During the making of digital event'07, e-fagia collective has contacted other festivals and artistic and academic organizations. As a first step we have been able to establish a closer relationship with artists and groups of artists residing in the city of Toronto. In order to strengthen this link, this year we have decided to start a series of talks with artists who also act as curators and curators who in one way or another deal with electronic or new media.
In our first talk we have invited curators Jorge Lozano, Vicky Moufawad-Paul, Ulyses Castellanos, Ricardo Rozental and Elvia Sáenz. Jorge is the artistic director and curator of Alucine Festival, Vicky is the programming coordinator of Aspace gallery and curator of the Arab Film Festival, Ulyses is an artist and curator working with different media and organizations, Ricardo and Elvia are the owners and directors of Tinto Coffee House.
Ulysses Castellanos is an artist and independent curator living and working in Toronto.
He is the current curator in residence at Gallery TPW, where he is developing web-based programming within the environment of TPW's YouTube channel, as well as gallery shows and an offsite project with the youth of St. Jamestown, the most densely-populated neighborhood in the Western hemisphere.
Dead Babies And Blood
My objective as a curator is to connect with people, and to bring art to as many people as possible, in as many media as possible, in as many venues as possible, and as often as possible.
My area of interest as a curator, like my area of interest as an artist, is to make lateral connections between seemingly disparate themes and tendencies in art and culture. I like the unconventional and the challenging. I am drawn to eccentricities in art as well as in life.
Although I have been working with Gallery TPW for the last year and a half, I don't really have an official "job" in any institution. Not being with a big institution limits the scale of the projects that I can undertake, but the advantage of this is that I am, as Mick Jagger said, "Free to do what I want, any old time". The objective of my work with TPW is to exploit the internet (specifically Youtube and Blogspot as well as Stickam, the webcast site) in order to create content for the gallery, in its expanded mandate to broaden its focus to include all forms of screen and lens-based art as well as photography, and to explore the theme of "Darkness" in art. I recently curated a show for TPW entitled Death: It's Out There, and moderated a panel discussion with artist Jack Burman, Stanley Chung, the owner and operator of Bates and Dodds Funeral Services (the oldest funeral home in Toronto) and Father Larry, the bereavement councilor for Bates and Dodds. The video footage of the discussion can be seen on Youtube. I am currently working on an offsite project for Gallery TPW called Shoot Your Neighborhood, with the youth of St James Town, artist Raffael Antonio Iglesias, and artist Mona Kamal, consisting of a postering project and a webcast panel discussion.
In the 90's there was a tendency for contemporary art to focus on social issues. In many instances, the message that the work conveyed took precedence over the work itself. In contrast, much of the contemporary art that is happening at this moment in history is about irony and cleverness. What it lacks in theoretical weightiness and political substance, it makes up for in coolness and fresh ideas. This may seem like a bad thing, but at least the art of today doesn't take itself as seriously as the politically correct art of the 1993 Whitney Biennial. Today's contemporary artists are not weighed down by the burden of having to create "meaningful" politicized works. But the option is there. David La Chappelle can shoot ostentatious photographs for Paris Vogue, while at the same time making a terrific, socially conscious film like RIZE. I love both. I think we need meaning and superficiality in life.
The ironic stance of artists like the Chapman Brothers, Pipilloti Rizt and Damien Hirst, is contrasted by artists that have embraced Relational Aesthetics: Artists such as Rikrit Tiravanjia, Darren O'Donnell and Gustavo Artigas, who are more interested in creating genuine connections amongst people. These artists could be said to be aligned with the left, which does not appeal to me in the least.
Artists like Matthew Barney and Alexandro Jodorowsky invent complex mythologies around themselves in the tradition of Joseph Buoys, and use the cinema as a form of sculptural device or a time-based art installation to explore these mythologies.
Other tendencies: Photoconceptualists like Rodney Graham and Jeff Wall. The L.A. scene, with artists like John Valdessary, Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. And artists who hijack fashion and celebrity, as in the work of Vanessa Beecroft and the lovely Elizabeth Peyton. The list goes on and on... in fact, the above description of the current trends in contemporary art is a gross generalization. Today's contemporary art is a "mashup" made up of innumerable tendencies. There are as many "currents" in contemporary art as there are MP3s in Napster, and I embrace them all. The name of the game is Formlessness, a concept that dates back to the "Warring Kingdoms" era in ancient China.
Politics interest me only as a source of raw material in the form of imagery and colorful (or off-color) characters. The relationship of art to politics (especially when politics are enforced by firepower) is utterly laughable. I believe that politicking is best done by politicians. One need only look at the Russian avant-garde under the Bolsheviks to see the fallacy of thinking that politics could look at contemporary art as a valuable asset. The Italian futurists didn't fare any better. The Nazis labeled the avant-garde Entartete Kunst ("Degenerate Art"). Contemporary art is seen as a frivolous commodity, which is exactly what it is. When all's said and done, nothing pleases the political sphere more than figurative pictures of smiling babies, wheat fields and happy workers, especially when the regime is totalitarian, whether left or right. Where contemporary art is effective, is in commenting on the current political climate, as in the work of the terrific conceptualist duo of Allora and Calzadilla who hail from Puerto Rico. Or as a service to the community, as in the work of Mel Chin. I am a huge admirer of Antanas Mokus, and I think that he did use art as a potent tool to induce socio-political reform in Bogota, unless, of course, I have been misinformed about him.
I am a Hispanic who makes art that is not exclusively concerned with political agendas and is not interested in representing a victimized people or culture. And I feel that this is extremely subversive. I want to exist in a world where I am a part of a globalized culture that is fluid and devoid of regional or national attachments. This pisses people off, because they want to hold on to outdated ideas of national or cultural identity. I am a Hispanic -a quick phone conversation and my thick accent will verify that - but being a Hispanic does not define me. I want to curate shows that are interesting and compelling. Whether these shows address a social issue or not isn't a concern to me. I make and curate art that is meaningful to me, and sometimes that art involves dead babies and blood.
Colombian born Ricardo Rozental and wife Elvia Sáenz started Tinto coffee house in Toronto in 2005. In Bogotá since Law School their inclination was towards music, books and the arts. This led them to found music/bookshop Exopotamia in Bogotá. School teachers for a number of years, Ricardo was later University professor of History of Music and co-founder of Colón electrónico, a series of sound and visual events in Bogotá. As freelance writer he published reviews and columns and worked as radio and TV broadcaster usually around music.
Tinto is a coffee house in a sense that points at honouring the tradition of fine coffee as much as a meeting place and a site for the exchange of creative ideas in fields like the arts, cultural diversity, better options for the community both locally and in a wider, Continental and Latin American regard. Food and drinks at Tinto are based on trying to get the most of combining Fair Trade and other forms of alternative ethical trade along with supplies obtained in the local market and organic products. The space was conceived to host events coherent with this basis in the understanding that we are political beings in every aspect since politics is always influencing our lives.
Events hosted at Tinto include documentaries and feature films, photo exhibitions, presentations and discussions about community affairs in the local or global level, reading series and live music.
Selecting the events to host is somewhat similar to a curatorial process. It all starts with a dialogue with the artists and proponents to open the exchange that will establish the limits of Tinto's scope and the multi faceted relations embedded in the events with the community of which it makes a part of. Caring for political matters responds to the axiom which states that politics is always dealing with us. Our selection focuses on events and works that are political outside of propaganda. Art is frequently political, even more so when it speaks the common citizen's concerns in which art needs to take place along with everyday life.
Jorge Lozano is the director and co-founder of ALUCINE Toronto Latin Film and Video Festival.
He is a video artist with a long trajectory. He has dedicated his life to the promotion and creation of film and experimental video. His work has been shown nationally and Internationally.
As a contemporary art practice evolves, the role of the curator has changed dramatically. Ideas on the relationship between film, video, art, exhibition space, and audience are changing. As an artistic director of a film and video festival my relationship to a curatorial practice fluctuates between being a curator, inviting professional curators and as a programmer. All these functions are interrelated but each one has its own specificities.
As a programmer my own personal vision and taste is challenged by working and sharing with the other programmers ideas and concepts in the selection process. The result programming is a combination of personal and acquired compromises that transcend the individual to represent a festival direction.
Exploring curatorial practices inviting guest curators, although sometimes risky is an essential part in the programming of a festival. Guest curators bring strong decision-making and current curatorial strategies.
As a curator, programmer or inviting guest curators my intention is to demonstrates the plural approaches of artists, filmmakers, videomakers in addressing aesthetic, cultural and social concerns, while also highlighting the increasingly outdated or media-oriented approach to engaging audiences in notions of inclusion and diversity.
Working from a dual Canadian Colombian (Latin) perspective the main challenge is not only to conveying art-works across borders, but also to translating their contexts to create bridges to find the patterns that connect North and South productions and to create a "live" critical discussion to articulate concerns both for artists and audiences.
Vicky Moufawad-Paul is a video artist and curator who is currently the Programming & Exhibitions Coordinator at A Space Gallery. As a Palestinian artist born in Lebanon, she situates the personal in the political while exploring ideas of home and the difficulty of return. She has exhibited her artwork across Canada, the United States and Mexico. Moufawad-Paul is the former Executive Director of the Toronto Arab Film Festival and has published articles in Fuse Magazine and the Journal of Peace Research.
Nineteen-forty-eight is the year of the Nakba, the catastrophe in Palestine, when Zionists expanded their borders beyond the unjust UN partition and formed the state of Israel while militarily occupying what was left of Palestine and committing genocide against its indigenous inhabitants. The first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, argued that the Nakba was not an important historical event because within the Palestinian community, "the old will die and the young will forget." For Palestinians of my generation -- those who where born after Palestine was destroyed -- the need to contradict Ben-Gurion's racist assumptions through the documentation of an embodied Palestinian history and identity is compelling.
The Balata Collective, Anne Marie Jacir, Majdi El-Omari, Fadia Abboud, and Jackie Salloum are Palestinians in different geographical locations and thus they all have different legal/citizenship status. All of their videos fall into the broad category of resistance works: narratives that resist dispossession and dislocation while asserting the fragmentation and aliveness of the Palestinian nation. The visual and narrative styles range from documentary to found footage montage and scripted narrative. The variety of styles and themes in the works reflect the various geopolitical realities that Palestinians face: stateless refugees in the West Bank cut off by the apartheid wall - the Berlin-like wall built by the state of Israel to supposedly guard against suicide bombers, but which in reality is taking more Palestinian territory and cutting Palestinian communities apart from one another - are making works that differ from those born with American citizenship and barraged by the racist American mediascape. This assertion of Palestinian identity and cohesion is of course strategic. And the strategic goal is far from insignificant: if there continue to be Palestinians, there may one day be a Palestinian nation again.
The programme begins in Balata, one of the largest refugee camps in Palestine. The Balata film collective was formed after local youth asked international solidarity activists to lend them their camera and editing equipment. While the videos made by international observers focus on the outward signs of apartheid during the Second Intifada, the collective's videos tend to focus on the internal effects on the community: rather than recording the incursion of Israeli tanks and soldiers, they record a family's account of the demolition of their home, and children recall the capture of their mother and the effects of her imprisonment on their lives. This insider view of apartheid, in which even grandmothers become part of the resistance while making a traditional meal with a vegetable that grows outside of the camp boundaries, communicates the intimate everyday reality of the continued history of the Nakba. The Balata Collective makes all of their videos available through their community website, allowing the diaspora and the international community to use these works to connect to the visceral effects of Israeli colonialism.
Anne Marie Jacir's Like Twenty Impossibilities begins with documentary footage and seamlessly transitions into a scripted narrative. The story is about a Palestinian film crew that takes a side road to avert a closed checkpoint. They are interrogated by the Israeli military, and because each member of the all-Palestinian crew has different citizenship status - one has American identification (director), one has Jerusalem identification (cinematographer), and one is a stateless refugee with identification from the West Bank (sound recordist) - the brutality of the mundane routine of showing identification cards is revealed. As the Israeli soldiers separate the crew, the separation of image and sound causes the viewer to experience a sensation that mirrors the fragmentation and powerlessness of the Palestinian community. The audience experiences the separation of audio and visual at a point in the narrative when the crew is in chaos. The image shows that the character playing the director is speaking yet the audio seems to only communicate wind blowing. A moment later the image of the sound recordist is revealed; he is sitting alone on a hill where the solders have ordered him to stay while they go to their truck. The breaking apart of the film on a formal level provides sensual communication of the fractured reality and power imbalances within the Palestinian community. In an interview with Film Maker Magazine Jacir explains that "Palestinians don't have any freedom of movement, not even from one Palestinian town to another -- there is a maze of checkpoints. Because I have an American passport, I can get through most of them. I became interested in making a film about the fragmentation of a people based on arbitrary borders and I.D. cards." In order to keep her own crew from being separated during filming in the West Bank, Jacir adds, "even when I was casting and finding crew, I had to choose people with Jerusalem I.D.'s or foreign passports." As the characters living under colonial military rule in the film are physically apprehended this exploration of truth in fiction silently focuses the viewers' attention on the power imbalances inherent in political filmmaking.
I Remember 1948, made by Fadia Abboud with support from a Palestinian collective based in Australia, explores the lives of four Nakba survivors who have lived in the diaspora for 58 years. The survivors use their personal experiences to tell the story of how an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were exiled between 1947 and 1949 when Israeli gangs destroyed approximately 500 villages. (1) The video recording of this oral history provides a venue for the elders to continue to communicate with future generations after they die, therefore contradicting Ben-Gurion's racist statement. While the elders recount their experiences, Abboud cuts to images of oranges floating in the sea, suggesting the image of the stranded lives and bodies of exiled Palestinian generations. Oranges are a fitting visual metaphor, because orange groves, in addition to olive groves, were uprooted by the Israeli army during the Nakba and have continued to be destroyed, especially during the construction of the apartheid wall and the establishment of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
At the Window is Majdi El-Omari's quiet narrative of a Palestinian woman living in Canada and her interactions with a South African man who is painting her apartment. Her other interactions are through a webcam, with Palestinian friends living in the West Bank. Her isolation in Canada, her longing for her community, and her use of digital technology to maintain a connection with her family and friends in Palestine is a fictional portrayal of a common reality, one that proves the necessity of the Balata Collective's decision to distribute their videos online.
Given the diaspora's reliance on mediated images to connect them to Palestine, it is not surprising that Jacqueline Salloum , who lives in the United States, focused on collecting mainstream American images of Palestinians and Arabs. Inspired by Jack G. Shaheen's book Reel Bad Arabs , Salloum put together the found footage montage Planet of the Arabs . From Warner Bros. cartoons to Chuck Norris and the Back to the Future films, this video demonstrates how Arabs are assaulted in contemporary mainstream entertainment. An accurate image of the misrepresentation of Palestine and of Arabs, this video is not the first to compile such images, but it is skillfully done. (2)
In an attempt to do the work of suturing the marginalized body of Palestinian history, this programme focuses on contemporary diasporic experiences as a tool for remembering and writing history while embedding it in our understanding of the present and in our struggles for liberation. (3) Communal remembrance and communication - despite the barriers imposed by exile - are acts of resistance to the Israeli project of genocide. The creation of art exists as an autonomous movement that is complementary to and supportive of the on-the-ground anti-colonial struggle for liberation. These works assert the identity of Palestinians in all of their complexity.
1 A number of other Palestinian film and video artists have used oral history as a strategy for recovering identity and memory, for example, Michel Khleifi's Maloul Celebrates Its Destruction (1985) and my video Remembering the Dismembered (2005).
2 Jayce Salloum & Elia Suleiman, Speaking For Oneself... Speaking For Others... Muqaddimah Li-Nihayat Jidal (Introduction to the End of An Argument), 1990.
3 I advocate for a one state secular democratic state solution with restorative justice.
Annemarie Jacir, Like Twenty Impossibles 35mm film stills. 2003.