Saturday, 21 November 2015

PhD news!

I found out yesterday that I was accepted to the PhD programme in History of Art at University of York (UK) with Jo Applin as my supervisor! I'm thrilled to be going into such an incredible research community and to start my project on gender and abstraction in women's video art in January 2016.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Forebearer finally here!

Super Inuit & Jessica Schouela – Forebearer

Out November 20th on download and cassette limited to 50 copies. 

Full album:

Forebearer is the audio product of a collaboration between Super Inuit (Brian Pokora) and Jessica Schouela. The compilation of Jessica’s poems launched the project and, although written at different times, they were chosen based on a shared sense of curiosity, vulnerability, and a wish to explore familial interactions. The poems are a play between viewing and reviewing history and at the same time, interrogating a possible future. Although the poems had not originally been intended as spoken word, they nonetheless lend themselves to an oral reading, even more so in conversation with Brian’s underlying soundscapes on which the readings sit. 

The cover of the record is a portrait drawn by Jessica of her grandfather in the 1930s, who lived until 102. In this regard, he represents not only the literal forebearer of the poet, but reflects a life that began in times that could only view the present as some sort of sci-fi existence. Nevertheless, as humans we adapt, a sentiment that ultimately sets the tone for the multi-media project. 

Friday, 13 November 2015

A Conversation between Jessica Schouela and David Haslam

JS: As a part of your artist residency at the Talbot Rice Gallery (TRG3) in Edinburgh, you presented some of your research at the Luc Tuyman exhibition opening on October 30.

It seemed that you had paired the numbers that were stuck throughout the two rooms on the upper floor of the gallery with your voice coming from a set of headphones that appeared to be cataloguing the architectural details around the viewer. Can you tell me a little bit about your process?

DH: The process, for the project, has been to take the rooms I have been provided with and use them as the subject of my work, or at least as something to start with and test works upon. This is in keeping with my practice in general – almost all of my work is responsive to something, whether that be a site, an object, photograph or a format. For example, if I made a work for a book, it would be about book structure.

Regarding what’s set up in the gallery at the moment, I’m not interested in making site-specific works. Here I’m developing work about our perception of something, and that happens to be the room in this case, therefore I’d intend it to be transferable, to another site/space potentially, although each site might bring slight changes to the work, it’s about making a process or project and the room is the ‘case study’ example it has been demonstrated upon – however, the ‘work’ is developing from this room, I didn’t come in with this idea, it has developed here on this residency, but I like that a work could be taken somewhere, so each time it gives an experience that is specific to that place, but it is re-applyable.

The numbers themselves – everything in the room was identified and then that list was alphabetized; the order of the numbers reflects that ordering of the components of the room, although there is some order. For example there are many items, which share the same name, like a skirting board, and they don’t share the same number. I used an audio of the list being read because I didn’t want to present the index as a list on the wall, it would be too functional, the audio subjects someone to the information, in that it’s given to you in a set order and pace, one thing at a time. I suppose that’s where the ‘work’ may lie, if you’re listening to the audio and looking around the room, the order of the two don’t match up; where things are physically in the room is reflected in the list.

You mentioned the word ‘cataloguing’ as well. It is cataloguing, but that’s not what I want it to be, I think. I’d rather it became some sort of equivalent to the room, but I made the list so it’s not a certified scientific process by any means. Maybe if it was presented on its own, it could become an abstract version of the room. Something for me to think about…

JS: How do you expect this project to develop? And, how do you see yourself working within the larger history of conceptual art practices?

DH: In terms of expectation, my only expectation is of myself and that I continue to produce work in the time that I have. I have no planned direction for the work to go in as it were, that’s development, but, in terms of format, I would like to have some sort of resolved ‘artwork’ set up by the end, a manifestation of the research I suppose.

Good question about Conceptual Art, though I’m afraid I’d only give an ignorant answer. I don’t even know what Conceptual Art is today, for what I think it is anyway but I am definitely influenced by it and find an affinity with what some of the artists associated with that term do/did and how they do/did that. That’s all I’d dare say: I’m influenced by it.

JS: Your notebooks seem to be an important tool for you in your research. How do you see them as contributing to your practice? They are put together meticulously and aesthetically. Do you consider them as art objects in and of themselves or as important parts of your display? In this regard, how do you view the pictures you take and assemble? What role, if any, does photography and collage have in your work?

DH: Yes they are, and I do consider some of the content within those books as artworks in their own right. Firstly, the notebooks are a working tool for myself, so that I have a record of every idea or material act that I have done. And, again for my own reference, if I have an idea I try to make a visual manifestation of it, a drawing, a collage, photograph with a caption, so they are created along the way. Yes, I do take the time to present them in the way I do and I like to have a 2D equivalent of ideas that could be 3-dimensional. Also, sometimes you can communicate something better with a collage for example than you perhaps could with a substantial artwork. So they are an expansion of my artistic outputs. I tend to always make a large pool of material that collectively represent or speak a theme, idea, interest, etc.

Collage offers the opportunity to create new things, putting things together to create new meaning – so some collages are documentation, e.g., putting a map next to a photograph with a material fragment taped next to it, going back to conceptual art here, others are actual works. They might contain documentation, like a photograph, but they are presented to give meaning, not communicate something in existence.

I’m starting to upload pages from my books onto the TRG3 website, so I’m using that as a platform to expand my display for the residency beyond the room itself, but it is also documentation of my time there. There isn’t always the opportunity to display that side of my work, but it always goes on.  

JS: What are your hopes for the remaining weeks of your residency?

DH: To continue developing the project, even I don’t know where it will lead, and I don’t see the end of my time there as the strict end of this body of work, especially if there appears to be more mileage in it. But it’s a privilege to have a space like that to make and display work, especially with the kind of support I am receiving from the gallery. So I’m just trying to make the most of it.

Photos courtesy of David Haslam.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Response to Pierrot le fou

Watching Pierrot le fou last night reminded me how much I enjoy watching Anna Karina on screen. There’s something so special and classic about her cinematic presence that is again and again delightful, elegant, and silly; she sings about her boredom, throwing rocks in the ocean as she wonders what there is to do.

The film is more exotic than what I have come to know as typical of Goddard. It is primarily set on the Mediterranean Sea, in a sort of at once jungle-like and beach landscape, and with the inclusion of a large blue and yellow parrot as well as a tiny, scraggly dog that become companions to the runaway couple.

For me, the film was about a resistance to growing up, to thinking about the consequences of one’s actions, and to some extant, to the surrendering of play. The lovers put on plays for American tourists, dressing up as people from other cultures and sing songs while dancing and chasing one another. Throughout the film, both Karina and Belmondo’s characters carry with them a teddy bear and a comic book respectively, while carelessly burning or throwing away money. These objects of childhood hold an importance to them more so than anything that might contribute to their survival.

Perhaps for them, however, these objects constitute and signify survival, and a retaining of that which seems to matter most to them – their sense of adventure, of their own freedom. Yet, this deep search for continuous freedom is ultimately the demise of their romantic relationship, as Belmondo’s character, Ferdinand, gives up Marianne’s (Karina) location to murderous men seeking money and revenge and Marianne ultimately leaves Ferdinand for a man she initially claims is her brother. Alas, both characters fail to be free – Marianne is found and shot by Ferdinand, who is caged in his own misery and inability to find purpose, and wraps his head in dynamite, changing his mind a moment too late.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Response to Porco Rosso

I’ve just watched “Porco Rosso”, my first Hayao Miyazaki film, which I thought was fantastic. While admittedly, I’m very new to anime and have little to compare it to, I found “Porco Rosso” to be both sophisticated and hilarious. The film tells the story of a pilot in the Adriatic Sea, who, because of a mysterious curse, has the head of a pig.

I was surprised when I watched certain scenes with quite explicit feminist messages. When Porco goes to his usual mechanic in Milan, Fio, the granddaughter of the garage owner, presents herself as the engineer who will lead on the construction of the pilot’s new plane. Shocked that she is both seventeen and a woman, Porco reacts with shock and rejects her, asserting that this is not something he can get on board with. While she admits that she is young, she claims she can’t do anything about being a woman. The next morning, Porco finds Fio having stayed up all night, finishing up the design for his new seaplane. Impressed by the blueprints, he gives her the job. Later, when the all-female building crew arrives, each introduced as a family member of Fio’s, Porco takes his new situation with a grain of salt and develops cute rapports with many of them, especially the delightful grandmothers.

The brilliant narrative was made even more magical through Miyazaki’s skilled animation techniques, which tell Porco’s story in a way that is at once direct and sentimental. Being rather a lone wolf, for lack of better words, who worries primarily about himself and getting paid as a bounty hunter, Porco learns the lesson of honour in an unusual way. Encouraged by Fio to fight for his honour against an American pilot who had once shot his plane down, he seems to go into the final air fight more to protect Fio than to establish himself as a hero. While it is true that she, along with Porco’s debt for the airplane repairs, becomes the bet for the fight, she puts herself in this situation based on her faith in Porco, but also, and perhaps more importantly, on her own mastery as an engineer.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

A Thread, a Patch: Collaboration in Island Communities

I have another article published today in Art plus Thought.

A Thread, a Patch: Collaboration in Island Communities

Detail of projection of hand knitted lace by Jessica Smith, Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland, 2012

Projection of hand knitted lace by Minnie Mouatt, Bonhoga Gallery, Shetland, 2010

On October 14, as part of the University of St Andrews’s 2015 research seminars, Shetland-based American artist Roxane Permar delivered a talk titled “An Art of Place”, in which she traced her creative interactions with various communities in the Shetland Islands and, more particularly, with Shetland Island knitters. Permar discussed her engagement with the knitters as collaborative research that sought to revitalize and celebrate the history of the artistic tradition. Describing her practice as faithfully as possible, she drew a distinction between works that are site-specific and her artist-led projects that aim to create and respond to situations and to interrogate a landscape as a way of evoking traditions and memories, hence her phrase: “An art of place”.

Mirrie Dancers – the Shetland term for The Northern Lights and the name given to a project led by Permar and her former student and multimedia artist Nayan Kulkarni – was commissioned by the Shetland Arts Development Agency, with the condition that the project be a social and public interrogation into light. Between 2009-2012, Permar and her collaborators installed temporary illuminations in ten different public sites across Shetland as well as permanent interior installations that projected delicate knit patterns produced by lace knitters in the community.

Permar and Kulkarni’s “Mirrie Dancers” immediately brought to mind Canadian artist Mark Clintberg’s 2014 collaborative work, “Passion Over Reason / La passion avant la raison”, supported by Fogo Island Arts and the Shorefast Foundation. During his residency on Fogo Island in Newfoundland, Clintberg produced a quilt design informed by a statement made by former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. His design was realized by the Winds and Waves Artisan's Guild, a group of local women who collectively produced the quilt and Clintberg requested that the quilt be placed on a random bed at the Fogo Island Inn each night. The Inn, a community project in and of itself, and an important component of the Shorefast Foundation’s programme, was set up as an effort to invest back into the community’s economy, by way of initiating a local business that promotes and energizes geotourism on the island.

The connections between the projects are multiple and intriguing. Firstly, they both socially engage with local traditions through collaborative action and by supporting the community’s social conditions; secondly, they are both concerned with textile heritages; and thirdly, both projects take place on islands and are immersed in specific island cultures. In fleshing out possible similarities a little bit further, however, what becomes evident is that both projects were instigated when a foreigner, to some degree or another (Clintberg is from Calgary and at the time was based in Montreal), entered a community and suggested some kind of resuscitation, celebration and, ultimately, display or exhibition of traditions that are not native to them. It is not difficult to imagine how such projects might initially have been construed (or misconstrued) as an unwarranted imposition or, even more harshly, as ill-willed.

While, admittedly, it is true that community projects such as these do raise ethical questions, what is clear is that both artists delivered fine outcomes in their culturally sensitive projects and facilitated encounters that were ultimately both encouraging and fruitful. Additionally, it should be noted that both Permar and Clintberg were first to acknowledge that the collaborative core of their works was the foundation for the success of their projects. In this way, significant attention has been given to sharing credit for the objects or images that act as final, testimonial documents of the meetings and congregations that fueled and materialized the works. Before long the respective islanders not only engaged generatively with the projects, but also helped to assign a new role for artists as mediators of communal activity and, more than anything else, as metaphorical seamsters of creative encounters. 

Courtesy of Fogo Island Arts

Photo by Alex Fradkin