Dirty Beaches #NMW Mixtape
Presenting a mixtape from one of No More Westerns’ favorite musicians, Dirty Beaches (aka Alex Zhang Hung-Tai), who couldn’t join the festival this year but graciously sent us an awesome mixtape of No More Westerns-inspired jams. Born in Taiwan, currently based in Montreal but a nomad at heart, Alex started making music as Dirty Beaches in 2005 and quickly became known for his heady blend of fuzzy lo-fi and 50’s doo-wop. Influenced by Wong Kar-Wai as much as Elvis, the music and mythos of Dirty Beaches evokes times and places that never quite existed – and perhaps a hypnotic vision of the non-Western “Western” at long last.
“The first 4 tracks that open the mix tape are by my peers that all share a weird mixed identity of some sort in our upbringing, or weird choices of cities that we currently reside and dwell in.
In relation to the No More Western theme, this mix tape asks us how far we’ve evolved in our society with the advancement of the internet. All of a sudden the world didn’t seem as foreign as it once did. The mysteries now unveiled at the click of a youtube channel, shared globally by countless users, uploading the sights and sounds of their streets and cities, of food and cuisine, as they travel across the oceans onto our computer screens. Of countless blogs, and google searches, we are no longer limited to the biased and prejudiced views from our families or governments. The freedom of self education IS self empowerment.
The rest of the music on this mix tape showcases music from all over the world, some which have more obvious western/American influences, from Indian disco love songs, to Ethiopian Doo Wop, Nigerian desert psych guitars to Chinese lounge songstress’. If it were 10 or 20 years ago this beautiful music might’ve suffered subjugation to mockery as “cheap” 3rd world imitations of western music. But as the world evolves, we find ourselves no longer satisfied within the limitations and narrow viewpoints of our own popular culture that sometimes smell of old colonialism shit. The very existence and popularity of compilations like Sublime Frequencies are proof that our ears are hungry for culture, for non western cultures and music that’s out there inviting us to explore. The fact that from time to time I end up at some party in Brooklyn, or Montreal or London, or Paris with like minded young people spinning these foreign radical jams, the more it makes me feel like this is some sign of progress of a world society. Obviously the mainstream folks are still treading and swimming in their own shit, but they are always late. We’ve moved on yo. The world is yours, says one Hollywood film starring Al Pacino. I say its OURS. ”
– Dirty Beaches (Alex Zhang Hung-Tai)Alex Zhang Hungtai, artist.A drifter at heart, born in Taiwan and raised in Honolulu, NYC, San Francisco, Montreal and Vancouver. Currently with no permanent address.
“I don’t really understand it myself, either”: notes on Panorama event #2, The Young Ones
The second Panorama screening of Impakt 2012 focussed on the work of five young artists working in the Netherlands. All of them were present at the screening and answered questions from the audience afterwards.
The screening started with Eef Hilgers delightful documentary Een Meisje, Jij Weet Zelf (A Girl, Ya Know). For over a year, Hilgers has been following several prolific Youtube vloggers, all girls between about 12 and 16. Their videos are cute, funny, funny in an “oh-I’ve-been-there” sort of way, and at times achingly personal. It’s interesting to see these girls talk in a completely unfiltered manner about their views on life, even if those views are not exactly enlightened. Hilgers goes into the potentially lecherous and strange aspects of publishing what basically amounts to your diary online, but the film never becomes dark or alarmist. Hilgers takes the girls serious enough to just give them space to talk, which is a wise decision. It really creates an atmosphere in which we feel like we get to know these girls.
The second video, Iris Donker’s De Subliminale Waarneming van het Raamloze Televisiestation (The Subliminal Observation of the Windowless Television Station), is about as different from its predecessor as it gets. Over a floaty, droning soundscape, we see a series of surreal images, ranging from a man eating an enormous hamburger to a girl sitting naked in a room with a ghoul mask on. There is a large focus on bodies (specifically on knees), which gives the video a sense of lurid intimacy. It’s very uncomfortable to watch at times. Donker, whose name means ‘dark’ in Dutch, tells us after the screening that the video is a collection of everything she has been making for the past eight years. She makes her art by writing stories from her subconscious, and then filming those. Visibly uncomfortable about speaking in public, she tells us that she hardly understands what her movies are about herself at times.
Following this, it’s impressive that Thomas de Rijk’s Dagelijks Brood (Daily Bread) manages to be even stranger. It starts off as a mockumentary about a young man with game addiction, but changes about halfway through into a sort of absurd acid trip about dancing baguettes in tuxedo’s. De Rijk explains later that the second half tells a symbolic story about breaking free from game addiction, but admits that this might not be immediately clear to everyone.
The longest piece comes from Polish artist Anna Okrasko, who created her film Untitled (Ik kijk naar de film) during her Expodium residency in the Utrecht neighborhood Kanaleneiland. The film focusses mostly on a woman named The Tramp who arrives in Utrecht, but we also see Youtube videos of boys doing tricks on their scooters and a series of atmosphere shots with a voiceover of a man explaining how to fill in a form. It’s an accessible film, but a deceptively multi-faceted one, and I’m not sure I caught on to everything going on in it. The film, and more information about the project, can be found on Okrasko’s blog.
The final video is also the saddest one. Called Me And My Models, it’s simply a slideshow of pictures photographer Jan Hoek has taken over the years, with him providing commentary and anecdotes on the pictures. The pictures themselves already have an almost unbearable poignancy. Hoek uses spotty film and strong flashes to give all his subjects a deer-in-the-headlights view, creating a dressed-down effect which is almost the exact opposite of glamour photography. Throughout, we don’t get a sense that anyone in the pictures is at ease in any way. But the anecdotes, which Hoek tells in his quiet, unassuming voice, are so incredibly sad that they at times become just darkly funny. I remember one story in particular, about the photographer creating a club for lonely people. The twelve people that joined his club became so attached to it, he tells, that he felt far too guilty to tell them it was for an art project. Luckily, the lonely people become so intensely connected so fast that they all started dating, which led to fighting, which led to the club breaking up. Hoek ended up taking pictures of only one man, who was the outcast within the Club of Lonely People. There is a point where things become so awkward that all you can do is laugh.
What’s interesting about these videos is how intimate they all are. Maybe it’s just the contrast with the fierce political works on display at Impakt, but the Young Ones videos almost come across as timid at times. If any of these artists has a very strong opinion about the world or about art, I didn’t pick up on it. Many of them actually seem to be a little confused by what they encounter on their journeys. As Iris Donker put it: “I don’t really understand it myself, either.”
No Place Like Home: Notes on Panorama Screening #2, Sweet Home Barbarism
The Panorama screenings, as the name suggests, tend to be all about broadening horizons. So it might seem a bit contradictory at first to program a Panorama program on the theme of ‘Home’. While the idea of broadening horizons conjures up a sense of reckless abandon in the face of the unknown, Home reminds you of a safe place from your childhood, a place where warmth and snugness rule, and where the greatest adventures are found in old books. But after watching the videos from the screening, it becomes clear how inseparably these two sentiments are linked. We take the roots of our childhood with us wherever we go, after all, and an artist trying to define or grasp a sense of what is ‘home’ to him will have to dig so deep that the journey is an even more dangerous one than those outside yourself.
After a bizarre mix-up of Mary Poppins and The Exorcist called Clean Your Room, courtesy of People Like Us, the screening shows three slow, meditative reflections on childhood and identity. Appropriately enough, all three tackle the subjects in a very unique, personal way. Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller’s Meteor shows a dreamlike collection of grainy science-fiction clips, with a slow, poetic voice-over. The effect reminded me a bit of the films of Terrence Malick, if he would have been more into astronomy.
Katrin Olafsdottir’s Ofaeddur Ungi (which Google Translate tells me means Unborn Young) has a similarly dreamy feeling, but instead of old film clips, Olafsdottir uses surreal 8-mm scenes. Most memorable, perhaps, is the image of a woman covered in oil who is smoking a cigarette. There is a large focus on houses, and the same actors keep returning, which creates a sense of family memories. Think Bergmans’ Wild Strawberries by way of a Sigur Rós video.
Olfa Ben Ali’s N’Être completes this informal trilogy. Although this film also uses associative, memory-like voiceover, it is visually the most unique of the three. Instead of shaky clips, we get stark, fixed-camera takes of the outsides of French apartment complexes, all framed perfectly symmetrical. The only people we see are tiny figures standing on their balconies. Over these images, we hear several women talk about national identity, religion, and memories. Despite the visual focusing mainly on concrete, the feel of the movie is very human, and it offers a beautiful insight in what’s going on behind the exterior.
After these three, we find Hypercrisis, a look inside a Soviet retreat for artists. Inside the most depressingly ugly building I have ever seen, several men and women are sitting around in white coats, apparently doing nothing but eating and cleaning. The only color comes from the sweater of a man who is taking a walk, struggling with writer’s block. The film is almost unbearably slow, which gives us an interesting insight into the soul-crushing ennui of these characters. I’m not sure yet whether it’s the most depressing or the funniest of the entire program.
Next we have Jessie Mott and Steve Reinke’s bizarre animation Blood and Cinnamon. Their characters, all imaginary animals painted in watercolors, talk about pregnancy and parenthood with a distressing matter-of-factness. It creates an atmosphere of almost brutal vulnerability, and although I found it creepy as hell, I was surprised how touched I was at the end of it. This combination of violence and affection is also present in the closing piece of the screening, Piotr Sulkowski’s Rozmowa. In it, he shows us the first conversation between two convicted inmates who have been slowly been building a relationship over mail for the past seven or so years. The conversation is incredibly tender, but Sulkowski doesn’t shy away from the fact that both these people have killed in the past. It’s a fascinating insight into just how broad the human condition really is.
The interesting thing about the idea of ‘Home’ is that it can only be defined by distance. We realize where we came from only when we’ve gone away, something that’s true both in space and in time. Our idea of a home might be nothing more than a cherished memory, and even though we always feel it flowing inside us, trying to define is like catching a flame. Olfa Ben Ali probably described it best in her video: “Childhood is like the air in a bubble of strawberry flavored bubble gum.”
Memeify the World
I’m not sure if you can say Saturday morning’s Meme Masterclass escalated, but, well, we ended up with a wall full of festival paper scraps.
The masterclass was presented by local Meme expert Max Laane and the Chinese Zafka Zhang. I knew Laane already from some classes we had had together at the University, and he was as spirited, witty and clever as ever*. Next to Zhang, however, he seemed almost lethargic. Zhang is an absolute whirlwind of a man. Speaking very fast with a heavy Chinese accent, he started the workshop by barraging the visitors with a massively thorough interpretation of what memes are and how they work, before flashing at top speed through a slideshow of actual Chinese memes. Like Westerns memes, most of the images seemed like light-hearted, ironic fun, but Zhang made a completely compelling case for taking them as seriously as anything else on the internet.
Speaking to Zhang at lunch (I was on my third cup of coffee of the day, and I still couldn’t follow his speed at times), he predicted that internet memes will become one of the most important means of expressions for our generation. He pointed out that thus far, only high art tends to cross borders, but with internet memes, the netizens have found a way to communicate to each other on a very accessible level. However, the meme goes a lot further than just dirty jokes and pop culture references: as Zhang showed, several Chinese memes actually become quite meaningful if you just take them seriously. Individual identity, social status and even political satire find their way in memes, and through these silly jokes, the netizens connect to each other. Cultural narratives, such as the futile attempts of lonely internet geeks to hook up with pretty girls, become encoded in these memes, whether intentional or not, and create a new set of norms and values for the internet generation. It’s a dazzling development, but Zhang only seemed to become more and more energized by it.
When lunch was done, the masterclass continued, and we decided to make our own meme. It was quickly decided to do something with the festival we were at, and after a few minutes of debate someone brought out one of the festival newspapers. Zhang, Laane and the visitors went to work with the intensity of a group of kindergartners, cutting, pasting, drawing and laughing like crazy all the way through. There was no evaluation, no analysis. Nobody criticized each other. We just did our own stuff. It was very much like making memes online, and it was absolutely exhilarating. The result can be admired (or whatever you want to do with it) in the cafe of Theatre Kikker.
After we were done and all went our separate ways, I wondered how the hell I could have become so energized. After three days of festival and not many more hours of sleep, I wasn’t the only one who was staring vacantly into the distance before the Masterclass. And yet, here I was, trying to get people to make their own contribution to the wall. It might have been the participatory nature of the memes themselves, but that wouldn’t have mattered if it wasn’t for the Masters of the Masterclass. I had had my doubts about how much actual impact the many, many ideas at Impakt were going to have after the festival, but I was a lot more confident that things were going to change when I realized it’s going to be guys like Zhang in charge of making it happen.
* Max Laane also contributed to this very blog, writing this piece about the “Mitt Romney’s Binders full of Women” meme.
A cowboy is a cowboy is a cowboy: Meta-Cowboyism
Last night’s screening on meta-cowboyism last reminded me of the cowboy sets you can buy in a toy store, containing a hat, a sherrif’s badge and a cap gun. Tie an old handkerchief around your neck and boom! You’re a cowboy. It’s the easiest costume to put together, and anyone will recognize you. Throughout the videos shown in the screening it became clear that you can put a hat and a gun on anyone, and they become a cowboy, their outfit representing the freedom and independence naturally involved with this character, the ultimate personification of the American dream.
According to Gerwin van der Pol, professor at the University of Amsterdam, westerns are “just as common as the weather forecast”. After WOII, of all the American movies that flooded Europe, westerns were by far the most popular. The image of the cowboy is so widespread and ubiquitous, and thus a welcome icon to represent the American dream, be it in films, commercials or art.
Everybody knows The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly or the Marlboro man, but try describe these cowboys. Ten to one you’ll end up naming the items in the toy kit mentioned earlier. A hat, a gun, a horse maybe. It’s a cowboy, the looks say it all. Does anybody, especially if their not American, know the differene between one cowboy and the other? I don’t think so.
One of the videos shown at this screening was Alone by Gerard Freixes, in which footage from The Lone Ranger is cleared of all other characters, making the ranger truly alone. The video gets a lukewarm response, which may have something to do with the fact that to most of the audience, the Lone Ranger is probably just another cowboy. In a way everybody immediately recognizes what he is: a cowboy.
Then again, the behaviour of the cowboy seems harder to recognize. In the piece Bad Luck City Aaike Stuart shows a portrait of an “urban cowboy”, as he calls it. Roaming the streets of Berlin, shooting a gun and riding a horse, his activities are very cowboy-ish. But the main character, wearing a baseball cap and a t-shirt, does not necessarily strike you as a cowboy. Had it not been for the title of the screening, the idea of the cowboy may have never come to mind. It would just be a guy walking around Berlin, shooting a gun, or sitting by a campfire.
The image of the cowboy seems to be clearly imprinted on our collective European memories, and the simple characteristics of his appearance are enough to remind you of all he represents. So if you happen to be in search of a cheap but easy way to signify America’s culture and (in the case of westerns, factually incorrect) history, check out your locl toy store.
Interview with Lauren Alexander of Foundland
Foundland is Lauren Alexander and Ghalia Elsrakhi, two Amsterdam-based artists. For Impakt, they contributed a video installation to The Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography in which they show several cartoon videos which are overdubbed in Arabic to make it seem like the characters are speaking about the Syrian revolution. Standing in front of a video in which Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, here representing Maher and Assad, talk about gleefully massacring civilians, I have a flash interview with mrs. Alexander.
Impakt: Could you tell me how Foundland got started, and what you think it means?
I studied together with the girl I’m now working with, who is from Syria. We did a masters in Design together, and I think we both had a similar approach to things, were both interested in political issues. Ever since 2009, we’ve been working together. What we’ve been doing for the past year and half is really trying to look for interesting things that are happening online, mainly on Facebook, to do with the Syrian revolution. In the other exhibiton we did for Impakt, at BAK, we looked at the propaganda images created by the Syrian regime. In this exhibition, we decided to focus on what the Opposition is creating in terms of visual statements.
This is a collection of videos made by the Syrian opposition. Most of them are re-dubbed videos from Syrian childhood. Many Syrian children who grew up in the 80s and 90s knew these anime cartoons, and now they are fighting this revolution, and they are using these cartoons to tell a different story, one they are themselves very active in. This idea of rewriting your own story over things from your childhood was something that we found very fascinating, especially in relation to Western images.
What’s particularly interesting about Syria is that in the 80s there was a very strong regime in power. Censorship was extremely tight, and especially on things that had to do with the West and Israel. But people still remember Mickey Mouse from their childhood. Somehow, those things still managed to infiltrate into society, even though there was such hard censorship.
Impakt: Do you think your work has a political message, or do you just aim to collect and document these videos? I’m asking ask because the name ‘Foundland’ might suggest that you just stumble across these things, and take a neutral stance towards them.
No, that’s not true. Our work is really about creating a vision of how we see things. That’s why we call it Foundland, not because we just found something, but because it’s reclaiming.
THE BEST WAY TO COVER UP A LIE
„It is deucedly difficult to tell a lie when you don’t know the truth.”
Gutierrez’s projects always have something to do with absurdity and they often relate to common B-movie clichés of the end of the world or a great cataclysm in a cynical way. His works question the raison d’etre of labels such as post-modernism or conceptualism and even of the value of art and aesthetics in a world that is doomed – the western civilization.
The film The best way to cover up a lie is a fusion of all the ideas that appear in his previous projects and could serve somewhat as a summary of his oeuvre at this point. There is no linear narrative or a story in a classical sense. What we get instead are scenes and characters appearing in the different layers of reality in a mise-en-abyme structure. Applying metanarrative, this very post-modern tool to point out the meaninglessness of all the post-isms is sort of ironic, yet this trick quite prevalent in Gutierrez’s artistic practice – deconstructing a notion by using it.
In his latest film the two protagonists wander relentlessly in the city of Locochonia – a strange fantasyland with a strong apocalyptic atmosphere. We see them running down empty streets, hiding in abandoned buildings, contemplating the horizon covered in the smoke of explosions, experiencing anxiety, fear and hopelessness as they are trying to fight their destiny – a destiny still being written by an author who is also struggling with her own. The relation between the characters is just as uncertain as their reality or their fate. They are all lost and trapped in a way, either physically in this maze-like city, or in the labyrinth of their thoughts that they cannot escape. The labyrinth motif appears throughout the film on different levels of reality, just as the mysterious witch or the conspicuously strange lack of birds in the sky. These recurring motifs and allusions create a rhythm, and give the structure of the film by loosely connecting its layers. A film of such complexity with so many references requires full attention of the viewer and definitely wouldn’t be easy to watch if it wasn’t for Ruben’s sarcastic humor. You can never be sure if he is bluffing or not, but you can’t help this feeling that you’ve been tricked somehow.
At least by reading my interpretation of a film I’ve never seen. Absurdity is.
Panorama Artist in Focus, Friday 26 October 2012, ‘t Hoogt
An interview with Jaap Kooiman
Jaap Kooimans, senior lecturer of Media and Culture studies at Amsterdam University, gave a talk yesterday afternoon called ‘Karaoke Americas’. In it, he argued against the idea that “The West” is falling apart. According to him, the idea of “America” is one that will remain dominant in global (pop) culture, even after the United States of America have long since been overshadowed politically and economically by China, India, Brazil and others. He makes the essential distinction between “American”, culture produced with American codes that reinforces American ideals, and “the United States”, the country.
Kooimans shows that there is such a thing as Americanisation by non-US entities. As examples, he names IKEA, which is Swedish, and The Voice of Holland, which is Dutch. This television program functions on very ‘American’ interpretations of meritocracy and talent, even though it’s not from the US itself. Kooimans goes on to show that pop culture from around the world now tries to play by American rules, even in countries such as China and India. He goes into more detail about this argument in his new book, Fabricating the Absolute Fake, which can be found here (for gratis! Add this to your reading list, Impakters, it’s good stuff). I sat down with Kooimans after the talk for a flash interview about the internet, culture criticism, and age.
Impakt: On the internet, more than perhaps any other medium, the discourse is decided upon by American multinationals. Could it be said for my generation, the digital natives, there is no such thing as a non-Americanized culture in the way there was for your generation?
For the entire post-war generation, American pop culture has always been omnipresent in the Netherlands. So I grew up with American culture as much as you did, even if I’m a pre-digital person. In one way, you could say that the digital age is less Americanized, since mass media has become more diverse. It’s more more difficult for one form of pop culture to be dominant, since there are so many outlets. In my work, I have kind of avoided the digital, since I still see cinema and television as very dominant mass media.
But I don’t think there’s much difference in generations. One of the things I do in my courses on this topic is make students write an autobiographical essay based on Chris Keulemans The American I Never Was [a piece in which the artist describes his life by way of the American pop culture he consumed on the way - red.]. You get really different forms of essays. And there you see that what is considered American is actually really subjective. I gave the example of the talk that for my generation blue jeans were a form of Americanness, and they’re really not anymore. Now there are other things that are signs of Americanism. And yet, for my students, for myself, and for the generation of my parents, it’s very likely that the first film they ever saw was a Disney movie.
Impakt: How do you think that artists can get their message across in the over-saturated media landscape these days?
They have to think about the bombardment of signs, Baudrillard’s term. He argued that this would implode, not explode, because we have such an overload of meaning that it becomes meaningless. And we do have that. But I don’t think we can get out of any system, except if you go live on a deserted island. It’s always a very difficult question.
When I teach my students about neo-Marxism, I think I am preparing them to become independent, critical thinkers. But at the same time, all those media-savvy people that I teach end up working to make the media more savvy. All the people working at multimedia companies all know how to analyze media. They know how it works. And they’re using this to make better films. I’m not saying you have to be cynical, but you have to be realistic.
The Music Is the Message: Filastine Masterclass
Anecdotes about riots at G8 summits are not the first thing that come to mind when you think of a masterclass by an acclaimed producer. In the case of a masterclass by Grey Filastine, this is exactly what you should expect. In his case, making a political statement through music is not about using some obscure samples downloaded from the Internet, or about writing whiny lyrics about opression and injustice. As Filastine shows in his masterclass, it’s about getting arrested for playing music out of your homemade speakers during a protest at a G8 summit, getting into fights with riot police, even having them fly in helicopters full of cops on horseback to get rid of you.
The morning after his performance at the opening of the Impakt Festival a small group of participants gets the chance to get to know Grey Filastine, as he tells us all about how he has been making music and traveling the world (mostly combining these activities) for decades, and how this is closely connected to the way music for ages has been a stimulating force in warfare. At first with his Infernal Noise Brigade, which provided war rhythms for the global protest movement, and nowadays as a solo producer and performer, using audiovisual means to spread his message.
After elaborating on the ‘why’ of his work, we dig into the ‘how’, as the hands on production masterclass commences.
Literally disecting his songs, Filastine gave an exclusive look behind the scenes of his advanced global bass beats. Even though he uses a laptop to put his songs together, all songs contain analog, liverecorded instruments. Practically every sample used is connected to a story, ranging from recording a fluteplayer on a market in Marrakech to doing a vocal session in an Indonesian forest during the only quiet hour of the day. Doing all of this the hard way, collecting samples on all these locations under difficult circumstances, is an important part of Filastine’s work, since he feels his music needs to maintain a connection to the real world, to the flesh and blood and soul of the people who play it.
Even though his productions can get quite complicated, Filastine emphasizes a good song not neccesarily needs to be difficult. It doesn’t matter if you use twenty-eight tracks or just seven, if you get it to work in the way you want it’s alright. As it turns out, the master himself does not even know all there is to the program we are using, as he confesses he only recently found out about certain options. Like playing an analog instrument, there is always new stuff to learn.
Amidst a whirlwind of shortcuts, tips an tricks Grey walks around and helps out when needed, as the participants put together a short remix of his track Gendjer. And although we might not have done his work any justice in this high-speed production session, inspiration was a plenty after this intimate get-together. So who knows, maybe in time Utrecht will see a new wave of producers combining international beats with local street recordings.
Signifying Nothing: context, culture, and cats.
While introducing the No More Western screening Sorry, This Video Is No Longer Available On Youtube, curator Kate Taylor mused a bit on the nature of video art in the Youtube era. The program she introduced featured a combination of video art and random internet clips. For most of the clips, it was clear in which category they fell, but others blurred the line somewhat. “What”, ms. Taylor wondered, “is the difference between something presented in a fine art context and something you just find online?”
At this moment, I had a flashback. That morning, I had gone to the Village Coffee, a cafe in town, with the intention to write something the video installation Impakt was showing there. When I arrived at the cafe, however, my enthusiasm for this idea quickly evaporated. For one, the baristas had turned down the music of the videos to play their own (admittedly excellent) music, so the videos were projected soundlessly on the wall. For two, no-one was watching. I sat in the cafe for at least twenty minutes, and in all that time, I never saw anyone give the installation more than a cursory glance. And I understood why: all the patrons of The Village Coffee (hip, urban youngsters) were so accustomed to a constant barrage of video that the installation didn’t even draw attention to itself anymore as something remarkable. We already barely pay attention to music, pictures, and text, and now even moving images have become invisible. At last, we have reached oversaturation in every single medium.
With that thought in my mind, Sorry, This Video Is No Longer Available On Youtube started. The first video was a quite brilliantly made piece of shadow animation from China, dealing with such topics as dicatorship, religion, and environmentalism. The second video was Gangam Style.
Now, I don’t want to get into semantics here, but I think that even the most ardent postmodernist wouldn’t call the Korean monsterhit ‘art’. And yet, that’s how I watched it. I watched it intensely, actively, and curiously. And judging from the looks of the other visitors, I wasn’t the only one. Art, legitimate art, was displayed at the Village, and everyone ignored it with a curious glance. Another group of people, all of whom I could imagine visiting the Village, were intensely watching Gangam Style. Something strange was happening here. And then ms. Taylor’s quote came to mind again: “What is the difference between something presented in a fine art context and something you just find online?” Well, just that. The context of fine art.
I am by no means an expert on art history, but I do know something about film. And I know that I sometimes find it very difficult to tell apart music videos, from commercials, from concert visuals, from genuine art videos, when the visuals are all I have to go on. More than once, I’ve watched a clip which seemed like a commercial take an ironic turn at the end to make an artistic or political statement, and I have likewise seen surreal pieces of what seemed like video art suddenly end with a corporate logo. We are bombarded with these kinds of videos, every day, in an endless barrage of sound and fury that shows no sings of slowing down at all. The only way to make sense of all this is to be handed the material in a proper context.
Which brings us to that one key point in ms. Taylor’s reflection: a “fine art context”. When we’re talking about the demise of Western society, it’s impossible not to talk about Western conceptions of art. If context is the only thing standing in the way between art and non-art, we need a massive structure around art. But if the global discourse is going to take place on a platform that is as equalizing as Youtube, a site on which you can quite literally watch old Stan Brakhage tapes after watching an amusing cat video, that conception of art might be very well be the first thing we’ll lose in the fire.
The Impakt Festival 2012 has begun
An unsuspecting visitor last night at Theater Kikker may have gotten the impression that the Youtube battle was already in full effect, as festival curators Samantha Culp and Cher Potter opened the Impakt Festival 2012: No More Westerns.
Through a whirlwind of clips from all around the world they introduced the audience to No More Westerns, opening what they called the Utrecht satellite of the China African Think Tank Forum. Of course the Impakt Festival is not connected to this event, but it might as well be in a post-Western world in which America is just another country, China and Africa form alliances that completely bypass the West and visual culture from anywhere but Europe or the United states will fill your televisions, newspapers, movie theaters and cities.
The theme however, is not meant to be anti-Western or anti-American, or even anti-anything. As festival director Arjon Dunnewind puts it in his speech. “Like any hip, postmodern European festival, we like Westerns”.
With the program being as vast as it is, Sam and Cher’s preview could impossibly cover it all, so they made sure everybody got a little taste of what to expect, and left them hungry for more. Next to works from artists like AES+F, the audience was served science fiction from Ghana and India and the African appropriation of Gangnam Style (a.k.a. the ultimate No More Westerns soundtrack – a Korean popsong topping charts in the Netherlands and the United States, with dozens of international remakes appearing online on a daily basis, what more can we ask for?).
Some of the artists and speakers who will be present during the festival already made an appearance this evening, all of them eager to take part in the festival and share their new world perspectives. Festival Fellow Parmesh Shahani even needed to be held back, as he almost went and gave all four of his lectures at once. Be sure to check out his talk at the symposium on News in a Multipolar World. Preceding his Masterclass this morning and MC Nova’s participation in the round tables on Saturday, the official start of the festival was provided by Filastine, who blew everybody away with his audiovisual liveshow.
Although the slang concerned with this year’s festival might be confusing to some (providing a glossary was even suggested), the program is so diverse anyone can find something of their liking. And though acronyms like ENA, BRIC and BASIIC are available in abundance when it comes to a post-Western future, all you need is #NMW.
An Interview with Omar Kholeif
Although the program only mentioned that Omar Kholeif’s talk would be about the Gazawood project, it quickly became clear that Kholeif had bigger plans. In a dazzling lecture, he gave an immensely thorough criticism of the current practice in the art world to select that artwork of Arabic artists based on nothing more than geography. He went on to criticize several group exhibitions that focussed on Arabic artists for “emotional curating” and being more concerned with finding artworks to fit a certain political narrative than actually trying to figure out what the artists themselves tried to do. Kholeif went on to present several contemporary Arabian artists who try to present an alternative to this narrative, such as the Gazawood films of Tarzan and Arab, and Larissa Sansour’s science fiction art.
Impakt: As you said in the panel, many of the artist that you champion offer an alternative to the current narrative. Do you think that because the narrative between the “East” and the “West” is now so focused on conflict, it will take until that conflict settles down before these new narratives take root?
That’s a difficult question, because the narrative of conflict will never really disappear. The region is in perpetual conflict, perpetual change, and the entire world is run by international relation strategies. So, to try and craft a space, or even a taxonomy where you can start talking about art outside of the narrative of conflict is incredibly difficult and unlikely. Conflict is not going to end in those spaces. So the thing is to not think of alternative views or binaries of East and West but just curate, create, produce and consider works of art on their merits of work. It’s important to think about them conceptually, theoretically, and formally in terms of the aesthetics that they choose to use. How they’re interesting in relation to a broader conception of visual art, without necessarily being tied to an “Arab” or “Middle-Eastern” sense of identity.
Impakt: At the Hivos Free Internet Panel yesterday, someone from the Syrian rebellion talked about an understanding between the rebels to keep their slip-ups and information that could be damaging to their cause from the international press, which in a way created a sort of counter-propaganda. Do you think that when people themselves are making use of these typical narratives, they become a part of the world that these artist draw inspiration from?
Yes, absolutely. I think the good things is that they disrupt the flow of that narrative, complicate it, and raise more questions. Wafaa Bilal, of the Virtual Jihadi piece, was actually using that grand narrative of conflict, and used an American-made video game to intervene with it. The furor around that created a discussion about those binaries of the Other, about whether he was an American or not an American, and about what rights he had to speak within that shared language. In a sense, the actual issue is that no-one wants these people to speak within the same vernacular, or be part of the same history as everyone else. Whether it’s the Western art historical history, the Western political history, or the Western nationalistic history, they want them to exist outside of that, on the periphery. They have to exist within these very particular aesthetic waves. You get these pieces like the Islamic rug that’s made out of metal. There’s an expectation that they should conform to a particular thing.
But you’re right that when artists start to use this same language as their peers they then become part of the grand narrative. Those works that I was showing, as much as they subvert and disrupt the conventional flow, are also a part of it. So it’s a really complex thing. I don’t have the answers, but I was just giving a range of problematics and case studies and trying to say: “this is where we’re at now”. And I certainly don’t think we’re at a part where we can say that there’s a new centre that isn’t defined by a binary or a retaliation against the West. I don’t think we’re there yet. But I’m not sure how we are going to get there, exactly.
Impakt: Do you think there are others ways than fine art to disrupt these narrative flows?
The thing is to just make really amazing work that is conceptually, theoretically and aesthetically strong enough to sit alongside any other exhibition, whether it be at the Tate or the Moma, without being put in because it’s tokenistically Arab, or representing a certain chapter of history. That’s when an artists’ work is rigorous enough and when the curators are able to see the work in a much broader sense. That is the strategy to success, and what these artists are aiming towards. Every artist who works locally, whether it be in Egypt or Tunisia or in Lebanon, doesn’t want to be in an exhibition because they represent that part of the world. They want to be there because they want to be considered great artists, who are worthy to be in that show. The real success is to be put in group shows, alongside artists from very different contextst and conditions.
Easterns: Notes on How The West Was One (Part Two)
For a cinephile such as myself, it seems only logical that Asian filmmakers are making so many Westerns these days. After all, the genre that was born in America had been influenced so strongly by Japanese samurai films that it’s no wonder the genre is making it’s way back to the orient. Every kid in film school knows that the Japanese Akira Kurosawa ripped off American John Ford, and that Kurosawa in term was ripped off by Sergio Leone, the man behind the Spaghetti Western. So while it’s certainly a fascinating sight to see arguably the best Western director of the moment, Quentin Tarantino, appear in a Western by arguably the best Japanese horror director of the moment, Takashi Miike, Taranatino’s cameo doesn’t seem all that out of place.
What is strange, on reflection, is that that a culture which existed for maybe fifty years in the south of California had such a profound influence on the the century to come. There are many theories about why the Western has turned out to be so timeless and universal, with most theories zooming in on the enigmatic figure at the heart of the genre: the gunslinger. That mysterious loner, who prefers to let his gun do the talking, who comes and goes as he pleases, and who can’t be messed with. That man, who might have a girl waiting for him somewhere, but otherwise doesn’t have an allegiance to anything or anyone but his own conscience. He is basically a collection of every single stereotype about men: strong, resilient, capable, detached, dangerous.
From a filmmaker’s point of view, this character is a dream. He is such a blank slate that he can go anywhere without it seeming out of character, since he doesn’t really have one. Give him a sword, and he’s a samurai. Give him a plasma rifle, and he’ll kill aliens. Give him a ship, he’s either Captain Nemo or Captain Ahab. He will show up, talk the talk, walk the walk, shoot a bunch of people, clear out, and rock a sweet hat as he goes.
But this theory only explains why the gunslinger is such an universal figure. It doesn’t explain why it’s specifically Asian directors who are so drawn to the Western genre these days. Once again, there are many theories to this, but I think it has something to do with that other central ingredient of a Western: the landscape. The classic image of a cowboy is him riding across the wide-open fields into the sunset, and there is a reason for that. Thematically speaking, Westerns are about two things: resistance and endings. More specifically, resistance against the new, in a land that we know from history will eventually succumb to just that.
In classical American Westerns, the cowboy figure is the last upstanding guy in a small town that is at the point of being overrun by big-city developer types. For the true cinephiles amongst us: why do you think railroads are such an important image in these movies? Because they will A). bring civilization to the place and B). make the horse redundant. We know that the gunslingers struggle will be futile in the end, which adds a touch of melancholia to the whole enterprise. And what is a better metaphor for this pointless, futile struggle against the world than one man in the middle of the sprawling prairie?
This pointless struggle is one that we see back very strongly in Asian westerns. Although open fields are rare, their place is taking by the sprawling concrete buildings that make up the skyline in so many modern cities in the East of Asia. In the middle of these massive urban wastelands, a generation of children is raised who are under immense pressure to preform academically. It means that they are not only pressured to be good, but also to be better than everyone else. Them against the world.
Westerns are sometimes said to exist on the edge of history, but these Asian westerns seem to exist on the edge of life itself. A place where the individual morphs into a monotonous bland, so that a primal scream of life becomes an act of resistance all of itself. Or perhaps these filmmakers just think that shooting stuff is neat. Whatever the reason, don’t be surprised if the next great Western doesn’t come from America, but from China.
How The West Was One, Part Two, 26 October 2012, Theater Kikker
#Womeninbinders: Memes as political critique
By Max Laane
Mitt Romney battles Barack Obama for the presidency of the United States of America this year. In the clip above Romney uses an anecdote to explain that he fights for equal women’s rights on the workfloor. When his employees came to him with only male applicants for his cabinet in Massachussets, he started a search for women who are equally as capable as the men. His employees delivered him “binders full of women”. His choice of words was awkward to say the least. Within minutes the Internet exploded with satirical replies in the shape of memes.
Memes [pronounce as meems] are the cultural counterpart of phenomenon in biology. Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, wrote about this matter in the seventies in his book The Selfish Gene. A gene, Dawkins found out, has the ability to pass on it’s traits very easily, by ways of mutation for example. A survival of the fittest on a microscopic scale.
This phenomenon of survival of the fittest on the gene scale can also be applied to cultural products like ideas and jokes. Dawkins named these products memes. The ability to mutate is the most important part of the survivability of the meme. Common memes are Ragecomics, Advice Animals and LOLcats.
Memes are expressions of online participation culture and are nurtured by the speed and ubiquity of the Internet. Nowadays it is easy to see memes on the Net and it is also fairly easy to remix and distribute them again on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. In the case of Romney’s utterance, there were over 65 million people watching the debate and alot of people tweeting and the hashtag #bindersfullofwomen was soon born. In no-time there was a Tumblr to collect all the memes and a Facebook page that counters Romney’s rhetoric and provides a space for equal rights on the work floor.
The spread of the memes went so quickly, because of the millions of people who saw it on the television or read it in their Twitter feed. They understood the central concept of Binders Full of Women and can remix it and diffuse it again. Several news sites gave the meme attention and made sure that it came out of the fast paced Twittersphere to become more than just a trending topic.
So, now we are stuck with these aesthetically unpleasing pictures which are witty and sometimes very funny. Now what? Well, mainly because of the ugliness it is possible for a lot of people to contribute to the growing number of memes. They don’t have to be pretty, which takes away a big treshold. Everybody can put new captions on pictures or else they can make one on a site like memegenerator.net and send it into the Twittersphere or post it on Facebook. The concept of the picture, in case of Romney’s uttering, is easy to grasp for most people to understand the mutations of the different memes and laugh about it and share it with their own network. This is a new way of criticizing occurances in the news and it does so very effectively.
If you find this interesting, also check out the #eastwooding meme from a month ago.
Max has a special liking for all things digital and is SETUP’s resident meme expert. You can reach him on laanemax[at]gmail.com
Infiltrating The Chinese Meme, a Masterclass with Zafka Zhang, 27 October 2012, Theater Kikker.
Call it a (p)remake: The Otolith Double Bill
“We are not images, not sounds, not even fictions. Just script, twenty pages in a drawer. An idea, a possibility, nothing more”. This is how the character called ‘the industrialist’ describes the characters from The Alien.
The Alien was supposed to be the first Indian science fiction movie ever made. Unfortunately, the film by director Satyajit Ray was never finished. Like so many other movies that never came into being, the only remnant of this production is the script.
The Otolith Group used the screenplay for this 1967 film, and the unfinished histories of the four main characters, as the basis for Otolith III, a ‘premake’ of The Alien. Through sounds and images from Ray’s earlier work, combined with new footage, they go and look for the director in order to confront him with their unfinished stories. As “the boy” keeps repeating: “It’s not easy to meet your maker”.
By investigating the unrealized potential of the script to The Alien, the film itself becomes the main character of this project. By exploring the choices that were never made the video emphasizes the way in which film is, like any art form, the product of the choices made by its maker. In Otolith III, even the director himself can not escape this process, as he is also subject to choice. First the right man for the job needs to be selected, after which he needs the right kind of office; “Where would he work?”, “Here?”, “Here”. Even the kind of footstool he would use to stretch his legs after a day’s work is subjected to detailed consideration, as a wide range of ottomans is presented, “Maybe this one?”.
In the other piece shown in the Otolith Double Bill screening, a screenplay again serves as the basis. In Communists Like Us The Otolith Group reimagine a scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise. A dialogue from this film about a five French students who are part of a radical Maoist group is reapproprated by only using the text of dialogue. The lines of the conversation between philosopher Francis Jeanson and his Maoist student Veronique are shown as subtitles with photos from different communist gatherings. Before each photo a picture of the folder containing the photo is shown, so we know we are watching an image of the “Indian womens delegation in the USSR” in Moscow in July 1953 for example.
The combination of the archival footage and the lines from the La Chinoise actually seems to make sense after a while. And why would it not? In this context the dialogue is part of a new piece, the result of the choices made by The Otholith Group, in this case executed by Simon Arazi.
With existing screenplays as their basis, both Otolith III and Communists Like Us explore the potential of these texts, showing how “twenty pages in a drawer” can turn into a movie about an alien or about international communist friendship, or something completely different.
Otolith Group (An Otolith Double Bill), 25 October 2012, ‘t Hoogt Zaal 1
The political made personal: Notes on the HKU <3 NMW opening at the Academy Gallery.
Two months ago, twelve students of Fine Arts at the HKU were invited by Impakt to produce an artwork on the theme of No More Westerns. The artworks that they have produced are now on display at the the Academy Gallery in the Minrebroederstraat, under the moniker “HKU <3 NMW”. The exhibition, which opened last Friday and will stay until the 28th of October, features ten artworks of all shapes, sizes, media, and interpretations. I spoke with the artists at the opening, and asked them for some commentary on their work.
I first run into Tim Hollander, who made the first artwork you see when entering the gallery: Three Decades of Re-Written History. It’s a large, grey, museum-style exhibition table, in which several “artifacts” of 21st century Western Music are carefully arranged. A little sticker informs us that the display is on loan from the Chinese Museum of Natural History. We see a broken recorder (“Primitive Flute, Germany, ±2000), some ancient books on musical theory and, brilliantly, a copy of Djembe Hero for the Playstation 3 (I chuckled out loud at seeing that one). Hollander tells me that he wanted to challenge the European view of so-called ‘primitive’ cultures, and make his audience rethink the concept of World Music. It’s a cool idea, although it’s a bit scary to imagine how true it might one day turn out to be.
Left of Hollanders’ display is Thera Clazing’s untitled video installation. To tackle the theme of changing cultures, Clazing decided to interview people from both Western and non-western backgrounds on the topic of freedom. It’s one of the more personal pieces in the exhibition, especially since Clazing decided to make herself the central figure of the documentary-like video. She tells me that before making the video, she thought about freedom as having no boundaries, but that she now thinks of it more in terms of having different choices and being brave enough to make them.
Next we find Guy Vording’s Move 1 t/m 4, four surreal collage-style pictures pinned to the wall. Vording himself had left the exhibition before I could talk to him, so he couldn’t comment on the works himself. They pictures show small clusters of humans in a large, almost apocalyptic landscape, and one of them even shows a nuclear explosion. Most people seem to be in the process of burying one or more of their fellows. Many of them are wearing Micky Mouse-ears. I found the pictures other-wordly and dreamlike, showing tiny figures against these massive landscapes. It’s a harrowing sight.
A less pessimistic sight of culture clash can be found in Wendy Brugman and Joost Mellink’s dual video installation Touching Land. Brugman visited the United States for the project while Mellink stayed in the Netherlands, both of them filming their travels. On two parallel TV screens, we see their videos at the same time. Brugman and Mellink told me that they intended to take a step back from the theme to inventorize the idea of Western culture, and it’s certainly interesting to see both the differences and the similarities between the two countries displayed at the same time.
Turning the corner in the exhibition space, you see a large white piece of paper hanging on the wall, on which the scenario of an episode of Pucca is printed in big black letters. However, the names of the characters and some important subjects are crossed out throughout the text with pink marker, and a different name is written above it. The protagonist becomes “China”, his friend “West”, and a wishing well is dubbed “Kapital”. I asked Ruben Baart, who made the piece (which is called I NINJA COWBOY), why he chose to spell the word with a K instead of a C. He told me that he hadn’t noticed doing so before I asked him, but offered the fact that he had read the biography of Karl Marx for inspiration as a possible explanation. When I asked him about the meaning of the work, he referred to Ghosts With Shit Jobs, and told me that his fear is that China will take over the world without being capable of managing it.
Left of Baart’s work is a mysterious wooden chamber, that features two video screens set up on opposite sides of each other. One shows a Tibetan singing bowl, the other a Moog synthesizer, and both are connected to a loudspeaker. The Moog tries to imitate the sound of the bowl which, if successful, means that the sound waves neutralize each other and die out. Elise ‘t Hart and Nils Davidse explain to me that my initial interpretation of the piece being about modern technology suppressing ancient traditions was wrong, and that they didn’t have a political statement with their work. They were more interested in the way music has manifested itself around the world, in particular in relation to music theory, which is a decisively Western idea. Moog synths, they tell me, all sound the same, while singing bells are all unique.
On the side of the little wooden chamber are two video screens which display Milda Navickytè’s Encounter. Navickytè has set out to combine Eastern views on spirituality with Western life, which she tries to accomplish by way of rituals. The Lithuanian artist tells me that with her Eastern European background, she felt connected both to the Eastern and the Western tradition, and wishes to combine the best of both worlds. She tells me that many people in the West don’t even believe that people have souls anymore. Judging by the tone of her voice, she finds this downright shocking.
To the left on the wall, Nici Metselaar’s untitled mixed media installation is placed. On a contraption of wood, bamboo and a plastic palm tree (which the artist later tells me were all found) a beamer is aimed, which projects scenes from Nollywood films (Nollywood is the nickname of the Nigerian film industry. I wrote about the industry on this blog a week or so back. The post can be found here). Metselaar tells me she is fascinated by the improvised architectural aesthetic of slums, which she has combined with scenes from the largely improvised Nollywood cinema.
Back in the first room of the exhibition, I watch Malcolm Kratz’s conceptual video piece October 9th, 09:00 – 11:00 / 15:00 – 17:00, in which he slowly and ceremoniously burns dollar bills in the flame of a candle. Kratz explained to me that he intended the piece to be a funeral for Western civilization, conducted by way of traditional Chinese burial rituals. The title of the work refers to the exact time he performed the ritual, as instructed by a Feng Shui master. Malcolm’s explanation doesn’t seem to be spirited so much as melancholic. “Where did it go wrong?”, he asks me, and I have to admit I can’t answer him.
The final piece of the exhibition, Control, is another large wooden box, which you have to stick your head into. Inside, a little robot with light sensors on its back is put on the floor, across which a beamer is projecting several circles of light, all colored like the flags of one of the current superpowers. Whenever one of the light circles comes over the robot, it starts following the circle, until another one comes along. In an exhibit where the political upheaval we’re facing is reflected upon in so many different ways, it’s interesting to end with an artwork that seems to suggest that politics don’t really matter in the end. Or, as maker Jochem van Grieken described it to me: “The bottom crawler doesn’t care who’s on top.”
Space is the Place, Anyplace
“The music is different here, the vibrations are different, not like planet earth”, as Sun Ra, donning an outfit reminiscient of King Tut, describes the planet he teleported himself and his fellow black men to in Space is the Place, released in 1974. This movie, released three years before the first installment of the Star Wars series, shows how science fiction has never been the exclusive territory of the white nerdy male.
Jazz musician, poet and ‘cosmic philosopher Sun Ra is one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism, a cultural aesthetic defined by Mark Dery in his 1995 essay Black to the Future as; “Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture —and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future”. In Space is the Place for example, Sun Ra and his Arkestra set up a colony for black people, to enable them to “drink in the beauty of the planet” without any white people there to repress them.
Where Afrofuturism mainly concerns futuristic African-American culture, a wide variety of science fiction exists in which futurism is closely linked to local religion and mythology. Fuelled by recent technological developments, since despite what we may like to tell ourselves in the West, the access to advanced technology has long ceased to be the exclusive privilege of Western countries. Upcoming economies in the Southern hemisphere develop their own nanotechnologies, artificial intelligence and space programs. Set to a backdrop of local mythologies and the same fascination for the future as every other person on this planet, this makes for some very interesting non-Western science fiction. The screening Global South Futurism provides an introduction to what might be called Turko-, Gholly-, or Bollyfuturism.
The Turkish feature film Dunyay Kurtaran Adam takes us to a place where the music is not quite different, since the soundtrack is completely taken from American blockbusters. Blatantly using the epic themes from Indiana Jones, Ben Hur and Battlestar Galactica, among others, makes for a familiar experience even without understanding a word anybody says. Also known as ‘The Turkish Star Wars’, because of the unauthorized use of footage from the famous space opera, the familiarity does not stop at the soundtrack, even though the story has nothing to do with any of the original Star Wars movies. Nevertheless, this movie about two spaceship pilots stranded on a planet only inhabited by women is a wonderful example of literally combining Western and non-Western cultural codes.
Something that can be said of all of the fragments, trailers and documentaries shown during this screening, even though they differ significantly from each other, is that they sure make for an entertaining experience on many levels. Enjoying or even following the actual storylines might be hard, since none of the movies is in English or even subtitled. Surrendering to the visual spectacle during this anthology of Global South Futurism seems to be your only option. The Pakistani Starfleet: dOvestar Chronicles by Kenny “Hassan” Irwin for example, does not even contain any actual film footage. And though it may lack production value according to Hollywood standards (one could call it a slideshow), Irwin’s account of the Pakistani Starfleet and their battle against a group of diabolic space-pigeons is a mesmerizing piece which forces you to focus on the visual spectacle instead of bothering with overrated matters like acting or dialogue.
As mentioned before, the videos in this screening do not necessarily stand out when it comes to slick production or high-class visuals. The special effects in the trailers for Ghallywood productions 2016 and Man Kumfo, for example, look like something from a videogame from the early nineties. But what remains after watching these movies from such different origins is the shared fascination for whatever is out there in the universe. When it comes to inspiration for science fiction, space still is the place, anyplace.
Global South Futurism, 27 October 2012, Theater Kikker
Back to the Non-Western Future: Samantha Culp @ HKU
In each of the three installments of the Back to the Future movie trilogy, the main character Marty McFly wakes up either in the past or in the future, thinking his previous experiences of time travel has been a dream. In Back to the Future Part III, Marty travels to the United States in 1885, and he wakes up saying ‘I had this horrible nightmare, I dreamed I was in a Western’. As he opens his eyes he realises this was no dream, and he really is in the Old West.
During her lecture at the Utrecht School of the Arts, Samantha Culp, one of the two festival curators, explained how this scene serves as an analogy of what she and co-curator Cher Potter are aiming for with the Impakt Festival 2012; to take a moment to wake up from this dream of the ‘West’, and instead of finding out this dream is a reality, waking up to a post-Western, multipolar world.
Interpreted already as being an anti-cowboy film festival or misunderstood as ‘No More Westerners’, the festival theme sure enough provides food for thought, which is why the packed auditorium happily underwent the introductory class in No More Westerns. The main idea behind the theme, as Samantha explained, is not to investigate a world without Western people, or to investigate the supposed takeover by China or other upcoming economies. Apocalyptic visions of the future, as Samantha put it, are just too boring. Rather than tapping into old fears about the rise of a great enemy or a future in which we all speak Chinese, Cher and Samantha envision the post-Western future as a multipolar world in which America, for example, is just another country.
The curatorial duo captured these and many other threads concerning a post-Western world in this year’s festival program. Though many of the visions presented during the festival may seem fantastic, these imagined futures are less far away then you might think. Take for example Katja Novitskova’s visual essay World Expo 2020 Gbadolite in the essay section of this years festival newspaper, a fictional report of the World Expo to be held in the Republic of Congo in 2020. With tribal women wearing solar tablets and a gorilla holding a partical energy torch, this might seem a far fetched portrayal, but when you look at the Makers Faire Africa in Lagos, you can not help but feel the need to rethink the general image of a West African country as a ‘developing’ or ‘third world’ country, unable to provide for itself.
The need to revise the way the non-Western world is viewed becomes apparent when Samantha shows part of the piece Cheng Zhang De Fan Nao (Growing Pains). The American sitcom Growing Pains was the first American television show to appear on Chinese television, dubbed in Mandarin of course. Asian-American artist Rutherford Chang had his Chinese friends who grew up watching this show redub the show in English. Their heavily accented English gives the piece an estranging feel, since even though the language is understandable, it takes a while for the words to come across. Mainly focussing on the images, which makes the whole experience quite foreign. Seeing something so familiar but so alien at the same time makes you understand the way the United States and the West are imagined by many non-Western cultures, and provides food for thought about how our own visions of non-Western culture are constructed.
It’s about time we wake up from our shared dream and get back to the future. Beware though, it might be a rude awakening.
Cheng Zhang De Fan Nao (Growing Pains) is part of the screening program Fourth Culture Kids, 27 October 2012 @ Theater Kikker.
Al Arabi Al Hor – The Free Arab
„Photography is truth. And cinema is truth twenty-four times a second.”
– Jean-Luc Godard
Al Arabi Al Hor, also known as ArabiHor, translates to “The Free Arab” and originally started as a co-production project with ARTE, a Franco-German TV channel to produce short documentaries for the European audience to follow and attempt to understand and analyze the unfolding events of the Arab Spring. Given the impossibility to comprehend the revolutionary wave still in motion spreading through the Arab World in its complexity through a TV-program, the founders – as Arab people and supporters of the revolution movement – couldn’t agree to such approach as it would inevitably result in simplifying, generalizing and objectifying the events and the aims, thoughts and people behind them. The founders imagined the ArabiHor project to become a real medium of the revolutions rather than a ready-made showbiz product, a TV-experience for westerners that they could use as material for dialogue or understanding.
This contradiction seemed irreconcilable and the parties decided to split – but it sheds light on the self-evident difference between how we value local and distant happenings. It is, in fact, really difficult – and I would say almost impossible – to grasp the meaning of events that are happening so far from us, even if we are aware of their significance. The discourse about these will always remain on a different level than that in case of local issues in which we are involved or have personal experience with. No matter how deep we dig into or how much information we collect on these distant events, as long as we don’t feel their effect on our own skin, we can’t help our self-deception of being in a safe distance, observing natural disasters, wars, and revolutions from our convenient bell jar.
With the support of their new sponsor, the Embassy of Norway in Lebanon, ArabiHor became a virtual space dedicated to the people, the free Arab people to have their voice heard and tell their own story of the revolution. Originally they aimed for collecting and presenting short documentaries that offer a brief glimpse into people’s everyday life that has been changed by the revolutions, in a negative or positive way. The protagonists come from different generations, classes and countries, representing different – sometimes contradicting – opinions about the ongoing changes. As the project developed, it became an interactive multimedia platform for people from all over the Arab World to participate in the revolution progress and bring the idea of democracy into practice by uploading their works, be it a video, sound recording, picture or written material, documentary or fiction.
The Palestinian short film A boy, a wall and a donkey by Hany Abu Assad or the short episodes showing the everyday struggles of Beejo and his family in Egypt – for example, the wife’s effort to prepare a decent Ramadan meal despite the unaffordably high prices, or a family discussion about headscarf – carry the air of the revolution as much as the more outspoken Leave! – which is, in my opinion the most powerful and emotionally touching piece of Lara Abu Saifan’s Wafaa-series – where we see a young Yemeni girl re-watching herself on video as she paints the words “slayers, leave!” with her martyr brother’s blood on the wall.
Exactly this diversity of the presented points of view, opinions and approaches makes you eager to explore the ArabiHor project further, and also, as most films are part of a series centered around the same protagonists, your natural curiosity keeps pushing you to find out more. There is a great chance you will find yourself hooked to the project, spending hours on the website watching these films that offer a refreshingly new, insider’s perspective and don’t want to explain or comment, yet they might bring you closer to the reality of the revolution than those analytic reports with experts.
As part of the screening program Mapping Creative Internet Activism in the Arab World curated by Charlotte Bank at Impakt Festival 2012: No More Westerns four works of the project will be showed, besides which you’ll have the chance to meet Mohammed Siam, director, editor and researcher at ArabiHor.
See you there.
The Wit and The Fury: notes on AES+F
In August of this year, punk collective Pussy Riot made headlines worldwide after three of their members were sentenced to jail on a charge of hooliganism. The charge came after the band staged an anti-Putin performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. It was not the first time contemporary Russian artists got in trouble with the law: members of the performance art group Voina (whose activities include having sex in public and shoplifting a chicken in the vagina of one of its members) are arrested on an almost daily basis.
But the interesting thing about the Pussy Riot trial is how typical it is of the divide in Russian culture. The anarchic urban attitude of the punk rockers on the one side, representing the progressive new generation, stands in stark contrast with the somber fire-and-brimstone preaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church, whose teachings are still sacrosanct for many older Russians. It’s a conflict that is not likely to be resolved anytime soon in the largest country on Earth.
With this divide in mind, however, it is hard not to be impressed by the wit, insight and nimbleness that the artwork of AES+F brings to the table in this conflict. Their work is impossible to categorize in terms of “pro” or “anti”, and can often be read as a criticism on both sides of the matter at the same time. It’s thought-provoking in the best sense of the word.
Their Seven Sinners and Seven Righteous, for example, shows us fourteen pictures of young girls. Seven are ordinary schoolgirls. The other seven are convicted murderers. The artists don’t tell us who is who, but they do give us a list of grisly details about the murders. It can seen both as a criticism of the binary notion of “sin” and a criticism of our own snap judgment – who, after all, doesn’t try to figure out who of the girls is guilty and who is innocent, based on nothing but their face?
Or take their Defile series, seven life-size images of people in avant-garde fashions. They avoid looking at the camera, and their expressions are vacant. For a moment, they seem like ordinary glamour shots. Then you realize that the ‘models’ are dead.
Again, it’s hard to avoid religious interpretation (note, for instance, the recurring number seven). The dressing up of corpses in spectacular regalia is a common practice in many Russian churches, due to the Catholic teaching of ‘incorruptibility’, which states that the corpses of certain saints don’t rot. The people in the pictures, however, look beaten, thin, poor. Homeless people often freeze to death in Russian streets, and the piece can be seen as a critique on that. But then again, it can just as easily be seen as a criticism on the fashion industry.
AES+F is a collaboration between Tatiana Arzamasova, a conceptual architect; Lev Evzovitch, a conceptual architect and filmmaker; Evgeny Svyatsky, a graphic artist; and Vladimir Fridkes, a fashion photographer. In the exhibition of the Impakt Festival, they will present their new piece, Allegoria Sacra (Holy Allegory). The work is based on a strange, dream-like painting of the same name by the 14th-century Italian painter Giovanni Bellini. The painting shows a group of people on a mystical, otherworldly terrace, all deep in thought. Nobody seems to be moving, and the whole scene looks like it’s frozen in time. Academics have debated the meaning of the painting for centuries now.
You can see Allegoria Sacra at The Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography, the Impakt festival exhibition, at the CBKU untill October 28. Don’t miss this.
Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind
In what’s perhaps the single greatest moment in Marjane Satrapi’s brilliant autobiography Persepolis, the 8-year old protagonist buys a denim jacket on the black market, decorates it at home, and hits the street with the text PUNK IS NOT DED embroidered on her back. Aside from being adorable, the reason it’s such a great moment is that we as a Western audience recognize both how silly a statement this is in a society where punk hardly ever existed in the first place and how incredibly empowering the statement feels to the young heroine.
Satrapi is a typical Third Culture Kid, a child raised in between two cultures. Although the term applies to her quite literally (she spent her childhood in both Iran and France), it can also refer to children growing up with parents of two different nationalities, or children who spend a significant amount of their childhood traveling. American sociologist David C. Pollock described them as follows: “A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”
Lately, however, there has been talk of expanding the term even further. The culture these children are exposed to growing up, the reasoning goes, is not just limited to the background of their parents but also includes popular culture from around the world, with its own unique sets of codes, symbols and injokes. What is wrong, right, normal and, most importantly, “cool” to these kids is determined as much or even more by (American) pop culture as by the culture of their parents and the country they live in. And you can count on the Fourth Culture Kids to use this pop culture for their own goals.
A selection of their videos will be shown as part of the No More Westerns program at this year’s Impakt Festival, and what’s remarkable about these videos is that they feel familiar and foreign at the same time. There’s sketch comedy from Ghana and Indonesia that’s instantly recognizable as such, but which is incredibly unfunny unless you’re familiar with what they’re satirizing. There is a clip of the sitcom Growing Pains that is lip-synched by two Chinese youngsters, who can barely keep themselves from laughing. My personal favorite is a flashy, Kanye West-style hiphop video about a fictional Kenyan superhero, although I don’t know how much of what makes the video so screamingly hilarious is intentional.
On the other hand, however, we find Mexican emo’s that are being beaten up for their subculture, and Indonesian Lady Gaga fans who engage some pretty heavy social taboos in the overwhelmingly Islamic country. It’s in these videos that we get to the bottom of what makes the whole phenomenon so fascinating: pop culture that might have a reputation in the West for being vapid can become an incredibly meaningful mode of expression for these Fourth Culture Kids, while more ‘serious’ art hardly manages to get across the globe.
Which is not to say, however, that the Fourth Culture Kids are a particularly dour bunch. They simply express themselves with what they have lying around, in this case pop culture. It’s not reappropriating or recontextualizing as it is simply using. They take what they like and use it for their own means, with little regard for what it is technically supposed to mean. Skateboarding, for example, which in the West has an image as being an anarchistic, Punk Rock-style hobby is praised in Uganda for keeping children off the streets. And why shouldn’t it.
One could see this development as a mild form of cultural colonization, but I personally think that would be reading too much into it. These kids just use familiar forms to express perfectly universal ideas: overprotective parents, sport, a sense of community, or even just sarcastic mockery. Who cares what the original philosophy behind all those forms was. The result is videos that are both very local and incredibly global, and just all-round fascinating. Even the most outdated, boring, or silly stuff can become something entirely new in the hands of these Fourth Culture Kids. Rumors are even surfacing that punk might not, in fact, be ded.
Fourth Culture Kids, Saturday 27 October 2012 @ Theater Kikker
Welcome to The Impossible Black Tulip
Long nights of building, enough stress to last a lifetime and several litres of blood, sweat and tears culminated in this year’s festival exhibition, titled “The Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography”. Last Thursday, the white cube turned building site turned unique art experience saw the light of day for the first time. In the presence of festival curators Cher Potter and Samantha Culp a great number of No More Western media art enthusiasts got the chance to get an early start to this years Impakt Festival.
As the curators described their first impression of the empty room that was the CBKU before Impakt took over, ‘This space is huge”. But simply putting the works up on the walls would of course be too easy. Together with the extraordinary Bass Beek (also in charge of the production of the Impakt festival, so you know it’s good) they transformed the exhibition space into something that has already compared to a real tulip or something that came flying out of a Star Wars movie. “The Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography” consists of maze-like corridors and spaces within spaces, surrounding a serenely white central oval room. Around every corner awaits another unique space filled with surprises, allowing visitors to wander from futuristic fantasies to critical realities from all around the world.
Within the exhibition, each room is designed solely to fit the works displayed in it. The completely blackened space in the back for example, displaying the two-channel video installation by Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, makes for a greatly immersive experience, whereas the design of the central oval complements the clean aesthetic of the works displayed there by Chinese artist Lu Yang and the Russian artist collective AES+F.
After the introductory talks and rounds of applause everybody got the chance to experience ‘The ‘Black Tulip’ themselves. Diving into this media art wonderland the audience encountered works ranging from drawings to installations to photography, not to mention the game section of the exhibition, where many a visitor was found, mouse-in-hand, eyes focussed on the screen. Getting lost was never this much fun.
With tunes played from vinyl by the amazing D.V. Grammafoon and drinks provided by Bombay Sapphire the festive opening smoothly turned into a party, which continued long after the doors to the CBKU closed.
Curious? Come and lose yourself at Plompetorengracht 4. Who knows, you might run into a curator or two and get a private tour of “the Impossible Black Tulip”.
The Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography, 11 – 28 October 2012 @ CKBU
Photo credit: Pieter Kers
Once Upon a Time in the Future-West…
Imagining a Future-West / Just Another Country
Screening at Impakt Festival 2012: No More Westerns
Have you ever wondered about what would happen if the entire Western World together with its capitalist economy and consumerism collapsed? What if, in the not too distant future, the rapidly developing economies of the East overpower the Western hegemony – which is already not as certain as it wants to seem – in both economical and cultural sense?– So far this idea of the West’s decay mainly appeared as a dystopian vision of xenophobic right-wing leaders being a common panel in their demagogic rhetorics, but I can promise that the presented videos will give a whole different, unexpected shape to this fantasy.
Jim Munroe’s mockumentary, Ghosts with Shit Jobs is set in 2040’s Toronto; and apparently, with a turn of the tables, the West has became for Asia what Asia used to be for the West: nothing but cheap labor. We follow the lives of six individuals practicing menial jobs of the future, presented in the exact same style as nowadays lurid, sensationalistic TV shows discussing the horrors of Chinese factory workers: we see two well-dressed TV anchors sitting in a garishly furnished studio commenting on the actual report as shown on the big LCD screen in the background, constantly switching between a commiserative and a dramatic tone. The show investigates “What is life like for these people?” – A young couple holding degrees in robotics assembling frighteningly realistic baby robots for the wealthy kids of Asia while dreaming of moving to the East for a better life; two homeless brothers collecting the spiderwebs that remained from a giant arachnoid invasion, selling them for drinking-water; a human spammer who gets paid for mentioning brand-names in casual conversations – which eventually leads her into prostitution; and a digital janitor who erases brand-names and logos from the virtual past manually which causes him a serious brain damage.
Munroe’s sci-fi mockumentary cleverly evading the pitfalls of the low-budget with great humor and splendid acting serves as a brilliant satire on our stereotyping, patronizing and one-sided TV documentaries showing how ridiculous and fragile our western superiority really is.
Rainer Ganahl’s 6 minute video, I hate Karl Marx plays with the same thought of China overpowering the West by the 2040’s in an almost painfully ironic way, however, it approaches the subject from a totally different, rather political aspect. The video shows a young German woman castigating and cursing a bronze bust of Karl Marx expressing her discontent entirely in Chinese. From her monologue it is clear that Marx’s egalitarian vision came true in a strange way by the communist China conquering the western world where now everything is Chinese. The language is Chinese, the eating habits are Chinese, the western brands were replaced by Chinese ones , even Karl Marx has reincarnated as Chinese. The video caricatures both the Western world’s anxiety about China’s rapid and aggressive economic expansion and, at the same time, the fashionable anti-capitalist movements of the west.
These anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist neo-hippie movements are also lampooned in Matthew Lessner’s The Woods, that presents a group of urban youth’s attempt to go and live in the nature without having to give up their convenient lifestyle provided by all kinds of technical gadgets. This contradiction between the whole back-to-the-nature philosophy and technocracy offers endless variations of the same gag – for example, an image of a young hipster loading a washing machine in the middle of a forest or an electric plug nailed on to a tree – but not matter how many times we see it, the joke happens to work.
Come and see for yourself at Impakt Festival 2012: No More Westerns – if you are a fan of bitter humor and sarcasm you won’t regret this journey to the (possible) future West.
Nollywood vs. the world
In 1992, a Nigerian businessman called Kenneth Nnebue imported a stock of blank video tapes. He soon found out that he had ordered too many, however, so he decided to just shoot a movie on them. The result, Living in Bondage, was such an astounding success that many filmmakers would be inspired to take up the camera.
The Nigerian film industry (nicknamed Nollywood) now produces more movies per year than Hollywood does. Only the Indian Bollywood, an enormous network of highly professionalized studios and distributors catering to more than a billion people worldwide, beats the Nollywood numbers. This in spite of the fact that Nigeria has no studio system, barely any professional guilds, and houses no more than 8 cinemas throughout the entire country.
Reading about the modus operandi of Nigerian filmmakers is an experience that veers between bafflement and hilarity. Entire movies are shot in a weekend. Special effects, including those for explosive shoot-outs, are improvised on the fly. Directors sometimes complete ten films per year. Pirated DVDs are the closest thing to a distribution system available. Budgets over $50,000 are considered excessive.
But despite all this, the Nigerian film industry has managed some astounding feats. Nigerian movies absolutely dominate the Sub-Saharan African film culture, to so a degree that industry that politicians from the entire continent have been complaining about what they see as the “Nigerianisation” of African culture. The Democratic Republic of Congo has even tried to flat-out ban movies from the country in the name of protectionism. Nigeria produces so many movies that the film industry is the second largest employer of the country, surpassed only by the government itself. These facts become even more impressive when one considers that the industry as a whole is only twenty years old.
Despite the popularity of these films, they have not found a wide audience outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. Even in Nigeria itself not everyone is positive about the films: many of the elite of the country, who are accustomed to watching the more expensive American import films, deride the films shoestring production values, cliched themes, and terrible scripts, that are often improvised on the spot by untrained actors. Moreover, the films have been criticized for their use of juju as a narrative element. This indigenous Nigerian practice of ‘black magic’, although still widespread amongst the Nigerian population, is seen by many politicians as superstitious hogwash at best and a major roadblock in Nigeria’s modernization at worst.
Even from within the industry, voices of dissent are heard. The barrage of output that made the industry possible in the first place now seem to stand in the way of any development: filmmakers who try to improve the quality of their work by working with bigger budgets or longer production schedules find themselves cornered by the oversaturated market.
But despite all these problems, the Nigerians can still lay claim to something pretty unique: an autonomous film industry that doesn’t aspire to be anything else than it is. All interviews with Nigerian film directors contain a variation on the comment: “We’re not trying to make Hollywood-style movies. We’re making movies that our people want to see”. Even if this means making films that are terrible by Western standards. But you’ve got to have it to the Nollywood directors: whatever you say about them, their movies get seen, and not by a small audience either. That’s something pretty amazing in its own right, and a very possible breeding ground for some unique cinema to evolve from.
Otherwoods: Nolly, Ghally and Bollywood. Saturday, October 27th, 21:00 @ Theater Kikker
ACCELERATOR: an interview with Grey Filastine
Filastine: There’s almost nothing normal about what we do on stage. We use a shopping cart, a broken kilinda, which was probably from Africa at some point but we tuned it to an Indonesian scale, we use an iPad to wirelessly control some instruments, there’s midi controllers…. There are no keyboards or DJ equipment on stage, just a lot of objects. But in the end, what comes out is electronic music with acoustic elements.
There are many totems to this project, and one of them is combining things that are extremely old with things that are so new that they don’t even exist yet. Inventing new forms of midi-control, new software, but at the same time using these really old instruments.
To me, all sound is horizontal. If it makes sound, whether it be the most advanced computer or an old, beat-up drum made out of wood, they’re both of equal value to me. There’s no sense of something being new and therefore being cool or cutting-edge, nor is there an exoticism of what is old and ancient. If it sounds interesting and combines well, use it.
I am speaking to Grey Filastine, who had just completed a concert on the Dom Square. While Miki Arregui’s futuristic animations were projected on the ancient stone walls, Filastine played his unique mix of electronica, hip-hop and world music on a stage inside the archway of the Dom tower.
Filastine: Miki and I are both obsessed with architecture, urbanism, public space. I’ve done a lot of sound interventions, and he’s done a fair amount of mappings. We’re both obsessed with the idea of a city as a living organism.
One reading [of playing in the Dom tower] is that we’re recycling this fascist architecture to create new uses. In that way, are we conquering and re-appropriating these objects. Are we creating a new metaphor, new meaning, new narrative, or are we simply reinforcing this fascist architecture by celebrating it? I don’t know. But this is something important to consider on these sort of events.
Filastine is in Utrecht on Impakts invitation, to represent the festival at the Peace of Utrecht celebration. Although he lives in Barcelona, he spends most of his time on the road to play his music, engage in art projects and take part in political demonstrations.
Filastine: You can’t, honestly, put politics in a song very well. I’ve been experimenting with this for many years. The only way you can put explicit political messages in songs is through sound collages, with dialogues, and the best way to do that is if that they’re funny in some way. On every one of my albums I’ve put a few dialogue collages. And those can be skipped, as they are separate tracks on the disc.
Another way to really say something is with video, and if you say it well it doesn’t come off as heavy-handed or didactic. It’s always a matter of refining the techniques to be able to communicate visually. You need to have a narrative instead of doing something so fucking postmodern that it’s meaningless.
As I helped Filastine drag his gear to his taxi, I realized that this must be his daily reality. Constantly moving from place to place, adapting, observing, absorbing. It’s not every person that could handle such a life. But it is exactly with this nomadic existence that he keeps one of the oldest characters in music history, the traveling storyteller, not only alive but up to date. A troubadour with a midi-controller.
Filastine Opening Concert, Wednesday October 24th, 21:00 @ Theater Kikker.
Beats Sin Fronteras: Grey Filastine Masterclass. Thursday October 25th, 11:00 @ Theater Kikker.
Virtual Agoras – Six videos from Syria inspired by the events of the Uprising
Curated by Charlotte Bank
2012. 10. 07. 14:00 De Balie, Amsterdam
The video program Virtual Agoras, curated by Charlotte Bank, previously screened at KW Institute for Contemporary Art as part of the 7th Berlin Biennale and at an Impakt Event in June is now on show in De Balie, Amsterdam, on the 7th of October.
The program consists of six videos from Syrian artists, each presenting an artistic response to the traumatic events of the Syrian Uprising from its very own perspective – be it a silent mourner’s or a stouthearted young protester’s – showing some hope or painting a perfectly dark image of the future, but they all stand as bold, powerful statements against an oppressive regime.
Shortly after the riots broke out President Bashar Al-Assad has barred international media from entering the country. This evoked people to take over the responsibility of delivering news – the media outlet relied solely on these citizen journalists who would document the unfolding events in the process of developing and spread them on different social-media platforms, such as facebook, twitter and youtube all over the internet. Creative videos expressing people’s feelings about the uprising, commenting and criticizing the way it was represented in the official Syrian media and the impuissance of the West appeared simultaneously with those documenting the protests and the escalating violence on the streets.
Smuggling 23 Minutes of Revolution (2011) is closer to those videos documenting and reporting the events, as the title already indicates, smuggling the news through the borders, focusing on the city of Hama. In 1982, after violent clashes between government forces and Muslim Brotherhood, then-President Hafez Al-Assad ordered troops into the restive city of Hama. For three weeks Syrian tanks and planes bombarded Hama while soldiers airlifted in by helicopter carried out house-to-house searches and on-the-spot executions. Estimates of the total number of civilians who died in the siege range widely between 10,000 and 45,000. In Smuggling 23 Minutes of Revolution we hear witnesses’ stories of the 1982 Hama Massacre and nowadays happenings, and as they talk we feel the anxiety of the people, the fear of history repeating itself.
The Sun’s Incubator (2011) by Ammar Al-Beik plays with our stereotypical expectations – it opens with a scene of a man washing his hands making the water red – instantly, we think of blood, but a few seconds later we realize he is rinsing out red paint from the brushes which he used to paint a protest slogan. Al-Beik gives us an insight into a young family’s life entwined with the events of the Arab Spring – the demonstrations against Mubarak in Egypt and the death of a 13-year-old Syrian boy who was arrested, terribly tortured and killed during the protests in Daara. We follow these events together with the family through TV screens as we see them getting ready and leave for a protest. After the shocking report about the Syrian child martyr on TV we witness as a baby is born to the family. Misery and hope come hand-in-hand in this film.
The video LIBERTé, which “could be by Philip Horani” as the closing title mentions, is a painting performance overlapping found footage of the protests, complemented with the sounds of demonstrations, gunshots, bombing and explosions. Horani uses watercolor to sketch up how a demonstration is quelled by the government forces – but eventually the blood-soaked picture transforms into the flag of the Syrian opposition. His work is very similar to Mohamad Omran and Dani Abo Louh’s Conte de printemps (2011) which tells a story about no matter how many times the protests are crushed the Syrian people will stand up again. Compared to the powerful rawness of Horani’s LIBERTé, Conte de printemps is more delicate, yet melancholic as we see the crumbled paper-cut figures stand up again, the camera showing their desperate expressions, accompanied by a dramatic opera aria.
Khaled Abdelwahed’s stop-motion animation, the Bullet (2011) combines the tradition of street-art as the most basic and powerful tool to get a (political) message to the public while remaining anonym with the digital video technique, transforming graffiti into motion picture.
Bloodshed (2012) by Eyas Al-Mokdad operates with strongly manipulated – distorted and color-filtered – images showing symbolic objects of oppression. These long shots of black army boots, military awards, and the blinding light of an interrogation lamp create a very tense atmosphere that turns into a silent tribute to the martyrs in the last scene with an endless river of blood flowing.
Though these videos were made using various techniques, such as found footage, animation, stop-motion or performance – sometimes combined in one video – and many of them apply different kinds of visual effects too, they all bear the signs of being quick, spontaneous reactions to the events, as the erupting unrest and the increasing state violence spreading all over the country urged the artists to act immediately. To raise awareness and get the message through to the public as soon and as bold as possible – this is what activist art is about.
VJ op de Dom: Impakt presents Filastine
In case you already had plans for this friday night, you can hereby cancel them and join us for what is to be a historical party. On 21 September 2012 the Vrede van Utrecht organises VJ op de Dom for the last time ever, and this is something you do not want to miss. Next to the legendary DJ DNA and local chiptune geniusses EINDBAAS the extraordinay Filastine will perform at the Dom square on behalf of Impakt, accompanied by an intense visual spectacle, brought to you by Telenoika.
Barcelona based, American-born Grey Filastine spends most of his time traveling the world looking for sounds, samples, instruments and styles he can throw in his blender, with his original and exciting beats as the outcome. The numerous influences that can be heard in his music are not turned into a smooth mix to soothe a western mainstream audience, but retain their edge and local vibe. Do not expect exotic sounds to spice up boring productions, Filastine is not one to take the easy way out by scoring with ‘authentic’ influences. The different cultures that inspire him do not seemlesly mix, which is exactly what makes his music so interesting. This, and the fact that he knows what makes a partying crowd go wild.
Filastine received praise from Pitchfork among others, where his style was described as being ‘more like music from another world than world music’, and XLR8R, where he is named a ‘producer with cultstatus’, so you know it’s good. Expect sample art like DJ Shadow, with the inspiration of an experienced traveler.
Especially for VJ op de Dom Filastine’s show will be accompanied by one-of –a-kind visuals provided by Telenoika, so even if you are just having a look there is more than enough to enjoy. Check out last years aftermovie to get an idea of what to expect.
Cant make it this friday? Don’t worry, Filastine will also perform at this year’s Impakt Festival. Check out our website for more information, and don’t forget; 24-28 October 2012 Impakt Festival: No More Westerns.
Hybrids and bastards, or: Musical archeology in a GIF cave
by Friso Wiersum
Music, amongst many other things, can take you home. In a world with 43 million people living on the run, multitudes of those in displacement and numerous more in migration, there are many homes. Music never stopped at borders, so it travels along easily. The Internet makes it even simpler for mp3’s to spread globally. No wonder, a new musical genre is labeled global music, with dance finally doing what the ‘label’ world music could never achieve: acceptance amongst the urban youngsters worldwide. European kids dance to African beats, Latin Americans dance to Balkan influenced floorfillers and K-pop made its way unto the USA markets. Music is the bastard of globalization.
Western music has been accompanying the last centuries’ dominance of the Western world. And surely that music has been adapted to, covered for, and translated into local settings, thereby transforming the ‘idea’ of that music in itself. Soul, reggae and hip-hop have been changing youth cultures worldwide, as sounds of the non-Western world, whether or not the musical sources were geographically in that Western world.
The mixtape Hybrids and bastards (Or: Musical archeology in a GIF-Cave) tape starts in Detroit, where the contemporary capitalist ideas and production lines came into being the early 20th century. Fordism, my friends. Millions from all over the USA came to Detroit, including many Afro Americans from the south, in what is called the Great Migration. Decades later, Detroit became a rich city and the sound of Motown ruled the world. Some Beatles songs were more popular in soul cover versions than their original. That’s how music travels…
A few decades before, other music travelled as well. Caribbean music made its way to England, a colonial power. So we have calypso singers singing “London is the place for me”. How adaptive music is, proves the liking Dutch and German artists took to these exotic sounds. Or how they were adapted in Las Vegas rock style songs.
Meanwhile in Jamaica, a new tax reform made the import of vinyl practically impossibly expensive. What did the musicians do? They just re-used their original versions and started playing with effects on those recordings: dub was born! That was a revolution, without which we’d never had hip-hop, or any modern music, cannibalistic as it is. Years later: In England – race riots being part of life in the seventies and eighties – punk and reggae met, and one band called themselves after this collision: the Clash.
Per favor, allow me a little geographic switch to South America. In the dictatorial regimes music was a means for expression: sometimes dangerous for the performers, sometimes so subtle that even those in power didn’t know what to censor. In Brazil, Caeatano Veloso took the musical genre of tropicalia to new heights. He was a Southern star in the Global North. Zelia Barbosa sings about the death of the laborer – music was a means for political action.
In the slipstream of the popularization of various Latin musical genres across South America, one music style should especially be mentioned: Cumbia. Born from the hybrid society of Colombia, it was cumbia that stole te hearts of local populations.
Then, when the financial crisis hit Argentina in 2001 and the country went bankrupt, living in Buenos Aires became cheap. Artists, musicians and adventurous newcomers came to live there. Some shared an idea: inventing a new way of self organized living. The technology of Internet was a big stimulus. A fertile exchange of ideas, songs and traditions took place. The cumbia was transformed into the nu cumbia, an electronification of traditional sounds. Whether that be produced in the circles of ZZK or in a attic somewhere off, the Internet makes travelling the world so much easier for songs these days. Nu cumbia now is part of that global phenomenon; bass music. Music travels. Music migrates. Music mutates. Music is the ultimate bastard of globalization. And we are all migrants singing along.
#NMW curator Cher Potter in Utrecht
Last week one of our two festival curators, the lovely Cher Potter, visited the Impakt headquarters in Utrecht. Cher covers 50% of the curatorial team for No More Westerns, the other half of which is Shanghai-based Samantha Culp. Their fresh, multi-layered (and often witty) proposal for the Impakt Festival 2012 was selected by Impakt in June, making them the main curators for the exhibition, the talks, screenings and music program, from 24-28 October. A first visit from London to Utrecht made all the more sense to get the motor running further.
After getting to know her via numerous e-mails and Skype, we were very happy to have her around in real life and to harass her on a daily basis about everything and more, concerning her curatorial work.
During her short stay Cher got a lot of work done. Her schedule included visits to all festival locations around town, meetings with students from the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU) and working late at the Impakt HQ, meanwhile keeping everybody here up to date on the latest beautiful, funny or just plain weird developments in worldwide visual culture.
As the main occupation of everyone involved right now is the forthcoming program, it was great sharing developments, fixing names, inviting authors – in short: building madly towards a final program.
Some epic skype meetings later, we are psyched to make more and more final decisions. Curious to see what Cher and Samantha have in store for you? Only seven more weeks until the festival kicks off, hang out with us online (#NMW ) and be there!
Oppan Gangnam Style!
MTV once was short for ‘Music Television’. Although the name is still the same, these days most of the programming consists of showing the daily lives of celebrities nobody knows. Long live the music video. In a time when record labels and pluggers are not enough to get the attention of an audience, the visual accompaniment of the music seems to be of growing importance. Anybody can upload a video on Youtube, possibly reaching a worldwide audience. At the same time people from all over the world can watch music videos coming from places they had never heard of before. Of course, to gain the attention of the Youtube audience a video needs to offer them something different from the millions of hours of video they have at their disposal.
Luckily there is Asia, where popmusic and music videos are taken very seriously. Popmusic is big business in most Asian Countries, where the first letter of the country defines the genre name of the local mainstream pop. Examples are J-pop and C-pop, from respectively Japan and China. In 1992 Seoij Taji and Boys set the tone for K-pop (Korean popmusic). For several years the genre has been very populair on Youtube, with artists suchs as G- Dragon & Top en Hyuna gaining millions of views from all over the world with their extremely well-produced videos. Until now though, Western mainstream media did not seem to be interested.
In spite of its extravagant style, K-pop generally does not diverge from the path of the usual sweet popmusic subject-matter. Ideals or satire is hard to find in the cotton candy videos Korean idols send into the world on a daily basis. Park Sae-Jung, better known as Psy, kills two birds with one stone though with his hit ‘Gangnam Style’. Psy seems to both use popmusic for social commentary as well as introduce K-pop to a Western mainstream audience with this contagious hit and the accompanying video.
At first glance, the music video for ‘Gangnam Style’ seems to be another K-pop explosion of extreme ideas. Psy raps, sings and dances on top of a skyscraper, on a tennis court and on a bus full of partying eldery Koreans. There are explosions, fireworks, group choreographies and of course a signature dance move. When you take a closer look though, underneath the slick packaging Psy is a plump older man who does not look like your average young and pretty K-pop star. And the luxury in the video (which he directed himself) does not seem to be all it is cracked up to be. While dancing in horse stables or in a parking garage, Psy is subtly adressing South-Korea’s urge for material wealth. The Gangnam district in Seoul symbolizes the very rich 1 % of South-Korea where there are five creditcards for every adult person. In his video Psy seems to be living the life of a wealthy Gangnam man, but this life turns out to be nothing but daydreams. This way he criticises the materialism of Gangnam life which seems to be the highest goal for many Koreans, many of which get into big debts to be able to look wealthy. This article in The Atlantic extensively analyzes the subversive message of ‘Gangnam Style’.
Next to its subversive social commentary ‘Gangnam Style’ of course is a catching song, which turned in to a Youtube hit thanks to its bizarre video. Many other K-pop artists went down this road and never reached an audience beyond their Youtube followers. Psy seems to be a different case though. After gaining 100 million views in a month even the mainstream media could not ignore the online phenomenon. Dutch radiostation 3FM at first played the song because of the video, but has now included it in their daily rotation. Other radiostations followed, making ‘Gangnam Style’ enter into waiting rooms and building sites all over the country. If MTV would still show music videos, Psy would probably be dancing on your tv screen at an hourly rate. A Korean song ridiculing a posh neighbourhood in Seoul just reached the top ten of the Dutch music charts, and it probably won’t be the last megahit from an unexpected music industry to make its way to a Western mainstream audience, not in the least thanks to Youtube.
An A to Z of K-Pop, 27 October 2012 @ Theater Kikker
Simba, the last Prince of Ba’ath Country
Foundland, a young art, design and research practice based in Amsterdam, presented a sparkling new version of the publication and a video installation called “Simba, the last Prince of Ba’ath Country” as a preview to the upcoming Impakt Festival at PRESENT! this week in BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, in Utrecht.
The publication “Simba, the last Prince of Ba’ath Country” is available to buy for 10,- Euro. Please send an email to lauren[at]foundland.org to order a digitally printed copy.
Foundland will also publish an Arabic version of ‘Simba’ within a few days on the creative publishing platform Cargo Collective, with the support of HIVOS and the Impakt Festival 2012.
Read a fictional interview between Foundland & the image-maker on their Syrian rev. digital propaganda portal that was presented as a double-side projection for PRESENT!
FOUNDLAND’S WORK TOWARDS “NO MORE WESTERNS”
Foundland investigates the re-appropriation of Internet imagery borrowed from a Western context and transformed as propaganda and protest imagery for the Syrian Revolution. Since 2011, they have been investigating found Internet images from social media. These images have been manipulated by the Syrian Electronic army for the purpose of creating pro-Syrian propaganda. For Impakt Festival 2012, Foundland will be extending their visual research to focus on the use of children’s animated videos as appropriated by the Syrian opposition for the purpose of protest propaganda. They investigate the practice of dubbing videos such as Walt Disney’s “The Lion King” to create a new political fairytale.
Their work will be on display at the festival exhibition in CBKU from 12-28 October.
The opening of the exhibition will take place on Thursday 11 October, 20:00h.
An image overview of Foundland at PRESENT!
Photocredit: Pieter Kers
Step into the world of the GRASS MUD HORSE
The No More Western theme of the Impakt Festival 2012 will guide you amongst others through the digital visual culture of emerging countries such as China.
Do you want to be well prepared for the Festival, please read these blogs about the phenomenon GRASS MUD HORSE, a very cuddly example of a political Internet meme in China: