Monday, March 16, 2009
The fortress, San Carlos de la Cabaña, is the site of the 10th Havana Biennial
(Integration and Resistance in the Global Era).
The larger tents house an incarnation of an ongoing project led by Kcho, in which Cuban artists have been traveling around the island offering workshops and performances following a series of devastating hurricanes in 2008, They traveled to some of the most effected communities to support not only the reconstruction of material damage, but also provide a base for cultural renewal. By engaging both material and cultural needs their efforts help reevaluate the role and importance of art as social practice.
Artists from New York:
Art spaces and colaboratives:
Canasta, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Un Vagon Hermoso, Buratovich, Argentina
Art and Agriculture Greene County, New York
LoCurativo, New York City
France Fiction, Paris, France
The Casera Era es un homenaje a el esfuerso Cubano de integrar la cultura en la vida. Dentro la carpa principal en la cabaña, un proyecto organisado por Kcho demonstrando los esfuersos de apoyo a las communidades afectados por los cyclones en el ultimo año; un grupo de artistas jovenes de Nueva York van a instalar pequeñas carpas. Cado carpa siendo un sitio de intercambio y participacion: un pequeño biblioteca, una cabina de conversacion con un estacion de radio independiente, sitios para performance. Con esto, representamos un espectro internacional de espacios de arte alternativos a través de textos, imágenes é pequeños objectos de arte. El titulo de nuestra colaboracion es una manera de enfatizar las qualidades del campamento principal: al aire libre, efficiente, creativo, urgente.
Artistas de Nueva York:
Espacios y colaborativos de arte:
Canasta, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Un Vagon Hermoso, Buratovich, Argentina
Art and Agriculture Greene County, New York
LoCurativo, New York City
France Fiction, Paris, France
Sunday, March 15, 2009
A compiled conversation between Julian Gatto, Maximiliano Ferro, Cathy Mooses, Natsuko Uchino, and Benjamin Williams.
J: there's some sort of connection in my mind with argentine and japanese "quick-fixing"—adapting things originally made for one purpose to another, in a sort of precarious way.
In argentina i think it has to do with material limitations, in japan maybe with recycling, but certainly it's not subversive…in the end we still depend on the goods produced by capital. but in a sense i think of it in terms of your mary douglas quote: if trash is defined by relations within a system, then by re-defining the relations, then the thing becomes something else, and breaks the waste cycle.
We were walking around Nezu the other day. The way people are incorporating trash into organic, organized and sustainable ways is amazing. I've been doing some research on plastics. They are trying to come up with a fast-degrading plastic but so far no cigar. In the meantime, plastic is here to stay (Hello Pacific Patch!) so perhaps the most responsible thing to do, perhaps even better than recycling, is just learn to live with these fucking things. I mean, worse comes to worst, you have like a billion ready-made planters that will last a couple of thousand years.
N: it would be nice to figure out how to live up and through the crap we came up with instead of letting it pile up with all these transitional media formats like laser disks and walkmans, hi-8, dvd, hdvd, bluraid without perpetuity and in the process or ‘progress’ let awesome things like celluloid film die out.
J: And perhaps this relates directly to craft—not in the professional level perhaps, but in the minnguei, "know-a-hundred-things" sort of way. I was reading this blog the other day, about a japanese program about sustainable farming in TV Tokyo:
"Hisae tells me the farmer in the show we saw last night -- the one who went to South America and was fascinated by the self-sustaining type of agriculture she saw there -- uses the word hyakushou to describe herself. That's an old Japanese word for farmer that contains the idea "a hundred things", and implies that a farmer is someone who does a hundred different small-scale things. In our mechanised system a farmer has become someone who does just one big-scale thing."
N: working at the pottery house has somewhat helped me reconcile on this subject.
The best thing about the place is how all these people have a relationship to making things. and these days when things are so processed and mediated, it’s a relief to know one can and does make a vessel out of dirt and eats from it. That’s why I like gardening and trekking so much, because it is a 1 to 1 relationship to the world and i think the same with local food. it's not just about of macrobiotic diets and healthfood, but also the realization that these hordings around and transactions of the global food trade end up being sort of unnecessary and wasteful. This conversation in a chris marker film; la jolie mai, they say there is no real free time anymore; you've got labor time and leisure time; and for the system it doesn't matter if you're making money or spending money as long as you're moving money around within that system
J: I am interested in, how people pick up something and… well, deal with it; and somehow in the process, they personalize it, appropriate it and even learn something of the craft, and that’s cultural capital.
i don't know. i don't believe in going for a direct clash, like debord says the situationists did, helps at all. but maybe it did, in that context, right then. but today it seems it's more like fukuoka or the cubans in your video. maybe we could and should learn everything we can learn and exchange that knowledge freely. knowing how to make the thing, as opposed to get an office job and buy it.
in this scheme i'd say that craft is the means to an end. for a while i've been thinking it's so important that we learn to do stuff again. horticulture, ceramics, wood-working, plumbing, whatever will allow you to NOT buy a new fucking armchair every year. i resent our parent's generation for breaking that link a little bit…my grandparent's generation seem so much resourceful and inventive in certain ways…not in others of course.
N: processed goods has definitely removed us from our experiences…
all this outsourcing has completely disconnected people with the objects that surround and structure their lives.
one can’t blame the people in Chile or Ghana for throwing out plastic bottles in the river and plastic bags hang on trees. They’ re super close to their land and are totally in touch with the nature cycle thing and compost ideas, it’s just industry that’s disconnected.
And recycling is such a tricky illusory idea anyways. This book cradle to cradle explains how ‘recycling is downcycling’. What happened to consigning bottles, why are we shifting to plastic? I guess they still do it in some places, but it’s definitely going the other way. I guess, that has to do with globablization, returning it to the manufacturer is too far away…
So maybe Yes, makeshift and make do is like an approach by default but also the way back around maybe. And learning how to make the thing again, As an approach I really appreciate what you said about making furniture for oneself. You make your chair, the work frees you from buying yet another chair, and the skill you acquire in the process is capital. This goes back to the Hegelian dialectic about labor, how seemingly the master is the freer one of them and outsources everything to his slaves who via the work liberate themselves in their relations to the things they make.
And that capability of making the thing is non-alienable. So, really, it’s the laborers that are the free ones.
Also, maybe the most crucial part is what you say about sharing knowledge. It’s exponential. Craft, in that sense, is a beautiful process. The catch is, it most often gets so fetichized, and then well makes it intimidating for people to try or start. I think that’s where the improvisational quality in make shifting is important.
M: There is a tremendous potential in the individual’s capacity to re-appropriate. It doesn’t have to do with being really technical. These overwhelming feelings that you mention about manufactured goods can become manageable and positive once we realize the human potential to manipulate the situations we find ourselves in. The spontaneity of “quick-fixing” exists within the course of randomization that brings out both creativity and surprise for those involved. This moment, which also contains a physical history of the objects’ previous functionalities, embeds the user with memories of prior activities with the objects. Through these quick-fix amalgamations, the “fixer’s” consumption is threaded together; whereas things discarded leave a physical and conceptual void, the re-established presence provides continuity that function as individualized tradition and personal ancestry.
N: Yes, I too am a firm believer in things having a structural history and life. And the intricacies of those relations and history makes quality exponential.
Like diversity in Buenos Aires_ the manner in which it seems to have been assembled on the go or something. or structurally alive if that makes any sense. I took the A train, all made out of wood, those trains could be from the 20’s but whatever they still run somehow. It’s striking how archaic it is, but within a larger context. the mutation happens, on top of what was already there.
Why replace these trains, just make the B line. And maintain the A, fix it and add onto it; not throw it out wholesale.
M: I also like how Buenos Aires is full of non-sequesters. There’s absolutely no unity in the way the city looks. They’ll start to put up these lamp posts on one street and by the next street run out of the first kind of lamp posts. Then they’ll just get a totally different style of lamp posts and well keep on going. The bus stops also are brilliant like that. There are the sophisticated roofed ones at times, but they’d also slap on a sticker on the back of a stop sign.
B: The complete disregard for standardization, and the mere survival of the A train; those are the best things about Buenos Aires for me, all that dereliction and potential but also sense of tweaking and forced short-termism - it gives it such a sense of life.
A lack of structural vivacity is the reason London began to annoy me, in that the dynamic, fluid (fluent?) parts of the city,_ and this involves for me also the dynamic parts of the city socially as well as architecturally - these places seem to be being homogenised, gentrified, co-opted. It was amazing and horrible to see that even in the relatively short period of time i lived in the city the places i loved so much would change and become consolidated. I like cities as living. I like cities as scruffy, fringes and transaction places. I didn't find this anymore. Maybe this was down in part to the satisfaction and wearing down of my imagination, indeed my cooption of those places which were once radical but eventually just became home and routine.
C: This is part of why I am always interested to work in Latin American communities and spend time away from Brooklyn and New York where the lifestyle becomes stagnant. Given that the advantages of living and working in a (once) thriving capitalist country has allowed me the luxury to travel so frequently, there has been a real excess of spending and consumption here and things have become over saturated and too expected.
But with the current economic collapse, these make-shift forms of survival are likely to become an increasing reality everywhere. Increasing limitations inevitably lead to the need for improvisation and creative solutions that prove you don’t have to depend on all of the expected materials to make things function.
Havana understands this reality well. Cubans are masters of recycling and make-shift repairs. Visually, I think of Havana's architecture, the amazing effort to preserve history. The way 300 year old wooden structural beams can be stripped and re-used. The exterior supportive structures that are like braces - this makes the reality of the situation very exposed and raw. The large presence of deterioration you see in the attempts to preserve history are beautiful, but also a sign of the struggles that are a part of everyday life.
There is this passage from essay by Timothy Brennan, called The Sublimination of Poverty, in which he states that:
"Art cannot make political change, but it can articulate a realm of value that nurtures, or draws positive attention to, that which can. Meanwhile, in many parts of the still not fully colonized third world, cultural forms suggest a promise of a way of life that capitalism has not yet uprooted-the art of aimless conversation, the slowing of the pace of life, indifference to economic 'growth', hospitality, the de-commercialisation of art (at least within limits). These are important psychological and emotional outlets for the negative energy overwhelming a metropolis characterised by the fear and restlessness of a productive system that would rather sublimate poverty than eradicate it."
J: As a system, quickfix is open source and accepts basically anything, because it operates strictly under a practical paradigm. If it works to fix the situation, you use it. Aesthetics are merely a by-product, which is what makes it so hard to replicate in a conscious level — I think as artists and makers we are aware of this.
N: And well, it’s also tricky to romanticize the aesthetic qualities of such an approach because most often this fxing happens because of financial scarcity.
J:Cuba is probably the most extreme case, where they have to fix their 50 year old cars because they cannot get new ones, and they probably look amazing but the situation must be very uncomfortable by now, i assume.
Buenos Aires seems to be the middle ground, a place bound to capitalist thinking but still limited in resources, and of course the high contrast makes it very interesting, like the A train. I remember I told you about the corridors connecting the A to a newer line, how they have this beautiful old tiles with this very elegant pattern, and then suddenly how it stops and becomes this new hallway with a very arid, clean look. If quickfixing is the shortcut taken by the people in favor of hybridization, cross-mixing, etc_ then it seems that industry took another one based on clean, standardized look. The Bauhaus and Minimalism carry much of the blame, I think, as great as they were.
N: In this same way, I’m uneasy with how solar panels and all sustainable energy technology all look like NASA gear, so technocratic.
Yates MacGee talks about this shift in aesthetic paradigms for the new environmentalists; they are all about the cutting edge and slick design as opposed to the old hippies with tie-dye shirts.
I guess I am drawn to places like Brasilia too, and i am sensitive to high modernism, but the perfect masterplan never really functions for people and their lives. this goes back to what we were saying about structural vitality, the defining infrastructures just have to be more flexible if people are going to live in them.
Adaptability is key but it’s also about the possibility of constantly reinventing the thing as you go along. Sort of like eternal return. It’s like the life is just so happening and extreme, you need to come up with whatever right now and just figure it out somehow as you go along. in some sense i guess one should rethink some things, but i find this energy more attractive than the tabula rasa technique.
There’s something to be said about the approach of make-shifting; beyond the short-term/ temporary substitute. If you continually evolve through this make shift approach then you end up with a really interesting set of combinations. It’s not about replacing the real thing anymore, than the real thing being the mutations themselves in correlation to the situations at hand. This goes back to what max was saying earlier about the threaded experience.
J: i would only add what you brought up about responsibility. i.e. is quickfixing the responsible thing to do? there seems to be a general prejudice that the reclaimed thing won`t last, it’s just a temporary solution. The idea of a shortcut– ultimately a moral choice. but then how much of this prejudice is a direct byproduct of capitalist/consumerist ideals + the paradigm of high modernism? quickfixing means (partially) turning your back on your a-new-sofa-every-five-years thing.
N:. and the trick is, those sofas or whatever are now purposely made to only last 5 years and then realistically makeshifting is also about using all the wrong things to fix something that was originally inherently made crappy by an industry fueled by waste.
B: Choice in the market economy is the opposite of mental clarity for me. I freeze in front of the bank of toothpastes in the supermarket. i think modern branding, possibly because it works, sort of floods my mind and i get this crashing feeling.
Part of me wants to live in a communist state where choice is more streamlined.
Part of the reason i climb mountains is to put choice into the realm of the unavoidable - this gives me utter clarity. Up or down, left or right, eat or drink, or stop - these are the sort of choices i like sometimes after the cacophonous sense-noise of the modern world.
There's a great little book called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime which is narrated by a kid with Aspergers, and he freaks out in all sorts of modern scenarios which i think secretly make everybody freeze to some extent or other. He ends up just lying on the ground pushing his forehead into the dirt when confronted by certain things, putting his fingers in his ears and groaning; it was a best seller in the UK which i think says a lot about British society i.e we're all secretly overwhelmed.
Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas. See Forward.
Means ‘art of the people’ in Japanese, literally. It could be defined as folk art; one of its defining characteristics is that the art object is integrated in the way of life.
One straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka
Urban farm in Havana Cuba, see interview with Miguel Salcine.Asperger syndrome is named after Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who, in 1944, described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, demonstrated limited empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy