Ode to Michael, Andreas and Kostas

I don’t believe in God, not in the traditional way anyway. But I do believe in the power of gratitude and appreciation towards people who have come to your life to reflect a mirror of your self, to ascent and revalue what you hold dearly inside of you.

I will begin with the story of how I met Michael. Some four and some years ago. Through a common acquaintance who knew I was visiting Portland, Oregon.

Michael is a philosopher. One who has jumped the academic ship to share his true passion over the community waves in that beautiful Pacific northwestern part of the world.

Throw Michael a dice and you’ll get the idea back kindly explored twice. His accessible, empathetic yet unafraid to challenge skill says as much about his heart as much as about his mind which is open, loving, honest and growing coffee fuelled day by the day.

I need not to say I feel fortunate to have spent some hours with him and his wife talking through everything and anything, tipping things on their head for the purpose of our own individual truth as much as for those around us.

Next up is Kostas. I met one of his closest mates some 25+ years ago, his wife around 3 years ago, so the journey to him is a little deflected by circumstance.

Kostas is a scientist, with a research project in Svalbard in Arctic Norway, an explorer and a dj by the day.

I will begin my journey with the most recent interaction, coming back from my rowing training to a text from Andreas saying tune in to this radio station, our pal is playing some music.

Kostas is the guy who managed somehow to dig the most beautiful sounding punk rock tunes right uplifting and melodic enough, for a two hour set on a Sunday morning. Towering at 6 feet, this guy curated a set through geography, turned political reflection, turned dedication to his friends. And all with the same passion as he talks about the intricate details of his research lab and in kindness and humour to his team and fellows.

And last but never least, is Andreas. My pal of a lifetime. The person that knows himself so well, that he understands me and is honest as much.

We met in Rebound, the then only dark wave club in Athens, still going with freakishly beautiful human beings rocking to some of the most etheric yet often screetching 80s sounds.

Andreas is kind and generous and has the ability to conversate with anyone whilst maintaining a uniquely unpretentious level. He knows his nuclear physics, no pun intended, and I’ve seen people feeling intimidated by him including my own father who has known him since I was a late teen kid.

For me in many ways I noticed how respectful he is of my partner avoiding to offend by calling or texting, and how subtly he presents he’s there when I’m on my own, not for his benefit, but for an upgrade to a reference point we may have discussed before.

Most importantly, I feel like I can be anyone and everyone around him. After all, I have grown up parallel to his own journey and we have seen each other grow up, change, contract and deconstruct over a fairly long time too.

I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

My dedication post to the three men is made in honour of how I grew up by knowing them, and still grow today. Neither of them became who they are today because of their wives, mothers, other women in their lives. Surely their partners have supported their development, but it’s all down to those boys doing it alone and remaining truthful to themselves.

I know there is a lot of material about loving and protecting men out there, but unless they had looked inwardly, there is no way anyone could have done that for themselves.

Thank you for being you.

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Masters degree as a mature student, a review

I’m writing this blog to help you understand what to expect from studying a masters degree later in life. Did I find it useful? I met some really interesting people that I hope to keep in my life in the future. Would I recommend it? Only if you’re super bored with your life and work but expect no easy ride. If you want a break from life, you’ll be better off spending that money travelling and taking up surfing lessons.

I have to admit I was super excited to have secured a place in one of the top universities in the world. As a senior management professional, I knew others that had tried but didn’t get in. The only thing I hadn’t realised was the amount of work it required.

On a weekly basis, I’d have four to five classes to attend in lectures, read 100 plus pages for each to discuss in small group tutorials as well as hold in-class presentations twice per term and write 2,000 – 3,000 word assignments per module/class twice a term.

Another thing I was not prepared for was academic writing. The way arguments are framed, in perspective of other arguments and how limited your own poetic license is. This is predominantly a British education system approach to teaching which hints to post colonial education, drawing out what has been laid out before.

At the university I went to, I also realised each module had its own parameters for good framing and presentation, largely set out by the lead tutor. Irrespective of how many additional classes I took for example on how to write a book review, how to write a critique etc the central student learning and development was misaligned to the individual module requirements. That left me frustrated and as a paying student, annoyed at the power game academia has over the students, and leaving its huge weaknesses unacknowledged.

This last point was a point of discussion throughout my studies. Academics thinking they got it all worked out whilst they lack real-life experience in the field of their expertise. More dangerously, they advise and often participate in political life based on what they read by someone who written something fifty years ago. Academia is a dangerous ground to walk on when seeing right through its weaknesses yet having to abide by its rules.

That transcribed to loving some classes, those mainly taught by open-minded people who not only loved their craft but they loved teaching and interacting with their student debates too. In too many cases, the majority of the academics failed to do that. They focused too much on point scoring, coming across like some sort of activists despite being solely research based, and pushing arrogance in their game.

Lastly but not least, consider and ask what practical skills a masters will provide you with. I got stuck into a situation where the theory was central to most discussions but excluded current affairs unless it was Trump or neoliberalism bashing or glorifying Marxism.

This is how anachronistic academia can be, and yet it is expected we build a future through it.

In all truth, it’s not more than another subscription service, that will get you more views and remove the ads.

It’s good for visibility, but it can also make you feel invisible at the same time.

Discussing healthcare in the US through graffiti

So you know Portland is the weird and quirky side of the western coast of the US for being alternative and out there. Well, it is for American standards, but… There are some things so ingrained in the American culture that even Portland can’t shy.

I’ve been visiting the Portland State University library for a while, getting some quiet time to write for hours.

I don’t get to talk to folks when here much. A new friend who studied linguistics mentioned she was considering a PhD study on the linguistics of indoor graffiti to research the public debates drawn out on loo doors, library spaces, lecture theatre desks, cantines and classes amongst others.

Reading the voices in public yet privately defined spaces gives you an idea of what people really want to say. That is usually expressed in a doodle, a few words, at the end of an emotion or thought.

I saw this one in the quiet study area of Portland State University.

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What shook me was that I was in a relatively trendy and well off part of the world where people are seen as Liberal and progressive. Without assuming the voices on this graffiti represent all American voices, they do sum it up in a nutshell.

Bernie Sanders can shout as much as he wants about healthcare for all. Some may know what universal income is too. How does a population within an economy as such get to the point of believing free healthcare is brainwash? Is that an indication the writer thinks it’s impossible? Or is it inappropriate?

Will the benefits that we have not had the opportunity to experience never materialize? How does fit it in the big American dream?

I now understand that we can’t rely on the young to fight for things they don’t understand. But what happened to them that got them to a place of not believing in the state’s capability of delivering on its social contract. Was it the Republicans, or Democrats before them, the Tories or Blair before them or the disconnected wababee socialist Corbyn? They are all part of the same system, right? Taking their quick and short chances (cause that’s all they’ll ever get nowadays) in power trips and little business for their buddies whilst citizens lose the will to live, and are devalued for their contribution to society and beyond their filling the gaps in the pockets of those near and dear.

Yet the broken system is showing that’s all around us. Segmentations of data that forgot how they came to be.

To be called brainwashed is to have a compliment. A recognition of the presence of a brain that’s been open to dialogue and will continue to do so.

Don’t tell me who I am, tell me who I want to be.

 

Curatorial proposal

From the Contemporary Art in the Global (MSc School of Oriental and African Studies)

WE.LIVE.INDARKTIMES

Artists: Derek Walcott, Mark Rothko, Frank Bowling, Atsuho Tanaka, Sammi Baloji

The project visits the theme of darkness as it is approached by the selected artists through painting, poetry, installation art and photography. Dark times have for centuries been associated with the Dark Ages, the victorian times, the plague, III Reich, and the Crusades. Is darkness created in the name of God to entice a journey in reflection?
Darkness in this exhibition will be visited through the artists’ own periods and reflections of darkness. Starting with the more recent Baloji’s photographs have a strong post-environmental sentiment, yet all artists reflect on humanity’s over-consuming framework of aimless societal misappropriations maintained by irrelevance.
The artworks date from post-war period, aligned with the more recent works of Baloji’s diptych, for the provision of a bridging point on perpetual concerns about the loss of communities, citizenship and human rights that have been exaggerated, yet feel less visual, for the absence of blood.
The art on show reflects as much today, as they did at the time of making, that we are entering an autumn of social conscience exasperated by the informality and misappropriation of technology coercing the psyches onto a temporal loss and inaction.
Yet there must be resistance. Art is also a mirror up to the society, ourselves, in hope each individual visiting this exhibition will reflect a little and make a small step of resistance that translates into a big change.
When we don’t speak, we maintain darkness. Northwest indigenous communities have talked of ‘silence’ as a skill. ‘Silence’ used in diplomacy can present a show of arrogance or absence as in demonstration against what I’d said. Against that theory, words presented hide the things that happen in silence, including their potential to tell a different story.
Bringing artworks made by Rothko, Bowling, Tanaka, Walcott, and Baloji together distinctively plays to the audience responses, being of equal therapeutic importance as they were to the artists at the time of making. The five artworks have incredible ‘enlightening’ power’, offering a quiet introspective space for soul searching.
We would like visitors to individual notice which one artwork they are drawn to on their individual experiential pattern route, free from want and free from fear.

ARTWORK SELECTION

  1. Rothko. M, ‘Orange and Yellow’, 1956:

Rothko “Silence is so accurate.”
Yellow and orange make green; green the colour signifying life, renewal, growth, fertility, harmony, nature, freshness, energy, and safety. Rothko never wanted association with any art movement however he was pigeonholed as an abstract expressionist. The simplicity of Orange and Yellow cannot go without noting the technical challenge of keeping the colours separate so they don’t produce green. Is the artist pointing out that we are in the process of exploring our spirituality, and have not reached a harmonious existence yet?
A quest for ascension, Orange and Yellow has a ritualistic quality to the universe framed within the shuttle golden Buddhist orange outline. His work has often been described for its meditative qualities whilst remaining large, and non representational.
Barney Newman, the man inspired title of Frank Bowling’s work in the exhibition, saw himself as a political artist who has also shown his work outside Rothko’s Chapel in Houston, Texas.

  1. Bowling. F, ‘Who’s afraid of Barney Newman’, 1968

The painting is another major African flag colour representation Bowling is known for. Bowling is of Guyanese descent, a descendant of a slave, still surrounded by racism and race assumptions with participation in the First World Festival of Negro Arts, whilst being the first black artist elected in the Royal Academy of Arts with the artist recently receiving an OBE, continuing the colonial mode of tradition. His work was also shown at Afro Modern exhibition at Tate Liverpool in 2010’s, for significance the port of Liverpool having hosted the largest number of slave trade shipments in England.
The question is does Bowling rebel or commercialise further the idea of Africa in a place of exoticism and colonial frames? ‘Who’s afraid of Barney Newman’ was made in 1968, placed two years after the Guyanese independence from the British. Was Bowling raising awareness at a time when slave trade destinations were gaining independence from colonial rule?

  1. Tanaka, A. ‘Electric dress’ 1956

Atsuko Tanaka had one said “I wanted to shatter stable beauty with my work,” highlighting how domestic objects are but beautiful and disruptive from the lack of presence, yet plethora of being.
Tanaka’s silence covered by the bulbs in the original artwork, from a position of an emerging arts movement, could have represented silence as an imposition for a projection of power. In international relations frameworks, silence is mostly imposed by psychological violence, affecting the corporal of the most vulnerable, women, people of colour and those not integrated in the functionality of post Colonialism, and neoliberalism in the global and constitute political discourses and practice. (Dingli, Bhambra and Shilliam, 2009)

  1. Walcott, D. ‘Love after Love’, 1948–1984

Undoubtedly there is a pause in Walcott’s ‘Love after Love’ poem. Who inspired the poet to write this? Is it advice, or as I have always read this, as a love poem to oneself?
Derek Walcott passed away two years ago and his sea breeze of poetry is a timeless reminder to leave the insecurities we all carry, behind, and just be.
The meditative quality in the thought of spending time with oneself is not unlike Rothko’s iconographical ‘Orange and Yellow’.
Does it really matter who’s heart is broken or who broke whose heart? If anything, the world would become a better place if each and everyone reflected on the poem a little every day. After all, through love there’s light and the light lost in things that don’t work, is light lost.

  1. Baloji, S. ‘Kumbuka’, 2003

Stylistically ethnographical, the photographer has removed the orientalism and exoticism of indigenous communities, removed the smiles and colours and yellow grey toned the landscape, to represent Congolese as the Congolese see themselves. In this diptych he has interestingly kept women seperate to men. He plays with the Primitivist Theory of the artist as an ethnographer, whilst placing it in a contemporary context.
Artwork Labels

orange-and-yellow(1)6721995702035878555.jpgImage from eu.art.com
Rothko’s goal was “the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer.” Rothko was known to suffer depression, reflected by the frame as a limit to happiness. Rothko was Latvian and Russian who went to primary and high school in Portland, Oregon – the ‘weird’ US city because of its rebel inquisitive population. His work invites the viewer to explore ‘metaphysical realities of their own consciousness’. The red a reflection emotional forces fighting nature a sea of blood at sunset, framed in limitation, stopping time, a photograph. The mesmerising quality of this work, is attracting attention even for non believers. The quality of light and Rothko’s interest in creating light reflects his religious iconographic approach to his frames.

t12244_10190182530184748032.jpgImage from https://www.wikiart.org/en/frank-bowling/who-s-afraid-of-barney-newman-1968
Bowling has expressed his frustration in an interview with Laura Barnett for the Guardian: “It seemed that everyone was expecting me to paint some kind of protest art out of postcolonial discussion. For a while I fell for it.”
The Rastafarian flag of green yellow and orange, signifying the displaced africans living in exile as a result of the slave trade. Unlike Rothko’s clearly defined frames, Bowling’s use of colours is blending into one, another around the edges and without affecting or altering the core of the three colours. Could the merging of colours also point to different ethnicities merging into one in the Caribbean and South America, as a result of colonial rule. Think of the children of Chinese, Indian, Syrian and Spanish immigrants on post-colonial lands, the ‘dougla’, the ‘koolie’, the ‘red skin spanish’.
Or did he attempt to define frayed around the edges, maybe from wear and tear?
The impact of slavery remains as unaddressed as it was in 1968 as it is today. Microaggressions are all apparent. The artist, a slave descendant, opposed the idea of representing Caribbean art.

Electric DressImage from youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUV-v3xI7Lw
Atsuho Tanaka’s electric dress, still lighting gallery spaces and discussions across the world, even after the artist’s death, in a timeless manner, originally the bulbs laid to cover her body, now exhibited without it.
In the West, a Christmas tree is something beautiful, pretty and a tacky representation of a happy time.
Tanaka was one of the more influential Gutai art movement artists, believed by many to deserve the leadership position within the rebellious post-war Japanese artist group, a but hindered from it due to her being a woman.
Tanaka’s work is symbolic to false light, untruth, prettiness by misrepresentation, a wonderful objectification of many beliefs changing and evolving in the years the work was created.
When the artist wore the artwork, around 200 light bulbs flickered every two and half minutes, like a pulsating body, inviting the viewer to view it a ‘living’ being without consideration of the being inside. Gutai translates as ‘concreteness’ born from a society that advocated for the loss of individualism.

love-after-love7742550341063638439.jpgImage from https://www.christystich.com/blog/2016/2/4/my-most-treasured-poem
Derek Walcott passed away less than two years ago, a Caribbean child of a slave, lived most of his life in Trinidad and St Lucia, and was awarded with the Nobel Prize in 1990’s.
Walcott’s poem is a reminder of being one with ourselves, salvaging ourselves with acts of faith ‘Give wine. Give Bread’ playacting Jesus proclamation of memory in the act of sharing love towards a progression towards oneself to a place where our reflection in the mirror doesn’t feel ugly or drained anymore, but celebratory.
Walcott’s exploration of European and African cultural adaptations within the Caribbean, and the multiculturality of the West Indies is reflected throughout his work. Walcott’s poem has a nostalgia about the mistake of trying to fit in other people’s shoes, and when ‘The time will come’ as in the time we will be ready or will be forced upon us to reflect in being at peace with oneself reminding us it is entirely achievable as ‘Sit. Feast on your life.’ is one of the few things in life left we have entire freedom to do on our own.

1-sammy-825x5106533298255495888239.jpgImages from #sammybaloji instagram page
Sammy Baloji is a Democratic Republic of Congo born photographer working internationally, with photographs represented in a wide range high profile african art fairs and collective exhibitions.
Born in a country known for the inherent political fragility, threat to human life, animal habitat and near extinction of species. His work is very much representing a colour code for how DRC is seen abroad and how it feels to Congolese people from within the country.
Baloji having participated in Venice Bienalle in an exhibition on Belgium’s colonial rule, he notes sharing and learning about a specific time period “To talk about our reality, and also to dream.”

Checklist:

  1. Mark Rothko, (b. 1903, Daugavpils, Latvia), Orange and Yellow, 1956, 231.1 x 180.3 cm, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, US
  2. Frank Bowling, (b. 1934 , Bartica, Guyana), Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman, 1968, acrylic paint on canvas, 236.4 x 129.5 cm, Tate
  3. Atsuho Tanaka, (b. 1932, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, Japan), Electric Dress, 1956, 165 X 80 X 80 cm, courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
  4. Derek Walcott (b. 1930, Castries, Saint Lucia), Love After Love, Collected Poems, 1948–1984
  5. Sammy Baloji (b.1978, Lumumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo), Kumbuka!, 2006, Photo collage, various venues)

Bibliography:

  1. Foster, H., Marcus, G. and Myers, F. (1995). The Traffic in Culture. California: University of California Press, pp.302-309.
  2. Bishop, C. (2006). The Social Turn; Collaboration and its Discontents. Artforum International.
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  5. En.m.wikipedia.org. (2019). Frank Bowling. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Bowling [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].
  6. Artnet.com. (2019). Atsuko Tanaka | artnet. [online] Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/atsuko-tanaka/ [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].
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  9. Liverpoolmuseums.org.uk. (2019). Ports of the Transatlantic slave trade – International Slavery Museum, Liverpool museums. [online] Available at: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/resources/slave_trade_ports.aspx [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].
  10. visibleproject. (2019). Kumbuka!. [online] Available at: https://www.visibleproject.org/blog/project/kumbuka/ [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].
  11. Barcio, P. (2018). Achieving Luminescence – Mark Rothko’s Orange and Yellow. [online] IdeelArt.com. Available at: https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/mark-rothko-orange-and-yellow [Accessed 9 Jan. 2019].