Dirty Beaches #NMW Mixtape
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 - Author: impakt
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
Tuesday, 30 October 2012 - Author: Max Urai
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
Sunday, 28 October 2012 - Author: Max Urai
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
Sunday, 28 October 2012 - Author: Max Urai
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
Saturday, 27 October 2012 - Author: Bas van de Kraats
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.