Cristina NualART

Tag: Collaboration

Art, Cultural Mediation and Diversity

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In Madrid from 12-16 September 2016, European research teams from universities, museums and community organizations met at the conference Art, Cultural Mediation and Diversity. Divercity: diversity in the musem and the city.

This week-long conference has two parts to it. Panels of speakers show images and videos and speak of their work. The conference also includes participative sessions, where instead of a more formal, seated, exchange of knowledge and examples, we take part in activities such as those one might do with a museum, a school, a social refuge, or a cultural centre. Alongside people from all corners of Europe, who work in places from prestigious museums to women’s refuges, we explored personal connections to public art, practiced methods to encourage empathy, and improvised creative responses to confront stereotypes.

I don’t know if I would have thought of it had I been involved in planning a conference on this topic, but it seems obvious in retrospect that a stencil workshop is a great thing to offer. I enjoyed all talks and activities, but I really went into that wonderful flow mode while making my stencil.

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My stencil work, with a Janus head intended to be turned upside down.

Urban guerrilla warfare was not the aim of the workshop, but by showing how to draw, cut and spray a piece of stencil art, the seeds are planted for us to contemplate inserting stenciled image-messages into cities. I don’t feel any desperate need ‘to be heard’ by the city, so personally I’m not planning to spray my thoughts on brick walls just yet. Instead, I went for the wearables market, and sprayed my message on a shopping bag. Thus, my message will be advertised from my person, as and when I choose to silently shout out in the public sphere.

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The making of Death of the Arteacher, by Cristina Nualart.

 

Death of the Arteacher is the little sentence I came up with to sum up a lot of the ideas churning in my head as I reflect on art education, something that for years I’ve been involved with in multifaceted ways. I reference Barthes’ Death of the Author, with its suggestions that readers (or by implication, viewers) have agency in a meaning-making process. My message also comments on some stereotypes that weight on art educators, unfairly assumed, sometimes, to be not very skilled/talented/’useful’, either by ‘professional’ artists or by the public at large. (In a future blog post I will cover some funny anecdotes from my personal experiences).

An important overarching fact that transpires from the conference presentations is that institutions, in this case mostly art museums, are continuously reaching out to NGOs and grass roots or social organizations to get ‘diverse’ people involved in their activities. There is clearly an institutional drive to look for people who may be at risk of social exclusion and to set up initiatives specifically for these people to take part in. Many of the conference speakers were constantly improving and/or questioning their review systems and ways of evaluating their work and getting feedback to help ascertain the impact it may have had.

Social change is often a slow process, and no one is deluded that any cultural project is going to make radical improvements to the social fabric, but the feeling amongst conference participants is that these small changes that are activated by one person doing something in collaboration with a museum’s education department will bring long term benefits to that person and those in their circle. If the start of social change is merely that the elitist aura that hangs over museums is dispersing, that alone, we can imagine, is going to improve the world a little bit.

Another commonality is that large institutions are increasingly reaching out, working outside of the museum walls and taking their staff to the periphery of the city, or simply working in a public space which may be perceived as ‘neutral’ or has a connection to the participants of a project.

No institution works in vacuum; ideas cross-pollinate; museums and schools feed off each other. Given that museums seem to be increasingly developing similar projects to those offered by schools and other education providers, the question that I reflect on is what is the role of the museum, beyond the obviously great work of making art less ‘scary’ and more inclusive. I ask myself if museums shouldn’t be aiming to create situations where the various canons and power structures of the museum itself are questioned. In no way wishing to demean the value of any educational programme in a museum, my question did raise a few feathers among some panelists, but one beautiful answer was simple: that is the next step, but first we do we need to get people from all sectors of society comfortable enough with art and museums that such a question can be debated. We shall all keep working and reflecting on this!

YouTube channel on one of the feminist research projects: Madrid Ciudad de las Mujeres

The Divercity word play  reminds me of DomestiCity, my photo essay on domestic use of public space Vietnam (and some unusual examples of domestic work in private spaces).

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Ha-ha! A graffiti artist’s magical trip to Saigon

This article was published in Word Vietnam magazine, December 2013, p.16.

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How do you explain your job to people? In a recent interview, a non-starving artist based in South East Asia said he is ‘a dancing poodle for the 1%’.  Another artist, Ha-ha has a business card that says he is an ‘alien theorist’. Being an artist has its perks.

Ha-ha believes that aliens can help us achieve solar consciousness, which is a step above from planetary consciousness, which is what we would achieve if we connected with trees, fish and all living beings on earth. Connection is a word Ha-ha uses a lot, both in relation to technology, and, I infer, a metaphysical form of bonding with others. Think Avatar, but without the Smurf blue.

haha_by_cnualart4Aliens are just like us’, says this graffiti artist. On his first visit to Vietnam, Ha-ha talked extensively about collective consciousness, archetypes, alternative realities, and other uncommon phenomena. I should have asked him if he has met many aliens, but my mind was clouded with visions of Age of Aquarius predictions.  I learnt, for example, that since Disney has acquired Star Wars, future episodes of the series will become a form mind control.

The original Star Wars film, Ha-ha believes, is a veritable encyclopedia of archetypes. After seeing the film in childhood, he began to draw pictures of spaceships and of Darth Vader, whom he thought was a good character, not an evil one. Prophetic…

The nickname Ha-ha comes from another media character: a boy in The Simpsons series who bleats ‘ha-ha’ when he hits other kids.

Ha-ha’s real name, Regan Tamanui, rings of his Maori ancestry. Fed magic mushroom soup by his grandmother from the age of 5, Ha-ha decided early on that he was going to be an artist. His career started taking off in his 20s, after he moved to Australia. There he joined the first group of Stuckists that formed outside of England. The Stuckists advocated for a return to good, old fashioned painting. Ha-ha made oil paintings.

The he tried spray-paint, and things took a turn for the better. He is now ranked as one of the world’s most influential street artists. He doesn’t say ‘street art’ though, he deplores that elitist way of referring to graffiti.

His artistic trademark is to merge two separate stencil portraits, overlapping two faces. These stencil fusions began as a way to illustrate archetypes. The bond in relationships  -between couples, people and robots, people and animals-  is an archetype. The pair is more than the sum of its part. This unity, easy for all of us to understand, is a small-scale version of collective consciousness. Ha-ha hopes we will elevate and ‘connect to a higher consciousness. Hopefully it will be a love consciousness.’

haha_by_cnualart5Acetate is Ha-ha’s tool. The artist cuts the transparent film into templates for spray-painting. For some portraits, he needs to cuts over 60 sheets of acetate to get all the detail. The front of his sketchbook is tattooed with rows of numbers. They’re not numerological charts. He notes how many metres of acetate he gets through, and how many cuts he makes. It’s a trick to keep focused. Ha-ha practices art as a form of meditation.

In October 2013, Ha-ha was invited, quite spontaneously, to be the first artist in residence at Saigon Outcast. It was quick and easy to bring him over from Singapore, where he was exhibiting, to live and work in one of the shipping containers overlooking a wasteland in District 2 for a month. Ha-ha enjoyed his first visit to Vietnam, and devoted himself to creating a series of portraits of Ho Chi Minh. The works, sprayed on walls or on paper, show the figurehead of a young man, or as the unmistakable legendary president.

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‘With the internet, and the global collective consciousness, we are manifesting this god, a god that is there and has answers for us. If you want something, you can just, like, order a pizza online, and it gets delivered in 20 minutes.’

 

 Text and photos by Cristina Nualart

 

Micro-residency at Room13

Room 13 is a creative initiative to give access to art-making to young people around the world. Today I was the artist-in-residence at the event in HCMC, Vietnam. In a major advertising agency’s office, tables were prepared with paint and paper. I brought along my art materials and some old wood (found on demolished building sites) and some props. After showing some images of my topic and of my work in progress, I spent 2 hours drawing, while the children got creative in any way they wished.

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Saigon Creative Mornings

Actor Dustin Nguyen kicked off the first ever Saigon Creative Mornings yesterday with an earnest talk on how he manages his creativity in the midst of the constraints imposed by sponsors in the film making industry. Over coffee, he took us briefly through his Hollywood experience to discuss his more recent Vietnamese productions, with some amusing anecdotes. The sold-out session took place in the airy offices of the TBWA headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City, and brought together a small crowd of interesting people. I smiled at the humourous but creative use of neckties as drawstrings for the rolled-up metal walls that divide the industrial space. This one had a black label that said simply ‘Boss’:
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Wrapping Art and Golden Gates

Manhattan residents will remember the Golden Gates art project by the awesome artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude (r.i.p.).

I love Christo’s wrapped art and land art projects, but I have no need to be jealous. Now in my local neighbourghood in Vietnam I have impromptu wrapped ‘art’ and golden gates to look at, and to add meaning to visuals, it will also keep me guessing as to the motives (the motives for the wrap, not of the kitsch golden gate – that’s just nouveau riche syndrome).

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Art as teleportation via the internet

I’ve recently moved from London to Saigon, and last night I phoned my grandmother to let her know all is well here. When I told her I was phoning from my computer via the internet, my nan, who has never used a computer, was  amazed that technology could do such things. Imagine if we’d used video-link! Her sense of wonder is not out of place. I can safely say that computer literate people also find intercontinental links heart-warmingly extraordinary!

Artist Mariele Neudecker has expressed a fascination for the ability to create art in multiple locations simultaneously, via the internet.
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‘Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived’ (2000) is her sculpture of a stretched skull based on the skull in Holbein’s 1533 painting ‘The Ambassadors.’
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Holbein’s large canvas is wonderous, so perfect and full of detail, but with that mysterious shape hovering in front of us. Oh, I wish I’d gone to see it one more time before I left London. At least I did visit my revered Carlo Crivelli’s next door… There are so many great things to see in life!

Mariele Neudecker, in awe as the rest of us with Holbein’s floating metaphor, created a 3D digital image of the skull, and the file was used to machine-carve it out of resin. ‘The stereo lithography machine cut that 3 dimensional, virtual object out into resin,’ she says of the new technology, which she sees as ‘a kind of a forerunner of teleportation, I suppose, because in theory, you could have a computer sitting in Cardiff and send all the information and data down to Australia, and have the machine cut out exactly the same object. You can put any object, any three dimensional object, from the computer into reality’

Mariele Neudecker, 2002

Thai Artists

There’s nothing like a good dose of culture shock to creativize one’s zest for life. Around the time of the great tsunami, I lived in Thailand for a couple of tropical years and I have consequently developed a soft-spot for the place, as you do for any place you call home – especially if it has cha yen and abundant frangipani.

Regular visits to Bangkok’s galleries and museums were pretty dichotomous: exhibitions of run-of-the-mill, nepotistic hi-so paintings or facile images of buddhas were interspersed with epiphanic journeys to fascinating new artists. Obviously, I adore the frescos of Ramakien stories in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, but there was lots of exciting contemporary art too. I discovered Montien Boonma (thank you!) and couldn’t understand why I’d never come across his sculptures in New York, London, Barcelona or any other famous-for-art city. They are mind-blowing! I guess you have to be in the right place at the right time, and let art own you when it wants to.

I laughed at the Pink Man, and will die adoring Manit Sriwanichpoom‘s totally unbarbiefied use of pink (sorry Schiaparelli, he wins…). Yuree Kensaku is another one to watch. Her small picture below, ‘The Battle of Love’ (2005) is on a 3D support, and is a fantastic mix of luminous and metallic paints with heavily textured, alla-prima oil.
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I can’t remember all the names of many other Thai artists that rocked my artosphere, but do read the links on this post, there’s a whole lot to enjoy. Off the elite art world radar there were plenty of other joyous manifestations of visual savoir-faire. From Chalit’s art workshops for children, to the best T-shirt designs in the world (usually combining hilarious world play with unusual craft-collage). Fun stuff.

This month’s Art in America, ironically subtitled Europe Focus, has a special on Thai artists which is a must-read and has great pictures!

My favourite BKK gallery is 100 Tonson, which in August 2010 is offering something pretty special. They’re setting up the first solo show of Rirkrit Tiravanija in his homeland! Yep, that’s the guy made famous by Relational Art and all of that come-dine-with-me before chillaxing in Chiang Mai kinda art…
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P.S.: Artist and Economy professor Hans Abbing says that ‘in contemporary Thailand … the artist’s identity hardly matters’ (Why Artists are Poor, 2002). He adduces no reasons for this statement, which I can’t agree with. Maybe the rationale has something to do with the differences in the individual ego versus group ego that Asia and the West are said to be at odds with? If there is truth in this insight, perhaps that helps explain why I had trouble finding individual websites for the artists I mention. There are many reason why artists would have a page on an art portal rather than their own website of course (see my Artexposure research on this), it could also be that all of the Internet that is not written in Roman script is barred to little ingnarmus me… I can’t read Thai characters. Just the art!

Chan shorb silapin Thai!

Today I gave my heartbeat to an artist…

Cross Hyde Park facing East, get to the Serpentine Gallery, see no red (as you arrive from the West). Encounter a make-shift white box. Enter. Participate. Collaborate. Remember. Take your heart back home with you. Forget.84_RedSerpentine_photocnualart

A long way ago, entertaining the young son of my friend the nurse, I found a stethoscope amongst the pile of children’s toys. I slipped in the earpieces and put the disc on my chest, then nearly fell backwards at the loud thudding noise of my own heart.This was before MP3s and in-ear buds. Walkmans with flimsy sponge headphones didn’t cancel noise and turn you inwards like that stethoscope did.

Hearing my hearbeat was an uncanny experience. For the first time in my life, I experienced the knowledge that I was real and solid, but machine-like in my fragility. Hearing the workings of my own body, the symmetry of my blood transmissions, I gaped in awe at the miracle of life. I was not just an outside shell with airy thoughts in the head and bones to hold me up, I was full of thick, juicy, rich cogs and wheels, running up and down and palpitating in sync. I learned that peripheral vision can work inwards as well as laterally. The thudding sound in the stethoscope was me: nothing else but that rhythmic, all-exterminating noise. Wow. One of my many epiphanies…
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Christian Boltanki’s hearbeat recording booth for his Les Archives du Coeur project arrives in London from Monumenta Paris. It’s beautiful in concept, but collides with my current ponderings on data-gathering. I want to hoard and store all paintings, books, photos, documents, etc., but I wrestle with the futility of it – there is a destruction of time in revisiting lived experiences, which makes archiving a pretty egotistical pursuit. Reading Art, Time and Technology (Charlie Gere, 2006) this week I found this message: ‘Andreas Huyssen suggests that one response to the ever-greater ubiquity of real-time systems is an increasing interest in memory. (…) The more memory we store on data banks, the more the past is sucked into the orbit of the present, ready to be called upon the screen.’

After that, Wolfgang Tillmans‘ photographs (the artist as curator) and Jean Nouvel’s red pavillion (glowing) were less moving than they might have been without my flashbacks.
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Made In – Oil without paint

Excited about being in Birmingham on a nice sunny day, I dashed to Ikon gallery first, and dove right in.

Seeing One’s Own Eyes is the current explosive exhibition by MadeIn artists collective. It is FUN! I went through, so absorbed in the objects that I didn’t read any of the blurb beforehand. What did I get excited about? Bombastic wall hangings, shodily made with chopped up kitch fake fur and sequined textiles, all tackily glued and stitched together. The colours are loud and the cartoons show people you will recognise from newspaper headlines. The text is as in-your-face as the imagery. The whole thing works! This is art that is cheap and cheerful, big and bold, and as amusing and meaningful as pop art can get.



There’s an instructive video by gallery director Jonathan Watkins on how he met Xu Zhen, one of the founding artists of MadeIn.

At this point, you can -like I did- realise that it’s all a fiction. These artists have nothing to do with Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East or a country at war. They are Chinese artists using made in China sarcasm to share with art consumers of the world, who are – of course – deeply interested in big issues like blood for oil and war in far-away countries full of invisible terrorist camps…

To give respite from the bomb-blasts on the second floor, the third floor welcomes you with some quiet anihilation, a breathing pile of rubble. Calm is the name of this surprising room of living destruction. You can watch 45 seconds of it:

I was lucky to see MadeIn’s exhibition the day after I visited Contemporary Art Iraq in Manchester’s Cornerhouse. The latter is, clearly, art made in Iraq. The Iraqi artists share their daily stories and creative pursuits without loud protesting of their county’s situation. Not that they ignore it, they just get on with life without making a song and dance about things. Had they done so, they might have come up with some strident, controversial artwork of the sort the tabloids would discuss. But it could pigeonhole them as protest artists, which is not for every artist to be.

Since Documenta 11, in 2002, there is a tendency for much contemporary art to function as documentary,* but living amidst irrational ruination for years, their museums plundered, current Iraqi artists do what artists do: make art, quite simply. MadeIn are taking on the documentary agenda and parading it in fancy-dress. It’s a fun party. But along with a good party, there’s nothing better than a soul-baring conversation – away from the pandemonium.

* See Materialist Feminism for the 21st Century, by Angela Dimitrakaki, in Oxford Art Journal, vol. 30, 2007.

 

Open Arts Cafe

64_OpenArtsCafe_photocnualartYesterday I had a lovely evening at the Open Arts Cafe. From the link a friend sent me on fb, I expected it to be geared towards fine arts performance, but instead of being all obscure and weird (mock stereotype alert!), it was entertainment of a very enjoyable ‘normal’ kind. Lovely singing voices, amusing poetry, short plays, hilarious comedy and a deeply striking contemporary dance piece by Drew Gordon (so powerful it was scary!) all rolled into one event, supported by (yes!!) an art exhibition featuring Elli Chortara‘s illustrations and Aleksandra Laika‘s glowing portraits inspired by internet communication, a topic closely related to my current art research. The selection of music and poetry was on funny little love stories. And so, I checked out the websites, and I really like the way that Erinkmusic’s one is going, albeit not finished yet.
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The Creative Compass

Strolling up to the Serpentine Gallery on a fine London morning I happened upon a wonderful little exhibition in the Royal Geographical Society, which is giving its space to women artists for the first time (about time).

‘The Creative Compass’ features the work of Agnès Poitevin-Navarre and Susan Stockwell, both of whom have created sculptural pieces using maps and banknotes from around the world in response to the geographical brief.

Susan creates money dresses, in the the European style of the 1900s,  and 2D images of maps by stitching together international currency. The ‘fabric’ is beautiful: colourful and very tactile,and constitutes the main attraction of the pieces. Sculpturaly, the costumes look a bit too rigid and mannequin-like, almost awkward, in contrast with the warm and fun appeal of the money-material. Likewise, the map pictures resonate of Jasper Johns pop-art paintings and take on a historical coldness. One rather English stereotype, I infer, is that having lots of money comes hand-in-hand with a detached demeanour, and maybe that rigidity is what’s coming through. It all poses lots of questions about the global economy, colonisation, and the use of government money to create goods for the already wealthy…

Agnès does not exploit the inherent beauty of maps and banknotes, she is more interested in locating things in space. Using coordinates, her work explores the ties between memories and specific places in peoples lives.

A significant piece is the tabular monument she creates to celebrate colleague women artists. Unlike her other polished pieces in this show, ‘Fellow Artists/Fellow Muses’ looks like quality old-world furniture, offering up the homage in a format that is very believable as a memorial, with its lists, names and impeccable finish. Inspect it more closely for a good laugh: paintbrushes are the everlasting symbol of an artist, the bristles are artist’s hair, the coordinates indicate exhibitions and the names, of course, are those of friends. A toast to suffrage for all the women artists who have never before been invited to the RGS.

Singh Twins

China may be doubling the value of its art market every year, but the superpower is not sending as much Chinese art to this neck of the woods as the other future superpower, India. It may be post-colonial guilt, or better connections, but Indian art in some form seems to make a grand exhibition every few months in London.

The Garden and the Cosmos in the British Museum last year was one of my absolute favourite exhibitions of the last couple of years (along with, I think, Antony Gormley and Annette Messager, both at the Hayward). Then the Serpentine threw in an awe inspiring, spectacular show of contemporary art from the subcontinent, Indian Highway, stunningly powerful, it thrilled me to the bone, ah…

The V&A’s recent show on the Maharaja’s treasures was not quite as fun as Waldemar Januszczak’s damning review of it in The Sunday Times, but the riches still had you holding your breath at the craft, the beauty and the retro appeal.

Now it’s the National Gallery’s turn, and it is flamboyantly promoting its Indian Portrait special exhibition:

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The show, roughly chronological – and thus more informative, is worth a visit, though it lacks the inspirational scenes of awkward perspective and magic encounters that Indian landscapes offer. The paintings here can be almost photographic, and the cross-fertilisation with Western art is most amusing.

However, the jewel in the crown has been kept well hidden, and not advertised anywhere that I have seen. Down in the basement galleries there is a superb and scousestastic exhibition by The Singh Twins.

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The identical sisters collaborate arm-in-arm, literally, to create exhilarating satires of politicians, fast food joints and family life, with the vibrancy of fresh jalebis and the immaculate technique of Persian miniatures. How I never came across their work all those times I went to Birkenhead to see family (and Tate liverpool…), baffles me. They should be everywhere!

Some months ago I visited the Shazia Sikander (apologies to anyone who is offended by my comparison of a Pakistani-American with British-Indians – it’s the Persian tradition poking through) show in Pilar Corrias gallery, hoping to find what the Singh Twins are doing: a multicultural cocktail of modern afflictions with traditional know-how. Not quite, this time.While Sikander’s recent work tends to the conceptual, and plays with the formal qualities of calligraphy, the Singh Twins are banging their drums riotously, and having a ball of a party. I utterly recommend it. Oh, and the animation is a must! No pictures, sorry, but here is a link to a video.

 

Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.



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