Gadi Ramadhani is a young artist and curator who lives and works between Dar es Salam and Lushoto, Tanzania. He is engaged and committed to support Tanzanian artists and to facilitate their exposure to the international art world.
Hello Gadi, thank you for granting this interview to Emergent Art Space, and congratulations for the upcoming group exhibition ‘Inside I Outside’ that you have curated.
When did you discover that you wanted to be an artist?
My interest in art started at a very young age, when I was about 10. It was against my parents’ wish, as they had hoped I would pursue a more usual career, like becoming a pilot, a doctor, or an engineer rather than being an artist. Instead, I studied printmaking at Artist Proof Studio in Johannesburg, South Africa.
What type of art do you do? Is there a medium that you prefer, or you like to work on different media?
In my work I experiment with different media, such as printmaking, digital media and installation. However, my preferred medium is monotype, one of the oldest printmaking techniques. I like it because it allows me the freedom to express myself in a very short period of time. It is spontaneous and less restrictive than most printmaking techniques, which take longer because of different making processes; they are also dependent on studio equipment, which limits the size of work one can produce. With monotype I have found that I am able to translate my ideas very easily and can play with different sizes of paper more freely.
This past Summer you participated as a curator to the Àsìkò Art School workshop in Maputo, Mozambique. Can you tell us more about this initiative, and about the experience, both yours and of the participating artists?
This is an annual program, which takes place in a different country each year. It is coordinated by the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Lagos, based in Nigeria. Asìkò was establish by Lagos famous curator Bisi Silva, with the aim of helping artists and young curators in Africa to develop their careers. For the period of one month several facilitators and guest speakers are invited to teach workshops and share their expertise with the Asìkò group of artists selected for that year.
It was a very good learning experience. I was exposed to a new environment, language and culture. I had the chance to meet art practitioners from different parts of Africa, and was actively involved in a project with two other young curators: Ms Jepkorir Rose, from Kenya, and Fitsum Tefera, from Ethiopia. At the end of our program we were required to co-curate an exhibition. It was my first experience working collaboratively with other curators and artists.
Professional curators like Zoe Whitley (TATE Gallery), Gabriela Salgado (Argentinean curator now based in London), Tamara Garb (an independent curator and art historian based between South Africa and UK), Nontobeko Ntombela (curator and lecturer History of Art and Heritage studies, at the Wits School of Arts – South Africa) and many others gave us their time and helped us to shape our ideas. It was a great learning moment for me, good exposure to other ways of working and a good away to reflect on how I had been working as a curator until then.
A few years ago you founded an art center, Koko’TEN. Its website says that “Koko’TEN…believes in the transformative power of arts… to enrich the lives of artists, young people and communities.” Can you tell us more about this initiative and its goals?
Yes, I established KokoTEN, the first mobile art centre in Tanzania, in 2013.
The aim of this organization is to empower young artists through different forms of networking. Such networking involves providing curatorial consultation to artists and organizations, space to exhibit, promotion of talks, and other forms of opportunities in the visual arts.
As a networking centre we also work at gathering information about art events, projects, initiatives and other opportunities around the world. We are then able to provide and share the information with the local arts community. Our primary goal is to contribute to the development of the arts in Tanzania, particularly the visual arts.
Before starting KokoTEN I worked as a project manager at Nafasi Art Space [2009 - 2012] and it was through my experience working at Nafasi that I saw the need for such an initiative in Tanzania, particularly the need to inform Tanzanian artists about the developments taking place in the international art world, and similarly to expose and share the practices of Tanzanian artists with the rest of the world.
My encounters and participation in various projects outside of Tanzania have also motivated me to do this type of work. By sharing opportunities and possibilities I believe that we can help artists grow and develop their creative practice. As we don’t have government financial support, this also forces us to constantly think innovatively in order to bring our projects to realization.
I believe that it is through creating our own platform that we can begin to make changes in our communities, and I want be part of the change in Tanzania.
Based in Mexico City, Adrian Regnier is a multidisciplinary artist with his head firmly in the clouds. Obsessed by the celestial, Regnier creates works and worlds that are somehow familiar in their fantastical reach and impossibly probable in their physical construction, much like the cosmos themselves. His practice is most recently attuned to video and computer animation—his video piece, V.I.S.A., was awarded first prize at EAS's juried exhibition Translations this February—and often results in series or suites that explore preexisting systems and patterns—be they interstellar or man-made or somewhere in between—while building their own. La Fuga is a seemingly comprehensive suite of videos, comprised of 3D-animation, stock footage, stop-motion, infographics, explosions, and more, detailing lost love, lost life, pre-human history, and a post-apocalyptic future; the variety of formal techniques and thematic concerns is certainly impressive, and Regnier's view of the creative process, both his own and that of the universe at large, is ever expansive.
B. by Adrián Regnier. View more videos from Regnier's La Fuga series here.
I’ve recently been looking at La Fuga and all of its many parts; could you generally speak to the origin of a piece and series like this?
Ever since I can remember, both art and science have equally fascinated me with their mutually complementary capabilities of describing the world around us. When the time came to choose a career, I was equally interested in studying visual arts and/or physics, though my long-time relationship with drawing determined an otherwise very close call. Throughout my education at the National School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving ‘La Esmeralda’, not only did my career as a drawing-based artist come to a much needed hiatus, but the contemporary art profile of the alumni sparked a new sense of integral conception in my artistic practice. It was in those years—late 2011, early 2012—that La Fuga slowly came to be.
Did you initially conceive of it as a series, as multiple videos?
Curiously enough, La Fuga did not originate as a video complex, nor did I refer to it by that name, either. I remember one particular morning: just after I had finished my daily jogging routine, along came a lost memory of me as a kid simply laying in the grass and gazing at the clouds. I was immediately struck: “How long had humanity been evolving, growing and transforming below this ever-familiar mantel of nebular entities? How different would our history be remembered if as seen from outside our celestial margins?” And so I set to describe the nature of clouds and humanity as if equivalent—in the form of a bestiary of clouds. This marked the origins of one of the most characteristic trademarks of the project: the alphabetically-serialized portions of the project.
For this bestiary of clouds, I produced several achromatic, carbon-based drawings that individually illustrated 26 different ‘specimens’ or types of clouds. The idea was that in the almost-scientific representation of their shape and anatomy (deeply influenced by the aesthetics of the Voynich Manuscript or da Vinci’s body works, for example) I would adequately convey the uncanny similitudes between the clouds and humans: both definite in any given moment’s form, though ever-changing, shaped by the same natural forces and principles.
At the same time, I began experimenting with Adobe After Effects. These very basic initiations in a software primarily used for visual effects in modern films made evident another life-long fascination of mine: explosions and flashes, post-apocalyptic scenery, and end-of-the-worldly fear of the masses.
H. by Adrián Regnier. View more videos from Regnier's La Fuga series here.
To me the animations read as lost transmissions of sensitive material, though to and from whom is ambiguous. I think the music and sound effects are particularly effective in creating this feeling. Were the soundscapes created/composed specifically for this, or were they found?
At the beginning—and as any art student who wouldn’t know better at the time—I used non-licensed tracks for the first videos. When they started to gain visibility, though, I started tinkering with basic audio software, and so I gradually replaced those tracks with my own work. To this day I still sometimes do so. However, as my ideas grew and became much more complex and specific in the feeling I wished them to instill, I reached out into the world of artistic collaboration. This marked an important point in my artistic development, as I have always done the entirety of the visual work behind my videos—concept, art design, storyboarding, asset creating, animating, editing, and the world of work behind postproduction and final detailing.
When the time came to acknowledge that my basic audio editing abilities would leave my works coming up short in the ‘suspension-of-disbelief’ department, I was lucky enough to find in my childhood’s friendships the marvelous vision and talent, Pablo Mariña Montalvo, my dearest composer and friend. We started collaborating in 2012 when he ‘remastered’ B. by specifically composing an audio track for it. Since then, we’ve joined forces in the realization of I. (2014) and, perhaps most importantly, with my project Celeste – Multiple Interpretation of The Stellar Order.
I’m similarly interested in the origin of the script and the resulting narration—did you write and record all the text? How did you decide which language to a. record in and b. show transcribed/translated on screen? What role does language play in the series, particularly the use of different languages, often overlapping?
From day one it has been my mad-rambling and exercise in literal absurdity that has voiced La Fuga—through the various use of words and symbols, in as many as nine different languages at once. For lack of a better order, I tend to leave the writing as the last, most delicious moments that crown each video. I do so in the proudest example of haphazard execution and experimental art direction—and it often drastically changes what each piece will turn into.
Formally speaking, what you listen to is always what is seen as subtitles or other forms of textual representation. In the very first video works (think B., K., P., etc.), the prevalence of Russian voices and yellow-tinted Cyrillic versions of the text served so as to introduce one of the thematic referential axes of the project: a soviet, cold war-esque feel and aesthetic that would point to the nuclear escalation aspect of La Fuga.
O. (2012) presents us with the ultimate cogs behind this doomsday device: the Nine Nuclear Nations. O. remains as an inflexion point for the visual, thematic and investigative processes that nurtured this ever-growing monstrosity, yes; but perhaps what is most interesting about it is the global, mapped tangibility of the realities it lent to La Fuga. What you will hear on works from that date forward, come voiced in one—or more!—of the eight (nine, plus my Latin-American audience’s Spanish) mother tongues: English, for the U.S.A. and the U.K.; Russian, for Russia ; Chinese, for China; Hindi, for India; Urdu, for Pakistan; Hebrew, for Israel; French, for France; and lastly, Korean, for North Korea. As their collective title may hint to, these nine countries are the only ones that, since the second half of the twentieth century, have produced, traded with, tested or used nuclear arms. Together they have amassed more than ten thousand of these earth-cloudifying bombs.
The best example of the importance of language in La Fuga comes in how H. (2014) strives to interweave each of these countries’ national anthems and mottos into a cosmic dialogue voiced in their native tongues. I like to present their messages’ importance as equivalent in hierarchy, and, when listened to synchronously, this more often than not merges them into a guttural cacophony that is sure to remind many of the Tower of Babel.
Not to sound too morbid, but it seems you find something conceptually compelling, or interesting, or challenging, about nuclear proliferation and the mutually assured destruction it entails—does that ring true? This series is not, to my mind, perhaps just a warning about annihilation, but reflective of other ideas about our (mankind’s) conceptions of ourselves and our world. How do you think our obsession for and history with nuclear arms and warfare affects or is representative of our relationship to our earth? Our universe? Each other?
As I mentioned briefly a couple of questions back, as an author I prefer the grayer areas of the spectrum, rather than its extremes. In this sense, I concur with you—I do find all of this deeply compelling, interesting, challenging and dare I add, enlightening. In dealing with these themes, rather than fear of death and fiery destruction coming over me, its investigation comes with an uncanny—almost relaxing—sense of disproportionate belonging. I used the phrase ‘doomsday device’, and referred to the NNN’s as the primordial cogs of its orderly mechanisms with a purpose: theirs is a sort of unstoppable force comprised of immovable objects. The cultural, geopolitical, economic and military processes Human History springs from and returns to are so fundamentally complex that the absolute value it reflects in our lives may be described very simply: akin to how a nearly infinite number of molecular Brownian collisions dictate the sea’s natural cycles and geological patterns, we’d rather just simply say its tide ‘falls’ or ‘rises,’ the waves ‘come’ and ‘go’. The name we have given to these methods and processes you’ve called ‘nuclear arms’ and ‘warfare’ but in reality they are just some things going somewhere they weren’t before, and the energy behind said movements following the same paths.
I’d rather go the way thermoeconomics has taught me, in that humanity and all its empresses—from the most lovable and altruistic, to the lowest and vilest—can be described in any temporal tense by fluxes in energy and matter (i.e., allocation of resources, varying degrees of energy concentration and the factors that discreetly determine those both) on the surface of Earth. This conception and definition is consistent with and abides by the rules of physics and math, who together compile every major human breakthrough in the understanding of the universe.
I find myself finding comfort and happiness in these facts. And not in the ‘surrender yourself to a greater power’ kind of way, but in ‘it’s the natural rule of thermodynamic flux of entropy’ sense.The relaxing thing about La Fuga is that it describes things as they DO happen. Measured in violent bursts of nuclear megatons or along the course of humanity and its lifetime—it eventually all comes back together into order and newfound arrays of cosmos and disorder. Beauty is easy to find amidst that type of calm.
U. by Adrián Regnier. View more videos from Regnier's La Fuga series here.
From your physics-based take on nuclear destruction and creation the subject is beautifully, practically depoliticized, but the introduction of the Nine Nuclear Nations and the data provided about them brings us back to Earth, as it were, and our geo-political realities. Just from watching, and now from reading your thoughts, I see there’s not a message or a political stance but how do you reconcile such a heavy, topical issue with art-making?
Far from my work and the artistic circles and life it entails, I find myself continuously wondering about death. It has always frightened me—the egotistical ceasing of myself it will eventually entail. Yet the most soothing words about life and death have come from men and women of science—my mother, my teachers, my friends and colleagues. They speak of common origins and endings, doing so with the key concept of ‘transformation’. I’ve come to see life through this concept; it is very philosophically enticing to me. Change seems to seep into our lives and ooze freely from it.
La Fuga is just one of these various forms that reduction ad absurdum has taken this time around. It is de-politicizing by absurdity; it is a cacophonous reverberation of the sounds and shapes we insist on making. In its de-patternization by repetition, I wish to allude to the same concepts and relationships we keep coming to.
There’s a common saying, that ‘death is the great equalizer’. I concur with it, though perhaps in the paraphrased version, which I think is more correct: Change is the great equalizer.
How does working with video and animation serve your interests as an artist? Do you work with other media?
As I shared with you earlier, I did not ‘plan’ nor see myself making a living out of video, but rather I saw myself as a traditional, physical medium based artist. Many events—both external and internal ones—coalesced into me discovering After Effects, through which I discovered how much video had to offer.
I wouldn’t only say what I do is animation. Both my concepts and techniques are widely borrowed from a number of areas I’ve been fortunate enough to coexist and mingle with in the process. As it stands, my video production has been showcased in animation festivals, but also experimental film and video ones, with me never being quite sure where its ‘absolute value’ stands. I’ve come to understand this flexibility much more as an aspect of versatility of the medium, rather than a defining—perhaps binding—aspect of my work. This trends to another important element that further cemented my migration into video—its mercurial, almost instantaneous way of sharing. I am a ravenous grant, fellowship, and open-call go-getter: the amount and type of opportunities video makes possible (by lending itself to easy online-viewing and sending via the internet, for example) are enormous in comparison to those where the physical sending of works may impose yet another hoop through which to jump in order to share my work.
This ‘volatilization’ in video’s sharing metabolism is key to one of the most important aspects of art for me: its capability to bring people together and spread specific notions through their life and words. We live in an era marked by the screens around us and the various reflections of ourselves they lend to us; our relationship with visual culture is advancing vertiginously fast.
Your piece for the recent EAS show, V.I.S.A., was all about US immigration practices and its psychological effects, simultaneously intimidating and tedious—can work about a government or state of affairs be non-political?
Sure it can. First of all, I think that this ‘non-political’ nature is multi-faceted: not only its construction, but its viewing, formatting, distribution—and the many other ways it has of developing over time—all add to the absolute value a work has. As you may infer, V.I.S.A. is not political to me in the sense that it meets the viewer with the U.S. flag. Yes, it has to do with the fact that, hadn’t I had the need to travel to Miami some months later, I wouldn’t have interfaced with another country, and confronted its political definition. But that’s pretty much where V.I.S.A. stopped addressing international agendas, and rather prompted me towards how absurd most of these questions were.
Politics are often an over-simplification of ever-complex realities. I propose what in essence makes of V.I.S.A. a Turing-esque dispositive: it takes political gesture, extends it to the highest n-degree of consequence and sees if its viewers remain only viewers afterwards. Any topic can grow out of its bounds when taken itself too seriously; I find most of what happens beyond these limits deeply fascinating. When you take any nation’s name and subject it to its most literal iteration, the patterns and tendencies behind even the subtlest of its intentions rise to the surface. Any number of stars and stripes becomes insignificant; language and phrasing are just commodities in the exercise of a more direct kind of intellectual content.
You are currently based in Mexico City—how long have you been there? What about the city suits your practice? How does the city serve young artists and vice versa?
I’ve lived here all of my life, and I love it. A big issue with art and culture in Mexico is de-centralization of resources and opportunities for places other than its capital (Mexico City). This is not to say that there aren’t an impressive amount of initiatives all around this enormous, rich country. I’ve been fortunate enough to share with many of my peers these past couple of years and this has broadened my view of what is not only possible, but already being made by numerous, often over-lapping generations of creators.
As it stands, we’re amidst a series of political/cultural transitions that have been particularly aggressive in the cutting of federal funds for culture and arts. These impacts come in quick and rapid succession, and have many times negatively affected numerous ideas, startups, and projects that otherwise would have enjoyed that extra financial breathing room. But we know better than to give in to materialistic fear, and that is an amazing aspect of the artistic community—not only in Mexico, but I’d like to believe, a worldwide-resiliency.
1. I would love to direct you to his online presence for everyone to enjoy his work, but he’s rather secretive in his artistic endeavors –luckily not with the ones that pertain to La Fuga.
2. Awarded the prestigious Grants & Commissions Program fellowship by the Cisnero Fontanals Art Foundation, in 2013 and 2014. You will find Celeste transmuted and re-assimilated into La Fuga’s mythology, as M., and @ multipleinterpretationofthestellarorder.com
3. Through an amazing opportunity and experience: the Young Creators fellowship, by the National Fund for Culture and Arts (Jóvenes Creadores 2013-2014 – FONCA, a federal initiative)
Yintzu Huang 黃尹姿, is a video artist and photographer. She was born in Hsinchu, Taiwan in 1985, and she is now based in Brooklyn, New York. Her video 'Aphasia' was part of the exhibition 'Translations' at Reed College, Portland, OR, in January/February 2015. Here she is interviewed by Maria Maita Keppeler.
Where did you grow up and where do you live currently?
I am from Hsinchu, Taiwan, and I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York.
At what point did you realize you wanted to explore the arts, and what inspired you to pursue this project?
The idea of this project originated in something that I encountered in the past three years in the United States. One day during class, a Chinese woman made a presentation about the ‘History of Chinese Arts’ and during the presentation, she used the terms ‘my culture’, ‘our history’, ‘our painters’, etc. It was confusing and annoying to me; at the time, the only thing I could feel or think was that someone had stolen my culture. Later I questioned what made me feel this way and came to the conclusion that ever since I was a kid, instead of studying about Taiwan, most of my humanities education was about “China”. Like many other people in my generation and older, we grew up in a Chinese Culture and kind of identified ourselves as part of it, even though we knew there was something wrong about that. The concept in the beginning was quite simple, “I want to make an art piece that is related to the identity crisis of the Taiwanese.” One big part of it was the relationship between language and Taiwanese people. Every generation has been through a shift between different languages, which was so intriguing and sad to me at the same time. “Turbulent” (1998), the video installation made by Shirin Neshat, influenced me in particular. In this nine-minute piece, Neshat presents the unchangeable and painful restrictions on women in Islamic society. The dark space and design of the installation made it able for me to immerse myself and created a sense of isolation, which made me feel speechless and terribly sad. With “Aphasia” I wanted to express a similar emotion, so I decided to choose an installation format for this video piece.
What draws you to the medium of video?
I think I simply just liked moving image ever since I was a kid. In my childhood, I went to movies with my parents every weekend, I watched TV everyday, I even thought TV commercials were interesting. This constant exposure of media is what made me want to go to film school. During my days in film school, I encountered video art/experimental films. It was a whole new and different world to me, and I totally fell in love with it. I decided to shift my track and began making art videos. For me, when someone is viewing a movie, their role is solely one of a consumer and the interpretation is more direct and obvious. But with video art, there is a conversation happening between the viewer and the artist, which is more interesting and challenging to me; there is more room for the viewer to digest and interpret the works according to their own experience.
What kind of conversations to you see occurring between your work Aphasia and the viewer? How do these conversations differ based on the background of the viewer? Have you had the opportunity to show your work to other individuals from Taiwan experiencing the same feelings of isolation?
Ever since I decided to make this piece, I have always been aware that the lack of Taiwanese historic knowledge might be a barrier for people to understand the messages in my videos. Therefore, during the production period, I tried very hard to make the visuals more intriguing to people, trying to see if I could keep people engaged in my installation for more than a couple minutes in the gallery, and as judging from the response, I was able to do so. For viewers not from Taiwan, we talked about the similar post-colonial experiences they have known or know from different countries, and their knowledge of the history of my motherland. For audiences from Taiwan, where this project has been exhibited in three different gallery settings, the response was that people found this piece to be “extremely funny” at the first, but that turned to sorrow towards the end of the installation. Absolutely, they also felt the same isolation that Taiwanese have felt in the past and continue to feel nowadays, at least in my direct experience. Can you tell me more about the definition of the word Aphasia and how it is connected to the subject matter of your video? “Aphasia” is a medical term for language disorders caused by brain damage. When one has aphasia, their language skills remain normal but they can’t speak or write. Sometimes, patients can sing but cannot talk. To me, the condition works as a metaphor to express how Taiwanese people have felt in the last 100 years. Taiwan’s political identity has been in constant flux, very often switching regimes and even languages. People on the island were expected to be loyal to changing regimes and nationalities. The language of education kept changing, as did what was being taught. People needed to translate themselves all the time and learn new languages, new ideas of who they were; just to be able to get their education or earn a living. Therefore, I thought “APHASIA” would be a good title for this piece, representing the facts of literal similarity and the mentality crisis due to the second-hand expressing.
This seems a very fitting metaphor. And just as with language, I expect that the translation of the ‘self’ leads to certain things and aspects of identity being lost in translation. Did you discover or recover anything about your identity through the process of making and showing your film?
Yes, the process of making this piece was undoubtedly a journey of discovering my identity, not only surrounding the researching or producing process but also the Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan which happened while I was working on this project. To me, it seemed like an incredible coincidence. During the student movement, the new generation of Taiwanese people were awakened by various factors: first, the unequal economic treaties between Taiwan and China, and second, the pro-China attitude of our government. In the meantime, people continued to think about what the future of Taiwan would be while another powerful country continued to claim that we were a part of them, and about the real meaning of being Taiwanese. This socio-cultural psychological ambience really enabled me to get a clear idea about my identity, and also the notion that I was definitely not alone in this situation.
How did you form the identities and histories of the four characters that you play in Aphasia?
I formed these four characters base on my hometown Hsinchu, Taiwan (The nearest city to China). It is a small city located in north-west of Taiwan with the most important air base and famous for its indigenous cultures. After narrowing down the area, I started collecting stories from books and the internet, trying very hard to find the good ones that inspired me. The woman in blue (who speaks the Shanghai dialect) was the first person that I decided on, because it was close to where I grew up near a huge military dependents' village, where most people were from the new immigration after 1949. For the woman in pink kimono, I found the original story from a book, which is about the name changing system for Taiwanese people in the Japanese ruling period. For the Hakka woman, I created this character to show the mix between Chinese and indigenous peoples, a common shift in Taiwan’s cultural history. And the last one, the contemporary 1980’s woman, represents the generation right before mine and who is perhaps the most carefree character; although her role is crucial as she represents the first cultural integration happening in last 100 years. All of these different identities interact with each other to show the evolving and diverse shifts of the Taiwanese cultural landscape.
It’s very interesting that you are able to portray generations right up to the one before your own, and are able to do so with our current tools of research, such as the internet. Have you considered what a character for your generation might look like? In other words, what does it mean to be Taiwanese in 2015?
There are many different types of Taiwanese in 2015. There are people who’d rather kill themselves than become Chinese, people who think being Chinese is the only way to have a better future for this country or…people who only care about posting pictures on Facebook of their lunch or what awesome coffee shop they have been to. Actually, there have always been different kinds of people in every generation, but for this, the most contemporary one, I would like to invite every single Taiwanese viewer to imagine what the fifth character should look like. I have my own clear idea of that character in my mind, obviously, but I believe it’s our collective job to define it.
Artist Jayeti Bhattacharya speaks about her experience participating in last year's edition of Scribble It Down. She was interviewed last November at the Bachhawat Foundation residency in Badu, India, during an EAS visit to the residency.
Jayeti Bhattacharya is an artist living and working in Kolkata, India. She is currently pursuing an MFA at the Kala Bhavana (Institute of Fine Arts) in Santiniketan, India. Many of her works include a combination of painting and mixed media, and address overarching themes of 'nature' through painted visual narratives.
Find out more about Bhattacharya's work and processhere.
About Scribble It Down:Scribble it Down, founded byEinat Mogladin 2013, is an international, digital collaboration. Through a sequential process artists from around the world work together to create communal works of art. Each artist contributes to a digital file, then transfers the work to the next, until each artists in the group has contributed to each piece. Read More
View this year's Scribble It Down edition. "The Artists' Laboratory,"here.
“When I was young I had been traveling a lot, but when I turned ten I involuntarily decided to move to a different country and leave my country of origin. And when I say involuntarily, it was sort of a decision that my parents made and I didn’t have an opinion about it. I didn’t even think about it, it didn’t trigger to me. But then as growing up in this Western society as an outsider, because of the language and culture barrier, I think that is what still compels me to create work that is about overcoming these sort of barriers between cultures, and finding identity in this Western dominated society.”
"I think we’re in the 21st century there is a lot of communication, easy communication, very accessible to communicate with each other. But at the same time there is lack of communication existing on personal levels. And in that sense I think diversity is very important. It brings a curiosity with one another. What I mean is that with having this international communication you get to learn about others' perspectives. And you start to understand where they are coming from, how things are done in such a way, and that is I think the beginning point of really creating a sort of shared identity and community. "
The Ballad of East and West
Stonehenge Paper, 200 yards of thread, 8136 holes, 4068 rows.
The Ballad of East and West is a participatory performance work that transforms into a textile installation. The performance by the artist communicates beyond her personal struggle to find her identity in Western society. By encouraging her audience to sit across her to sew and contribute to her piece, it suggests many elements of human interaction with others, such as understanding, compromising, adopting, and forgiving. Engaging with others develops a dialogue that facilitates the creation of a shared identity (much as the work of art is a shared production). When the performance is finished, the work becomes an installation, which consists of 8136 holes, 4068 rows and 200 yards of thread. Threads are used to conceal words on the paper but they are of course symbols of connection, of binding, of tying together.
“The first time I thought about really doing the series was when I saw Edward Munch’s painting The Scream. I had an emotional reaction to the piece and needed to leave the room because my professor was reading the text he [Munch] had written with the piece either before or after he had done the piece. And it was about him walking through the city and all of a sudden being overwhelmed by this red sky. And he kind of just felt like his being was changing because of this experience he was having. And I’ve had experiences very similar to that so I related to it and felt that I wanted to create this kind of effect for other people, but how to do that? And the best way was to take something that’s very innate to my person and create a visual from it which is this color dot series.”
Untitled (Emerson's Nature), 2013
Installation of acrylic on acetate.
Artist Statement:"Untitled (Emerson's Nature)" is the first in a series of color translation material studies— translating selected texts into colored dots, letter by letter, using grapheme-color synaesthesia as inspiration. The translated text for this artwork is Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Nature" published 1836. Artwork from this series of color translation studies places emphasis on mixing/matching color and material interaction with light.
“In the piece I wanted to reflect the desire to still have things that I was used to from home, but I also wanted to be open to new experiences and getting used to calling new things home, or associating them with home. So in the piece you can see that I have taken maps from the Detroit area and from the Portland area, and kind of fused them together. Some parts fit really well and other parts kind of don’t belong and they’re sort of set aside. I kind of wanted to show the process of letting new things go and also taking new things on.”
Acrylic, pencil, ink, and paper on wood
Artist Statement: I depict the process of translating myself to a new region as a diagram moving right to left, or east to west, with Detroit area locales gradually (and sometimes harshly) being replaced with those of Portland. My life experiences form a personal grammar that develops as it moves from place to place over time. As I establish an identity in my new home, I shift between past and present experiences. To achieve balance, I must leverage the past and use it to inform—not dictate—my path going forward.
What do you see is the value of connecting artists across cultures?
“As an artist who has been really fortunate to work in other countries, I realize that creative inquiry and the willingness to ask questions, and both the naiveté of asking questions, but also the honesty of asking questions, and the generosity in which they’re often answered, is a really amazing way to share experiences and build trust between each other. And so I think that when I think about a show like this or I think about the opportunity to show work globally or to work internationally, it’s that. It’s that we’re able to ask questions and give answers in a way that is honest and feels inquisitive and feels valuable.”
Everything is the truth.
Artists book, screenprint
Artist Statement: Everything is the truth is an English/Marathi artist book containing 24 crowd-sourced truths. A large group of Mumbai residents offered these often contradictory truths as part of the interactive, bilingual performance "Certifying the Truth", which took place in Mumbai, India in February 2013. Over the course of the 3-day performance I collected over 100 versions of these "truths", and through an editorial process chose 24 examples for this handmade artists book. Rather than a bound format, this box holds 24 loose cards with each "truth" in Marathi on one side, English on the other. The non-hierarchical format allows viewers to freely read either languages rearrange the "truths", or single out one "truth" as particularly compelling. The book’s conceptual form honors multiple authors, languages, and points of view simultaneously.
Eli Coplan, Portland, OR
“I guess I started off thinking super literally about translations, and translation just as a movement from one point to another, thinking about things like graphs. Like when you want to move an object graphically that operation is called a translation. So this kind of hyper-literal, but also abstract interpretation of the word. And I guess thinking about the way the sort of temporalities and modes of work that are associated with moving something from one place to another. So with this hourglass piece it takes an hour for the sand to go from the top to the bottom, and I guess I kind of think about it like a loading bar. So, when you’re waiting for something to load, there is this kind of perpetual waiting, but it has a start and a finish. So I like to kind of juxtapose the temporalities of an hourglass and a waterfall, so like a stream versus an episode.”
Still Sounding Elsewhere
An hourglass rests on a base fitted with a contact microphone, which amplifies the sound of the falling sand. The sound is meditative, continuous though intricate. Over the course of one hour, the sound becomes more and more distanced as more sand piles up. Visitors are invited to turn the glass over when empty, leaving a trace of their presence in the space. This atmospheric, minimally participatory performance piece was designed to coexist with others in a group show, and to instill the ambient space of the gallery with a sense of aliveness by briefly recording its recent inhabitation.
What do you see is the value of connecting artists across cultures?
"I think part of the answer for that question showed up in the discussion that we had before [at the Translations roundtable discussion]. I think it is important to think about art as kind of a global language that could be understandable or readable in different cultures apart from culture and textual-based language. So no matter where you’re from, like if you’re from the Middle East or Europe or America, the art could just travel as a communicational fact between the people cross-culturally. And when we think about that role of art, I think it is important to consider the artwork as a medium that is coming from artists from different cultures. So the artwork may be cross-cultural or a medium that could talk in any kind of language to any kind of audience, but those persons who create these arts, all of them are coming from different cultures and from different countries, they speak different languages. During the process of making that work a translation happens because they need to translate from their own culture their personal concept, an idea that they have that is rooted in their own culture, and translate that into a global language of artwork. So this translation that ironically is the subject of this exhibition is actually always present in art practice. I think the importance of cross-cultural activities in art practice is actually evaluating this structure, what happens during this translation, when an artist from a specific culture creates a work that could talk with any other culture, how this process works and how this happens. Like an artist from Iran creates a work that could be readable or understandable or conceivable to an audience from the United States. What are the elements of this communication? I think having a cross-cultural activity, a cross-cultural work could address that issue. As someone mentioned in the talk, it could refer, actually make a reference to the work of art or general art practice as a savior of this kind of crazy world that we have, contemporary world. And how could art play a role of 'hero' or 'savior' in our current contemporary era. The answer to that question would be hidden inside those cross-cultural activities in art practice I guess."
Artist Statement: Melanie Klein, the British psychoanalyst, believed that the first major act of translation for all human kind is when we learn to talk as a young child, and according to her the trigger for this act is nothing but loss! In a certain age, when the child realizes her own identity, separated from her mother, she falls into a depressive period caused by the feeling of loss and experiencing alienation and absence. During this depression she learns to cope with this loss by replacing the image of mother with a voice, by naming her. She also learns to translate her own needs to sound and words. In fact the incident of losing the joint identity of self and of the mother leans her toward the act of translation and also representation of a new identity. "The Representation" investigates a similar relationship between loss and identity by translating different mediums – such as text, book, photographs - and the body of the artist itself, into each other. With this work I explore the relocation of meaning from within the art object to the contingencies of its context and implications. By juxtaposition of these different mediums I engage the space as a new context for representation of identity in my work.
Fatmazzahra is an Andalusian artist who lives and works in Sevilla, Spain. She attended the Facultad de Bellas Artes at the University of Sevilla. Her work explores the aesthetics and culture of the Arabic alphabet in the Spanish region of Andalusia.
Where are you from? I know you started at University of Sevilla, Spain, but I see that you use a lot of Arabic lettering in your art. What is the story behind this theme?
I am from Seville, in Andalusia, the Mediterranean. I am not Arab, but I write with Arabic script. My use of Arabic is a reaffirmation of identity as part of my own history, the history of my people in Andalusia. We used it for almost 1000 year, but it fell into oblivion after the Spanish Conquest in 1492. In my artworks I use “aljamiado”, which is Andalusian speech transcribed into Arabic script.
Do you know the origin of the “aljamiado” language and its purpose?
The aljamiado was the native language of the people,the "Jama'a", community. It was not Arabic but written in Arabic symbols. It is arguably the native speech phonetically transcribed into Arabic. It has no official endorsement but its study has always remained alive in tight circles.
Can you tell us more about the relation you see between the Arabic letters as symbols and their significance? Also, why do you find the Arabic alphabet so powerful?
I sensed the vast artistic value of Arabic calligraphy, and have sought to rescue it from darkness. The letters are potent image-symbols, both formally and in content. I feel that they are alive. I use them to reinforce the message, to complete the picture. It’s not necessary to know their meaning in order to enjoy them. .
When did you consider yourself an artist and what is it that attracted you to art?
We grow up surrounded by art objects, ceramics, tapestries, tiles, ornaments, pictures, plasters, embroidery, fabrics, books ... My fascination with art began when I started noticing geometries made with "rope - dry" tiles -there was an order and appeal that was felt in those compositions. And then I started to use colors as a means to give voice to my concerns, my contradictions and my passions. Spray on wall, punch on table, pencil on paper, pen against wall. I’ve considered myself an artist since I decided to dedicate my time to the study and production of images: prints, paintings, flyers, logos, posters ... I don’t see a strong distinction between art and design. My job is to organize items in an aesthetic way to relate and work with one another. It is important they provide enjoyment through interaction, by containing a message you want to communicate. What attracts me to art is that it takes a dissident stand. Art is politics, it’s speech, diversity, expression. It subtly enters as a part of life, of the culture and history of a people, of humanity. It is a creative act; it is an affirmation of life; it is part of history and a shaper of the future. It is a tool of transformation.
Your artwork “mulk malakut yabarut” is intriguing; can you explain its significance and its name?
With this work I intended to make visible the three planes of the reality in which we live. The names are Arabic transcriptions of the concepts. “Mulk” is the horizontal, earthly, lively dimension, where the need for food, sex, and physical activity rest. Knife, fork and spoon. “Malakut” is the diagonal dimension of sensations, perceptions, feelings and thoughts; psychology, tensions and speculations, fantasies, imaginations, dreams and desires. “Yabarut” is the vertical dimension. It is the world order and the overwhelming reality.
You’ve put the map “Mar del Medio” upside down. Can you explain?
It has to do with one’s own perception. In reality the earth is floating in the universe. We are the ones that organize space and endow it its direction. The "normal" [vantage point] is an assumed perspective, a currently set benchmark. But throughout history there have been other perspectives. By turning it around I am considering other forms of perception of the same reality and setting a reminder that it is possible to give other points of view without them being considered wrong.
Can you tell us more about your use of the colors green, blue and red?
I have various ways of working with those colors. When I use two colors in contrast I use the green versus red. Chromatically they are in constant tension and that helps to reinforce the message of my work. Separately, blue denotes spirituality, stability, security, verticality; it’s the extreme cold. Red has to do with the carnal, worldly, passionate, horizontal; it’s the extreme heat. Green is of the earth, what springs to life, the organic; it is the middle ground, the tempered.
You work with a variety of art media and different types of engraving. What means are more in line with your art and why?
I use what I have closest at hand or whatever I am learning or investigating at the moment. I can move through different media and apply techniques to my own style. The main purpose is to communicate in a beautiful way, and to introduce a doubt, break the monotony, create a wedge. The techniques adapt and give shape to images as if they were water in a container. I find myself halfway between craftsmanship and serial production. On the one hand I vindicate the value of craft, its quality and purity, although production is slower. These days though, with the speed and quantity of image production, I find it imperative to produce multiples of my works; therefore I like working with prints, serigraphs, digital images…
What attracts you to political art?
Art is images, images are communication. Communicating is influence, and influence is power. This power exists and mediates political power. Art is closely linked to power, and therefore politics. The images are messages that serve one power or another. I intend to produce images that serve the power of resistance. I use images as a way to communicate and as a tool for both individual and collective transformation.