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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

 

 

 

Art, Art, Articles, Nature, Oneness, Service

Louis Masai and His Tribe: Shepherding Consciousness Towards Animal Welfare

January 20, 2016

We kick off 2016 with the first in a series of articles featuring individuals who are making a difference in the world – where they are, with the talents they have – through Service.  Our first interview features the UK artist Louis Masai, who uses his skills as a contemporary fine artist and muralist to give a voice to the voiceless and promote environmental conservation.

The global climate summit COP 21 concluded last month and Louis Masai traveled to Paris to add to his works with the environmental NGO, Synchronicity Earth, on endangered species.  In advance of the climate talks, he painted a coral mural outside Paris which is part of a series of murals he is painting in several countries.

In September, Louis Masai began the series by creating the largest mural he has painted to date, in London.  The painting depicted a coral reef with various reef dependent species to highlight the biodiversity of marine ecosystems and corals under threat.  The work was the artist’s first interactive piece, with members of the public suggesting species to include in his design as he painted, and the work received tremendous media attention.  The artist has gone on to paint smaller coral follow-up pieces in Ireland, South London and Paris.

 

#LondonLovesCoral Mural by Louis Masai with Synchronicity Earth, in London

#LondonLovesCoral Mural by Louis Masai with Synchronicity Earth, in London. Photo by Tania Campbell

 

Marine ecosystems are vitally important to life on the planet.  Oceans cover more than 2/3 of the surface, and plankton in marine ecosystems provide 50% of the world’s oxygen as well as food and livelihoods for vast numbers of the global population, particularly for the world’s poor.  As part of the marine ecosystem, coral reefs are home to a multitude of marine life but with climate change, coastal runoff, overfishing and marine pollution, 75% of the world’s coral reefs are currently under threat  with some environmentalists projecting that 90% of the worlds reefs will be under threat by 2030.   The worlds largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, barely remained off the UNESCO endangered list in 2015 and remains under a severe threat watch for the next several years.

These threats have serious implications for mankind.  Seagrasses and mangroves have been lost with the worsening health of marine ecosystems.  When coupled with coral losses and degradation, this has promoted the growth of disease spreading algal blooms in coastal waters which threaten to change disease vectors for masses of populations of humans and terrestrial wildlife.  The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) scientists responsible for projections about the likelihood of climate change and the risks and impacts of that climate change  confirm in their 5th Assessment report the vulnerability of coral reefs.  The existing and projected degradation of coral reefs exacerbates the threat of sea level rise to coastal systems and low-lying areas and this will persist, even if the world manages to stabilise temperatures.

The environmental threat from degradation of the world’s reefs and marine ecosystems is extreme and it will take the concerted effort of the world’s population to improve our combined destiny.  Digesting this grave information is not easy but  Louis Masai has teamed up with Synchronicity Earth to help raise awareness by making all the frightening statistics more accessible and personal.

 

Louis Masai workng on his mural #LondonLovesCoral. Photo Courtesy of London Calling Blog

Louis Masai working on his mural #LondonLovesCoral. Photo Courtesy of London Calling Blog on Instagram: @ldn_calling_blog

 

Whilst the COP 21 Climate Change summit was underway in Paris, we had the opportunity to connect with the artist via email for an interview.

 

TTDOG: You have shied away from the term activist in the past, but I know that you care deeply about the rapid wave of extinctions of species and of biodiversity loss. You have expanded beyond individual species and animals now to a much wider crisis – that of the vanishing coral reefs and, therefore, of entire marine ecosystems. You have painted in Paris at the start of COP21 where all the world’s leaders gathered to set the agenda that will affect the world’s climate which is arguably at a tipping point.  What does this wider vision and forum mean to you and how do you hope your work will impact on leaders, environmentalists and individuals?

LM: Well, to be honest, I doubt very much that politicians that aren’t already engaged in the thoughts of environmental issues will become altered by stumbling upon my coral hearts in Paris or by the other paintings that I have done.  In fact, they are probably blissfully unaware that I am doing it.  There are other art projects happening in Paris that might reach them, but even still, I don’t personally believe that visual language can reach an unethical mind.  However, I do believe that the people that vote governments in to power will be affected by visual language and I also believe that these images can inform the general public and, hopefully, unite the people to encourage the right politicians to lead countries and represent us at environmental summits.

Environmentalists love my work for the simple reason that it addresses issues that they are concerned with;  It depicts them in an attractive way, and it helps to reach the wider audience.  And, as individuals, I think 1 in 10 people will take note and allow for the message to override the actual image itself.  I hope so, anyway.

 

TTDOG:  You have said before that you inject a human element in your work.  Have you done this in your recent series of coral paintings with synchronicity earth? In what way?

LM:  Well the big coral mural I did in London doesn’t depict human juxtaposition in the way that my other work does, but if you look into the centre of the shape, there is a heart shaped hole which I have coined “the keyhole” which means the  biodiversity that I have created is a padlock.  Every keyhole has a key.  

 

Detail from London mural #LondonLovesCoral by Louis Masai with empty heart "keyhole"amidst the biodiversity padlock. Photo courtesy of Instagrammer @m_frenchie

Detail from London mural #LondonLovesCoral by Louis Masai with empty heart “keyhole” in the upper left circle.      Photo courtesy of Instagrammer @m_frenchi

 

The coral hearts that I painted in South London, Paris and before in Ireland are the keys.  This idea of keys and lock symbolises that to unlock a sustainable ecosystem, like the coral reef, we must all have a key to invest into its survival.  The keys become metaphors for the human itself, and thus, the juxtaposition of human and animal becomes a little bit more obvious.  Essentially all my coral paintings are connected together in some way because of the heart, which by the way is not shaped like I have painted them, this shape is a human interpretation.

 

Coral Key in South London by Louis Masai. Photo by Tania Campbell

Coral Key in South London by Louis Masai. Photo by Tania Campbell

 

TTDOG: Your work seems to focus on environmental crisis. What drives you to give a voice to those who do not have one within your paintings and then to engage and include so called marginalised people who are not otherwise part of the environmental discussion through interaction with your art?

LM: I haven’t ever stopped to figure that out, it’s just something that happened naturally, over time.  I guess I’m just creating large real life jigsaw puzzles.

 

TTDOG: Your name is “Masai” and it is a word that seems both sacred and integral to your painting. Would you be willing to share how you gained the name and how it’s meaning infuses your work? What does it mean to you to call your followers “Masai Tribe?”

LM: I have fond memories of wild tales from my Opa about my dad in the Cameroons (now part of Nigeria and the Country of Cameroon) and it is those stories twinned with the Archeological treasures we had at home that steered me in the direction of tribal cultures. I soon discovered an amazing book called Africa Adorned (By Angela Fisher). I became fixated with a tall tribe bearing spears and shields, dressed in beautiful red tartans.

I later understood them to be the Masai warrior tribe.

I have a particular interest in the idea of one’s creation and the way that a person can shape and define who and what they are perceived to be by the general public. Being that I am an artist and one that engages in the public domain on a daily basis, I realised that my love of graffiti and the ideology of fame through a moniker or alter ego was, in many ways, no different from the inventions of the band names and frontmen that I was listening to, on my records. It’s also not uncommon for fine artists to invent their own names. Man Ray, for example, even took it a step further and his name became the art itself. Again, I found this very interesting and something that I wanted to incorporate with my own work.

With these factors all combined and running around my busy head some 8 or 9 years ago, I decided that I wanted a powerful name that I hoped could one day become as important as the work i was creating. I feel it’s starting to approach that place now, especially as my work is about raising awareness for endangered species and threatened ecosystems. The Masai are shepherds which is a nice link to the idea of an artist collecting consciousness amongst the peoples for animal welfare.

The reason for using Masai tribe in my social media is as a way to remind my followers that we are all unified in the success of one mans objectives. If mine is to spread awareness then it’s the tribe’s to move it from my page to theirs and further. I feel the word tribe removes any superiority amongst us.

 

TTDOG: I admire the way you have worked so incredibly hard and collaborated with activists to both make a living as an artist and to make a difference in the world. Both the art world and the world of socio/environmental/political change are really challenging.  People often fear that they alone can’t make a difference. What would you say to them?

LM: Well, to start with, it depends what that one man standing solo is trying to achieve.   You can’t play football on your own, but you can play a game with that ball on your own.  So I guess what I’m saying is that if you want to make a difference and you feel isolated and alone then change the way you address it or go and knock and some doors and get a full team of football fans to play with you.

For me words like “original”, “unique” and “individual” are misused words because someone else has done it before, thought it before, and there will be many to follow.   What i mean is that there are many more “you”’s out there and they care just as much, so find them.  Your mission is to create the links, make a tribe and spread the message further.

 

Throughout his career, Louis has been evolving, creating connections and spreading his message.  Although not always connecting his painting with specific conservation projects, he has long had a special ability to paint character-filled animals.  Painting for several group and solo contemporary art gallery exhibitions, he also honed his skills with public murals in London and in several other countries.  Louis’ evolving relationship with visual communication between animals as subjects and the public as viewer matured through several series of works, and began to focus on raising awareness of endangered species.  His earlier work with Synchronicity Earth marked the passing of the 50th anniversary of the IUCN Red List for endangered species.

Shortly after this project, TTDOG  had the pleasure to meet the artist at his solo exhibition “Batteries Not Included”, in London.  There, Louis spoke about his work with Synchronicity Earth and of the importance for the public to understand and act now on the IUCN Red List for endangered species.  His deeply moving connection with his subjects and his conviction to try to make a change was palpable to all in attendance.

A film by Synchronicity Earth was launched at the opening of the exhibition and provides a glimpse into the passion and purpose of Louis Masai and the Synchronicity Earth Team.

 

Whilst busy creating several other series of paintings for gallery exhibitions and as public art, Louis Masai teamed up in 2014 with fellow artist Jim Vision to turn their skills towards an urgent issue – the collapse of pollinator communities across the UK.   Engaging with the public to educate and raise awareness, the pair created a series of murals in London.  The project culminated in a day of community consciousness and awareness raising around the delicate ecosystem and the threats to the food chain, and textile crops from colony collapse.  Local beekeepers, Friends of the Earth, Hiver honey beer, Thompson Morgan seeds and Rockwell House joined the artists’ cause, to help make the project a success.
The project to save the bees caught the attention and inspired the imagination of the UK public.  A short film by Emil Walker helped deliver the message of the dangers to humanity of the collapse of bee colonies to audiences beyond the UK.

 

 

The project has been featured in social media by environmentalists such as Greenpeace, and Ecowatch, activist sites like Films for Action and the trend setting site Bored Panda as well as mainstream media.  As the debate around banning neonics continues in countries like USA and Canada, and as Europe and the global South works to revive the pollinator population, the project provides a perfect example of how communities are both impacted by and can impact upon bee colony health.

 

Although the global climate meeting of the Conference of Parties 21 concluded late last year with a landmark climate agreement to end fossil fuels use and limit carbon emissions, implementing this agreement and limiting the other greenhouse gasses which threaten the climate will be a complicated process involving unpopular political policy and major lifestyle adjustments for the world’s population.  We know this work cannot be done by governments alone.

As the world struggles to back away from climate disaster,  Louis Masai’s paintings, as real life jigsaw puzzles, help remind even a fraction of his audience that we each hold the key to unlock the preservation of biodiversity.

 

We asked Louis Masai one final question:

 

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

LM:  I just give thanks for the life I live.     For me,  joy is in nature,  so I hope to find ways to preserve it.

 

 

For further information on the work of Louis Masai:
Louis Masai’s Website
Louis Masai on Facebook
Louis Masai on Instagram
Articles, Oneness

Sometimes I Don’t Know How to Live in This World Anymore

December 8, 2015
Photo by NASA

Photo by NASA

Like many people who see the world fall deeper into despair, I admit it: Sometimes I don’t know how to live in this world anymore.

I feel like a child backed into a corner, watching her parents argue.   With her hands over her ears, she screams:

“Stop fighting!”

But screaming does nothing.  My heart aches.

With the EU humanitarian failure to refugees, the Paris attacks, the bombing of Syria and all the racist and fascist fallout that this has generated, the 21st COP has launched in Paris and violence has overshadowed our focus on saving this world of ours.

Screaming in our corner is distracting us from reality.

My heart aches.

Sunday I ventured out into the world and in the heart of Mayfair, I witnessed a car hit a cyclist, the cyclist (shaken but unharmed) stand and scream at the careless driver who returned the screaming and slammed punch after punch into the unsuspecting head of the woman in his passenger seat.

I froze in horror.  I struggled to find my iPad to take down the license plate and then a second round of punching. The car sped off, hopelessly pursued by the cyclist, leaving me holding my iPad and wondering why hell was being unleashed on that woman.

Screaming changes nothing.

My heart aches.

Sometimes I don’t know how to live in this world anymore.  Since Paris, I have been walking around as if in a dream…or perhaps it is what we call “the real world” that has revealed itself to be nothing more than an elaborate illusion. Nothing in the world has made me want to be out socialising or revelling and participating in the illusion.  Everything seems like the matrix, and I am no longer able to pretend to be a part of it.

Sometimes I don’t know how to live in this world anymore.

I isolate, but like holding my hands over my ears and screaming, it changes nothing.  I know that this greed, war, fascism, violence and hatred is not who I am.  There is a reality beyond all this illusion and I never forget it.  I think what is so disturbing is that so many around me have forgotten.

The darkness is spreading at an accelerating rate. Stabbings, shootings, domestic violence, poverty, homelessness,war, environmental degradation – it is all around us.  When the British Parliament was voting on Syrian air raids, I tried to send light to parliament. It was impenetrable.

My heart aches.  And it is right that my heart should ache and I should not want to live in THIS world anymore.

There is much work to be done and screaming changes nothing.  The only thing that can dispel darkness is light.

In the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estés:

“Do not lose heart. We were made for these times…One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul… Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do…”

Sometimes I am able to stay fully lit for others but sometimes I am the struggling soul, relying on the light of others to re-start my pilot.

The only way we can learn how to live in this world, anymore, is together.

 

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, Articles, Meditation, Music, Nature, Oneness, The Practices

Why I choose Art in times of crisis

November 16, 2015
Inside the Musée D'Orsay, Paris France. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Inside the Musée D’Orsay, Paris France. Photo by Tania D Campbell

In 2001, I was living and working in Lower Manhattan. My boyfriend, my social circle, and my spiritual community were all in Manhattan. It was home.

My home came under attack.  I was consumed by the news.  It ate away at my insides.  And then, I turned it off.

Two days after the attacks on New York in 2001, my boss closed the studio and we went to look at art on the upper west side. I can’t even remember what art gallery we went to that day, but I do remember being on the roof and in the presence of incredible sculptures and seeing a sky not filled with smoke, for a change.

That day began my experience of communion, through art.

The very nature of art is to interrogate our perceptions of reality, to question what makes us human, to strip away all that is unnecessary in order to find the essence.  The ultimate aim of art is simply one thing only: Truth.

 

Truth, it has been said, is the preserve of the artist, the poet and the mystic.

 

Some would say that Truth is also the preserve of religion and the press.   The spin doctors of political agenda use the media to incite and divide the public.  Our press is owned by corporations with profit motives that dictate certain agendas.  Information is delivered in reductionist snippets and hashtags. There is neither discourse nor freedom in most of the ways we consume “news” from the press.  How can a media so constructed deliver the Truth?  I question whether it can ever even deliver the facts.

I have not lost my faith in the power of the word. I do believe in discourse and the power of the word to persuade. I believe in being informed and taking reports from a wide variety of sources. I believe in listening to scholars and experts and in discussing what is being said. But all of that simply delivers opinion.

Oh I do believe in words.  Words, like all art, can approximate the Truth.  But it is not their content which provides our insight.  Words may only have the power to approximate Truth through the ambiguity of the spaces between those well chosen words.

As in music, it is the silences that give words their meaning.

 

As for religion, it has long been the organising force around which wars have been fought.  Religion became the rallying force for a political agenda driven through the media. Since 2001, the combination of religion and the media has lead to wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and violent acts of terrorism in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America.

It remains so, now, as crusade and counter crusade strike a chord of familiarity in our collective unconsciousness, whose shared history is one of bloodshed and violence as much as peace and progress.  Currently, there is a lot of talk about the crusades and apocalyptic thinking of a certain group of terrorists.

I am an Interfaith Minister and I chose that path because I believe in the Truth of Oneness that lies at the heart of all of humanity regardless of belief.  It is a rejection of the divisive power of Religions to embrace all faiths and all paths of light whose aim is to seek the Truth  – including the paths of atheism and of science.    There are some that call this a nonsense path in the face of opposing ideologies born in the Middle Ages.  They are entitled to their beliefs, as well. And beliefs are simply that: they are not facts and they are not Truth.

And the argument goes: But how can we stand aside and do nothing when one side has already set up camp on the battlefield?  It is a good argument, if we look at the logic and the rhetoric and if we choose to believe that our God takes sides.

And yet, setting up battle camps on either side of this line, will surely, with today’s technology of killing, usher in a bloody war that we may well wish would unleash the apocalypse.

 

The mystic knows that in every religion, there is one way to know God. It is not from the pulpit nor on the battlefield.  God, in all religions, is revealed in the silence of the heart.

And if we choose to kill God and all concepts of God, we find that it is in the silence of meditation, contemplation, and communion with art and with nature that we can experience what we might call Oneness.

 

As the world struggles to make sense of an outer existence that has once again shown itself to be chaotic, distressing and unpredictable, I choose to turn off the media barrage and seek the one unchanging Truth of Oneness.

I meditate, I send healing to the hearts of family and friends of the dead and for the passage of the souls of the dead, and of course, I cry.  I make inquiries of friends who have been impacted and I listen.  I select my news and I engage in discourse with a variety of sources.  And, with a meditative stillness, I turn to contemplation and communion with art.

On Friday evening, as events were beginning in Paris, I was leaving the Giacometti exhibition in London.  It was an uplifting and deeply moving exhibition.  In describing his own process, Giacometti referred to the material from which he formed his sculptures as the illusion, itself. He sought to pare down the superfluous to reveal the presence of the living essence of being – not of any particular person – but of us all.

In the spaces between the words, in the silence of our hearts, in quiet contemplation with nature and with art, the Oneness of being calls to us constantly because we are a part of it.  We can choose to enhance its light or to shroud it in darkness by what we bring into our collective unconsciousness, our very essence of being.

 

What will you choose, this week?

 

 

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

Stinkfish Sets Off an Explosion of Colour on Bonfire Week in London

November 7, 2015

Colombian based and Mexican born artist, Stinkfish, has returned to London with his exhibition, Crossroad Portraits at Pure Evil Gallery.

Art © by Stinkfish at Pure Evil Gallery. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Art © by Stinkfish at Pure Evil Gallery. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

An explosion of colour characteristic of his vibrant portraits, the fireworks of bonfire night was the perfect backdrop for the opening of an exhibition by one of the most energetic and vibrant artists to have painted on London streets and graced the gallery scene in awhile.

 

"Agga(?) Family Values © by Stinkfish. Photo by Tania D Campbell

“Agga(?) Family Values © by Stinkfish. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Visitors to the opening were able to chat with Mr Stinkfish about his work and see the photos of people who have captivated him in his travels and subsequently become the subjects of his portraits.

 

Image of unknown mother and child whose image Stinkfish used as a model for his mural painting. Photograph from wall of images at Pure Evil Gallery, now on display. Photo of images by Tania D Campbell

Image of unknown mother and child whose image Stinkfish used as a model for his mural painting. Photograph from wall of images at Pure Evil Gallery, now on display. Photo of images by Tania D Campbell

 

Within each portrait is contained a tale of the momentary captivation of heart and mind, captured in a photograph, and carried in the heart of the painter through to completion of his portrait. Often unaware of the photographer, these interesting moments with intriguing strangers are immortalised in a combination of stencil and freehand paint on canvas.

 

"Phoenix Girl" © by Stinkfish. Photo by Tania D Campbell

“Phoenix Girl” © by Stinkfish. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Many times, Stinkfish has been asked about his choice of colour palette and over again, he replies that it has come organically. Perhaps by considering the indigenous and folk art of Central America, including Colombia and Mexico, one can see that in the context of this art history with their vibrant reds, oranges and yellows, the equally vibrant palette of Stinkfish, a man of the streets, is organic to cultures from which he comes.

 

image

“Barrio Girl #1” © by Stinkfish. Photo by Tania Campbell

 

These delightful portraits, refreshingly dazzling to the London public are very accessible to aspiring collectors, evidencing the truth of Stinkfish’s  ethos of wishing not to exploit his success but merely to be able to continue to make art available to as wide an audience as possible, particularly through the public gallery of the Street.

 

The exhibition runs through 6 December. Pure evil gallery at 96/98 Leonard Street is open daily from 10-6.

 

 

Art, Art

Graffictti Exhibition – Said Dokins, Mazatl, Fusca, Ácaro

November 7, 2015

image

Wednesday night, Graffictti, a group show by Mexican artists Said Dokins, Mazatl, Fusca, Ácaro opened in London. A short exhibition, the show runs through Sunday at the newly opened Hoxton Gallery at 47 Old Street.

Just three months old, the gallery is a large space in a converted grocery store, set in the heavily trafficked Old Street footpath between Whitecross Street and the Old Street tube station.  Well lit by day with large windows providing ample light, the gallery invites visitors to a voyage of discovery.   Although the ethos of a pop-up exhibition is to be a rough around the edges and “underground” vibe, it was admittedly hard work to find a gallery staff member to provide information.

Despite the gallery experience, this is a must see exhibition.  They works are a delight, living up to Hoxton Gallery’s promise to:

“…act as a point of artistic exchange between Mexican artists and the London street art community, showcasing emerging talents…(that) reflect the changing landscape of contemporary Mexico and its deep relation with traditional techniques”

 

Said Dokins

The beauty of Said Dokins’ calligraphy on walls in London is matched by the works in the gallery.

Art © by Said Dokins. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Art © by Said Dokins. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Photographs of works of writing performed with long exposure photography and the tracing of light through space is beyond compare.

 

Art © by Said Dokins. Photo of image in gallery by Tania D Campbell.

Art © by Said Dokins. Photo of image in gallery by Tania D Campbell.

 

Without an explanation of the work, one might presume that the work has been photoshopped rather than produced by photography and meditative focus.  In essence, Dokins has managed to leave a trail of perfectly formed letters with light, despite the letters being seen only in his mind’s eye.

 

Mazatl

Precision of line and detail is reflected in the prints of master carver and painter, Mazatl. His works remind one of the long tradition of graphic art seen in woodcuts dating back to early medieval times.

 

Art © by Mazatl. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Art © by Mazatl. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Beautifully rendered images of death, birth and political repression are conveyed via the natural world and connect with the viewer in a visceral way. A truly gifted artist and craftsman,  his images are immediate and engaging. One is entranced by both the detail of line and the overall realism generated.

 

Fusca

Juxtaposed against the precise detail of Mazatl, is the delicate terra cotta blush on the three faces of the woman from whose heart emerges a powerful horse.  Her illuminated, sun kissed skin offers both warmth and a complex set of imagery that seems at once both familiar and foreign.

 

Two prints left for sale.

A post shared by Fusca (@fusca667) on

 

Like Frida Kahlo, Fusca mixes what has been termed surrealism with symbols from indigenous and folk art.  Fusca’s work evokes the art of the Pueblo people both in the choice of colour palette and in imagery.

 

Detail collaboration with my brother @graficamazatl in London.

A post shared by Fusca (@fusca667) on

 

The above street piece of the masked figure who has tamed Mazatl’s wild boar is reminiscent of masked Hopi snake dancers, and the horse emerging from the heart reminds the viewer of the central role of the horse in indigenous culture of Northern Mexico and of the role that the Pueblo people played in the development of the horse trade in Northern Mexico and what has become the American Southwest.

Beautiful, captivating and dream like, Fusca’s art takes one on a journey of myth and legend both historical and beyond time.

 

Ácaro

With political imagery and detailed line reminiscent of Mazatl and a surrealist treatment that gives primacy to the natural world, Ácaro completes the show by evidencing a wide artistic range in the works exhibited.

 

Detail from Art by Ácaro. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Detail from Art by Ácaro. Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

Art prices range from accessible to that suitable for a more serious amateur collector. The group show closes Sunday and while one should be prepared to really work for an inquiry with gallery staff, the show is one not to miss.

 

 

 

 

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.

image

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.

image

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.

 

Articles, Joy, Music

The Joy of Jesse Cook

September 30, 2015
Photo: Marcin Nowak

Photo: Marcin Nowak

 

Widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost Nuevo Flamenco guitarists, Jesse Cook wrapped up the West Coast leg of his Canadian tour on Monday night at Chilliwack’s Hub Theatre And Cultural Centre.  With a seating capacity of 550, this intimate venue was filled with an ephemeral upsurge of joyous energy as Jesse Cook and his band threw a rollicking rumba party.

Arriving in Canada from France and Barcelona as a youth, Cook was recognized as a guitar prodigy, and trained as a classical, flamenco and jazz guitarist.  Cook has always sought to work with the world’s finest jazz, flamenco and world-beat musicians.  His newest album, “One World” includes a worldwide mix of such talent and achieves a blend of world music, flamenco and gypsy sounds, weaving new and ancient rhythms from east and west into what has been hailed, in the Whole Note Magazine as “a joyous celebration of alpha wave stimulation and artistic globalism.”

Cook’s band are equally some of the world’s finest musicians in the genre, and many have played with him for over 15 years.  Cook generously featured them throughout the performance and opened the show with each member layering note upon note until Cook took the stage. Violinist Chris Church opened the evening with rapid and crisp string fingering virtuosity.  Church was soon accompanied by one of the other finest flamenco guitarists Nic Hernandez and  shortly Dennis Mohammed took the stage on bass, until the band was completed with Alberto Suarez on percussion.  When Cook took the stage, the audience erupted in adoration for one of the world’s finest musicians that Canada has been quick to claim as their own.

Cook moved the audience with his melancholy Three Days and held them spellbound with Baghdad, following tales by Cook of the impact of 6th century persian music on all music in the world today. Cook lured the audience to their feet with an up-tempo rumba jam in the second set, and built to a joyous crescendo with such favourites as Shake. The  highlight of the performance, however, came in the second encore when the band performed an acoustic version of their 15 year old and greatest hit,  – a cover of the Crowded House ballad, Fall at Your Feet.  Without urging, 550 voices softly sang the chorus back to the band members.  It was a moment of Oneness as if the audience was expressing gratitude to the band for all the years of wonderful world music.

 

A quick survey following the show confirmed that this was, for those interviewed, the best performance they could remember, from any band.  Some claimed it to be the best concert of their lives. Smiles on all the faces were testament to the joyous celebration that only a Jesse Cook rumba party can bring.

Cook and his band now head south of the border for a USA west coast tour and return to the east coast of North America in late autumn/early winter.

In a world where joy is sometimes hard to find, “One World” delivers.  Tour dates and further information are available on Jesse Cook’s website.

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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