Chaos and Creativity

IMG_0019The subject matter of Creation is Chaos’-The Plasmic Image, Barnett Newman.

While working, I see the possibility of multiple stories jumping out from the artwork. It is a sort of cross-referencing, both directly and in the mind; at being explicit in a crude way that could rob the work of its ‘reading’ as poetry. Beyond visuals, one has forced in the literalness of text.

In moments of quiet, the various elements are then reunited with firm brushstrokes. I blur hard edges, bringing in smooth transitions and coherence to the formal elements of the picture. When I cut bits of magazine for their color, I am surprised by the sudden change that happens to the cutouts when they are ‘relocated’ into the canvas. They acquire separateness, an abstract nature. The soft pastel colors used in magazines have subtle transitions generally. I take the textures of cloth, hair and other patterns and start reinforcing. I take from here, forget it, come back to look at it again and again. The text of the magazine print suggests a complex fusion of ideas. That is how art mimics life- things do not stand-alone. Whole lines of disjointed phrases are included as the fast whiff of a brush.

Ruth, Orpah and Naomi are three women whose destinies are tied through marriage. Then, their characters evolved. This work deals with the theme of famine, migration and marriage, and how it affects the lives of three women from the biblical story of Ruth. The similarities in the cultures of the Jews and the Igbo people of Nigeria make it a familiar story. The work of Art is first an aesthetic statement, then come the stories of people seeing, interpreting and pushing deeper into the picture plane. We try to find sure footing when confronted with the otherworldly encounter with a painting. People take what will become theirs, and then there is the mindset of the artist- usually suggested by the title of the work. We must come again and again to see. Chaos becomes something beautiful.

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.

The Unrepresented Grew Familiar, Closer

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At first they seemed like the opposition. Then they became the masses, then the line of separation was drawn. They were many; the unrepresented soon showed how they had become the ‘majority’. Though they stayed under, their voices soon started wearing recognizable faces in the din of mourning voices in the cities and villages. Suddenly, everyone knew the suffering ones by name- You, I and Theirs. We gathered together, soon we will become their nightmare. Soon after ours is gone with the dawn.

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

 

Thinking Art, Tinkering with Life

l1142897In secondary school I did not really worry about the Art class assignments. Other things preoccupied my mind- playing around the small stream on the road leading to the staff quarters, or just wandering about in the huge patch of land beside the staff quarters where we also dropped bomb (defecated), slept, or just dodged being part of clean up exercises. Life was too interesting to waste it in class. It was the memories of life that I relayed in my artwork. The colors, the emotional stimuli all gave meaning to form and representation.

In university days, I found an easier way around it. Each assignment or exam question seemed like a hide and seeks game. The lecturer taunted the students to do a kind of mind reading, to find out what he thinks. I would search for all possible answers for most of the duration of the exercise, and in a few minutes I will be done. In the real world, the intent has not changed much. One will be on point more often, if one stays with the prevailing current. The work can depart from there into dreamland. Success comes at a price. Positions must be interchanged on the road.

 

Zanzibar: Writing on Walls

The manager of Zanzibar Lounge, in Ikenegbu, Owerri had seen some of the work I had done for Full Moon Hotel, Owerri. Full Moon Hotel prides itself in its timeless, archaic classical ambience. The manager trusted that I am ‘artistic’ enough to ‘do something’ for the walls of the lounge. I was delighted at the thought: to be allowed the freedom to express myself in the top floor lounge above a busy street. As far as the eyes could reach, one could see the houses and trees in neighboring towns. The ceiling of the lounge pointed upwards to the sky. I was delighted.img_6634

Zanzibar Lounge and restaurant is one of Owerri’s well-kept secret, and for some obvious reasons too. It is situated in a seedy part of town, with neighboring residential houses sharing walls, and a parking lot that opens to the road. That road exits into the expansive, open highway of Wetheral road that leads out of town. Those that climb up the fleet of stairs to the restaurant are surprised by the ambience of cloudy greys mixed with oranges, and of course, the suggestive lounge that opens out to a stunning view of Owerri. That was were I would ‘write’.

I had to paint on the walls. The work had to help guide viewers to think lofty thoughts, to savor the pleasures of life beyond the daily chaos. That seemed to be the idea behind the space, with its high ceilings pointing upwards to the skies. In recent thinking, the works of Victor Ekpuk and Victor Ehikamenor come to mind. One was executed on a wall in the US, while the other filled a room at this year’s Dak’Art, in Senegal. Victor Ekpuk references the sign writings of the Southern people of Nigeria in his work (Nsibidi), while Victor Ehikamenor has delved into his subconscious to ‘write’ pure forms that fill his blue-lit ‘Prayer Room’. Victor Ekpuk’s wall painting of note, Meditation on Memory can be seen at the Wifredo Lam Center, US. It is interesting to note that both artists’ works revolve around the theme of contemplation/ soul-searching/ spirituality. I intend to investigate the intricacy and richness of language/communication/and symbolism.

Having recently seen the works of the cave men in an exhibition at The Origin Center, in South Africa, my mind still thrilled at the way Sign, Symbol, and the Signifier merge into one communicative ‘abstract’. This became a startling impression and inspiration.

As an adolescent in secondary school, I kept a scrapbook filled with popular brand symbols, logos and catchphrases. Each page was shorthand. Aha, that is the word. In the recesses of my mind were memories of Lynn, my nanny. She attended a Commercial school in the mornings and came back with stories and books on shorthand. I recall a book called Pitman’s Shorthand. Lynn was receiving training that would make her employable as a secretary to take dictations, etc. Those were the days prior the invention of the electric typewriter. Those were the days when I got ‘born-again’, and spoke in ‘tongues’ for the first time. The books of bible story by Jehovah’s Witness painted a good picture of writing in ‘tongues’ in the story of Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall that warned of the destruction of the kingdom. Mene, mene… a finger from heaven wrote on the walls. (The Bible, Daniel, Chapter 5)img_6658

In university, my fascination with the theories of Carl Jung knew no bounds. I felt ideas could be locked in automatic writings and ‘dream’ symbols. Interpreting the works of the surrealists was a delight. Again, I was in a school renowned for its reinterpretation of ancient Igbo sign writing. Uli to me was the opening of doors to personalized communication that connected kindred spirits. It was a suggestion- one went ahead to create a natural synthesis using one’s traditional background as a springboard for conveying and interpreting contemporary experience.

After all the ‘experience’ of cultic sign writing (Uli, Ekpe, Adinkra) that came with the training at Nsukka, I appreciated the way language can become a tool for communication. In a religious sense, sign writing can be like the word-pictures of the Book of Revelation in the bible, written to be interpreted by ‘initiates’ (sic- Let him who has understanding know…) Sacred knowledge was thus shared among the persecuted Christians as stories ‘in plain sight’. Thus, in 2003, in South Africa, a foreign land away from everyone and everything I was used to, I gained the ‘power’ of a personal language. I wrote long stories that flowed out like some form of shorthand based on how fast my frenzied hand could write out the ‘form’ of the sound of the word! Pure genius!

Once upon a time in Onitsha, the famed market-city of South Eastern Nigeria, there were walls leading to the Niger Bridge. They were walls of shops, and fences. A mad man made these walls his canvas, using white paint to write bold text of phrases, using different fonts and varied capitalization. The wordplay was amusing. Students in universities wrote thesis on these graffiti. Everyone wondered at the source, inspiration and creator. The phrases and disjointed text reminded me of Fela and socio-political criticism.

Zanzibar Lounge gave me the walls to ‘write’ again. I played on text, ‘recollected’ hieroglyphics, and the formal beauty of text from unfamiliar foreign languages. It became a babel wall of languages. These experiences all became more recognizable as part of my contemporary reality. Shorthand writing has disappeared to be replaced by the acronyms of SMS in our Internet age. Concise, fast speech must convey meaning. There is no time to be wasted now. So, I suggest you visit the lounge in Ikenegbu sometime soon. There is a message or two for you on the walls. Only the viewer has the codes in his psyche to unlock the ‘meaning’ of the symbols of contemporary living. Language has several interpretations. There are visual, and implied meaning, text, related text and context. It’s the duty of communication to convey the soaring of the human spirit.