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Articles, Community, Music

Josh Savage – Living Room Tourist

January 19, 2017

Josh Savage Photo: Common Spark Media

Last year,  TTDOG featured one of  London’s finest troubadours, Josh Savage as he was releasing his 2nd EP, a first french-language offering: Quatre Épines.

Savage creates a direct connection with his ardent followers through the vulnerability of his lyric, the poignancy of his voice and his virtuosity as a musician. What sets Josh apart from others in the industy is his absolute committment to intimate living room performances throughout the world.  When we last saw Josh, he had completed his living room tour of Europe to promote Quatre Épines and was awaiting the release of a film documenting his unprecedented tour.  The film, The Living Room Tour, by independent filmmaker Duncan Trevithick, follows Josh Savage as he plays 44 gigs throughout the summer.

We caught up with Savage to discuss The Living Room Tour,  a Winchester Short Film Festival Official Selection, released last month.

 Sofar Sounds inspired me with the concept.  Living Room Tours are the only way I can tour independently on a large scale and guarantee an attentive audience.

TTDOG asked Savage whether filming the tour impacted on the intimacy his audiences have come to expect in his concerts.

Being documented takes some getting used to.  it didn’t feel like it impacted the intimacy of my shows however.  I guess cameras are more commonplace in today’s society.

Did Savage have a single favourite moment captured in the film?

My optimism about chewing gum when my car was broken into.  At the time, I was in shock so I can’t remember what I said but I’m glad I’m able to see the light at the end of the tunnel in nightmare situations.

Just 24, he reminds dreamers of all ages to follow their hearts.  In a message to his fans at the launch of the film, Savage called The Living Room Tour:

A short documentary about choosing yourself as an artist.  About not waiting for the gatekeepers to say yes.  About finding your own path to your own definition of success.

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TTDOG asked Savage whether there was something for which he was particularly grateful in the making of the documentary.

I’m most grateful for the wonderful people I met on the road who supported me and keep me going to this day.  It’s lovely to have a documentary to reflect back on the adventure and I hope it will inspire new artists to take the plunge and follow their passion.

 

Savage has inspired thousands through his performances and music.  His latest single, Whisper in the Snow, featuring Alice Pearl will launch tonight in London before Savage heads out on the road for his 2017  Living Room “Whisper in the Snow” Tour this Friday, 20 January.  

 

 

Follow Josh Savage on his Website,  Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, YouTube and Twitter

Articles, Community, Happiness

Action for Happiness: A Social Movement, Creating Happiness

June 28, 2016
Lord Richard Layard speaks at an Action for Happiness Event (Photo courtesy of Action for Happiness)

Lord Richard Layard speaks at an Action for Happiness Event

Last month, TTDOG featured an article on Lord Richard Layard who, together with Sir Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan, founded Action for Happiness.  In this article we depart from featuring an individual making a difference to introduce a group of individuals in a worldwide movement working together to create as much happiness in the world as possible, and as little misery: Action for Happiness.

 

Left to Right: Geoff Mulgan, Sir Anthony Seldon and Matthieu Ricard

Left to Right: Geoff Mulgan, Sir Anthony Seldon and Matthieu Ricard.

 

TTDOG interviewed the director of Action for Happiness, Dr. Mark Williamson and Head of Campaigns and Communications, Alex Nunn, who agreed to speak on behalf of the organisation.

 

Director of Action for Happiness, Dr. Mark Williamson speaking at an Action for Happiness Event

Director Dr. Mark Williamson speaking at an Action for Happiness Event

 

TTDOG:  What is the mission of Action for Happiness?  How do you hope to achieve this?

AfH:  Action for happiness is a movement of people taking action for a happier and more caring world. We bring this about by provoking people to think more deeply about where happiness really comes from, with learning from the latest wellbeing research, and helping them commit to taking action in their own lives. These actions go on to benefit and inspire others in their families, workplaces, and communities. It is through the collective force of these ripples that we hope to see values shifting in society.

 

Action for Happiness is organised as a UK based not for profit organisation as part of the Registered Charity, The Young Foundation.  Action for Happiness is run by a Board of experts in various fields related to Happiness and a team of dedicated volunteers.  The organisation hosts large events in London with inspiring guest speakers and self-managing groups meet worldwide. The organisation has provided a (by-donation) 8 week course ‘Exploring What Matters,’ which is facilitated by volunteers, to help these self-managed groups get started.  The patron of Action for Happiness is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

 

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, at an Action for Happiness event

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, at an Action for Happiness event

 

According to the Action for Happiness website:  “Everyone’s path to happiness is different. Based on the latest research, we have identified 10 Keys to Happier Living that consistently tend to make life happier and more fulfilling. Together they spell “GREAT DREAM.”

 

Action for Happiness' Ten Keys to happier living

Action for Happiness’ Ten Keys to happier living

 

The letters in GREAT DREAM stand for:  Giving to others; Relating, because as we have seen from the work of Layard and others, relationships are the greatest contributor to happiness; Exercising, because we feel better when we’re fit and healthy; Awareness, because it’s impossible to be happy if we are not present in the moment.  Living mindfully helps us to be aware of our emotions, including happiness; Trying Out, because people who try new things throughout life are able keep the brain healthy and feel happier.  Direction, because people who have goals and a sense of purpose are happier; Resilience, because having the tools to bounce back from hard times is key to long term happiness; Emotions, because paying attention to, and generating more positive emotions, like gratitude, helps us feel happy; Acceptance, because it is not possible to be happy with ourselves until we accept ourselves – warts and all; and Meaning, because happy people cultivate a feeling of being part of something greater than themselves.

These are the keys, according to the organisation, to build a happier life.   However, the mission of the organisation is not just to focus on each individual’s happiness, but to create more happiness in the world.

 

 

TTDOG:  In what ways are the members of Action for Happiness taking action in the world to promote happiness?

AfH:  Everyone’s journey is different, and the actions they take along the way can be really diverse: we have members who do small daily acts of kindness, helping out strangers, picking up litter, practicing mindfulness to reduce quick-tempers and stress, to people who quit high-paid jobs that aren’t making them happy to try out something new. It’s great to see that a lot of our members also take action to support the mission and movement also (e.g. volunteering to run one of our courses, host a local gathering or set-up a happy cafe).

London’s first happy cafe, the Canvas Cafe in East London will be featured next in this series of articles.  It provides a venue for people to meet, share conversation and to attend events related to self improvement, the arts and – of course – Happiness.

 

TTDOG:  Critics of positive psychology and the happiness movement might say that the focus on individual happiness and wellbeing leads to a society of selfish and isolated individuals. Does the pursuit of happiness make people more or less concerned about social justice and issues like rising inequality in the world?

AfH:  There are two reasons why people fail to stand up for social justice issues, either they are insufficiently aware, or they insufficiently care. Taking happiness seriously helps with both. When we start to look at where happiness really comes from in our own lives two things tend to happen: we gain perspective on the things that don’t matter, that distract us and fill our heads with unnecessary stress, and pay more attention to the things that really do, particularly the importance of our connections to other people. This shift frees up people’s minds to become more aware of what is going on around them, and cultivates caring for others – the very foundations of a social conscience. It’s also worth noting that relationship between inequality and materialism, the fact that we’re in the collective habit of seeking happiness in the insatiable consumption of stuff, and the pursuit of ‘wealth’ which provides it.  A more enlightened understanding of happiness can be quite helpful in liberating people from this.

 

Action for Happiness members

Action for Happiness members

 

Like all organisations, however, it is really the ‘tone at the top’ that creates a pervasive ethos and determines how an organisation will contribute to a society. And so we thought it incumbent upon us to inquire a little into the personal motivations and feelings of those who lead the organisation and its volunteer activities.

 

TTDOG: Why is Action for Happiness important to you, personally?

MW:  As Aristotle said, ‘Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life; the whole aim and end of human existence’. And when you ask parents what they want above all for their children, by far the most common answer is: “to be happy”. So happiness is the thing we want the most for the people we love the most. But in modern society we spend too much time focusing on money, status and possessions – and don’t give enough priority to the things that really matter for a happy life… like good relationships, mental wellbeing and having a sense of purpose. That’s where Action for Happiness comes in. We help people take action to focus on the things that really matter and help contribute to a happier and kinder world.

AN:  My background is in campaigning and activism, but I became deeply frustrated that so much energy in that space is wasted on generating anger (however righteous) towards society’s problems, creating unproductive ‘us and them’ divisions and only very rarely putting forward constructive solutions that everyone can get behind. Action for Happiness to me is exactly that: a positive idea, with the potential to radically improve the world that anyone and everyone can get involved in. Whereas in other movements constantly suffer from activist burnout, our members become happier, more aware and more caring the more they get involved. It’s got such potential, and it’s hugely exciting.

 

Alex Nunn and other Action for Happiness volunteers

Alex Nunn and other Action for Happiness volunteers

 

TTDOG:  Are you a happy person?

 

MW: Yes I’m generally very happy, although like everyone I have my moments of sadness, anger and despair. For me a happy life isn’t about smiling all the time or pretending everything’s fine when it’s not. Rather it’s about being your own authentic self, finding ways to cope with the dark times and learning to respond constructively to what ever life throws at you.

I attribute my happiness to a combination of my upbringing (grateful to have a close and loving family), my good fortune (lucky to have good health, freedom, opportunities and a degree of stability) and my choices (ie habits and behaviours I’ve learned that make a big difference to my wellbeing – eg mindfulness, helping others).

 

AN: The idea of a ‘happy person’ suggests it’s some intrinsic aspect of my personality – which if true, would be pretty unfortunate for anyone who’s not happy right now. I have the same ups and downs as anyone. But when tough times come around I’m really fortunate that I’ve invested time in cultivating skills that contribute to happiness and wellbeing: I’ve trained my mind to notice things I’m grateful for, to seek learning in a challenge that can help me grow, to accept problems without obsessing about them, and if things get too much to step out of my own head for a moment by exercising or doing something kind for someone else. So happiness isn’t about yellow-washing the dark times, it’s about finding ways to accept whatever is happening, remember that happiness is possible, and stay willing to try to make things better for yourself and others.

 

At an Action for Happiness event

At an Action for Happiness event

 

TTDOG:  Action for Happiness recently celebrated their 5 year anniversary.  What have you accomplished?

AfH: We’ve accomplished a lot but we’ve really only just started and there’s so much more to do.

In terms of numbers, we believe our messages have been seen by over 20 million people, around 7m have used the resources on our website, we have nearly a million online followers and over 70,000 signed up members in 160 countries.

Since our launch in 2011 over 100,000 people have taken some kind of personal action based on our ideas, including over 2,000 people who have put themselves forward to run local activities and 200 of these who have been actively running Action for Happiness courses and groups in their local communities.

 

The Action for Happiness 8 week course: ‘Exploring What Matters’ was featured on the BBC, following the Dalai Lama’s visit with Action for Happiness members in London last year:

 

 

 

As is our custom at TTDOG, we asked Mark Williams our final question:  For what are you most grateful and what gives you greatest joy?

I am eternally grateful to my mum and dad for all their love and support and for giving me the most important start for a happy and meaningful life – ie a loving, safe and supportive family environment. I am also hugely grateful to all the amazing and inspiring people who give their time so generously to support Action for Happiness and help bring our vision to life in their communities, schools and workplaces.

 

What gives me greatest joy is spending enjoyable time with the people I love, especially my wife Kate and our three young children. Other things that make me very happy include cycling (a lot!), time with friends, singing in a choir and taking time every day to notice the good things, however small.

 

Messages of gratitude at an Action for Happiness event

Messages of gratitude at an Action for Happiness event

 

TTDOG would like to thank Action for Happiness for providing all the photographs appearing in this article.

 

 

 

For more information on Action for Happiness, follow the links below:

 

 

Action for Happiness Website

Action for Happiness on Facebook

Action for Happiness on Twitter

 

 

Art, Art, Articles, Community, Music, Nature, Oneness, Service

James Wheale and Nomadic Community Gardens – Creating Community through Meanwhile Use

May 2, 2016

High costs and chemical contamination of fresh food is leading more and more individuals to seek to grow at least a portion of their own food, themselves.  But as global populations continue to shift from being rural to city dwellers, gardening can be a challenge.

 

Artwork by Monsù Plin in Nomadic Community Gardens. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Artwork by Monsù Plin in Nomadic Community Gardens. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Urban gardening seeks to fill this void.  Urban gardening is the practice of growing food within a city environment and can involve animal husbandry.  It is a way of mixing urban style and design with nature and can reduce food miles by growing foods local to their use.  Urban gardens help improve biodiversity, reduce urban rainwater runoff and help to mitigate the”heat island” effect caused by the concentration of infrastructure and lack of passageways of cooling air in cities. While most cities are far from the ideal envisioned by forward thinking urban planners, it is possible, with vertical farming, hydroponics, various agricultural technologies, and visionary architectural design, to conceive of a future where cities grow most of what the residents need, within the city confines.  In the meantime, current urban gardens, like those on the High Line in Manhattan, provide relaxing green spaces for residents and revitalise business in the area.

 

Artwork in the Nomadic Community Gardens by Artista

 

Making the most of this growing trend is Nomadic Community Gardens, situated in the heart of the hip East End section of London known as Shoreditch.  Nomadic Community Gardens works with city developers to care for disused urban spaces in a “meanwhile” use as they await planning permission to build.  The space provides a venue for not only gardening but for community gathering of all kinds.  The gardens are called “nomadic” because everything is portable and can be moved to a new location. Beds are built on pallettes to be transportable and to prevent contamination of and by the ground.

 

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On Sunday 1 May, Nomadic Community Gardens celebrated a first birthday.  The joyous celebration comes after several years of hard work to gain land use permission and a year of tenancy in the garden.  The success of the community garden is largely due to the vision and dedication of James (Jimmy) Wheale, co-founder and Director of Nomadic Community Gardens and the next in our series of individuals using their skills to make a difference.

 

James Wheale, co-founder and Director, Nomadic Community Gardens

James Wheale, co-founder and Director, Nomadic Community Gardens.  Art by drzadok.

 

We met with Wheale earlier in the spring to discuss the social enterprise that has brought new life to a disused space off Brick Lane.

 

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“I came across and idea in Berlin, when I was living there several years ago.  It was a meanwhile use of space in an old carpark that they’d gotten the permission to use and so they created a cafe and a garden in a sort of foresty area and I thought: ‘Wow! There’s no reason this kind of thing can’t happen here.'”

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Wheale admits “Continental Europe are light years ahead of us in terms of using space for the meanwhile time period and with a concentration on the creation of communities and the qualitative benefits that they bring to people’s lives,” yet, he was determined to turn his idea into a reality, in London.

When Wheale returned from Berlin, he described the idea to his friend, Junior, who had moved into a flat near to a disused space.  Over the next couple of years,  the two developed a winning proposal for the disused land, and when the land was sold to London Newcastle, they pitched the idea to the new owners.

We’re attempting to act as a conduit between a corporation that finds it difficult to reach communities and the communities who need resources and who need space.  Our project is there to find space and organise it so that communities can make use of it and if local authorities support what we’re doing it becomes more attractive to development companies who are trying to get permission from local authorities to do developments.   If they can subside something in the meantime it almost offsets the damage that can happen in development.”

 

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“Luckily for us,” Wheale says “their leadership has vision and believes in social responsibility and so they allowed it.”

London Newcastle quickly gave approval and although the team hoped to have access to the space in February 2015, in order to prepare the land for the growing season, they only gained access in May.  This meant that there was a tremendous push to get garden beds ready for the remainder of the growing season.  Fortunately, they built over 100 beds, and because of the position of the garden between two railway lines, without overshadowing buildings, the conditions were perfect for growing vegetables.  In a densely occupied city like London, Wheale notes, this “breadth of horizon is unheard of.”  With such a great deal of sunlight, the vegetables grew quickly in the first season and gave the residents the boost they needed to their enthusiasm for urban gardening.

 

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The space was initially leased to Nomadic Community Gardens, to act as caretakers, on an initial 6 month lease.   Wheale admits that he couldn’t demonstrate to the owners that he had done this sort of work before and that the plan would work, and he credits London Newcastle for their faith in the team.

“They took a real chance on us,” he says.

The lease has now been renewed, but the garden could be given 2 months notice, at any time, to vacate the space.  

“But, you know, that’s part of the deal,” he adds.

In anticipation of this, Wheale has been talking with other landowners about taking the garden elsewhere, when London Newcastle begins to develop the land.  Wheale explains that the intent of the project has never been to reclaim land from development but to make use of the resources, for the community, in the meantime.

Beds in the garden are free to residents and the garden is self supporting through the hosting of events that generate a minimal income to cover basic running expenses.  Wheale hopes that in future gardens, development companies could subsidize start up costs to allow gardens to focus on being self sustaining once they are operating.  In this way, the garden does not need to apply for funds from limited charity funding sources.

“Obviously we’ll never be earning big bucks,” Wheale says “but it doesn’t need it.”  

For the Shoreditch Nomadic Gardens, Wheale used in his own savings for start up costs to get the ball rolling.  Some of his investment has been repaid, though he admits that not all of it has.

“The boss always gets paid last,” he says, smiling.

 

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At present, the garden is tended by volunteers, but Wheale has plans to pay certain key roles in the garden and if the garden concept spreads to other areas, he hopes to be able to provide employment opportunities, training and skills development along with community garden resources.

 

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Wheale has a degree in Cultural Studies and has developed an eclectic set of skills.  He worked in construction, and gained problem solving skills and determination in his time in the theatre industry. He has managed bars, where he learned to create ambiance and to nurture the social relationships of a community.  Wheale also has prior experience with organic gardening.  He argues that bringing vegetation into the urban environment is important for increasing biodiversity, and allows wildlife to flourish.  The gardens also provide habitat for bees, which are currently under threat in many countries.

Vegetation, Wheale says, “softens the urban environment so you’re not always facing hard, impenetrable surfaces and there is a sort of therapeutic and health benefit to vegetative life, whether it’s just walking around it or growing it and tending to it and reaping rewards from it.”

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Whilst Wheale likes the idea of offsetting carbon emissions with more vegetation, his main reason for creating the garden, was the social aspect and potential to improve urban quality of life.

 

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“One of the most important things for people is quality of life.  We are the sum of our relationships, and I saw that spaces in cities were being restricted with austerity measures and space is really where we get to build those relationships.  Creating a community garden I thought was important, with the idea of growing vegetables because I felt that was a universal language that would create more cohesion as they all share in an activity.  And that grew into trying to meet the more diverse needs of people in the community.”

 

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In our trips to the garden, TTDOG experienced the great ambience of camaraderie and community.  Friendships have been established and grown through the experience of being a part of the community garden.  TTDOG asked Wheale how community became so important to him.

“It really came from my studies.  It opened my eyes to the way society is structured and the way that structure affects people’s experiences, and I think that there is something to be said for support networks.  We need to feel like people are caring for us and know our name.  Anonymity is a really dangerous kind of experience to fall into and the way that society is organised and the way it atomises people not only affects their quality of life but also means that they’re under a level of consciousness that isn’t really benefitting them.  They’re sort of really propping up something that is benefitting out of them.”

 

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The garden has a wide reach through what Wheale calls various “spheres of influence” from the sphere of the immediate community that tends to their beds to the wider community that comes to the garden for workshops and social events to an even wider sphere of tourists who visit the garden and take ideas back to their own communities. And, because they have so much manpower and materials now, the team at the garden has been able to help other community projects, building beds for other gardens, and hosting workshops for other community gardens.

Nomadic Community Gardens currently hosts skills training in pallete furniture building, pallets bed building and basic DIY skills. There is also knowledge sharing in gardening.

Individuals experience a sense of satisfaction from the relaxed atmosphere and previously frictious relations between different communities have been eased and bridges built between members of these communities who have come together in the garden.

 

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There are cafes in the garden and market stalls can be established to accommodate people’s enterprise.

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The garden plays host to street artists who paint the walls with beautiful murals, musicians who jam on music nights and interactive theatre events.

 

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Art by Fanakapan provides a backdrop for an impromptu market stall in the garden

 

TTDOG wondered how the community might respond when the landlord chooses to develop the land, removing this wonderful oasis for gathering, learning, sharing and gardening.  Wheale philosophised that there may be a saturation point for community resources, when their impact begins to ebb.  This may be because people have had the benefit of it, learned the skills they wanted to learn, or the limit is reached in terms of the number of beds.  At that point, the garden can become more exclusionary than inclusionary and moving to a new location allows a new community to reap the benefits of the life cycle of the public space.

And, when there is a void that is left behind, this can create the impetus for the community, who has had the benefit of the space, to create it for themselves.  His hope is that this can create a kind of community activism to rejuvenate and develop their own public spaces.

 

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TTDOG asked Wheale’s advice on creating a community garden using meantime use:

“Come to me and I’ll give you the lowdown.  I underestimated what it was going to take to get this project off the ground.  There is a whole world of stuff that you have to do from writing literature that inspires people to having the practical knowledge of how to build things to the social knowledge of how to manage relationships, create and hold space and see yourself as the gatekeeper and not the possessor, how to relinquish control and allow stuff to happen organically, and, how to have discipline to turn up and work and inspire.  One of the things is also creating the relationships with the PLCs and have them believe in you.  You have to come with a proper proposal and a plan and some sort of strategy.

It’s no mean feat.  You need to have a bit of self confidence and self love, because there’s been so many times when you think:  ‘Should I just walk away?'”

Wheale looks around at what he and his team have created, and continues:

“It’s not an easy task and it looks great because it’s come through the really hard work of people that believe in it.  But the only way to have more of these gardens is if the communities run them, themselves.  I’d like to provide consultancy and maybe have some sort of a manual and some Youtube videos.”

 

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“You’ve got to be the change you want to see in the world.  One of the beauties of consciousness is that you can learn by doing.  You don’t have to necessarily know how to do, before you do.  There needs to be a certain conviction and a direction of purposeful intention that you go towards a goal and stick with it.  Appreciate the down times and have gratitude for when it’s all coming together.  You just have to start and you’ll find your way.  And you may have a couple of false starts but it’s about the personal journey.

We’re all destined for greatness as long as we tread that road.”

 

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As is our practice at TTDOG, we asked Wheale:

For what are you grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I’m grateful for the experience to experience life. We are eternal spirits that have entered a soul to experience this space time.  And I’m grateful for the tools that I have to experience it.  I’m just happy to try to make the most use of them as I can in my lifetime and hopefully encourage others to live to the maximum of our potential and the fullness of our being.”

 

James Wheale, enjoying the community gathering at Nomadic Community Gardens’ 1st Anniversary Party

 

“My greatest joy is in that experience: the emotions that come from the sensory communications that we have in our life.  As much joy as I can feast myself on, really.  And not without sadness.  I think sadness is as valid an emotion as joy and happiness is.  You need to sit with your pain and work through your demons and I think that everybody has insecurities and everyone has something traumatic happen to them and those are the two defining experiences of our lives, and those are the important things to work on.  

Once you work on those, the door is open for more joy.”

 

Nomadic Community Gardens is located off Brick Lane and is open Monday – Sunday 10 am to 10 pm.  The garden hosts special events and workshops daily. Meeting of Styles UK will hold a major event on the UK bank holiday 27, 28, 29th in the garden with dozens of artists gathering in an annual Paint Jam. The public is welcome to come and watch live painting, enjoy food, music and drinks in a relaxed community setting.

 

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Meeting of Styles wall organised by artist Jim Vision and End of The Line. Various artists are represented.

 

For other events, and to follow Nomadic Community Gardens or to contact James Wheale, click the links to be directed to the Facebook page, Twitter account, or Website.

 

Articles, Community, Compassion, Service

Alexandra Jackman: Youth Advocate for Special Needs and Autism

April 1, 2016

April is National Autism Awareness Month in the United States of America and globally, the world marks World Autism Awareness week from 2 April – 8 April.

Next in our series of individuals, using their skills to make a difference in the world, is 16 year old special needs and autism advocate, Alexandra Jackman.

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Alexandra Jackman. Photo by Susan Harvey Cook.

At the age of 13, Jackman created the 2013 award winning film “A Teen’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating with People with Autism.” The film has been shown and taught in schools across America and exhibited at film festivals around the world. Jackman created a Spanish language version of the film late last year, which Autism Speaks has agreed to include, alongside the original film, in its resources. The original film has been made available to every school principal in America, as a teaching tool and resource, and Jackman is regularly asked to speak at screenings of the film.

Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) “are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” (Autism speaks.org)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum.   Three million people in the U.S. and tens of millions of people are affected by ASD, globally. Despite these high numbers, ASD is still not well understood.

image Attribution Non-commercial

Art by Simon Harris. “Autism Awareness”

 

In advance of Autism Awareness Month, we met with Alexandra Jackman via Skype, to discuss her film and learn how she had become, at such an early age, an advocate for special needs people, particularly those affected by ASD.

 

Special Needs Volunteer and Autism Advocate

Jackman recalls her first exposure, at the age of 8, to a person with special needs. She had been attending a family camp in Vermont and noticed one girl in particular who sat alone with a carer. At first, Jackman assumed the girl wanted to sit alone, but soon decided to approach the young girl and ask if she might join her.  Jackman learned that Jaime had Cerebral Palsy and could not speak, but that she could communicate in other ways.  Getting to know her, and understanding both the girl’s special needs and what they shared in common was the spark that ignited a passion within Jackman to engage with peers with special needs.

Given that peer pressure begins early, TTDOG was curious about what motivated the young Jackman to approach someone different, when all her other friends were not engaging with the girl.

“I’ve never had a problem doing..what I wanted to do….I feel like every teenager, at some point, goes with the crowd…but for the most part…I would say that I’m confident enough to do… regardless of what my friends are doing….what I think is right.”

In fact, following Jackman’s positive example, other girls at the camp befriended Jaime, too. We asked if Jackman had ever felt somehow different to her peers.  Jackman was never bullied or treated unkindly.

“I was always naturally interested in taking care of those who were different and….I don’t really know what I was thinking at the time but I’m obviously very glad that I went over to her…It feels weird for me to say but, I’d like to think I’m naturally an empathetic person.”

In advance of our interview, Alexandra Jackman’s parents, Michael and Lisa Jackman recounted for their daughter some particular examples of her empathetic character, which she shares with TTDOG:

“We’re Jewish but we celebrated Christmas, one year for fun, and to try a bit of a different culture… when my parents asked what I wanted, I said that I wanted to help someone in another country that doesn’t have food for Christmas…

I just feel so bad if I…see someone upset and if there’s something I can do to help…it’s so often so easy to help people and it can really make a difference…”

The two girls remained friends for many years and Jackman, at the age of 10, became a volunteer and youth advocate through Autism Family Times peer mentoring program.

We were curious as to why Jackman chose to make this commitment at a time when her peers would be spending their social time differently.

“There’s an honesty and openness with people with special needs…It’s hard to be accepted as a teenager or pre-teen, and people with special needs tend to just be so accepting.  There’s no pettiness, there’s no judgement…people with special needs….are so themselves and so honest and I love that.  It just makes me so happy.”

As a youth advocate, Jackman gives talks at school assemblies in her local area of New York and New Jersey.  She has been requested to speak further afield but as a junior in high school, commitments further afield would be too demanding at this time.  Also, at her Synagogue, Jackman is in her 5th year shadowing a teen with special needs and she runs a monthly teen night for teens with special needs.  Speaking about the Friday night teen night, Jackman says:

“It’s a party and its accepting and it’s so much fun!…So many people don’t look past the special need and don’t get to know the person and its so upsetting because they’re so much more…they’re people who are so interesting, and creative and funny that you would never get to know if you’re not accepting…or you’re not aware…of the special need and that it’s not who that person is.  At teen night,  it’s a lot of really talented, unique people interacting and working on social skills and having a good time, being themselves and making new friends.  It’s really special.”

Photo: Ian Schneider

Photo: Ian Schneider

Jackman also founded “the hangout club” at her school where, on a monthly basis, people with and without special needs have the chance to get to know, understand and appreciate one another.  Jackman is continuing her personal advocacy for people with special needs, and particularly ASD, through school projects like her junior year research paper, in which she is currently examining the contribution of people with autism to the advancement of our culture and society.  As her schedule allows, Jackman contributes to ad hoc advocacy projects and in the summer months, she will be undertaking an internship at an autism centre in her area.

 

“A Teen’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating with People with Autism”

To date, Jackman’s advocacy work has had its widest reach and impact through her film.  The film is the output of school work Jackman undertook in the full year Teddy Roosevelt Scholars program.  In order to participate in the program, Jackman had to demonstrate a high academic performance in her area of study.  She considered a few topics but it was her passion for special needs and ASD that inspired her application.  As with most creative projects, the film did not emerge in Jackman’s consciousness as a fully formed concept, but evolved over time and through collaboration and research.

“I wasn’t sure what type of teacher to work with…so I talked to my Vice Principal and….there was a social studies teacher….at my middle school, who is also a Special Ed teacher, Mr Dominick Ceccio.  I talked with him to see if he might…be interested in working with me, and he was!…I wrote my application…and I got in.  We started brainstorming and it took me awhile to know that I wanted to do a project on autism and even then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I didn’t know if I wanted to do a pamphlet or a video or…what way I wanted to get out the message.  I just knew I wanted to do ‘Autism,’ which was so general.”

image Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives

Art by Caitlyn A Shea. “Autism Awareness Day”

 

As Jackman embarked on her research and reflected on her own experience as a volunteer and advocate, the idea began to take shape.

Identifying a gap in the existing literature and developing material to fill the gap is difficult for the best of us.  TTDOG was curious how Jackman identified her niche:

“There was a boy in my Math class who had special needs…and he always liked to sit in his one spot in the corner.  That was what he was used to; he sat there every day.  When we changed seats at the beginning of the new semester…the idea of switching seats was nerve wracking… I realised that people were getting annoyed with him…And I understood that if people don’t understand…why it’s difficult for him…they’d be frustrated….I realised that so many people know so little about special needs… I also realise that they didn’t want to bully their peer.  They just didn’t understand what was different.”

image Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives

Art by Nayonika Ghosh “Autism and Cyber Bullying”

 

“My experience has largely been working with people with autism… From my experience….there wasn’t a resource that was a neurotypical teen talking to neurotypical peers.  I’d never seen anything like that and I felt that could be really valuable.  I’m glad that it seems to have been, so far.”

With a plethora of options as to the media for her message, TTDOG asked Jackman how she settled on making a film.

“Once I decided I wanted it to be for my peers, middle schoolers, and my school specifically, I wanted to do it in a medium that would be most interesting. In order for it to be effective, I thought it needed to be…short…and present the message in an interesting way. For middle schoolers, video tends to be more enjoyable and my Dad works in the film industry and that was useful in where to hold the camera…lighting….and so on.”

Jackman notes that the project been envisioned as a “video” designed to get a message across about autism awareness and acceptance.  The medium, whilst an effective tool to convey the message, was not her main focus.  Jackman’s equipment was low-tech and readily available. The film was shot on an iPad, edited on iMovie and graphics were generated with a simple to use, Creative Commons, graphics package.

She admits that it wasn’t until she was approached at a film festival about her editorial choices for certain shots and angles that she became conscious of her many choices, having worked intuitively within the medium.  Editorial decisions were driven by the mandate to make an accessible product that conveyed her message in a compelling way.  Scenes that had been integral to the storyboard were cut from the final version, whilst her spontaneous responses as a director allowed her to capture moments and stories she had not imagined in pre-production.  One clear decision Jackman made was that the film would not be fictional.  She chose the documentary format because she wanted it to be as immediate, factual and relatable as possible for her target audience.

“I’m very glad that I ended up doing it in a film…Often in the news you hear about how media is really bad and dangerous and it can cause depression…which of course it can, but…having the video on YouTube and..on Facebook…people can share the video so quickly.  (This) has been very valuable in spreading the message of acceptance.”

imageAttribution Non-commercial

Art by Ajinkya Bhangdia “Film making project”

 

The film has made a much bigger impact than Jackman had ever imagined it would.  Her goal had been to help people to be more understanding, in her own school.  She wanted the project to be spread as far as possible, in her school and in her own community.  So far the film has been screened and taught all over the USA, in the Guam International Film Festival and she has been asked to come to speak at screenings as far afield as the UK and Indonesia.

The film has won the “Best Home Grown Student Short Documentary” at the Garden State International Film Festival and “Best Emerging Filmmaker Award” at the Queens World Film Festival, the 2015 “International Humanitarian Gold Award” at the World Humanitarian Film Festival, and the International Film Festival for Spirituality, Religion and Visionary (IFFSRV) “Award of Merit” in Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

Outcomes

Jackman regularly receives feedback from parents and siblings of people with autism, from teachers of students with special needs and from people with ASD.  Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and many share how the film has helped them to understand their family member, students or themselves better and to accept these differences with an open heart and mind.  What makes Alexandra Jackman perhaps most proud of the work is that a project which she intended to be delivered to teens in her own school is having an impact on all types of people, of all ages and in so many different countries and cultures.

image attribution non commercial

Art by Umar Ansari “Art for Geneva Centre For Autism”

 

“There are comments on the YouTube channel…that are so touching….A man commented and said that his stepson has autism and…this video helped him better understand his stepson..And a mom saying that her son with autism was watching this video and said ‘Oh yeah! That’s why I do that!’  And the fact that the video can not only help neurotypical teens be more understanding of autism, but people with all sorts relationships to special needs…shows that it’s having a broader impact.”

And in terms of the impact on herself, Jackman admits that the process of making a project over so many months taught her good time management skills, flexibility and discipline.

Jackman gratefully received the help of teachers, professionals and families of people with ASD, who generously shared their time and knowledge with her.  Amongst those participating in the film were Adrienne Robertiello, Autism Educator at Children’s Specialized Hospital and member of Autism Family Times board, and Jed Baker, Ph.D., an expert clinical psychologist, behavioural consultant, lecturer and author on the topic.

Jackman was initially intimidated to reach out to professionals for interviews but, with support of her family and teachers, she quickly overcame her fears.

“My parents were really supportive…and when people ask me, I don’t think I thank them enough and talk about them enough.  My Mom is…really good with people…and she reaches out and contacts people…every day.  It was really valuable to have input from both my Mom and my Dad who work in fields that work with other people and kind of have to do with this…And, as I went along, the process got a lot easier as I learned that people were willing to help and as I learned about myself and making a project like this.”

image

Photo: Nick Karvounis

 

And whilst seeking contributors was challenging, Jackman was also challenged to grow as a media professional in learning to adapt her independent spirit to a collaborative medium.  Because it was a school project, Jackman initially struggled with accepting advice from her father, Michael Jackman, a film industry professional.  He pointed out that in any filmmaking enterprise, the director does not undertake all of the roles, especially when they are conducting on-camera interviews.  Learning to accept some assistance and advice on camera angles, lighting, and sound was a growing experience and education in filmmaking, for the young auteur.

Following the release of the film, Jackman has been exposed to varied opportunities for public speaking and has learned to pitch her message appropriately for different groups, ranging from medical professionals to school aged children.  This has helped Jackman to continue learning, well beyond the initial year-long project.

 

Lessons Learned

Of all that Jackman has learned, she speaks fondly of the talented individuals with special needs and ASD.

“There are so many people that I’ve gotten to know with special needs who are incredible and are so interesting and have cool talents…I love working with people with special needs and doing that inspires me to get out the message of acceptance any way I can and so without a doubt, who motivates me and what keeps me inspired is my friends and the people that I know with special needs.”

imageAttribution Non-commercial

Art by Cathal Duane “Autism Awareness Day Illustration”

She continues:

“People with special needs have taught me that there’s not one mold for success….There are so many ways that you can be happy and successful…and sometimes it can be good, and sometimes not, conforming to society.”

We asked Jackman to share a few words for others who might want to make a difference in the world, somehow:

“You’re never too young or too old to make a difference.  You might have to be creative and do something that others aren’t doing to get the message across, but that sometimes makes for the best projects and the best outcomes.  If you feel like you have something to contribute and you want to make a difference, there’s always someone that can help…Once you look, you can find someone that is passionate about the same thing you are.  And, if not, then make people passionate!  Make people care….Get the message out, spread the word. Use social media.  Use whatever connections you have….And I wouldn’t be surprised if you found someone that has a similar goal or passion as you.”

 

Watch Alexandra Jackman’s short film, now:

 

 

As always, TTDOG asks: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I’m really grateful for my friends with special needs and…without special needs…  And for my parents – I am so grateful for all their support and they are very encouraging.

And my greatest joy?

Going to teen night.  I just love it and the relationships I’ve built…  Also being able speak to people, and being able to spread the message of acceptance, especially to other students, that really makes me happy.”

 

 

 

Follow Alexandra Jackman’s film on Facebook

 

Articles, Community, Service

Elie Calhoun: Promoting Global Advocacy Through Mobile Technology

March 8, 2016
Photo: RC Cipriani

Photo: RC Cipriani

Everywhere we turn, we see individuals engrossed in their smart phone and disconnecting from the world.  Blamed for outcomes as diverse as theft, fraud, motor vehicle accidents, and the disintegration of family and intimate relationships, the smart phone and mobile device technology has brought with it a number of challenges.

The potential exists, however, for creating social good, with this very same technology.   With the falling prices of smart phones and mobile devices, and with the lowering costs of data services, mobile technology is now reaching remote and underserved populations around the world.   This technology has already been used for banking, trade, education and medical services, transforming lives in Lower Income and Middle Income Countries (often referred in development circles as the  global “South”).  In fact, for the last decade, the South has been the largest market for Information and Communication Technology.

Working at this intersection is Elie Calhoun, designing a project to create a global community of support around vulnerable individuals, through mobile technology.

Elie Calhoun. Photo courtesy of the sitter.

Elie Calhoun. Photo courtesy of the sitter.

Calhoun is a public health expert, an aid worker and a US certified rape crisis counsellor.  Together with her husband, Nathaniel Calhoun, they run Code Innovation.  With expertise in public health, and in delivering mobile apps for education and development in Africa, they “take solutions to problems…and digitise them so they can scale.”  Code Innovation was a key player in providing mobile education in West Africa during the recent Ebola epidemic.  This education played a part in preventing additional infections and the spread of the virus.

Her current project, a Rape Crisis Counseling App, will be a free mobile version of the training that is provided to certified rape crisis counsellors in the USA.  The training will focus on providing an advocate with the tools to assist a person who has been raped, as they navigate receiving the medical care required to prevent pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Working with the 42 year old DC Rape Crisis Centre, the Pittsburg Action Against Rape Coalition and with a team of humanitarian, gender based violence experts, women’s rights defenders and UI/UX specialists, the project will digitise the training to provide mobile access (although not certification) to anyone, anywhere in the world so they can train themselves to act as an advocate and support for a person who has been raped.  The app will be translated into several languages to facilitate this, globally.

 

Photo courtesy of Elie Calhoun

Photo courtesy of Elie Calhoun

 

 

The Context

To set the context of advocacy around rape, a little background is required.

Photo: Ismael Nieto

Photo: Ismael Nieto

Feminists have variously used the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ to refer to a person who has been raped.  Early feminists working in advocacy around the issue used the term ‘victim’ to highlight the criminality of the act and to reinforce that it was not the fault of the one who had been raped.  Later, the term ‘survivor’ became popular to recognise the agency of the person who had been raped and to aid in the healing process.  Recently, some advocates have reclaimed the term ‘victim,’ especially in the global South, to highlight not only the crime, but the systemic abuse that faces those who have been raped.

Rape is not a women’s issue.  Both men and women are vulnerable to rape and sexual assault, although, in the majority of cases it is a woman who has been raped.  All of us have a responsibility to prevent rape and sexual violence.

 

Attribution non commercial, taken from Behance

Artwork by Clive Nigel Periera from the Break the Cycle Campaign

As a global average, 1 in 5 women will experience sexual violence in her adult years.  In countries experiencing or that have experienced conflict, this figure can be much higher, with figures of 75% reported in some regions.  Rape knows no age limit, and the elderly and children as young as infants are amongst those vulnerable to sexual assault.  In  England and Wales alone,  85,000 adult women and 12,000 adult men are raped every year.

In Higher Income Countries, (the global “North”), we commonly recognise that rape is a violent crime, although most rapes still go unreported and unprosecuted.  In the UK, only about 15% of rapes are reported and, of those that are prosecuted, studies show the conviction rates are lower than other violent crimes, at only 5.7%.

When we consider conflict zones, the systemic failure and abuse is even more horrifying. In the past 20 years alone, countries in both the global North and South have seen rape committed in such a way as to be deemed, by the UN, to have the potential to be a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.  This week, a UN report to be published Friday, will provide details of rape, on a massive scale, in South Sudan. The report claims that Pro-Government soldiers are being allowed to rape women, in lieu of being paid wages.

 

Photo: Jordy Meow

Photo: Jordy Meow

In this context, it is important discuss these issues in language that is both sensitive and representative, so that it does not, through the best of intentions, further traumatise, silence, or oppress anyone who has been raped.

 

Rape Crisis Counselling App

We caught up via Skype and email with Elie Calhoun, currently in the the field in Indonesia, to talk about her current project and the crowdfunding campaign for it.  We asked Calhoun about her approach and choice of the terminology for the app:

“Both terms are extremely valuable. In the context of dealing with the police to gather evidence and report the crime, it’s common to use the term ‘victim’ services. Legal material uses this terminology and to use it helps us to highlight the criminality of rape.

Within the context of rape crisis counselling, we prefer the term ‘survivor’ to recognise that you made it through and you survived and to help minimise self-blame. A specific tactic that rape crisis counselling uses is to acknowledge what the survivor has been through, remembering that in many cases, rape is life threatening.”

 

Photo: Eddy Lackmann

Photo: Eddy Lackmann

 

Scope of the app

Understanding the scope of the app is also important.  Legal advocacy, advocacy around prevention of sexual violence and long term psychological counselling for survivors would be needed, in addition to the critical medical advocacy that this app provides, in order to provide a full spectrum of support services.  These are currently outside the scope of the app.  And, of course, TTDOG would add that, where rape is systemic, intervention beyond the individual level would be required.

Admitting that this is only one piece of the advocacy puzzle surrounding a rape, Calhoun notes that it is an easy access point which can quickly deliver a discrete set of much-needed and highly impactful information without the complexity of  extensive adaptation to cultural and legal context.

 

Importance of the App to Survivors and Advocates

Calhoun recognizes that while both men and women are vulnerable to rape, she uses the situation of a woman’s rape as a default.  She explains that when a woman is raped, she has a limited time period during which she can access medical care that will prevent pregnancy, HIV and other STIs.

A survivor may not know that she needs these services, or she may know that she needs to go to the doctor but doesn’t know exactly what she needs. The app will…say: ‘Yes, you need to go to the doctor…right away and bring someone with you..”

The app is important because it provides the training for the person that survivor chooses to bring with them, to serve as a volunteer advocate.

“If the survivor gets talked down to, if she’s denied care, if she’s shamed – and there are…cases even in the US where this happens – she may not ask a second time.”

Calhoun explains that if a survivor must advocate for themselves in that situation it is far more challenging.  She points to the rape crisis counselling research that she has gathered to support the app development.  In the research, survivors share their experiences of  the secondary trauma of discrimination received from medical personnel.  Rape can leave a devastating sense of powerlessness for anyone. And, given that victim blaming is a commonly reported issue for survivors, an advocate who stands with the survivor and  resists discrimination is a valuable support in seeking appropriate medical care.

“That kind of fierce pushiness, within a system, is quite valuable to have someone else do.”

“Rape crisis counselling is…a nexus point…”  Calhoun continues.  If a survivor is able to access treatment, with the support of an advocate, this is likely to have positive outcomes for healing.  Following an assault, a survivor may experience stress, depression and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). And while Calhoun notes that these are natural psychological responses to a violent crime, “to have an advocate say ‘This was wrong, this was not your fault,’ begins to give agency back to the survivor….Of course…rape crisis counselling does not take the place of psychological support services for survivors…”

 

The Development Context

As outlined in her FAQ, the idea for the app originated when Calhoun came across an article about an aid worker who had been raped whilst in post for an aid agency.  Following the rape, she didn’t have access to the information she needed to obtain appropriate medical care and advocacy.  As an aid worker herself, Calhoun shares:

I…felt it in my gut and I felt something had to be done. And of course I knew about the power of mobile technology as an education and advocacy tool.”

Calhoun tested her ideas with the aid worker community, rape survivors, gender-based violence experts and rape crisis counselling centres, gathering a growing coalition of support around the project.  Given that the idea for the app came from her experience with aid workers, we asked why the app was important for development:

I wouldn’t say this is only for developing countries…” Calhoun admits.  Survivors exist everywhere in the world and require the same medical care.  In terms of human development, sexual violence, she asserts, has a direct impact on women’s contributions to society and family systems.  And, of course, it is important, Calhoun reiterates,  to work to prevent sexual violence and violence in general.

 

Photo: Annie Spratt

Photo: Annie Spratt

 

What If Services Aren’t Available in a Country?

Calhoun admits that in many places, it can be a challenge to find adequate care for rape survivors.  Existing rape crisis counselling material “assumes you’re in an industrialised country” and that the medical care is adequate.  However, the app aims to reach people in environments where the medical context may be very different.

Calhoun asserts that creating awareness for “the survivor and her advocate to know that some piece of the care she needs is missing doesn’t solve…the health system’s inadequacy for that person in that moment.  But, it does give her the information she needs…”  Having this information, Calhoun says, allows a survivor to make the best choice, in the context.

 

Photo by Hoshin Ai

Photo by Hoshin Ai

 

Where a part of the medical care is missing, Calhoun notes that this is an advocacy opportunity.  Having these resources, she asserts, is an important part of primary health care services and they should be “available without red tape or moralising.”

 

Representative Voices

In adapting material originally designed for use in Higher Income Countries, there is always the risk of failing to represent the needs of those in other socio-economic, political, cultural and religious contexts.  We asked Calhoun about the mix of her coalition, and particularly, whether the perspectives of the global South and of rape survivors would be represented in the development and testing process.

Calhoun confirmed that her team was diverse and included women’s right defenders and non-profit organisations from different countries to ensure that the app is “a resource that is applicable in different cultural settings and in different medical contexts…” and where there are “different levels or resources.”

“We’re…keen to have more women’s rights groups and anti-violence organisations from around the world join us so that we can…expand…our reach.” 

 

Photo: Tatiana Nino

Photo: Tatiana Nino

During the interview, we discussed ways in which rape survivors would be represented in the development and testing process.  Subsequently, Calhoun edited her response to offer only a confirmation of representation of rape survivors.

 

Reaching Rape Survivors

To reach rape survivors, Calhoun and her coalition will take a three-pronged approach.  Firstly, the app will be promoted within aid organisations to create awareness about what the app is, that it is freely available, and that the material is in the Creative Commons.  At the same time, the team hopes to receive media coverage of the launch of the app.

Secondly, the app will have a dedicated microsite that will point to the resource.  And, finally, the team will use common app developer strategies to make both the app searchable and findable through the app stores and app microsite.  These strategies include good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and keyword matches for phrases a rape survivor might use to search for resources.

Initially, the app would, realistically, only be available to upper-middle income individuals who are able to afford a smart phone, but with the falling costs of technology, Calhoun is confident that the reach will widen, with time.

We asked if there was a plan to approach Ministries of Gender in various countries, where populations might be difficult to reach.  Calhoun states they do not plan to do so directly, although they do hope that various organisations will trial and adopt the resource as a tool for responding to gender-based violence and sexual assault.

 

Photo: Melody Bates

Photo: Melody Bates

 

Why Crowdfunding?

“We see crowdfunding as an opportunity….

Because sexual violence, and particularly rape, is something that affects everyone, we want to use the campaign…to create a community of support.  First, to raise awareness around the issue…Even if someone gives $1,…they agree that this is an important enough project to give their resources to…if they share about it on social media it’s important enough to lend their social capital to…”

Ensuring that rape crisis counselling is available to everyone who needs it, via the mobile app, is what Calhoun describes as “our own small part of trying to solve the larger issue of sexual violence.

Calhoun adds that funding the app by people’s contributions from around the world makes an important statement of support and solidarity.  She goes on to say that when we hear about rape, “we feel powerless…like there’s nothing we can do.”  In this context, giving people the opportunity to participate in the creation of this app is, to Calhoun, worth the risk of not achieving full crowdfunding.

“Anyone, anywhere, can…stand with us…to support rape survivors.”

 

Photo: Mario Purisic

Photo: Mario Purisic

 

For more information or to support #RapeCrisisCounseling, see the campaign materials,  here.

 

As is our practice at TTDOG, we asked Calhoun:  For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I am most grateful to be alive on the planet at this time.
It is a time of extraordinary change and also great challenges…
And what gives me joy?
To be able to take a fleeting vision…and to be able to sit with it..and let it ground
and then to be able to mobilise and attract people..who will…
bring something into the world and community.
There is joy and awareness in feeling the vulnerability
and the messiness and the unknowing of it all.”

 

 

 

Art, Articles, Community, Happiness, Intimacy, Joy, Oneness, Service

WRDSMTH: Aspiring to Inspire – Every Day

February 12, 2016
image

“Happy in London, UK” by WRDSMTH. Photo by @D7606. Photo provided courtesy of WRDSMTH.

We continue our series on individuals making a difference in the world, with the skills they possess.  As a Valentine’s Day special, we feature LA based street artist WRDSMTH.

Each day, WRDSMTH touches hearts around the world with a new WRD – spray painted images of a vintage typewriter, topped with his messages of motivation, love and humour.  WRDSMTH mixes a sense of nostalgia with pop culture in his art and for a world lost in the complexity of the “extreme present,” his WRDs evoke a simpler time – perhaps imagined – when we were all a little kinder to ourselves and one another, and when love was a committment for life.

Every piece, in its own way, feels like a love letter, sent out to the world, from the artist.

"Hate Love" by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

“Hate Love” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

WRDSMTH calls his WRDs “indelible messages” which he “tattoos on walls” in cities around the world. WRDs can be found in Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Diego, West Palm Beach, London, Paris, Edinburgh, and Melbourne. His art is best experienced in its public context where its position in the surrounding environment adds another layer of meaning. However, for those unable to see it in situ, clever use of social media enables worldwide followers to participate in the daily experience, with photographs of his work appearing on his Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts.

Hoping to achieve a modest following of 500-1,000 followers, WRDSMTH currently has over 75,000 followers on Instagram and the number continues to grow, daily.

"Instagram" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Instagram” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

We emailed WRDSMTH in LA, to ask him a little more about his work and his motivations for being a force for positive messaging in the world.

 

TTDOG: In a recent article you were quoted as saying: The aim of art is “to inspire, entertain, or woo other individuals” Are you trying to woo us, Mr. WRDSMTH? As my father would say: What are your intentions for us?

WRDSMTH: No and yes. I recently used the word woo mainly to refer to the romantic WRDs I put up all over the world, as opposed to the motivational ones which inspire and the funny ones which I hope entertain. However, yes, I am trying woo people with my words. My intention is to affect. Period.

"Shine" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Shine” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

I hope my work makes people ponder, smile, and maybe laugh. The notion that people turn a corner and see a piece of mine or are driving by one and my WRDs affect them in a positive manner, makes me happy and, in turn, adds fuel to the creative fire. If a percentage of those people notice the name attached to my pieces and at some juncture look me up, fall into the rabbit hole that is the my body of work, and possibly become followers/fans, then my wooing was successful.

 

TTDOG: Why do you think positive WRDs from an anonymous stranger are so important to people and why is that craving so universal?

WRDSMTH: When I began WRDSMTHing, I just felt that this city (L.A.) and the world needed some positivity. I think it’s easy in this day and age to feel negative toward current events, politics, and even most of what’s deemed entertainment these days. I shy away from those heavily debated topics and instead choose to focus on the individual – the person that happens upon my WRDs – and, again, I aim to affect them in a positive manner.

"struggle pays" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Struggle Pays” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

And even though my messages reach a wide audience, I think people find the words compelling because of that one-on-one experience. I often am told people feel like my WRDs are speaking directly to them, which is a huge compliment, in my book. And the mystery of who is putting all these WRDs all over the world definitely works in my favor, which is a big reason why I retain my anonymity.

"two believe" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Two Believe” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

Born in Ohio, WRDSMTH moved to Chicago, where he crafted words into slogans designed to sell dreams through consumption. Realising that time waits for no one, he risked all to chase his own dream of being a writer and moved to Los Angeles. Following a very successful run, in 2013, he again turned his craft to selling a dream, with his WRDs. This time, it was the most cherished but often abandoned dream – fulfillment.

"Dream Bigge(r)" by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of WRDSMTH

“Dream Bigge(r)” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

Despite his startlingly rapid rise as an international street Artist, WRDSMTH remains dedicated to his first passion: writing. He writes, every day. For solitary people of letters, his WRDs offer not only a dose of motivation but a sense of community.

"Create Every Day" by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesty of the artist.

“Create Every Day” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesty of the artist.

 

TTDOG: One of your most famous WRDs says: “Aspire to Inspire Others and the Universe Will Take Note.” In what way do you feel the universe has taken note – for yourself as well as for those who have been inspired by you?

WRDSMTH: ‘Aspire’ has definitely become a mantra for WRDSMTH, but that’s because those words are so in line with what I aim to do and aimed to do from the get-go. I began this endeavor speaking to all the creative individuals doing time in Hollywood. However, I quickly realized it wasn’t just about those doing time here, but those doing time everywhere. Everyone has a dream – whether it be a creative one, a productive one or a romantic one.

"Aspire To Inspire" by WRDSMTH. Photo by Playboy. Photo provided courtesy of WRDSMTH

“Aspire To Inspire” by WRDSMTH. Photo by Playboy. Photo provided courtesy of WRDSMTH

We all aim to inspire others and if that intent is truly altruistic, I firmly believe the universe will take note. And hopefully good karma ensues. My success has been unexpected. I actually started WRDSMTHing for me because I needed an active hobby. The fact that my WRDs are resonating with so many is thrilling on a daily basis, which is why ‘Aspire’ is a mantra. The messages I get from fans and followers are amazing and are always welcome. I love hearing how I have inspired and motivated others. I also love hearing how my romantic WRDs have helped bring people together.

In a city and in an era where ‘authenticity’ is simply an attribute for branding, the nostalgic warmth and sometimes gut wrenching honesty of his art hints at the character of the man behind the WRDs.

 

TTDOG: Is the open hearted, playful, and vulnerable quality of your WRDs an extension of your professional writing, or is the anonymous WRDSMTH an alter ego that doesn’t get space for expression in your other writing? Why put yourself at risk, in a renegade medium? What impact does the medium and your anonymity have on what you communicate?

WRDSMTH: Both. I think the most compelling stories in any medium are open-hearted, amusing, and vulnerable. At least my favorite novels, movies, TV shows, and music have those characteristics. My professional work includes novels and screenplays and I follow that path, along with a strong belief that “less is more” in all my writing. WRDSMTH is such a merger of worlds for me. I used to work as a copywriter in advertising, so I think I understand how to be effective and affect with as few words as possible. However, WRDSMTH is not like advertising in that I have the creative freedom to say what I want with no agenda or boundaries. That is refreshing and addictive. As far as the risk in a renegade medium . . . isn’t that a vital ingredient in most success stories?

"trump" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Trump” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

While affirmation is a great drug, I was not seeking it when I started WRDSMTHing and I always say I’d still be doing what I do even if I only had 500 followers. I will always say what I want to say and will always express myself in a myriad of personal and vulnerable ways because that’s what writers do. Hemingway once said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I love that. Another mantra of mine that I penned is, “Do it for yourself and hope that what you do resonates with others.” I guess where Hemingway and WRDSMTH intersect is where my WRDs are born. The medium of street art seems to add a level of cool to my words.

"f ck out of u" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“f ck out of u” Original artwork by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

The action of putting pieces up at all hours of the night while dancing a line of legality romanticizes the words to a great degree. There’s a difference between potentially reading “You got this. You know you do.” on a motivational poster or “You are amazing. You deserve amazing.” in a greeting card, versus seeing those words on a wall on the corner of Sunset and LaBrea. And the action of taking a picture of those pieces and Instagramming them or sending them to a loved one is more meaningful in this day and age of texting and social media. However, while I am aware of all this, it doesn’t change or alter what I put out there. My WRDs come from my life and my experiences, not from the expectation or hope that they will be Instagrammed or forwarded.

Specific laws, enforcement and penalties for street art vary from city to city and from country to country. In some cases, artwork is specifically commissioned or ‘permissioned.’  WRDSMTH’s installation at SYNDCTD creative agency in LA, and in Lululemon’s shop windows are recent examples of such work. Without such permissions, the question of legality is always a concern for artists painting in public spaces.

"Tell Stories" - photo courtesy of WRDSMTH

“Tell Stories” by WRDSMTH, on the wall of the SYNDCTD offices in LA. Photo provided courtesy of WRDSMTH.

While second guessing what the law would consider ‘acceptable placement’ for his street art, WRDSMTH has stated that he never paints on private property in order to have his WRDs seen. Sensing what he terms a renaissance occurring in street art in Los Angeles, he points to promising changes on the horizon. Some city council members have begun to work with street artists to attempt to provision public spaces for art, as part of urban rejuvenation and beautification.

"Face The Facts" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Face The Facts” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

Not to detract from the LA cool of WRDSMTH, the street artist, his midwestern kindness goes beyond messages of love, humour and inspiration.  A proponent of the Pay it Forward philosophy, WRDSMTH gives of his time and notes that most of his sales have some component of charitable giving attached to them.  In 2015, he gave time and artwork to several causes including after school programs for LA children, local youth centres, the city’s homeless and for breast cancer research.

 

TTDOG: You help and inspire many people. Who has helped and inspired you, along the way? Who helps you these days, and what inspires you to stay positive and keep going, even on those days when things look bleak?

WRDSMTH: I am inspired by a lot of things: Friends. Family. Love. Music. Sunsets. Sunrises. Wanderlust. A really great burger. Cookies and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Honesty. Laughter. Great conversation. Really good wine. Art in all its forms.

"Wanderlust" by WRDSMTH. Photo by Dean Sunshine, provided courtesy of WRDSMTH

“Wanderlust” by WRDSMTH. Photo by Dean Sunshine. Photo provided courtesy of WRDSMTH.

Someone once said, “Life is a struggle. But every now and then, we stumble upon something magical and it just makes everything all right.” My list includes things I often stumble upon – and they just make everything all right for me. Maybe for some, my art is something stumbled upon. At least I hope it is. And I stay positive by immersing myself in the things I love, by surrounding myself with people who challenge me, and by finding the good hidden in all the bleak on this big blue marble we are spinning on.

 

TTDOG: Many people want to make the world a better place but feel that they alone can’t make a difference or that they don’t have the skills, talent or opportunity. What would you say to them?

WRDSMTH: Find a way. There’s always a way.

"give take DTLA" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Give Take DTLA” by WRDSMTH. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG: What do you wish people would ask you about yourself or your work, but never do?

WRDSMTH: I like when people ask me my name instead of calling me Word or Mister Smith. I enjoy when fans inquire about my other writing. I like when they ask about my muse(s). I love when they ask if they can buy me a drink. I’d like more single girls to ask if I am single. I also wish people would ask me what my favorite palindrome is. The answer: racecar.

Heads up, ladies: WRDSMTH is single!

As is our practice at TTDOG, there is one final question for the artist:

TTDOG:
For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?
"joy of life" by WRDSMTH. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Joy of Life in New Orleans, LA” by WRDSMTH. Photo by Scott Allen Perry. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

WRDSMTH: 
I am most grateful for my life – the amazing and baffling opportunity to spend some decades living and making a mark in the world. And my greatest joy is knowing that my work, words, and WRDs are reaching and affecting people all over the world.

WRDSMTH’s original artworks  have been sold at Julien’s Auctions, Art Share-LA, In Heroes We Trust, Q Art Gallery, The Gabba Gallery, Stone Malone Gallery, and LabArt. He currently has prints, photos and wearable art for sale at Paper and Fabric.

To learn more about WRDSMTH and be inspired by his daily artwork, follow him at:
WRDSMTH on Instagram
WRDSMTH on Facebook
WRDSMTH on Tumblr
WRDSMTH on Twitter
Email WRDSMTH at: WRDSMTHinLA@gmail.com
Art, Articles, Community, Compassion, Gratitude, Oneness, Service

Matthew Del Degan and Lovebot: Heroes of Compassion and Love

February 9, 2016
Lovebot. Art by Matthew Del Degan. Photo by @Pinkstarpix

Lovebot. Art by Matthew Del Degan. Photo by @Pinkstarpix

You may have noticed stickers of a retro-styled robot with a vibrant red heart popping up across your city.  If you have, chances are these are part of the Global Love Invasion.  Next in our series of people making a difference – with the skills and talents they have, where they are – is Toronto based artist and designer, Matthew Del Degan, creator of Lovebot.

TTDOG reached out to Matthew Del Degan to discuss the spread of compassion and kindness through the icon of Lovebot.   If you haven’t seen the character on the streets of your city, you may be wondering: What is Lovebot?

“It’s a cold concrete object in Toronto with a big heart, or warm center,” says the artist, “It’s a metaphor for the robotic interactions of people in our city…” 

Lovebot was Del Degan’s design response to the way urban commuters were failing to engage their emotions, particularly their compassion, when interacting with one another.

PEOPLE HAVE UNIQUE LIVES and THEY ARE ALL SPECIAL!” He ardently asserts. ” That grocery store clerk is probably going through some things, just like you.  You have feelings and the ability to love, and so do they! Maybe I’m an odd ball, but when I get groceries I ask people how they are doing, what they have been up to and if they feel good today, so that it’s not a robot interaction.”

 Lovebot, with its faceless solidity and seemingly incongruous vibrant red heart “lovingly disrupts the robotic routines of humans and reminds them that there is love in their cities and kindness around every corner.”

The artist’s design appeared on the streets of Toronto in the form of a Lovebot sticker and paste-up, which won the hearts of street art fans, and quickly made its way around the world through volunteers eager to spread the disruptive visual message of compassion, kindness and love.

All I ever wanted them to do was to make people smile,” says the artist.

And he did.  Not content to rest on his success, the artist expanded beyond the quickly changing art gallery of the street. He took the visual language of the project to a wider audience through a more permanent type of installation that engaged the entire community.  The aptly titled “Love Invasion”,  saw the artist embark on a series of trials and errors to create a 250 pound, 2 foot tall concrete Lovebot.  This unusual sculpture and several models of various sizes were installed in the footfall of commuters to encourage city dwellers to reflect on their surroundings and their participation in the culture of the concrete jungle that typifies a big commercial city centre.

“If I can make a cold hearted person smile then good, and if a child stumbles upon a concrete robot in the city, then I’ve caused magic or wonder in someone else’s life.  It’s about creating true value, and for me that’s a positive change in someone else’s life.” 

Matthew Del Degan’s “Love Invasion” went beyond the messaging of a single artist to a wider community.  By using his Lovebot in the service of illuminating and amplifying kindness and love, the character became the image of a global art-based social movement for love and kindness.

Working with a team of friends and volunteers, Matthew Del Degan created and self-financed an army of 100 Lovebots.  He called on the people of the city of Toronto to help recognize individuals and organisations who had engaged in outstanding acts of kindness by nominating them to receive a concrete Lovebot sculpture.  This act not only recognized the kindness and love that already existed in the city, but stood as a reminder that small acts of kindness can be monumental because they contain within them the potential to be exponential – inspiring more compassion and kindness from those who witness or remember them.

“Attaching a sculpture or small monument to kind acts caused, well, kindness to seem monumental.”

 

 


 

“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love…the stories behind them may.”  

 


 

 

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) prepared this introduction to his work:

Matthew Del Degan belies the well-worn stereotype of Millenials as selfish, disengaged individuals with a sense of entitlement and solely preoccupied with sex, partying, video games and music.  Whilst Matthew is a skydiver with over 130 jumps, a motorcyclist, active public artist, and is a notoriously avid gamer –  an aspect of his aesthetic that is reflected in the retro feel of the Lovebot – he is a man on a mission and living from a sense of purpose.

His mission to be vulnerable and to share his love feeds his purpose to make the world not only a kinder place, but one where love and kindness is amplified.  A muscular man sporting a platinum-blonde mohawk, he not only thwarts stereotypes of his generation, but also of his gender.

“In North America we have an idea of what manly is:  big, strong, brutish, often overbearing, tough, and aggressive. To me that sounds like a large baby.  I am a very physically strong man.  I kickbox, and I lift concrete robots often, however, I recognize that compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero.  A hero, is someone who fights for good, who is loving and giving .  A true man looks after others and their safety.   They are powerful, yes, but also supremely gentle.

I guess I just had the perfect father who was all that and more.  And, my mother was also just spectacular.  The women in my family are top notch. I owe a lot of my love to my grandmother, who was my best friend and took me everywhere.”

As head of the Love Invasion project, Matthew awarded the first concrete Lovebot sculpture to his grandmother, in recognition of all her kindness and love.   To borrow from the American journalist Hodding Carter, the artist’s family has given Matthew Del Degan the roots from which to take wing with his dreams.

 


 

“…compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero.”

 


 

 

And in like fashion, the father of Lovebot gave his creation its own wings to soar.  Taking a back seat, he provided the platform through which the kind deeds of others could shine, deepening the meaning of Lovebot and the committment of Toronto citizens to its ethos.

“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love,” he says, humbly, “but, the stories behind them may.”  

By recognizing acts of kindness, compassion and bravery, the Love Invasion not only raises awareness of all the good that is being done in the community but acts as counternarrative the media’s unrelenting message of bad news and trouble in the world.

“Love became my focus because this world is missing it. It’s a sad world.  You know: starvation, animals going extinct, pollution, corruption, beheadings…people wasting their lives on Facebook laughing at cats and fail videos of people falling off things.  This world is a sad world, but I’m not going to sit…and watch it be that way. So, because I know how to love, and this world needs it, that’s what I do.”

Subverting the zeitgeist of disaster, disconnection and disempowerment, Matthew Del Degan’s work for love, kindness and compassion becomes an avante garde occupation.  As has always been the case for society’s vanguard, the way is not always easy.

“I cry. I bleed for my work. I suffer,” admits the artist.  “People don’t see that part. I never asked for this to be easy, and I’m not surprised when it’s hard. I receive hate.  It’s unbelievable.  But, at the end of the day, I have something to fight for and I’m living my dreams…Sometimes I question everything… But now there are too many people who respect what I do, and who support it or have contributed to it and like I said, this world needs more love. I just choose not to stop or give up.”

The Love Invasion of Toronto is mapped out on the Lovebot website to encourage visits to the monuments and reflection on one’s own memberships in communities of friends, families, coworkers and neighbours.  For those who are inspired by what both Matthew Del Degan and those who receive the Lovebot honour have done to bring love, compassion and kindness into their community of the city of Toronto, but who are perhaps at a loss as to how they can make a difference in their own communities, he has this advice:

“If you sit there and do nothing, this world will only get worse. ..Get up and do something. Be a small part of the fight for love. You don’t have to change the world, but if you make one person smile… you change their world… 

It’s perspective. Change your attitude and your world changes. My perception or circumstance is seen though my lens. When I change that lens what I feel is very different, but the circumstance may be the same….I’m only heading towards better things and now I’m biting off far more than I can handle… but that’s how I got this far…Work and bite off more than you can chew, then swallow… that’s how you grow…

Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that…Don’t waste your life. Do what you want to do. “

When the artist is not creating concrete sculptures, he is busy creating new projects and art for sale.   He recently launched the first Lovebot toy, and is busy molding his special edition Valentine’s Lovebot which allows fans to have a piece of his art in their home.  As well, he is currently organizing an art event ‘spectacular’ showcasing some of the finest art talent in Toronto.  But Matthew Del Degan remains committed to his vision of making the Love Invasion a global art-based social movement.

“I’m also working on a new sticker package designed to be shared globally. Lovebot fans often want to share the love when they travel or in their respective countries. So I’m designing a larger, cheaper, package for them to do just that.  I’m also building my group of volunteers around the world.”

 

Matthew Del Degan recently shared more about the kind acts which have merited a Lovebot monument with MTV:

 

 

TTDOG sends Matthew Del Degan and Lovebot much love and best wishes for continued success. As is our practice, we asked the artist one final question:  For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I’m thankful for my life, and I’m thankful for everything I had been given and what I’m managing to do with it.

I find joy in living. I’m not waiting for heaven, that would be so stupid when it’s right here, right now in front of me.”

 

 


 

“Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that.”

 


 

 

 

To learn more about Lovebot, to volunteer for the Global Love Invasion or to support the art and design of Matthew Del Degan:

 

Websites:  Matthew Del Degan, Lovebot
Instagram:  Lovebot, Matthew Del Degan
Facebook:  Lovebot
LinkedIn: Matthew Del Degan

 

 

 

Articles, Community, Compassion, Oneness

When Social Media Becomes Anti-Social

November 20, 2015
Photo by Ivan Kerasev

Photo by Ivan Kerasev

I have been a defender of social media. It has been my substitute for face-to-face social connection when I have been unable to engage due to illness.

I am not as much a fan, anymore.

I have very intelligent friends – highly educated, successful, articulate and artistic friends. And yet, the lowest common denominator surfaces and gains a voice time and time again on social media. Rather than bringing “friends” together in a time of crisis, social media seems to be polarizing and breaking down “community.”  When consensus does emerge on one or two ideas, is it because we have given the issue due consideration or is it the product of harried individuals who do not wish to appear apathetic and so, succumb to peer pressure?

I suspect it is not through considered deliberation that consensus has been formed.  In the days following the Paris attacks, how did solidarity with one group come to mean that one has no compassion for another group? How did compassion, prayer and meditation come to mean that one must be either a hashtag activist or a Zionist? When did we become so tired and lazy in our thinking that we allow such reductionist and judgemental conclusions of those we call our “friends” and how did we become willing to engage in shaming them in front of our entire “community?”

We are influenced by our surroundings.  What that influence will be depends on our choice of surroundings.  There is a theory of proximity that suggests that through a kind of intellectual contagion, we can make exponential leaps in collaborative innovation if we are in close proximity to other creative thinkers.  This is, I suspect, the theory behind TED conferences and Silicon Valley clustering.  There is also evidence of emotional contagion in adults.

Emotional and intellectual contagion can uplift or destroy our communities.

I long for inspiration and collaboration and that spark that comes from engaging with others working on very different pursuits but whose ideas and techniques fuel my imagination. I know I have a great network out there, and, like me, that network makes up a largely silent majority, just trying to make sense of life and do more meaningful work, in a meaningful way.

I am observing the people that I admire, this week. They are not engaging in social media polemics. They occasionally post something which may promote thought but they don’t debate.   I have no idea how they are spending the hours they don’t devote to social media, but, I suspect that they are not wading through their news feeds to become offended or depressed.  I hope that they are producing more of the work that I admire and living their lives in the way that I admire – engagingly, compassionately, thoughtfully and creatively.

And so, while I value proximity and I long for inspiration, I have decided to turn off my social media channels for awhile.   I will follow the lead of those I admire, and post only what I hope is food for thought.

I am going to use my time to make more work with which others might wish to engage. If you are interested in non violent, non judgemental, creative exploration and dialogue and in committed action towards an artistic, spiritual and/or social or environmental goal, then let’s connect.  I would love to learn from and be inspired by you and to share my own ideas and energy with you.

Perhaps we can find our way back to the meaning of friendship and community, together.

 

Art, Art, Articles, Community, Oneness

Doing Lines: Hyper Collaborative Art Madness

November 7, 2015

Doing Lines, BSMT Space‘s third and final Street Art Exhibition of 2015 opened last night in Dalston.  The brain child of Captain Kris, Tony Boy Drawings, The Real Dill, and Obit, Doing Lines promised to be “hyper collaborative art madness” and “an immersive experience,” according to Captain Kris.  The show delivered on the promise.

"Doing Lines" at BSMT Space. Photo by Tania D Campbell

“Doing Lines” at BSMT Space. Art © by Doing Lines. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Stepping into the space, one is surrounded on all sides by black and white illustration of the character based genre. The individual illustration style of each artist is present but they merge and interact in ways that create vignettes in true improv fashion.

 

From different vignettes, character by Captain Kris (Left) and Tony Boy Drawings (Right). Art © by Doing Lines Photo by Tania D Campbell.

 

An overarching story begins to unfold as one examines details of a sea scape, a naughty sexual encounter on one wall, a haven to intoxicants in another corner and a foodscape on yet another wall which provides for the inevitable munchies that will result from a wild night of partying.

 

An intoxicating corner. Art © by Doing Lines. Photo by Tania D. Campbell

 

The visitor feels as though they have walked into a larger than life comic book where a party is underway.  The text is written in reverse, telling us that we have left our everyday existence and entered inside the world of the story that the images are creating.

The party continues with DJ Seeds on the decks spinning wicked tunes and white balloons covering the floor.

 

Entering the space, reversed text makes the visitor feel they are "inside" the story that the illustration is telling storylines

Entering the space, reversed text makes the visitor feel they are “inside” the story that the illustration is telling.  Art © by Doing Lines. Photo by Tania D Campbell.

 

It is clear that the artists, Captain Kris, Tony Boy Drawings, The Real Dill and Obit have created a fun time for the visitor, improvising the piece, despite the three days and nights of hard work it took to create. The improv does not end with the artists. We are meant to become a part of the story.  The white balloons lay strewn upon the floor and markers lay at the ready for visitors to draw themselves into the story as merry party goers.

 

A visitor "draws himself" into the story. Photo by Tania D Campbell.

A visitor, artist 616, “draws himself” into the story. Photo by Tania D Campbell.

 

And it isn’t just by drawing that one can enter the storyline. A voluptuous naked woman is positioned in a waiting pose for a sexual encounter.  She is drawn exactly at the height where a gallery visitor might be inclined to position himself or herself to enjoy the encounter – were the illustration a real woman, or were the visitor made from illustrator’s ink and able to step out of this world and onto the wall.

 

AVolutuous woman by Obit with face and stabby creature by the Real Dill. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Voluptuous woman by Obit with face and stabby creature by The Real Dill. Art © by Doing Lines. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Masters of mixing performance art with street art, the energy of the piece continued at the opening with live drawing.

 

Live drawing. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Live drawing. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

All in all, an evening of community and mirth was created between artists, and gallery visitors.  A small number of works are available for sale, including a limited edition signed print, and several canvases which had been carefully hung and concealed on the blank walls at the start of the jam.  Keeping to the promise to be different from the usual “paintings on walls” shows, the canvases for sale from Doing Lines were completed as a consequence of being part of the blank wall for the improvisational 3-day illustration jam.

 

A massive amount of fun, the immersive party atmosphere continues at BSMT Space with the Doing Lines walls on exhibition through 14 November.

 

 

Art, Art, Articles, Community, Oneness

BSMT Space – Celebrating Community Through Street Art

November 4, 2015
Lara Fiorentino with Art © by Meeting of Styles, UK. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Lara Fiorentino with Art © by Meeting of Styles, UK. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Just six weeks after launch, BSMT space in Dalston has wrapped its second contemporary Street Art exhibition, Death in Dalston.

BSMT launched the space with a first contemporary street art show, Underhand.  The show was a smash success with art by a range of international street artists.

A third exhibition of Street Art, Doing Lines, with Captain Kris, Obit, The Real Dill and Tony Boy Drawings, opens this Friday, 6 November.

In an art community that is often suspicious of the gallery world and is rife with stories of artists failing to be paid for their sales, what makes this gallery able to command such talented artists in such early days of their positioning in the art world? It appears to come down to credibility as fellow artists, good intentions and a sense of community.

 

Good Vibrations

Lara Fiorentino, the gallery owner, is an artist herself, with more than a decade of both fine art and professional decorative painting on her CV. Understanding the art work as well as the disposition of the artist gives her the ability to forge relationships with artists from a wide range of styles and backgrounds. It is her high-end decorative painting skills that helped her transform a dark and dank basement into the beautiful and inviting gallery it is today. But it is perhaps her intuive skill as an artist and a business owner that has served her best.

“I just felt it when I saw this place,” Lara Fiorentino, the gallery, owner said of the BSMT location. “There was no staircase, we had to enter through the landlord’s premises, there was water dripping down and you couldn’t even see the whole space. The walls were bare. It was a mess.” When asked whether it was her ability as an artist to visualise the potential of the space she said: “Yes, I suppose. But I just felt it. And it all comes down to good energy.”

Friends of Lara have said of her that she possesses a rare quality – she embodies the gestalt of the art of the time. It is this good energy which she brings to her endeavours and which makes them a success. An artist herself, she aims to provide a positive creative space for ideas to come to fruition.

“I couldn’t do it without Greg,” she hastens to add. “And Greg couldn’t do it without me. We are a great team.”

Lara Fiorentino and Greg Key at the launch of BSMT Space in Dalston. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Lara Fiorentino and Greg Key at the launch of BSMT Space in Dalston. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Community Making

Greg Key, her partner, is a Street Art curator with a background as an entertainment and hospitality industry professional. He has spent the past several years building relationships in the Street Art community and gaining the trust of the artists whom he and Lara now represent, at the gallery.

I spoke with Greg before the first group show, Underhand, about his motivation for putting on the show and for donating the gallery commissions for that show to the homeless charity St. Mungos.

“It’s about giving back to the community,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out on the street with artists, as they paint, and I’ve seen how people suffer on the streets. It’s only getting worse.” Regarding the artists, he said: “I want to give back to a great community of artists that has embraced me and accepted me as one of their own. They’re my friends. I want to do something special for them.”

Greg Key and Lara Fiorentino with Art © by Ekto. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Greg Key and Lara Fiorentino with Art © by Ekto. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Visiting The Gallery

Entering the gallery, there is a sense of ease and community. One is welcomed warmly by the curators and left to engage with the works of art alone or to engage in spirited dialogue with the curators, as one wishes. One gets the sense that the gallery, although a business, will succeed only by helping the artists to succeed in selling their work and by drawing in buyers to a world that is, in many cases, foreign to their own.

BSMT Space, located underground at 5 Stoke Newington Road in London has also filled 620 sq ft space, two alcoves and additional newly renovated room for the launch of a contemporary art collective and social movement, Food of War. The magazine, Funhouse, also launched at the space in October.

The recipe of good vibes and community seems to be working, with back to back bookings through to the end of year, foreign buyers clamouring for pieces, and celebrity gallery visitors like Gilbert and George making appearances at openings. This cozy space, creating community in the heart of Dalston, is well worth the visit.

 

Exhibition Reviews:

Read about BSMT’s  first exhibition of Street Art, Underhand 

Read about BSMT’s second exhibition of Street Art, Death in Dalston

Read about BSMT’s third exhibition of Street Art, Doing Lines

Read about the launch of Food of War

Art, Art, Articles, Community, Oneness

Death In Dalston – Street Art Remembers the Community of the Dead

October 31, 2015

Death in Dalston, BSMT Space’s second Street Art exhibition curated by Greg Key opened this week in London.

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Flyer Courtesy of BSMT Space. Design by Captain Kris. Artwork by Tommy Fiendish

 

Dubbed “A curious collection of skulls,” the exhibition offers a sometimes sentimental, often whimsical, and sometimes shocking view of physical mortality and of psychological death.

The exhibition coincides with the pagan celebration of Samhain, the secular celebration of Halloween, the Christian marking of All Saint’s Day and the Mexican tradition of welcoming the community of the dead on Dia de Los Meurtos.

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Art © by Lennie Lee. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

That is a lot of death and ghosts to pack into a 600 square foot gallery!

 

Art © by Gary Alford. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Art © by Gary Alford. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Yet the visitor is greeted with sight of the whimsical “Disco Ate My Brain” by Alfie Black, a massive disco skull made from a sculpted form covered in hand-cut mirrored glass.  Given the scale of the piece, it should not surprise that it took over 300 hours to create.

 

Detail from "Disco Ate My Brain" © by Alfie Black. Photo by Tania D. Campbell

Detail from “Disco Ate My Brain” © by Alfie Black. Photo by Tania D. Campbell

 

Skeleton Cardboard offers up a wall of merry skeletons complete with his own shrine to commemorate the season.

Art © Skeleton Cardboard. Photo by Tania D. Campbell. Top: "Empire State Skele(L), Chrysler Skele (R) Bottom: Altar, "Nothing Matters"

Details from Art © Skeleton Cardboard. Photo by Tania D. Campbell.
Top: “Empire State Skele” (L), “Chrysler Skele” (R)
Bottom: Altar, “Nothing Matters”

 

Nick Flatt’s painting of a skull with gold teeth against a hot pink background offers another thumb of the nose at the Angel of Death.

 

Art © by Nick Flatt. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Art © by Nick Flatt. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

 

The cow bone and human hair “shrunken skull” of Donald Trump from the collection by Burt Gilbert is a wink to visitors to acknowledge the dark voodoo desires this will evoke in most people in the run up to the U.S. Election.

 

Art © by Burt Gilbert. Photo by Tania D Campbell.

Art © by Burt Gilbert. Photo by Tania D Campbell.

 

Skulls are a common motif on the streets and one might wonder why this theme has captured the imagination of so many Street Artists. We must recall that the skull is a motif in art across the world, from Hamlet’s soliloquy to the skull of his departed friend reminding us that our precarious existence is a choice, to the use of the skull as a reminder of our mortality in the Vanitas paintings of the Dutch Golden Age of painting, to the depictions of Kali wearing a necklace of skulls in Hindu and specifically, Tantric magical iconography.

Triumph over the illusion of life and death in Tantric practice is ritualised by drinking and eating from human skulls, and meditating or making love in burial grounds while the illusion of life without end is challenged by the Vanitas paintings and the words of the Bard.

There is a long tradition of skull imagery in art, yet there is special attraction to the skull in the street art world.  Perhaps it is partly a totem that signals street sense and toughness, as it seems to do for heavy metal fans.  Perhaps it is that, in a world where graffiti and throw ups must be done quickly, the skull, as a universal symbol, offers an immediate and rapidly delivered message to the viewer.

An affront to the denial of our immortality in a culture that glorifies youth and discards the elderly, the use of the skull by Street Artists of London dismantles our illusions of reality and questions the meaning of our altogether too short existence.

Resistance to the death of independent thought and of our very humanity within in a world where we work to consume like automatons caught in a macabre capitalist system, Street Art challenges our perception of the meaning of life, and particularly, the walking death of our modern existence.

In a world of information overload, the depiction of the human form devoid of flesh flips the message inside out allowing the subtext of the message to smack the viewer in the face and scream: “Wake up, while there is still time!”

This urgency is conveyed by the threads that surround the wonderful threaded skeleton by Perspicere.

Art © by Perspicere. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Art © by Perspicere. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Wrapped in a shroud, the viewer is reminded that only a thread separates life from our inevitable death.

Drawing on our cultural references of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven and Hitchcock’s The Birds, Ali Hamish’s suited and booted man is already dead.  His skeletal face smiles at the world as his bony hand reaches out, as if to strike a deal.  The subject continues to walk through his empty life, complete with his elite corporate job.

Art © by Ali Hamish. Photo by Tania D Campbell.

Art © by Ali Hamish. Photo by Tania D Campbell.

 

In a more sentimental vein, the painting of Alex Illusra Feccia takes as its base, the X-Rays of his brother’s skull, acknowledging for the viewer that we actually suffer the least from our own death. It is the death of our loved ones that causes us grief.

Art by Alex Illustra Feccia. Photo by Tania Campbell.

Detail from Art © by Alex Illustra Feccia. Photo by Tania Campbell.

 

Most poignant of all, perhaps, is the installation by Morgazmik/Morgandy, in memory of two family members lost during the year.

 

Art © Morgasmik/Morgandy. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Art © Morgazmik/Morgandy. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

The only piece lacking a skull, the raven conveys death, the crisp autumn leaves evoke the inevitability of the cycle of life and death and the personal mementos of the dead allows what is the artist’s personal loss to touch the viewer and trigger our own pain of loss.

The message hits home: In order to honour the community of the dead we must wake up and live.

Other wonderful pieces by talented artists complete the exhibition designed to meet all of one’s ghoulish needs.

 

Death in Dalston offers a quick trip through the underworld and runs at BSMT Space only through 2 November so don’t miss out.

 

Art, Art, Articles, Community, Music, Oneness

From social phenomena to Social Movement: Food of War

September 25, 2015

Amidst the refugee crisis in Europe, the UK visit of the Dalai Lama, and the celebration in Trafalgar Square of UN World Peace Day, last night, a new Social Movement, Food of War, celebrated its launch event to raise awareness of the linkages between food and war.

Visitors to BSMT space in Dalston were greeted with a multi-media and multi-sensorial event.  Music and films played in various alcoves, while paintings and photography challenged the viewer to interrogate the relationship between food and conflict while food and drinks piqued the taste buds as well as the collective unconsciousness.  The aim was to make connections between the sensory experience and the intellectual understanding of the represented conflicts.

In the statement by the collective, we are reminded that:

 

“Above all, food is about power”

 

Visitors saw this power-play in the intersections of the various food and art to be experienced.  Sugar cane juice enlivened the taste buds with the familiar but richer, more essential, flavour of South America as we gazed on Omar Castañeda’s painting “Raped Seeds: Farmers vs Government – Sugar Cane” which depicts farmers greeting police with the traditional Colombian drink.  Peasants opposed the Colombian government in 2013 for offering no protection to small farmers under Free Trade Agreements or against big agri-businesses like Monsanto.  This opposition, depicted as violent in the press, began as a peaceful but political protest through the universal act of hospitality – sharing of food.

 

"Raped Seeds: Farmers vs Government - Sugar Cane" by Omar Castañeda

“Raped Seeds: Farmers vs Government – Sugar Cane” by Omar Castañeda

 

Unlike the Colombian farmer who battles to compete and preserve their heritage seed, Food of War aims to metaphorically plant the seed in the minds of the public and other artists to begin to engage in thought and dialogue around both the current relationships and heritage of Food and War.

Other works evoked different conflicts.  A short film by Omar Castaneda and Monica Rubio about the traditional Spanish food, Las Gachas,  combined with the taste of the food itself, evoked, for visitors the hardships and resilience of the people during the Spanish Civil War.  In another alcove, a documentary film by Quintina Valero accompanied by Italian salad represented the triumph of local communities despite long standing conflicts with the Mafia.  Finally, an offering of hummus sat upon a cloth embroidered with a hummus recipe in several languages, representing the conflict in the middle east.  All visitors were treated to a slice of cake which bore the edible inscription of the Food of War Manifesto

Photography from the ‘Maiden Women’ project by Omar Castaneda and Quintina Valero documents the role of women and food in the conflict in the eastern Ukraine.

“Maiden Women” by Omar Castañeda and Quintina Valero. Photo by Quintina Valero, courtesy of Food of War.

 

In the final room, a short film by Omar Castaneda  juxtaposes violent images of police assault and peasant protest with haunting and powerful music by Carolina Munoz.  Work by the opera singer Hyalmar Mitrotti was also represented.

Upon entering the gallery, the visitor was confronted by the painting “Food Inc. Refugees” by Omar Castaneda, which challenges the viewer to make the connections between the way in which our humanity has been called into question over the refugee crisis in Europe.  This is represented by the desperate refugees found dead in a lorry normally used to transport dead battery farmed chickens.

 

Omar Castañeda With his painting "Food Inc. Refugees"

Omar Castañeda With his painting “Food Inc. Refugees”

Before the launch, I had the opportunity to discuss the Food of War with three of the members of the collective, Omar Castaneda, Hernan Barros and Quintina Valero.

 

Tell us about your organisation, how it was founded and what are your aims?

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Omar Castañeda

Omar:  In 2010 we travelled to Palestine and Israel and we saw this connection of food.  It was really important in those areas.

For example, to go to a checkpoint you have to leave all your food, if you’re going from the Palestine to the Israeli territories but going the other way,  it is no problem. So we thought okay, there are pretty interesting objects and subjects and ideas that we can develop.

We saw all these problems that they had with food and how they managed to appropriate Western brands and make their own in Palestine.  There was this kind of ‘fight’ in a way.  I  want to be a part of it but the world doesn’t want to let us be a part.  So we thought okay there’s something important happening around these foods.  We – Monica Rubio and I – spent three weeks there.  We started working with the project until Monica became busy with having a family and Hernan Barros came on board as part of the art collective.  We started developing the whole idea, as a group, and we started writing The Manifesto.

 

Hernan Barros

Hernan Barros

Hernan:  There was a lot of discussion with Monica in the beginning because she is a documentarian, Omar is a visual artist and I work with visual effects and I write.  So, in the beginning we were thinking this could be a documentary or this could be a cookbook or an exhibition and then we started debating and we thought this could be a Movement so everyone would be welcome to contribute in different ways.  And, now we have associated artists.  At one point a singer approached us and I thought: “What?” and then Omar said “Of course she can, she can be a part of it!”

Omar and I collaborated and then Quintina joined the movement, once we decided this could be a movement.  Quintina is a photojournalist which brings a completely different angle to the work.  She is more “hands on” –  like a street fighter.  She is the type of professional that goes out, takes pictures and interacts with the community and so she brings that quality, which was a little lacking in us, until then.

When she came along, she really liked the idea and she said let’s go to the Ukraine – something is happening in the Ukraine – and so Omar and Quintina went there and worked for over a month.  The way that she has really influenced the movement is to be more hands on and interacting with the community.

And so, we welcome everyone who can, in a creative way, explore the relationship between food and war through art, ideally under the principles of our Manifesto, and raise awareness of ongoing and past conflicts.

 

Omar:  For us its really important to have the experience from the people; from the situation.  Quintina has the press card so she can travel to places that I cannot, but I’d like to.  So it was really interesting the way we collaborated because she is a photojournalist and I am an artist and so sometimes we clash because we have different approaches but I learned a lot from her and she learned a lot from me and we learned how to work together and how to do a project as a collective.

We want to plant the seeds in the minds of people to think that every time we eat something, there is something behind that.  Nowadays its so easy to go to the supermarket and we don’t think where food comes from so that’s something we want to do – to make people aware of what’s behind the produce that we eat.

 

Tell us about your name: Why Food of War and not Food of Peace?

Hernan:  We were just discussing this yesterday and we were saying that it is in times of peace that we appreciate the consequences of war and we are grateful that we are not at war.  But it is when we are at war that there is this power play, all the time, and that is what we like to explore because food, above all things, is about power.  In war, there is a clash of power.  We are not pro war, we just like to observe it and dissect it, through food.

Omar:  Through our research for our projects we have realised that the things we have nowadays have come from the times of war.  We don’t think these two things (food and war)  belong together but actually they are really linked.  Many of our ‘fast foods’ comes from war – tinned food which came from the Napoleonic war.

Hernan:  Think about Spanish food! Where would we be without all the ingredients the Spanish took when they invaded Latin America?  They took spices and even potatoes so there would be no patatas bravas without that conflict.  It wasn’t a war initially, it was an invasion and then it was a war with the Latin American uprising.  And before that, when the Muslims invaded Spain and continued to influence them for some 800 years, it really influenced the food.  The Moors were powerful so they took what they wanted from the farms but they didn’t eat pork so the pigs were left for the farmers.  So the peasants maximized what they could get from the animal.  That’s why we have chorizo and all the pork based foods from Spain.  They used everything – they even ate the ears.  All the food that remains when we go on a gastronomic tour of Spain is a direct consequence of war.  We eat these in times of peace but they come from times of war.

 

What wars are within scope of interrogation in reciprocal relation to food?

Omar:  I’m obsessed with food.  I’m really passionate about food.  All my projects began because there was a fight between my father and my mother to get control of the kitchen.  In order to show that they had power they decided to buy a fridge.  My mother bought a fridge and then my father decided to buy a bigger fridge to show: “I’ve got money, I’ve got the power.”  And then my mother did the same.  In the end, we had 7 fridges.  And we weren’t allowed to eat the food inside the fridge.

I know its weird.  But that’s an example of how domestic violence can start it off.

Hernan:  We haven’t explored that since we created the movement.  We started working with wars between countries and religions but we are open to do a piece like that.  So far we haven’t but that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested.  We are open if an artist comes with an interesting proposal that isn’t about war between two countries or two religions, but maybe conflict between two communities or neighbourhoods.

Omar:  So its not just war,  its the relationship between food and conflict.  For example I can have a problem with Hernan and probably I can sort it out over sharing food.  In the gallery we have a film with a song about the conflict between the peasants and the government and Monsanto in Colombia so its not just about war between countries, in this case it was within my own country.  We like to explore all of that.

Quintina Valero

Quintina Valero

Quintina: Yes, carrying on with the same theme, we are exploring a future project around conflicts around water.  I have some experience from Spain and how the government and communities are dealing with shortage of supply of water.  We can see that the same issues are going on in other countries.  So, it is not just food, either.  It is food and water and the interactions.  And its great to get to work together because everyone brings ideas.

We get so many people sharing things we’d like to explore.  At least it gets people starting to think about it.

Hernan:  Yes, its like therapy.  Last time I was here in this space at the gallery opening, I was talking to people and I say what I do and everyone says – “Oh well, in my country…”

Omar:  It’s when you say the two words together that people make the connection.  That’s why we aren’t called Food of Peace, because when you put the two together, people say their personal stories.  “Food and War?  Oh, my brother dah dah dah…”

 

Your manifesto refers to your group as a movement and that you don’t take sides in your works or have any party affiliation, the word movement implies evolution and change at the level of civil society.  How does this manifest with your movement?

Quintina:  What we try to do, where there is a conflict, and it is possible, we try to see both sides and document both sides of the story.  For example in the Ukraine, there is a conflict in the East.  We try to show both sides.  At the moment there is only one part in the show but the other part is coming.  Without being on one side or the other, we try to raise awareness of the issues.  We want to show both sides so they see that the same problems are shared.

Omar:  However, we document the wars and the issues but we want to go further and we are planning to do more about those issues.  We see ourselves as helping those people that are in conflict,  building bridges between the parties that are in conflict.  We think we have a social agenda.

Quintina:  But, we are also artists…

Hernan:  We’re people!  We’re always going to have a side, whether we want it or not,  and maybe it leaks into the work.  You try to be impartial but maybe they don’t even let you go there to the other side .  If  we tried to do something on North and South Korea, we probably couldn’t go to North Korea and then people will think hmmm…

Quintina:  Yes, even in the Ukraine I had that problem.  I was with the journalists and as soon as someone was publishing on social media, they would decide you were working with the rebels and wouldn’t let you go to that area.  So its quite difficult sometimes.  At least if we can only cover one side we try to have someone else cover the other.  We try to be neutral.

We work in different ways and we are always learning.  We are learning about the issues, we are learning about each other and we are learning from the food.  We want to make others aware as well.

Hernan:  Yes, it’s like people can go – “Oh, I didn’t know there was something happening there.  I didn’t know there was an issue with food in Western Sahara”

Omar:  We are working on something now for the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl.  We did an exhibition with photographs and propaganda but we are also doing a documentary from different countries.  That is coming.

 

How and why have you selected the dishes and pieces in the show, today?

Omar: We are showing 7 works here tonight and we decided to take the works from artists that have been working with us for a long time and that have most relevance to our message.  We chose the food that is familiar to the audience coming today so that they can understand what we’re talking about.

Hernan:  Like for instance we took the Las Gachas, Hummus and Italian salad, we have a cake with our manifesto and we have a sugar cane drink to represent the Colombian conflict.  And I will ask people to write on edible paper with edible ink.  So we cover the Spanish civil war, the middle east conflict, the mafia control in Italy, Colombia peasant opposition and also the Ukraine conflict and the European refugee crisis.

 

What would you like visitors to take away from this event?

Omar:  This is a multidisciplinary art collective so there are multidisciplinary things going on.  There are no borders.  Food is part of the art, food is part of the cooking, food is something to help you think about the works while you’re eating.

Something is going to happen to them like:  “Oh really, I didn’t know about this conflict…wow, hummus…is that going there?  Oh the immigrants…”  And this idea of  carrying away the dead immigrants the way they carry away dead chickens.

I think people are going to start making links through all of these connections.

Hernan: We’re aiming at that connections that normally you don’t make when you are tasting something.  I call it the forgotten sense – tasting.  The other senses you use for basic survival but you also use them for aesthetic pleasure.  But with food, there is very little sense of intellectual connections of something happening behind this or the consequences that brought this dish here.  A dish is like a biopsy of what has happened.  It’s like cutting a slice of time and space and anything – financially, culturally or socially – can be reflected through a dish.

We are aiming for that to happen if not in this exhibition then it will be the seed for it to start.

Omar:  This is our seed and we want to plant the seed for the movement in every person that comes today and make them think.

Quintina: We are open, we are looking for people to come into the group or even some ideas for future projects.  It’s just the beginning.

 

What is the role of community in the themes you address?

Quintina:  The way we work is we do research on the problem or conflict, the food related to it, and then when we go there, we interview people from all aspects of the community and then, when we can, we offer a workshop to give back to the community and to include food and drawing and art.

We try to bring a seed to open a door to come back and also to work with local artists.  It’s very interactive way we work with the community.

Omar:  Also, we contact NGOs or people working in the countries to be able to go to places we need to go, or to give us ideas of where and how to work in the area.  Thanks to one of the NGOs we got to go to one of the refugees camps in the Ukraine and that was really powerful.  We want to be part of the that to understand the whole situation.

 

What is the greatest hope for this collective movement? What would be a dream-come-true?

Hernan:  To work with as many artists as we can, to increase our knowledge and to raise awareness of as many conflicts as possible.  To reach as many people as   possible.

Omar:  Yes, that’s exactly it.

Quintina:   Yes and there are many ways of collaborating.  When we went to the Ukraine, they arranged a translator for us, sometimes they give us accommodation, we also hope to be connected to other artist collectives, and people from galleries who want to exhibit our work.  There are many ways we can work with people together.

Omar:  Yes but at the moment it is just ourselves funding the project…

Quintina: …and we’ve had to delay our second part of the Ukraine project because there isn’t enough funding.

Hernan:  We are looking for applying for funding for our projects.  We are just at the beginning and we are proving ourselves, still.

Omar:  Today we are making our statement and people can talk about us for better or worse and we are putting ourselves on the map.

 

And finally, because it is the nature of this particular magazine to ask:  For what are you most grateful in relation to this work?

Quintina:  I am very grateful to be invited to be part of Food of War and the first time they spoke to me about the collective 2 years ago I was very interested and excited and I was pleased when they invited me to be part of the collective.  Since then, I have learned a lot from the way they work and the way we work together and the possibilities I’ve had to work on very interesting projects so its very exciting to be part of the group and doing what we do.

Hernan:  For me, it is the opportunity to rescue the forgotten sense – taste – and to take it to another level.  Every time that I meet someone and I see the way they eat and their cultural background,  I am seeing the world through a different lens.  I am very grateful because I had that in me  but I didn’t know how to channel it.  Food of War has given me the excuse to channel it and to pursue it.  I don’t just have Vietnamese food because it tastes so good.  There is a whole story about how Vietnamese food has evolved through all different wars, through the French invasion, through the Chinese invasion and through the war with the Americans.  When you find a eureka moment, when you make all these connections, it makes you happy and you want to share it with everyone.  And it’s not just past conflicts; when it’s about current conflicts its even more powerful.

Omar:  I’m grateful to understand that food is a very powerful tool to communicate with people and communities.  It’s something we take for granted.  I don’t know how to explain it.  I’m so pleased that working on these projects has given me the ‘salt’ to be happier and to learn more about war as well.  Food has that other meaning.

And I would like to thank two of the artists in the show who are not with us today, Carolina Munoz and Hyalmar Mitrotti.

 

Food of War exhibition is on until 30 September at BSMT Space, 5 Stoke Newington Road, N16 8BH, London.

 

“Tantrum” courtesy of Food of War

 

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