Harzardous Diction: X is for…

Of course X is for xylophone, and a word mentioned in this video on Youtube! Mathijs Lieshout runs the 13th Floor Gallery, with spaces at Commissioner Street, and in Ansteys Building, in Johannesburg. Aha, for the second time, ‘X’is in the newsline. This post is about the opening of the exhibition Harzardous Diction at the 13th Floor Gallery, Commissioner Street, Johannesburg. Truly, in a land where silence was (is)the go-to code on so many issues: Language, Diction, and every other form of communication in Society is watched with suspicion and bias. But the silence hasn’t helped change stereotypes ever. So lets talk about everything from ‘A’ to ‘Zee’. It ought to be an inclusive narrative, not about ‘the other’ and capital ‘I’.

Click here to watch the video interview aired on SABC- https://youtu.be/VATrX3YD6rI. Also, see the show which begins today, February 26th, and runs till March 7th, 2017. Layziehound works with Matthews Tshuma, James Shield, Goodlord Shoyisa, Azael Langa, and Ntsika Dulwana on the exhibition. Addendum: I am the NIgerian artist mentioned towards the end of the interview. I am part of the team on another project To Build by Mathijs Lieshout- http://www.mathijslieshout.com. PS: Communication gets more complicated by the day. One must make out time to listen, then get involved.

To Build, Work= Effort over Time

In this Q and A session, Mathijs discusses the purpose of it all, the mystical Louis Kahn, Russian Constructivism, of Hybrids, work in progress in a functioning library, and reasons (or not) To Build, among other things. 
AN: What is your sense of Structure and Space?
ML: Well in my opinion there is no such thing as ‘mere space’. We humans always, in one way or another, see space as having particular characteristics.  Space comes with rules, with identity, which a set of parameters what we perceive this space to allow us to do or not. And each space tells us how to behave in it.
AN: In this project at the library, your work seems to question these parameters.

You use space as though to counter the set rules? 
ML: Well in my opinion there is no such thing as ‘mere space’. We humans always, in one way or another, see space as having particular characteristics. 

Space comes with rules, with identity, which a set of parameters what we perceive this space to allow us to do or not.

Each space tells us how to behave in it
AN: In this project at the library, your work seems to question these parameters.

You use space as though to counter the set rules?
ML: Yes and no. I am aware this is a difficult answer to your question. The thing I am building in the library has really no purpose at all. And I think it is a good thing I am allowed the space in the library to do so. I could also get space at FNB (First National Bank) I think, if I would work them for some time.

But there it would serve a very clear purpose, it would be the same structure, FNB loves Art, but I would most likely be tool for their PR department; same story in Maboneng, where Art is instrumentalised for gentrification.

In the library I can do something without it being instrumentalised.

So the library itself is not really setting up many rules for how I should use the space.

I can build stuff there that will be mostly incomprehensible for viewers at first sight.

AN:  Where does your work seek a connection, then?

With your audience here, I mean.

ML: I want to build stuff that escapes the ‘question/ answer’ paradigm
AN: Create a void in the subconscious?
ML: I want to connect to my audience by building something of which they will think: this somehow suggests a purpose, but hell: we can’t figure out what purpose

But it clearly must be good for something this thing these people are constructing, because it is highly complex. There is tremendous effort being put into it. They work for weeks- it must be good for something, right? Otherwise, why all this effort and why this very complex design!
An: TO BUILD underlines the basic definition of Work. Work equals effort over time.

Internationally, what do you think about the architectural structures around?
ML: I love Louis Kahn (the American modernist architect)

When I was visiting a friend in Boston, the only time I ever was in the States, I visited one of his buildings- the Philip Exeter Academy.

There are some small similarities between how he handles geometric shapes and my approach.

His buildings are a sophisticated balance of simple geometric shapes.
AN: “A great building must begin with the immeasurable, must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable”, he said.
ML: He’s a bit of a mystic in his speaking I think.

I never really understand the guy. But I do understand his buildings when I walk around in them.
AN: But surely you understand ‘Architecture is the reaching out for the truth’?
ML: What could that mean!

With Kahn I see a man that sketched simple geometric shapes, and then somehow, mysteriously creates order in them of the most fascinating quality.
AN: You said it- he speaks about the spiritual air of a building.

The Philip Exeter Academy has those crisscrossing lines similar to what you do in your work
MA: Yes.

I really recognize something in how he deals with space.
AN: What do you think of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture?
ML: I’ve never been inside any of his buildings. I know the images, but for my taste it is perhaps too organic.

I see the quality, and the buildings must be great.
AN: Ok. Your work emphasizes geometry.
ML: But I always like straight Modernism or Art Deco leading up to it more.
AN: Like the Bauhaus?
ML: I am very fascinated by Bauhaus.

Also, the hybrid they tried to make of all disciplines.

Russian Constructivism.
AN: Hybrids. I think that is what your installation/performance is all about
MA: I think you are right. I am not an architect, but people always ask me if I am one, or an engineer.
AN: Hybrid life in the 21st century
MA: What would that be- hybrid life nowadays?

The way I am handling that now is really new for me.

This is the first project that really puts the centre point of my project outside of the installation itself.
AN: The beauty will be to sync all into a ‘whole’ body of work.

Is there a possibility of relocating this work in other spaces?
ML: The system, the wood grid, can be done in many places. But the connection it makes with the location is site-specific. Not to say that the library location is completely unique and one of a kind.
AN: But it is
ML: Well it might be, yes.
AN: Because you can never replicate the library anywhere else, with the people flowing into the building, its location, etc.
ML: Exactly. There are similarities with earlier projects. The one in the shopping mall was similar, but certainly not identical
AN:  Of course, that shows a rhythm.
ML: It is difficult to find locations, as I want to use. I need a public place that allows for a mix of my work and the location. But I also need some sort of a retreat in that space- to be able to work in relative quiet.
AN: That precludes open spaces outdoors
ML: The problem with open spaces will be: my work will become a sculpture, or a monument.
AN: Apart from being created in a place of ‘too much’ external?
ML: I need some sort of intimacy for my work. Wide-open spaces don’t provide that.
AN: What is the duration of this installation/performance?
ML: We started on the first of February (2017), and the process will continue until the end of April- 3 months.

Building up the work, making it more complex, but also taking it away again. There will be no moment when the work is finished.
AN: Construct, deconstruct, show voids.
ML: It takes another breed of artist than me to make a piece that will stay where it is.
AN: Are you making any connections between the installation and the primary function of this particular space? The Library?
ML: Well… it is a very open place. There is the studio, which operates in the limelight of the library system. It is there, it is hidden a bit, it is not very official, but it is there. And it is open to society in the best way possible in that building (the Johannesburg City Library). Also, it is free-no entrance fee. Everybody can use a table to study there. I also like the fact that therefore access to my art will be free. It is a place to explore ideas, to encounter stuff you were not looking for but stumble upon when checking the books.
AN: Your work brings in ‘noise’. Do you think it does not detract?
ML: We are in a peculiar spot in the library. The big open spaces we use are ‘half there’. They are in-between the old library and the new parts built into it in 2012. We are strangely very visible but at the same time a bit out of sight. We do any noisy work before opening hours, or in a nearby studio. 
AN: Ok. The joining is done in plain view?
ML: Yes, but that is very quiet work. And we are in a very deep space. The people studying are not disturbed
AN: Your work is full of repetitions, of hexagonal shapes, crisscrossing lines

ML: Repetition it is, yes.
AN: Interceptions, and optical intrusion on space. What other elements play on what you are doing?
ML: The use of wood. That has its own will, and it is handwork. It is precise but not.
AN: Wood-organic and a bit pliant. It’s a very basic material to build with.

ML: More basic would be clay
AN:  Do you nail the joints?
ML: Everything fits together with bolts and nuts. We drill holes and fix parts together with bolts and nuts- like meccano.
AN: Will the structure be freestanding, or cling to the interior of the library for support?
ML: We will lift it, with hoists. I would prefer to connect with the library walls, but the building is very fragile. So I think it will be more or less free from the walls. But I will do my best to connect to the actual library building to avoid a structure that appears to be detached from it.
AN: Thanks, Mathijs. We are done for this set. 
From a chat on Facebook Messenger, 10am, February 16, 2017

Bloody Cattle, Bullshit System

Some months back, I promised a friend that the series A Thousand Cattle, Two Hills will be pushed till I have a thousand artworks! Not being the most meticulous person/ artist, I have not been counting. I could always stop at some point and ask anyone to also add the number of ‘cattle’ portrayed in the pieces as ‘individual cattle’! ‘They say the system works but we wont let it(sang Tracy Chapman) I am still looking for that system. There is a formal redirection towards a disintegrating world, where bedlam reigns and colour Red is the new Green. Reality is a horror movie of whirling beasts floating in space. Its all bullshit, really. Await another life, or wake up screaming.img_0115web

For The Artist, Process is Priority

dsc00045Victory, they say, begins at Alkmaar. And so it was that Mathijs Lieshout was born in her. Alkmaar is a small city in Northern Holland with many well-preserved ancient buildings and once the home of Jan Wils, a founding member of the De Stijl, an art movement dedicated to creating a synthesis of Art, Design and Architecture. And Mathijs has grown beyond those principles. His work interrogates the fusion of form and function, in the framework of time.

“I see my projects as a performance, then as a monumental piece of sculpture- performance/ installation art, maybe”. Mathijs affects space with a sense of separateness from the human co-tenants; being structures whose sole reason for ‘being’ is in questioning the intentions of its builder/ maker. The work, by its presence, thus speaks.

In earlier times in Holland when they thought to build structures that implied a positivity about living, a transformation of the human spirit and more idyllic notions, one can fixate on their master Piet Mondrian and his compositions. Balancing primary colors, Piet sought out the keys to the universe. The individual lost his significance to the laws of harmonious cohabitation.

Mathijs’ work utilizes Process and Product as elements. Working with artists from other fields of art, they create an ambitious piece. His works reflect some of the key ideas in De Stijl- architecture, urban spaces, industrial design, music, poetic form interlaced with the mundane hum of daily living in these times.

Despite all these ‘memories’ one may associate with his work, the artist has ‘zero memory of the city (Alkmaar) He grew up in Obdam, a former municipal in Holland. He had the typical Dutch childhood- lived in an average-sized village, and played outside a lot with the neighborhood kids, who also attended the same small, local school. There were lots of space outside to play in, and very few cars. Most of the villagers worked in the local factory. But ‘I wasn’t very aware of what everyone’s parents actually did for work’. One can relate to the heady feelings that come with boyhood, those days when life was all about play!lego-1dsc00044

For every boy his age, there should be Lego days (the popular brick-building toy for children) Yes, Mathijs played with Lego ‘non-stop’! Those are his recollections of building anything. ‘I was always designing things in my fantasies’. There were moments when he had to make decisions about whether to build something with Lego, or just sketch that thing. The back and forth crystallized his process of visualization, planning and execution, to move from the place of dream and fantasies to create three-dimensional form.

To buttress an unending curiosity and explorative energy, he usually ‘worked like this- build one version, then build a better one, then another one, until it (the work) was to my satisfaction!” Even now, the experience working as an artist is similar to his boyhood days of playing with Lego. “ I still do (this)- version 1, version 2, and then continue creating prototypes and improving on that”. Beyond play, the artist thrives on trial and error, allowing for accidental ‘ endings’, if one must put a lifespan to the creative process used in an artwork. The thing is to ‘build stuff, see how it works in reality, then adapt and improve. I have an ideal image, often a design or sketch somewhere, or in my mind. I try to get close to (achieving) that. But it is not a one-way traffic- the ideal also changes”.

The word ‘improve’ in reference to his work implies the ‘existence’ of a ‘perfect idea’. Improving as an active verb fits well into any assessment of Mathijs Lieshout’s work.

Presently creating another of his monumental installations/performance at the Johannesburg City Library (check out the introductory essay –www.nsoforanthony.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/mathijs-lieshout-conquering-voids/), the artist will be recycling materials from ‘studio sketches ‘ made in 2010.’ I never really managed to do everything I wanted to achieve with those’, he said, referring to the past. In 2010, he owned a huge studio in the port city of Rotterdam. The walls of the studio were 6 meters high!

From preliminary sketches, one realizes that the webby, hexagonally shaped morphs that suggest a bee’s nest was not intended primarily for habitation. It is more ‘ a room within another’, a dedicated space. The traditional use of architecture flows into the extremes of visual aesthetics. One comes to the question, ‘what is the building for?’

Initially, Mathijs just wanted to surround himself with elaborate wooden grids. ‘ Like a magnificent wooden web, my plan was to make these incredibly dense, compact modern morph. I woodwork myself inside the construction, and from it create rooms, interior spaces and people would make houses inside it by cutting away wood, much like cutting in a very dense forest’. All this seems to be an autobiographical reference of a man reclaiming new spaces that he sojourns in on the journey through life, traversing continents, recreating comfort zones in Wonderland.

‘I had this crazy idea of an imaginary world entirely filled with a wood grid. As the work proceeded, that original idea got lost. When the team (that worked with him on a project) leaves, building stops. It seemed to me that the work was not complete anymore’. He has created ‘finished’ works in the past. Presently, his works’ main focus is on the process, rather than the finished product.

It was around 2011 that he noticed the new ways that his audience engaged with his work process. Everything is a continuum, open-ended. In 2012, on a residency in Kosice, a city in Slovakia, Mathijs preferred a workspace in a hallway and on a staircase instead of the expansive, abandoned factory space that the facilitators of the residency had provided (go to http://www.mathijslieshout.com/citadela for a video of the residency)’ There is nothing wrong with the retreat of a big white majestic art space. But the last project I did in such a space seemed pointless to me at the end. There is something about art spaces that sterilizes art.’ Buildings mark different eras of human civilization, the fusion of cultures that also happened as nations interacted, fought wars and were conquered. Man has the pyramids of Egypt and the Mayan dynasty, Stonehenge, the ancient Benin Wall, the Great Wall of China, etc. Mathijs would like that the memories of building his work remains in the minds of all his collaborators.

This project weaves through a part of the library. The artist enjoys the interface between his work and the human buzz around the space. That is added motivation. Nowadays, Mathijs rarely leaves the Central Business District (CBD) of Johannesburg. He lives in Anstey’s building, on Joubert Street, and also runs the 13th Floor Gallery on the same building. The Johannesburg City Library, site of his present project, is within walking distance, so also, is his new exhibition space for the 13th Floor gallery, located at Commissioner Street.studio

One has a mental picture of reading while hanging from the wooden structure, a thought that the artist wouldn’t mind happening.

He has held several sensitization exhibitions at the library to prepare the minds of the public for his project. Students and other library visitors have enthusiastically logged in, and started following his work online.’ My work often leads to conversation’. That could happen with him or with the artists assisting on the project taking questions from the audience. Also, the artists allocated studio space in the library have become ambassadors of the project.

So, what should Art do for us? ‘There are so many ways Art can inspire’, he replies. ‘In the best possible scenario, if I really do my job perfectly, and everything goes as it should, (then) I hope my work could inspire that the parameters of the world are not fixated. They are not a given. That (idea) sounds abstract. Unfortunately they are there and you would have to deal with it. And if people want to make you believe different, (to claim) that this is how things are done- that is never true!” Again, the flashes from the days of playing with Lego come to mind. Just like stepping through the looking glass.

Also appears on the webpage-http://www.mathijslieshout.com/tobuildblog

 

How Merry the lights?

What could be wrong with a Christmas that has more hangout joints than I can recall all my life? The groove is as close as downstairs from me! One of the new joints sells all sorts of pepper soup and drinks, and, wait for it- the best music on Planet Earth- Bongo Music!!!

I should be having a blast, right? Kim is keeping my feet warm on this balcony, and the sound and occasional sparks of exploding knockouts, fireworks add to the air of festivity. The thing is, the hangout joints are a bit empty. My house is empty, save for Kim.

There have been Christmas days when we would squeeze for room in the big building with 9 rooms! Now the rooms are silent, and echo a sadness that is heartrending. I cannot stop writing about the dullness of this particular Christmas without throwing blame at Buhari, and his government. We had some expectation for great days ahead. All we get daily is one day, more drama. Bad gets worse and revoking it will remain in the far future.

My friends that couldn’t make this Christmas are just missing the aura of anticipation hanging in the air. The Lakecity Film Festival had happened at the Crystal Lake Resort, Eng. Ernest Nwapa’s phenomenal, and spectacular holiday resort and hotel. Things are happening. One should get involved. After all, life is downstairs. Fantastic music. It will still be an awesome Christmas. The year has been quite fruitful. After the stocktaking, we look to cash in on the merits of the passing year.

Ogene Nkirika: Mad Joy at a Harvest

IMG_5965There is a young mad woman in my village that loves to dance at the sound of good music. From her countenance you can see that she is clearly filled with joy at the sound. As she danced among the thronging of revelers, what kept going through my head was, ‘what does she really think is happening here-‘So we have as many mad people as myself in this village, and they have been pretending all this while!’ Outsiders may get shocked at the carnival of madness called Ogene Nkirika-three days of music, dancing and dressing up in outrageous costumes, all part of the New Yam celebration in Oguta, Imo State. Mother Earth seemed to unleash all the passion and joy of a great harvest in those three days.IMG_5975IMG_6001IMG_6029IMG_6211

As the day approached, I was filled with anticipation and excitement, again, in lieu of the horrid recession and hunger in Nigeria. I wondered if people would return home to the festival, as in times past. Was there still money for transportation and beer; were people willing to laugh for three days like there is no tomorrow (and commit all the other sins that come with consumption, to boot?) I have long stopped being a moralist, since ‘none is perfect’. I wanted to record the rising of the human spirit through daunting times. The locals will become innovative; they will create wit, drama, and humor out of daily living. That’s the spirit of Ogene Nkirika.

The village of Oguta lies on both sides by the Blue Lake. The residential area is on one side, while the farmlands are on the other. So, visitors don’t see bushes and farmlands between houses, as appears in most of the other villages around. They see only the well-planned road network and neatly placed houses.

The villagers go to the farmlands across the lake to plant yam, cocoa, cassava, vegetables, etc. They sometimes live on these farm settlements for long stretches, only visiting the residential areas sparingly. By a strange twist, many other Ogutans may never visit the farmlands all their lives! The same goes for the farmers.

Around August of every year, the farmers return to the residential area with their harvest to mark the end of the cycle of farming. Ogene Nkirika is the period when all Oguta converges to share stories of happenings in the town, to live out their experiences. Buhari or no, I was delighted to find that this year would not be any different. Individuals dramatized their narrative, dressed up as drag queens, danced around. One thing to note is that the principal actors in the parades is all male. Old, young, middle-aged men play the part, as some dress like women too.

I saw the boy carrying his pet dog named after the president; the ‘girl’ that had lost her virginity and was going through the crowds with a kerosene lantern searching for it; the ‘girl’ gone crazy taking selfies; the ‘snake-carrying girl (alluding to Mami-wata, the Lake goddess), wearing sunshades and dreadlocks, going up and down Amaeshi road, looking like Phyno, holding on to a crowd of pushing children with gifts of sweets and balloons thrown into the air at intervals! There were different groups of dancers, some advertising a announcing a new Nollywood flick; a middle-age ‘bride’ escorted through town by uniformed ‘bridesmaids’, smiling and welcoming felicitations from passersby; the key story of the new religion in town told by a procession of whip-wielding soldiers torturing the people’s messiah through the streets as he staggers with his cross; the ‘wizened old’ man who moves around with so much effort!

Some of the performers just wore panties and ran through the crowds spilling powder or blue (for washing white clothes) on their friends who had come to participate as mere spectators; there was the Oguta secondary school ‘girl’; the hairy-faced nurse with her ears plugged in a stethoscope; the ‘old’ man with a rickety bicycle and bag who had been thrown out of his house, and so on and so forth.

Commercial photographers were on hand to snap the girls who had dressed to kill for the crowds. There were other men who made videos of the actors. Many people don’t know that the renowned Nollywood star Clem Ohameze is an indigene of Oguta. He came with a camera crew to record the festivities, and did short interviews with the performers. He also had his cameraman go from Amorocha (the shores of the lake) to Umudei village recording entire space. He will upload the movie clips of this year’s Ogene Nkirika on his online station- ClemOhamezetv on YouTube!

I documented from my point of view. Of course, nothing beats the ‘real’ experience of being ‘there’. Besides Nigeria’s second largest lake situated in Oguta, the rich culture of the settlers stands out in contrast with that of nearby villages. Oguta as a viable income earner with huge tourism potentials can never be understated. A source said that the poorly kept golf course is the largest in West Africa.

About 60% of the oil wells in Imo State are on Oguta’s farmlands, yet sadly, the village rarely enjoys electricity. I documented the protests a few weeks back. In terms of urban planning, only a handful of Igbo villages (Abiriba, Ohafia, Onitsha) can be compared to the small village by the banks of the blue lake. The locals have started to work at making the place great again, if the government will continue to ignore it in a sinister plot that seems to undermine all the development that Oguta has seen.

At some point, Osisioma age-grade, Oguta, joined hands to execute developmental projects like putting up signposts of streets. James is the son of the late Guy (pronounced ‘Gor-ye), longtime proprietor of Guy Spot, a popular local beer parlor and restaurant. The restaurant has stayed opened for over forty years, and is run by ND and Uzoma, siblings of James. James has ventured out to set up his own bush bar by the lake, building and hoping to attract visitors who come for picnics or just to swim.

There is the five-star hotel under construction by Ernest Nwapa, a former executive secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board. The high-rise hotel will have 8 floors, a boat club, swimming pool, golf course and children’s amusement park, among other things. The December carnivals organized and financed by prominent indigenes, with the maverick entertainer and musician Charley Boy and the award-winning international music star Dr. Alban is there to make your Christmas an unforgettable way to end the year.

Speaking of things to come, mark the date for Ogene Oma (the good Ogene), coming up on the 11th– 14th of September, about two weeks from now. The whole town joins in, with age grades and friends dressing up in their best native attire. People will be dancing on the streets and making merry. That is how we play in Oguta. The fun-loving people of the land have a saying- O di m ka chi ejina (I wish night will not come) the party must go on. I am witness.