Category | Visual Culture

Painting, Politics, and Power with Michael Soi

I was drawn into his work immediately because of its familiar color pallet and curious characters. Also the fact that I had just seen one in a bar the weekend before was, no doubt, influential in my curiosity.

Last year I spent 3 months in Kenya, primarily in Nairobi. I was there for a couple of reasons, but since I am an artist meeting other artists and learning about them and their work is, of course, always part of my travel. There are two main residency/art centers in Nairobi: The GoDown Arts Centre and Kuona Trust. It was at The GoDown that I met Michael. He was the studio mate of a contact I had.

Upon entering the studio, I recognized the cartoon-like gestures and the deliberate criticism of the normal happenings of Nairobian nightlife and other goings-on. Being my first time in Kenya, actually in Africa, I wanted to know more about the images/concepts and to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a contemporary artist in Nairobi.

I met and chatted with Michael a few times after that first studio visit, but never felt like I fully understood his work. I thought I would take this opportunity with Freerange to delve a bit deeper into the work with Michael, to hear from his perspective what were/are his motivations in the work, what are his influences, and where he is taking his work in the near future.

Michael Soi 002

NR: In your work you wittily comment on and, in a way, attack everyday activities of ordinary Kenyan citizens. How did you come to use your art work as a vehicle for these social and political commentaries?

MS: It all begun very innocently. It was work that revolved around children as an alternative audience to my work. I used animal characters like pigs and cat. At this moment, they had no meaning as such. it was just plain simple what you see is what you get but over time I looked at these two characters and realised there was a lot of similarities that existed between our politicians and these two animals. Greed and selfishness. I still create work that kids can relate to in a very simple way and at the same time use the characters to address a more serious problem in Kenyan society through my work.

NR: Why is painting now your main medium? And why is this the appropriate medium for your message?

MS: I studied fine art and art history in art school. After graduation I joined kuona trust in 1996. This is when I can say I begun my long career and I basically took an interest in sculpture by default. We were young and broke at this time. So the issue of subject and material was not in our control. We worked on what we had at the moment but honestly, I think after one year I was too engrossed in wood sculpture because I took it up as a challenge and just wanted to see how far I could run away with it. Over time, I realised that this wasn’t telling the story as I wanted it told. This is what got me back to painting in 1998. I had too many ideas on my head and wood was kind of limiting. This is when I decided to take on painting as the instrument that I wanted to use to get my story told.

NR: Your work has been widely shown both internationally and at home in Kenya. Has the reception been different in the various countries? And how has that influenced, if at all, how you approach new work? Basically, who is your target audience and what role do they have in your work?

MS: I have been luck[y] in a way because of a lot of international travel early in my career. By the time I was 30 I had seen a fair portion of this world. It enabled me to engage in a lot of what I want to call cultural dialogue and at the same time, having to work with artists from diverse cultural back grounds and all. My target audience in the people of the city of Nairobi. This work revolves around their everyday kind of setting in all aspects of social life. I will address the issues around graft, matatu’s, commercial sex work and everything that affects them. Over the years, I have to realise that I can get a lot of the inspiration here. The international travel for residencies in places like London, New York, Amsterdam and many other cities I have visited in the course of my career have given me the option of looking at things differently and being able to approach issues from a broader view. It gave me knowledge that i am still downloading up to date in my quest to become a better artist. I don’t know what the role of my work is at the moment. that doesn’t concern me much but the most important thing here is that I have given myself the responsibility of documenting my city and its people visually so that the next generation of Kenyans and anybody else who is interested can look at it 50 years from now and see what Nairobi was up to in the 90’s and in the new millennium.

Michael Soi 003

NR: Can you talk about how you see the role of women in Kenyan society and how that is translated in your work?

MS: I am not a social activist. I am a social commentator. Mostly, the use of women in my work is misunderstood. I believe in equality of the sexes and all. A lot of the work I made revolving around the strip clubs in Nairobi is about power. It has nothing to do with occasional look at a painting of a topless woman just for kick. It is about power in the sense of commercial sex work evolving to a point where the girls don’t have to stand in the streets anymore because there is social media now. Twitter and Facebook have provided a space where the girls will not have to freeze themselves to death by standing street corners and more.

Back to the issue of power, my strip club scenes are not about the pole dancer who is nude on the pole. It is always about them men ogling and drooling that surrounds her. One girl told me she doesn’t have to sleep with the men to make her money. All she has to do is give a lap dance for 4 minutes and she makes $7 and at the end of her shift, she has made $200 which is more than what the average 8 to 5 job going Nairobi resident makes in a day. This is power. She uses her body to make her ends meet. She doesn’t have to have sex with the client.

Michael Soi 004

NR: I noticed that almost all of your characters have the same expressionless face. Could you tell me about that decision?

MS: I am still developing my characters. It is an on-going process.

NR: Visually, your paintings remind me of 70s and 80s cartoons like Fat Albert and the Jackson 5ive. Was this a conscious decision? If so, why? If not, do you think that observation is valid? Why or why not?

MS: It came from a point of wanting to make my work self-explanatory. Make it simple as possible. I don’t let western issues influence any of my work…There is a tendency to compare artists from the 3rd world with a master somewhere in the states or Europe. I have created my own subjects and characters to my work. I am me and my art is mine.

NR: This visual aesthetic was very popular in Latin America in the 80s, in particular in Chile. In fact, it was used by the dictatorship, on TV and in music, to keep the people “happy and occupied”. What do you think about the use of entertainment to keep the masses happy and distracted?

MS: It can easily be used as a form of propaganda. And yes, it was used in Chile and to some extend in Argentina and we also see it in drug regions of Mexico where use of art is being used by the cartels. But for me, I think my work belongs to me in the sense that I want to see it as a visual diary of some sort. I am just documenting my city on the things I see and observe every day. it is an attempt to get someone in the west who has not been to this part of the world to know my city. It is stuff that the next generation of Kenyans will look at and see where they came from.

Michael Soi 006

NR: Could you talk about the method(s) of keeping the masses in line in Kenya?

MS: In Kenya, keep them talking. Use the media for that. Expose one scandal after another. They will keep talking.

NR: From my understanding, corruption in Kenya is widely understood and accepted. What do you seek to accomplish with your work?

MS: I try to address issues of political, religious and moral corruption. Audiences to my work need to look at where they fit in, whatever they do after that is up to them.

NR: And looking at the near future of Kenyan politics, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the elections in March, and how this might play out in your work.

MS: We will just have to wait and see. My take on it….They removed the crocodile from the river and put it in a swimming pool. It still remains a crocodile.

Michael Soi 005

 

What’s your take on Michael’s work and the ideas he has presented here? Feel free to comment, or send me an email (nic [at] nicolerademacher [dot] com).

 
Michael Soi is represented by Ed Cross Fine Art in London and The Little Art Gallery in Nairobi. You can see more of his work at michaelsoi.com or on his artist Facebook page.
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UP THE PUNKS 2012: The City Seen Through Thirty Something Noisy Years of Wellington Punk Culture.

 
 
 
 
 
“Not in the habit of saving things for posterity or thinking themselves as history. Not caring about the past, not seeing too much future to look forward too. Whether or not that was really true, it was definitely the understood attitude and mood… I’ve just started on this book and already I’m on a tangent…”

Aaron Cometbus

 

Time. It’s treated quite strangely in the world of punk rock. Most people arrive as though they were the first. And they leave out the back door to make way for a younger, more energised generation. Aaron Cometbus, of the Bay Area fanzine Cometbus, nailed it in a retrospective on his first 20 years of zine-making. When it came to cultural self-awareness, he claimed that punks were decidedly evasive. Whether fueled by  idealism or nihilism, they were preoccupied in a haze of the ‘spirit of the times’. The view from the blazing vehicle of punk rock is framed by a combination of radical ideas, growing pains and fast guitars. Vision under such speed is surely fuzzy. Beyond the ‘here and now’ getting a cultural perspective to the past (or future) is hard. But the last decade or so has seen a renewed interest from within and without Wellington’s punk community with a call to explore the vestiges of time and uncover the recesses of the city’s nearly forgotten punk past.

Enter Wellington’s own unique and peculiar cultural time-machine – UP THE PUNKS! It travels to depths of 35 years ago and up to the active present, exhibiting the stories and artefacts of a vibrant, living underground community. The ongoing documenting and open source archiving initiative provides an important means of linking together a body of diverse works such as music, arts, literature, activism and various aspects of DIY culture, which would otherwise seem disparate across generations past and present. Youth culture is rarely this prolific and broadly expressed. It is a showcase of spirit – the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

 

Original poster for UP THE PUNKS 2002 designed by Kerry Ann Lee

 

To claw back the history of an obscure society, obsessed with its very obscurity, is not an easy task. Works can be as fleeting as youth itself, leaving little trace, if any at all. But memory will still prevail. People still fondly recall the legendary performance of influential bands which never lasted long enough to produce more than a rough demo and play at some house parties; rants from a younger version of someone-you-know found in a photocopied zine which was subsequently lost to time and a small print run; piles of old screen-printed posters and merch; dusty records and cordially exchanged mixtapes now warped and stretched; abandoned film negatives of rallies and hangouts with cherished friends. Interesting and unexpected things happens when returning to these places.

 

Punk was always positioned in relation to a wider context, differentiating itself from mainstream society. But over time, as we all know, things change, the mainstream changes too, and so each generational iteration of punk rockers bear traces of that change too. I can’t help but recall the backdrop of a transitional Wellington city in the 1990s, its people waking up from the quiet slumber of economic downturn. People were crawling out of brutalist buildings determined to paint over the grey walls that had only served to compliment the depressive color of the sky.
Whether or not these are actually my own memories, I’m reminded of something geographic, something spatial and material, tangible and almost graspable; squats on the waterfront as Te Papa was still in construction; un-refurbished flats with remnants of 70’s décor; walking home after school via The Freedom Shop, the local anarchist bookstore which was housed in a rustic shed on upper Cuba St before being squeezed out by the Bypass; the hired-out community halls; picking bottles off the street during shows; skinhead encounters in Newlands; skateboarding with mates in the Hutt; the patience required to order records and zines from overseas…

 

The Cure jamming at a house party in Mount Victoria, August 4, 198.1

 

UP THE PUNKS presents a case for continuity between generations otherwise fragmented and disjointed. In doing so it proves, in my mind at least, that the past 35 years wasn’t just an excuse for playing silly buggers after all (although there was a great deal of that too). It’s evidence of a sustained cultural activity. In such a hotbed for ideals put into action, ideas can last a long time, or burn out alongside musical trends, fashion, and haircuts. I’m curious as to how punk – peripheral by nature – has extended and adapted to other aspects of society, or whether (in many cases I imagine) it is left to the embarrassments of youth. It would be interesting to know what happened to those kids as they enter different areas of society, as they develop skill-sets for new contexts and responsibilities. It is contributions from these people that keeps the UP THE PUNKS online archive lively. I can think proudly of punk friends who are now educators, union organisers, lawyers, academics, artists, health care professionals, engineers, innovators, activists, musicians, amazing parents, and just all round good people.

 

A film made by Chris Knox on the punk and post-punk ‘Wellington Scene’ otherwise known as the ‘Terrace Scene’ in 1980. 

 

Without continuing to sound like a back-in-the-day-old-timer, it has to be said that a big aspect of the UP THE PUNKS effort is to present Wellington punk culture as a living community, uniquely localised and continuing today in full force. It stands in contrast to the picture painted by a Te Papa exhibition ten years ago that presented punk as a petrified historical nomenclature that only happened elsewhere. The ongoing spirit of participation from enthusiastic new blood will ensure that punk respond to a changing world, ultimately securing the promise of it’s future.

 

And because of the open sourced, participatory nature of the UP THE PUNKS archive, we now have a means of looking back through the noise of time. With the raw information available to all, the historical narrative of punk in Wellington can be constantly rewritten and contested.

At 16 years and counting, Punkfest is New Zealand’s longest running annual punk event.

 

UP THE PUNKS proposes one last important thing; that this living history is also a slice of the city’s history. It’s “the Wellington you didn’t know you didn’t know” as aptly put by John Lake in the Pledgeme fundraising campaign. The minor stories told here reveal the material culture of life in Wellington as told by the people themselves. It is also relevant for the story of independent music in New Zealand. These stories are our history and it’s a history to be shared by all.

 

 

A Pledgeme campaign to fund UP THE PUNKS 2012 has just started. Come along and check it out if you like!

UP THE PUNKS 2012 exhibition and celebrations: November 6-10

 

Exhibition Opening Night: November 6, 2012, 6PM, Thistle Hall
Gettin’ Worse: Punx Still Angry, November 7, San Fran Bathhouse. Check out the new breed with Numbskull, DILFS, Influence and more…

 

Closing Night Party, November 10, Thistle Hall Upstairs
All ages gig expanding the definition of punk with So So Modern, Rogernomix, All Seeing Hand, Mr Sterile Assembly, Johnny and The Felchers and more…

 

www.upthepunks.co.nz
www.facebook.com/upthepunks.wellington

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Letter from Kenya (eight)

In the small mud-floored kitchen, around the kitchen fire bordered by 3 large stones (to put the pots on), the middle son is home with his 8 year-old for a visit. The three adults discuss life, the city, work – or lack-thereof. The 2 grandsons that live on the homestead are seated there as well, with their cousin, quietly listening to the adult conversation. One of the boys sings, but it is barely heard; the others dig their feet into the ground and fidget. But I can only imagine this based on the conversation in a language that I don’t understand that comes billowing out of the barely open door and the small square window. The conversation is accompanied by the suffocating smoke from the kitchen fire, fighting for a place to escape from the confines of the small space.

I steal understandings of bits of words and, of course, proper names like the capital city where the son now lives, with his wife and son in the second largest urban slum on the continent, barely making ends-meet. I stand just a few meters from the wood building, looking up through the rainclouds of the Long Rains season through the pitch-black to a few constellations, barely visible. I look back at the square-shaped room with an orange burning light shining through not only the cracked door and window, but also the open slats that let the rain in this morning while we watched the water heating for our baths.

The conversation is familiar, one that I have had with my own parents in their kitchen during one of my countless visits home. There is a relay back and forth of question-answer, then intermittently the son explains further or the mother continues on a monologue asking and comparing, hoping to glean a bit more about her son’s life that is not so unfamiliar to her, she is from a city near by, not the capital, but she is no stranger to the hustle and bustle, but perhaps she has forgotten all of that. Perhaps the forty-some years that she has spent in the high rolling hills tending to their farm and dairy cows, perhaps this less-busy life has allowed her to forget the hand-to-mouth that she, presumably, once lived.

The oldest of the grandsons pops out and I quickly change my gaze back to the sky again, attempting to make myself invisible. Though the night is so dark with no moonlight and no artificial light for miles, at least to the closest town, being invisible isn’t so difficult. Then I remember the conversation I had with the shopkeeper today when we made the hike to town for supplies that cannot be reaped from their land, power had been out in the town for the last 2 days – no mobile charging, no television, only the police station, with their noisy generator, could be seen with their lights on at night. The grandson dumps some water and with a clang grabs something from under the chicken coop and glides back into the warm kitchen shutting the door just a few centimeters more behind him.

Nicole Rademacher was in Kenya from February until May of 2012 doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

 

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Liberal Lady

I don’t miss you. In these miles of skies and
blue tinged eyes…..I don’t miss this.

An all-consuming, non-existent hunger
A table full of food – fridge full of waste

Always eating, never hungry – an excessive taste
of air-conditioned space.

Your jokes – make me choke on my
short stack, maple packed
fluffy white
industrial delight.

I could pay the bill – if I wanted to,
you know –
to and fro – to and fro

After 11 years away, the world has changed,
But you haven’t – still the same
excess and consumption –
You greedy lady of Liberty you.

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Boys in bands with beards

Take a walk down Melbourne’s Brunswick Street or through Bondi in Sydney and you’ll find yourself amidst a stream of trendy, indie types. Hipsters flood the second hand book stores and grass carpeted organic cafés and bars, dressed in leather shoes, tightly fitted jeans and a shirt buttoned all the way up. The latest addition to the hipster-esque ensemble is, however, the most intriguing. Beards.

They’re everywhere, bigger and bushier than ever. Beautiful men, in beautiful clothes, who often play beautiful music, will almost definitely sport a large sum of facial hair growing downwards from their chin. Boys in bands with beards are taking over the streets and the music industry right before our eyes. Don’t believe me? Check your iTunes. Matt Corby, Angus Stone, Bon Iver, Damien Rice, Josh Pyke, Dallas Green of City and Colour, one of the boys from Architecture in Helsinki has a crazy beard, it’s rare that all five of Passion Pit are cleanly shaven, one half of the Black Keys sports a massive beard, the list goes on. Basically, it seems, if you’d like to be trendy, or successful in the realm of the alternative or folk music scene, grow a beard and you’re set for stardom.

But where has this phenomenon come from that is filling our cities with facial hair to the brim?

Move over Movember. Beginning in Melbourne in the early 2000s and making a mark right across the world, Movemeber has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for prostate cancer research and men’s depression charities. Through the growth of millions of moustaches in support of the movement, moustaches began to trend in the music scene and on the streets, perhaps a humble beginning to the uprising of hipsters with facial hair. But fads do die, and so whilst many will still line their upper lip this November, currently beards take reign all year round.

Perhaps it’s an ode to ancient leaders. The most respected ancient Egyptians had great beards, often with gold strips plaited into them. Some even attached fake beards to gain hierarchy (who knew hair extensions existed back then!). In ancient India having a beard meant having wisdom and dignity, men with no beards in ancient Gaelic times were said to be dishonourable, and Spartans in ancient Greece partly shaved a man’s beard if he was a coward.

Maybe growing a beard is a religious thing, to do with inner peace and pleasant souls or whatever mumble jumble those hipsters will tell you. Jesus and almost all of his disciples had beards, so perhaps growing a beard would help inspire these trendy city kids to be good willed and humble, performing some kind of miracle upon their music. Your guess is as good as mine.

Oh what about pirates! Maybe the hipsters are making a statement like the peg-legged notorious sea captains. As well as the typical eye patch, parrot on shoulder, boat with skull flag, treasure map, and hoop earring, pirates almost always had beards. Cue Captain Redbeard and Blackbeard. Whilst the music playing boys might take over stages and festival line ups rather than the deep dark sea, perhaps the beard thing is about being different, making your own rules, and defying the straight-laced. Notorious leaders like Ned Kelly and bandana wearing bikies also fit this bill perfectly. They break the rules, make their own statements, and of course, have beards of lengths that are out of control. To further validate this, the upper-class are always cleanly shaven. Never do you see a man in a business suit at a corporate function with a beard. Oh the horror. Recently, an article was published reiterating this exact point, it stated that policemen are to be clean shaven, to maintain their power and class, and because “you can’t trust men with beards.” So whether it’s peg-legged or Harley Davidson inspired, notoriety and stepping outside the norm is also a beard influencing possibility.

There’s also the chance that, on the flip side, these boys in bands with beards want to be leaders of the great kind, rather than the rebellious kind – that or they’re just massive fantasy book nerds. Just look at Gandalf and Dumbledore; two of the greatest leaders to ever grace our bookshelves and cinemas, who lead their followers to victory and greatness. Perhaps these musos want to lead their fans into melodic victory and harmonious greatness, and find themselves fame along the way.

Maybe they’re just going for the rugged, just-got-out-of-bed look that rock n roll kings don because “the chicks dig it”, and because being carefree and a free spirit is like totally the best way to live man.

Maybe it’s simply because they’re struggling musicians and hipsters who can’t afford to buy a razor. Or maybe they’re just being lazy.

Whatever the reason is, it’s happened, and it’s a thing. Beards have taken that much flight there’s even an international beard community online who run the World Beard Championships and are currently mourning the loss of a dearly beloved heavily bearded man. For real. Another site, Beard.org, will help you grow a beard, let you show it off, teach you different styles, and even allow you to share your beard success story.

At the present time it’s guaranteed you will not leave your home without seeing at least one bearded man along your daily travels through the city. Hipsters will continue to flood trendy spots sporting beards of outrageous proportion, and boys in bands with beards will continue to fill our festival line ups and stages across the nation – that is, until something ‘cooler’ comes along. Maybe it’ll be sideburns next? Oh boy.
NOTE: Quite independently from this article the founders of Freerange Press make a controversial claim to have accidentally started the international movember movement with a 3-years of Moustache Growing Competitions in 2000, 2001 and 2003 in Wellington. Named The Month of Mo, we gave the meager proceeds to Oxfam NZ. They were however amazing parties with Moustache poetry ciphers amongst other antics. There is a Polaroid photograph evidence in the bottom of suitcase somewhere.
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Small Things -> Bigger

These are multi-focus microscope photographs I took recently to use as part of a digital reference collection, that is a series of photographs that can be referred to to check whether a future sample is the same ‘morpho species’ as the one in the photograph.

The camera takes up to 50 photos at different focal lengths and then stitches them all together
to create an image that is (almost) completely in focus.

This is advantageous when the subject is so small and the aperture is also small.

For a sense of scale the eye of the lower beetle is around 1mm across, note the mounting pin going through the upper beetle.

I especially like their golden hairs, reminds me of a fluffy dog, not something you think of when handling beetles.

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Ranting about the love of God

Damien Hirst’s retrospective opened at London’s Tate Modern on April 4th and I didn’t want to write about it. In fact I didn’t even want to acknowledge its existence. But having attended a range of exhibitions lately where the gallery spaces resemble more of an amusement park than places of culture and learning, I had to see the Hirst show and wonder for myself if his show represents the place  where public spaces are heading?

I don’t mean this in a grumpy, ‘everything must be serious all the time’ kind of way. It just seems that more and more galleries are relenting curatorial rigour to making galleries all play, no consideration in order to draw the crowds.

Reading about Christian Marclay, another artist on the White Cube rota, put these suspicions to light.  Marclay spoke with The New Yorker about his work The Clock and exhibiting it in public spaces. This seminal 2010 video work is a 24-hour montage of thousands of film and television clips all showing glimpses of time as captured on celluloid. The work was created to be shown in real time so as well as providing an ambitious montage of time-specificity, the work acts as fantastic, impractical clock. Exhibited to huge critical acclaim, Marclay found himself embroiled in an intense bidding war over the six copies available of the work.

For Marclay, he felt that the museum curators involved in the bidding, didn’t think through the subtleties of showing his video. With the lengthy real time aspect and a carefully orchestrated score, The Clock requires specific viewing conditions of simultaneous comfort and concentration. Marclay said of the process, “Venerable museums are acting like greedy kids. There’s a lack of scholarship. It’s all about how many people they can get through the doors.… They just want a hit.”

Well if a gallery wants a crowd drawing hit, with easy to digest surface scholarship, retrospectives are an easy option, and Damien Hirst is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The debates surrounding his work have never centred on any notions of aesthetics (he’s a repackager), method (assistants make everything) or what lasting importance his work will have. Rather, to talk of Hirst is talk about publicity, money, of how that skull sold for £50 million.

But unfortunately, it’s a no-brainer that galleries are susceptible to market forces. Ben Eltham wrote an excellent piece recently on  how museum directors being susceptible to market forces and in a similar vein, Robert Storr talks about the reality that contemporary museums are increasingly business-oriented in their approach to every aspect of operation, often at the expense of artistic vision.

But if these are the facts, why get so caught up in the fact that one of the world’s most renowned artists is enjoying a retrospective? At the time of writing, two other major career artists are enjoying sold out London shows (David Hockney and Lucien Freud) so why not feel so vitriolic against them?

The difference is that Damien Hirst represents the way the art world has gone and holding a retrospective for an artist who is known more for his publicity skills and commercial acumen than his art represents a huge leap from his forebears. In The Mona Lisa Curse (2008), Robert Hughes argues the traditional values that judge art by its quality have been overridden by marketing and hype, and that in the present consumer culture, the only meaning left for art is a financial one. Hirst defines this rule and of the artist, Hughes says “The idea that there is some special magic attached to Hirst’s work that shoves it into the multimillion pound realm is ludicrous. [The price] has to do with promotion and publicity and not with the quality of the works themselves.”

Showing an artist such as Hirst is a very public confirmation that galleries are curating shows that will guarantee crowds, but not necessarily critical acclaim. Perhaps I am degenerating into an irrelevant rant. In this era of smart phones and sensationalist TV, most people don’t want ‘high culture’ rammed down their throats and being sensationalist is perhaps the only way to get people to pay attention.

But ranting is important. Galleries at the end of the day were founded on vision and art has always existed to reflect and question our condition. Damien Hirst might regurgitate aspects of our world, but he doesn’t really manipulate them and he certainly doesn’t make make much of a comment beyond the monetary factor. The Guardian’s Adrian Searle says at the end of the day, his retrospective is repetitive. “My problem with Hirst is not the money (Picasso made lots, and nobody cares), nor the vulgarity he has opted for, but his capitulation as an artist. He could have been so much better. It is an enormous disappointment.”

If you need any more convincing, check out Hennesy Youngman’s thoughtz on Damien Hirst. He’s hilarious and he’s spot on.

 

Rozzy Middleton is on occasional arts and music blogger. 

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Letter from Kenya (five)

First she peels them, and then she grates them. She is *Faith the “house help”. Kenyans don’t like skins, she explains. Actually, she tells me, Kenyans don’t eat chopped carrots. She says that in her own family, as well, she would have to grate the carrots in order to cook them – even though carrots are grown here, she defends. She’s young, maybe 25, but has rarely been outside the kitchen. I am surprised that she is working in this particular home because she is from a different tribe than the family. Perhaps the mother is from the same tribe, but I can’t discern. A girl is from where her father is from until she gets married, at that time her husband’s homeland becomes hers. Names are changed easily, going back only three generations. Oral history carries more weight.

She tells me about her older brother, gentle, intelligent, went to university. He died at a young age, but was a very finicky eater – never eating carrots, greens, or onions. Once Faith was old enough to cook, she learned how to burn the onions so that he could easily identify them and pick them out.  Until he left for university, she recounts, they never ate greens in the house and only grated carrots and black onions.

*Name changed for privacy.

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

 

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Make-Space for Architecture : Draft One

On March 28 we’ll be unofficially opening the doors on a shifty new architecture dedicated gallery for Sydney named Make-Space for Architecture. Unofficially. Officially we open in May – and not a day sooner with all the work still to be done – but in the meantime we’ve been generously offered a space in Sydney’s historic Rocks to (confusingly) pre-open in.

We’re setting up this gallery to be an independent venue promoting the agency of architecture in Sydney, focussing particularly on engaging the public in thinking and talking about architecture. We’re also playing with – at least initially – making the gallery mobile so that it can temporarily inhabit various places around Sydney.

In line with our tentative developmental state, we’ll be ‘not opening’ with an exhibition called Draft One – an informal series of events loosely forming a month long conversation about contemporary Sydney, architecture, what Make-Space could be and who would like to be involved (this involvement invitation extends to all freerangers, of course). Documenting this will be an on-site drawing (inspired by Byron Kinnairds wonderful ‘The Institution of Architecture’) collating Make-Space’s draft documents with anything that gallery visitors feel compelled to add around 3 themes: The Way We Live, Architecture/Make-Space and Utopia.

A series of small events will provoke and support this conversation:

  • An evolving 3-dimensional drawing that engages the public and visitors in 3 topics: The Way We Live, Architecture/Make-Space and Utopia.
  • Online conversation occurring across Facebook and Twitter
  • 3 public conversations with local experts: Politics in architectural production, Ethical/Critical Praxis and Experimentation
  • A series of public meetings discussing organisational aspects of Make-Space
  • Hosting screenings for BLDBLOG’s Breaking Out and Breaking In Distributed Film Festival
  • Continuous streaming of videos and podcasts about architecture
  • Hosting student design studios

We’ve also compiled an over-ambitious and broad set of goals to simmer and reduce over the next four weeks:

MAINTAIN INDEPENDENCE : Agility to respond. Support diverse and pluralist points of view.

CATALYSE CREATIVITY : Seed creative moments through events. Unlock creative potential.

NURTURE CRITICAL PRACTICE : Use design as a tool to challenge the status quo. Explore the extremes of practice modes.

FOSTER PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT : Engage and inform communities and the public about the agency of design and architecture in the city.

AGITATE POWER STRUCTURES : Publish and support alternative positions on established power structures.

DEMYSTIFY DESIGN PROCESSES : Open up the priorities and processes of architectural production to public view and scrutiny.

RECALIBRATE VALUE : Explore alternative value structures within the city.

SUPPORT URBAN EXPERIMENTATION : Learning through failure. Incremental development.

EMBRACE DIVERSITY : Retain an inclusive and diverse platform of opinions. Examine pluralism in urban society within a framework of rigorous debate.

POLITICISE DESIGN : Expose the political nature of design and it’s use in the manifestation of ideologies.

If you’re in Sydney in April, come visit us in the Rocks – otherwise our progress can be tracked here (www) and here (twitter) and here (spacechook)

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Letter from Kenya (four)

*Esther washes all the clothes on Saturdays. “I don’t have help come in, so Saturday is the only day that I can wash everything.” Almost immediately she retracks the “everything” and explains that the heavy clothes are washed on Saturdays, but the other clothes, the “light clothing”, is washed during the week – “a bit every day”.

Assuming that she does not have a washing machine (I have yet to see a machine in even the middle-class homes), I try to calculate in my mind how long it must take her to wash the clothes and bedding for a family of three, by hand.

Everything is scrubbed with brushes, and many of the women who come in as housekeepers scrub too hard and ruin the clothes; this is why she prefers to wash everything herself. Esther has a 23 year-old daughter and shows me a photo of her on her smart phone. She tells me that she is finishing her studies, but she requires her to wash her own clothes. The loads are getting lighter, but I am still having a hard time calculating the hours it must take.

When I arrive at her house for the first time, it is a Sunday evening – after church. We enter the metal main door of the building and make our way up the dimly lit concrete stairs. Turning left at the first landing, I am greeted with, at least, one woman per doorway scrubbing and dunking, scrubbing and dunking, scrubbing and dunking. Clothes are hung on thin rope strung between walkways. A lulling chatter fills the hallway, accompanying the scrub-dunk rhythm kept by the same busy ladies.

The socialization built into the lives of Nairobians keeps me bewildered. I have been conditioned to segregate, categorize, and compartmentalize, making time for everything through strategic decision.

*Name changed for privacy.

 

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Nairobi, Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

official website • Nicole’ blogfollow her project on Facebook

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