁNDEZ Viñales (Reclining Nude), 2015
TERESITA FERNÁNDEZ Viñales (Reclining Nude), 2015

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

more information: http://www.lehmannmaupin.com