Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Atmospheric Non Futures: "Destino al lugar del siempre"

In Puebla this week there is a conference, hosted at Benemerito Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) on women, literature and art. By sheer coincidence a colleague, unlike myself, actually familiar with the city, is attending a different conference at BUAP this week. We, along with his Puebla family, arrived late after making our way through the different terminals of Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City, and driving through the seemingly unending edges of Ciudad de México. It is an eerie feeling, leaving D.F., the intense crash, clank, honks and whistles of activity die out suddenly and you are left with hills and varying air pressure (and altitude) the ghostly smattering of light a reminder of the megapolis being left behind. Puebla, on the other hand, at least the Centro Historico, has a more manicured and relaxed feel: kids, teens, adults and the elderly loiter around the Zócalo square, backpacks are left against columns of the surrounding plaza as workers repair some tiling on a balcony, and plants are held in pretty painted pots around the square as a fountain gurgles in the middle. People walk at a less frenetic pace, and there are several concentrations of pedestrian only zones, with two-lane only streets. In short the Centro Historico fosters intense sociality, has regions for encounter and rest, and is part of an urban ecology of architectural distinction, a high level of upkeep, and relative security.

One of the activities for the conference was the inauguration of some paintings, which circle around themes of femininity, masculinity, the erotic, and violence. Taking place in Casa Bovédes, a casa de cultura with classes and talleres, in its courtyard, a stone area surrounded by yellow and black columns and arches which blend into railings for the second floor balcony, paintings were placed around the recessed floor which had a fountain in the middle, allowing viewers to circulate around the paintings, and gather in the center. A band played on the stage on the north side of the building, and a food and wine station was set up on the south-west side. Conference attendees and youth at the center for other classes (a dance class had ended moments before) entered from a door on the south side of the building which opened up to the main street, Don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, and bodies spilled into the courtyard in a triangular trajectory, around the paintings installed on the southwest and southeast sides. The paintings formed sticky visual surfaces which arrested the motion of the crowds arriving, like a fly in a web, and reoriented trajectories to talk about the work, reflection, posing with it in pictures, or, in the case of some, giggling about some of the overt sexuality. The installation was overtly temporary: on mobile easels the paintings had a fragile hold on the installation space, underscored when someone bumped into a stand that was adjacent to the food and drink table and knocked a painting off the scandalous crash followed by laughs and shrugs when glass was not broken. A live band played, stopping between songs to remind us about the conference, and to be proud of the women who helped put it together.

Within the jovial scene of networking, relaxation, inebriation, and food consumption the paintings and photographs occupied a slightly discordant, though productive place. Images of a male nude with his head chopped off, a woman in a white mask with a knife and three playing cards, a headless woman holding a monstrous visage, a photograph of a woman on a crucifix head turned away hair covering her face wearing only a loincloth, and nearby a woman in a small canoe, hair undone, staring down at her feet, almost invisible in the blue of the sea and the sky. The last work, "Destino al lugar del siempre," "Destined to go to the forever place," by Alexandra Deloya Vélèz 2012.

The woman standing in the boat is dominated by the surrounding environment, swallowed up by the blue of the ocean that meets the blue of the sky creating a zone of indeterminacy where the small canoe balances, holding the naked woman in her retiring stance. The upward curve of hte front of the canoe throws into relief her vulnerability, and the dangerous act of standing in a boat in an endless sea. hHer body is offered to our gaze but she is spatially put out of reach, esconced in an atmosphere of suspension. Destined to go somewhere...forever. Forever destined to be in transit. Destined-to go...the rush of the waves against her boat accentuate different possible futures, non futures, trajectories without completion. Her head is hung down, making her voluminous brown hair encircles her shoulders almost reaching her breasts, hand hung limply at her sides, left hip jutting out and right knee slightly bent, a posture of resignation, exhaustion, or also holding herself in reserve. A gaze withdrawn saying you may look but your look will not be completed and the body that is the object of contemplation is far out to see, constantly receding.

The boat, "The Tomorrow," in "Children of Men," which is either the sign of a future or the sign of defeat recedes into the grey holding Kee and her child, Dylan, a promise at the very least of a short period of community within the boat. "Destino al lugar del siempre" holds no such promise: it with-holds the possibility of the female body being a conduit for social completion, pulls away and holds it in abeyance.

Now, within the space of the busy inauguration gathering the melancholic tones of the paintings strike a discordant note, but an important one: they highlight the ordinary affects that gendered subjects experience on a day to day basis. Desire, defeat, refusal. By refusing to offer us the straight on gaze of a demand, a plea, explicit communication, and instead presenting bowed heads, turned faces, masks, vaginas, and facelessness they demonstrate the incompletion of mere recognition, the day after of violence, what it means to live in a present that is structured by failed promises. And it is seductive. The woman in the boat pulls you out to sea into a space not structured by demands, sympathy, and senses of fulfillment, but a heady atmosphere of non futurity.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

MOS 2011: Chicago- Interview with NERD

Interview with NERD at 36th and Albany Sept 18th, 2011

I met NERD in April at the Chicago Loves Hip Hop Conference sponsored by Words Beats Life and Columbia College. He, RAVEN and MONK/TOASTER were teaching a beginners graffiti class and I went both to meet more artists, since I was doing this project on global public art, and also to learn more first hand about the techniques that go into graffiti writing. The guys brought a bunch of ink markers, paper, urban calligraphy work sheets and graffiti magazines to help us look at different styles, and NERD led us step by step through the process of making a tag. RAVEN rhymed while we worked (transcript of our interview coming soon). I will use this as an opportunity to say that going to Meeting of Styles or taking a graffiti class or just learning about the process of doing graffiti from tag to production really helps a person understand the level of skill, effort and creative energy that has to go into graffiti—it is not mindless and it is not easy. You have to have a good sense of scale, color balance, geometry and motor control. NERD is a world-class writer, who has been writing since 1988 and is an expert about the Chicago scene, clearly a very good teacher, and along with RAVEN and MONK was really encouraging of all of us. After the lesson NERD agreed to give an interview about Meeting of Styles, and I caught up with him at the festival, asking questions while he worked on his production. The transcript is below.

CB: when did you start painting?

N: I started painting NERD in 1988. And I’ve been painting since maybe the 2nd grade since maybe 82, 83 as a little kid.

CB: What got you into it?

N: Growing up in my neighborhood, Uptown, is like a huge graffiti neighborhood. And my older brothers did it, all my neighbors did it, it was all the things to do.

CB: when you started writing in uptown, did you go to other places too?

N: actually being a northsider I was one of the first northsiders to travel out south and hang around with southsiders. You know I like to make friends with people was I am outgoing so. But I mainly stayed on the Red Line.

CB: How do you think the Red Line has changed, graff wise, over the last couple of decades?

N: Great question. I just rode the train about a month ago and I almost was about to cry it was the worst I’ve ever seen the line it was bombed up but like places where they would do pieces and burners were all like one color, two color type shits and throw ups and shit and I’m like why the fuck would they climb all the way up here just to do this one color shit? But they did so it was kind of depressing and sad at the same time.

CB: Where do you think now would be the best places to go to see really good graff, in Chicago?

N: Just mainly the underground, like kind of what we call chill walls or something like they are illegal but they are kind of so down low that people don’t care you are painting them. But you could get arrested. Or I like the freight scene, its going pretty good still, and I like the fact that on the freight scene your piece will last for years and they travel around and they come back and they are all like faded looking and shit. Permissions walls, battles like this you are getting a lot of good graff. But don’t get me wrong I love the bombing aspect but there are things that need to be bombed but not the walls where you could be doing big assed burners on you know?

CB: have you painted in Little Village when its not Meeting of Styles?

N: Little Village? Yeah I’ve been painting Little Village my whole life too, different spots up and down, different walls over that way. Another crew that I’m down with called CT they are out over there.

CB: do you have to prepare for Meeting of Styles in any special way, different from when you do other productions?

N: Nah, this year was the first year I got someone to come from out of town to come and paint with me. He prepared a little bit and usually last year we prepared a lot but I never know the letter styles I’m going to do or the piece I’m going to do but we kind of prepared the background and kind of get the theme going. And this year we did the theme of Akira. We just met but we are both Anime fans, so we just felt like man lets do some cool anime. I’m excited to do one of my favorite animes that got me into animation.

CB: what’s your favorite part of MOS?

N: Meeting new people. I just like the competition of it because everybody is trying to do better than the next guy too. Its like a battle in a sense, but there ain’t no prize, and it comes as the ending of the summer in Chicago and it always seems like a great way to end the summer, to me. I always like that aspect of it.

CB: Is there any part of it that’s kind of difficult or frustrating?

N: For me its hard because there are so many people that want to paint and the object of Meeting of Styles originally was to bring people from out the country here and host it here, but every time Chicago people want to take all the spots. And me, I don’t want to really paint I’d rather give my spot to somebody, but then I see everybody else still paints and I’m like fuck that I want to paint too.

CB: How would you feel if there weren’t any more MOS, like if it just ended?

N: I would be sad. It’d break my heart. I’ve been bringing my son: he’s been to eight MOS, it’s the eighth year, its like a family tradition in a way, almost. My daughter been here plenty of times.

CB: How has it changed over the last eight years?

N: I would say from a Chicago perspective I would think that people are trying to take it more seriously the last couple years than they did in the past, and people are just kind got of a lot better...I think it brought a lot of people here and we met so many people that it got a lot of people here to travel to other countries and paint out there so it brought the world together a lot, I think.

CB: What is the importance of meeting international writers, writers not from Chicago?

N: I think its like meeting a family member, you know, meeting somebody that’s to into the same likes as you and just the mutual respect and you never wonder how they look and what they always was and you seen them in magazines, or shit like that, but you always wonder “man I wonder how they are in real person, are they cool and humble or are they assholes, are they just like you.”

CB: How do you document your work? Do you use photographs, do you use facebook, do you use Flikr?

N: I throw a little bit on Facebook but mainly Flikr is where I like to keep it more underground, I think Flikr is more undergound.

CB: Do you keep a black book anymore?

N: I get a black book and a throw a couple sketches in it and for years everytime I get one somebody steals it, its to the point that I’m not even mad no more.

CB: how do you meet other writers? In person, on facebook or online?

N: I mainly just meet em in person. If they respond to some shit and build a relationship on facebook I’ll meet them and be cool with them. But I’m not big into trying to meet everybody like that.

CB: Do you have any worries about Meeting of Styles getting kind of commercialized? Like corporate sponsorship or something?

N: I’m not worried about it and I wouldn’t be mad if they would sponsor some paint especially right now because this shit’s expensive. I like the art, I like the fact that they make the paint for artists nowadays. And graffiti came a long way because the paint came a long way. Its fucking good now. If we were still using the old paint we probably wouldn’t be as good as we are.

CB: Do you think MOS is just for graffiti writers or is it trying to communicate with other audiences?

N: I definitely see a lot of different [artists] – the person I just met next to me she only does framed work she uses a paint brush so you know its bringing out other artists too. Definitely street artists get into it, and definitely performers, like, DJs and rappers and shit.

CB: Do you think its gonna change how people think about graffiti, like non artists? Like change the stigma?

N: I think you know, we had a conversation earlier that its pretty much been around so long that much aint changing no more. We’re at a point that everyone knows about it and either loves it or hates it now. You know its no big deal to them now because they are like, whatever, its graffiti. Seen it a million times.

CB: What do you think the best aspect of graffiti is in terms of what it does socially?

N: [Its] definitely social... I’ve met a lot of friends through it and they are friends for life, and I’m always constantly meeting new friends.

CB: Well that’s all the questions I’ve got. Thanks so much.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

León: Ciudad de Paradox

Today marked the (hopefully temporary) end in my four day crash-course in the graffiti scene in León. I had the opportunity to speak with Wes, Kif, Nikkis, Nose, Truko, Asme, Dermy, Kiddo, Dano, Jhard, Sic, Zanko, Nukleo, Waxny, Back, Juan, and hear Arnick, Jafer, and many others express their opinions about legal and illegal graffiti in León.

By way of background: since 2010 the Instituto de Juventud has been engaging in partnerships with graffiti artists to create graffiti murals throughout the city. Out of these collaborations over 100 murals have emerged, a book titled "Cuando Las Paredes Hablan," several articles on the León Joven website, and a few expos. A sharp turnaround from the Zero Toleráncia policy imported from the Giuliani administration in New York, the current media campaign to use graffiti as the contemporary medium for cultural patrimony, rather than a demonized form, raises many questions about the relationship between graffiti and institutions, legality and illegality, state and citizen, and more concretely what does not appear on the glossy León Joven website.

At the heart of the matter is a fundamental paradox, which Juan explained, referencing a line TKid 183 spoke in "Wild Style": "its not that the government doesn't like graffiti, they don't like something they cannot control." In other words, what debates over the government support program raise is whether or not graffiti is more than a question of medium (aerosol) but necessarily individual, spontaneous, and anarchic.

Dermy argued that to work for the government is a form of castration, because it is to give your labor to them turning you from artist to laborer. Bote reminded me that the government does not sponsor pieces that are just letters there have to be characters. The kinds of things that are supported are "happy things; animals, happy scenes," Back elaborated. Nikkis, Wes, Juan, and others pointed out that the sponsorship creates a new culture for emerging writers, one of legality, and one where they can develop their style, innovate, and experiment. Not everyone receives support, and often themes are dictated which limits artistic license. However, Nikkis personalized "the government" and told me about his meeting with Pedro, the director of the institute, whom he was skeptical of, but impressed him by coming to meet with him by a wall he was working at and stood talking to him in the pouring rain, dripping down his face, getting in his hair, ruining his suit, and that it was an ongoing conversation. Wes reminded me that as a result of graffiti's mainstreaming he can make a living off of it.

These conflicts are evidence of an important moment for Leon graffiti, and one which raises broader questions about what it means for a community or a practice to go from being underground to public, how participants negotiate changing power structures and maintain control over their forms of communication, and how it is important not to think in terms of general publics but specific contexts.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Finding Home"

This is a repost of a guest post I wrote for the Pathos Workshop, check it out