July 29, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: Nine Yamamoto-Masson in Berlin, Germany

Photo by Kristy Fenton

I'm an ardent follower of Nine Yamamoto-Masson on Facebook where she posts a mixture of political activism, cultural theory, literature, music, art, and her ongoing series of doctor's waiting room pictures. She does so always with a critical edge to it. Intrigued, I googled some more and found her website, came upon her many blogs like Critiki Theory and Ace Elders, and ended up doing a studio visit. I promise: you will get hooked too! 

"Over the years I must have started about ten blogs for various projects (many of them were private blogs) – I see them like notebooks in a way; they’re notes on my research, which is why it makes sense to me to have several blogs. Unlike paper notebooks (which i still keep religiously), blogs are searchable, shareable over a distance, taggable, which allows for cross-referencing and is more conducive to the non-linear thinking that my kind of work sets out to do. Also, the tone of the various blogs is different, hence the need to keep them separate – while one might be is serious and meticulous (i.e. a research blog I did about experimental film and video art from the Phillippines for my upcoming project Philipelikula – organising my research in this format allowed me to share it with collaborators who live on the other side of the world), another might be tongue-in-cheek (like my blog Critiki Theory; I found this kind of humour an appropriate form through which to critique cultural appropriation and exoticisation in Western pop culture through the lens of the Tiki craze) or straight-up shamelessly diving into the wonderful medium of tumblr with a joyful collection of cats in art in my tumblr called the Museum of Contemporary Cats (I owe credit for the name to my dear friends Mika Linn Conradie, Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi and Tess Maunder). 

But the blog that most reflects my personal learning practise is Ace Elders, a tumblr in praise of artists, filmmakers, writers, theorists that are not as well known as they deserve to be (many – but not all – from an older generation) who are Not White Men (NWM). Besides presenting people who do important work that I love, this blog charts my "homework" learning about artists who are not often talked about or overlooked in western academia and art institutions. 

This past year actually I have made a very conscious decision and steady commitment to read a lot outside the regular Western canon; this includes the white feminist canon as well. We must remember that a lot of the elite art / academic discourse comes from a system that is complicit in the oppression of many marginalised groups, and must remember that access to these forums is granted through privilege (I for one am not exempt from many forms of privilege). Things that might seem obvious — writing in English, using a certain vocabulary, allusions, academic references, etc – should not be taken for granted. People who are dyslexic for example have a much harder time participating in text-based media. 

As a music-obsessed teenager I would religiously comb through interviews, liner notes, zines, distros etc for references to other musical influences and then study up on those, studiously following the genealogies, cross-pollination, incestuousness, mythologies, adventurousness etc of these bands (not only in terms of music, but also art, literature, politics), and thus build up a rhizomatic network of cultural players, textures and references  – this is more or less how I still do it, and it’s become so much easier with the Internet. I love this nerdy notion of homework, and I love research, it makes me feel like a detective. I love nothing more than getting recommendations for books, artists, films, music etc from friends and looking them up. So the premise of my blog Ace Elders is that I follow my friends' recommendations or interesting names I come across in my research and collect my findings in this blog format. It allows for a more casual, editable, tag gable and steadily evolving archive of fragments of research and is better-suited to the lifestyles that many people like me lead, where time to do research is a luxury, so at least we can chart it in little increments though these digital tools." 

"My background is in literature, film, critical theory, and cultural studies, art history, and currently I’m doing a PhD in Cultural Analysis / Media Studies. It’s a lot of disciplines because of the way university works in France and Germany, where I studied (Sorbonne and Humboldt) and I also did a few exchange semesters or years in other universities (NYU, Goldsmiths, Tokyo Waseda) – I was always very curious and would take any occasion I had to dip into other disciplines too, taking far more classes than required. 

In real-life-terms, my background is multicultural (always being a foreigner anywhere I go and having most of my close friends also being of this kind of embodies cultural hybridity has been very influential and actually inspirational to my work, outlook and approach) and i count punk (and by extension queer / feminist / experimental music spaces) as  cultural background as well, it has been just as influential as what I studied at university, and is by far a more inclusive cultural arena speaking in terms of class. 

I’ve had more jobs than I can count (I’m a freelancer and have done all kinds of those typical precarious creative jobs to support my studies and art projects), including working in a gallery for about 5 years on&off – I learned a lot about the commercial art market during that time, it was a fascinating look into the entanglements of capital, art, rhetorics and power. Another of my professional occupations is being a translator and occasionally an interpreter (mostly for art texts, but also critical theory, social work, political activism, literature … ), I really enjoy that as I like spending time working on texts in depth, and translation gives you this unique look into the bowels of a text’s argumentative logic, lyrical gestalt, it gives you an appreciation for the possibilities and limitations of each language; you often have to do quite a lot of research for the specialised texts – it’s really quite fascinating. I’ve translated many art texts, and it’s curious to see how some texts that might read OK at first fall apart during translation, when you realise it’s only International Art English gibberish… Which of course has made me try to avoid this in my own writing (emphasis on “try”, it’s an ongoing process… )  

So with all this I suppose I can say I have a certain knowledge of how language and representation operates within structures of power, oppression and exploitation, and a natural distrust of anything considered standard or status quo. I follow international politics quite closely and try to read non-mainstream media too. All of this flows into my perspective on art, on what art is and can do, on the difference between art and “the art world”, the material conditions of art-making and the coming-into-being of art through artists, art workers and also non-artists and the vital importance of an ongoing communication between art and the (real, messy, human) world."

Art scene
"Being mostly based in Berlin, it’s hard to understand my local art scene on the national level – in many ways Berlin does not work the same as art scene in other German cities, and it doe very much elevate itself above it, also through its deep enmeshment with the art scenes of other Western art capitals like New York, London, etc. I would say that Berlin is an extremely commercially-driven art scene and very institutionalised; impermeable to institutional critique as it has preemptively absorbed and bought out critique in ways akin to corporate capitalism. The art scene of Berlin, like that of most other art metropoles, is governed by a cultural and economic elite (typically middle/upper class moneyed able-bodied white people, many of them North American and British expats who went through elite education). This development has been accelerating in the past 7-8 years and is closely intertwined with the rise of Berlin’s economic power, its attractively to the tech sector and thus to real-estate speculation and rampant gentrification. 

I see the art scene I belong to less as “Berlin” and rather as a vast network of other like-minded people and networked art communities around the world who work on similar issues and also work on developing this kind of critical research practise (e.g. my art partners are in Delhi, San Fancisco, Manila… ). We are in steady contact through chat, email, collaborative online tools and private Facebook groups. The internet and a digital way of thinking have been very empowering and productive in this understanding of a self-organising and resilient networked fluid international art community." 

"No, I wouldn’t even know how to do that… The entire correlation of art / thought / creativity / criticality to money mystifies me still, and in a way i think it is one of the biggest issues facing artists these days (the way in which capital plays out across, dictates, directs, or marginalises streams of thought, taste, affiliations, affect…)"

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