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.

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

 

A Sad Love Story

IMG_3322-EditLove stories are quite poignant, especially sad stories. Six days ago, Sam Smith won four awards at the 57th annual Grammy Awards. In his acceptance speech, he thanked his ex for causing him so much heartache. Remember Jesus Christ, and so on? Sad love stories rock, still. They are apt to tell, particularly on Valentine’s Day, February 14th.Getty images

Maybe there are the exceptional fairytale endings that fall into place finally in the most unusual way. There was my dear friend Nkem (aka Sese). We had a wonderful friendship as boarding house mates at Federal Government College, Okigwe. We lived in the same dormitory. We were fourteen years-old, learning the ropes of love, discovering the amazing world of the opposite sex. He was in love at the time, but it wasn’t with me, with my younger sister. At the time, many of my friends were, too. See, I was the lucky guy with good looking sisters that got favors for that. In retrospect, I am not sure if I had many real friends, or just friends who had the hots for my sisters.Art

Love is a complex word spanning many dictionaries in definition. Nkem and I would share the closing hours of the day at his corner. He would prepare ‘solution’ (cold water beverages) and Oxford cabin biscuits spread with Blue Band margarine for me to eat. In return, I told him about my escapades with babes. That was how much he loved my ‘love’ stories, and I prided myself for them. After my first break-up, I had decided that love was all about striking while the iron was still hot-sex as soon as possible to cement the ‘love’! I had my reasons for becoming that way, way back then. That would be another story, for another Valentine’s Day.pablo-picasso- Marie-Thérèse Walter

On vacation, Sese and I lived in Owerri, about 20 minutes apart. So we often met to compare notes. I was the occasional love-doctor for him, the more experienced one. Many years later, as undergraduates (he was in Imo State University while I was in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka), we would reunite during holiday periods and talk about love. I had met and fallen in love with Kem in Nsukka, he with some girl in IMSU. One Valentine’s day, he commissioned me to make a portrait of both of them for his rented student’s apartment off-campus. I made an oil painting of him as a traditionally clad drummer playing for her, a dancer wearing native attire. It was made in blues. He loved it. He kept it in his bathroom. I don’t recall his reason for keeping it there. Our common friends whispered about Nkem’s obsession with this girl. I wasn’t sure if the girl was his girlfriend, or he was still asking her out. He was quite lavish with her. One holiday later, my friend Sese was dead. There were muted whispers that he committed suicide over the girl that didn’t love him. They said he was found dead in his bathroom, after drinking a solution of shaving powder. The girl of his dreams changed schools immediately after. She couldn’t survive the negative publicity at IMSU, living as the girl-who-a-guy-died-for (that would make a great title for a painting).

Sad love stories make for compelling telling, and keeps inspiring generations of artists and singers. We all have them, so we all love the retelling. It’s a love/hate relationship-the recollecting of the heady loves gone sour. We keep them in a space in our hearts, close to our most joyful moments, where tears mingle with smiles. It’s not a thin line between love and hate, its only time. Memories grow long. This is to all the girls that I have loved, so that you can see where I have been. Know what I have become. I don’t want to be hurt by love. I love you all, learning to love myself. The story continues. Till next Valentine’s Day.

Wedding Photography Rule 1: Know your environment

Know your environment. This rule is a must for every photographer who has been commissioned to cover an event. And on this note, I failed while covering Uzoma and Ijeoma’s wedding. The discussions about covering the event were a bit rushed over. I knew the date, the town, and that was it. Every other detail that mattered was washed over, as though I would enter the event and shoot it like a war photographer-taking things as they unfold!Image
I should have visited the venue of the wedding and reception prior to the day of the event. Another thing that worked badly against me was the fact that that was the day for environmental sanitation fixed by Rivers State government, and so movement was restricted from 7am-10am. This was something I really wish the bride had told me, as she lived in the town. So I missed her make-up session- some event photographers here seem to include-the period of transformation of the bride from regular Jane to Goldilocks (or whatever it is that Nigerian chics turn into on their wedding day. It is a given that they become Adamma on the day of their traditional marriage, false lashes and gloss included) But I am yet to see an ugly bride, with or without make-up! The bright coloured flowing gown transforms them into princesses.
Ijeoma looked regal (and a bit mad at me for missing the make-up session?) and Sir Waks was on point-the quintessential GQ man. I reached the venue of the wedding with my travelling bag and equipment, looking very much like a war photographer. From that moment on, I knew I had to work the event from special angles. After all, there was the encumbrance of the other photographer from Studio 24. Now another thing about extra photographers( apart from all the other ‘photographers’ with their blackberry and IPad etc. who want to get the best shots, and thereby make the professional photographer’s work more difficult), the bride and groom must be take into account that they must pose twice, or thrice if they have hired three photographers. The couple must get cues from all photographers before rushing into other poses.
This post is sounding so like ‘all the things that could go wrong photographically’, but I had fun. I love working on edge, alert to the stolen shots, the unguarded moments when people let down their masks. I kept changing lenses, turning and bending, twisting my tripod, clicking the camera and working the flash-it was war. I loved the Cathedral at Port Harcourt-the high walls and stained glass added sparkling colour to the wedding ceremony, and the chandeliers illuminated the church dramatically. I am a stickler for getting the ambient light of any environment I work in. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t see whoever is decorating the venues about the lighting and sitting arrangements! The space may actually hinder the photographer from getting those magical shots. So, the photographer must be introduced to the decorators prior to the event and have a walk-through about how the day will go. Instead of anticipating actions, one must have ‘seen’ it in his head the day before.
Shooting Ijeoma and Uzoma’s wedding was a party. The reception venue was some very popular place in GRA, Port Harcourt. Actually, it was a large tent in the middle of plots of land. Now how much should that cost, you may say? But this tent was on the posh side of town-the governor Rotimi Amaechi lived next door. Placement is everything. The decorator was the photographer’s darling! I loved the sparkling lights that allowed glitters to appear in people’s eyes. Everyone seemed animated, bubbling with life at that reception.
The tables were packed with drinks and the food was awesome. There were so many young people-friends of the couple. They had all come to ‘parry!’ Sir Waks had taken his time to get married, and we were all delighted to meet his bride. You see, I and Sir Waks had grown up together. We even attended the same secondary school-Federal Government College, Okigwe, and University of Nigeria. When I was much younger, I recall running away from home to their house in Prefab extension because of a misunderstanding with my parents. I ran away when my mom wanted to flog me for something I was innocent of. I think I returned home the next day.
Uzoma’s dad (God rest his soul), a medical doctor by profession had been very helpful to us when I fell from a tank as a child, and had to spend a year in hospital. He advised my parents about my treatment all the way. Uzoma is now a medical doctor, while his lawyer-wife works in a bank.
I was delighted my man had finally made up his mind, and was just glad to be there. I would have been snapping at the event, even if I hadn’t been commissioned. The only difference may have been that I would not have gone to all the venues. It was a double honour, really, so I cut costs to make it less expensive for the couple. We were together from the day of the engagement pictures (for the souvenirs), through the court wedding, and even long after the wedding party. I am back at where I drifted away-the wedding party! The DJ was baaad! All our friends rocked the house. The couple did their traditional dances and then went to sit at their elevated positions to watch the entertainment. I caught beautiful shots of the bride with some of her friends from the bridal train watching it all. Uzoma also did some dancing, and a funny ‘one leg in the air, one hand pointing in the ceiling’ step. The babes wore flowing long gowns and 6 inched heels. At some point, I just realised I wanted everyone to stand taller, so I dropped to the ground to shoot the dancers. I had an enthusiastic, tall and dark dancer who gave some fine poses, and the occasional rockers who just danced and threw their bodies in all directions, as the alcohol and the familiar music blared full blast! D-girl’s husband and Adizua danced like ‘the thing wan expire’. The mamas were not left out. Their friends really joined in. I also caught some stoned, dazed faces doing giddy steps. We all missed Doctor Emma Nwakuche, Uzoma’s dad. I will forever remember him standing in church, always with a camera hanging on his shoulder. I don’t recall ever seeing him use it. It was like a fashion statement for him. I think of him every time I wear my Leica camera out.
After the wedding party, we headed to a house on ‘the’ Moscow road ( a la Rivers State house of Assembly fracas that deposed the Speaker of the House). The house was just lovely; with a large screen suspended TV and a Bang and Olufsen surround system playing the songs we grew up with. The drinking continued-we were doing Moet and Hennessey like it was water and eating all the finger-food that wouldn’t stop coming out. It was at the second chairman’s house that the guys seemed to slow down completely on the alcohol, and Uzoma my man dozed off on the couch. I had started drinking at the first house on Moscow road and it must have gotten to me, because I forgot (and eventually lost) two camera lenses, a flash and my blackberry phone at the second house we went to. That is another rule in my list of never-never- don’t drink on the job, even if it is covering your friend’s wedding!

Here is the link to more photographs from the wedding- https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.673396046007801.1073741829.100000122347923&type=1&l=7e11b1c639