Blog : Art

Threaded Fine

Threaded Fine

Yesterday I danced Rosemary Lee’s Threaded Fine.

I’m still holding the threads inside my body and feel deeply affected by the experience. I’m also scared that it will all fade away too quickly and that I will forget. Which is partly why I am writing about it.

From the moment I heard about Malta forming a National Dance Company quite a few years ago, I was more than a little intrigued. Dance formed a crucial part of my childhood and teenage years but I put it aside at the age of around 17 although it never quite left me. I went to one of Zfin Malta’s first shows, Erbgħa (4) at the Astra Theatre in Gozo in 2015 and fell a little bit in love. Five years later, I find myself dancing in my favourite Zfin project to date, which feels more than a little surreal and definitely a dream come true for me.

The Dance Of Life

Starting from the youngest dancer (age 8) and moving in ascending age order to the oldest (age 76), Threaded Fine is a ceremony that each dancer performed as themself. In our consecutive solos we all went through the same cycles; movements born out of Rosemary’s verbal instructions and occasional imagery. We followed cosmic orbits that eventually led inside our bodies, we shimmered like fish, we treaded like bears, we brightly woke up the world, we made ourselves dissolve at the edge of the circle, we ran, we allowed ourselves to be truly, authentically seen in our vulnerability, we let our dance die and eventually led the next dancer into the circle to take over. The dance felt real, necessary, timely and important, accessing deeper parts of myself each time I danced.

In Circle

Rosemary created what definitely felt like the most level and democratic playing field I have ever worked in. Young, old, professional and novice, we were all treated with utmost respect, appreciation and attention. We started each session in circle, we learnt to celebrate the different ways we all move, we were encouraged to learn from each other. Rosemary’s facilitation and hosting created a safe holding space that coaxed out our best.* It’s not often that I fully trust a structure. I struggled at many points in the process as I learnt the movements, the cues and explored my own body’s way of interpreting them. The overall feeling of care, however, made it impossible for me to cling to my doubts and I just had to fully trust instead. The result of this trust was a bigger reward than I could have ever imagined.

Singing Our Song Out Into The World

I felt lovingly encouraged to be unapologetically myself in my dance. To be more deliberate, more curious, more brave. What I learnt about my dance applies fully to the rest of my life. Slow down, soften, allow yourself to feel, look out, let go fully. My very own set of reminders for living a fully present, fully embodied life. ** The gratitude I have for all this is endless.***

Threaded Fine - Rosemary Lee

*I really wish more leaders had the ability to create exactly this dynamic. **A Podcast by Tara Brach on the subject, that the wonderful Florinda pointed me to on performance day, helping me really drop into my body. ***None of this would have been possible without a very wonderful man called Jo who patiently brought our little Robin for breastfeeding dates during rehearsals and gave me his full love and support throughout this experience. Grazzi ħafna!

Il-Kamra Ta’ Barra | Parking Space Events in Sliema

Il-Kamra Ta’ Barra | Parking Space Events in Sliema

A living room made for on-street interaction.

Last Thursday, in collaboration with Margerita Pule, Parking Space Events moved across the water from Valletta to Sliema to create a ‘Kamra ta’ Barra’ (literally, an outdoor room). Traditionally the tidy and richly-decorated room Maltese households keep for the purpose of welcoming guests, we built one such ‘kamra ta’ barra’ within a parking space just outside a large building site in Howard Street Sliema.

For the few hours during our intervention, the rectangular lines on the ground marked the confines of our living room, which we invited attendees and passers-by to ‘enter’ and interact inside, while of course still being very much out on the street. We asked questions and invited discussions about what makes a good neighbourhood and about their thoughts about what is happening in the streets of Sliema at the moment.

“They dug so deep that they found sea water and cannot find a way to stop is seeping in. These apartments (pointing to the building site behind our living room) should have been habitable by last November and there are no signs of progress.”

Sliema residents spoke about the tensions of navigating their daily life around the heavy construction that is happening all over the town. “We’ve been dealing with construction for 25 years now” one resident commented. “My sister has been living on top of a building site for 10 years” another added. People spoke about the time it takes to navigate the streets to actually get out of Sliema. An elderly resident talked about wondering whether she could make it on foot from her house to Tigne Point given the immense clouds of construction dust that completely filled the air at Town Square, a €100 million luxury apartment tower project that the residents and NGOs have been campaigning against. The same resident asked philosophically “should we build upwards or outwards?”

Parking Space Events | Il-Kamra Ta Barra

“People complain about construction but enjoy the money that comes from it.”

“Ghada filghodu jigu l-krejnijiet u l-concrete mixers” (Tomorrow morning the cranes and the concrete mixers will take over), “I was born here but I am fed up of Sliema”. “It’s a lost cause”, “Tas-Sliema qerduha” (They have ruined Sliema), “Qed nitilfu kollox hawn” (We’re losing everything here). “We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that this is a nice environment”, “ the national bird of Malta is the crane”.

“It is the sea that saves us from going crazy.”

So what makes a good neighbourhood, we asked? “Not this crane” (referring to the big tower crane just adjacent to our living room and swaying ominously above us). “Walkways”, “Paths”, “Plants”, “Green areas”, “Safety”, “It’s not ok to put this wall here” (referring to the concrete brick wall in front of the massive building site and tower crane our living room is next to).

Parking Space Events | Il-Kamra Ta Barra

“The neighbours” was a popular answer. “We used to sit out on the street”. “In a town you want people to be on the street not off it. That’s the whole point of a town.” “I don’t know the neighbours and I’ve been living here for four years. There aren’t opportunities for people to meet. Most people who live here are in their 60s and 70s and they don’t feel safe being out on the streets. It’s an unbalanced neighbourhood because the young people have moved out of Sliema.” “We used to live in Sliema but our landlord sold the house” a young couple explained. “In the morning when I go to work I only see foreigners who have come here for work on the street”. “People have a different relationship to space when they are here temporarily. They might not care so much about the changes.”

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Parking Space Events | Il-Kamra Ta Barra

As one of the living room hosts, I really enjoyed creating a space where people could chat and discuss their neighbourhood on the street. At one point I sat down with a woman who lives nearby and had an hour-long conversation that spanned construction, living in different places, religion and beliefs and the idea of thinking about future generations when taking action today. It was clear that we were extremely different in our individual perspectives, our beliefs, our ways of living. Yet on the red sofa in the middle of Howard Street we both enjoyed learning about each other’s different ways of looking at the world and somehow expanded our horizons.

Safe, welcoming spaces for people to meet on the street can be very valuable to a community. They provide the possibility for inter-generational communication and interaction between people from different backgrounds who would not usually hang out together. If designed well they can serve as peaceful, shady oases where people can be encouraged to discuss what is happening in their neighbourhoods and find ways of improving them together. Long working hours, car-dominated streetscapes, street-area take-overs by businesses and commercial concerns, lack of pedestrian and bicycle facilities and lack of shading amongst others all tend do encourage humans to be less social when outdoors. It’s time to take this into account in our urban planning to consciously design neighbourhoods that encourage and give space for people to live better.

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More about Il-Kamra ta’ Barra:

Times of Malta

Kultura News

Project Disintegration

Malta’s Muses – Goddess, Madonna, Witch | Fragmenta

Malta’s Muses – Goddess, Madonna, Witch | Fragmenta

Kay Turner brings together the goddesses from Maltese religious and folk tradition at Tarxien Temples

It was such a joy to be around such absolutely kick-ass females at this edition of Fragmenta. Donning different Madonna t-shirts from various tours and the kind of self-assured, no-nonsense presence that tends to come with being on this planet for a while, Kay Turner (New York, USA), Paula Schorr and Karen Siegel (Highland Park, New Jersey, USA) assisted by Mary Sanger (Austin, Texas USA) provided the exact image of what I want to be when I grow up.

Kay spoke about her work, about goddesses and altars, about the figure of the witch. More females are identifying with the characteristics and values of the witch: standing up for social justice, putting her foot down, saying no, speaking out, not being taken for a ride. Of course, these are all problematic traits for those who wish to get away with murder and the witch has been demonized and downtrodden over time. The more acceptable angelic, silent, fertile goddess being favoured and lauded by the establishment.

Whooshing around on her absolutely massive and beautiful broom (the perfect vehicle for getting out of a sticky situation), Kay created the possibility for an update of the witch persona. She’s loud, she’s wickedly funny, she smashes patriarchy’s knickknacks with a hammer as she sings in celebration.

Kay spurning fertility and smashing tchotchkes.

 

The witch is queer. With Kay reading Grimm’s Frau Trude tale about the little girl and the witch who turned her into a block of wood, Paula and Karen continue with their amazing performance, singing about the old witch and the young gay girl who crosses the threshold thirsty to learn about the arts of seduction.

 

Paula and Karen’s performance ‘Playing with Fire’ from a few years back at NYU.

 

Enlivened by the singing and smashing we stand up and gather for the procession through the temples. With Kay at the helm we make a run on our brooms laughing gleefully as we whoosh forward. We eventually meet the goddesses on our journey.

 

The Maltese Woman | Fragmenta | Kay Turner

The Maltese Woman

Dressed in black with a traditional Ghonnella and a string of pearls, the Maltese woman is seen waving in a friendly manner. She waves, she moves, she waves some more, silent, smiling, beautiful. Is this what we recognize as the ideal?

 

Sansuna the giantess | Fragmenta | Kay Turner

Sansuna the Giantess

Sansuna is the builder of Ggantija. She lives on broad beans and honey as she kicks massive stones up the hill, her hands occupied with the baby she had with a human. At Tarxien she was offering passers-by broad beans to place on the main altar.

 

The Witch with the crooked nose

Sporting a very respectable long and pointy noise, the witch cackles as we walk past. Is she righteous, is she evil, is she beautiful, is she ugly? Who is she for us?

 

The Night Hag

Traditionally known to sit on humans at night and cause sleep paralysis. Sleeping with a knife under the pillow is said to keep her away. Here the Night Hag is seen snapping knives in two and offering them to passers by. What if we invite her to visit? What gifts does she bring?

 

Protection Mudras at the Tarxien Temple entrance

At the entrance to the inner temple, Paula and Karen stand at the monumental stones. We watch them re-enact goddess protection mudras and copy their gestures before walking in, greeted by more goddesses.

 

The Virgin

Dressed in white, veiled in blue and carrying a mini-me glow-in-the-dark Madonna, the virgin has stars in her hands that she passes on to people as they walk by. The stars are made out of religious pages turned into confetti for the Immaculate Conception feast celebrated a day previously.

 

The Witch and the Goddess

Flanking a narrow passageway inside the temple, this surprisingly compatible pair whispered simultaneous suggestions into ears. “The witch in me recognizes the witch in you” from one side and “The goddess in me recognizes the goddess in you” from the other. Who do we identify with?

 

Back out of the temple we walk up to the altar built for the occasion, decorated with scarves, goddesses, offerings, flowers and flickering lights. We add the offerings we collected during the procession – broad beans, flowers and stars.

Kay, Paula and Karen gather for one last invocation, putting the power of three to the service of a fourth in trouble. Kay brings out a photo of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist whose murder is still unsolved. Daphne is her fourth she explains as she invites us to find our own ‘her’. We chant together, calling on our collective power to the service of our cause.

“Brag about your escape”

“Brag about your escape”

This kind of started while I was at The Mill in Birkirkara earlier today, enjoying the last hour of Maxine C Attard‘s excellent In Between Obliterations. Talk turned to feelings of helplessness in actually making some kind of change within the situations we find unacceptable around us. For me this means things like the current full-speed-ahead economic growth at the expense of reasonable consideration to actual longterm survival, let alone wellbeing. It means people being completely resigned to the idea that money opens up all avenues. It means the prevailing culture of ‘keep your head down, act humble and don’t you dare criticise in public’.

After a fair few rounds of getting rants off our chests we kind of agreed that the simple acts of doing your own thing (nurturing what you find it meaningful to create) and being vocal about your thoughts, ways of doing things, ideas, at the very least have the effects of highlighting a divergence from the status quo.

Which really reminds me of Toko-Pa Turner’s Black Sheep Gospel, an extract from her most excellent book Belonging and an ongoing source of encouragement for me.

1. Give up your vows of silence which only serve to protect the old and the stale.

2. Unwind your vigilance, soften your belly, open your jaw and speak the truth you long to hear.

3. Be the champion of your right to be here.

4. Know that it is you who must first accept your rejected qualities, adopting them with the totality of your love and commitment. Aspire to let them never feel outside of love again.

5. Venerate your too-muchness with an ever-renewing vow to become increasingly weird and eccentric.

6. Send out your signals of originality with frequency and constancy, honouring whatever small trickle of response you may get until it becomes a momentum.

7. Notice your helpers and not your unbelievers.

8. Remember that your offering needs no explanation. It is its own explanation.

9. Go it alone until you are alone with others. Support each other without hesitation.

10. Become a crack in the network that undermines the great towers of Establishment.

11. Make your life a wayfinding, proof that we can live outside the usual grooves.

12. Brag about your escape.

13. Send your missives into the network to be reproduced. Let your symbols be adopted and adapted and transmitted broadly into the new culture we’re building together.

——–

About Maxine Attard’s exhibition In Between Obliterations that closed today:

(from the exhibition event page on Facebook)

‘In Between Obliterations’ is an exhibition of six works each of which contains debris collected from a different building site where in the majority of cases, an old building was demolished and a new one raised in its place. Each work is titled after the site from where the debris has been collected. The debris is then organised in a grid and enclosed within a glass and wood frame.

Notes

– …

– They were there for a long time, even before I was here, but now they are almost all gone. The buildings. The new ones have replaced the old. They were all within walking distance from my house and they were there for decades.

– Now, what is left are dust, fragments and my memory of them, which will get distorted and fade away with time… I am already starting to forget the details.

– This is not about nostalgia.

– The old buildings were touched by people who passed through them and by them. I have occasionally encountered these people in the past, but the buildings have witnessed a lot more than I have. They have seen, heard and smelt the entire lives of the people who lived in them. And I have not experienced these entire lives. I only have witnessed bits and pieces. And I want to know more. These people have brought me into being and I grew because of them. These lives have formed my identity and collectively, that of a community, a society. The buildings were all that was left of these lives.

– My seeing and touching these buildings were my only connection to the ones that have seen and touched them before me.

– The debris that is there now and which is getting crushed by the new, may contain some ‘touched’ particles and fragments although some bits and pieces seem to have been brought in by the new building already. The new building disregards the old. The purpose of the new seems different because it looks agitated and frantic.

– …

Maxine Attard

If not art, then what?

If not art, then what?

Valletta 2018 Curatorial School

 

The Duck / Rabbit

I think the Duck / Rabbit could be crowned the mascot of this year’s Valletta 2018 Curatorial School. Sebastian Cichocki, chief curator at the currently nomadic Museum of Modern Art Warsaw was the one who introduced the character on Monday during his lecture on Curating Art Beyond Art.

Cichocki explained his curatorial practice as ‘catching duck/rabbits’. Fragile creatures that need particular habitats to thrive. Practices that have a high co-efficient of art (as described by Stephen Wright in Toward a Lexicon of Usership), but cannot be recognised as art because they have ‘escaped’, they have taken the cape they are identified through, off.

 

Perhaps, even today, we do not deal with art. We might have overlooked the moment when it transformed itself into something else, something which we cannot yet name. It is certain however, that what we deal with offers greater possibilities.

Jerzy Ludwiński – Life in Postartistic Times, 1971

 

Cichocki described art as the stickly liquid between different disciplines. “Art is absorbing different fragments of reality”, he explained, “the whole world becomes a museum”.

 

Limits of the exhibition

This was very much picked up by Mick Wilson, Head of the Valand Academy of Art at the University of Gothenburg, during his lecture about Exhibition/ Non-Exhibition. The lecture explored the dialogue between exhibitionary and extra-exhibitionary modes and what it might mean to conduct research through an artistic process with the curator as a fellow traveller, a collaborator. Wilson referenced Robert Barry’s piece “During the exhibition the gallery will be closed”, a statement against the urgency of production that puts the refusal to show itself as the exhibition. What are the limits of exhibition and how does its centrality limit the transformative agency of art that Cichocki talked about earlier?

Speaking a day later, Bassam El Baroni, a curator and writer based in Alexandria who tutors at the Dutch Art Institute, picked the same topic up, mentioning the limiting capacity of exhibitions, a factor that can stop art reaching wide audiences.

 

Neo-liberalism and the myth of the self

During his lecture about curating from theory to art and vice versa, El Baroni explored the curator’s role within neoliberal systems, using Foucault’s analysis of Neoliberalism as the state being under supervision of the market rather than the opposite as liberalism originally proposed. The individual is therefore seen as a permanent and multiple enterprise, an entrepreneur for himself who produces his own satisfaction, thus removing the need for state safety nets. In Travis Holloway’s words, “how to depart from the prevailing neoliberal culture of self-entrepreneurship in order to live a meaningful political life with others?” The curatorial can be seen as any public exercise undertaken to research the possibilities, inhibitors and methodologies of achieving such a political life.

I was fascinated by El Baroni’s introduction to Thomas Metzinger’s work. Author of the voluminous ‘Being No One” and the more accessible “The Ego Tunnel”, Metzinger bridges philosophy and neuroscience to propose the absence of the self. “We become conscious whenever our brains successfully pursue the ingenious strategy of a unified and dynamic inner portrait of reality”, a model so perfect that we recognise it as real. Self-consciousness is in itself simply a model in the brain.

 

Art as a way of providing space and time for people

Both Fulya Erdemici, curator of Cappadox in Turkey and Maren Richter, curator of Valletta 2018’s visual art exhibition The Island is What the Sea Surrounds, brought forward ideas of art as a possibility of care for communities, a means of connection and a playing field for dealing with issues relevant to people.

Illustrating her experiences in curating the unfamiliar during Cappadox, Erdemici highlighted the challenges of making meaningful connections when landing in a new place. She spoke about her slow but steady learning process that made the most of the “few good men and women in each city”, the more accessible ones who were then the gateway to understanding and connection with the rest. I was fascinated with the beautiful results of collaborations with locals that made the most out of and highlighted local knowledge and traditions by presenting them using artistic processes.

Richter focused on the aesthetics of populist movements such as the Occupy movement that mobilised masses to express dissatisfaction by bringing cultural techniques and intellectual capacities together. Togetherness is used as a space to be with each other, to learn from one another, making the most of the critical mass. Within these contexts, artistic practices and methods can be put to the service of communities and movements, creating new possibilities of engagement, expression and communication. Art can be a way of exploring situations and experiences that are too vast to understand, creating moments within which we can figure something out. Moments of sharing and communication that are shared resources rather than academically proven methods.

Which of course brings us full circle back to duck / rabbit spotting in events such as the recent women’s marches and in works such as Standing Man in Istanbul, merging the boundaries between art and not art, just as the boundaries between literally everything in the world are dissolving, creating a soup within which absolute realities are obsolete. A soup that requires collaboration and cross-pollination to navigate through, a field that perhaps the duck / rabbits feel at home within.

 

Endnote

This was my second edition of the Valletta 2018 Curatorial School that I first attended in 2016. The experience opened the doors to many things I had been craving but could not quite define before last year. As a newcomer to the arts scene I did not come equipped with a mental database of landmark works to reference (though the database is now growing) or a built-in art-speak generator (which I am happy about the absence of). Despite this, my curiosity, enthusiasm and excitement have been fed with an endless amount of inspiration, further readings and so many crossovers with things I have been thinking about, researching and questioning during the past months.

This year’s edition, again expertly curated by Prof Raphael Vella, was titled Researching Curatorial Practices and brought excellent morning lectures by Sebastian Cichocki, Alfredo Cramerotti, Nick Wilson, Bassam El Baroni, Fulya Erdemici and Maren Richter. Afternoons were deep dive workshops with one of the curators around a particular theme. We ended with a joint mini exhibition that very much reflected the themes of the week and went well beyond limits of site, materiality and objecthood most often tied to exhibitions. This created a rich, multisite experience that managed to weave together the themes discussed with the backdrop of the rapidly changing Valletta.

Wandering through the city

Wandering through the city

Looking at ways of grounding the traveller’s mindset in our home towns and cities, I chatted with Shawn Micallef, urban columnist for the Toronto Star, editor and co-owner of Spacing magazine and teacher of urban civic citizenship at the University of Toronto, about the flâneur philosophy, psychogeography and the things you can only discover through walking.

Many people have talked about how travel makes it easier for us to see the world anew. How, stripped from routine and familiarity, we can interact with our surroundings in a completely different manner. What I’m exploring is just how much of this is possible for us to have in our everyday lives, in our hometowns, our work, our ‘familiar surroundings’.

 

I saw you described as a flâneur, what does that mean to you and how does this influence your day-to-day life?

 

Flâneur is a word that has been applied to me, (one that I find perhaps a little bit embarrassing), a guiding principle. It’s about being a good observer, about peripatetic observation, blending in, hopefully becoming invisible. This is where the idea of a flâneur becomes an unequal one, not everyone can blend in. As a white male that is so much easier. Lauren Elkin has released a book called Flâneuse this summer, looking at the flâneur from a woman’s perspective. Historically the flâneur’s gaze has been male so I’m really happy that this has been stretched out and looked at as to why it is unequal. I hope that everyone can take what they want out of that and wander, look and just keep looking.

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A week of Valletta 2018’s Curatorial School

A week of Valletta 2018’s Curatorial School

Curating The New

I’m not exactly sure why, but I have followed the last two annual Valletta 2018’s Curatorial School sessions with a sense of intrigue that has come with a side of ‘I don’t particularly belong there’. Not this year. Having really found my deep love for writing, freed my own inner artist and followed my curiosity into curation, I really felt like this would be the perfect hub for my expansion right now. And how right I was.

Wanting to embrace the opportunity in its entirety, I volunteered to help with the running of the Curatorial School, fulfilling the fun role of curator curation, a.k.a meeting the curators at their hotel each morning and shepherding them via a van to the Old University Campus where the sessions were held over the week. I have volunteered for quite a few events now and can honestly say that this is one of the best ways to deeply experience things, meet infinitely interesting people and generally experiment with and test drive roles / working relationships that you would not usually have contact with.

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Courage : Curiosity Breadcrumbs 1

Courage : Curiosity Breadcrumbs 1

Here’s issue 1 of my monthly curated email, Curiosity Breadcrumbs around the theme of Courage. This month I explore the courage to be vulnerable through really putting your hear on your sleeve, talk to Grassy Hopper founder Yasmin De Giorgio about her relationship with courage and link to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert where she talks about choosing curiosity over fear.

To receive next issues by email, please subscribe here.

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