For The Urban Anthropologist
issue 19: T R A V E L | aug - sep 2007
Contents Literature 065 Out on La Rampa Words by Andy Johnson 069 Defiant Exclamations Images by Guiseppe Di Bella Words by Norman Wilcox 077 The Strange Quiddity of Mr Rama Words by Jay Merrick 081 Borderline_borderless Around Europe Words by Julie Aveline Images by Veronika Speigl
Fashion 031 Sandra Buckland 037 Damn Romance Photography
089 Auto-Ethnographic Travels: on Death, my Nan and Hospital as Non-Place Words by Scarlet Bateman Images by Richard J. Andersen and Claire Brouzes
027 Campsite Images by Klaus Knoll and Cella Words by Clare Daigle
047 Vanessa Beecroft
057 The Young Playthings
051 Rina Banerjee
061 James Chance
017 Long Haul Words by Simon Barraclough 019 King of the Off Season Words by David Blaine 020 Nine Miles Stationary: Words by Tiffany Atkinson 021 Oedipus, Tourist Words by Philip Fried 022 Twilight in Udaipur Words by Philip Fried 023 Rest Stop Words by Christina Lovin 024 Professor Z Abroad Words by John Hubbard 025 Kudu Watch Words by Isobel Dixon 026 The Buried Butterfly Words by Isobel Dixon Regulars 043 Amanda Truscott
first printed issue 24 September | subscribe now at www.stimulusrespond.com
Korres natural products is a Greek company with roots in the first homeopathic pharmacy of Athens. Set up in 1996 with the aim to utilise its extensive scientific resources for the creation of beneficial and safe products, the company today offers a complete skin and hair care range, sun care products and herbal preparations. download brochure MINERAL OIL FREE SILICONE FREE PROPYLENE GLYCOL FREE ETHANOLAMINE FREE ENRICHED WITH ACTIVE PLANT EXTRACTS
Editor’s Letter Dear Readers, It’s been an eventful couple of months… Shortly after the last issue, Stimulus visited Edinburgh for four days of the arts. Films and poetry recitals were accompanied by an exhibition of photography with contributors from all over the world. The weekend proved extremely successful, and we are planning a return to the Forest early next year. And the other big news that I’m sure you’ve heard about is that this will be last online issue of the magazine. Next time you see us, we will be a big shiny printed magazine! You can subscribe for a year or buy a single copy through our website, and there will be copies available at selected stockists worldwide. Please do also come to the launch party in late September, we will be releasing details soon. It’s exciting if a little daunting, but despite the move our primary goal will still be to bring you the top quality editorial that you are familiar with. Subscribe now! So, to this issue. We’ve made the last online issue something special. Look out for Vanessa Beecroft on page 047, as well as fashion from Sandra Buckland and Damn Romance. James Chance is also interviewed on page 061. The feature Defiant Exclamations has proved to be somewhat controversial, depicting as it does the Abu Ghraib stamp series by Giuseppe Di Bella. So, thanks to everyone for your support over previous years, it’s been a pleasure. But – we are not leaving, merely transforming. Please do continue to read, and check back at the website for special online content and the occasional surprise. Jack
Image by Sonja Lau
Editor in Chief Jack Boulton firstname.lastname@example.org Art Direction Melina Nicolaide Jack Boulton Editor - Photography Jack Boulton email@example.com
Editor - Literature Tara Blake Wilson
Editor - Arts Editor - Poetry Yannis Tsitsovits
Editor - Music Amin Samman
Editor - Fashion Melina Nicolaide
Fashion Journalist Christos Kyriakides firstname.lastname@example.org
Logo Design Tina Borkowski email@example.com Media Relations Oliver Schneider firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributors this Issue ARTICLES
William Alderwick Julie Aveline Scarlet Bateman Andy Johnson Jay Merrick Norman Wilcox
Richard J. Andersen Claire Brouzes Cella Guiseppe Di Bella Robert Glowacki Katerina Kana Klaus Knoll Sonja Lau Aleksi Niemela Veronika Speigl
Tiffany Atkinson Simon Barraclough David Blaine Isobel Dixon Philip Fried John Hubbard Christina Lovin
Tina Borkowski Ken Nakano Ash at Storm Models
For contributorsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; contact details please contact the Editor in Chief. We welcome unsolicited material from our readers. If you would like to make a contribution to future issues then please email the editorial team at the addresses above. Stimulus Respond is published six times a year by Stimulus Respond Limited. All material is copyright (c) 2007 the respective contributors. All rights reserved. No reproduction without prior consent. The views expressed in the magazine are those of the contributors and are not neccessarily shared by the magazine. The magazine accepts no liability for loss or damage of manuscripts, artwork, photographic prints and transparencies.
Long Haul Words by Simon Barraclough
1 “We have no more chilled Chardonnay.” she hisses. Another lunch that unravelled past our nine-to-five commitments, dusk, now midnight. Our coats and keys are in the office. If we could walk we’d retrieve these clues but we’re falling through the restaurant and onto Cheapside. City types tut as they step over us. We roll in rain, my face rucked up against the tread of a Porsche’s tyre, your hand already in my flies.
2 Ninety-six Oregon Zinfandel, Windows on the World. Calamari from Maine, seared swordfish in cep and champagne sauce. Just two years ago but the website has slipped from Google, seventy-nine staffers are missing. Who knew we were dining at the epicentre? Well, someone should have. We joke with the married couple who’ve ordered the exact same meals as us, pretend you’re not engaged, I’m single.
3 Hot sake, green tea in The Tao, Bow Lane. Chopstick contests. I handle my salmon skin maki pretty well but you shake your head, tweeze a sole flying fish egg that squints free of your lacquered sticks and down your blouse. At the base of The Monument, CCTV lenses unblinking, I find the faint spoor of that egg and track it with my tongue. 4 You’ve a novel under your belt— no slur intended—but back then you were still on short stories. Hours in Barnes and Noble choosing the best anthology, rewarding ourselves with pitcher after pitcher of margaritas. “No sign of it.” they said the next day. Was it my disdain for prose, or the thought of your fiancé put you on the plane with no replacement? 5 Your midnight message brings me here, leaning into the gales, worrying that jet lagged, afraid of terrorists, you’ve forgotten the clocks went back. The heavy doors of the Royal Festival Hall blow open and quiver on the crests of gusts from the sepia river. An air lock forms in which the second call comes. “Can’t get away … feel as bad as you … surprise party … husband.” Nothing for it, buy some Berryman, find a bar, pass out.
Long Haul is from Simon Barraclough’s first collection, Los Alamos Mon Amour, which will be out in March 2008 by Salt Publishing (www.saltpublishing.com). His work will also be featured in a pamphlet called Ask For It By Name, which will be out in September 2007.
King of the Off Season Words by David Blaine
This sanguine shoreline summer respite to privileged and proud turns desolate past Labor Day. Dilettante soccer mums take their rambunctious urchins back to become re-immersed in polite prep-school society. But out here near the water Autumnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s begun to slip her breezy fingers around an arbor of lovers unfastening their crimson blazers one button at a time letting those spent jackets tumble onto the forest floor. Abandoned lines lash against the masts of sailboats now cradled away for winter. Clanging out in a forgotten language their questions go unanswered. A capricious breath of air re-animates fallen leaves sends them cycloning across the roadway beckoning to me as I ride high on the seat of my truck. I am not totally alone. The offshore wind banks up piles of gray clouds. Frost should stay away tonight. Not because I will it to Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not a god Just the king of the off season.
For more information on David Blaine please visit his blog, A. Hello Whiskey, at davidblaine.blogspot.com and the Guild of Outsider Writers, of which he is a member, at www.outsiderwriters.org.
Nine Miles Stationary: Words by Tiffany Atkinson
we stretch from our vehicles like molluscs, raw flesh bared to a flaring sky. Fair play, I never figured Swindon for the promised land. A girl grits her heels on the hard shoulder, sporting an inexplicable ballgown at high noon. She spits into her mobile’s cut-throat blade, I fucking said I fucking don’t know. And my father, loving nothing like emergency, is on the phone too—should’ve checked first, should’ve... Though my life has not, once, yet, proved urgent. Some kid on the inside lane can’t wait: his mother strips him businesslike and points his little penis at the verge, even from here his face a clap of rage. Meanwhile the queue grows rearwards like a German sentence back to Bristol, where I stopped to squeeze into my dark dress. Lizzie, take it as the crow flies, I may have to bury you out here, though being on time would still have been too late. Lilies, exhausted, on the passenger seat; their scent given up on a wreath of my own heat.
Oedipus, Tourist Words by Philip Fried
I wake as the flies tickle my too many skins—I packed some changes just to be safe; I packed my own arrival to unroll like a welcome rug; I packed a crashing wave in case of a lack of surf and folded the sun inside and inside the sun a rooster crowing at all hours— you can’t be too forewarned; I tucked away seven countries neatly according to function like blades of a Swiss army knife; I lugged my ambivalence freckled with decals of a hundred destinations... You sleep at the crossroads of four dimensions, your inward smile the soft orgasm of stone, your only baggage a riddle: What walks naked on nine feet through the instant’s door?
Twilight in Udaipur Words by Philip Fried
Twilight in Udaipur, the monkeys descend with the sun, filtering from treetops, down the terraced levels of roofs, the steplike platforms of smalltown dwellers, past the lake-gazers, the beer-drinkers, the end-of-day sighers, snatching chips and candy from unwitting hands, high-leaping streets with booty, scooting on walls, holding still, descending into a troop of shadows, uneasily overlapping all night at the bottom of Lake Pichola. Twilight in Udaipur, the vowels rise and consonants clatter, discarded, as conversations ascend into one cloud-lake, evaporating from many pools, the whole town is talking, a cocktail party empty of people, full of chatter, but the little streets lie down like poor children, too many in one bed, brothers and sisters and brothers, jostling in sleep, bleeding colours into each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dreams...Wash on the line stirs with voiceless stories.
Oedipus, Tourist and Twilight in Udaipur are from Philip Friedâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s latest collection, Big Men Speaking to Little Men, published in 2006 by Salmon Poetry (www.salmonpoetry.com). His previous two collections are Mutual Trespasses (Ion Books,1988) and Quantum Genesis (Zohar Press, 1997). Philip Fried is also the publisher of the international poetry journal The Manhattan Review (www.themanhattanreview.com).
Rest Stop Words by Christina Lovin
I phoned because I wanted him to know that I was going to be gone for just a day or two (for he might worry). So, I made the call. His voice draws tense across the mapped and measured emptiness between that junction where my turning right had left him stalled before the light that never greened, but flashed bright caution over signs that read: “No Turns,” “Dead End”, and here where pavements stretch away and I have pulled aside to call. I wave off flies that rise from empty flesh— it rots beside the road. My cup is full. “I bought two Playboys.” Pause. The coffee steams. “It’s not the same,” he says. I add more cream. First appeared in Prism Quarterly. Christina Lovin’s first collection, What We Burned For Warmth, was published in 2006 by Finishing Line Press (www.finishinglinepress.com).
Professor Z Abroad Words by John Hubbard Oh why should the aged eagle stretch its wings? T. S. Eliot Ash Wednesday … Eugenides, He organised my lowland travels, The Smyrna merchant, in the days I went Largely to El Iskandria, Beyrouth, Amman. But he’s long gone. Now I head west, Where I pass unnoticed more easily, Though the years have helped; nigh on two thousand, Since I was given a reverent glance. Knees bend these days to damaged flesh, godhead dying. But my desire is life and now, older, Travelling alone, I love youth the more. From the south, where hawks wheel above woods’ shades, Turning fields of yellow heads, bearded maize, I came swift to Paris, amused myself With Louvre drawings of my cup-bearer: Always a little plump, the face too plain. In a number I looked fine, full-feathered— But for such boys I’d not have stretched a wing. Yet before Flandrin’s oil of the nude lad I felt toe nails itch to talons, down plume My chest, retract as I moved on in haste. Settled on the train, reading Marcel Proust, (What else if you have all eternity?) The boy walked in. Ephebe, a student, You would say, nineteen perhaps: shorts, sweatshirt, Red backpack, kind with the old and their bags, Flexuous, beautiful. My eagle eye Swivelled, could not look away from curly hair, Soft looks, strong chest, shoulders, legs. Auale burst Behind my thumbs unbidden, hot fingers Would have sprung primaries, but for firm will. Once my thoughts lit clouded stars, now I scarce Can rule my skin. My book fell, unnoticed, As he drank the passing trees and hills with joy As if the world were new to him. We stopped, He paced the platform, restless a while, Smiled straight at me. For soaring then No air was high enough.
I recognised On his luggage label an outpost where I was worshipped under a Roman name. I had intended to travel westward Along the coast, pace along rough rocks, see My colleague P, the oceanographer. My excuses scrambled in the ferry’s wake, Frothed with white lies. Over the hours the boy round/churned Passed several times, caught my averted eye And longing’s direct force. My final glimpse Was at the port, sprinting for his train home, Running towards his life, and at his heels I saw bright wings, knew I had put them there. In the hotel bathroom I bathed my feet, Snacked—toast and honey—went to bed alone, Dreamt of flying. What can one offer mortals when dethroned?
Kudu Watch Words by Isobel Dixon
Signs bloom mysterious, loom sudden, briefly luminous, moonflowers edged in red. Our lights create the road, its unremitting dashes are a pale Morse code, monotonous, as I count the kilometres mesmerised. Keep watch, still far to go. We are taking it slow tonight, this lonely stretch notorious for lulling the unwary to unbroken rest. Here in the passenger seat I feel the night’s weight, the need to press back sleep, for both our sakes and for those who wait for us. My mother baking, changing sheets, preparing, wearing herself out with tense expectancy. Through my own long-journey weariness I try to reckon all the years I’ve known this road, the stories of its spectral hitchhiker— how I felt for her, bleak shade endlessly thumbing useless rides, always en route. And now with this tar, and all of Africa between my homes and sisters I am back on midnight guard:
eyes peeled for chalky markings on a granite pelt, the phosphor flare of light reflected on a startled eye, a stirring on the verge, a muscled gathering: strange that a gently grazing herbivore can, leaping, be death’s angel here. I feel the world relies on my night vigilance, ever-alert. Who could see that my vision of anxiety is not the buck clearing the fence, but the devastating consequence of a smaller body crashing through the screen’s transparency, how worlds collide: Woman Shatters Windscreen, Exploding From Inside.
The Buried Butterfly Words by Isobel Dixon
My iris purple skirt— its silky swish— was packed at first for partying in but then the destination changed: I checked in for a flight towards his final journeying. In that petal furl, with a beaded butterfly to curb its wrap, I helped to carry him, a coffined husk, across a patch of rocky ground to dusty burying. At last, a rest for him. For me, the hollow pit of grief, a body’s emptying. In a new uncompassed north I dug a hole beneath a tree, through softer soil. For memory, these seeds: a bauble and a photograph, snatched flowers, the match’s halo-ing. There it must lie still no longer winged: just a scatter of beads melted in the earth, and a rusted pin.
Isobel Dixon’s first collection, Weather Eye, was published in by Carapace Poets in 2001. Her second collection, A Fold in the Map, will be published in October 2007 by Salt Publishing (www.saltpublishing.com) in the UK and Umuzi (www.umuzi-randomhouse.co.za) in South Africa. Her work will also be featured in a pamphlet called Ask For It By Name, which will be out in September 2007.
“Roadtrippers experience their sojourns virtually through the mediating frame of the windshield, safe within a metaphoric (and largely illusory) bubble of interiority. They are akin to the subjects of cinema. Campers yearn for the nitty-gritty details of contact. They position themselves on the front lines, negotiating locality and globality. Camping for the photographers Klaus Knoll and Cella constitutes what Gilles Deleuze might have called a ‘happy deterritorialisation.’”
| sandra Buckland photography alexi Niemela
Knitwear is one of the most misunderstood skills around. Not only are you making the garment but you are actually creating the textile it self. Heyress 07 award winner Sandra Buckland, somehow, seems to combine a talent as such with the perfect understanding of volume and its function on a body, coming up with the most exciting of garments. Traditional handicraft techniques mix with pleats, folds and origami in Sandra’s latest collection “Ink Blot Test” turning her exercise of shape discovery into a brightly colored knitted future.
Until now my goal has been to build a history for myself as a fashion designer by doing the kind of clothes that I like to do. When you make the decision to live off doing whatever you want, you soon discover that it is not at all the easy way out. I have put my everything into this since I founded
my company three years ago and I must say that I am proud that I have stuck to my original plan all this time and that I am still standing. 2
Your biggest fear? To loose my loved ones because they are
the ones that gives me the strength to live and work like this. 3
Main inﬂuence so far ? Collage is my passion and I always work with the the human body as a starting point. I am really fascinated by all the ways you
can highlight, distort and transform the natural silhouette of the body. When I start on a new collection I always take off from a diffuse idea. Then I begin to experiment with different handicraft techniques and materials to ﬁnd a couple of concrete bricks to multiply and attatch to each other to
build the garments. One thing leads to another and in the end the collection is like a three dimensional mind map. In that sence you can say that I approach fashion more like a sculptor then a tailor. 4
How much of you work reﬂects yourself
and how much is purely commercial - is there a balance? I don ﾌ》 like the way mass production, mass consumtion and making fast and big money is poisoning modern fashion. I think we all have to take one step back and start to take
responsibility for our actions in this matter, but I have the opinion that it is impossible to solve anything by just beeing rebellious. You need to focus more on how to exploit both the positive and negative aspects in a creative way to get somewhere. My designs are very personal for me. I improvise a lot and
allow myself to loose control and discover what happens if I do not think so much about practical things like trends, seasons, wearability and what other people wants from me. In the end I do this only to satisfy myself.
5. What drives you to continue? For me fashion is simply art. Some people write poems or something to get an outlet for their creative ideas or to deal with them selves. I do fashion. 6. This is the travel issue. What fuels you?
When I, after spending a lot of time experimenting with a material or technique, suddenly discover something that can bring me beyond what I new before.
Swiss couple Nicole and Sebastian Hatik have a message of dark beauty to spread around, one treated with the best of fabrics. The romance between them two and fashion has been going on for a long time. Set free to rebel in luxury through their recently established label, Damn Romance, Nicole and Sebastian are ones to keep an eye on.
Greatest achievement? N: Meeting the most extraordinary person in the world, my husband. S: Loveless our first sales point. Your biggest fear? N: Crashing in an Airplane. S: Money Main influence so far? N: Life S: My wife How much of your work reflects yourself and how much is purely commercial - is there a balance? N: We do Fashion to express our selves so it’s a reflection of what we perceive, when designing we don’t have any commercial thoughts, if we couldn’t sell we would stop. S: No balance, pure reflection of me. What drives you to continue? N: Deadlines S: People who appreciate our work This is the ‘Travel’ issue. What fuels you? N: Red wine, Pizza and Love S: Coca Cola and Swiss chocolate
text and interview... christos kyriakides photography...robert glowacki fashion editor...christos kyriakides make up artist...ken nakano model...ash at storm models
Amanda Truscott Running from my house the other night, I breathed the heavy air and dreamt of travel. The moon shone red through the haze and particles of exhaust lodged in my lungs. But it isn’t only such moments when, feeling smothered by the city, I dream of escape. The thought of it is always there, underneath the thoughts of other things. Escape is only a part of it. Everywhere in the world there is something to run from and something to run to: the choking cloud over Toronto, the breathtaking thrill of near death in a war zone, an old relationship, a new relationship, the dark secrets of an unexplored street in an unknown city. I imagine the curves of Saharan dunes must be very graceful. The executive who flies to Bora Bora for relief from his ulcer and heart palpitations might be running simultaneously to and from life itself. The student who takes her backpack to Thailand might be hoping to return with a piece of herself glittering like a lost gemstone from the eye of Buddha, but there’s a good chance she won’t find it. Travel can’t promise us the missing parts of ourselves, and it can’t clean up the stickiness of life,
but it can give us the clarity of distance and a better appreciation of our smallness. It can also demonstrate to us—if we can handle the ego blow—the subjective nature of our own perceptions and understandings. It can reveal the possibility of viewing life in an infinite number of ways. Upon realizing that the citizens of every country think that theirs is the best in the world, and that every group of people thinks its own culture is the most intelligent and just, we might be more likely to ask ourselves the hard questions: do we really know as much as we think we do? Are we really living in the best possible way? Every culture has its own reality. Going wild-haired and braless is perfectly acceptable at the Glastonbury Festival, but perfectly unacceptable at the office. Travel can teach us that appropriateness and inappropriateness are not necessarily the same as right and wrong. The process of learning this can lead to acute discomfort. When we travel, we are always going to be—to at least some extent—stupid tourists, bungling the language, dressing all wrong, tripping over ourselves on the dance floor, offending attractive members of the opposite sex, and making rude displays at the dinner table.
“Escape is only a part of it. Everywhere in the world there is something to run from and something to run to”
Still, there’s the exhilaration of waking up with no idea what will happen that day, with the certainty only that it will be different from the day before. Unhindered, uncommitted, impermanent, transient, we experience the most absolute freedom of which we are capable. I’ve become addicted to it, to the sense of discovery, and to the joy of realizing the existence of unfamiliar kinds of beauty. Maybe it’s no fault of the place I’m in that I dwell so unfairly on its blemishes; I’m just suffering the gasping and sweats of withdrawal. My eyes are glazed over with visions of palm trees and memories of places to which I might never return. In Valencia there is a park where the breath of white flowers is most fragrant at night. In Baracoa there is a river that flows like honey. I can only imagine all the beautiful things in the world there are still left to see, and right now I can only daydream about a time when they will become real to me. But when they do, I might see that there, too, there are things to run from.
Her latest Sudan-inspired work has struck a chord with gallery goers and activist alike, yet remains as contended and full of contradictions as ever. Meet Vanessa Beecroft, conceptual artist, food obsessive and mother of two. Words by Yannis Tsitsovits.
Far Left: Holy Family, 2006, digital c-print, 230 x180 cm, edition of 6 This page left :Black Christ, 2006, digital c-print, 230 x180 cm, edition of 6 This page right: Pregnant Madonna, 2006, digital c-print, 230 x180 cm, edition of 6
Black Madonna with twins (Left), 2006, digital c-print, 230 x180 cm, edition of 6
Black Madonna with twins (Right), 2006, digital c-print, 230 x180 cm, edition of 6
wo dozen or so women, all black and in the nude, lie face down on the ground, motionless. Some have their limbs piled on top of others; a few lie curled up, foetus-like. Parts of their bodies are covered by a liquid that gleams an inky maroon, like red wine spilt on dark slate. The tableau they form is a mosaic of black flesh, blood-red stains, and the spared remains of a white canvas. Were it not for the women’s pristine skin, or the female figure, who, with a bucket in her left hand and a brush in her right, tiptoes around the canvas to splatter about the liquid, this could be mistaken for the aftermath of a massacre, or a sacrificial ritual. Neither is of course the case, although the scene falls closer to the latter scenario: the assembled throng looks on with intrigue, while the female figure pensively carries out to an act that has all the formality of Mass or a scientific experiment—even the name of the performance is the coolly abstracted VB61. It is 8 June 2007 at the Venice Biennale, and the distrait conductor of this messy affair is none other than the conceptual artist Vanessa Beecroft. The performance, which drew inspiration from Vienesse Actionism, the 1960s and 1970s movement remembered for its transgressive use of the naked body, serves as a protest against the continuing carnage in Africa, especially the Darfur conflict in Sudan. It is the latest in a long line of projects that started in 1993 with VB01, Beecroft’s debut in Milan, which centred on her Book of Food, a diary detailing everything she ate from 1983 until 1993. Her shows quickly grew into elaborately staged but mute performances—or “self-portraits”, as she calls them—with dressed or nude women on display. Most of this work revolves around the social pressures on female appearance, but also stems from a very personal phobia: “My greatest fear is nudity,” Beecroft exclaims. “I don’t like to be seen naked. I hate it.” Her shows have proved controversial (the VB54 performance at the JFK Airport in New York was banned by the authorities in 2004) and Beecroft has been applauded for what some see as her brave exploration of the female psyche and condemned by others for her supposed exploitation of women. These accusations often focus on the strictures she imposes on her models, many of which have had their pubic hair shaved, or been made to stand for hours on end in uncomfortable high heels—a practice that has been interpreted as part of an aesthetic of ‘cruel classicism’. Most of these setups, however, have less to do with cruelty per se than Beecroft’s intention to explore what she calls “the difference between what I expect and what actually happens”—because sooner or later, the models’ rigidly scripted posturing descends into disorder. VB61 has all the hallmarks of a Beecroft performance, such as its serial number and lack of narrative, the predominance of black and red—although of her favourite trio of colours, yellow seems to be absent—and the use of an almost abstracted female body as the essential medium of the work. At the same time, it represents a break from the norm: gone is the tug-of-war between discipline and relaxation, control and disarray; instead, the bodies lie still, the only movement to be found in the splatter and trickle of fake blood. Beecroft herself explains that her interest in the country was sparked in 2005, after reading an article about the Darfur genocide on a flight on which she nearly met the Italian Bishop of the Sudan. This interest, which she describes as “just an intuition”, finally brought her to the country for real in November 2005. On arrival, Beecroft says she fell sick with mastitis, and, to relieve her
of the symptoms, the Bishop led her to three newborns in an orphanage, which she breastfed for the rest of her stay. After a disagreement with her husband over her desire to adopt the children, she decided to include them in a series of photographs. According to Beecroft, the final shots were taken with the Sudanese Police Liberation Army, who were suspecting infant trade, banging at the door. The product of this extraordinary experience is the VB South Sudan project (2006), a photographic work inspired by the religious portraiture of the Renaissance. This series, too, is a turn from her previous work: the typically detached models and their disdainful or vacant stares have here been replaced by Sudanese people who, while not quite exuding warmth, give forth an air of dignified suffering. The Black Madonna with twins pictures, which contrast the woman’s dark skin and the regal red of her cloak, seem to presage the VB61 performance. Beecroft herself is portrayed with two black infants to her bosom in White Madonna with twins, an ambivalent image that could be read as a symbol of racial unity or of white authority over Africa. Although it is surprising to think that these photographs could shock a generation that grew up with Benetton’s advertising campaigns and Madonna’s Like A Prayer video, Beecroft states that she experienced difficulty in showing the South Sudan series in the US, because it was seen as too loaded for the audience there. Rather than strip away the emotional content, Beecroft has brought into the project narrative elements—both from her personal experience and religious iconography—which her previous art lacks altogether. The series’ capacity to shock stems from this exact tactic, for the blackness introduced into this type of sacred imagery will be seen as familiar by some and outlandish by others. Jean-Paul Sartre said of Giacometti’s sculptured figures that “each of them offers proof that man is not at first in order to be seen afterwards but that he is the being whose essence is his existence for others.” In Beecroft’s past performances, the self-conscious, angsty models, much like the elongated forms in Four Figurines on a Base (1950-65), are creatures who live to be seen and to be appraised. These shows were largely about the difficulty of marking out one’s identity while simultaneously conforming to societal norms. The artist’s latest Sudan-inspired work continues to combine personal with social concerns, but, this time round—perhaps under the influence of Marx and Engels’ aesthetics, which Beecroft has recently brought up—the focus is also on how the latter can be grappled with through individual action. Vanessa Beecroft will be showing the VB61 film at Play Forward, which runs from 1 until 11 August at the 60th International Film Festival in Locarno, Switzerland (www.pardo.ch). For more information on the artist, please visit www.vanessabeecroft.com To help the victims in Darfur, please visit www.savedarfur.org All images courtesy Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan.
This page: Tropical Fatigue and the Seven Wanderings: You are not Like Me, 2005, mixed media, dimensions variable Opposite: A Stranger is in Our Paradise, 2002, mixed media, dimensions variable
How does travel and the collection of souvenirs affect our perception of foreign societies? When it comes to cultural exports, is there such a thing as authenticity? Yannis Tsitsovits talks to New York artist Rina Banerjee about the concerns that inform her work.
This page: In dream with grin she kissed and licked his alligator wings, peeled his toes of all its nails and waled at the site of killing, 2006, steel, floral sticks, dry mushrooms, plastic beads, feather fans, horn, preserved alligator head, coweri shells, linen-threads, copper wire, 120 x 120 x 80 cm Opposite Left: With tinsel and teeth, gem and gem... get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged, 2006, mixed media, 337 x 107 x 90 cm Opposite Right: Feathery fountain horn and fury finger nail, 2006, steel, feather fan, shells, threads, nylon fiber, sticks, copper wire, cow horns, 188 x 87 x 40 cm
remember someone walking by my piece and saying it looked like salad,” Rina Banerjee recalls of her show at the 2000 Whitney Biennial. “I’m sure they meant it was like tossed salad.” Whether innocent remark or thinly veiled slight, Banerjee is confident enough an artist to take the comment at face value. “I found it really interesting that it was compared to something organic,” she says, deadpan, “as if my sculpture was a departure from objects.” In the context of a US biennial, where, as far as sculpture is concerned, minimalism is still the order of the day, her installation must have stuck out like a sore thumb. “So many people made these things that could be cleaned by Windex,” Banerjee quips. “Everything was recognisable. You knew what you were looking at.” Her sculpture does, indeed, abound with vegetal qualities: like unruly flora, it often sprawls in all directions, blooming with rich colours and thorn-like spikes. The fecund range of materials she uses—from rubber tubes and metal to sari cloth, tea, and spices—adds to this effect. At times, bits are scattered around the work, pollen-wise, as with the crystals and pebbles in With tinsel and teeth, gem and gem... get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged (2006), a practice that echoes Anish Kapoor’s one-time habit of coating his works in brightly coloured powder akin to the pigment found in the markets and temples of India. For Banerjee, who was born in Calcutta and raised New York, using these media is not so much a demonstration of Indianness as an exploration of how cultural heritage assumes new meaning through tourism, trade, and migration. “The promiscuity of culture when it travels is a very inventive motivation for my work,” she informs me, later adding, “I
don’t know what Indian is, really; I know I am it.” This stance—one foot in the tradition of the Indian diaspora and the other in what she calls an “as yet fragmented global culture”—is exemplified in Take Me, Take Me, Take Me… To the Palace of Love (2003), a rendition of the Taj Mahal (1631-48) based on a marble souvenir the artist bought in her twenties. Banerjee explains that she “was really interested in how the legend of a place adds to souvenir quality and how this brings hypervisibility to a thing or place, so that it ends up becoming a possession of the world rather than a possession of India.” The artwork, which is a 19-foot long, pink see-through tent that hangs suspended from the ceiling, looks like an oversized tourist trinket. “I like the idea that the Taj Mahal was fake and would hang like an ornament in a Christmas tree,” she notes. There is something comical and yet strangely touching about Take Me…. It reminds us that even the emblems of the most esoteric of cultures are prone to the mutations brought about by cheap travel and the pressures of worldwide trade. Sometimes the smile it produces is one of unease—unease at having to entertain the sense of loss that these cultural shifts entail and unease at our inability to stop them—a nostalgic notion if ever there was one. The monument—a mausoleum built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan on the occasion of his second wife’s death—was chosen by Banerjee not only for its global status, but also because she sees it as a symbol of the continued struggle with intimacy and love. The title of the piece itself is borrowed from the 1941 Bollywood production Taj
Mahal, which has an actress blurting out the amorous twitter. “Many people visited it on their honeymoon or because of some tragic love affair in their life. All these things folded into what its oral history was going to be about,” Banerjee remarks. “So the work was driven by the fact that we continue to be puzzled by human relations and our lack of control of them, despite all these forces—community forces, family forces—that try to organise how love will be handled in the world.” For her installation Contagious Spaces (2003), Banerjee used a dazzling array of goods and documents that she procured through the Society for the Preservation of New England and Antiquities. The possessions of a Victorian family from Boston, the Codmans, struck a particular chord. “They travelled to Cape Town, Madras and Calcutta to shop,” Banerjee notes. “The finest things they owned were often souvenirs of places they’d been to.” In his letters home, Odgen Codman, head of the family, makes a series of gaffes—such as mistaking a well-to-do Indian lady for a “painted woman”—in his effort to decipher the local customs. Among other things, the installation seems to highlight the confusion that arises when foreign cultures are sought to be understood through the consumption of goods. Banerjee herself is quite emphatic in her claims: “The way I see it, there is no such thing as authenticity. So much of the goods we see in the world are a product of tourism and commerce, that it’s almost a catch-22 situation, where if it’s visible to you it’s probably not real and the people you think it represents don’t even see it. It’s almost like two worlds living within each other. But I think that can be a liberating thing too: how a thing can acquire new meaning because of how it has travelled.” This idea is reflected in her art, through which she recreates a sort of eccentric orientalism, a world in which the commodification of the exotic is condemned as much as it is celebrated. Much of the foreignness in her work, nonetheless, retains a sense of danger that confronts or shuts out the viewer. Witness Tropical Fatigue and the Seven Wanderings: You Are Not Like Me (2005), in which a chimerical string of objects crawls out of a ring of suspended suitcases. The picture painted seems to be that of an unsuspecting tourist having gotten more than he bargained for: the piece is crowned by the remnants of a hollow attempt to fend off the elements, an umbrella skeleton, while the eggs below the piece stand as a metaphor for unknown designs being hatched. Moreover, the talon-like table foot at the centre of the luggage is painted scarlet—a poignant reminder of a nature ‘red in tooth and claw’.
“It’s very important to be aware that you can never completely know a place you’re not explicitly part of,” Banerjee stresses. “I’m very aware of that because when I visit India it’s very clear that I’m not part of it.” To an audience unaccustomed to the excesses of Indian decoration, her art, which eschews purity of form, may appear dirty, grotesque, a sculptural muddle. “‘Ornamental’ is understood as ‘too much’ and has that burden of being lost in it,” she says. “At the same time, I like how you are forced to make sense out of it. I think that’s very important: that there are parts of it that seem to reject you. I don’t mean rejecting the viewer, but reject your knowing of this thing.” The long-winded, often paragraph-long titles Banerjee uses for her pieces are an important part of this process. At their most terse, they could be hammy two-line poems; at their most verbose, they almost read as a parody of the idea that words are an adequate substitute for perceiving an artwork with all the senses. “What’s nice about touch, smell and sound is that we don’t scrutinise them—we accept them for what they are, put them back in our minds and let them stew,” she says. “Language in its exactness can kill what it represents, especially when it’s used to represent an object.” One could argue here that art is as much an abstraction of ideas as language, or that art is itself a language of sorts—but this would, perhaps, be missing the point. For Banerjee’s art, at its core, asks to be appreciated as a sensual experience as much as an intellectual one—and has the audacity to tease, charm and seduce. Rina Banerjee’s upcoming solo exhibition, Where the Wild Things Are, will be on show at Galerie Volker Diehl, Berlin, from 28 September until 10 November. Her work will also be presented by Galerie Nathalie Obadia at ShContemporary 2007, which runs from 6 September until 9 September at the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. She will also be on show at An Archaeology at Project 176, London, from 17 September until 16 December (www.projectspace176.com). For more information on the artist, please visit www.rinabanerjee.net All images courtesy Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris.
The Young Playthings
Inventors aside, in your personal experience, which came first, the guitar or the girl?
Definitely the girl—I had my first kiss when I was about ten, and wasn’t even interested in learning guitar until I was thirteen. But I didn’t take it up to write songs about girls; it was more about having an outlet for my awkward pubescent feelings.
In pairing tales of love and lust with high-octane pop, you are tapping a rich vein in American music. The Bay Area punk scene of the mid-1990s in particular springs to mind. What is it that draws you to this idiom and do you think that you could ever outgrow it? You’re right to pick up on the Californian punk scene, because it was a revelation when I discovered it at age fifteen. It was immediate, urgent, and the ideals behind it were very empowering—particularly those about doing things yourself. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I preferred the more melodic bands, like The Mr. T Experience and The Queers. As far as writing goes, we’re not committed
The Young Playthings are a man band with boy hearts. Combining feel-good melodies with a wry but honest take on life, they inject nostalgia into the everyday and invite us to revel in it with them. This year sees the group follow-up their first full-length Who Invented Love? (Smalltown America, 2007) with a string of dates across the UK. Amin Samman caught up with Warrick Harniess (a.k.a. Bateman—vocals, guitar) in London to discuss youth, travel, discovery and art. Images by Stephen JB Kelly.
to any particular style—it’s more that I spent so long trying to emulate those types of songs that it has become a kind of grammar. We won’t necessarily ‘outgrow’ pop-punk, but we will need to keep building on it and exploring other things. You can already hear the beginnings of this on the album: in the Prince-like chorus to Last Night in L.A. or the Brian Wilson-esque arrangements for Just A Fool and Never Let You Go.
Lyrically, you appear to be digging a little deeper than most of those bands, using vignettes of youth and discovery to explore broader, dare I say weightier themes like idealism and disappointment. Did you make a conscious decision to use such a device? If so, why? I don’t think we’re necessarily digging deeper, but it’s definitely not a coincidence that we write songs the way we do. Personally, I’m more interested in creating an evocative piece of music that speaks to people than I am in breaking new musical ground. But it’s quite hard to step outside of yourself and analyse your progress as a songwriter. Generally speaking, it’s an unconscious evolution—though there have been times when something’s struck me and I’ve tried to pay attention to it. Like before, I used to write long and wordy lyrics and try to fit them to music afterwards. Then I read something about Bob Dylan, to the effect
of: ‘it’s his omissions that speak volumes’. I found that really interesting, and began working on boiling things down. When the band started, we definitely wanted to celebrate the awe that the world can inspire in you. It’s like what John Peel once said about Teenage Kicks: there are cleverer songs, catchier songs, better crafted songs, but none moved him as much as that raw, unsubtle, youthful splurging of emotion. I want to write at least one song that someone can say that about.
How does the US fit into all of this? Songs like Last Night in L.A. and The American West are saturated with references to American popular culture. Are these mere recollections of road trips across the country or does America occupy a special place in your lyrics? When I was a kid I was fascinated with the US. I got really into American Literature and History, and ended up spending a year in the States as part of an American Studies degree. I had an American girlfriend and we travelled around a lot together—it was a really formative time for me. Originally, I wanted to make an entire album of American songs. That never happened but the best ones ended up becoming Young Playthings songs. I spent ages writing The American West, taking notes on the road. It’s not uncritical but I do have a genuine love for the US—I’ve always found that American people are very generous and I love their national, cultural spirit of determination and positivity.
You’ve recently completed your first UK tour. How do these references (along with the musical ones) go down with British audiences? Do people assume that you are an American band?
There are some people that really get it and there are those that write us off as American college kids in a ‘competent pop-punk covers band’. Touring with The Pipettes helped out—we don’t sound anything like them but we do share some 50s and 60s American pop influences and that’s turned a (very small) portion of their audiences onto us. In terms of the way people perceive us, I do get irritated sometimes and take things personally—but that’s the nature of the art game. As long as we are all happy with our progress as a band and we believe in what we’re doing there will be people who like us.
From what I gather, both you and Pat (a.k.a. Jors Truly—vocals, bass) grew up in Hong Kong. How important a factor do you think this was in shaping the band? Do you think expatriate life has left a lasting mark on your identity? Where anyone grows up has a massive impact on their identity because it infuses their character with habits and attitudes specific to that place. As far as being an expat goes, I think it fosters a very peculiar engagement with one’s surroundings. When Fugazi came to Hong Kong, I spoke to Ian Mackaye about it and he described us as ‘dancing on the culture’ of the city. It’s a very striking image because it’s true: you’re not part of the fabric of society. It’s a weird and transient place to begin with, but living in a bubble that hovers above it gives you even more space: you can be reckless without necessarily having to face the consequences. There was a distinct sense of not belonging anywhere. But funnily enough, when I went back recently for the first time in three years, I realised that I do belong to a community of people— a community of people who are essentially rootless. Is
that a paradox? I’ve always felt like an outsider, and perhaps that’s a reason I identify with a lot of American art—because it celebrates that status.
With a confident album safely under your belt, what do you look forward to as a band? Writing a new one about Britain and touring it in America? I think that’s a good point. I’ve been in England for three years now and feel a lot more settled. The next batch of songs, however they are released, will have a lot more to do with life in the UK. They are sassier too—the guitar parts a little leaner and the bass and drums a little funkier. Needless to say, we’d love to tour them in America. Who Invented Love? is out now on Smalltown America records. www.myspace.com/youngplaythings
James Chance There is something of Bela Lugosi about No Wave saxophone legend James Chance. His dusty suit and 50s rockabilly Munsters hair carry the air of old horror flicks and suggest a man out of time. Chance sprang to hipster notoriety alongside Mars, DNA and Lydia Lunch’s Teenage Jesus and the Jerks on Brian Eno’s seminal No New York compilation (Antillies, 1978). Described by TV Party host Glenn O’Brien as “the first chic death fashion Pop art band since the Velvet Underground”, James Chance and the Contortions brought a dark, discordant yet danceable funk sound to the No Wave scene. Stimulus Respond tracked Chance down in New York on the eve of recording a new album with the original No New York line-up. Interview by William Alderwick, image above by Richard Verdi.
What was the relation with other No Wave bands like? In general I considered my music on a different level than the other bands that were on No New York. I always wanted my stuff to be danceable for one thing. Did the other No Wave bands, like DNA or Mars for example, influence what you were doing? One influence was to use a slide guitar, I got that from Mars. Also the idea of using people who weren’t professional musicians. Actually the original version of The Contortions, which was never recorded, was a lot more No Wave sounding. The original guitarist was an English artist named James Nares. He was a really tall guy and he played this plastic guitar that was almost a toy made for little kids—it was electric but it wasn’t full size. Adele [Bertei—keyboard] was a singer—she’d never played organ before The Contortions. She’d just come to New York from Cleveland and was just hanging around when we were rehearsing one time. In those days if you saw someone who looked like they should be in a band, [but] didn’t play an instrument, you found something for them to do. It was the same with Pat [Place— guitar]. Slide guitar is a lot easier to play if you’re just beginning. It’s a lot easier to just slide up and down—it makes some great noises. That band was much more of a real No Wave sound. There’s a great photograph of you backstage at CBGB’s or Mudd club or something, with graffiti all over the walls and ENO etched into the wall behind you. What was it like working with Eno for the No New York compilation? I knew him from before that because he had a thing going with Anya Phillips right before she got together with me. When he decided to do the No New York thing it was very casual. I didn’t even have a phone at that time. One day some of the band members just knocked on my door, woke me up and said ‘we’re recording today’. We did it like playing a live show, just set up everything all in one room. There was no attempt to set up so the instruments didn’t bleed into one another. I think I was even in the room with the band too. It was really kinda like anti-production—[Eno] didn’t do any of this other kind of intricate stuff. It was just really kinda like a document. I couldn’t re-do some parts of my vocals because there was just too much bleeding onto the tracks. We just did it all in one day. I Can’t Stand Myself actually we’d never really played before; that was just totally spontaneous.
I think that for a lot of kids of my generation seeing you play live now is like discovering an old obscure blues-smith, somebody who shaped what’s followed yet never quite got the recognition deserved. Do you feel that this is changing now, with younger generations discovering your music? Yeah, I get a lot of young people at my shows which makes me really happy—it’s a lot better than having a bunch of old fogies! I think that my music hasn’t dated the way a lot of music from that time has, especially punk and the real new wave pop type stuff. A lot of that really sounds so much of its time. But I don’t think mine does. I think that’s one of the reasons these kids like it, not because it’s some old thing that they’ve dug up like a museum piece, because it’s relevant to them. I think there’s an intensity about my stuff that is totally lacking in 98% of what’s out there and they respond to that. Also, I’m a real showman, which is another thing which most people have no concept of, it’s on a whole other level from what they’re used to. This is the travel issue. When you’re onstage jazzing out to the music, dancing away and screaming down your sax, where do you go? Where does the music take James Chance when it takes hold? Well, not to sound pretentious but being onstage with the Contortions is the closest I would get to some kind of religious experience. It definitely puts you in another state of mind, although I’m always in control. I think in the past some people thought I was some kind of wild man, who just got up there and went spastic or something, and that’s not the case at all. I’m the leader. As wild as it gets, I’m keeping everything together. It’s something like a split consciousness, ecstatic feeling but also being in control at the same time. Do you feel your audience shares that ecstatic feeling or headspace? I hope they do. It seems like a lot of them do. I can’t speak for them but that would be my intention. After I stopped doing the attacking people thing, I had to come up with something else to replace the intensity of that. Also I always felt that there had to be a theatrical element,
Image by Edo Bertoglio
beyond just playing music. So I got much more into the dancing, How do you feel about the legacy of current bands referencing your music, or being tagged No Wave by critics? I don’t think they’re really just trying to imitate me. Most of them just have some small aspect of it. I don’t hear any of them doing the funk part, but then most white rock bands aren’t really capable of playing funk anyway. I’m not insulted by it or anything, but I haven’t heard anything that really gets it. Going back to the theatricality: ‘Art rock’ is an overused term these days, with post-punk, new wave and no wave being hailed as its origin. Were you aware of what you were doing as, broadly speaking, art? No. I don’t like art rock. The only band that I liked that might be considered art rock is Roxy Music. But I think the whole idea of art rock is pretentious. Trying to merge this intellectual idea of art with Rock’ n’ Roll in a conscious, considered, conceptual way that just ends up being stilted and pretentious. When I talk about theatricality it doesn’t come from that kind of thing at all. It comes from people like Jackie Wilson or Cab Calloway. I’m completely out of black tradition in music. So you think art rock has too much thinking and not enough feeling? Yeah, well, it’s the wrong kind of thinking. I mean, someone like James Brown—there’s a tremendous amount of thinking in his music too but it’s totally integrated with the emotional content so there’s no separation between the two.
No New York (Antilles, 1978) James recommends: Buy- The Contortion (Ze Records, 1979) Off White- James Black and the Whites (Ze Records, 1979) Sax Maniac- James White and the Blacks (Animal, 1982) James Chance & Lles Ccontorsions plays Komedia in Brighton on 4th October and London’s Camden Barfly on 7th October, for details see www. myspace.com/jameschanceeuropetour Read more about James Chance in No Wave, a book by Marc Masters forthcoming October 2007 from Black Dog Publishing.
Out on La Rampa He has diarrhoea, no jazz timing, and the Canadians are closing in, but Andy Johnson is out on La Rampa intoxicated with rum and temazepam and dizzied by Cuban promise…
riendly, friendly, Hola! Hola! Hola! Que tal amigo?
It is fucking friendly. “What are they on? What to they want?” I ask… myself. On the beach, in the town everyone is amazingly warm—the Cubans. “What do they want?” Nothing. “Hola amigo to you too.” Fantastic. I keep myself from wondering will they get the sack if the smile sags? Forget it. Get to the beach. Get onto the beach. Get into the beach! I mean really. The sea is so blueindigoazureturquoiseperfect it makes you want to cry. I stare, glaze and then jump as a man surfaces and pulls a huge conch and a box of cigars from under the blue. “Hola Amigo,” he shouts. Temazepam is a great thing. It gets you through airports and check-in with a laid back grace that eases that usual habitual sweaty panic into touch. Everything’s a breeze. The side-effect—it is less effective at blotting out the Canadians. Canadians visit Cuba in droves; largely because the Americans can’t. Cuba is full of maple-leafed vacationers. However, they mostly stick to the ‘All In’ type of place. They generally moose their way down to the pool with a bar in it and make believe like Lake Ontario. Here they graze, drink and bellow “WHY, I BIN COMMIN’ SOUTH FOR THE SUMMER FOR 15 YEARS SON. WE NEVER GO AYWHERE ELSE.” By the way, never swim in a pool with a bar in it. Watch them! They drink all day yet never seem to get out for the toilet. The Canadian flag and the maple leaf are emblazoned with relentless zest on flags, bags, T-shirts and flesh—backs, fronts, sides, legs, arms and eyelids—they love it. They are loud and proud. It’s irritating. I try to think of Greece and Spain colonised by British family pods all stalking beach and bar, fitted from head to toe in football kits, even the kid smoking Embassy Regal in the pram is wearing red and white Arsenal pampers with ‘Ljungberg’ splashed across the arse. I’m thinking of having ‘Nowhere’ tattooed on me, but nobody would get it. Even I don’t get it. I try to make the balance but it’s no good—they shout for the galaxy and expect to speak to you uninvited. It’s at times like this you start to feel proud, sheepishly proud, to be British.
Escape! Havana. Internal flight. Cubans smoke cigars while we look nervous in a thrice recycled Aeroflot jet from the early 70s. “There will be some smoke in the cabin while we take off but this is nothing to worry about ladies and gentlemen… now then amigo’s, I only have a last few excellent Cuban cigars and last few beautiful rums on sale…” The jet rattles to take-off, we start to scream as the fuselage fills to chest height with dry ice—I hope it was—from the aircon system. Touchdown. “What is your wish?” “What is your desire?” It’s true, there are loads of huge, beautiful 1950s cars majestic, nostalgic, over half a century old, still going and wondrous. Havana is a crazy, wild, romantic, rhythmical, intoxicating place. People are the thing. You can really feel people. They meet and greet with style; even customers in the bank get a kiss. La Rampa. “What is your wish?” “What is your desire?” Swigging a beer on La Rampa. La Rampaa! Wide, gasoline incline, artery but stuff that. “La Rampa!”…sounds really cool just saying it. While the people go home hitching lifts on every kind of transport—JCB careers up “La Rampa!” with people stuffed in the front bucket. They too swig beers and cheer as the yellow machine swerves to avoid a ‘52 red Chevrolet which in the act of narrowly avoiding a ‘55 Plymouth Belvedere, top down and jacked up in the middle of the road on a beer crate while the owner barters for re tread. The buzz is warm, enticing, exciting, dangerous, sexy, safe and dizzying and it isn’t even night time. La Rampa is full and full on and full of Cuban promise. It makes me nervous. Faded, grand and all the other things they say. History. On the streets time is frozen since maybe the 1930s. Crumbling, colonial, haunting and fab. There are reasons why they don’t pasteurise with Accessorize nor do they H Samuelize. They don’t need Early Learning Centres. Education, medicine, healthcare are 22nd Century—Cuba has made some of the finest medical discoveries ever (even though you don’t really get a say in the career you want). There are no cross country Specsavers. No big Gaps, Next, Natural World, Bear Factory, Toys ‘R Us—Suits
You! Mind you, they do have a lot of Pound Shops. Sooner or later, the others will come. They don’t do Americans either and so no Starbucks or Macdonald’s —rad and disorientating. Went to this wild restaurant in the middle of someone’s house. Apparently they used it in the film Fresas y Chocolat—‘La Guarida’—the hidden one. We got there in a taxi shaped like a coconut. Yellow. Driven by a doctor. They can earn more in tips than they can as a specialist on the national wage. Same goes in hotels where the bell-hop is more than likely to be a professor of philosophy. La Guarida is in the middle of a rough looking, lamp-less district, totally dark, but amazingly “the people are really friendly”. To be honest, didn’t really hang around to try that one out; we leapt from the cococab into the welcoming grin of a huge doorman. Had Thai lamb cutlets and salmon tartar... Wow! Awfully good. But kept wondering how they get fresh salmon to Cuba... then it struck me. Probably the fucking Canadians—then got a really bad attack of diarrhoea. Those Canadians and their Sockeye Salmon! Night time in Havana. Oh my lord! “What is your wish?” “What is your desire?” Not having the courage to explore the range of what they might have on offer; “world peace!” I say after the twentieth approach. I then walk on… smugly…. followed by Hispanic invectives’ and Cuban laughter. It’s not that people aren’t friendly—they really are—it is just that they know a smart arse when they hear one. Temazepam is really fine stuff for those sticky moments. Went to a jazz club. I hate jazz—especially the way that people hang onto it as a religious hobby. It seemed that the trick to being a jazz audience is to know exactly when to break into appreciative clapping, whistle or stand and clap, or do all three, or clap and whistle but don’t stand. There are rules, man. Smile and nod knowingly if you catch someone’s eye, that’s what you are meant to do as a true jazz audience
member. But I was bored—jazz goes right over my head and rum goes right to my head—nice mix. So I started to experiment with various combinations of the jazz way to show approval and the timing of which you should do this. I developed a rapid and firm interest too, in levels of sincerity. I got stuck into standing, whistling and/or clapping with gusto but not much else in terms of timing or sincerity. Clap at the wrong time at a jazz gig and things can turn ugly. Stand and whistle at the wrong musician (if you can) and things get worse. The atmosphere got tense and a rupture formed in the continuum of their collective thingy. Puffs of Canadians loomed out of their fat, Cuban cigar smoke at me, faces twisted in mal-comprehension and then hostility… I pushed on and needless to say a group of very phony Canadian weekend jazz twats took offence. I offered them out and don’t remember much after that. Out on La Rampa with a crowd gathered. I must be nearly famous. Next thing I do remember—”What is your desire sir? What is you wish amigo?” Applause please, stand and whistle! Whoop! Visit! Before the two fingers stuck up to the US fall and it all goes West.
Defiant Exclamations Art that seeks to expose the reality of our contemporary political situation is increasingly being quashed by authorities with questionable agendas. Drawing on thinkers such as Walter Benjamin and Frederic Jameson, Norman Wilcox discusses the production, distribution and reception of Giuseppe Di Bellaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Abu Ghraib Series.
remember when Giuseppe Di Bella first began this project in the second year of our photography degree: I was in his tutorial group and was intrigued by the enthusiasm he conveyed in talking about this project. In those days, the project was in its infancy. He spoke angrily about the Abu Ghraib pictures, which had appeared in the media around that same time. It was these images that he chose as the basis for a body of work that was to have implications more far-reaching than he could have imagined back then in that clammy tutorial room. Giuseppe’s intention was to create replica stamps of the photographs taken by American soldiers while they subjected Iraqi inmates in the Abu Ghraib prison to torture and sexual humiliation. His aim was to use the inherent symbolism of the stamp format to highlight the disgrace that these images cast upon certain Western nations as well as the implications of their imperialist agenda. Through the commemorative qualities of the stamp—traditionally used as a mode of presenting the great attributes of a nation to a world audience—these images became tokens of remembrance. Two years later, I was pleased to hear that Giuseppe had continued the project with much vigour, and that his efforts were attracting interest from many directions. His work was recently featured in two group exhibitions in Manchester and Brussels, and was a subject of discussion within the Democratic Image Blog . The attention that this work has received has a great deal to do with the remarkable journey it has undertaken from its conception to its current state. The story of the production of this piece and the reception it received are intriguing in themselves, but more importantly, they express a great deal about the state of our current affairs—in particular, the dangers posed to the freedom of speech by measures purportedly aimed at countering the threat of terrorism.
Giuseppe’s subsequent intention was to test out the effect of his work by sending his ‘stamps’ through the postal service to far-off places around the globe. At this stage, he was unsure of the consequences, although he insured himself against potential counterfeit indictments by covering the cost of postage with genuine stamps. He began by asking a willing acquaintance in New York to act as distributor of the material in the USA and mailed him a parcel containing the prepared letters and postcards. When the parcel failed to arrive, Giuseppe contacted the courier company responsible for its delivery, only to be told that its contents had been seized and reported to the British authorities. At this stage, Guiseppe’s specially created mail lay firmly in the hands of the British antiterror branch, pending further investigation—much to Giuseppe annoyance, since the contents were clearly of no danger to national security. Letters were sent, in which he emphasised the breaching of his rights and threatened legal action, and the package was released and reached its intended destination. The project went ahead as planned, the acquaintance mailing multiple postcards and letters to various predetermined destinations all over the world. A short time later, the acquaintance received a visit from the FBI, who questioned him about his relationship with the artist, and asked whether he felt that this artist posed a threat to US national security. Hearing Giuseppe’s story reminded me of an article on the US artist Steve Kurtz and the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), who to this day remain under investigation by the FBI under the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act . Their personal property, artistic materials and a book manuscript were similarly confiscated by the authorities. The allegations aimed at Kurtz are serious, with potentially dire consequences. Giuseppe Di Bella’s
circumstances are similar to the issues surrounding the Steve Kurtz case, in particular the attempt by government authorities to clamp down on the activities of artists attempting to open dialogue and engage with a range of sensitive issues. The extent of this intervention by the authorities, in directly suppressing their freedom of speech, highlights the degree to which these initiatives are feared. These stories have much to say about the paranoia that affects our nations’ authorities and finds its way into society at large. They also highlight the extent to which art today can be seen to retain a measure of its activist potential, as the actions of artists working in this vein are now feared by forces whose agenda is exposed and critiqued. There has been much talk, since the mid-90s, of a new wave of politically driven artists. The September 2004 edition of Artforum devoted a whole section to the reemergence of ‘political’ art that included a who’s who of the forerunners of this new trend. In the same year, the April edition of ArtReview ran an article heralding the work of several contemporary artists hesitantly grouped together under the ‘New Realism’ tag . The article referred to individual artists and collectives such as Mark Lombardi, Danny Goodwin, Space Force/Ocean Earth, RTMark, and the Yes Men, but could have equally included the CAE, the Atlas Group, A.T.T.A.C., Las Agencias, Bernadette Corporation, and Ne Pas Plier , to name but a few. This new international brigade of angry artists shares a desire to combine the activist legacy of artist-collectives from the 60s, 70s and 80s with a renewed and contemporary urgency, often in combination with new media technology and the use of forms of cultural reference and appropriation. These artists typically work collectively and try to create artisticpolitical interventions in contexts distinct from the more traditional sites in which art is presented. Their actions can be seen to reflect a desire to resurrect the public protest
actions of 60s and 70s collectives, and a disdain for a contemporary art market that more than ever structures and controls the production of art. These artists are sometimes self-conscious and often self-critical, aware of the limitations within the production of ‘political’ art, whilst reflecting on their own positions within the power structures that they critique. These artistic practices are often viewed suspiciously for their increasing popular status in the art world which threatens their political efficacy and sustenance. Too much attention, and a contemporary activist project runs the risk of being diluted (The USA Today show at the Royal Academy last autumn quickly springs to mind). Nevertheless, it is important to look beyond the popular face of this movement and acknowledge the conviction and force that the artistic act is still able to deliver. Much of his movement stems from a nostalgic harking back to artistic practices of the 60s and 70s, and represents an attempt to regain some of the lost energy and optimism of utopian ideals and traditional avant-garde practices. After a dry spell of cynical neo-conservative, postmodernist jargon and pessimistic forecasts, the winds are perhaps now turning and we are finally reconsidering the possibility of believing in something once more. It is also encouraging that contemporary practitioners are realising the egalitarian potential of situating their art within the public realm. This is being paralleled by a revitalised belief in the utopian promise of new forms of technology and communication, which provide forms of expression that are relevant and accessible. In 1936 Walter Benjamin wrote that “the adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.”  Today this statement is as relevant as ever. In our time, violence and suffering run parallel to a
“Within our contemporary condition, we are constantly fed fragments of information, but at the same time this barrage lays waste to our abilities to comprehend the given material”
relentless stream of imagery and information. Yet it could be said that we remain none-the-wiser as to the reality of our conditions. In an analogy by Frederic Jameson, the contemporary subject, much like the schizophrenic, abides in a state of a perpetual present . His experience of reality is given in intensified and material form and he is unable to make connections between consecutive moments in time. Within our contemporary condition, we are constantly fed fragments of information, but at the same time this barrage lays waste to our abilities to comprehend the given material, as we are discouraged from identifying the points of connection that would allow us to draw these disparate elements together and paint a clearer picture. It could be said that we are made blind by the very same factors that purport to give us our sight: the dominant structures that govern and limit the extent to which we are able to visualise and grasp the reality of our condition. It is the fragmentation of our experience of one particular reality that Giuseppe Di Bella is attempting to address and counteract with this body of work. By putting these images back into circulation, he attempts to extend a life cycle that was always going to be short-lived and subject to the conditions in which the images first appeared. The work urges us to take the time to look again at what passes in a flurry before our eyes. It impels us to consider how we are seen by others and the implications of our nation’s foreign policy, but also to do so before these thoughts are sweeped under the carpet, along with yesterday’s news. Similarly, it encourages us to make the necessary connections between our inherited imperialist legacy, our foreign policy and the sustained threat of terrorist actions at home. A crucial role of art at this time may be to bring these issues to the surface, through highlighting the correlations that might otherwise remain distinct or invisible under the distracting spell of the spectacle. A project of art activism that attempts to open windows of perception and encourage broader comprehension, and that is currently being
pursued on multiple fronts and in a multitude of forms is—to reiterate the words of Walter Benjamin—one of unlimited scope.
The Abu Ghraib series has recently been on show at the Portraits de l’autre exhibition at the Musée d’Ixelles in Brussels, and at the Holden Gallery, MMU, Manchester. The artist is currently collaborating with a filmmaker on a fictive re-working of his experiences of this project, whilst beginning new work on the theme of paranoia.
Notes 1. thedemocraticimage.opendemocracy.net—an online discussion board that ran parallel with a symposium that discussed the democratic potential of the image and representation within a globalised context and in relation to digital technology. 2. Artforum International, Sept 2004 (XI III No.1). Please also see www.caedefensefund.org for more details on this case. 3. ArtReview, April 2004. 4. Ne Plas Plier is a French, post-situationist artist-group that was founded in 1991 to try to ensure that “the signs of misery not be doubled by the misery of signs” (www. k3000.ch/bulletin/kollektive_arbeit/archive/site009.html) 5. Benjamin, Walter 1968 ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ in Arendt, Hannah (ed.) Illuminations; London: Pimlico. p217. 6. Jameson, Frederic 1985 ‘Postmodernism and the Consumer Society’ in Foster, Hal (ed.) Postmodern Culture; London: Pluto Press. p120.
The Strange Quiddity of Mr Rama
Enduring ferocious skin-eating plants and chapatti-insistent waiters, Jay Merrick ruminates over tuk-tuks, The Great Arc project and George Everest. All this during his first trip to India, in search of the third leg of his literary tripodâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; the phantasmagoric Mr Rama.
he traffic in Jaipur that morning had been dense, a swirling Coreolis Effect of vehicles, animals, bicycles, dust. A tuk-tuk sputtered past, trailing squibs of pale blue exhaust. Why I should have noticed this one so acutely? The tuk-tuk, one among a dozen or so within view, edged closer: dark green, battered, three pensive passengers. A small poster had been affixed to the back of the three-wheeler. It announced the presence of The Little Angels Montessori School, Jaipur. I had come to India in search of three characters: two real, one fictional. The real ones had died more than a century and a half ago, and their traces remained. My fictional quarry, on the other hand, had no lineage, but was just about to come to life. As the tuk-tuk gargled away across the junction near the seventh gate of the fabled Pink City, whose colour is actually nothing grander than B&Q special offer terracotta, I sensed that I was about to meet this fantasm. At that accidentally angelic moment, I just knew. I refer to Mr Rama. Actually, he has two names, the second of which I think of as an alias. I will not reveal it quite yet. That would be foolish, and I like to think that my headpiece is not entirely filled with straw. I knew all this as decisively as I had always believed that I would never travel to India. The depressing evidence of this had accreted like rust on a hull for more than twenty years, despite a seething desire to visit the land where Porus would have overcome Alexander the Great had his elephants not been confused—they were certainly not significantly injured—by the hail of Macedonian arrows. The cancelled trip to Goa; the onset, at another punctured juncture, of a sudden and heavilycargoed relationship; the new job at precisely the wrong moment; and so on. The kharmic snow was general all over my intentions, or so I liked to say to women, preferably those dressed in black, whenever given half a dreary chance. I had even broached the idea of a novel about the psychological and physical minutiae of not getting to India; a Zen and the Art of Inertia Maintenance. And then, just as decisively, I found myself in Jaipur. I do not employ the word “found” in any gourd-rich, Quintessence-Live-at-Norwich-Cathedral, hippy manner. There were, as I have intimated, specific kinds of finding at stake, and Mr Rama was the ultimate quarry. My Indian expedition had been fertilised by the blandishments of a London media massage parlour employed by the Delhi-based Teamwork Films to promote the ramifications of another, vastly more extraordinary expedition which began in India in 1803 and ended about half a century later. Covertly, though, I was in India to discover Mr Rama; a small ulterior assignment. But compare this lacuna with the professional subjects of my visit: William Lambton and George Everest who, between them, mapped huge topographical tranches of the Indian subcontinent, from Cape Cormorin at the southern tip of Tamil Nadu, right up to the foothills of the Himalayas. Teamwork Films, and its charming impresario-at-large, Sanjoy Roy, mounted an ambitious series of art, dance and music events in Britain, themed on the Great Arc survey. Two centuries ago, the Great Arc project was defended by Arthur Wesley and the 3rd Foot Regiment, some years before he so assiduously discouraged the French at Waterloo, having by then grandiloquised the spelling of his surname to Wellesley. The object of the survey was to establish a scientifically accurate mesh of hundreds of triangulated trig-points following the 78th longitudinal meridian, and supported by several east-west surveys. The completed map of this obsessional quest resembles a torso following major surgery and crude wound-closure. What Lambton and Everest achieved, at the cost of hundreds of fatally fevered lives, was a brilliant act of applied science which accurately confirmed, for the first time, “Newton’s Compression”. This had predicted the earth’s oblate curvature; think grapefruit rather than snooker ball. The first baseline was set out in 1802 near Marina Beach, Madras. A stretch of level ground, 7.5 miles long, near St Michael’s Mount was chosen. The measurement was carried out with the Emperor of China’s disdained 100-foot chain, made of 40 bars of blistered steel, each 2.5 feet long. The chain was supported and then carefully tensioned within five tent-covered wooden coffers locked onto height-adjustable tripods. Each coffer, according to The Great Arc, John Keay’s charming book on the subject, was fitted
with an internal thermometer which had to be read and recorded at the very moment of each 100-foot measurement. Thermometers were checked and re-checked, as were the length of the bars. The baseline required 400 individual measurements with the chain, and every one of them involved moving and re-setting the tripods and coffers. That first baseline measurement took the best part of three months, but Lambton’s obduracy about tolerances paid off: after 7.5 miles, the maximum discrepancy was calculated to be just seven thousandths of an inch. Game on. At the Cheetle Grand Motel in Khatauli, the tea and aloo parathas were delicious, but I knew that Mr Rama was not waiting for me here—and certainly not by the sign that read ‘Eat What You Buy Here’. Nevertheless, I began to feel, gently yet distinctly, a sense of trajectory and convergence. Perhaps Mr Rama would materialise further north in Dehra Dun, home of the India Survey Office and the basmati rice industry; or in Mussoorie, above the deodar and teak plantations and the scrums of red- and blacklipped monkeys rucking across the main road, where George Everest’s last home in India was waiting for me on the edge of a 4,000-foot escarpment. In Dehra Dun, one learned of Nan Singh and Kinthup, who entered Tibet disguised as lamas to map the higher peaks. And of the mathematically brilliant Brahmin, Radhanath Sickdar and his computational equal, an Italo-Jewish officer named James Palladio Basevi, whose pages of calculations were of critical importance to the survey’s success. That night, I was the only occupant at The Claridges Hotel, a small, delightfully proportioned ex-Punjabi maharaja’s summer house with superb teak windows and a verandah overlooking a plummeting, mist-smudged drop just below Mussoorie. I ate, not quite alone, in the dining room; a waiter stood quietly by, chapati-insistent. Later, I sat out on the verandah to read for half an hour before returning to my room, and to the lamp whose glowing peacock-blue glass bowl recalled the flares which Everest used to sight trig-ponts at night. Recipe for same: sulphur, 136 parts; nitre 544; arsenic 32; indigo 20. While reading, a single mosquito—an anopheletic retainer?—hovered around me, as attentively as the waiter had done. Rain began to fall again, with a sound like a silk shawl slipping slowly and endlessly from a woman’s shoulders, ideally in Marienbad. The shadows cast by the furniture fell on the marble floor, pale as cigarette smoke. At 8am the next morning, I found myself following an eight-year-old girl called Puja, and her younger brother, up a track that led to Hathipaon, George Everest’s last home in India. My guide, a thoughtful civil engineer employed by the Indian Survey, warned me against the nettles. “If you take this plant,” he said, “it will have the eating of the skin. It is ferocious. Immediately, the eating will start.” He told me later, with some pride, that he was a member of the Meerut ashram of the International Association For Scientific Spiritualism. Actually, the eating had already started, though I didn’t realise it. Within minutes of arriving at Hathipaon, along with goats and stray cattle, the sharp outline of the house was broached by mist and began to evaporate, like the light in a Rex Whistler painting. An hour later, back at The Claridges, my driver, Avtar, pointed to my trousers. Blood. I took my shoes off on the spot, a 40-year-old pair of dark chocolate brown suedes made for my late father by somebody called Baseley. I saw him, at last, in Jaipur—except that “saw” is far too feeble a word. Recognised is the only one that will do. He seemed—there’s no other way to put it, of course—to be waiting for me, poised, quite still. He announced himself as Mr Singh, and said he would be pleased to guide me around the city’s extraordinary 18th century celestial observatory, an arcane subject I had once written about for Irv Inissimus, an erudite commissioning editor. And so here I was, at the heart of the maharaja’s masterpiece; a maharaja whose astronomical superiority caused him to inform the Mughal emperor, Muhammad Shah, that Hipparchus was an “ignorant clown”, Ptolemy “a bat who can never gaze at the
sun of truth”, and that Euclid’s maths were “an imperfect sketch of the forms of His contrivance.” But now I must explain, directly, about the strange quiddity of Mr Rama, the man who simultaneously exists and did not exist. Firstly, I must confess that my interest in the Great Arc, while quite genuine, had been specifically triggered by the idea of its triangulations. Secondly, I confess that my second novel has been one leg short of a tripod for more than two years. The other two legs—let’s call them trig points, and have done—were in place: a 1960s setting in peninsular Malaysia, fused with a contemporary setting in the City of London. I was, however, missing something crucial: a character whom the novel’s narrator knew slightly as a boy in the Far East, and who now, decades on, he wanted to track down in India. And so it was that I knew Mr Singh before I met him, had already seen him on the page, so to speak, a palimpsest of a palimpsest who I will eventually call Mr Rama. Mr Singh, then. Tall, walked with a slight limp, and spoke in long, grammatically perfect sentences; softly-spoken litanies that explained the compellingly beautiful open-air astronomical structures, known as jantar mantars. He led me to each and, unhurriedly, elucidated their complexities. My questions, not always mathematically respectable, were nevertheless considered with faultless tact. Perhaps he could tell that I had something else on my mind; perhaps he knew why I studied him so carefully. As we left the observatory, I noticed an orange-cloaked saddhu staring at me from across the road. Mr Singh followed my gaze and glanced at the holy man. The saddhu promptly looked away. As I shook Mr Singh’s hand, the nature of his gravitas fresnelled into perfect focus. Those who have experienced Van Dyck’s portrait, The Painter Marten Ryckaert, in Madrid’s Prado, will know exactly what I’m getting at. Mr Singh, soon to be Mr Rama, possessed the same profoundly sentient gravitas that only otherwise, in my experience, emanates from Francis Bacon’s butchered sitters. Such is the stuff of a fictional baseline. George Everest died in London in 1866, and was buried in Hove. Apropos of closure, I decided to find his London home in Westbourne Street, which runs north off Bayswater Road. Number 80 seemed not to exist. I tried Westbourne Terrace: number 80 is a hotel with a CCTV camera pronging out of its narrow lobby. I re-checked my notes. Ah, Tata-induced nib wobble: Everest’s address hadn’t been number 80 at all, but number 10 Westbourne Street. But another problem intruded— number 10 does not, today, exist. The numbers start at 12. I scanned the terrace of substantial three-storey bow-fronted facades and, after a few moments, realised that every other original columned and portico’d doorway had been replaced with a crudely projecting window bay. The original number 10 was now the Andrews Hotel (CCTV, vacancies). Here is where old Everest mused on the Great Arc, never to learn that, when re-checked via modern satellite and doppler equipment, his measurement of the 2,457km Arc was merely 7m short of perfection. I decided to loop indirectly back to Lancaster Gate tube station. I’m not familiar with the area and made my way, for no immediately apparent reason, along Craven Street. After two or three blocks, I turned right into a nondescript road full of shops and small businesses. And then I remembered. This was Spring Street. I began to hurry down the western side of it. It was still there: the Golden Shalimar restaurant, founded in 1952, its fascia bordered in violet neon. The leeches at Hathipaon. The bloodied brown suede shoes—the same pair worn by my father the night he took my brother and I to the Golden Shalimar, for the first properly spicy meal we’d had since leaving Malaya. The Madras mutton curry that I consumed so ferally that distant night, and the Golden Shalimar I encountered again just the other day were, after all, no different to Mr Rama; improvisations on the same riff. They had been waiting for me and, somehow, I knew they would be.
Borderline_borderless Around Europe Julie Aveline considers what effects the opening of the European Union’s internal borders has had on tourism, migration, (post)national identity, and our sense of place and space. Images by Veronika Speigl.
The question of boundaries is the first to be encountered; from it all others flow Fernand Braudel
The opening of the European Union’s internal borders—which has boosted the flow of goods, capital, and people—has had an undeniable impact on European tourism and travel, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The flow of tourists and travellers, their movements and motivations have challenged our expectations of a national or post-national identity, as well as the manifestation and performance of a sense of place. Far away is the time when the first paid holidays meant a long family trip for the fifth year in a row, following the southern motorway in a packed car, heading for at least one month to the same seaside resort, Jacques Tati’s Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot-style (minus the car though). Passing through customs and stopping at the souvenir shop meant a clear definition of travelling. Language and memory were tangible and metaphorical frontiers that equalled vacations, and the discovery of the foreign, the never so distant other that produces exoticism. Borders, indeed, encompass notions of space and place as political and historical territory—conquered, limited, regulated. Borders encompass notions of ‘in’ and ‘out’ (an accepted or rejected sense of belonging that leads to the definition of the ‘other’). Borders traditionally belong to the nationstate. But what if we tend to live and travel in a postnational and borderless frame? Today, faster means of communication coupled with political decisions such as
“What does this mean for travel and for the representation—and further, the identity—of the place visited?”
the Maastricht Treaty (1992) and the Schengen Agreement (1985) and Convention (1999), have set up the ideal of a union of European states that allows the free movement of goods, capital and people—at least within their own borders. Two questions come into mind when thinking about these changes. Firstly: how far is this truly happening, and for whom? Secondly: what does this mean for travel and for the representation—and further, the identity—of the place visited? Opening, Closing When in 1985 five countries—France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany—decided to end controls on their internal frontiers in the small Luxembourg town of Schengen, they probably thought they had started up a revolution for the future of migrations’ patterns of the thirteen European Union (EU) Member States who have now joined the Convention. It was a quiet revolution though, if only based on facts and figures. Looking back at the French Tourism Directorate website for instance, one can learn that France has been visited in 2005 by tourists coming 88% from Europe, followed by 6% from America and 4% from Asia and the Pacific region. There are therefore more Europeans visiting Europe than non-Europeans. The exchanges obey the law of proximity (geographical and historical), and communication facilities seem to have only extended links with the closest ‘borders’. Moreover, if Schengen means the removal of checks on persons at common EU internal borders, it also has its counterpart: a strengthening of the EU internal security policies. On the one hand, this has led to an increase of incoming foreign workers (from 470,000 in 1991 to 520,000 in 2000); on the other, the number of migrants has dropped from 1.5 to 1.3 million. Economic surveillance is undoubtedly the motor of the very selective entrance process of the re-branded ‘Schengen fortress’. If the idea of free migration could give great prospects to the partisans of the ideal multicultural world of tomorrow, it is also the first source of fear for the usual xenophobes who would rather see the exotic stay firmly out of their own cultural frontiers. This fact was interestingly commented on by artist Keith Piper’s A fictional tourist in Europe (2001), part of the Unpacking Europe exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Challenging Euro-centrism and how European is Europe, the piece shows two pictures: one of a passport stamped “Deported”; the other of a postcard stating “Today I found the perfect place. For a moment I almost felt like home.” It is a luxury to become a European tourist.
“Europe has somehow become a “one package tour”, a one space/one place”
One Place, One Space Figures from the French Tourism Directorate reveal another interesting element. 18% of travellers would only spend one night in their stop in France, while in 2004 100 million visitors would have come to France for the day without spending the night. Tourists from non-European origins, then, tend to stay for a limited time in one European location. This seems to mean that Europe is now being seen as an ‘easy-to-travel-around’ playground—and often more as an ensemble of regions and cities forming a whole, rather than a set of various and particular places. Europe has somehow become a package tour, a one space/one place the non-European tourist is to experience or to be sold—a new imaginative geography to cope with. John Urry, Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University who researches tourism and the production and consumption of places, has recently contributed to Performing Tourist Places (2004), a corpus which digs into the idea that “places are intertwined with people through various systems that generate and reproduce performances in and of that place. These systems comprise networks of “hosts, guests, buildings, objects and machines” that contingently realise particular performances of specific places. By travelling through a network of sights, and interacting with artefacts (souvenirs for instance), travellers and tourists do, indeed, perform—or are being driven to perform—giving rise to a peculiar definition of ‘place’ as performance. The travel industry for example, backed up by the internal borders opening, has helped develop the reality and conception of Europe as this one great playground. Jump on a low-fair airplane and you can reach any European city within an hour or so. Everywhere you’ll be using one unique currency, the euro. Everywhere your hosts will more or less understand English. With WWII having reached its fifty year lag, you should not have to bear the weight of your collective past’s burden. With plans to cut roaming charges by 70%, your chattiness might soon be able to match your mobility—as well as the state of your bank account. If you’ve just left Paris, no worries, the Tour de France now also happens in London. And thanks to the recent ‘Europlonk’ plan, you will soon be able to drink Chianti made in Sweden— and it will still be called Chianti. It seems likely, since tourism has been instituted as such, that souvenir shops all around the world have been selling us ready-made collectible memorabilia supposedly part of a location’s identity. London, for that matter, has
“If you’ve just left Paris, no worries, the Tour de France now also happens in London”
been summed up by the Union Jack, the double-decker bus, the red phone box, Big Ben, the Beatles and the Royal Family. A recent update by the Japanese shop MUJI integrates Norman Foster’s Gherkin, the BT Tower and the Eye. Advertisement campaigns, for instance those of easyJet, have tapped into a vast market of European clichés, branding Europe better than ever. The everyday life of the European traveller and tourist has become a smooth journey—maybe too smooth and easy to be real. If the EU is becoming one, will we start travelling without moving (or moving without travelling)? The motto of the EU is ‘unity in diversity’. But one space does not equal one place. And unity, of course, is not uniformity—the dilemma of a definition of Europe. Bordeline, Borderless The Schengen Convention was first fostered by individual nations. Only later did the European institutions take the agreement on board. These legal origins, as well as the real or metaphorical impact of Schengen, have become one materialisation of the national/post-national dilemma increasingly surrounding the sorely needed definition of a European identity (if there is such thing). This dilemma was explored by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in 2001, when he created the EU ‘bar code flag’, a piece of graphic design that gathered the colours of every EU member state flag, with the added possibility of absorbing new flags—another manifestation of a Europe without frontiers. The definition of a communication policy for Europe is, indeed, one of the greatest challenges both the EU and the European nations are nowadays facing. If the traditional national framework defines identity as belonging within a certain number of borders (moral—historical, cultural, mythical; and legal—civic rights, public sphere), the post-national framework, in contrast, proposes a borderless space, and a network of moral and legal allegiances evolving at diverse loyalty levels (local, national, postnational).
Travelling therefore brings us face to face with these undefined legal and moral spaces, a borderline exercise which has poetically been explored by STALKER . With a piece like the Transbordeline, the Italian architects propose to articulate the equation between space, place, and mobility that belongs in an anticipated post-national framework. Transbordeline refers to the East/West divide and later reunification of Europe on the one hand, and to the more general necessity to surpass the traditional limitations of our intellectual or material conditions, on the other. As explained by the architects, “An un-crossable spiral of barbed wire is always being the only three dimensional representation of the border. The Transborderline is a proposal for a new kind of border that maintains the spiral shape, but, with losing the thorns and getting wider, it could be transformed into a crossable, ludic space; a prototype of a possible future public space ideal for exchange and for approaching diversity”. Travelling back in time, all this reminds me of Stefan Zweig who recalled in The World of Yesterday (1946) how he used to travel the world without a passport. Before WWI, he explained, crossing borders was like walking through the Greenwich Meridian. A beautiful metaphor, indeed. With time and space compressing, maybe the free world of yesterday will also be the ideal European playground of tomorrow—travelling, comme-ci, comme-ça, borderless, borderline, around Europe… Notes: 1. STALKER: www.stalkerlab.it; Transborderline project: digilander.libero.it/stalkerlab/tarkowsky/transbord/transborderIng.html
Images by Sonja Lau
Auto-Ethnographic Travels: on Death, my Nan and Hospital as Non-Place Using and critiquing Auge’s concept of ‘non-place’, Citizen 33019986 embarks on an experimental auto-ethnographic journey through a hospital, questioning the boundaries between the anonymous and the personal, the anthropological and the literary, the academic and the autobiographical.
…people are born in the clinic and die in hospital… Auge 1995:78 Prologue Departing from: 21 Kenway Road SW5 0RP Departure date and time: 13:14 hours 07.02.07 Destination: Aspen Ward St Peter’s Hospital Chertsey KT16 0PZ Travel (Miles)
Start out at SW5 0RP,South Kensington
Turn left onto Wallgrave Road
Turn left onto Redfield Lane
Turn left onto Earls Court Road - A3220
Continue forward onto Earls Court Road - A3220. Entering Earls Court
Turn right onto Trebovir Road
Turn right onto Warwick Road - A3220
At traffic signals turn left onto West Cromwell Road - A4 (signposted The West, Heathrow)
Continue forward onto West Cromwell Road - A4. Entering Kensington
Continue forward onto the A4. Entering Hammersmith
Keep in right hand lanes then cross the Hammersmith Flyover - A4 (signposted The West)
Cromwell Road South Connect
Continue forward onto Great West Road - A4. Entering Chiswick
At Hogarth Roundabout take the 3rd exit onto Great West Road - A4 (signposted The West, Heathrow)
At Junction 1 take right hand lanes and continue forward onto the M4 across the Chiswick Flyover (signposted The West, Heathrow Airport, Staines, Hounslow) TRAFFIC BLACKSPOT - Call 401100 from your mobile
Heston Service Area (MOTO) and Travelodge
Continue forward onto the M4 (signposted The West, Heathrow Airport (Terminal 4 And Cargo), Slough)
Junction 4 (A408/Heathrow Airport)
Continue forward with the M4 (signposted The West)
Keep in left hand lane then leave the M4 at junction 4b, then follow signs Heathrow Airport - Terminal 4 and Cargo, Gatwick Airport to join the M25 motorway (signposted Gatwick Airport) TRAFFIC BLACKSPOT - Call 401100 from your mobile
Warning: Speed Cameras along the M25
Leave the M25 at junction 11 (signposted Woking A320, Chertsey A317), then at roundabout take the 3rd exit onto St Peters Way - A320 (signposted Woking)
At roundabout take the 3rd exit onto Guildford Road - A320 (signposted Chertsey, Staines)
At roundabout take the 2nd exit (signposted St Peter’s Hospital) Entering Addlestone
Arrive at KT16 0PZ,Chertsey
Section time 0:42, Total time 0:42
Our journey through the hospital’s passageways seemed a fluid extension of our route along the motorways that led to it. Both marked by signs, logos and phrases, some instructive, some informative, that referenced an international and homogenous code, rather than anchoring the meaning of the space we moved through by reference to a locational or historical specificity. Auge calls for an anthropological engagement with these non-places that are proliferate and proliferating and ‘cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity’ (1995:78). In order to achieve this, anthropology would need to adapt its definition of ‘place’, which has most often been understood as delineable through the social/kinship groups and geographical boundaries that are present within ‘traditional’ societies, to fit a new subject of study that has been created by supermodernity. The definition of nonplace proposed by Auge is somewhat slippery as it is characterized by its lack of specificity, and named according to what it is not. Rather than becoming too caught up in the search for an absolute definition of non-place which (and Auge is not the first to point this out—see Mintz 1986, Wolf 1982, Thomas 1994) the anthropological ‘place’ never really had anyway (i.e. even so-called ‘primitive’ societies are never and were never static, discreet entities exempt from inter-cultural flows), what is of particular interest in relation to this piece of fieldwork, is how we might use Auge’s ideas as a springboard to incite an experimental approach to ethnography. By taking a hospital as an example of a non-place, and using a personal visit as an instance of fieldwork, we can explore (at times metaphorically) a set of parallel distinctions or supposed binary oppositions, that are called into question by an ethnography of supermodernity; the personal and the anonymous, the self and the other, the private and the public, the literary and the anthropological, the individual and the collective, the micro and the macro, the autobiographical and the academic. __________________________ Marching our way along the shiny plastic floors like lemmings dazed by the familiarity of hospital. Follow signs to 2nd floor, Aspen ward. (the same laundry brand used in the package-deal European hotels that we would stay in each summer—Naples, Lisbon, Mallorca, Crete, Marseilles— but always the same hotel), mcdonalds, ladies, gents, disabled, buxton, no smoking, lucozade, walkers, snickers, mars, trebor mints, pull for assistance, area closed for cleaning, caution slippery surface, mind the gap in case of fire do not use lift no entry entrance exit emergency exit way out alarm A blue uniform checks our genetic credentials—“yes, she is my grandmother”—before telling us that we will find Vera Bateman in section 2B, right hand row. _________________________
Like an airport, bank, or hotel, a hospital is ‘a space of supermodernity [that] is inhabited by this contradiction: it deals only with individuals (customer passengers, users, listeners), but they are identified (name occupation, place of birth, address) only on entering or leaving.’ (Auge 1995:111). Having had our identity checked and innocence confirmed, we tentatively make our way into the rows of individual patients, all patiently waiting. A ward is like a transit lounge for the sick who wait to be swabbed, tested, measured, analysed and either given the all clear, signed out, discharged, or pronounced dead, body identified and signed over to the care of the undertaker. I squint at each bed to check which is her, searching for some physical historical referent that would tell my nan apart from all the other patients, all of them small, grey, withered, hooked-up, plugged-in, beeping, counting. Each with a plastic armband sealed around their wrist, proving that they had fulfilled the ‘official criteria of individual identity’ (Auge 1995:102), like a passport number or a toe-tag. They are all non-nans until the last bed. _________________________ There she lay, her strewn body the palpable detritus of a life that is no longer hers. A shell, surface junk. Taken over by the lines on her face, the physical inscription of what was, writing away the possibilities of what can be. She is that little old body, those liver spots, that waste-paper thin skin. Wrinkled. She is the carving of a life on her face. Stories, l’histoire, histories. Experience becomes blending. It seems that like its tendency to nullify the specificity of places, ‘the invasion of space by text’ (Auge 1995:99) can have a similar effect on individuals. Specificity over-written. The non-places of supermodernity can be (de)characterised by the proliferate texts and signs that fill them— instructions, directions, advertising, information screens—cultural carnage; we might consider the non-time at the end of life as being similarly (de)characterised by an over-abundance of life written onto the body. Both are defined by homogenising inscriptions that imply liminality; the first spatial, the second temporal. ___________________________ Her eyes are tightly closed, I study them, willing her to break open the yellow crystallised puss that holds them shut. When she finally does I am startled. They are so round, so wide, seemingly pinned-back, deep and dark as wells. I stare into them but they do not look back at me. They are riddled with the milkiness of cataracts, and look up and away, like two blank screens that we can see into, but she cannot see out of. The signal is switched off. The only expression I can occasionally glimpse is my own reflection. John says she looks like Yoda. In uncanny congruence with the supermodern culture that she can no longer keep up with, history is on her heels, following her like her shadow, like death (Auge 1995:26-7). My observation of the hospital environment, like looking into my nan’s eyes, seems to confirm Auge’s view that ‘the space of non-place creates neither singular identity nor relations; only solitude, and similitude’ (1995:103). _______________________
Images by Richard J. Andersen and Claire Brouzes
It occurred to me that locations which can be defined as non-places are most often sites in which the individuals in attendance are undergoing experiences that are either excessively banal (shopping in malls, supermarkets, generic high streets, a chain music store and visiting an ATM machine for example) or highly exceptional—transit lounges (travelling out of the country is out of the ordinary for most), arrivals and departures gates (often the site of emotional reunions or farewells) and hospitals—sites of deaths, births, pain, fear of loss. In the latter case (as my experience makes evident), there is an almost chilling mix of heightened emotion cut with sterile anonymity. Auge highlights the need for ethnology to engage at the level of the individual, as the ramifications of supermoderninty make it ‘impossible to dissociate the question of collective identity from that of individual identity’ (1995:19). To return to the binary oppositions mentioned earlier, we might argue that Auge attends to the anonymous individuation that supermodernity creates through its address, at the expense of engaging with how that address might be responded to at a personal level by the addressee. While Auge straddles the macro and the micro and the anthropological and the literary with gusto, he is perhaps only half-way around the ‘autobiographical turn’ (see Harbord 2002:24)— although he individualises (within the context of the collective), he does not personalise, and therefore perhaps only gives half an account of how ‘the community of human destinies is experienced in the anonymity of non-place, and in solitude’ (Auge 1995:120). Epilogue Citizen 33019986’s 97-year-old grandmother was taken into hospital with a severe infection two weeks before this article was due (she is not my grandmother, she’s my nan) and has now contracted MRSA. Citizen 33019986 feels guilty for having used the experience auto-ethnographically for her own professional gain. Citizen 33019986 remembers that her nan used to buy her ice-cream in the park, that she would make her pink sun-dresses, that she would plait her hair and bring her dinner on a tray, with a little glass of red grape juice that she would say was red wine so that citizen 33019986 could pretend to be grown up, like she is now. Citizen 33019986 knows that even if her nan were lucid, were bright and sprightly like she was 10 years ago, she would not understand this article. Citizen 33019986 suspects that her nan would rather she wrote for Gardeners Weekly than bothered with nonsense like this. Citizen 33019986 fears that when you read this, her nan will be dead. References: Auge, Marc 1995 Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. Translated by John Howe; London: Verso Harbord, Janet 2002 ‘Platitudes of Everyday Life?’ in Campbell and Harbord (eds.) Temporalities, Autobiography and Everyday Life; Manchester University Press. pp.1934 Mintz, Sidney Wilfred 1986 Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History New York; Harmondsworth: Penguin Thomas, Nicholas 1994 Colonialism’s Culture: Anthropology, Travel and Government; Cambridge: Polity Press Wolf, Eric Robert 1982 Europe and the People Without History; Berkeley: University of California Press
Next Issue | Magic
24 September 2007
first printed issue | subscribe now www.stimulusrespond.com