Another year of Pecha Kucha and TO DO with Vivien Leung.
My first memory of Vivien Leung was of this beautifully dressed woman pitching Pecha Kucha at a Design with Dialogue meetup co-hosted with TO DO. After that we kept randomly intersecting each other at street corners as we were running off to some event because we are both the kind of people who believe that community building is vital and participating online is not the same as showing up in person.
You can sense that Vivien is the type of individual to insert herself gracefully into any context, quickly identify a need and then without missing a beat start to nurture growth. She has played an important part in the emergence of a strong design community in Toronto.
Left to right: Vivien Leung, Libs Elliott, and Jay Wall.
Vivien’s work with Pecha Kucha has made the Toronto chapter the go-to event for the creative class who want to network while being inspired. Tickets always go quickly and today’s TO DO Pecha Kucha is a SOLD OUT event.
Libs Elliott, pictured above beside Vivien, is a past Pecha Kucha presenter and you can get an idea of how Pecha Kucha’s 20 (images) x 20 (seconds each) presentation style works by listening to her talk about the inspiration and process behind her unique quilts. You can also view more Toronto PK presentations on the website.
For the shoot, I asked each person to bring with them something that they felt represented Toronto design. Vivien choose to showcase a 3D printed earrings and necklace set by Hot Pop FactoryToronto’s “3D printing creatives” who specialize in “creative applications of digital fabrication.”
“Vivien stands out as one of our most valuable community-builders in Toronto. She tirelessly coordinates events and connects people across disciplines. The result is a mesh of relationships that activate Toronto’s design community.” ~ Jay Wall
Find out more about Vivien on www.vivienleung.co and follow her on Twitter.
Creative Time presents “A Subtlety” in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
I make a scattered dash to get to the Kara Walker exhibit in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hot day, with an intense late-spring / almost-summer sun blasting me and the pavement I am pounding. I get lost then located. I turn the corner to see the longest lineup I have seen for art in sometime.
Kara Walker. A big sign makes it clear this is an event!
“At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:
or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant”
Once inside the Domino Sugar compound there is a long march into the factory where another blast of heat hits you. This time it’s combined with a sweet smell.
The immediate feeling is of being overwhelmed. The scene is fantastic! Honey coloured light dappling a cement floor textured by the wear and tear of once busy workers. More texture on the rusted out walls that offer a palette of cobalt blues and deep muscovado browns. Beyond the crowds, at the far end of the factory, this gorgeous, towering, powder-white statue rises up – intense with her omnipresent stare.
But then your eyes adjust to the dim warehouse light and your nose notices that the once inviting smell has turned into a toxic sweetness. The scent becomes more rank as you move closer to the sugar sphinx. It mixes with dust and hot human sweat. It doesn’t smell good and the scene that at first seemed stunning loses its charm as you notice you are surrounded by statues of small children, barefooted and barely clothed, standing so they reach slightly above the level of your heart. They each hold a gathering basket. Although they are fixed in their location they seem to multiply and move because as groups of sightseers wander off another child emerges through the dusty light.
It is these children that become the most haunting part of this installation. Constructed from resin and covered in molasses, their bodies leak onto the concrete floor leaving a puddle of black gummy moisture that traps your feet. The dark slick reflects back the faces of the meandering masses that approach the bodies like they are curios.
They are fascinating. Their technical production makes them close to life-like despite the fact that their heads loom too large on their spindly frames. Some even seem to smile but you can’t be sure if it is the case because their face may have shifted as the molasses melts.
The crowd bends to see them face to face, the crowd comes close to touching, but only the little ones, without socialized inhibition, reach out. As they do their parents snap photos, telling them to hold still and smile.
What becomes even more curious then the sugar statues is how the crowd reacts. Met with the visual reminder of the slave trade people pose with the sugar babies flashing a tourist’s grin.
When confronted with the sweetness of life gone sour what should be our appropriate response?
I wonder why they smile in a scene that, if you pause for a moment to think of the reasons Kara Walker’s sugar mammy and molasses children have been constructed in this space, is distressing. At the edge of the East River, for over 150 years, the Domino Sugar building was used as a processing plant for the imported cane that came to America from the colonies. Blood sugar – a term used to demonstrate how the sugar trade was bound to the slave trade yet the crowds want to be memorialized with the look of pleasure on their face.
It’s not that the crowds seem unsympathetic to the histories Kara references. Racially mixed (albeit predominately white), I am sure the majority are aware of what they are witnessing.
So how do we commemorate our experiences with art that is meant to be challenging? As we ram head on into the digital (sur)realities of the 21st Century have we stopped to think about our decorum when we bear witness to problematic subject matter? Have we been educated on how to be critical; have we considered how to be respectful?
Historically cameras were restricted in art spaces but now, often, they are allowed. With a population that is snap happy and needing to share they were there what does this mean for the way we now interact with art?
Are we in the actual moment or does the camera mitigate us from needing to be fully present in those times when we are confronted with difficult realities, realities that may even challenge our lifestyle choices?
We are primed from a small age how to interact with a camera. Like the parents instructing their curious kids, we are told to ‘smile’. Should there be times when we ask ourselves, is our documentation appropriate? Could there be a better way for us to use this ubiquitous technology we have access to?
Upon entering the exhibit a sign reads “Please do not touch the artwork but do share pictures on social media” and the hashtag #KaraWalkerDomino supplied.
As I write, the trending content for this tag is Jay-Z, Beyoncé and their baby daughter Blue. They have been spotted on a Father’s Day outing to the Brooklyn location.
Besides Beyoncé (and the occasional off-colour comment alluding to the Sphinx’s sexualized nudity), the tweets are mostly of people expressing how impressed they are by the artist’s work but the opportunity for a more expansive discussion, even if only in 140 characters is missed.
People seem willing to participate in the spectacle but are they willing to participate in active change?
This sweet stuff is serious stuff.
Kara Walker’s work is not just a memorial to a past travesty. Everyone’s sweet tooth is still sucking bodies into modern slavery and bonded labour. The syrup that drips from the statues of the children is like a living organism that marks the space in real time. The legacy of the sugar trade is in our present moment. When the Domino Sugar Factory is finally demolished, clearing way for condos, what will have changed?
Social media exposes where we are at culturally. The evidence left behind by hashtags demonstrates that there is much work to be done around how best to digest what we should find distasteful.
Inside our pockets are powerful tools. Technology has given us the means to not only discuss our reactions beyond our immediate circle but also archive them for a future population of new users. We each have the capacity to participate in building extensive and transformational legacies around the art that impacts us.
When the molasses evaporates and powdery dust swept away what remains?
Hopefully an expansive documentation of how people were deeply moved by the work and a record of thoughtful interactions in 140 characters or less.
“Over the past four decades, Creative Time has commissioned and presented ambitious public art projects with thousands of artists throughout New York City, across the country, around the world—and now even in outer space. Our work is guided by three core values: art matters, artists’ voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression.” Read more on Creative Time…
The exhibition continues through until July 6, 2014.
“Midway through Candide, Voltaire’s famously naive protagonist enters Dutch-controlled 18th-century Suriname, where he encounters “a negro stretched upon the ground, with only one moiety of his clothes, that is, of his blue linen drawers; the poor man had lost his left leg and his right hand.”
“Good God!” exclaims Candide, who proceeds to ask the man why he’s in such terrible shape.
“When we work at the sugar-canes,” the man answers, “and the mill snatches hold of a finger, they cut off the hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off the leg; both cases have happened to me. This is the price at which you eat sugar in Europe.”
“White sugar has always been for rich people. White sugar has always been guest sugar, company sugar, sugar for public display. Parlor sugar…
…It takes bones to get sugar white. Thousands of pounds of cow bones burned to bone char are used to bleach sugar in processing plants. My Hindu parents, for whom beef was the ultimate taboo, did not know this when they proudly displayed white sugar lumps in their silver sugar bowl…
…Some of us take our sweet dirty. Extracted. Not poured.”
“The overwhelming whiteness of viewers isn’t unique to Walker’s exhibit. There are more than 17,500 museums in the United States that are visited by 850 million people annually, the vast majority of whom are white. Art, particularly when it’s commissioned and it’s covered in important publications like the New York Times, is often seen as the exclusive domain of white folks. Museums, dating back to their modern origins in the 18th century, were usually built by wealthy white patrons and enjoyed by middle and upper class European families. In the American context, they served a specific purpose for opening up and exploring a new continent, according to Ford Bell, head of the American Alliance of Museums who was quoted by NPR in 2008. People of color — their customs, their cultures and, in the infamous case of Sara Baartman, their bodies — were usually the object of those white gazes. But in recent years, as the country’s demographics have shifted in favor of a so-called majority-minority, the art world has made great strides in featuring the work of artists of color. It’s hard to imagine any work by an artist like Walker or Carrie Mae Weems, at the Guggenheim 50 years ago.”
“…Meant to serve as a commentary on the sugar cane trade, and a cultural critique of slavery and perceptions of black women throughout history, the work is part Sphinx, part racist Mammy stereotype, and is coated in sugar. It features exaggerated features including breasts, a bottom, and a vagina. As Walker told artnet News, “Nudity is a thing, apparently, that people have a problem with; not slavery, or racism, but female bodies, or bottoms.”
And sadly, she is correct. While few appear to have responded to the work with charges of indecency, some visitors have been unable to stop themselves from mocking and sexualizing the work, uploading photos pretending to cup its breasts or tongue its buttocks. This gross behavior has, understandably, struck a nerve with feminists and racial equality activists alike. Yesha Callahan of The Root writes, “History has shown us time and time again how a black woman’s body was (and sometimes still is) objectified. From the days of the slave trade to even having black butts on display in music videos, the black woman’s body seems to easily garner laughs and mockery, even if it’s made out of sugar.”
“The public knows, on the whole, very little about Vodou…”
…It is a world weighed down by centuries of fabrication, most of it negative. Since the twentieth century, with the help of many literary works and films, numerous prejudices and clichés have been passed off as true: the omnipresence of black magic and zombies, the evil Vodou doll, etc. Such a context makes Vodou a dream subject for anyone who values a museum’s educational mission, since there is much to be done.” ~Curator, Mauro Peressini
As my friend and I walked into the last room in the Vodou Exhibition at the Museum of Civilization she commented that really, for all the division religion creates, there are always core elements in each that remain consistent – a code of ethics, respect for a higher power, belief in the afterlife as well as a faith that in this world we have the ability to call upon guides in the spiritual realm to intercede on our behalf.
Vodou is no different. “God is perceived as a general energy that is quite powerful and the lwa are the manifestations of that energy…the sparks of the Great Energy in the elements [earth, fire, sky, water].”Gran Mèt (The Great Master) is “an entity so absolute that one can neither imagine it nor communicate directly with it.”
The exhibit, upon first glance, may not seem to shift from stereotypes – there are skulls, dark creatures, videos of practitioners in trance – but this well curated exhibit is intersected every few feet with video stations where you can pause and have the mystery of what you are witnessing explained.
These videos are key in communicating what Voudoists would like you to take away from the exhibit. If you are willing to interact and take them in you will leave at the end of your journey through the exhibit with a profound insight into this rich and deeply layered spiritual practice.
“The voices and perspectives of Vodouists have a special place in Vodou…”
“…That is one of the essential characteristics of the exhibition. When we consider a cultural or religious group that is different from our own, learning what its members have to say about their reality is a fundamental first step, is it not?” ~Curator, Mauro Peressini
What on the surface looks a preoccupation with death, skulls often represent the presence of our ancestors and the connection we have to them in this life as comrades in our daily battles.
The lwa can be understood as energy archetypes that when we are unbalanced or repressing what we don’t dare speak are accessible to us in order to seek comfort and regain emotional composure.
Mirrors “associated with the spirit world…are protective channels that connect that world with the world of humans”
Pe (altars) “The many objects assembled on our pe remind us of our collective past and present, as well as of the personal and spiritual history of those to whom they belong. The objects are the accumulated traces of our relationships with our ancestors and our lwa (spirits)…”
“Recounting of Haiti’s harsh past reveals the extent to which the country’s long history of slavery….has shaped Vodou symbols and practises.”
A religion of revolt, Vodou was birthed from the conditions of chaos and oppression. It was a cosmology that gave order and empowerment to people suffering greatly. Ciboney and Taino, the Indigenous People of the island that is now Haiti, and the slaves brought over from Africa found a synthesis that not only allowed them a way to keep a spiritual practice despite being dislocated and uprooted but Vodou gave them a type of lingua franca that led to the eventual overthrow of the colonists.
“The curators worked in close consultation with members of Haitian-Canadian communities to help ensure the authenticity of the exhibition. The result is an experience that brings museum-goers into direct contact with Vodou artifacts and the people who use them.”
What I appreciated most about the curatorial vision of this exhibit was how interactive technology was utilized in order to have the audience converse back with the practitioners who opened up their world. Upon leaving the exhibit through a circular room of large mirrors a small private area allows you to speak to a computer to leave a message of your impressions of the exhibit. You are also invited to stay and watch the previous messages. Quite amazing!
The exhibit contains over 300+ plus objects, part of the Lehmann Collection, the largest collection of its kind in the world. The curators of the Vodou, Mauro Peressini (Museum of Civilization), Didier Dominique and Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, have done an incredible job in producing a provocative show that challenges and leaves one changed.
Vodou closes this Sunday at the Museum of Civilazation, Gatineau, Quebec.
“digiPLAYSPACE is an interactive adventure where kids will engage with emerging creative media technologies and innovative artistic experiences!”
It’s a great time to be a kid! Innovative educators are getting it that for children (and adults too) play = learning. The out-dated model of teaching by dictation followed by recitation needs a DNR order – no resuscitation please! Experiential learning is where it is at. And exhibits like TIFF Bell Lightbox’s popular digiPLAYSPACE give kids that chance to do just that by interacting with “emerging creative media technologies.”
Recently TVO’s The Agenda featured a series called Learning 2030 to explore how these digital technologies will impact the classroom of the future.
“Children born in 2012 will graduate from high school in 2030. They will grow up in a world dominated by the Internet, smartphones, computers, and tablet computers. They will likely participate in a historically crucial transition — one as significant as the introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press — from learning steeped in books and blackboards to learning shaped by the screen.” (cited from www.tvo.org)
In this new world where bits of data come at us from all directions it is essential that the generations coming up understand how to assess and build a framework around information to create relevant meaning. More than ever children need to be taught how to learn rather than just what to learn.
Speaking on the March 1st panel for The Agenda’s The Classroom of 2030 at Kitchener’s Communitech Mark Federman (Alder Graduate Professional School) says that we should replace the emphasis on the 3 Rs to the 4 Cs – Connection, Context, Complexity and Connotation – “we need to become used to ambiguity” and not knowing the outcome before we start. A child who is confident in environments where the outcome can’t be predicted is a child who will be able to navigate new spaces and bridge connections between complex ideas within multiple contexts to make meaning that is relevant to them.
Something as simple as an app can enable a child to go on a non-linear, exploratory journey of discovery. This New Culture of Learning includes, as The Agenda’s host Steve Paikin says, “very strange concepts like fun, passion, games.”
Panelist Douglas Thomas (author of A New Cultural of Learning) says that teachers shouldn’t be punished for making their classrooms easy and rewarded for making the work hard. When a child comments that their class is easy what he or she is really saying is that they are engaged. Easy does not mean that the learning is not without challenge. Play + Challenge = Solutions.
Two local playmates and advocates of deep learning via the lightness of fun are Zahra Ebrahim (archiTEXT) and Mary Tangelder (Spire Works).
“ Zahra’s design class at Ontario College of Art and Deisgn (OCAD) carried their chairs three blocks to Toronto City Hall and initiated a game of musical chairs with passer-bys — an activity that inevitably led to dialogue about community and public space. With Canadian Federal ministry, she’s facilitated a workshop to illuminate the role of play within bureaucracy; back in Toronto, she’s engaged social entrepreneurs with alternative ways of brainstorming through play. Over in Kenya, Mary regularly leads play activities with post-graduate university students to explore how to design schools and learning spaces in refugee camps and communities affected by war, conflict, and natural disasters.” (cited www.huffingtonpost.com)
And in this new world, Canada’s educational system would benefit from taking cues from older traditions that are tried, tested and true. The Learning 2030 series also included a panel discussion – “Looking to the Future of Aboriginal Education.” Among the many points raised, David Newhouse (Chair of Indigenous Studies at Trent University) touched on the fact that experiential learning is not some new trend but rather the way indigenous cultures have been passing on knowledge for generations – long before the first Bible was printed in good ol’ Gutenberg. (Listen to the Q & A podcast.)
The indigenous way sees the world as the classroom and peer-to-peer learning as foundational. This is not unlike the vision panelist Christine Webb (Director, Academic Programs at University of Waterloo Stratford Campus) has for describing the classroom of the future. She believes that the classroom will become decentralized through online technologies and more emphasis will be placed on the interaction between students learning through each other via chatrooms and blogs as well as creating e-portfolios together. In a virtual space the physical classroom is replaced by a digital “textbook” where students, mentors and educators can co-create and collaborate. It is just the kind of space that affirms play as a valid process for education.
And this style of learning leaves plenty of room for spontaneity and plenty of time for field trips to TIFF!
So treat the 21st Century kids in your life to the final weekend of digiPLAYSPACE. From iPods to potatoes, 3D printers and interactive green screens digiPLAYSPACE offers “an interactive adventure where they will laugh and learn with new media technologies, interactive art installations, learning-centric games, mobile apps, and new digital tools and hands-on production activities. There’s something for everyone!” (cited from www.tiff.net)
Designed by Toronto talents Mason Studio & aftermodern.lab digiPlaySpace is “an interactive exhibition where kids will engage with emerging creative media technologies and innovative artistic experiences!” (cited www.tiff.net)
In its 2nd year, this popular event opened in time for March Break but will be running until April 21.
Mixed media painting by Chiko Chazunguza. Photo by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.
Art as Survival Thrival in the Electric Digital Age
“The job of the artist is to upset all the senses and thus provide new vision and new powers of adjusting to and relating to new situations.”
These are the words of Marshall McLuhan given in a lecture at Columbia University way back in 1973 on the theme of “Art as Survival in the Electric Age.”
McLuhan understood the tremendous societal influence that the artist can have when they put action behind their vision.
As we inhabit a world that has truly become the McLuhanian Global Village the isolation that can often accompany strength of vision is being eroded away by technology that allows the artist to connect with their muse, locate their tribe and readily receive affirmation from a participatory audience.
When you mix globalization, democratization of technology and creative minds who see colour where others see gray there is incredible potential for radical shifts.
And more than any other time in history there is a breed of creators who travel past both conceptual and cultural boundaries. A new world is being designed in the minds of artists and assembled by the hands of everyone working together with a shared vision for a different kind of world.
MIXED BAG MAG proclaims 2013 to be the year of the artist. It is the year where the cultural trickster, the music maker, and the one who dances to the beat of a different drum will be the agent of change.
Walk for Youth Arts, Manifesto, Toronto 2012. Photo by Leah Snyder.