9 772053 688023 14 culturecolony.com â‚¬8 culturecolony.comÂ£5.95 Â£8 â‚¬10
Jason Brooks | Ho Tzu Nyen | Paa Joe | Louise Ashcroft | Bob & Roberta Smith Edmund Clark | Megan Broadmeadow | MACAAL | Dhaka Art Summit
Until 5 May 2018
Rachel Maclean: Spite Your Face Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh www.trg.ed.ac.uk
— Until 26 May 2018
James Richards: Migratory Motor Complex Chapter, Cardiff www.chapter.org
— 20 October 2018 — 20 January 2019
Rachel Maclean: Spite Your Face Chapter, Cardiff www.chapter.org
— 18 January — 7 April 2019
James Richards: Migratory Motor Complex Collective, Edinburgh www.collective-edinburgh.art
The Wales in Venice and Scotland + Venice exhibition tour has been made possible with Art Fund support
Image © James Richards
Michael Sol & Bright Ackwerh Almost True 12 April â€“ 7 June 2018
Gallery 1957 II Galleria Mall Coast City PMB 66 Ministries, Gamel Abdul Nasser Avenue, Ridge Accra, Ghana gallery1957.com @gallery1957
Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More 02 June â€“ 28 October 2018
Curated by Katerina Gregos rigabiennial.com
Oriel Gelf Glynn Vivian Heol Alexandra 01792 516900
Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Alexandra Rd, SA1 5DZ glynnviviangallery.org
Portread o’r Artist
Mynediad am ddim Admission Free
Portrait of the Artist
24.03.18 – 17.06.18
Käthe Kollwitz (1867 - 1945), Ymosod ar y Gât /Storming the Gate, 1893-7 © Ymddiriedolwyr yr Amgueddfa Brydeinig / The Trustees of the British Museum
Arddangosfa mewn partneriaeth rhwng Ikon a’r Amgueddfa Brydeinig Wedi’i chefnogi trwy haelioni The Dorset Foundation
A British Museum and Ikon Partnership Exhibition Generously supported by the Dorset Foundation
Is This Planet Earth? 02/04/2018 - 24/06/2018 Salvatore Arancio Patrick Coyle Halina Dominska Dan Hays Katherine Reekie Helen Sear Jason Singh Alfie Strong Seán Vicary
Curadur/Curator: Angela Kingston Artist Prestwyl/Artist In Residence: Tim Pugh • Yr arddangosfa gyntaf yn Tŷ Pawb The first exhibition in Tŷ Pawb • Mynediad am ddim Free admission • Croeso i bawb All welcome llun/image: Salvatore Arancio
Stryd y Farchnad / Market Street Wrecsam / Wrexham LL13 8BB 01978 292093 firstname.lastname@example.org www.typawb.wales @typawb
EVERY POINT IN THE UNIVERSE IS ALSO THE CENTRE
19 May - 23 June 2018
PRIVATE VIEW: THURSDAY 17 May, 6-9PM
OPEN EVERY SATURDAY 11AM - 5PM UNIT 12, 14-20 MIRABEL STREET MANCHESTER M3 1PJ PAPER-GALLERY.CO.UK
Claire Barclay • Deep Spoils 24 March - 2 June 2018
Criw Celf West 16 June - 14 July 2018
LLE Gallery • Nightswimming 28 July - 8 September 2018 In association with BEEP Painting Biennial.
Fiona Banner • Buoys Boys 22 September - 10 November 2018 Part of NAWR AM FWY/NOW FOR MORE.
With Other Eyes 24 November 2018 - 5 January 2019 The Photo Object in Contemporary Jewellery & Metalwork. Curated by Beate Gegenwart.
Ingrid Murphy • The Language of Clay 2 February - 23 March 2019 Curated by Ceri Jones.
Open 11am - 5pm, Tuesday - Saturday Mission Gallery, Gloucester Place, Swansea SA1 1TY 01792 652016 • missiongallery.co.uk
â€“ The Coverâ€“
Silver Hawk, Jason Brooks, 2017, acrylic and airbrush on canvas stretched over polyester cloth, courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London
Editors: Emma Geliot and Ric Bower
Sub-editorial: David Sinden
Deputy Editor, Design &Sales: Rhiannon Lowe
Distribution Assistance: Richard Higlett, Joeleen Lynch, Uliana Apatina
Editorial Assistance: Ruby Graham, Amber Bower
Office dog: Nox
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Legal: As an arts magazine we take the intellectual property rights of our contributors very seriously. All copyright in this issue belongs to the authors or originators of the material and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the author. Unless otherwise stated, all material has been produced by or for CCQ Magazine. We take great care to ensure that information within the magazine is accurate and fair, but opinions stated within this issue are those of the author and not necessarily of CCQ Magazine or the publishers, Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine Ltd. If you find something that is inaccurate or misleading please let us know, and we will attempt to remedy any errors on our part at the earliest opportunity. Culture Colony Quarterly (CCQ) Magazine is published by Culture Colony Quarterly Magazine Ltd, a company limited by guarantee in England and Wales. Company no: 08634632
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A SHOWCASE OF SCULPTURE IN MOTION 31 March â€“ 13 May 2018
Charlie Cook Callum Johnstone Molly Mae Whawell Beata Wrobel
– Editorial– Hawkwind were right: ‘If you want to get into it, you’ve got to get out of it’. To get into it, I needed to get out of the northern hemisphere, where a career in art is often reduced to a competitive game of Snakes and Ladders. I needed to escape an island, where so much of the art world is presided over by public sector, career bureaucrats, who, because they control the purse strings, have become our unelected arbiters of taste. On that island, art is authenticated primarily by its audience figures, and academic papers are commissioned to establish how happiness levels can be raised by doing and seeing more art, rather like Huxley’s fictional soma – a stupefying drug to keep the angry masses quiet. In Bangladesh, where there is little or no art infrastructure, I found culture valued intrinsically, rather than as a soporific, and I found a small number of committed and powerfully-resourced individuals, who have been effectively opening up Bangladeshi and South Asian creative practice to the world, by putting on the biennial Dhaka Art Summit. I needed to get away from the rigid categorisations, imposed on all of us in the many art worlds of the west/north, categorisations
that inhibit creative movement sideways. At the opening of Africa Is No Island, a photography show at MACAAL in Marrakech, I sat and listened to four of the participating artists – from continental Africa and its diaspora – expressing their impetus for becoming artists, none of which had much to do with getting ahead in the world. Africa did not do modernity (well not with the enthusiasm we did it in Europe, anyway), so for Ghanaian artist Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, the genres and roles, which the creative pie has been sliced into, simply do not exist. She moves, with unrestricted freedom, across and between the worlds of textiles, theatre, design and dance, enthusiastically collaborating with whoever she needs to along the way. The director of an influential UK art school recently gave me a pithy assessment of where our north/west arts system is now, ‘the whole thing is fucked’. As an arts community, we are not into it, in the west/north; we need to shake up our staid mind-sets to learn from the places in the world where we used to, so arrogantly, imagine that our only role was as the teacher. We need to get out of it. Ric Bower
Memory is a powerful thing. Rippling through everything we do and say, it’s coloured by emotion, trauma or loss; it’s in the tics, the gestures, the philosophical outlook, the phrases learned at our parents’ knees. Memories are made by an intersection of fact and feeling, and the latter can easily colour the former, as they filter through the mesh of event plus emotional response, into the leaky and imperfect vaults of our minds. But what if our memories have been lost, destroyed, or distorted by events? What if they’ve been spun out of recognition by occupiers or colonists? And what if our version of events is a long stone’s throw from the truth? While personal memory is specifically singular – like that found in Holly Davey’s rescued archive, unlocking a visitation from the dead – collective memory is harder to corral. In Palestine, and just prior to independence in Bangladesh, archives, artefacts and even cultural thinkers were erased. But in those places where the population has been disrupted, either through upheaval, occupation or economic migration, memory can stand in for what’s lost; is caught by its tail as it fades and is pinned, still fluttering like a buffeted butterfly, to a plinth, a frame, a canvas.
Moroccan artist, Alia Belgsir, and Palestinian artists, Hazem Harb and Mohammed Joha, use photographs and archives to retrieve what has been lost or misplaced. In Paa Joe’s fantasy coffins, the dead are memorialised by a single symbol of life, while the prisoners, incarcerated away from friends and family, are a hazy presence in Edmund Clark’s photographs, relegated to non-identifiable identity, but human nevertheless. Sometimes it’s easier to construct our own memories, or alternate universes. It’s too late for Ho Tzu Nyen’s extinct Singaporean tigers, now passed into myth, but Emily Watkins’ fictional reminiscences elide with artist Megan Broadmeadow’s fascination with UFOs and the cults that have grown up around them. Louise Ashcroft taps into those imaginary versions of us, evoked from the pages of an iconic shopping catalogue, and Simon Proffitt conjures up an idiosyncratic folk tradition out of thin air. But, it’s no good forging a perfect past when the future is conditional on the vagaries of politics and popular taste. The artist Bob & Roberta Smith’s slogans alert us to what’s in imminent peril of being wiped out. The danger is that we will embalm loss in nostalgia, while our present fragments before our very eyes. Emma Geliot
x SUE WILLIAMS x 9 june 2018 gallery-ten.co.uk image credit: print market project
—Inside— p14 Catherine My Captain Megan Broadmeadow’s interest in UFO encounters meets Emily Watkins’ extraterrestrial fantasy in a special commission for CCQ. p24 Uncategorised Challenging the lazy assumption that the 54 countries that make up Africa are all the same, Africa Is No Island brought together 40 photographers at the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), to reveal some complex ideas about identity. p36 Pocket the Difference Louise Ashcroft takes an affectionate look at the story of the Argos Catalogue and its place in the hearts of millions of Britons. p44 In Place of Hate Photographic artist, Edmund Clark, spent three years in an unusual prison community, where therapy is seen as the key to rehabilitation. The resulting work speaks to the out-of-sight-out-of-mind invisibility of prisoners. p52 Make Your Own Damn Art Bob & Roberta Smith makes an at form of sloganeering to draw attention to the decline of art’s status in contemporary society. p56 In the Shadow of the Palm Tree & My Little Toy Car In Marrakech, Kirsty Lang meets two artists at different stages in their careers. Alia Belgsir uses photographs and installation, to talk about families separated by economic migration, while Hassan Hajjaj, Morocco’s answer to Andy Warhol, uses portraiture to address the same theme in a very different way. p62 We Are Dark Animals Jason Brooks talks about the death of romanticism, the processes and systems of making paintings, repetitive strain injury and tattoos.
p70 2 or 3 Tigers An historical encounter with a tiger provides Singaporean artist, Ho Tzu Nyen with the means to intersect myth and metaphor to talk about non-human life forms. p74 Sex is a Useful Way to Start the Conversation Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran uses contemporary totems to challenge ideas about sex, gender and patriarchy. p78 Making a Scene Bangladeshi artists are starting to attract some serious attention, thanks to the efforts of the Samdani Art Foundation and the Dhaka Art Summit. p82 The Shape of Memory Two generations of Palestinian artists, Hazem Harb and Mohammed Joha, with Sliman Mansour, came to together for an exhibition that brings a very personal response to collective memory, exile and loss. p90 The Conversation Following a solo show at Cardiff’s g39, and in advance of the launch of the companion publication, Holly Davey gives a taste of her work with a personal archive. p96 A Gift to Accompany the Dead Celebrating the 70th birthday of Ghana’s famous fantasy coffin maker, Paa Joe, a collaborative exhibition in Accra fused tradition funeral rites and traditions with contemporary performance making. p106 Everybody Needs Good Neighbours As a response to a visit to Istanbul for the Art Fair and Biennial, Emily Watkins went in search of real and imagined Turkish neighbours on her return to London. p112 Cnotio (The Art of Knuckling) Artist and musician Simon Proffitt on the obscure tradition of Knuckling.
Catherine Megan Broadmeadow explores the other selves that exist within us; those others, created by society, to whom we must listen and obey. Her practice is narrative-driven, and draws on subject matter such as UFO religions and their charismatic leaders. During 201819, her episodic solo show, Seek-Pray-Advance, draws these ideas together through video, performance, installation and sound, and will be held in various locations across the UK. In this creative collaboration for CCQ, made before Episode 1: EYES ONLY opened at CGP London, the artist worked with photographers and stylists, in the biting winter wind off the sea at Pembrey Country Park, Carmarthenshire, for this joint commission with Chapter arts centre. Writer Emily Watkins twists her own creative thread into Broadmeadow's yarn of intergalactic encounter, religious euphoria and alternate realities. Megan Broadmeadow collaborated with: Artist Fagot Koroviev; Fashion Director Danielle Rees; session hair stylist Dom Capel; Central St Martin's fashion design students (Belinda Gredig, Salome Kappelin and Scarlet Yang); and students and staff from Carmarthen School of Art.
When Catherine was a girl, she lived way out in the bush. Snaking through the scrub – eucalyptus sharp in her nostrils and clinging to her hair, with dirt under her fingernails – she found a well. She lifted her head and her voice and her life and shouted, triumphant and to no-one, ‘Cooo-EEE!’ A kookaburra laughed, but underneath his rumble Catherine heard a faint ‘cooooo-eh’. Now, if you’d been watching her (which you weren’t, nobody was but the bird) you would have seen her freeze like a wild cat caught on the kitchen table with a chop in her wild cat mouth. Stock still, for she’d been sure she was absolutely alone. She was full of fury. Trespasser; this was her bush, and her discovery. She was full of fear too (who are you? Are you kind?) Wild cat that she was, Catherine yelled once more, one more ‘Cooo-EEEH!’ and received another answer. It was louder than the first, but not as loud as her question. Good, thought Catherine. 'Even if you are cruel, at least you are far away, very weak, or very small. Ha! HA! ha!”
Unarius: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that every human who has been, or is living, is in direct telepathic communication with untold millions of people, living on near or distant planets. That, during every moment of earth’s history, discarnate entities are travelling back and forth – some to be reborn in new physical bodies, others influenced by unconscious auto-suggestion.
Rachel: I’m only Rachel, walking amongst the dunes. I’m only a supermarket cashier, strolling down the beach. The sands are vast and sprawling, the waves breathtakingly powerful. The waves are blue and white when they break. I’ve walked along this stretch of coast a thousand times before – it’s where I walk the dog, and I tend to bring visitors here once we’ve exhausted the local cafes – although today the beach feels different. I’ll follow my nose, and hop this kissing gate over the dune, instead of heading for the rocks. One customer! One customer today upset me so much I had to take my break early and hide in the staff loo. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried a little bit, although I would have been ashamed if he’d seen me.
He said: 'These eggs are broken.'
Rachel: It was only when I was alone in the cubicle, that I realised the man reminded me of someone. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about his tone and the shape of his brow, or maybe just the way his eyes folded in when he was laughing at me, brought me back somewhere I didn’t know I’d been.
And I said to him: 'Gosh, they are too. Let me get you another carton.' And he said to me: 'They shouldn’t have been broken in the first place.'
Bring me the Orgonian Calibrator.
And I said to him:
Of course, my liege.
'[No sir, you’re right. Thanks for letting us know.'
Where is it?
And he said:
I’m just going to get it.
'Thanks for letting us know', in this horrid voice.
That’s right. Bring it to me. Ah, my favourite instrument! To hold it once more!
And I pretended not to hear him and, when I came back with his stupid eggs, he took them from me, looked me straight in the eye and dropped them on the ground. Egg got all over my shoes.
Here it is.
And he said: 'Better clean that up.'
That’s right. Here it is.
And I said to him:
It’s here, my liege.
No, I have it. Stupid girl. Now take it from me and place it on the lens.
I pretended I was going to get the mop or something, and like I say I headed for the loo and had a little weep. What a power trip.
I can’t lift it anymore.
You could a minute ago! I’m sorry, your honour.
Carry it to the lens. I can’t lift it.
Lift it. I’ll lift it and take it to the lens, as you have bid me, although it hurts to lift it and carry it.
I don’t have time for this! [lifts the calibrator; drops it; gasps]
You stupid girl! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to!
Lift it again.
When Catherine found her well, she was in it and outside it too. Suspend your disbelief until Catherine has thrown the oranges and the bread rolls to herself. And caught them. Catherine threw the oranges and the bread rolls down the well, didn’t hear a splash or a thump, felt sure they had been caught, called ‘hello heard hello’ called ‘better?’ Heard, ‘better’, called, ‘I’m Catherine’, heard, ‘I’m Catherine,’ called, ‘nothing!’ heard, ‘nothing!’
I’ve hopped the gate. This trail is interesting. There’s a broken tree, which I suppose I never saw when it was standing. I’m beginning to feel lightheaded. I’m approaching a clearing in the trees. I’ve never seen trees growing out of sand like this, although maybe I have. The trees are green. The trees are blue. The trees are green again. The light in the clearing is blue, that’s what’s blue. The clearing is an amphitheatre. The amphitheatre is an office block. The office block is a nail salon. The nail salon is an embalming salon. The embalming salon is an old woman. The old woman is a spaceship.
That there have always been in the past, as well as in the present, interplanetary travel and interstellar vehicles. Prior to Earth’s admission to the Interplanetary Confederation, it is not only imperative to establish peace and the pursuit of happinesss, but also to abolish violence, war and terrorism, to eliminate economic greed and materialism and global warming, to stop the rape and pillage of Mother Earth’s natural environment; it is also of the utmost importance for each human being to attempt, with the utmost degree of sincerity, implementation of these concepts as a part of their very lives. Catherine: Jesus used to be Master of Venus, you know. He tried to teach us some pretty advanced science by doing things like walking on water, or moving the stone covering the entrance to his tomb, but we were too freaked out to understand. All he had to do was change the basic relationships of the atomic structures within his body to the higher dimensions (the ‘source’), and he was weightless. He could pass through stone, which we think is solid. This is all pretty basic stuff on Venus, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get there, man. Even our most advanced thinkers would be like babies compared to the scientists on Venus.
I didn’t know I knew that. Do I know that? The old woman is a spaceship and she’s broken. I’m broken. The spaceship is the man from the supermarket. I’m glad he crashed in the amphitheatre. I’m glad he crashed in the school playground.
We, therefore, as representatives of Planet Earth, in the name and by authority of the good people of this planet, publish and declare our intentions to participate in the preparation of our home, Planet Earth, for the landing of an interstellar vehicle and the resulting contact and alliance with an enhanced race of intelligent souls; the purpose being one of enlightenment, and exchange of cultural heritage, and the muchneeded scientific understanding and physical evidence proving, the evolution of homo sapiens into homo spiritualis. I’m daydreaming, zoning out. In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan. In the bleak midwinter, dah hum dum my home. Just remember that I saw you marry, divorce, marry, divorce and marry. I saw how tender you were with the children. The old woman is in the spaceship. La femme vielle est dans le... I saw her tumble civilisations. I saw her command fleets of craft like this one. She was my captain. She was too flamboyant. She’s walking through the trees, towards the kissing gate, towards me. Suddenly very hot in the bush. Very cold by the sea. Catherine My Captain is still with me now. She’s standing just there. I can feel her.
Hi! hi. Here! here. Who are you? who are you. Catherine didn’t discover, that afternoon, whether she was talking to her echo in the well, 'her echo in the well', or someone who admired her very much, or someone cruel, or weak, or small, or far away. How could she? People and echoes can seem just the same, especially to a child or a wild cat, and Catherine became bored and hot, sitting as she was on a stone, by her well, in the afternoon sun. She realised the rock beneath her was warmer than she was, and Catherine pressed grubby little fingers to her thigh as she sat crosslegged, left funny fingerprints and then touched the rock again to compare. And how strange! For Catherine was alive, and she was sure the rock wasn’t. She did it so many times that her fingers, darting between thigh and stone, became hotter than either, and then she really couldn’t know. Catherine trotted home, thirsty as the earth beneath the rock, which had been beneath her fingers, which had been beneath her, and went to sleep beneath her eiderdown, beneath her ceiling, beneath the whole heavens. Catherine was talking to me then, and she is speaking through me now. I am encountering her. She has exited the spacecraft and walked into me.
Venusian 1: Hey man! There’s a girl out there.
V1: Shh! She’s walking up to the ship.
Venusian 2: No way. I can’t see a girl.
V2: She can’t see us, dude, she’s just stumbling...
V1: Well of course you can’t, man, if you don’t recalibrate your headset to pick up the earthling frequency. Dial back and look out your left window. V2: Shit! I see a girl alright. She’s no Venusian, though, know what I’m saying? V1: Wait. V2: What? V1: Shh! V2: She can’t hear us, man, we’re speaking on a different plane...
V2: Maybe she’s vibrating. V1: That’s stupid. V2: Well something weird’s going down. You’re stupid. V1: Shut up.
V1: She’s touching the ship!
V2: No she’s not.
Hello? Hello? V1: She can see the ship! V2: She can’t! V1: She can, man. Look at her face. The vibrations must be off or something.
V1: She IS! V2: There’s no way she can see it, let alone feel it. Shut up, and she’ll walk straight through us.
When H G Wells channelled his experience of the Orion constellation, 8,000 years ago, into The War of the Worlds, everyone was so affected by his readings, because they remembered the pain of watching their civilisation implode. For my part, my favourite past lives are the ones when I was famous or powerful. Some highlights: I was a Viking King, I was St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne (obscure, but beloved before the Norman invasion); I was a midwife to an Assyrian princess; I lived as a sheep herder in the hills of ancient Sodom and, more recently, I was my own great grandfather. I lived with my wife in other worlds; in this lifetime we are lovers, but in the past she has been my mother, my tribal leader, my son and much more besides. We are tied very tightly together. Sometimes we argue and have to remind ourselves that we’re just playing out old frustrations and power dynamics from prior existences. For instance, she asked me to get the kids from school last week, when I’d already told her I’d made plans with a friend. I became so angry, before I remembered an instance in a past life, where she’d been my boss and insisted on my working late. We laughed, and she apologised and picked up the kids herself.
You found me. On the contrary, you found me.
I found you. My name isn’t Catherine anymore, although it’s all the same to me. I’ve had hundreds of names, after all.
My name isn’t Catherine. My name is Uriel. It always will be.
My name is Uriel. Your name is mine.
My name is your name. Look at your dress. What a funny garment.
I am filled with love of Catherine. I love the very essence of Catherine. The way she moves, and the way she used to, and the way she looks when she turns her head over her shoulder and I’m standing behind, so she’s looking back at me like she has to go on but doesn’t want to forget, and her brave hands, and her wise eyes. I love Catherine’s clothes. I love her very breath. Oh, to be a glove upon that hand! I want to slip into Catherine and wear her like a coat.
SEEK-PRAY-ADVANCE, EPISODE 1: EYES ONLY, MEGAN BROADMEADOW is at CGP until 29 APRIL 2018 cgplondon.org Tours to: Green Man Festival, 16-19 August; greenman.net QUAD Derby, Autumn; derbyquad.co.uk General Credits
Art direction: Megan Broadmeadow meganbroadmeadow.com Photography et al: My Dear Fagot;fagotkoroviev.com Fashion Director: Danielle Rees daniellerees.co.uk Model: Abi Hubbard Hair: Dom Capel, linkedin.com/in/ dom-capel; using Sebastian Professional sebastianprofessional.com Makeup: Sara Szpak saraszpak.com Technical consultant: John Beynon Logistical Support: Iain Davies Support: Rhiannon Lowe Photographic assistants: Jason Thomas, Alex Butler, Paul Lloyd, John Manley, Sally Nordon and Amber Bower
‘Funny’ That’s a word. Don’t you recognise it? I recognise your dress.
You should do. You’re wearing it.
Editorial and logistical assistance: Ruby Graham instagram.com/ rubygrahamphotography
Mask (in sand), Megan Broadmeadow
Metallic silver catsuit, Move Dancewear movedancewear.com
Antique rose sequin and beaded body, Blackout II blackout2.com
Styling assistants: Kate Rowe, Amy Convery, Charlotte Wilcock instagram.com/ charlottewilcock
1940’s peach negligee, Blackout II
With special thanks to:
Hannah Firth at Chapter chapter.org BA Fashion Course Leader at Central Saint Martins, Sarah Gresty; Central Saint Martins arts.ac.uk/csm
Black vintage cowboy boots, Absolute Vintage absolutevintage.co.uk
Vintage black cowboy boots, Absolute Vintage absolutevintage.co.uk
Metallic silver catsuit, Move Dancewear; movedancewear.com White sequin boob-tube (used as scarf) Rokit rokit.co.uk
Black leather waspie, Honour London honour.com
Recycled newspaper jumper, Belinda Gredig
Carmarthen School of Art @ Coleg Sir Gar colegsirgar.ac.uk
Blue stockings, Pamela Mann uktight.com Silver dress, stylists own
Sabbah Iqbal for contributing beautiful garments which we did not have time to use with the extreme cold
All the staff at Pembrey Country Park, pembreycountrypark.wales
Clear glass garment, Scarlet Yang scarlettyang.org
Metallic silver catsuit, Move Dancewear movedancewear.com White sequin boob-tube(used as scarf) Rokit rokit.co.uk
Jacket - Matt 13:32,Salome Nanni Ida
Metallic blue leotard, Move Dancewear movedancewear.com
Black and emerald sequin jacket, Blackout II blackout2.com
Mirror dress, Megan Broadmeadow Metallic silver catsuit, Move Dancewear movedancewear.com White dance tights, Capezio capezioeurope.com Black latex body, Honour London honour.co.uk
Uncategorised The exhibition Africa Is No Island, curated by Jeanne Mercier, Baptiste de Ville d’Avray & Madeleine de Colnet, brings together the work of 40 emerging and established photographers, who work from a distinctly African perspective, at the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), in Marrakech. Ric Bower spoke to four of the participating artists: Joana Choumali; François-Xavier Gbré; Maïmouna Guerresi and Ayana V. Jackson, together with veteran Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté and the museum’s president Othman Lazraq. This dialogue examines the complexities of identity in relation to the continent of Africa, and the innate power of the photographic process as a tool in the ongoing process of decolonisation. Ric Bower: The artist usually has to be there to make a photograph; was this necessary presence significant in your decision to adopt photography as your vehicle of expression? Ayana V. Jackson (born 1977, New Jersey, USA. Photographer and filmmaker, best known for her focus on contemporary Africa and the African diaspora): Presence is very important in my work; I am conducting a kind of self assessment – of my own identity and of my own body – when I stand in front of the camera. I moved from photographing others to photographing myself, because I was interested in the difficult, or even the potentially violent, relationship between the body and the photographer. We edit what we see, when we make a photograph. And this fact, by definition, poses many questions as to what lies outside of the frame. This is as interesting to me as that which is finally chosen to be included in the image. My own presence in the photograph posits a distillation of the world out there, through my own perspective. Ric Bower: And how does this necessary presence operate in relation to you photographing Moroccan landscapes and building-scapes François-Xavier? François-Xavier Gbré (born 1978, Lille, France, lives and works in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Photographer useing architecture as witness to memory and social change): So, before the actual making of the exposure,
there is a kind of performance in which I am prowling around, I inhabit the space; even in an interior environment, I will be moving from room to room. This then, the performance, is my starting point. All photography must be a reflection of who you are; we have no choice in this. Even if I am not photographing people, I am defining a possibility, with the frame, from which anyone might be able to see themselves entering that particular space. Joana Choumali (born 1974. Fine art photographer based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, looking at femininity, beauty and the representation of the body): When I make a portrait, there is a very tacit exchange of energy between myself and the sitter. My desire is to be forgotten though; to be invisible, to be the least present, because what I photograph is only that which the sitter wants to give to me. I try to erase myself entirely, to become part of the environment; because of this desire I give no direction to my sitters. Ric Bower: Is this a kind of humility then? It seems you are curating a particularly sensitive transaction. Joana Choumali: Yes, there is a certain humility. I felt that I would not be able to photograph collaborators as soon as they turned up to see me. Instead I would talk to them, offering the necessary respect that their tradition dictates. I would ask after their family, and then explain the project and what
I was hoping to do with it. After this, I would, very respectfully, ask them to enter the studio and to sit for the portrait. The only direction I would give would be that I wanted to photograph them first from the back and then from the front. There is no decisive moment here, and the relational dynamics would be constantly evolving in the process of making the images. I just took what they are willing to give to me. There is empathy there too; in some ways I was merging with the individuals; I was photographing in a way that cannot be expressed verbally. I had to respect their silences, and then I had to silently put myself in their shoes. Ayana V. Jackson: There is a lot of silence in the process, I agree with Joana, and there is something meditative about it too. I am performing as another individual who passed on in the late 19th century; I try to evoke a certain emotional state as I do this, I am posing an enquiry. The South African photographer, Santu Mofokeng, has remarked that there is a lot of spiritual work tied into the process of photography – an intangible energy that is present – and I would agree with him. I am not always aware of what the outcome should be, while making the image, I recognise the work when I see the frame, while making an edit; (that is choosing which images to use from a series of images). There can be millimeters of choreographic, or compositional difference between two frames, but you know which one it is, which one is right.
First spread: Sarah Forbes, Ayana V. Jackson , 2016 (Dear Sarah series), archival pigment print on German etching, 130 x 76 cm, courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery
This spread: Statuette Kafigeledio Prince – Guinea, (Ya Kala Ben series), Namsa Leuba, 2011, print on Baryta paper, 35 x 28.8 cm, courtesy of the artist and Art Twenty One Gallery
Second spread: Elizabeth Theatre I, Tiberias, (Elizabeth Hotel series) FrançoisXavier Gbré, 2009, archival print, 80 x 120 cm, courtesy of the artist and galerie Cécile Fakhoury
Statuette Nganga SaleLaye – Guinea, (Ya Kala Ben series), Namsa Leuba, 2011, print on Baryta paper, 35 x 28.8 cm, courtesy of the artist and Art Twenty One Gallery
Ric Bower: So photography is, in part, a mystical process… how do you feel about this idea Maïmouna? Maïmouna Guerresi (born 1951 Italy. Italian-Senegalese artist, whose intimate photography, sculpture, video, and installation work looks at cultural diversity, Islamic spirituality and ancestry): My path in life led me to Muslim Africa, where I met and joined the Islamic Muride Bayfall community, acquiring a new identity with the name of Maïmouna. This was a decision that marked my life as well as my artistic choices. My artistic practice began with body art. I confronted nature, by using the body and mythology, such as the story of Apollo and Daphne. I myself can be both Apollo and Daphne. Ric Bower: Can you talk a little more about what you mean by ‘body art’, and how it relates to the photographs you make? Maïmouna Guerresi: My first works were created in the artistic context of body art; I was looking for a cosmic connection with nature. I was the main subject. I was confronted with the natural world and with figures of classical mythology. I was inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture Apollo and Daphne. For me, conceptually, photography is very close to a cast sculpture, because it captures that unrepeatable moment of a position, or an expression of the body. This idea is how my first black and white photographic series, titled Mimesis, and my sculptural casts, intended as a kind of armour or chrysalis, came into being. Later, I continued this search for metamorphosis or transformation – even after my conversion and inner transformation – by representing veiled figures where the body becomes a container, temple and metaphor for the soul. Ric Bower: Othman, can I ask you how you might, metaphorically, break down the walls of your beautiful museum to let the community in? And does photography have a special role to play in this process? Othman Lazraq (born 1989, Marrakech, lives in Morocco. Founder and President of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden): Until recently, photography was seen as just another career in Morocco, like being an engineer, but it had no real connection with the art world; a photograph was not perceived
as being art. I think we have learned – in Morocco, in Africa and more generally – that photography is uniquely democratic, and so offers opportunities to young artists, which are perhaps not available through other traditional genres of expression. With photography, reality is transcribed, you have to be there. There is a lack of infrastructure in Africa, we don’t have many commercial galleries – a museum like MACAAL offers the community an opportunity to become familiar with the medium; it’s the medium of my generation after all. We have this programme called LCC [La Chambre Claire] here at Fondation Alliances; it’s a competition, and we get two to three hundred applicants every year. It’s inspiring to see young people applying with 10 exhibitionready photos, but it’s also sad, because there are very few structures in Morocco to help them build on what they have brought to us; there are few art schools here. We are trying to build a foundation with MACAAL; it’s a starting point. Ric Bower: There was a, perhaps naive, belief, in the middle part of the 20th century, that photography had the power to really change things in society – I am thinking in particular of the work of the photo agency Magnum. Ayana, to what extent does that belief still exist in the African diaspora, in New York say? Can photography bring change there? Ayana V. Jackson: I am very concerned with the political implications of photography. It is a technology that was developed in the the middle of the 19th century, and it was put to use immediately to illustrate the colonial experiment from the perspective of the colonisers, in publications or on cartes de visite [visiting cards], a very particular perspective was being propagated. I am very much concerned with the representation of the black, or the non-European, body – the imagery that populates the early archives is exclusively from the perspective of the European. It wasn't until the process fell into the hands of the likes of the Malian photographer Malik Sidibé that this began to change. I have photographs of my great grandparents from the 1890s, where they went into a photographic studio and presented themselves as they wanted to be presented; this was another political moment for photography; it gave a sense of what was outside of the European frame, the only frame that had previously been presented. The fact that more art spaces like MACAAL
and Lagos and Addis photo festivals exist is significant, as they were created for the express purpose of facilitating decolonisation and of communicating the multiple realities that exist as part of what it means to be part of continental Africa or its diaspora. These are spaces in which our narratives can come out, and this is an incredible service, both to humanity as a whole and to us, the people it directly concerns. Ric Bower: So photography was a tool that reinforced the colonial mindset and now it can be used to dissolve the colonial mindset? Joana Choumali: Yes it can; it can by preparing the next generation, the kids in Africa and the diaspora. We want to make them comfortable with who they are and the beauty of their heritage; then we can start building a new understanding of being African and being black. Art can open minds; it shows children that they really can bring something to the table. Ric Bower: Abdoulaye, from your perspective, as an artist who has been practising for a number of years, does the photograph have a particular power for young Africans? Abdoulaye Konaté (born 1953 Diré, Mali, lives and works in Bamako, Mali. His practice takes the form of textile-based installations exploring socio-political and environmental issues): Yes, because people love photos and photographing themselves. It is easier to accept, as a medium, for the African people. and using a camera brings the advantage that one can be in the world without a barrier. Ric Bower: And what was the attitude of the generation before you to the creative process? Did your parents oppose you when you decided you wanted to be an artist? Abdoulaye Konaté: My parents were never against my choice to be an artist. I studied fine art to secondary level and beyond. We learned, at the academy, to do anatomy and to work with perspective. We learnt very little about Africa itself, because it was not taught in schools that took a western approach. Ric Bower: To what extent do you consciously draw upon Malian tradition in your work? Abdoulaye Konaté: I came back to tradition, but the traditions I learned about were not only Malian; I studied textiles in America – from Native Americans – in Japan, in Vietnam,
the Indies and in Arab countries. I do research on how the work is made, on how different materials are used. Ric Bower: François-Xavier, in the West the hierarchies of modernity have imposed themselves across photography as a medium, leaving a quasi-sacred heritage, which museums adore, but which is entirely separate from the lived experience of photography, which we’ve been discussing. How can the African approach to photography free the medium from these constraints? François-Xavier Gbré: We have the equipment today; young photographers are not constrained by technique, they can concentrate on what they want to say. With photography you can transcribe their own reality. Photography is not about the truth, it is about your truth, the photographer’s truth. Ric Bower: We suffer from what Kant once referred to as, a ‘mania of categorisation’ in Europe too; everything has its place, its own little compartment. In Africa there seems to be a fluidity in how things are done, which, in turn, imbues the creative process with a greater agency. How does one prevent African art practice from succumbing to this mania of categorisation we, in the west, suffer from? Maïmouna Guerresi: Photography is an important and direct means of expression, which the artist can use as they wish. In my case, it is a way to make known my experiences and inner transformations. After my first encounter with Mouridism, in Senegal, and later, after my conversion to Islam, I felt the need to express this change, and the renewed spirituality I was experiencing. I was trying to represent the emotions that I felt when visiting holy places and meeting with the great religious figures of Muslim Africa. My works from the series The Giants are the result of my desire to represent these mystical characters – both men and women – of sub-Saharan Africa and, in particular, the people I met in Senegal. They have developed a new and renewed Sufism through the example of their spiritual guide, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké. He was the founding father of Mouridism and was able to overcome colonial subjugation through passive activism with a spiritual and peaceful Jihad, avoiding war. Through my photography, I wanted to represent the strength and spiritual energy of these characters, avoiding their physiognomy. This is why I portray ordinary
Fourth spread: Mme Djeneba (Haabré: la dernière génération series), Joana Choumali, 2013-2014, print on Baryta paper, 90 x 60 cm, and 50 Golborne Gallery
Fifth spread: Throne in White, Maïmouna Guerresi, 2016, Lambda print on dibond, 200 x 125 cm, courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery
Mme Djeneba, (Haabré: la dernière génération series), Joana Choumali, 2013-2014, print on Baryta paper, 90 x 60 cm, courtesy of the artist and 50 Golborne Gallery
Throne in Black, Maïmouna Guerresi, 2016, Lambda print on dibond, 200 x 125 cm, courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery This spread: Fatiha (Post-Anterior Medium), Walid LayadiMarfouk, 2017, archival pigment print on photo rag pearl paper, 112 x 90 cm, courtesy of the artist
people, friends and family, dressed in architectural costumes, created by me. This has the effect of surrounding them with an unreal, metaphysical dimension. Ric Bower: Joana, can I ask you about the ritual scarification of your subjects and its significance in your own evolving understanding of identity? Joana Choumali: Writing is scarification and, in the case of these people, they have their identity cards written on their faces. For them, identity was imposed – they did not have a choice when they were scarified as children – in accordance with their tribal traditions; but now they are condemned to live with it. In Africa now, identity itself has become an increasingly complex notion; you have to find the most concise way to present yourself in society, drawing from a range of facts including: your official nationality; your colour; where you are living and the things you believe.. What is Africa anyway? Who is really African? Being mixed, as I am, (and living in Côte d’Ivoire), becomes an identity in itself; people tell me I am not really African. This is what I am trying to deconstruct – the notion of Africa we have inherited from outside. It’s like the weather though, it’s always changing and it’s never, ever straightforward. We still have the powerful influence of tradition here too. In Europe, people have the freedom to be who they want, they are almost forced to define themselves, the exact opposite of my portrait collaborators, of course, who have had their identity defined for them. So, in conclusion, perhaps we should stop apologising for not being what we are expected to be. Ayana V. Jackson: When considering essentialised notations of identity – this mania of categorisation – the global south is boxed together with primitivism and traditionalism. There is a blunt refusal to see the ideas being generated in Africa now as being contemporary. The presumption is that when a black body is presented in a photograph, wearing traditional garments, of any type, that it is a performance, rather than being part of contemporary conversation with the world about identity now. Photography has done a great disservice to the non-European in the past, in how it has facilitated this process of othering. It has allowed those behind the camera to maintain a position of privilege, while denying it to whoever happens to be in front of the camera. Democratisation of the medium has meant the world has been forced to contend with its xenophobia, its classism
and its racism. It has also meant that the West has had to contend with the lies it has been telling itself for so many years. Ric Bower: The title of the show is Africa Is No Island; what does the potential dialogue between Africa and its fellow continents, the title implies – particularly with the west – mean for the future? François-Xavier Gbré: Having an African father and a European mother, I am always between north and south, so to speak; I don’t even understand this notion of ‘west’! The fact that Africa is now fully connected to the rest of the world has to be good though. Othman Lazraq: Africa has always been seen as a single bloc and it should not be. Shows like Africa Is No Island demonstrate the incredible diversity within this continent. Most of the 54 countries in Africa share a colonial past, but that is about all we share; we have different tastes, different food and different music. Ayana V. Jackson: Africa is also everywhere, and I take enormous offence that African art is categorised as being ‘in fashion’; it's important to resist this idea, even the language is damaging. We have to consider the geopolitical implications of our words, as much as we do the implications of where we put our money. Art is not just about decoration, or providing a distraction for dilettantes who have nothing else to do with their time; there is something significant at work in the process of making art... Othman Lazraq: ...yes, we really are at the beginning of something promising.
Africa Is No Island is showing at MACAAL until 24 August 2018 macaal.org Many thanks to MACAAL, to the participants in the dialogue, and to Saskia Deliss and Loïs Bower for translation.
Louise Ashcroft’s I’d Rather Be Shopping, at arebyte, London, took humourous, heartfelt swipes at retail, branding, fashion and adverting. Her show was the culmination of a residency held at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, East London. In an exploration of our obsession with shopping, Ashcroft looked at the history of the Argos Catalogue as it reflected an aspirational, and sometimes inadvertently disturbing, alternate universe. Here we reproduce a monologue first performed by Ashcroft at The Boring Conference in 2017, in CCQ’s own take on the iconic catalogue. 1. Deep within our retail parks and high streets there are portals to a mysterious vault, which you can’t set foot in. You must navigate the contents via a colourful bible found in the bathroom of your childhood. The Argos Catalogue was founded in 1973 by Richard Tompkins – the man who had introduced Green Shield stamps to the UK, 15 years earlier – who clearly had an eye for consumer novelty. This bi-annual, paper pre-Internet publication tells you what British people have aspired to, how we’ve lived and how our desires have changed over time. 18 million UK households have a copy of the Argos Catalogue, and most of us are never more than 10 miles away from a store, they’re like rats… but not quite as ubiquitous; like ferrets perhaps.
2. In 1973, Argos launched with a great fanfare – newspaper adverts called it a ‘Shopping REVOLUTION!’, and it’s exactly this revolutionary potential that I want to discuss. As a kid, the Argos catalogue was a major part of my life. Me and my sister grew up near Bradford, in West Yorkshire, and on the days when it was raining (so, most of the days in West Yorkshire), the Argos Catalogue was a window into an alternate reality – a Narnian wardrobe or Wonderlandian looking glass for the less literary child. Studying it was a creative act, which often involved making fake bootlegs of products. We didn’t want to own the things in the catalogue, though, it was the browsing itself that was empowering. 3. As catalogue travellers, leafing through thousands of microcosmic miniature lifestyles we felt like giants; custodians to a limitless phantasmagoria – like Borges’ Aleph, a story about a cellar containing everything in the universe simultaneously. So, on the few occasions when we saved enough pocket money to actually buy toys from Argos, it was always an anti-climax. 4. You see, the Argos Catalogue is methadone for shoppers. Although the theorist John Berger reckoned that, when the ‘spectator-buyer’ sees an advertising image, ‘she is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the product’ and therefore ‘the publicity image steals her love of herself as she is, and offers it back to her for the price of the product’, the Argos catalogue does the opposite of this; it gratifies all the sensations that shopping gives you, more than ownership ever could. And the physical mass of its 1700 pages (which amounts to the median weight of all the products depicted therein) satiates any materialistic impulse.
5. The Argos Catalogue has had huge cultural impact. In the 1980s, its bodybuilding pages gave Wolf from Gladiators his first acting role – powerliftprolapse pout. It also cemented the career of a famous surrealist called Arnold Schwarzenegger, who endorsed an exerciser which resembled a giant corkscrew, perhaps nodding to its effectiveness at strengthening the wine-drinking arms of the decade’s aspirational yuppies. 6. This featured alongside a range of fatjiggling belts, allowing women to exercise passively, during feminism’s inter-war years – post Women’s Lib, pre-Spice Girls. 7. The catalogue has always been ambitious in its absurdism, selling us things we didn’t need or even want, with bored product development executives testing how far they could push it – a range of bizarre hair curling apparatus appeared in 1974, rivalling the most bohemian headwear of Woodstock in ’69.
8. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first Argos Catalogue, which was published in 1973, immediately followed the final issue of the Whole Earth Catalogue – an American countercultural publication featuring articles and reviews of books and tools, which aimed to allow readers to create their own utopia, through knowledge of self-sufficiency, ecology, anarchism, alternative education and holism. 9. I’d like to speculate that when the Whole Earth Catalogue ceased regular release in 1972, some of the writers defected and started creating the Argos Catalogue; secretly weaving in their hippy ideology to test out ways of reaching the potential mass audience which the Whole Earth Catalogue had alienated through its increasingly ‘out-there’, LSD-fuelled content. 10. A 1972 Whole Earth Catalogue interview with Beatnik writer Ken Kesey, for example, focuses on his assertion that he has rubbed cornstarch on his balls for years and why you should too. Another article explains how selfhypnotism can be used for breast augmentation.
11. For any mainstream readership – those more sceptical about Buddhist boobjobs – the Whole Earth Catalogue had lost its influence, and so the Argos Catalogue was born… 12. The name Argos refers to a Greek city featured in Homer’s Odyssey, and it was home to a giant called Argus Panoptes who had a hundred eyes. Argos founder, Richard Tompkins, had been to Argos on holiday and seems to have taken the term ‘retail giant’ literally. 13. Just like me and my sister, as we’d peered over the pages of the shopping catalogue, Greek giant Argus Panoptes was omniscient; the power of seeing and knowing, negating all need for physical mastery over things. Owning had been replaced by appearing, as theorist Guy Debord recognised in 1968, perhaps predicting the invention of the Argos catalogue in his essay The Society of the Spectacle.
14. In other words, what this shopping catalogue is really selling is the catalogue itself. A quick search for old Argos catalogues on eBay shows that the public recognizes this. Last time I checked, a 1998 issue was going for £42 (more than most of the products inside) and the 2001 edition had sold for the same price as an 1851 catalogue of the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition. 15. While the Whole Earth Catalogue featured a NASA image of the planet on its cover, aiming to fix all of humanity’s problems by promoting a sense of global union; the Argos Catalogue gave people more achievable ambitions. Instead of trying to change the whole earth, it suggested a change of lampshade. 16. The different under the colour as 17
20. In a mid seventies’ issue, the sheep has been replaced by more exotic species – colourful parrots, vivid flowers, and a close-up of a tropical butterfly; yet they are featured on black and white TVs. There’s nothing more depressing really is there, than a vibrant parrot sucked of pigment, a grayscale butterfly or anaemic orchid. The catalogue focuses on the demoralising impact of technology’s shortfalls as a means of counterbalancing the consumer’s desire.
1973 issue featured hundreds of lampshades – any lampshade sun… just so long as it was the same the sun … an eye-melting orange.
17. Yes, orange, tangerine, rust, ochre, peach, reddish ginger, or cinnamon. In the early seventies’ catalogues, all the lampshades were orange; there were also orange sofas, orange watches, orange lawnmowers, orange tea sets and orange rugs; the totality of capitalism’s bounty is available to you, just as long as you’re looking for something in this nauseating hue. 18. And, if we turn to the home entertainment section of this era, there’s also something subversive going on. Instead of showing stills from popular TV of the day, all the screens in the catalogue display images of a mysterious animal – the black sheep; a symbolic social outcast – an allegory of alienation; and sheephood in general, of course alludes to passive following. 19. We have to ask, are Argos really trying to sell you the product, or is their true motive to highlight the negative social effects of televisual consumption?
23. Other nature-threatening products are rife too, for example bedspreads depicting the decapitated heads of horses or wolves; or a young girl promoting pet accessories as she appears to stroke a friendly dog. On closer inspection her fist is clenched into a punch, and her face is grimacing. 24. The expressions of the catalogue’s models often reveal subversive intent, for example those sporting light-reactive sunglasses wear the vacant smiles of serial killers; lunatics on day-release from prison, grinning at the irony of sunglasses adorning their light-starved asylum pallor.
21. In another 1970s’ edition, I noticed that an image of a fashionable orange living room included a goldfish in a tank; except the tank has just a few inches of water in it – just enough to keep the fish alive; perhaps dried out by the rays of the interior’s dazzling, flame-coloured wallpaper and carpet. 22. While the Whole Earth Catalogue’s eco-activist efforts might present us with an article about ethical animal husbandry, or how to save the earth; the sight of a goldfish struggling to respire as its tank evaporates in this fiery-furnished mausoleum sets a more powerful imperative to protect wildlife.
25. Is it simply that Argos can’t afford proper models? Or are they equivalents to the zombie shoppers in the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, a warning against consumerism? Oh, and Rolf Harris leers from the pages of several of the 1970s’ issues, selling musical Stylophone synths to children. 26. Scouring the catalogues, they are replete with harrowing details; in one 1980s’ issue a foreboding narrative is subliminally suggested across three pages. First, the burglar alarm section depicts the silhouette of a looming intruder trying to get into the house, followed by a page filled with garden axes and saws, and then the suitcase page with a worried-looking couple clutching a ten piece luggage set. Clearly this couple are not going on holiday with that much luggage (even pre-Ryanair it’d cost them an arm and a leg), and that’s exactly what’s inside; arms and legs – on inspection, the sequence implies that they’ve chopped up the body of the burglar with the garden axes and saws, and are now disposing of the limbs in these enormous suitcases.
27. The horror continues. Terrifying dolls haunt the children’s pages. Many of them mechanically wet themselves, or incessantly cry. There’s one called Baby Fall-over which tumbles to the floor, as though in a drunken existential stupor. Such allegories of corporeal spillage reflect pessimistically on the human condition with the effect of repulsing the reader out of a purchase.
28. For me, the idea that a child would want to rehearse parenthood is disturbing enough, but in the Argos Catalogue many of these dolls also clutch offspring of their own; dolls with their own babies, cared for by a toddler grandparent. This Russian doll chain-reaction of increasingly small, pregnant foetuses is perhaps propaganda critiquing the reproductive status quo in favour of a countercultural sexual revolution. One of the dolls, which are available in the 2017 catalogue, actually claims to smell like a real newborn. Decades of development have enabled the manufacturers to somehow harvest the smell of babies, perhaps gleaned from Homerton maternity ward or somewhere else with a high concentration of infants; we can imagine a CEO finding a way of scraping the scent off the babies’ skin and containing it so that it can be added to this plastic procreation, providing realistic pungency. 29. Such disturbing realism extends to other toys, the majority of which give the child the opportunity to role-play the tedious self-maintenance of everyday existence. The children’s toy section has always been dominated by ironing boards, Hoovers, drills, DIY workbenches, and washing machines. 30. It’s depressing to see little children replicating the most mundane parts of your mundane life; rehearsing the mediocrity of adulthood; parodying your quotidiaen banality. An infinite array of fantastical, imaginative toys could have been designed, props to enrich young minds, but no, most of the toys in the Argos Catalogue are themed around the household duties that depress you as an adult.
31. And, in the current issue of the catalogue you’ll find baby’s first smart phone, alongside several quite convincing supermarket tills – (baby’s first zero hours contract perhaps) – one featuring the ominous ‘shop til you drop’ slogan. Next to it, a bizarre laptop displays what looks like baby’s first Sage accountancy software. And the kids’ costume range allows future generations to dress up as police officers, nurses and fire fighters; precarious workers whose jobs have been threatened by Government cuts. The board game section has a similarly nihilistic vibe. There’s a game called Downfall and one called Stay Alive; a long game, in which nothing really happens, except struggle; then it just ends. A video game called Pong, from the early seventies, is just a dead pixel being juggled by a couple of hyphens – like a sentence that doesn’t know quite how to… finish.
32. A children’s play-tent, from the same era, is a realistic representation of the damp, beige caravan, which the kids would find themselves trapped in for a week each year, in a rainy, run down British holiday resort; parents arguing, before the divorce. Who needs a rocket to fly to the moon when you can have the realism of Brutalist council estate Wendy house?
33. The catalogue’s vignettes of the oppressive realities of modern life have inspired toy manufacturers to design products like Playmobil’s Occupy anarchist, who comes complete with black bandana and circled A symbol, accompanied by a policeman who puts him in handcuffs. 34. But other scenes in the catalogue celebrate liberation; such as the nude models in the shower section, eluding censorship by expertly balancing soap bubbles to preserve their modesty, long before the days of Photoshop. The catalogue’s surprising amount of nudity is perhaps promoting the free love ideals of the Whole Earth Catalogue hippies – raunchy shower scenes of the 1980s’ issues mediating a cultural transition from free love to free porn. Avantgarde sex toys, masquerading as self-physio devices, clutter the leisure pages with enough pipes and protrusions for an alien abduction.
35. The institution of marriage is critiqued heavily in a jewellery section filled with embracing couples, but the women always wear the same despondent expression. Not sultry, not serene, just a little bit sad; gleaming wedding rings accompanied by facial manifestations of deep regret.
36. Some of the jewellery takes this further with the addition of symbolic padlocks; heart-shaped objects of oppression perhaps designed by 1970s' feminist activists. 37. The 2017 catalogue features a children’s game called Silly Sausage, which includes a big red plastic sausage with a face, which talks when you rhythmically shake its shaft up and down. The toy has its own YouTube advert in which the father of the family looks very threatened by this rival patriarch whose instructions are simply ‘turn him on and obey his commands’. Even the most clever psychology article in the Whole Earth Catalogue wouldn’t be able to bring together all of Freud’s ideas such an accessible, family-friendly way.
In the shredding turbine, pesky Marshalls in tropical work-wear gather asymmetrically like cubic zirconia studs. Champions of clutter-free testosterone greetings, their enamelled legs melt into freshwater teat-speech, inflated by jets of white noise percussion. To stop the mineral bladder overheating, newborns and ninjas are lacing the ebonised fountains with sieves of dried mink stubble – their split-yoke facial ride-ons grinning in soprano. F l a Arcade-yellow
38. Addressing debates around sustainable food futures, the Argos Catalogue predicted the demise of physical food way back in the ’70s, when they pioneered the whey protein powders that are now ubiquitous. Some of them help you lose weight and the others help you gain weight, although they are made of the same thing. Traditionally, whey was associated with the nursery rhyme Little Miss Muffet, a gentle little girl sitting on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey. But the Argos Catalogue successfully rebranded this bi-product of the dairy industry. Imagine little Miss Muffet now, pumped up like some ripped Men’s Fitness hero in a lacy bonnet. 39. Stretch Armstrong, a gel-filled wresting action figure, was the Argos catalogue product I really wanted as a kid. Do you remember him? His golden streak of hair and stretchy body can now be understood as a premonition of the rise of Donald Trump, whose wrinkly, cosmetically enhanced body, neon comb-over, and commitment to WWE wrestling are strikingly similar; a bizarre orange man who becomes unexpectedly huge. Was the doll created by Whole Earth Catalogue hippies in the early ’70s, based on drug-induced visions to warn of a future political dystopia? 39
i n g . solar-crown-fondue.
Lovers role-play with flirty sacrifice-generators, tuned to audible mouthpiece surges and waffled by the plush munchkin tissues of bamboo stowaways, printed with high-vis moon-hairs. Top-coatstretching, just out of reach, they elbow-grease their embossed goggles for clarity, as a twoway voice pitches the thrills of his one-handed rubberised trigger switch, to preloaded echoes of teenage breathing sessions as the rebound of a Pegasus-masher kneads his chest valves.
40. The catalogue’s ability to predict the future goes hand in hand with its obsession with clocks and watches, which in early issues broke the clock-seller’s marketing rule of setting the hands at the smiley-face hour of 10.09, by featuring hundreds of timepieces all telling a different time. This was perhaps a nod to some of the New Age physics featured in the Whole Earth Catalogue, which challenge rational scientific concepts of temporality. And there are a lot of carriage clocks in the eighties’ editions. Carriage clocks are the gift that you traditionally get when you retire. Cruel jokes really, iconic encapsulations of all the hours that you’ve spent in the accounts department that you can’t get back; a stark reminder of the impending death that now awaits you. 41. The toilet is an appropriate place for us to end. The Argos Catalogue has always boasted a wide selection of aspirational toilet seats. Flicking through them just now reminded me of how my dad would spend half his life reading the catalogue on the loo, which leads to my conclusion… The Argos Catalogue isn’t meant to encourage you to accumulate stuff, its role as the default bathroom reading material proves its effectiveness as a laxative, a post-materialist doctrine which helps you reject even your internal possessions; which is why the Argos Catalogue should in fact be understood as a radical countercultural manifesto. As shareholders perhaps wise up to this fact, the catalogue is in danger. The retail giant is 'testing demand' for the take-home glossies by removing them from two stores in Inverness. This has sparked an outcry on social media among some shoppers. For example, one mum, a local of the Highland capital where it’s being phased out, messaged the business to ask the rhetorical question: “Do you even realise how many hours of peace and quiet that catalogue gives to parents of young children who sit flicking through the toy section?”. As well as a weapon of responsible parenting, the catalogues offer intellectual enrichment for adults – the profound poetry of the written descriptions in the catalogue rivals works of great wordsmiths, including those of the Beatnik generation, like Allen Ginsberg, who often featured in the Whole Earth Catalogue. Inspired by Ginsberg’s writing, I’ve written a poetic call to arms, a plea to save the catalogue from extinction; or perhaps a eulogy to lament its passing. My poem is a mash-up of fragments of product descriptions from the 2017 Argos Catalogue:
On special occasions like this, an ageless crew of discreet but cream-based survivors, with plump accents, release granules of lava pigments, which they’ve scraped off the hero with a marble squeegee and long, wet grass-combs. Military disco-balls are illuminated by 3D skeletonmessages – perhaps launching a new nasal-fin Bistro by leaking champagne and suction-based stain removers into the dry-folds of sixty-year bikini necklines. Prune-cast trolleys oscillating with frayed raindrops, these pearlescent humidifiers drip hygiene-breakdowns from gilded rose elevators, tempered with crushed waterfall-lacquer. Shimmering. As the live-feed gutter-flare-ups of your slouchy, distressed power-status tilt kerb-side for 10 laps – A pair of telescopic, rib-knit rot cultivators hanging off your slip-thru tracksuit mind-set.
The Argos & Counterculture Monologue was first performed as a 20-minute comical performance lecture at the annual all-day cult festival of mundanity, the Boring Conference. l o u i s e a s h c r o f t . o r g a r e b y t e . c o m b o r i n g c o n f e r e n c e . c o m
In Place of Hate Following a demanding three-year residency at HMP Grendon, artist Edmund Clark’s creative response to a pioneering therapeutic prison community, In Place of Hate, was shown at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery, earlier this year. Known for his bodies of work exploring issues of control and confinement, the photographer spoke to Lorena Muñoz-Alonso about the psychology of incarceration and how to represent the invisible. Edmund Clark is a very busy man. 'What exhibition do you want us to talk about?' he asks me, as we meet in his London flat, one rainy February morning. The remark is less boastful than sincerely seeking clarification; Clark has three concurrent shows on, when I meet him, and he’d just launched a new artist’s book the night before. But we are not meeting to discuss his shows in New York – the one at the ICP Museum, gathering work he had done on the war on terror, and the other at Flowers Gallery, featuring a series made in Afghanistan. We are meeting to talk about In Place of Hate, his fascinating exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, which is the culmination of a three-year residency in HMP Grendon, a prison unlike any other. Launched in 1962, in a village in Buckinghamshire, Grendon is the first (and only wholly) democratic therapeutic community prison in the UK. At Grendon, inmates are accepted upon application. After a rigorous vetting process, they participate in an intensive therapeutic process, including group and creative therapies, focused on psychodrama, art therapy and, in some cases, music therapy. But this is not a simple Utopia; the prison’s population, around 230 residents, is made up of men who have committed serious violent and sexual offences. I want to find out what Clark discovered inside Grendon, and whether this wildly progressive and dignifying environment – so typical of the decade it was launched in – actually works. Lorena Muñoz-Alonso: First things first, what drew you to work on these issues of control, 'war on terror' and incarceration? Edmund Clark: I suppose it began with the making of my first book, Still Life Killing Time, which I made over a period of couple of years, about the E wing in HMP Kingston, which held aging life prisoners. And then, seeing Guantanamo Bay constantly on my screen as a place of incarceration, but which is also
a global geo-political event. The 'war on terror' is a defining event of my generation. It pervades the spaces we live in, as well as our mental spaces. It’s a conflict that has changed society, particularly in terms of ethical and legal norms, but also in terms of culture. LM-A: And how did the Grendon residency come about? EC: Someone told me about it and, at first, I was actually quite reticent, because I had already done work about a UK prison and was moving on towards more global themes. But the nature of the place intrigued me, and I liked the fact it was over a three-year period and that Ikon was involved. LM-A: What’s the prison like, in terms of its methods and the general vibe? EC: Grendon is a unique place, in that the whole prison is a set of certified therapeutic communities, and everyone who is there is engaged in carrying out this therapeutic process. Each community, which is more or less 35 people, meets twice a week to deal with organisational, bureaucratic stuff, like assigning tasks, and also disciplinary action, when someone’s behaviour or commitment to the process is questioned. The other three days, smaller groups meet to carry out the really intensive group therapy, moderated by a group therapist or prison officer, where they explore their criminality, their backgrounds, and how the two relate. LM-A: What other therapies are implemented in Grendon, besides group therapy? EC: There are three creative therapies in the prison: music, art therapy and psychodrama. In psychodrama, you have a group of six to eight people with a trained psychodramatist, and they revisit their criminal acts and aspects of their experience and the way they
remember them. In each session, the group chooses who the key protagonist will be, and they usually take the role of their victim with the other members of the group playing other roles associated to the crime, or other aspects of the protagonist’s narrative. So it’s all about re-identification, empathy and understanding. LM-A: Your piece, Oresteia, is actually based on psychodrama. What do we see in the film? EC: Initially, I wanted the men to interpret episodes from the Aeschylus trilogy, as I was interested in contrasting these examples of violence in high culture with the lives and crimes of men, who are stigmatised, ignored and rejected. I also wanted to explore the idea of catharsis in Greek tragedy, which is what psychodrama is also about. But the psychodrama department weren’t keen on that, because psychodrama requires the men to respond to their own material. So we agreed to record a one-off event – no rehearsals – where members of the department would play characters from the Oresteia, and then the men responded by identifying with a particular character and explaining why, in terms of being a perpetrator, witness, victim, or all three. They couldn’t talk in detail about their crimes, again for security reasons. LM-A: I’m sure the final work is very different to what you had in mind. EC: Yes, completely. But I tried to use the therapeutic experience to shape the work as much as possible, so I was open to this experimentation. The final piece is a threescreen installation, reproducing the circle of chairs in which the group therapies take place. The three screens show three different views of the action, and two of them are redacted because, even though everyone is masked, the Ministry of Justice still felt that the men could be identified
through tattoos and so on. And that idea of visibility and security and redaction runs through the whole exhibition. LM-A: How did the inmates feel about you being there, making work about the prison? EC: Well… I think they felt ok about it, because they apply to go to Grendon, and the place is essentially about engaging, participating, confronting issues. As part of the residency, I was facilitating their own creative work, organising art materials and staging exhibitions in the prison with them, and then setting up a group dynamic in which they would show and talk about their work. In terms of engaging with my own work, I explained to all of them that I wanted to make work about the therapeutic process, that I wanted to deal with their visibility and the fact that I am not allowed to make images which could identify them, and what that says on another level about the idea that they somehow cease to be seen once they go into prison. I wanted to try to use the gallery space to make the wider public confront what goes on there, as well as these other issues to do with visibility and representation. LM-A: Do you think Grendon works? EC: Yes. As far as research can show, people who have gone through Grendon have a lower re-offending rate than those who haven’t. So I think it works, and that’s why it has survived. LM-A: One of the things that became really clear to me, reading the essay by Liz McLure in the exhibition catalogue, is that a very large number of these criminals have had very traumatic childhood and life experiences. Yet, in the mass media at least, these facts are never addressed; criminals are often portrayed as one-dimensional, evil characters. EC: I’m sure that has a lot to do with deeprooted religious notions of good and evil, and with connotations of ‘the other’. I feel that if people had a close relative in prison, most of them would want an element of forgiveness and rehabilitation to be a part of that process. Yet, when it comes to people we don’t know, it seems incredibly easy to stigmatise, dismiss and alienate. Politically, there is no doubt that talking tough is an easy thing to do. There seems to be this poverty in discourse, which is a cycle between the media and policy makers; that is, that we can’t been seen to be
going easy on criminals, because we risk a bad headline, and it’s an easy headline. That means that, apart from on some of the more liberal platforms, there’s not real space for meaningful discussion about the concept of rehabilitation. It’s almost like a dirty word. LM-A: How did you feel at Grendon? EC: Well, it is a very intense place. Even if there’s a lot of humour and support, there’s an undercurrent of trauma there because of the therapeutic process. I was sometimes in the situation where men I was working with were sitting as close to me as you are now, telling me what they had done, and some of those crimes were very troubling. But does that change how I feel about them? No, it doesn’t in any way. Going through those experiences is an enormous privilege; it is a profound thing for someone to share that part of their history and to demonstrate understanding, empathy, regret and compassion. Given the background of many of the men at Grendon, this is a significant achievement, which a healthy society should acknowledge. I also recognise that if it wasn’t for the fact that I haven’t had traumatic experiences – neglect, abuse or addiction – then I could be there. We all have that potential, given the wrong circumstances, to make mistakes. LM-A: It sounds like a very important thing to realise… EC: It is. And some of the works I made, like the images I made with the pinhole camera for My Shadow’s Reflection, are about that. I find them difficult, and when I first made them, I was reluctant to continue because they are ghostly, troubling. But when I took those images to the men and they talked about them, they placed them within the therapeutic process. The words they used – in terms of their own image of themselves and what they have done, and what they are trying to be – described transformation, change, but also horror, the acknowledgement of a monster within them. It was their response to them that made the images work. Therapeutic staff and some prison officers also took part in this process and talked about their self-image in relation to the men and the experience of working in such an environment. LM-A: On a more formal level, the show seems to be about exploring the possibilities and limitations of the photographic medium and its display, through the use of pinhole cameras, light boxes, immersive installations…
EC: Yes, absolutely. Most of my work is also about ways of seeing and visual strategies to explore ways of representing subjects. With the pinhole cameras, it’s the men making the images really; they stand and move in front of the camera, for six or seven minutes, and they make the images; there’s no lens, no focusing, no mediation. The images are not made by me. There is a performative element whereby the person (inmate, officer, therapy staff member) makes the shape of themselves at Grendon. Each session was done as a group process, with the people taking it in turns to stand before the camera and answer questions from me and others present about their narrative and experience. For the installation 1.98m2, I picked flowers that grew around the prison grounds and presented them on a light box vitrine the size of a cell in Grendon; so it’s about translucency, shining through, the opposite to the pinhole camera, which is a tiny light source. Reflection is important too, so the images in My Shadow’s Reflection are projected onto the sheets in which the prisoners sleep and reflect at night. And when viewers walk into the projectors’ beams, their shadows are projected onto the images, the prison buildings, the flowers, and the pinhole images… They are all ways of bringing the Grendon space into the gallery and connecting the gallery visitors’ images with the men. LM-A: Did you ever feel claustrophobic while you were at Grendon? EC: When I first started it was quite intense: it was winter; it was dark; I was by myself in the evenings. It took a while to adjust to, and feel comfortable in, the environment. I’m a key holder, which I found quite strange at first. But I’m actually still working there for a while, helping with the next steps of the residency, what happens when I’m gone. And I’m going to bring a version of the Ikon show to Grendon, so the prisoners can see it too. LM-A: That is quite moving… EC: Well, I hope so…
All images: In Place of Hate, 2017, Edmund Clark, courtesy of the artist, Ikon and Flowers Gallery
Make Your Own Damn Art The slogans of artist Bob & Roberta Smith are not just provocations; they make clear demands and can be seen as a call to arms, as acts of subversion or resistance to the creeping malaise that accompanies the erosion-bystealth of the things the artist holds dear. These might appear on a gallery wall, or be reproduced in newspapers: as flyers; posters; banners, or placards to be held high at protests. As The Whole World Is An Art School! draws to a close at von Bartha, in Basel, we reproduce an early, now seminal, piece, together with new work, redesigned for CCQâ€™s pages.
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This spread: There is still art there is still hope, Bob & Roberta Smith, 2018, courtesy the artist and von Bartha The whole world is an art school, Bob & Roberta Smith, 2018, courtesy the artist and von Bartha
This spread: This artist is deeply dangerous, Bob & Roberta Smith, 2009, Signwriting enamel on found materials from Vicking Bay, 120 x 140 cm (9 panels), Courtesy the artist and von Bartha
Bob & Roberta Smith, The whole world is an art school! was at von Bartha, Basel Feb 3â€Š - â€ŠMar 24, 2018 vonbartha.com
In the Shadow of the Palm Tree Khial Nkhel is a former shop, which is inhabited as an artist-initiated live/work space, in Marrakech. Kirsty Lang visited it, during its opening week, to speak to Alia Belgsir, a young artist who is making work that speaks of the effects of migration, exile and loss. Alia Belgsir is part of a collective of young artists who have set themselves up in a disused shop, in Marrakech’s New Town. Tucked away behind the railway station, it’s called Khial Nkhel, which means the shadow of the palm tree. There’s a headless tailor’s dummy in the window, with a bunch of bananas sticking out of the neck. I find Belgsir bent over a tiny interior flowerbed, the size of a floor tile, growing in the middle of the gallery like a miniature oasis. Behind her is a curtain, when pulled back it reveals two mattresses at right angles on the floor, with a small table in between. Hanging above is a washing line with photographs attached by clothes pegs. 'This is my grandmother’s house', says Alia, gesturing towards the installation. She comes from a village called Tadla Azizal, in the Atlas Mountains. It’s a poor rural area and an increasingly depopulated one. 70% of the men have migrated illegally to Europe, leaving behind villages of old people, women and children. 'This is my family', she says, pointing to the photographs. One of them is a smiling young woman on her wedding day. It’s Belgsir's cousin. She was 17 when she married. Her husband left, a few months later, to find work in Italy. 'Sometimes the men come back with big cars after working for the Mafia, but they’re different', Belgsir says, with wry understatement. Hanging next to the cousin, on the washing line of photos, is a snapshot of two little boys posing awkwardly outside her grandmother’s house. One was born in Morocco and left behind, when his parents migrated; the other was born in Italy. The boys are brothers, but they don't even speak the same language. 'They won’t play
together and the older one is jealous of the little one', says the artist with a sad shrug. We stare at the picture in silence. It’s as if each photograph hanging on the line represents different characters in a family drama; a saga of migration and exile, set in a village ripped apart by globalisation. Belgsir’s multi-media installation, with the furniture, photographs and letters drawn from her own life, reminds me of the work of the French artist Sophie Calle. When I say this, she smiles, for the first time in our conversation, saying, 'I consider that a compliment. I studied at the same art school in Paris'. We discuss the economics of being a conceptual artist in Morocco. How does she plan to sell her work; has she thought of approaching the curators at the MACAAL, the new modern art museum that has just opened in the city? 'I would prefer to find money in other ways. I’m planning to teach’, she says defiantly. 'I have a real problem with being an artist, because I don’t like the art world, the industry…' her voice tails off. 'So that is why I’m doing this for myself, there is no division between my world and my art'. As she says this, something moves in the corner of the installation, causing me to jump. I realise that the small dog, lying on one of the mattresses, is not a piece of taxidermy art but is very much alive. Belgsir laughs: 'We found this puppy on the street and now it lives here, he’s become part of my installation.' @khialnkhel
Opposite: collaborative installation, @khialnkhel, 2018
My Little Toy Car Hassan Hajjaj is one of Morocco’s best-known artists. He’s often referred to as the ‘African Andy Warhol’, for his vividly coloured portraits of members of Morocco’s underground youth culture, which are framed by recycled tins. Kirsty Lang spoke to him in Marrakech. Hajjaj’s story is also one of migration and exile. When he was a tiny boy, his dad left Larache, the fishing town in north Morocco where they lived, to work in London. Once a year, the artist’s mother would dress up her kids in their best clothes and take them to a have a studio photograph taken, which they could post to their absent father. 'We would take props with us like our favourite toys, a plastic horse, or a metal car, and pose with them, and the photographer would light the whole scene quite carefully. The walls of his studio were covered with studio portraits of local people, and I think that’s where my love of photography began', Hajjaj explains. The family eventually joined the father in north London, when Hajjaj was a teenager. It was the late ’70s and, by the time he left school, the London club scene was booming. He started making money organising raves, dressing and decorating warehouses. Later, he would become a stylist for music videos, and all the while he was taking photographs. He didn’t think of it as art, just a hobby. But he kept on thinking back to his childhood, posing in the photographer’s studio, and eventually decided to try and recreate that experience. For all his portraits, he tells me, he dresses the set and the subject and supplies them with relevant props, 'I’m always thinking back to that picture of me with my little toy car'. These days, Hajjaj spends most of his time in Marrakech. He has bought a house in the old city, which doubles as his home as well as a studio, gallery and general hangout place for local creatives. It’s built around a courtyard; the walls are painted in primary colours and rugs are draped over plastic coke
crates for seating. On the day I visit, wealthy western collectors sip mint tea alongside outrageously dressed Instagrammers, posing for selfies, and cool-looking young artists and musicians. I can see where the Andy Warhol comparisons come from, apart from the recycled tin cans and portraits in primary colours, there’s a whole Factory vibe going on in his place. Like Belgsir, Hajjaj says there is no division between his life and his art. 'This is my home, but it’s open to whoever wants to see my art and have a cup of tea. I sell my paintings here too', and then hastily adds, 'but I don’t undercut my gallery.' taymourgrahnegallery.com vigogallery.com
This spread, above: Kesh Angels (part of Kesh Angels series), Hassan Hajjaj, 2010, courtesy of the artist and Vigo Gallery, London, UK Second spread, left: Ayanna (part of My Rockstars series), Hassan Hajjaj, 2013, courtesy of the artist and Vigo Gallery, London, UK Second spread, right: Afrikan Boy Sittin' (part of My Rockstars series), Hassan Hajjaj, 2012, courtesy of the artist and Vigo Gallery, London, UK
We Are Dark Animals In his show, The Subject is not the Subject, at Marlborough Fine Art, Jason Brooks explored how, among other things, the language of painting can take one art object and, through a mysterious process, turn it into another. Ric Bower spoke with the artist about the unspoken particulars that go to make up the practice of a contemporary painter: from dexterity and a head full of romantic ideals, to injuries and tattoos.
Ric Bower: The art world has a grudging respect for skill, but to compliment a practitioner for their dexterity is to damn them with faint praise. Why is this? Jason Brooks: I think it’s because it relates to notions of craft, rather than being art for its own sake. RB: But your work requires considerable skill, how have you negotiated this stigma of dexterity? JB: Through ventriloquism; by embodying an approach specifically to get a message across. I think the American painter Sue Williams is a good example. I remember, in the late eighties, her paintings revolved around a kind of graffiti humour, which would appear to be badly painted to most people, if they were judging it on dexterity alone. But they had to be made that way, within that particular vernacular of toilet graffiti language, in order convey the message, for the idea to be salient. There's one particular painting, an image of a female head, with a cock in every orifice, and above she's written, ‘Try to be more accommodating’. I think what's interesting about her work from that period – and it has always stayed with me – there's a kind of humour to it, or wit perhaps; wit is more knowing than humour, and therefore it lulls one into a false sense of security with regards to the true subject matter. RB: There is something inherently beautiful in the process of painting, in the way that a gooey material is transferred onto a support; is this something that you find particular pleasure in? JB: Well that too is a double-edged sword. When I was at college I was acutely attuned to not being overly romantic in my practice . RB: How did you combat the draw of romanticism pragmatically? JB: It was difficult, because I grew up
watching Kirk Douglas playing Vincent in Lust for Life, and Tony Hancock in The Rebel. And so I entered art college with a sort of romantic notion of what being an artist was; that idea of living a certain kind of life, which is diametrically opposed to what your parents would have wanted for you, (and that, of course, is one of the main reasons for choosing it!). RB: Did school help push you in that direction? Did your art teachers take you aside and say you’re rather good at this art stuff? JB: Yeah, from a very early age. RB: And did you find that there was a tipping point, where you had to actively disabuse yourself of that romantic notion of the artist, in order for your practice to progress? JB: My deepest memories are of being able to draw well and to be able to make things, whether it be two-dimensional or three. And the thing is that then you become known for doing that, in your arena, whether you’re at nursery school, or junior school, it gives you confidence. It just is, it becomes a given, but you don't really know what to do with it; it's just that it’s your thing. RB: Do you draw as a discipline now, in the same way that a concert pianist would spend time doing scales? JB: I don't, but I do what I do in the studio everyday and drawing is built into that. I have the scars to show for my commitment to the process. Tomorrow, I'm going for another ultrasound-guided injection, because I've torn a muscle in my forearm from painting, (now I’m really playing the romantic card), from repeatedly doing the same activity. The surgeon told me the only person that he could compare me with, in terms of susceptibility to injury, is a concert musician; if I had been a football player I would have retired long ago.
RB: So you have said that confidence is important in the development of an artist, but what about ego? Can you be an artist and an arse? JB: There are many ways to be an arse; I think you might have to be in some respect; you have to focus on your work to the exclusion of relationships sometimes. But if you become full of a sense of your own self-importance then that is something else. Self-belief is important, but it has to be tempered. We are dark animals and can be overly self deprecating sometimes, I think the ego can emerge inappropriately in an attempt to counter this fact. RB: We have spoken about the training of your hand, what about the training of your mind, how do you facilitate that? Do you hold with Ruskin’s view on art being that, “the hand, the head, and the heart [...] go together” to bring about the necessary amalgam? JB: I think it’s about being inquisitive, that is the bedrock. When I was at college, trying to make sense of things, conversations around authenticity and originality were being played out in the public sphere, conversations that directly impacted my own formation as an artist. RB: And what about your colleagues, did they influence your enquiries? JB: I don’t have a particular sense of that; a tutor told me to “look wide”, which I then did with a vengeance. As a first year I remember there being a meeting for the third years about Postgraduate courses; when I turned up to it, I was told it was not for me. I remember saying that it was all too late for them, now they were in the third year, “I need to know this stuff now!” I would put aside a couple of hours every day to be in the library. I read every art magazine from Flash Art to Art Forum, and not just contemporary stuff; I wanted to make sense of things somehow – we are not working in a vacuum after all.
RB: Do you find that you’re changed by the process of making? JB: I’m definitely changed by the process of making, but making isn’t just the physical process of putting the mark on the canvas.
very clinical idea of what the work was going to look like, before I started making it. So, the notion of surprise, or being intuitive, didn’t exist for me. That has changed, because I felt that I needed to bring another component into the process: uncertainty.
RB: Is your process entirely intuitive though; are you very methodical with your palette for example?
RB: Do you feel there's generally a more accommodating attitude to a romantic approach to making work now?
JB: Back in my college days – I was in college during the flowering of postmodernity, which both helps and taints one’s expectation of the type of work you want to make – I had a
JB: A number of years ago, I had a burning desire to make landscape paintings, but I felt I couldn't; I just couldn't justify it. I wasn't in the position that Constable or Turner were in, to go
out into the landscape and be immersed within it, and make a painting for painting's sake. The irony of that is, as times have changed, you could justifiably go into a college now and say, “the most radical thing you can do is to paint a landscape or a vase of flowers”. The context you’re in changes your perception of what you are making, and perhaps more importantly, how you should be making it. RB: And what about the large-scale reproductions of amateur paintings you have collected? JB: They’re not large-scale reproductions. I
have an interest in collecting amateur, thrift store and car boot paintings and I use these as a jumping off point. They’re made using an airbrush, but not only with an airbrush, they're also acrylic and oil, so they’re not what you think they are. Many of the brush marks are created with a stencil; I cut a stencil for each and every one, and then put the mark through the stencil in order to create the edge. It's about trying to create a meta-language. There are three apparently disparate bodies of work in this show, but I make them at the same time, they’re all in the same space, and they're all made in the same way. They're all about re-looking at things.
generations. The time that we allot to looking at things – really looking at them that is – has diminished considerably too; the emphasis is on instant, but fleeting, gratification now. There is a kind of digital permanency, nothing disappears in the digital, but its not permanency in the same way that a physical object has solidity and apparent permanence. RB: Why do you do all this art stuff? In a broader sense. JB: I have been in the studio, day in day out, for twenty years, and I’m still trying to decipher why. I don't have the answer, but that itself is, in a sense, the answer. It's that mechanism of setting things up so you know they’ll fail that keeps me interested. The idea of the final painting, the painting that does everything, is an anathema; it exists as an idea, but in reality it does not. That separation between the ideal and the real is the carrot in front of my nose to keep me going.
RB: Re-looking? JB: We look at screens now, which is a relatively new phenomenon; the notion of tactility, in relation to the image, has changed in the last few
First spread: Silver Hawk, Jason Brooks, 2017, acrylic and airbrush on canvas stretched over polyester cloth, courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London Second spread: Erik, Jason Brooks, 2017-18, Acrylic on giant watercolour paper, 122 x 152.6 cm, courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London Will, Jason Brooks, 2017-18, Acrylic on giant watercolour paper, 122 x 152.6 cm, courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Art Third spread: Invitation to Eternity, Jason Brooks, 2016-18, acrylic and airbrush on canvas stretched over polyester cloth, courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London Fouth spread: Now is Past, Jason Brooks, 2017, acrylic, airbrush and oil on canvas, 90.5 x 110.2 cm, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Idol Fame, Jason Brooks, 2016-18, acrylic and airbrush on canvas stretched over polyester cloth, courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London
I have to say that at the moment it is a really dark time, I’ve been locked away for a year and a half; you kind of start thinking, “what the fuck am I doing?” I've got a friend going to Syria, to work in orphanages, that has real relevance. RB: Your friend must be very concerned about people, but you too have an interest in people, which results in you painting portraits; who are the subjects by the way? JB: They are about my peers, all of whom have an interest in image in one form or another. RB: How would you relate your portraits to Chuck Close’s early work? JB: I think he was much misunderstood, in that he was often categorised as a photorealist, which I don't think he was at all. He was far more interested in the language of paint than in representation. Taking the same subject and making that image over and over again becomes a minimalist process, and assumes a different kind of integrity. I wouldn't deny the influence he had on me 15 or 20 years ago. What I particularly related to with him, when I first started making work back in the mid 90s, was the idea of creating something maximal out of something minimal, and the idea of only using black pigment. RB: Which black pigment do you use then? JB: It’s a carbon black. Interestingly, Chuck only made a few of those big black and white portraits. RB: In using one pigment, carbon black, you’re building deliberate limitations into your work. Close called it, 'putting rocks in your shoes'. Is your use of colour and tone entirely intuitive, or do you have a system? JB: It’s intuitive and therefore it’s right in the context of the image I’m making. I use a number of materials though, each of which demands a particular approach. If I am working with oils, for instance, I will lay the colours out in a particular way on the palette, according to a system, I suppose. But, by the same token, with airbrush quite often you are optically mixing on the support, you are glazing, which is massively intuitive. Most of the time I begin with the airbrush, move on to acrylic brush and oil, but then I might go back to the airbrush again. RB: Is it a myth that oil is special, that the refractive index of linseed oil, as a medium for
the pigment, affords it qualities visually, which are unattainable with other media? JB: Each medium offers its own particular vocabulary, its own qualities. I am very particular with my vocabulary, very fucking hard on myself. RB: Have you taught ever? How can you deal with those who are not hard on themselves? JB: Yes, I have taught in the past, but it’s about dialogue, not about hierarchy. I don’t cope particularly well if folk won’t engage, it doesn’t get any easier than when you are at college after all, you are surrounded by what you need as an artist. Modularity within art education has killed it for me, it’s such a shame. RB: Have you had epiphanic moments in relation to your practice? JB: I remember it as though it was yesterday; everything I’d made at that point was with a brush and, realising the brush couldn't do what I wanted it to do, I knew I had to bring something else into the equation, and that thing happened to be an airbrush. I had never used one before, but to me it had become an alien device, and the interest to me was that it had associations with other things that were not perceived as being high-art: graphic art; sci-fi; motorcycle tanks; all of those kind of things, like the young boy painting models in his bedroom; that becomes exciting for me. An airbrush works on the the relationship between pressure and fluid, it’s almost like the young boy in his bedroom trying to control his orgasm! RB: And what about special moments you have had standing in front of a particular work? JB: Yes, Carlos Dolci; there's an amazing painting by him in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Saint Catherine of Siena. It's only a small painting, but it’s such a peach. He made small scale devotional paintings, in the 17th and 18th centuries. You can surprise yourself too; 20 or 30 years ago, I wouldn’t have entertained the notion of liking Arshile Gorky, but when I saw him at the RA, it was a revelation. RB: Your portraits are unfinished; will you leave them like that? JB: They are what they are. I just don't feel the need to start at A and finish at B. RB: There's a dialogue with photography
in these images – in terms of your use of differential focus in particular – how do you view this relationship? JB: They are constructed quite differently from Chuck’s work. He was very aligned to a single photographic source, a grid, making a painting a square at a time; an image constructed from a thousand small abstract paintings. My paintings are made from a combination of many images, drawings and sketches, as well as photographs. RB: Could you explain what your interest in amateur art is? JB: As I mentioned earlier, I collect pictures by amateur, hobbyist painters, car boot sale artists – however you want to describe them – I've got a bit of a love affair with those kind of paintings. That was the kind of work I grew up with, in Yorkshire. I didn't grow up surrounded by high art. They depend on a language that I would not have been able to come up with myself. You can sometimes have too much knowledge, you see, and that becomes inhibiting; Picasso looked at childhood for its spontaneity. I think these paintings I collect are all imbued with a sense of love, even though failure is just around the corner, (which it is for all of us of course); every painting needs an irritant factor after all, to stop it from flatlining. RB: And what else do you collect? JB: I collect devotional paintings and sculptures. RB: What is the relationship then between the religious icons and the amateur paintings; superficially, they seem quite different; the amateur works are created for pleasure, whereas the devotional works serve a specific function? JB: They are both about language. I've been interested in tattoos too, for the last 20 years, for the same reason. RB: Have you got any tattoos? JB: Yeah, the whole of my back is covered. Tattooing is another form of language. The idea of Christ being tattooed makes sense to me. I like the idea of bringing it all back into the painting. jasonbrooks.com marlboroughlondon.com
2 or 3 Tigers Artist Ho Tzu Nyen focuses on the neglected narratives of his native Singapore. In 2 or 3 Tigers, shown as part of Bearing Points, at the Dhaka Art Summit, Ho uses CGI puppetry to restage an 1835 encounter between a colonial road surveyor and a Malayan tiger. He talks to Ric Bower about the intersection between myth and metaphor. Ric Bower: I was particularly struck, watching 2 or 3 Tigers; I felt that I had been changed as a result of seeing it. But the art world is very small and the number of people who will share that experience limited. Do you have a responsibility to communicate to society, in the broader sense, rather than to an enlightened gallery-going few?
would say that the ruling classes in Singapore have deliberately maintained these structures and systems, or adapted them because it continued to serve their interests.
Ho Tzu Nyen: My primary responsibility as an artist is towards the work itself; all I can do is to bracket the question of its reach. This doesn’t mean that outreach, or audience size is not important for me. Rather, I think of it as a step that has to come after the work is made, and I try to do everything I can to facilitate that, but so much of this is dependent on the structures we work with. Or perhaps I am not conscientious enough as a citizen?
HTN: For me, nationality is most certainly a construction. But, at the same time, the surge in nationalism today – and all the forms of xenophobia and ethnocentricism that take on this guise – tell us that these are fictions that cannot be countered solely by deconstruction. The artificiality and arbitrariness of these fictions do not seem to hinder emotional investments. In a place like Singapore – where State control and discipline is extremely intense – the question of the nation state creeps back into my projects, one way or another. At the same time, I think it is important today for critical thought to push beyond discourses of the ‘post-colonial’ and ‘post-national’, to include other forms of non-human life. This is, in a way, one of the starting points of 2 or 3 Tigers, where the history is opened up to include other forms of beings, such as animals and spirits.
RB: What about being a Singaporean? Is the idea of nationality a construct for you? What role do you have as an artist in it?
RB: [laughs] I am disappointed ….. HTN: Please forgive me! But on a more serious note, I think it is especially important to resist this compulsion for mass communication in the context of Singapore, where the State justifies spending on culture in the purely quantitative terms of the ‘head count’. When this attitude is institutionalised, it becomes extremely detrimental to artistic experimentation and adventurous thought.
RB: I love the idea that no one would know who was a were-tiger and who was not. So when the colonial invaders, whose material thinking did not intersect with the Malayan belief systems, enquired as to how many tigers there were in the village, they may have received the slightly baffling reply ‘two or three’. Is it a good thing to be a were-tiger?
RB: You explore the idea of nationality in general and being a Singaporean in particular. Would you describe Singapore as being entirely ‘postcolonial’ now? HTN: Despite gaining independence in 1965, I don’t think that Singapore can be described in any way as possessing a post-colonial consciousness. This is an extremely complex issue, but I would say that this is, on one hand, due to the fact that our transition from a British colony to independence was relatively non-violent and smooth. On the other hand, I
HTN: The thing about being a were-tiger is that it is neither good nor evil; there is an ontological ambiguity to it: is the were-tiger a man or a tiger? Is it one being or two beings? In the pre-colonial Malayan cosmology, the
tiger is a medium for ancestral spirits, and as such is both protector and punisher. RB: Would you know if you were a were-tiger? HTN: Perhaps you would know if you were a were-tiger, but you might not know precisely what a were-tiger was. RB: That makes sense. You intersect the were-tiger with this character, George Dromgoole Coleman, the colonial surveyor who had the first documented interaction with a Malayan tiger in 1835. Fascinatingly, the tiger did not attack Coleman personally, but went for his theodolite – the colonial instrument of land measurement and control – instead. The were-tiger, or the tiger attacking this western material tool, invokes hierarchies and nonmaterial structures, which would have been entirely alien to Coleman, and to all that he represents. So, is the were-tiger a powerful symbol in contemporary Malayan society? HTN: The tiger continues to haunt us, I think. Tigers were eliminated during British colonisation; they were completely annihilated in Singapore. Certain records – perhaps only slightly exaggerated – indicate a time in the 19th century, when almost 300 people were killed by tigers a year. But, within 50 years, a lot of plantation owners and the British colonial system worked together to eliminate them completely. I think this extinction of tigers, this act of violence, has left a very deep mark on the Singaporean psyche. Tigers keep returning, but in different forms. I would say that tigers – were-tigers – have slipped out from the realm of animistic cosmology into the realm of language as a metaphor. For example, we often refer to General Yamashita Tomoyuki, the leader of the Japanese fifth army that invaded Singapore, as ‘The Tiger of Malaya’. Tigers slip back in as a metaphor for humans that are at the fringe of civilisation, such as outlaws and bandits. They are at the boundaries of what is accepted as humans. Shortly after the Japanese occupation, the soubriquet ‘tigers’ was often applied to the Malayan Communist Party, who engaged in a guerilla warfare with the British. According to the lore of were-tigers, which can be found across Southeast Asia, there is this belief that shamans could turn into were-tigers, and a shaman is a liminal figure who lives between the secular and sacred worlds. In this sense, the were-tiger is the figure who exists, and passes between boundaries.
RB: In many cultures there is a strong relationship between art and religion, or rather spirituality; is this a marriage that you welcome? HTN: I would say that this separation between art and spirituality is of a western and modern origin. Whereas, in Southeast Asia, the sacred is woven into everyday life. As for my thoughts on this marriage, this is a complex issue, which requires a cultural specific definition of the notions of art and spirituality. I think there are possibilities as well as modes of repression in all configurations. RB: Do you feel there is hope, as we become more globalised and there is a greater acceptance of an eastern point of view? I’m really asking, are you an optimist? HTN: For me it is not a question of hope or optimism, but one of necessity. We have reached a point where human destruction across the planet is so far advanced that it has become necessary to rethink the network as a whole. I think we’ve passed the age of analytical thinking, of breaking things down into components that came out of a particular strain of Western rationalism. What we seem to need now is a kind of synthetic, planetary thinking. A lot of indigenous cosmologies were, in a way, early attempts to think about this whole; a way of trying to comprehend the relationship between man and nature. Perhaps this is why there is increased interest in indigenous, non-western systems today. But while we can find possibilities and inspirations in some indigenous thought, it is also important that this doesn’t fall into a new kind of primitivism and all the essentialisms that that entails.
2 or 3 Tigers was shown as part of Bearing Points, Dhaka Art Summit, curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt for the 2018
dhakaartsummit.org The Dhaka Art Summit 2020 will return to the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy 7 - 15 February 2020
Both spreads: Interpolated film stills from 2 or 3 Tigers, Tzu Nyen Ho, 2015, 2 channel CGI video, 10 channel sound
Sex is a Useful Way to Start the Conversation At this year’s Dhaka Art Summit, Sri Lankan born, Sydney-based Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s contemporary totems stood watch over visitors. Commissioned as part of Bearing Points, a group exhibition curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt, Nithiyendran’s figures provoke many questions. The artist spoke to Ric Bower, in Dhaka, about power, gender and the truths revealed by our attitude to sex. Ric Bower: Your assemblages give the impression of being selfgenerating; to what extent do you plan them? Or do you wake up and just vomit them forth?
RMN: Well, firstly, I identify as a male. Many Hindu Gods are multisexed and bisexed, or can shift genders. I guess I’m presenting these kind of new age urban deities, which mash up pre-colonial Hindu sculpture with images from the Internet, with colonial figures, with animals; so there’s this kind of postmodern vomit of things that kind of merge the industrial with the organic. I try to impart this mixture of gender-fluid and post-gender sensibilities in my work. It’s a bit of a speculative fantasy, but I don’t believe that, if you’re making statues and idols and monuments, they should all be of men.
Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran: I think the appearance of vomiting them forth is part of their constructed aesthetic. But, given the scale of them and the variety of media I am employing – media which, for the most part, are fairly technically demanding to manipulate – the irony then is that the process of making is a highly laboured venture for me. I was trained in a fairly orthodox university context in painting; so, colour theory and composition are at the root of the work.
RB: Where does gender theory fit in your thinking?
RB: Sex has the same kind of chaotic wild power that seems to be evident in the pieces here in Dhaka. Why is sex something you are particularly interested in?
RMN: I’ve read it, but I think my issue with things like gender theory is that it gets disseminated from very privileged positions, and I think art, especially in the west, has always been kind of academic.
RMN: Much ideological discourse, it seems, gets played out through societal attitudes to sex; especially religion, legislation or even policing. So, for me, using imagery of breasts and phalluses, and referencing these kinds of symbols, is a way to talk about other issues like patriarchy, colonisation, religion and censorship, and to address discourses around the body. To put it simply: when talking about power, sex is a really useful way to start the conversation.
RB: How does your work sit within the rarified atmosphere of academia then? RMN: I actually have an academic position at the University of New South Wales, which I love, but I value various forms of knowledge. I’m not so much into the view that, a PhD is the pinnacle of anything. I think rigour in research can be conceived in a range of different ways. I always say to my students, ‘you don’t have to look at an academic text... if you want to just compile pictures from Instagram, go for your life, but you need to be able to contextualise it’. I think there should be some connection with lived experience. Understanding lived experience is not an academic pursuit a lot of the time. Theory is abstract – I don't think it›s irrelevant, I’m just a little suspicious of it.
RB: Being specific, how do you see sex and colonialism in relation to each other? RMN: I think colonialism, in general, is a male-driven project. There’s this really gendered side to it, especially if you think about colonial language: chartering, unchartered territory. Rape has been central to many colonial projects – as a weapon of war and a way of breeding out indigenous populations. Part of Australia’s shameful past is the implementation of a white Australian policy, where Aboriginal children were stolen in attempt to ‘assimilate’ them.
RB: You’re obviously very into materials; ceramics is a very technical thing, do you enjoy that techy stuff? RMN: I actually don’t enjoy the technical stuff. Being in the studio is generally pretty stressful, because I always have a lot going on. It just feels like work, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it; it's more that I’m engaged in the process the whole time, which is, by default, enjoyable.
RB: Gender issues seem to be simmering under the surface of your work too. Is gender a recurring theme for you?
RB: Where is the separation between who you are and your creative practice? RMN: Well, I think self-portraiture is a theme that runs through all the work and, if someone asks where that came from, then I wouldn't know how to answer it; maybe it’s narcissism. But I think it's also being a bit playful and thinking about an artist as a brand, but being a bit cheeky with it. If it›s clear that you’re present in the work, there's more authority there in your speech, but that's a hard question for me to answer. I think about that, but I don't know what the answer is. RB: Is your own sexuality present in you work? RMN: Well my view is that the work isn't about my sexual desires, it’s rhetorical; I’m using this theme to talk about something else, or this suite of symbols to talk about intersecting themes. I think power and vulnerability are the two spectrums where, with sex, you can really explore those themes, just on a human level. RB: What do you mean by ‘vulnerability’? RMN: Well, if we’re speaking in abstract terms, people are vulnerable. People are vulnerable to social and cultural discourse. They can be excluded, tormented, erased from history, and I think that's a vulnerable position to be in. I think patriarchy and male-power – which is tied in with views of racial hierarchy and hierarchies around the body – I think it is vulnerable, it can be. ramesh-nithiyendran.com dhakaartsummit.org sullivanstrumpf.com
Previous spread and current page: Untitled, studio image, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran 2018, various media, courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf Opposite page: Untitled, installation view, Dhaka Art Summit 2018, as part of Bearing Points, curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, bronze and other media, courtesy of the artist and Sullivan+Strumpf
Making a Scene Attracting curators, collectors and an enthusiastic Bangladeshi audience, the Dhaka Art Summit is part of a continuum of cultural commitment. Set up by the Samdani Foundation’s husband and wife team, Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani, and curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt, the summit is more a creative focus than an art fair. Nadia Samdani and Diana Campbell Betancourt describe the evolutionary trajectory to Ric Bower. Ric Bower: What agency does creative practice have here, in Bangladesh, an environment that is so inherently precarious in terms of its vulnerability to flooding, and also in terms of the struggle, in the early ’70s, to establish itself as an independent nation? Diana Campbell Betancourt: Music was a form of resistance, back then in the early ’70s. So, when the Pakistanis would ban certain radio stations, there were secret radio stations; singers would go door to door, spreading their narratives of resistance. It didn’t seem like this country would ever become independent – I mean, they had a crazy cyclones and famines, even the people in Pakistan are, in a hyperbolic sense, physically twice the size of Bengalis. They won that war against all odds. The Pakistani army brutally murdered the intellectuals in the county, right before Independence; so, in 1974, very soon after Bangladesh’s birth day, the country decided to create the Shilpakala Academy – where we are sitting now and where the Summit is held – to support the development of culture here. And it’s culture that people want to hold on to above all. So, our audience numbers here aren’t because we’re paying for advertising, it’s because the general public loves experiencing culture. One of the world’s largest classical music festivals is here in Dhaka, there’s also a photography biennial. When there are these events, people go to them; cultural events are staple family activities in Bangladesh. RB: And how is all this impacting the younger generation? DCB: There are kids that have now gone through all four of the summits we have run, and they’re going to grow up with all of these ideas, right? That’s investing in the future citizens. We’re opening a permanent space in Sylhet too, for the purpose of establishing
artist residencies and education programmes too, to spread this movement to rural audiences as well. Nadia Samdani: After this edition ends, we’re going to focus on our Sylhet space. Sylhet is in the North Eastern part of Bangladesh, where Rajeeb and I are from. The land that we have is very close to the Assam border so, on a clear day, you can see the Assam mountains. Sylhet wasn’t a plan that Rajeeb and I initially had; I think it just happened with time and crystallised in our minds, soon after we began the Samdani Art Foundation, in 2011. And, for the last couple of years, we’ve been collecting so many institution-scaled pieces – not works that you can just put in a home. We’re inviting artists from all over the world to come and see the space; some have already identified a spot where they want to do a project. The proposals are coming in. We’re building a residency space too, which will open at the end of this year. We have 11 rooms where artists and curators can meet together, work and stay, and Srihatta (the name of our Sylhet space) will be an active changing and dynamic space with artists at the core of it. RB: The whole thing has to become selfsustaining for the artists at one point; surely they can’t rely forever upon benefactors? How do you build that kind of sustainability in Bangladesh? DCB: We have had dealers swarming over the Summit, signing up Bangladeshi artists, particularly from the Samdani Art Award. Ayesha Sultana, our 2014 arts award winner, had a solo booth in FIAC; Galerie Krinzinger put on a show of Bangladeshi artists [You Can Not Cross The Sea Merely by Staring at the Waves] recently too. We’re just two days into the Summit and the conversations have already started; there’s so much interest. As there are no galleries representing artists
in Bangladesh, and few local collectors of Bangladeshi emerging art, it is important that Bangladeshi artists find galleries abroad to allow them to grow. RB: What significant obstacles have you had to be overcome to make the Dhaka Art Summit happen? DCB: There are many, but the most difficult show we’ve ever worked on in the Summit was the Sri Lankan exhibition. That’s because there aren’t many galleries that commercially represent artists there. So where do you go to get the images? Who do you get the loan forms from? Who is assisting the artist in packing and shipping the work? It was insane and luckily Saskia Fernando gallery assisted us in this process – beyond the call of duty, as most of the artists are not represented by her gallery. NS: It’s the logistics that are tricky here… it’s not the artworks or the artists. RB: So, including Raqib Shaw, who’s with White Cube, must have been quite tricky, I should imagine. DCB: Very tricky, but you know what? When everyone wants to make something happen, it’s magical what’s possible. What I love about Bangladesh is that no one here tells me I can’t do something. They help me figure out how to do it. Micro credit was invented here after all. We make it happen. RB: Can you see different ways of authenticating practice, coming out of community and tradition and conversation here? Modes of authentication in the western context are somewhat limited, they include academic writing or perhaps, if an artist sells well, their practice will receive authentication from their gallery’s bottom line.
Previous spread: Kashmir DanaĂŤ, Raqib Shaw, 2017, acrylic liner, enamel and rhinestone on birchwood, 154 x 126cm, photo Ben Westoby, courtesy: the artist and White Cube, London & Hong Kong Current spread: Untitled, in Bearing Points, curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt, installation view, central section, Pablo Bartholomew, courtesy of the artist
DCB: We did our own thing and blew up the spheres of power of ‘authenticated artists’ with the Dhaka Art Summit. In the early Summits, the authenticated artists – the senior artists, the ones that are selling the most here, the ones who were the most visible, or were winning grand prizes abroad – they hated us. Because they were like: “Who the hell is Ayesha Sultana? Who is Shumon Ahmed? Why are you doing this?” And so, basically, we’ve created a movement where seniority is irrelevant in whether work gets shown, given the rigor of the curatorial focus of DAS, which relies on multiple curators, with vastly different points of view, outside of Bangladesh’s networks of power.
RB: When was that?
NS: It was the older artists who objected to our approach. The general practice, in this part of the world, is that the older artists – the ones who have been in the scene longer – are the most important ones. And the younger ones, they will have to wait for their time. But we broke that. Diana showed so many young Bangladeshi artists. Older artists, would ask me “Why, is this? Why isn’t she including him or her?” I would tell them “‘Well that’s her curatorial approach. That’s her choice. I cannot jump in and tell her what to do.”
DCB: I do a lot of field work, not only in Bangladesh – meeting as many artists as possible and looking at their work – but also by tapping into networks internationally, as I am aware that Bangladeshi art was international long before the summit. I am able to tap into amazing networks and friendships to find information about Bangladeshi art in unlikely places, such as Dresden and Fukuoka. One really cool example is when Matti Braun, who’s an artist working on Cologne, read an article I wrote in Art in America, about the Asian Art Biennial, which mentioned the 1978 show of Bangladeshi artists in Dresden. He went to the library and found the catalogue and sent me the scans.
RB: Do you live in Bangladesh, Diana? DCB: I’m here a about a third of the year, but I don’t live here, and part of that is a strategic choice; because, if I did, I would become part of a clique, and I try to be as non-partisan as I can by remaining connected, but socially detached. Even when picking the juries for the Samdani Art Award, we do painstaking research to make sure that there’s no existing affinities between the jurors and the artists, and I stay out of the process entirely. RB: So how did you two meet? NS: A friend of ours, from India, Aprajita, she introduced us, through email, “You guys must meet this young curator!” She said. So Diana kept in touch with us over email. I remember her asking, “I’d love to learn about Bangladesh; who are the Bangladeshi artists; can you send me some portfolios, some names?”
DCB: 2012, I think, right after you had done your first Summit. NS: So, we first connected there, we clicked, and ever since we’ve been together. Jitish Kallat also introduced us over dinner in Mumbai, where we shared our vision for the foundation. RB: It’s all about the relationship in the end. You hadn’t had any particular background in Bangladeshi art, when you started Diana, but now you’ve become a world expert. Where do you go to learn about this stuff?
RB: So, you’re getting your information from all over, drawing it together from a variety of networks. Is there a repository for this information now? Are you planning a book? DCB: I think it would be nice; the Summit is not going to exist forever. It’s a movement, right? And it’s also great because the word ‘summit’ can mean anything you want it to mean. And yes, we are planning several books, as this is how the Summit can live on for future scholars to access.
The Shape of Memory Earlier this year, El Beit, an inter-generational exhibition at Tabari Artspace, in the United Arab Emirates, showed younger artists, Hazem Harb and Mohammed Joha alongside septuagenarian modernist, Sliman Mansour. Rhiannon Lowe talked to Harb and Joha about how their work reflects the situation in Palestine and how personal and collective memory resonate throughout their work. Rhiannon Lowe: Can you tell me how the exhibition came about, and how you became involved? Hazem Harb: The idea of El Beit was conceived by the team at Tabari Artspace, who wanted to initiate an exchange between two generations of artists. Sliman Mansour, one of the most prominent modern Palestinian artists, Mohammed and I have created a dialogue, presenting different experiences. Mohammed and I have been drawing together since 1995. We have a long history of teamwork, and have participated in many group exhibitions. Mohammed Joha: Hazem and I grew up together in the same neighbourhood, in Gaza. Since our childhood, we have often used the same art studio and shared many experiences that have helped us to develop our art over the years. RL: Has Sliman's work been of particular inspiration or influence for you? HH: Sliman’s work has had a powerful emotional impact on both of us. The inclusion of his art alongside our contemporary works gives the show a holistic character. MJ: I have never met Sliman in person: when I was a child, I read the magazine Palestine Revolution and saw reproductions of Sliman’s artworks, which impressed and affected me very much. Tabari Artspace has created a context for rich cultural dialogue. RL: Hazem, can you tell me more about the works you have in the show? HH: Over the past few years, I have developed a multi-faceted practice, working with painting, video, drawing, sculpture and installation. My work is centred on examining and laying bare structures and apparatuses of power and hierarchies. I've been preoccupied lately with questions around architecture and destruction: how and when does architecture become an oppressive apparatus? How can sculpture counter architecture? How can sculpture be non-monumental?
For El Beit, I produced a series of collage works on paper, using different materials, inspired by the lake in the city of Tiberias, in the occupied north of Palestine, from which its Palestinian occupants were forcibly expelled. The lake in Tiberias has long been considered a sacred area that holds significance for Palestinians, as the city was, until the 1936–1939 Arab revolt, an important centre for decades, The lake is an area of water between Galilee and the historical Golan, on the northern part of the Jordan River. After 1948, the city of Tiberias changed radically, due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, especially where the settlers lived. They demolished Arab neighborhoods, planted gardens, built tourist hotels, colonies and modern buildings, destroying the vibrant Arab life and development. The lake is a central motif; the collages are a combination of re-photographed archive images of the lake and my own photographs. The works evoke nostalgic recollections of the city and raise questions about the forced destruction of a lost archive. I have also installed an enlarged archive photograph – depicting a domestic interior – in a section of the gallery, transforming it into a space reminiscent of a Palestinian home. RL: Mohammed, your work in this show seems very different from earlier paintings and collages you've done. It appears to be more abstract, design-led, less based on a specific narrative than other works. They are almost pretty, and at odds with their subject matter, which makes them all the more pertinent. MJ: Making this work, I composed representational scenes with expressive lines and areas, simplifying the subject and condensing the message. It is not descriptive but symbolic; behind the work is the brutal erasing of a place and the wiping out a population, along with its related culture and collective memory. I didn’t move away from the narrative, but rather analysed it in depth and from different sides. My works are not a simple mirror of the material world; they try to transcend real elements to find an essence of life – love, humanity, beauty and sensitivity. Nothing is random or left to chance.
RL: What are the materials you use? Is it important where they are sourced from? MJ: The choice of materials depends on the project. I use acrylic or oil paint in my paintings; clay and textiles for my installations/sculptures; fabrics and paper for my collages. It is not important for me where the material comes from; instead I focus on how I can transform these materials to transmit my concept most effectively. RL: Hazem, how does your work in the show fit with the rest of your practice? HH: My practice started in Gaza at the YMCA, the only place in the territory where you could train and make art. I began with figurative painting and sculpting, and quickly moved to photography. In particular, I was looking at archives – my family’s remaining images of ancestors. I received a scholarship to study in Paris, by which time archive photography formed an integral part of the way I worked and was key to exploring questions of memory, identity, self and historiography. My sculptural work is an extension of this exploration – responding to emotive questions that the photographs propose. I juxtapose archival photographs with sculptures incorporating tough, sturdy construction materials, like concrete slabs, cement bricks and glass sheets – building materials of interior walls and facades, and the infrastructural elements in our private and daily lives, which supposedly offer shelter, support and protection, until of course, they collapse. In one work, This is not a Museum, I used sharp geometric shapes, referencing the building blocks of colonialism and, in particular, Israel’s modernist use of right angles and meticulously streamlined structures. I use domestic, personal signifiers, such as a mattress or a pillow which, when placed within the context of the rickety concrete, point at the bare and harrowing reality of Palestinian life: a vicious cycle of destruction and re-construction; an impermanence of identity, and space, which changes with each successive Israeli invasion.
RL: You often seem to write proposals about your work, which appear on your website. Is your writing an integral part of your work? HH: Writing has been a hobby of mine from early on; I remember writing poetry as a child. I developed this over time and started writing my work concepts as part of the work. RL: Mohammed, as both you and Hazem note in your writing, much of the western knowledge and experience of Palestine is through the media – a particular window if you like. We imagine horror without beauty, I suppose, fear without resilience. Does your writing accompany your paintings? MJ: There is a huge difference between a personal experience, made in a real life context, which the artist translates into an artwork, and a mediated remote experience. Most westerners who visit Palestine are shocked, because they have never imagined the brutal, inhuman conditions under which we are forced to live. Sometimes, there are several means necessary to understand a certain topic, or to penetrate an artwork. In this sense, the writings are helpful but not necessary. RL: You are mixing memory with observation in these pieces – is your work an attempt at trying to hold on to your memories? MJ: Even if the topics are sometimes directly connected to my childhood, they are all part of the collective memory of the Palestinian people, who stand in the foreground. RL: Can you talk more about collective memory? I feel individual memories come through more readily in artwork, and perhaps people are more sympathetic to them, finding a way to connect; they can be harder to quash too. A collective memory withstands many more readings and interpretations, but is, as you suggest, susceptible to change, erasure, fabrication. Are you trying to reclaim and cement a collective memory? MJ: I try to build and elaborate on the collective memory which is composed of multiple points of view and many different cases, taking into account the people, their stories and sufferings, images and so on; it is more difficult to do than just using your own personal memory. RL: Hazem, is it important for you to exhibit your drawings as part of your process of making work?
HH: I was originally a painter and an architectural designer. I still draw daily and everything in my work is a result of pencil drawing. This is the process from which all of my art originates. In fact, I don’t always render the works in painting. Many of my drawings in notebooks are on display in this exhibition. RL: Earlier, you said that the archive you worked with was destroyed. HH: As the wars continued, the occupying soldiers realised that the forcibly displaced Palestinian homes had not only furniture, musical instruments, water pipes and carpets, but also books. There was a document about collecting books and pictures from abandoned neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, carried out by the National Library and the Archives of Pictures, between May 1948 and March 1949. All the images used in my work are from the various Palestinian areas that were occupied in 1948 and earlier; most are from 1920 to 1940. I have my own archive photographs, and I have acquired further images through donations from Palestinian families. I have also managed to buy some very important archive photography online – the idea of buying one’s own history from the Internet seems absurd to me. RL: I’d like to know about your perspective on the political and social situation in Palestine now, and how it has changed – what was it like when you were young? HH: The perspective of Palestine from outside the country is different from what it is from within, and it is different today from what it was in the past, when I was living there, until I was 20 years old. MJ: Hazem and I met at an early age. Life at that time was beautiful; we spent our time discovering art and life together. We were playing with colours, trying different compositions, styles, topics etc, influencing each other. Every day we changed ideas and worked in complete confusion. There was also a kind of competition to see who was better. This stimulated us to break down boundaries and set off to unknown territories. When we shared a studio together, our curiosity and experimental freedom enabled us to understand what life meant inside and outside our studio. Hazem and I have different personalities, but our studio brought us together and we developed our artistic practice together. In
1997, we showed our works for the first time in a group exhibition. HH: The outlook now has become more comprehensive and clearer than before. I no longer see it as a personal issue, but as a universal humanitarian cause for the longest occupation in contemporary history. We have both been greatly influenced by the collective and individual memory that has been obscured. I started to investigate the Palestinian history and archives from the 1820s up to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and the results of that period on our present day. In January 2017, I went back to Gaza, after a forced absence of eight years, due to the closure of crossings and borders. As you know, the Gaza Strip is considered one of the most crowded places in the world in relation to its geographical area – over two million people live in an area 360km2, 41km long, and between five and 15km wide. It borders Israel from the north and the east, and Egypt from the south-west. It is part of the territories where the Palestinian Authority has been seeking, through negotiations, to establish a state for more than 20 years, within the framework of a two-state solution. When I went back to the Strip, it looked completely different. Due to the crowdedness of the place and its changes, I failed to retrieve some of my earlier memories of it. My personal relationship with this city has now also changed, and I look at it from different perspectives and experiences: from the inside out and from the outside in. In a city like Gaza, everything is inherently mixed in form and content. Of course, all of this has been created gradually over time, due to the lack of space and also because of the wars in the Strip. But, in amongst the huge neglected street signs and random images of martyrs, in between the heavily crowded streets and shops, within the overwhelming feeling of population density, and despite the fighting – you can come across a wedding in the narrow alleyways of the city; it all overlaps, side by side; it’s such a contradictory relationship. A few days after my arrival, I automatically began to photograph everything. I took a large number of photos and videos that reflect the reality of daily life, events and community practices. I felt as though I was living in a city of a thousand cities. Street celebrations are, in fact, a social aspect that is absent from television documentation, since networks are only interested in broadcasting the political life of the city and its struggles.
First spread; Father and Mother on their Wedding Day, Sliman Mansour, 1984, oil on canvas, 92 x 85cm, courtesy the artist Second spread: Tebariya #01, Hazem Harb, 2017, collage and transparent Plexiglas on fine art paper, 105 x 80cm, courtesy the artist Tebariya #02, Hazem Harb, 2017, collage on fine art paper, 105 x 80cm, courtesy the artist Tebariya #03, Hazem Harb, 2017, collage on fine art paper, 105 x 80cm, courtesy the artist
This spread: Housing #08, Mohammed Joha, 2017, collage on paper, 35 x 50cm, courtesy the artist Following spread: Housing #11, Mohammed Joha, 2017, collage on paper, 35 x 50cm, courtesy the artist Housing #05, Mohammed Joha, 2017, collage on paper, 35 x 50cm, courtesy the artist Housing #04, Mohammed Joha, 2017, collage on paper, 35 x 50cm, courtesy the artist
RL: What other significant places, like Tiberias, can no longer be accessed? HH: Most Palestinian cities and areas have an important and strategic meaning, whether historical or tourist, and have been occupied since 1948. The vast majority of Palestinians are prohibited from visiting, or staying there even, including the historic area of West Jerusalem, which crosses one of the most important historic areas of importance for Christians and Muslims alike. Also, for example, residents of the West Bank are forbidden to visit or relax at the sea of Jaffa. RL: Mohammed, where do you spend most of your time now? Do you find that your own experience of Palestine has a somewhat remote, even mediated feel now, is that reflected in your work through its sense of nostalgia?
MJ: I live in Paris, with a base at the Cité International des Arts, where I am able to develop new projects and enjoy the intense atmosphere of artistic activity and exchange. I have spent several years away from Gaza, and I often compare the places where I am to Palestine. I note the differences; but in my art you will always see Palestine. RL: Can you give me an idea of what you think art’s relevance is to politics in the context of the situation between Israel and Palestine? Is it as important and visible today as it used to be, say, earlier in Sliman’s career? MJ: Art can express concepts and has themes in social and political matters, and that includes Palestine. Today, art is at the forefront of spreading the Palestinian cause internationally and in supporting the struggle for freedom. Music, cinema, literature, food,
traditional clothing, they all express our Palestinian identity and struggle as people. In Palestine itself, the Palestinian Museum at Birzeit, together with the many art, cinema and literature biennials, and our participation in events abroad, for example, testify to the liveliness of the Palestinian cultural scene and its artists.
El Beit was at Tabari Artspace, United Arab Emerates, 6 February 2018 – 8 March 2018 hazemharb.com mohamedjoha.weebly.com tabariartspace.com
A Gift to Accompany the Dead To mark the seventieth birthday of Paa Joe, artist Elisabeth Efua Sutherland collaborated with the celebrated Ghanaian fantasy coffin maker, and his son, Jacob Tetteh-Ashong, for an exhibition at Gallery 1957, Accra. The show brought together specially designed coffins, performance, and a series of banners and textiles. Emma Geliot examines the key elements of Joe and Sutherland’s deeply complex practices, which reach into the rituals and metaphors surrounding the journey into the afterlife. Ghanaian fantasy coffins evolved almost by accident, but are now a popular part of contemporary funeral rituals in Ghana. The first such coffin was actually originally commissioned as a palanquin for a chief to ride in for a festival, in the design of a cocoa fruit. But the chief died before he could use it, so it was converted, by Kane Kwei (who Paa Joe was apprenticed to), into his coffin, and the idea for creative coffinmaking was born. Since then, Joe’s fantasy coffins have been exhibited around the world and added to public collections. Joe and his son have also been the subject of a documentary film, Paa Joe & The Lion directed by Ben Wigley. The coffins are now so famous that the father and son workshop has become a national institution, the two personalities fused into one brand or identity. The designs for the coffins can be specifically related to the departed, or they can be more fanciful; father and son will always try
to oblige. 'The way we work is traditional', Joe says, 'we have to do the design for the dead person, but they sometimes have no power over what the design is. The designs are often commissioned by relatives. And sometimes the designs are not to do with a person’s work or life; it might be that the relatives just like a particular design.' Those designs can range from more modest fruit and veg, to cars, castles and canons. The exhibition, held at Gallery 1957’s second space, in a new building complex, was a collaboration between Joe and artist Elisabeth Efua Sutherland. Drawing on some of the overlapping traditional rituals, artefacts and beliefs of the Ga and Fanti peoples, the show's title, akɛ yaaa heko [lit: one does not take it anywhere] refers to the old adage, 'you can’t take it with you when you go'. Many of Joe and TettehAshong’s coffins are representative of their occupants’ professions, obsessions or prized possessions, all of which are shed when Death comes calling. Sutherland worked on the design process with Joe and
Tetteh-Ashong for the the maritime-themed coffins which included: boats; fish; shells and even an octopus. Her performance, enacted in and outside the gallery space at the opening of the exhibition, together with performances made over a three-day period around Accra, with collaborative practitioner Fagot Koroviev, focused on the liminal space traditionally believed to exist between life and death. The beach stands in as a perfect, or literally littoral, metaphor for the space between being and not being, in a region economically reliant on fishing and the sea. While Sutherland is used to collaborating to make performance, this approach was a new experience for Joe and Tetteh-Ashong, but they clearly enjoyed the process. TettehAshong certainly sees the benefits: 'If you are an artist and you don’t collaborate, you don’t learn new things.' Sutherland’s performance also gave him food for thought: 'When someone dies, there is a procession, and there is also performance at a funeral, but people don’t recognise it as such. There’s adƆsoa [a gift to accompany the dead]; people carry it in; they are all performing, but people don’t think of it in that way. When we came together for the collaboration, it opened minds. It gives people the idea now, when they go to a funeral, that whatever is happening here, it’s art.'
In developing the collaboration, Sutherland says: 'We talked, during the making of the show, about the performance; the idea of the coffins, the shell, the fish; about the idea of an in-between space where the soul goes after death. I think both the Ga and Fantis believe we can’t see into the afterworld, and if the soul can’t cross over, it can return to the world of the living, to plague the mother, or the family. If someone dies very young, like the character of the little girl in the performance we made for the collaborative exhibition, it is particularly difficult.' Sutherland also made flags and wall hangings for the exhibition. These, together with the costumes of the performers, drew on the the traditional textiles and colours (red, black, brown and white) used for funerals, and on the famous Fante asafo flags. As burial rites mark the transition from life to afterlife, so akɛ yaaa heko provided an intersection between traditional and contemporary artistic practice. akɛ yaaa heko was at Gallery 1957, in Accra, 21 November 2017 – 10 February 2018 gallery1957.com
First spread: Fantasy Coffins (Untitled), Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, Paa Joe & Jacob Tetteh-Ashong, 2017; wood and other media, dimensions various; courtesy of the artists and Gallery 1957, Accra Second spread: Akɛ yaaa heko || One does not take it anywhere, the Performance, Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, 2018; performed at the opening of Akɛ yaaa heko || One does not take it anywhere at Gallery 1957; featuring Alina Maria Veeser; Jacqueline Fadel; Vivian Boateng, James Turkson-Brown; Jeremiah Atcheah; Doris Mamley Djangmah; Matilda Opoku, Steven Agyakum, Aeron Quayson, Kingsley Kwao, Amartey Ebenezer Amarkwei, Folkloric Selamta; photograph: Nii Odzenma; courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra Third spread: Banners and Flags (Untitled), Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, 2017/18; mixed media, dimensions various; courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra Fourth and fifth spread: Akɛ yaaa heko || One does not take it anywhere, Elisabeth Efua Sutherland and Fagot Koroviev, 2018; pigment prints, dimensions various; featuring Alina Maria Veeser; Jacqueline Fadel; Vivian Boateng, James Turkson-Brown; Jeremiah Atcheah; Doris Mamley Djangmah; courtesy of the artists and Gallery 1957, Accra
Everybody Needs Good Neighbours Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair ran alongside the Istanbul Biennial in 2017. The theme for the Biennial was 'A Good Neighbour'. After visiting both events, Emily Watkins returned from Turkey, with the intention of formulating a textual response to her experience, engaging with her own Turkish neighbours in London. The resulting piece is accompanied by images from both the Fair and the Biennial.
My neighbour could be the kind of woman to fall desperately in love with the son of the guy who owns the offie over the road. This kid covers a couple of afternoons a week, when someone can’t make their shift, or he needs pocket-money. She could be paralysed by desire for that spotty, arrogant teenage boy, even though she might be in her forties and have spent her whole life wanting something sensible. There could be some weird part of her lizard brain completely fixated on this adolescent idiot, and she could make unnecessary detours to peer through the window, to check if he’s working and, when he is, she could go inside to make unnecessary purchases and breathless small talk. So I don’t go there anymore, either.
We lived together, didn’t we? One of my earliest memories, with you, is when I explained ‘rainbow reading’ on the church steps. That’s the idea that everyone believes themselves to have the same range of qualities: you’re confident, but shy in situations where you feel under pressure; loud with friends; quiet on a first date. And people say, “Yes, yes, that’s me! That’s just exactly like me”. Because, of course, we’re all that way, and because the statements deliberately run the gamut of human behaviour. We all sit somewhere on the spectrum, and feel exceptional when we step outside of our usual parameters. This kind of reflection on self-reflection is a luxury. Not everyone has time for it, but I do, and so do you, don’t you? Reading and writing this way. People in cities are close to each other, physically; we're stacked amongst and amidst and on top of millions of strangers every day. We're so crammed in next to people just like us that we can’t see the wood for the trees. The guy crossing the street right now is just as complicated as you are, pal.
I hate to see Istanbul go this way. I am trying to be optimistic. I think it might stay this way for ten years. Istanbul is in the middle right now, and we can go either way. To explain the difference between my home city and London, I use small examples. Last week I lost my Oyster card, which had ten pounds on it. I called TFL and explained, and they solved my problem. I’m not used to that. In Istanbul, if you called, no one would care about your ten Turkish lire! But also, you would probably have to have an argument. Another little thing, if you tried to cross at a zebra crossing there you would be killed, because no one would stop.
I came here with my husband, which is why I’m saying ‘we’, and we got married two and a half years ago. We studied in Istanbul, we started working there, but the money we earned was not enough and we couldn't really see the future. In Istanbul it’s really impossible to send your child to a state school; maybe in Europe you can, but in Turkey the state education is very bad. I think they teach religious stuff, but the private schools are so expensive. So I thought, “How am I going to raise a child?”
He’d remember if he’d seen me before. He was new too; I should take his number. We should be friends. So, he came on strong and I didn’t go back. But when we moved here, it was like the universe was playing a trick on me, because the cafe two doors down turned out to be his other job. Like someone had decided that, wherever I was, this guy had to be the waiter at my local.
My neighbour could have 15 aquariums in her sitting room, full of newts and caymans and small sharks and goldfish, and she could cover them during the day; and, when people ask, 'what’s beneath the cloth?', she could say that she hasn’t finished unpacking yet and that those are boxes of things she needs to put away, and, although she moved in eighteen months ago, she hasn’t gotten round to it. She could explain that looking at them depresses her, while acknowledging that keeping them covered might be part of the reason that she hasn’t done anything about them yet. She could be proud that her lie about what is really under the sheet is so mundane and elaborate that no one would guess what was really there, caymans and puffer fish and star fish, which are anything but mundane, although they are elaborate in the way that all living things are.
I came here a year ago – a year and a half – but until then I lived in Istanbul. I left because of the political situation – you might know, the government is going towards dictatorship, rather than preserving democracy. I thought to myself, 'Why not leave Turkey for a while and try other places?' More than this, the economy is going down, so the salary I was earning was not enough to live there – that’s why we said, 'We are young, we can always go back because my family is still living there'. We argue – we solve our problems by arguing in Turkey. When I moved here, my washing machine broke, so I called the landlord, really angry, shouting and shouting down the phone, 'you have to fix it!' That’s the norm for me. The lady said, 'Miss, please be calm, I will solve this. Someone will come tomorrow and fix it'. 'Really?!' And they came to fix it. That wouldn’t happen in Istanbul. There, things get done when you shout. The only thing I miss is the food – I hate cooking – but since I left Turkey, I cook Turkish food all the time.
If you wear a short skirt in Istanbul, twenty men will stare at your legs. Here, maybe two men would really stare at your legs. I think It’s getting harder and harder for women in Istanbul. There used to be no restrictions – I used to wear shorts and a t-shirt and no one would say anything to me. We used to have so many bars and nightclubs in Taxim Square, and now they close them one by one.
When I’m day-dreaming on the bus, or walking with my headphones on, I find myself looking at passersby with the intensity we normally reserve for people we know, or are about to meet. I hear eye contact is really crucial, when you’re meeting someone for the first time, which isn’t something we need to be told; that’s gut level. Isn’t it cruel how, in order to socialise easily – for socialising to be easy – you need to be confident? A virtuous or vicious circle, depending on what side of the equation you start. It’s so unpleasant to make small talk with someone nervous, who won’t look at you properly.
Before I moved here, I lived down the road and found a local café. I liked the idea of a local café: a licence to sit and watch the same strangers for hours, in a way you can’t normally. What else is there to do on a Saturday? Anyway, the café was empty when I first visited and the waiter was too friendly. Where was I going afterwards? And I was new here, wasn’t I?
My neighbour could be conducting an affair, a dalliance spanning months. My neighbour’s partner could be about to return home from work, something she would know but her lover might not.
She could be getting off on the adrenaline. She could want him to find out – the partner to find out about the lover – because my neighbour could have been unhappy for a long time, but not for any discernible or specific grievance, just fed up and in need of a catalyst stronger than her – to blow a hole in her life and force her to get her shit together. My neighbour could be a spy!
My neighbour could be pregnant; my neighbour could be in labour, surrounded by family and friends who could be stroking her hair, while she grits her teeth and braces for another contraction. There could be blood on the carpet, the telltale sign of a secret baby that she’s going to hand to her sister, because she could be in dire financial straits, or emotionally unstable, or just not very interested in children. It could be true that her periods were irregular anyway and that she was already overweight, so that the baby kicking was the first clue she got to its presence, and by that time it was too late, or perhaps she was brought up catholic and doesn’t believe in abortion, but she doesn’t want the baby anyway.
First spread: Fiftysixdoublezero, Mehmet Sinan Kuran, 2017, ink on paper, radius: 70cm, courtesy the artist and PG Art Gallery
Belki de gerçekten bebeği istiyor [Maybe he really wants a baby].
Second spread: The Johnson Boys Used To Set Off Fireworks In Their Mother’s Home, Which Was Too Nice For Them, While We, Who Were Too Nice For The Johnson Boys, Pined Over Them Fiercely From Afar. They Didn’t Know We Existed, Andrea Joyce Heimer, 2017, acrylic and pencil on panel, 18 x 24 inches, courtesy the artist and Nicelle Beauchene Gallery This spread, above: Group Sisyphus, Dustin Yellin, 2017, glass, collage, acrylic, 40.64 x 40.64 x 21.59 courtesy the artist and Leila Heller Gallery This spread, opposite: Spreken, Berlinde De Bruyckere, 1999, metal, wood, blankets, polyester, polyurethane, 200 x 140 x 80 cm, courtesy of the artist, Collection M HKA and Collection Flemish Community, presented with the support of Flanders State of the Art.
CNOTIO (The Art Of Knuckling) Introduction If a traveller happens to find themselves journeying through south Denbighshire during September, they might chance upon a curious sight in the middle of the rolling countryside: a flat field, thronging with people in brightly coloured fancy dress. In the middle is a long, narrow, clear channel and, at one end, a motley collection of competitors of all different shapes, sizes and ages takes it in turns to hurl bizarrely decorated lumps of wood at a small red dragon, some distance away. Perhaps the traveller might hear the commotion before they see it, for all of this action is accompanied by a strange and insistent music, created by a team of skilled percussionists playing wooden drums. This, the traveller will soon learn, is the curious and ancient folk-sport of cnotio (English: knuckling). As a sport, knuckling is incredibly straightforward: competitors throw a piece of wood (the cnot, or knuckle) and the winner is the person who lands their knuckle closest to the target. However, the competitive aspect of knuckling is very much secondary to the aesthetic aspect. Costume plays a major role in proceedings, and not only do the competitors and adjudicators dress in all manner of unusual ways, but the spectators are encouraged to do the same. The knuckles themselves, all odd bits of gnarled branch, cut out of the region’s hedgerows, are extravagantly customised and decorated, usually to the detriment of their efficacy as throwable objects. In this respect, knuckling has more in common with the festivals of Ituren & Zubieta in Italy, and Up Helly Aa, in the Shetland Isles, than it does with, for instance, boules or curling. Origins Knuckling has superficial similarities to the more well-known game of quoits, where players aim to land metal rings as closely as possible to a ground spike a set distance away from the throwing line. Quoits has its origins in ancient Greece, where poorer citizens, unable to afford much beyond basic food and clothing, would use horseshoes as makeshift discuses. Initially a distance-based sport – like the discus event, a test of pure throwing strength – quoits later became target-based, rewarding throwing accuracy. Despite the common elements, knuckling is believed to have evolved independently of quoits. Instead, it most likely has its origins amongst the hedgerows of north Wales. These living fences sprang up in the 15th and 16th centuries, as sheep farming became a viable undertaking, and enclosures were necessary to limit the movements of flocks. Knotty lumps, or ‘cnotiau’ (singular: cnot), sometimes appear in hedgerows, the natural consequence of cutting and regrowth. These ugly, bulbous masses, which often resembled monstrous heads with multiple protuberances, were thought to contain demons, and were cut out of the hedge as soon as they were noticed. The cnotiau – or ‘diawled clawdd’ (hedge-devils) as they were first known – were not incinerated for fear of supernatural reprisals; instead, they were simply thrown as far away as possible off the shepherd’s patch – down ravines, into bodies of water, or onto neighbouring land.1 This is almost certainly the source of the nursery rhyme, Old Elwyn, which can still be heard around the Gwynedd / Denbighshire / Powys border region: Old Elwyn was tending his flock one day When the devil appeared within the hedge. Give me your sheep, the demon beseeched, ‘I shan’t,’ cried Elwyn and threw him away. Development as a Sport Given the fundamentally competitive nature of the human species, it is easy to see how the discarding of hedge-devils evolved into the sport we know today. A lone shepherd will inevitably challenge him or herself: ‘Just how far can I throw this thing? I reached that rock last time.’ ‘I wonder if I can hit that mole hill from here?’ Two or more will inevitably challenge each other: ‘I bet you a jug of ale you can’t land it in that old boot.’ And so on.
Undecorated knuckle from the private collection of Gwydion Gruffudd.
School children attend a Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant Throw in fancy dress. Rhys ap Dyfrig, fourth from left (bakerâ€™s costume), later came to dominate the Llanrhaeadr throws, winning 16 consecutive titles, until injury forced an early retirement.
The game developed steadily and informally over the years, with rules and variations, according to the whims of the participants, established on an ad-hoc basis. Some of these were target-based, some were distance-based, while others were an elaborate mixture of both. In one notable example from 17th century Gwyddelwern, the target was attached to a sheep, which was then chased around the village by excited schoolchildren. At some point during the 18th century, hedge-devils became known as ‘cnotiau’, as a move away from what was thought of as embarrassingly old-fashioned superstitious beliefs – the English translation, ‘knuckle’, which emerged in the early 20th century, references their resemblance to arthritic knuckles, and their origin as joints between branches. This simple change had a profound effect on the credibility of the sport and it flourished, attracting diverse followers and participants from communities throughout north Wales – even ones without access to hedges. The Cymdeithas Gnotio Amatur Gogledd Cymru (North Wales Amateur Knuckling Association) was established in 1773, with modest headquarters above the Myddleton Arms in Ruthin. It attempted to formalise the sport of knuckling, publishing a pamphlet of laws, guidelines and general etiquette. Despite there being no recorded instances of professional knuckling to counter it, the ‘amateur’ designation was specified in order to make the society more approachable and inclusive. The Modern Era The popularity of knuckling has declined dramatically since its early 20th century heyday, and participation is now usually confined to the knuckle festivals which occur in south Denbighshire, each September. Laws and Guidelines The laws of knuckling have remained largely unchanged since they were first laid down by CGACG/ NWAKA, in the late 18th century: • • • • • • • •
*There are no rules about the size or shape of the knuckle, since this is regarded as being self-policing. A large knuckle is difficult to throw very far, and a light knuckle is subject to air resistance.Any disagreement about whether an object is or is not a knuckle is settled by the Cnotfeistr, who has absolute authority over proceedings. A simple branch section, for instance, is not a knuckle.
• • • •
Competitors must throw a true knuckle.* Competitors must throw from a specified throwing zone. The closest knuckle to the target dragon is deemed to be the winner.† The position of the target dragon is determined by the Cnotfeistr (Knucklemaster), who throws the dragon, after being blindfolded and spun around three times by the Is-Gnotfeistr (Junior Knucklemaster). Competitors have one throw. Re-throws are not permitted, save in exceptional circumstances. In the event of a tie, the tied knuckles must be re-thrown until a winning throw is achieved. The knuckle must be thrown by hand, and must not be powered.‡ The knuckle itself must be no less than 50% of the total mass of thrown object by weight.§
†This originally referred to any part of the knuckle assembly, including the attached decorations, but has since been updated to mean the knuckle itself. Attachments are ignored for the purpose of measurement. See Controversies section p4 & 7.
‡, § See Controversies section p4 & 7.
Notes: There are no throwing categories: men, women and children compete against each other. There are no rules about decorations, other than the aforementioned weight ratio, and thus it is not obligatory for the knuckles to be decorated at all (see Controversies p4 & 7). There is no formal dress code for participants or spectators, but tradition, peer pressure and human spirit mean that almost all present have at least some element of fancy dress or costume. The title of Cnotfeistr is hereditary, and passes to the eldest child of the incumbent (regardless of gender) upon their death or abdication.
Knuckle Decoration Knuckles are adorned in all manner of ways, from simply being painted, to the addition of nails, ribbons, wires, glass eyes, bottle-tops, bones, coins etc. – all limited only by the imagination and resourcefulness of the knuckler. The precise origins of knuckle decoration are subject to much debate, and there is still no general consensus. Burgess et al. propose a link to the iconography of lovespoons, where each decoration has a specific significance (caged balls, for instance, indicate the number of children hoped for in a relationship). What were once recognisable symbols have become distorted and abstracted over time, and all meanings have been lost, they claim.2 Carter, meanwhile, suggests a more mundane origin: an attempt to get rid of other hedge-based clutter along with the knuckle itself. ‘You’re throwing a large knuckle into a pond, or onto your rival’s land’, she writes, ‘why not get rid of this bit of old string while you’re at it? And look, there’s a broken jug. Get rid of that as well’.3 Jones & Rostron propose an alternative view – a fundamental misunderstanding of aerodynamics. While it is obvious to the modern reader that most decoration is a hindrance to knuckle flight, a more primitive culture might see the colourful plumage of various avian species and attempt to mimic that with whatever tools they have to hand. A bird has feathers, a beak and legs and can fly; it might be reasoned thus: if a knuckle has similar things, it too should fly.4 Music Music is an important component of the knuckling experience, and is performed throughout the festival by dedicated bands of local percussionists. Like much festival music from around the world, knuckle music is strongly rhythmic but, unusually, it is entirely percussive, with a total absence of accompanying wind instrumentation. Instead, dense polyrhythms are created by the beating of the wooden objects associated with rural life: sticks, branches, log sections etc. In this respect it has much in common with the ritual music of north Pembrokeshire (see, for example, the recordings of The Master Musicians of Dyffryn Moor5). Three distinct musical phases can be heard during a knuckle festival: 1. The parade to the throwing field from the nearest village square – the parade of competitors, adjudicators and eager spectators is accompanied by up-tempo rhythms. Chanting was common in some parts of Wales, but discouraged in others. A popular chant in and around the Conwy Valley featured the call-and-response: Dewch yn llawen, dewch ynghyd, dewch i gnotio! Awn yn llawen, awn bob un, awn i gnotio! (Let’s go merrily, let’s go as one, let’s go knuckling! We’ll go merrily, we’ll go every one, we’ll go knuckling!)6 2. Pre-throw build-up for each competitor – a short burst, starting slowly and increasing in tempo, much like an athletics audience clapping along to a long-jump attempt. 3. The post-competition free-for-all – when the band is joined by all and sundry in a lengthy, improvised jam session. Controversies and Notable Incidents In 1908, Bryneglwys resident Eifion Wyn Jones won the annual Carrog Throw with an undecorated knuckle, leading to much bad feeling in the community. His house was later defaced, with the words ‘BAD NUCKLER’ [sic] and ‘KNUCKEL CHEAT’ [sic] daubed in white paint over walls and windows. It was also reported that he was refused service in the Grouse Inn, Carrog, and he is not known to have thrown again.7
Poster for a Coedpoeth Knuckle competition, 1970.
Decorated knuckle from Cerrigydrudion, late 20th century (courtesy of Clocaenog Knuckle Museum).
After all the competitors in the 1865 Betws Gwerfil Goch event had thrown, but before the Cnotfeistr had had chance to take measurements, the dragon was picked up and carried away by an excitable dog. All knuckles were left where they fell until the target was found, two days later, in a farm outbuilding, over a mile from the event site. This new location was deemed to be the revised legal target and a winner was declared – one that had actually landed furthest away from the original target placement, thrown by 5-year-old Elin Fflur Edwards. This incident marks the only recorded win by a child under the age of 10.8 A few notable events have lead to rule amendments: In 1833, Robert Jones of Bala decorated his tiny knuckle with a large trawling net. Although the knuckle itself landed nowhere near the target, the net covered such a large area that it enveloped not only the dragon, but all the other knuckles with it. While awarded the win, it was felt that such tactics were against the spirit of the sport, and the rules were changed.9 Gwenllian Evans of Pentredwˆ r, competing in 1785, launched her knuckle from a large trebuchet. It overshot the target by some considerable distance but, added to the recent announcement of James Watt’s steam engine, and the consequent threat of steam-powered launchers, or worse, steam-powered knuckles, it was felt by the authorities that a dangerous precedent had been set. The laws were soon updated accordingly.10
Trio of male knucklers about to throw by Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) (date unknown. Reproduced courtesy of Gwynedd Archives Service).
Llinos Haf Tomos with her champion knuckle (date unknown. Reproduced courtesy of Clocaenog Knuckle Museum).
Variants and Spin-Offs In a light-hearted 1928 article, in the North Wales Weekly News, Eryl Morgan drew parallels between knuckling and Heisenberg’s recently published Uncertainty Principle, one of the fundamental features of quantum mechanics. It states that we can know the speed of a particle (we can toss a knuckle far), or we can know its position (we can toss a knuckle accurately), but not both, and the more we can do of one, the less we can do of the other. Although not intended to be taken seriously, the article led to the introduction of a rival variant: Distance Knuckling (or False Knuckling as it was known by adherents of the original ‘True’ version). The aim of this pursuit was simply to throw the knuckle as far as possible, the winner being the furthest away from the throwing zone. Although competitions were held until at least the mid-1950s, attendance was generally poor, and it never came close to the popularity of True Knuckling. In keeping with the original uncertainty theory, a number of True Knucklers attempted False Knuckling (and vice versa), but no-one ever won at both. Some enjoyed the competitive aspects of knuckling but, during the mid-to-late 1960s, became increasingly put off by the associated boisterous pageantry, and thus attempted to introduce a more sedate version. Borrowing many of the key components of crown green bowls, the Coedpoeth Amateur Knuckling Club held regular tournaments between 1966 and 1985. Viewed with gentle suspicion by both the knuckling and bowling communities, the club failed to attract younger players, and it effectively disbanded, in 1986, when the last of its members died aged 92. Merchandise Small replica earthenware knuckles were popular ornaments until the mid 20th century, when a waning interest in knuckling led to decreasing demand. They were usually decorated with imitation gemstones, and silk ribbons carrying messages such as ‘Greetings from Llanuwchllyn’ or ‘Dw i’n hoffi Cnotio’ (‘I like Knuckling’). In 1985, in response to the growing popularity of personal home computers, Llangollen-based software company Llansoft released Nicola the Knuckler, a 1 & 2-player game for the Acorn Electron. Players had a limited choice of knuckle customisations (ribbon, nails, feathers or lead weights), and launched their knuckles after choosing direction and power. 1-player mode pitted the player against a comically diverse group of computer-generated knucklers, not all of whom were human. Despite a positive review in Electron World, which praised the playability and – for the time – sophisticated graphics, the game sold fewer than 30 copies, and Llansoft went into administration shortly after launching the game. ---------Footnotes 1. J. Taylor, Tales from the Hedge (Jubilee Press, 2003), p. 84. 2. P.J. Burgess, T.A. Burgess & K. Décorne, Knuckles & Spar Boxes: The Folk Art of Great Britain (Nebo Books, 1982), pp. 20-22. 3. A. Carter, International Journal of Sport Psychology, Vol. 39 No. 2, 2008, p. 163. 4. L.H. Jones & J.A. Rostron, Cnotio (Gwasg Dil, 2016), p. 8. 5. The Master Musicians of Dyffryn Moor, Cerddoriaeth Ddefodol Gogledd Sir Benfro (Ritual Music of North Pembrokeshire) (Amgueddfa Llwch Records, 2017: www.amgueddfallwch.com) 6. O. Martell, Hanes Dyffryn Conwy (Dexter & Sons, 1976), p. 51. 7. H. & B. Neophytou, Stranger Things Have Happened: Encounters in North Wales (Gus & Suki, 1992), p. 208. 8. Ibid, p. 223. 9. T.M. Owen, Welsh Folk Customs (Gomer Press, 1959), p. 96. 10. Ibid, p. 98.
Leaflet re-produced with kind permission. Copyright Simon Proffitt, chief curator, Amgueddfa Llwch www.amgueddfallwch.com twitter.com/Llwch Ritual Music of North Pembrokeshire available now from dyffrynmoor.bandcamp.com
The Power of Love Violin/Fiolin: Thelma Handy Conductor/Arweinydd: Nathalie Stutzmann
Nos Wener 13 Ebrill, 7.30pm Friday 13 April, 7.30pm Theatr Bryn Terfel
Jon Boden The Afterglow Tour Nos Fercher 18 Ebrill, 8pm Wednesday 18 April, 8pm Theatr Bryn Terfel £20/£18 gostyngiadau | concessions
National Dance Company Wales Cwmni Dawns Cenedlaethol Cymru
Making Tracks yn cyflwyno | present
Nos Fawrth 24 Ebril, 7.30pm Tuesday 24 April, 7.30pm
Nos Wener 27 Ebrill, 8pm Friday 27 April, 8pm
Theatr Bryn Terfel
Theatr Bryn Terfel
£14/£12 gostyngiadau | concessions
The Best of Madagascar: Soulful traditions reinvented with sublime artistry
£14/£13 gostyngiadau | concessions
Shappi Khorsandi: Mistress and Misfit Nos Sadwrn 28 Ebrill, 8pm Saturday 28 April, 8pm
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Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita + Gwyneth Glyn
Nos Iau 17 Mai , 7.30pm Thursday 17 May, 7.30pm Theatr Bryn Terfel £20/£18
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Alexander Fell, 2017. NOVA exhibition