Cristina NualART

Tag: Urban

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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Making progress with my Saigon rubble mosaic

Today I got another 25 kilos of tile cement, and 5 or 6 more bags full of rubble from the eviction zone of what was previously the lively community of Thu Thiem, District 2, HCMC. I use the rubble to slowly build this 3 metre long mosaic on a wall in Binh Thanh district. Since it’s weekend work only, it’s going to take a few more months…

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Possibly the favourite of my photos of Saigon so far…

I was crossing the road at a wild intersection, and turned around as a precautionary measure (checking for traffic coming from all directions). I stopped right between two busy roads, thanking the moon for having my camera with me.

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Evening over Saigon

The rainy season is not yet here, but skies are often cloudier over Saigon, making her look small and tame…

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Found Object + Ready Made

Accidental imitation of a Duchamp ready made as an impromptu urban installation.
I found this image in Saigon, where everything is the unexpected!

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The Gold Digger Ate my Homework

This little painting is my donation to the Arts For Mobility art auction that will take place this Saturday in the Saigon Opera House.

 

The Gold Digger Ate my Homework, 2012

Acrylic, old book pages, Letraset, pencil, gold dust and ground demolished HCMC house pieces on canvas.

On a regular day in HCMC, I might easily spot at least 5 diggers around the city, tearing down buildings in their mission to renovate Vietnam. These mechanical giraffes with the power of an elephant are fed houses and shops, or whatever other constructions get in the way of their flattening path. They relentlessly cause a daily ‘fall’ of Saigon.

The paintings in this series contain actual ground up bricks and cement taken from demolished buildings. This ‘gold’ digger is painted over old book pages, torn from Vietnamese books published pre-1975, before the real estate ‘gold rush’ started. In recent decades, wealthy developers have metaphorically eaten up the homes and places of work of the less privileged, at a speed that has made the country one of the fastest growing economies in history.

Watch this short film on the wonderful, if sad, story of a Vietnamese fisherman who was moved away from the place he lived and worked. I used to see his shack regularly on my commute. Not anymore.

‘The rapid transformation of the environment was seen merely as a casualty of progress, not as the regrettable passing away of an age and the erasure of a whole set of values.’ Tay Kheng Son and Robbie Goh (2003) in  Theorizing the Southeast Asian City as Text.

 

Good bye, Cho Van Tan

Long, sad, disappointing story. The beautiful old and disused market, Cho Van Thanh, that I passed by on my way to work each day has been torn down. I nearly cried when I saw the diggers. Luckily, I had taken pictures before the lettering came off the top of the building, and so I’m starting a painting on it. This is a little study I’ve made.

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Exit Banksy, enter Swoon

I finally saw Banksy‘s film Exit through the Giftshop, now on show in only one London cinema. Glad I made it to the big screen before it becomes just another DVD.

47_Swoon_photocnualartIt is really a good watch – tons of fun! I love the amusing turn of events that mess around with your preconceived ideas of who is the protagonist.  At first, your wishes are granted and you get lots of footage of street artists at work, and you naturally expect plenty more footage on Banksy for the main part of the film. But before I tell you what happens, I have to put Banksy on pause, to digress about Swoon, one of the street artists at work in the first part of the film, and the only female one. Swoon, as coincidence would have it, is currently featured prominently in this month’s Art News magazine, for her ‘sailing’ artspedition.

I first came across her work  in an exhibition in Village Underground, East London, last year (pictured). The Thousands was the mysterious title given to the week-short show by the very young curator. 18 year old RJ Rushmore was kind enough to give me an hour of his time to tell me about the stunningly well-light display of street art from around the world in the not-so-underground, superb space. Rushmore is a collector of Swoon and of other figureheads of street art, and some of the artworks in the exhibition were of his collection. He knows these artists first hand, from his childhood days hanging out in both London and New York, encountering the artists at work in teenage infested wastelands and alleyways. They way he told me about it all, I’m guessing that he started collecting with little cash, whereas as we see in the film, street art is now big bucks. Moral: it’s good not to be metrowealthy and grow up in plush, cleansed neighbourhoods, if the vandalism you would otherwise encounter can be turned into gold – and celebrity status. My hat off to the teenage curator/collector for utilising his life experiences to his advantage. And my hat off to Swoon for her skilfully crafted cut-outs and paste ups. She’s worth keeping an eye on.

As for Banksy, he is very clever, as well as skilled. His Guantamo Bay interventions in Disneyland are as funny as the reactions of the Mickeyguards when they discover them. See him also transform a beautiful red phonebox into an equally beautiful, and humorous, sculpture, with meaning appropriated by BT… (if, like me, you’re into red telephone boxes, check out David Mach’s sculpture in Kingston-upon-Thames).

After this exhilarating spur of live artmaking (including -and yes, I disapprove- a live, painted elephant) the way Banksy turns the film around, (by way of ‘revenge’?) is better than fiction. The cameraman and the street artist swap places, and the unexpected outcome brings about a sad-but-hilarious real-life take on the art world. Possible ponderings revolve around the power of money, of advertising, of using your friends because the ends justify the means, of the American dream, of madness or of sheer willpower. Definitely lots to think about, but smiling most of the time. Respect!

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P.S.: A really interesting piece of research on the legal quandaries implicit in graffiti:
Tomasz Rychlicki, ‘Legal questions about illegal art,’ Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (Vol. 3, No. 6, 2008) pp. 393-401

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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