June 28, 2015

Jambo! An Art Lover and Blogger in Tanzania

Jambo or how to say hello in Swahili

You probably want to know what an art blogger and lover does in her two weeks vacation. Well, it is perfectly doable to avoid art for two weeks: I just did - kind of. I saw a lot of animals instead. I visited my sister who lives in Tanzania, a country where the hakuna matata philosophy flourishes together with a rich wildlife. Hakuna matata or not, I was almost eaten by a group of lions (tip: keep the car window closed) and also the hippos lingered dangerously in the pond. But in the end it was a tiny ant that got at me and it did so not in the savanna but at the Infiniti swimming pool in Zanzibar. The creature stung me in my leg and left a big poisonous red spot of 30 centimeters width. I thought I was gonna die right there. But yup, I survived! The only other health issue I had on my vacation was that for the very first time I got terribly sea sick. It happened on the ferry from Zanzibar (tip: take the ferry in the morning when the sea is less wild).  

A giraffe saying hello.

Okay, admitted, for an art lover it is hard to avoid art even on vacation. As a tourist, of course I ended up buying a cute wooden giraffe in a road shop. Then I shopped some more at the Tingatinga art market in Dar El Salaam. And in Zanzibar I came upon the beautiful cushion covers made by the women collective SASIK. In Stonetown I admired the clocks collected by the sultans in their Sultan Palace, accompanied by a sultan size mirror and a sultan size bed (which is bigger than king size). It’s always interesting to see where people slept, isn't it. In the same Palace they  reconstructed the bedroom of Sayyida Salme, daughter of Sultan Said and author of Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar

A souvenir

For an art blogger, it's also very hard to stay offline. So I discovered a few fellow bloggers in Dar El Salaam - Elsie Eyakuze writes about Tanzania, feminism and culture, and the artist Miguel Costales posts his painterly impressions of Tanzanian life. Yes, blogging even defined my vacation literature - I read the great novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which is about a Nigerian blogger in the USA. Exploring Tanzania online, I also came upon this East-African online TV called NewzBeat, run by young hiphop activists who want to change the way news is created and consumed by rapping it. Yo!

Sultan-size bed at the Sultan Palace, Stonetown

Vacation brought me back home even before hitting Berlin soil. Not only because the above mentioned Syyida Salme was a princess who fled to Germany. But also because of the slave market in Stonetown, where slavery existed until 1907, just a century ago. I visited the basement where slaves were kept before being auctioned and this narrow space, without light and air, has a most oppressive atmosphere ever. Outside the Scandanavian artist Clara Sörnäs created life-size statues of slaves bearing original chains. Our guide showed us a map of the triangle that marked the slave trade: Africa - America - Europe. It is a triangle that still affects nowadays society. Take Berlin as an example. On August 8 a guided tour will be organised by Berlin Postkolonial at the M*straße in Berlin - a street name that, quite unbelievably, is still being used not only because in our society it's largely ignored how language can harm, but also because it deals with a history that Germany likes to deny: its very own participation in the transatlantic slave trade, visualised on that map in Stonetown.

Clara Sörnäs, Memory for the Slaves, 1997-1998, Stonetown

June 10, 2015

On Holiday! Meanwhile: Two Art Recommendations for June

I'm on vacation starting right now! But I don't want to leave you in a lurch. You don't have to miss out on art just because I'm at the beach. So here are two recommendations of what to see before I come back in July:

1. Black Mountain College exhibition in Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum for Gegenwart - Berlin

Keywords: splendid exhibition - great exhibition architecture (raumlaborberlin) - awesome catalogue (the expertise of Catherine Nichols combined with the graphic design of cyan) - and a great inspiration for today's artists

2. homecomings: PROJECTIVE SPACE, an exhibition curated by Cassandra Edlefsen Lasch and Annabelle von Girsewald, 2 May - 27 June 2015, Kurfürstenstraße 13, Thursday-Saturday 11am-6pm

Keywords: amazing space (Tacita Dean and Thomas Demand have their studio in this building and you'll understand why) - well curated - good art - and good question: what can it mean to return "home"? - and artist Hreinn Fridfinnsson is the reason why I started this blog!

Hreinn Fridfinnsson, Illustration, 2014

Samuel Dowd, Szene IV: das Tropenhaus
(in dem wir über den Tisch gezogen wurden)
, 2015

Elín Hansdóttir, Balancing Bricks, 2013

Tanaz Modabber, a node's prosody, 2015

June 9, 2015

Berlin Art Lovers: Kimberly Meenan - Living in a Shoebox

Check out also Kimberly Meenan's blog slow shoes. my life in a shoebox!

Art Blogger of the Week: Kathleen April Tompsett in Tarragona, Spain

Zoo Without Animals is a special name for an art blog. That's because Kathleen April Tompsett likes to use her imagination and with her blog she inspire ours too. Kathleen also likes literature and poetry. She likes modern art. She likes music. And she likes to make visual compositions. And that's exactly what you sense in her blog - the pleasure that drives it. And it's generous in sharing the pleasure with you. "Your blog is drawn to beauty", a commenter wrote. If you too want to follow up daily, check out Kathleen's Facebook and Instagram.

Art scene 
"Currently I live in Tarragona, Spain where the art scene is quite minimal, but it's only an hour away from the vibrant city of Barcelona. My blog is not at all focused on any one location though, I am from Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, and the UK so I am interested in blogging from an international perspective.  Now I work as a writer for an Art and Culture magazine in Barcelona, so I am very active in the local art scene -my job entails going to at least 3 exhibitions per week. In terms of the Barcelona art scene, there are many small galleries which represent young artists at the beginning of their career, and there are two main trends I've noticed: a lot of work related to street art, and a lot of illustrative work, made by illustrators crossing over into art. It's still quite conservative here in a way, and there is not a great deal in the way of really conceptual or installation art, for example." 

"I started my blog about two years ago as a way to keep in touch with art. I had just finished studying Art and Creative Writing at university and I was in Spain teaching English. At university I'd always loved researching artists, actually this was an important part of our assessment, keeping a file with artists who we were looking at, and I missed it. So basically I started the blog as a way to continue my university research file. And I love it because it motivates me to discover new artists or learn more about artists I already knew. In my blog I don't want to review or criticize, just to share things which are beautiful or interesting to me, I love when I have a story or anecdote to explain the background of a piece. Having art in my life keeps me happy and makes me feel more alive. I haven't really connected with other bloggers yet, but I would like to, I feel it's something I'm missing out on."

"At university I studied Art and Creative Writing. Currently I'm taking a print-making course, but other than that I don't make much art now. I've become more interested in learning about other artists, particularly within modern and contemporary art. After graduating I taught English for a bit, I worked at a literature festival in Trinidad (Bocas Lit Fest) and now I'm writer and editor at a new arts and culture magazine. It's the perfect job for me because I can combine art and writing, and I have an excuse to spend a lot of time at art exhibitions! On one hand it helps my blog because I see so much art and I am learning to write about it in more depth, but on the other hand I spend all my time working with art so I no longer feel such a strong need to do my own art research. As a result my posts are much less frequent than they use to be, but I hope that if there's a decrease in quantity, at least there is an increase in quality." 

"I don't receive any money from my blog, I'd love to, but I don't know how! It definitely has benefited me in other ways though, for example as a kind of portfolio, a sample of my writing and tastes, and as a gauge of the extent of my interest and knowledge of art, which has been very useful when applying for jobs and other opportunities."

June 8, 2015

Literary Dining 2: Repetition with Craig Schuftan

A cruel enigma. Photo: Akane Kimbara

I've already told you about my passion for Gertrude Stein, I've already told you about Picasso's diet in Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, and I've already told you I'm a fan of the art writing of Craig Schuftan. Well, imagine these three together and that's what the second Literary Dinner at Entretempo Kitchen Gallery on Saturday May 30 was like! Plus you can understand immediately that there's a benefit to repetition. 

Remember, the first literary dinner was about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Wolfgang Müller and Goethe's mother's Grüne Soße. The second one was conceptualised as a homage to Gertrude Stein. Tainá Guedes food-curated the "Dishes for Artists" based on Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, preparing her recipe for Picasso. Here it is in Toklas' own words: "What sauce would Picasso's diet permit. I would give him a choice. The soufflé would be cooked in a well-buttered mould, placed in boiling water and when sufficiently cooked turned into a hollow dish around which in equal divisions would be placed a Hollandaise sauce, a cream sauce and a tomato sauce. It was my hope that the tricoloured sauces would make the spinach soufflé look less nourishing. Cruel enigma, said Picasso, when the soufflé was served to him." 

Ducks! performing The World Is Round. Photo: Akane Kimbara
As a Guest of Honour I invited art writer Craig Schuftan. For the special occasion Craig Schuftan together with Lani Bagley performed a song based on Gertrude Stein's children book The World is Round. They did so as their duo-band Ducks!, for which repetition is key as it is for Gertrude Stein's writing. I made a video in which the music is nicely mixed with the kitchen sounds of Entretempo Kitchen Gallery (you can almost smell the soufflé, can't you!) The first part of the performance is missing because of a technical problem of my very sophisticated equipment but you can read the whole story in Stein's The World Is Round

Following the Venice Biennial I told you about this little theory of mine that I developed and it is about how material in the arts is having its last surge at the moment before rhythm (and the immaterial) will take over. So after the dinner, I was eager to meet again with Craig Schuftan, whose writing focusses on the intersection of art and music, to talk some more about rhythm, more exactly its repetitive part. In the interview that follows Craig Schuftan talks about Gertrude Stein's use of repetition and the importance of repetition in the music of the 20th century. We even end up with a prognosis about the ongoing 21st century! The resulting podcast is my very first contribution to Soundcloud (and a transcript will follow soon). 

June 4, 2015

Guest Writer Claudio Cravero, Venice Biennale 3: "Art is On-the-air"

This is the third contribution of Claudio Cravero in a series about the Venice Biennale. He started with the Icelandic Pavilion, then he tracked down the presence of the Middle East at the Biennale, and for this one Claudio spent time on the water together with the Safina Radio Project. It was not in a traditional gondola nor on a giant cruise ship, but... 

Monica Naruala and Anabelle de Gersigny, Safina Radio Project, St. Mark's Basin, Venezia

On the occasion of the three-day preview of the Biennale di Venezia (May 6-8) one had the opportunity to cut through the waterways of the lagoon on a temporary radio station. Restricted to a small numbers of passengers selected by a first-come first-serve basis, Safina Radio Project, a broadcasting station in disguise on a water-taxi, set out from the Arsenal Navy Officer’s Club.

Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta on board, Safina Radio Project

Commissioned by Alserkal Avenue (the Dubai’s art hub district) and curated by Anabelle de Gersigny (curator at Tashkeel, a non-profit space in Dubai), Safina Radio Project hosted a series of readings, lectures and conversations around the main issues of migration and utopia within the wide Middle Eastern and South Asian areas.
With the exception of the official launch in Venice, where Safina Radio Project physically took shape as a tiny ship (N.b. Safina in Arabic means “boat”), the radio is meant to be a floating online incubator that gathers different streams of content, from written interviews to audio conversation, and naturally sound playlists.

Raqs Media Collective on board, Safina Radio Project

Safina, however, is not the first example of an artistic radio project. The historical and well-known Clock Tower Radio was founded in 1972 by New York’s PS.1-MoMa and up till now it still gives us updates about art and exhibitions around the world. But what literally sounds innovative in Safina is the fact that by taking advantage of something that already exists (web-net and satellites), new artistic projects are created that avoid the sense of sight and may reach also unthinkable places where art is sometimes hard to find. Needless to say that Safina Radio was born like many other projects did -  out of need. It was the brainchild of Anabelle de Gersigny, who over the past few years used to commute from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and felt the necessity to listen to cultural programs while driving. Actually, a constructive criticism is particularly needed in the broader Gulf Region and in the Arabian Peninsula. The art debate is almost absent among local artists and professionals, and nary in the art magazines (Canvas and Harpers Bazaar Art, among others), which are in the end more descriptive than critical.

Safina Radio Project, Small Canal, Venezia

Navigating the quiet canals in Venice one had the chance to enjoy the Raqs Media Collective, a group founded in India by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta. Unlike their provocative and high-sounding monuments within All The World’s Futures in the Giardini, the group’s conversation on the boat was poetically suave, and multiple voices softly punctuated the journey. While the artists were fully immersed in reciting their theatrical plot about the urgency of remembering against the current loss of collective memory, a second dialogue intertwined the first: a reflection on the concept of history by Ibn Khaldoun, the Muslim philosopher who in the 13th Century extended the mere notion of history, up to then solely considered as a time-sequence, to the human and social context in the Arab World.

Raqs Media Collective, "Coronation Park”, 2015,
nine fiberglass sculptures on bitumen coated wooden pedestal,
Giardini La Biennalle di Venezia

If in Venice Safina Radio got off the ground (or should we say “the waters”…), then now it is time to fly, expanding its waves, maybe experimenting new ways of curating, and rekindling that interaction that makes art a living matter.

Claudio Cravero

June 3, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: Olga Pastor Alvarado in London, UK

Olga Pastor Alvarado knows about art in Spain and the UK! Her writing in her blog is in both Spanish and English! Here she tells us what differences and similarities there are to be found between both. But that is not the only awesome part of Olga Pastor Alvarado: she has also an own business with illustration cards - and here I must admit that the cards and gadgets in the art bookstore are what make me linger there for so long, very much to the indignation of the salespeople at Walther König bookstore in the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum. Yesterday I actually bought two postcards by Andy Warhol ("thank you for being so nice" and "you can lead a shoe to water but you can't make it drink") but now I'm definitely going to widen my realm and check out Olga's online store. If you want to keep up with Olga's writing, you can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Art scene
"I'm from Spain but I've been living in London for almost five years now. I can't place myself exclusively in one or the other. Both are very important to me. London is a big ball, with artists from all over the world. Each artist shows a bit from his/her culture, and at the same time they have the streets of London in common. Because we are all here, we all learn everyday about the others’ cultures and minds. Art from Londoners is fresh and inspiring. It’s quick witted and easy to digest. I can't define a specific trend here. We are surrounded by everything at the same time, with an extreme urgency of exploding and covering the city with beauty and hope. Artists like Ha Young Kim, from Seoul or the Spanish Saelia Aparicio are good examples of this. Hungry Londoners full of colour and ideas. The Spanish art world is a bit different. Everything is more local but it also has a lot of diversity. Spain is a controversial country, with a lot of social issues. There are trends there that try very hard to shine a light on these issues, and fight for, or against them, with very different languages. Art in Spain is a big deal. Something serious. It's more reflective, and in some ways more mature. A good example is the international Eugenio Merino, who satirises with the past and present of the country in most of his pieces. Not everything is about looking at our own belly button, don't think I'm saying that. Spain is a very prolific country, when it comes to artists, and each one has his/her way to say hello to the world. The thing I most appreciate about Spanish art scene is the unconditional love for painting. There are a lot of different ways to make art, of course, but artists have always had this big respect for the old masters. Spain is the land of Goya, and no one forgets that."   

"I've started my actual blog at some point in 2013, but I've been blogging since 2005. I've always liked writing and that's why I started it. At the beginning it was not just art, it was more of a personal blog. Very immature. Later, because of my job, I started to write more articles about art and I started to be more focused. Now, my blog is a way to let people know me and know the artists I like. I write about exhibitions, art fairs and auctions. I also post the articles I write for others publications such art magazines or catalogues. Blogs are a perfect way to stay connected with other agents of the art scene, and to read a lot of different points of view. I learn a lot by reading other blogs. Internet is a door open to the world and everyone is free to share their opinions. We now have the chance to read articles from people from all over the art scene, to compare and choose our preferences. Art writing is huge now, it’s immediate, and it’s easy to find bloggers who raise the bar and contribute a lot. Also the contraire, of course, but that’s the magic of that door. We, as readers, have to learn as well what deserves our attention and what doesn’t."   

"I've studied History of Art and I have a MBA in Arts Management. I like the art market and I'd like to one day find the solution to this crazy situation of speculation around the art scene. It's unfair for everyone and for the magnificence of the word: ART. Meanwhile, while I look for enlightenment to solve that problem, I work at Tate Museum, I'm sub editor of Art in Brit Es Magazine and I have my own business of illustration and greeting cards. Tackycardia is just one year old, and we use irony and a strange sense of humour to offer an alternative to the traditional cards market. Please, have a look!" 

"The most valuable thing I take from my blog is self-promotion. Because of it some artists, publications, and other agents have contacted me, inviting me to visit their studios, to write for catalogues or magazines, or to just have a drink and a chat. My blog has brought me some paid jobs but that is not its main purpose."

Literary Dining 1: Metamorphosis with Wolfgang Müller

Wolfgang Müller and the translation of Goethe's "Metamorphosen der Pflanzen" into Icelandic by Jon Atlason, published by the Walther von Goethe Foundation.
Photo: Stefan Müller

What is a punk attitude in 2015? Now that even the car producer Oppel uses Iggy Pop’s The Passenger in its advertising , punk seems to have lost its aesthetics and its content. However, I can tell you that the punk attitude is still very much alive. Wolfgang Müller, guest of honor at the first literary dinner of Entretempo Kitchen Gallery, is the living proof. In the 1980s, when Müller had the artist band Die Tödliche Doris, his punk attitude didn’t manifest itself so much in leather jackets decorated by razor blades and safety pins. And also on this Friday night, May 2015, at Entretempo Kitchen Gallery, Wolfgang Müller didn’t look particularly punk  -  I mean, he was not even wearing his cap of the Icelandic Kaupthing bank, which crashed in 2008 and ruined the country. But of course, the blue eyes were there and especially in combination with a blue shirt they transmit this kind of subversive punk energy that makes you feel a little nervous but also wide awake. 

Preparing the Grüne Soße in the kitchen of Entretempo Kitchen Gallery.
Photo: Stefan Müller

How is Wolfgang Müller punk in 2015, you ask? It’s in the way he touches upon things, which manifests itself not only in his art work, but also when he talks. Wolfgang Müller likes to talk a lot and it can actually be considered to be an intrinsic part of his art work. At the dinner table, while eating Goethe’s mother’s grüne Soße deliciously prepared by Tainá Guedes, he was talking as the Director of the Walther von Goethe Foundation Reykjavik. While talking Wolfgang Müller manages to change the rhythm of things. This has to do with the way he touches upon a subject that has this certain corporeality, this fixated body to it (in this case “Johann Wolfgang von Goethe”). He cracks it open to a level that transcends this body so that a metamorphosis can take place - more in particular, in the head of the observer, slightly shifting beliefs, convictions and conventions that existed before. It can be seen on the faces of the dinner guests, changing during the evening from being amused to being confused and back again. Laughing is a most common reaction when things get out of one's control. The punkness of Wolfgang Müller is, as guest photographer Stefan Müller put it, “complete chaos and fun! As it should be.”

Having a blast! Wolfgang Müller showing us his art piece "Incredible Women", consisting of autograph cards - this one by Leni Riefenstahl, exhibited in Reykjavik in 1998
as part of the Walther von Goethe Foundation. Photo: Stefan Müller 

Fitting to our 20th/21st century Zeitgeist, Wolfgang Müller’s talking involves repetition. His repetition is comparable to The Philosophy of Andy Warhol’s “From A to B and Back Again”. That's why I had heard the story of the Walther von Goethe Institute before but it was only at Entretempo Kitchen Gallery, upon hearing it again, that it dawned on me what it really was about. The official Goethe Institute closed in Iceland in 1998 because of so-called budget reasons, whereas simultaneously new Institutes in other countries (I forgot which ones, somewhere East) were opened. The original purpose of the Goethe Institute was to show that Germany (after World War II) had also something like a culture to offer. But this cultural aim became more and more defined by politics and economy over the years. When culture is solely defined by economy, culture disappears. So Wolfgang Müller opened the first private Goethe Institute in Reykjavik. Its symbol was the mirrored Goethe Institute logo and instead of German the science of sex, dwarfs, and elves was taught. 

Literary Dining. Photo: Stefan Müller

Müller’s private Goethe Institute itself metamorphosed, changing in the perception from being an art project to being a reality that attracted people like the Icelandic Ambassador. Finally the legal problems that followed this shift in perception made Müller change the name into the Walther von Goethe Foundation, named after the gay grandchild of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Walther von Goethe was the last in line of the Goethes. Plenty of metamorphoses took place during the literary dining night at Entretempo Kitchen Gallery - me included. I was wearing Müller’s bird ring with the number 252 461. When I die, it has to be returned to the ornithological station of Helgoland together with my travel itinerary. Also here Müller touches upon the new rhythm that started in the 20th century when people became like birds, flying around all the time. And at the very end of this literary dining evening, we were all metamorphosed in such a way that we considered Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to be the proto-punk origin of punk history. 

Wolfgang Müller displaying visual evidence. Photo: Stefan Müller