I like collaborative projects because they always take me to different places from where I envisioned in the beginning. It is never a linear journey, but a stellar one—in format and space. The directions to be taken within the geography of collectivity are neither clearly delineated nor individual paths, but rather an imbroglio of ways of thinking and the crossing of several experiences. This is the configuration of the map we have started to trace and explore with Luv ‘til It Hurts.
At the end of 2018, we had a talk with Todd Lanier Lester, who had launched LTIH a few months earlier and was organising the exhibition Textão in São Paulo/Brazil. Todd is one of the artists with more experience with collaborative works that I know. So, when he sent me Textão’s release, I immediately related it to our first proposition Power-full Language. The word textão means ‘long text’ in English, and it is an expression commonly used by the black, feminist and LGBTQIA+ communities in Brazil. Its content carries a reaction to certain social factors that violate the rights of people from these communities. It is usually addressed to remind cisgender people, especially white heterosexual men, of their privileges and their central position within the oppressive colonial system—based on race, gender, sexuality and class markings. Textão was an exhibition that embodied much of the discussion we had initiated on the role of language in building contemporary social structures. Thus, this first conversation with Todd led us to establish a ‘coalition’ with LTIH, whose starting point was an introductory interview with Todd.
LTIH is a project about HIV and stigma, which brought about many questions on how we could integrate these topics into our research program. Many of us had already connected our personal researches with some language aspect and drafted a series of provocations for developing throughout the year. Therefore, the encounter between TT and LTIH could not be moulded into the same structure we have planned and constructed during our meetings. We were not dealing with questions originated from TT anymore, but with issues we don’t live with, we don’t study, even though they have to do with our investigation as much as any other proposition we have elaborated. Perhaps because of this unfamiliarity with the subject, we had to approach HIV and stigma with a series of actions, which included the translations of the instructions for Luv’s game into several languages, the spreading of posters for the Love Positive Women campaign at Leiden University and the closing article Certain things between stigma and lovewith my personal reflection revolving around the process of working together with LTIH.
Think Twice and Luv ‘til It Hurts did get to know each other. The final act has just started and there is more coming.
China is China. many words have been spent in highlighting the peculiarities and differences of the Chinese art movements as opposed to the rest of the world, often ending up in the cul-de-sac of essentialising the artistic expression of Chinese-born creatives by branding them with “Chineseness” or to read their whole artistic practice uniquely from the perspective of political repression.
notwithstanding the issues aroused by this projection of western stereotypes and presumption over foreign artistic productions, the artists in China thrive, sometimes exploiting these stereotypes in their favour.
a clear example of this was the boom of Chinese sound art production in the first decade of the 2000s, a niche of the wider art boom following the economic flourishing of the country.
find below a summary of my contribution to House of China‘s research on contemporary sound art in China. click HERE for the open source complete research.
Under today’s ‘we-have-everything’ surface of experimental sound in China, the energy and diversity of which have been much appreciated recently in the West by critics, magazine editors, and audiences, something is a bit anachronistic, or out of context, with the global progress. “在当下「我们拥有一切」的中国实验声音的表面下，其能量和多样性最近在西方得到了评论家、杂志编辑和观众的高度赞赏，但随着全球的进步，有些东西有点不合时宜，或断章取义。”
culture is not a segmented and compartmentalized system. it is composed of flows and backflows, as well as influences and inspirations across different disciplines. they often overlap and are virtually indistinguishable from each other. therefore, it is valuable to observe disciplines bordering with Chinese electronic music. sound art will be a good form to present “neighboring” disciplines, which further influences electronic music in China. and, in many underground manifestations, it even overlaps with it.
consequently, the influence of sound art on electronic music development is significant. for instance, in the 2019 Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE), a globally recognized music conference and festival, various sound artists applied multi-fields practice between art and electronic music. such artists include Shelly Knotts, and Timo Hoogland, who performed an Algorave, a rave which human DJs code in real-time and “embrace the alien sounds of raves from the past, and introduce alien, futuristic rhythms and beats made through strange, algorithm-aided processes“ in the event.
▲Shelly Knotts – Algosix Live Stream Performance
the full article focuses on the definition of sound art, its industry forefathers, some early development in China, presenting a selection of Chinese sound artists based on the main Chinese trends, and finally highlighting some leading Chinese platforms and labels which support the industry.
sound art is an artistic practice which treats sound as its primary medium, and, in most cases, is only part of a larger interdisciplinary and multimedia artwork. the loose definition of sound art is, in fact, symptomatic that it is both contemporary art and music, written words and sound vibration.
▌ HISTORY 历史
the first modern manifestations of sound art did not include electronic noises. for instance, some scholars attribute the first sound artwork to the Futurist artist, Luigi Russolo. His work, the Intonarumori (1913), or “noise intoner,” is a recording of urban sounds of the city undergoing industrial mechanization. later, this innovative art practice was picked up by Dadaist, Fluxus, postmodern artists and poets during the following decades, such as Pierre Schaeffer, John Cage, Halim El-Dabh, Max Neuhaus, Robert Morris, Alvin Lucier, Marianne Amacher. the first recorded artwork using electronic sounds in art installations was in the 70s, by artists, such as La Monte Young, Tania Mouraud, Keith Sonnier and Nicolas Collins. in the 1990s the term “sound art” was coined to define such artistic production. outside this fertile cultural ground, the electro-acoustic music genre emerged since the 80s, among other new fields of artistic research such as phonography or field recording, sound walking, sound politics, and sound cinema. These developments gradually blurred the lines between art and music
▲Luigi Russolo – Intonarumori (1913)
▌ CHINA 中国
the Chinese scene developed into one of the most fertile and dynamic grounds for sound art, which is witnessed by the wide range of sound art genres: extreme noise, musique concrete, electroacoustic, field recording, mixer feedback, circuit-bending, interactive controller, live audio-visual, glitch, minimal electro, gallery-based sound art, free improvisation, etc.. however, China had a very long sound art history preceding what Westerners define as such: ancient texts such as Ji Kang’s (260 C.E.) and the Yue Ji (10 B.C.E.), alongside with refined architectural acoustic techniques are witnesses to a very mature Chinese sound aesthetic. sadly, the true content of these traditions is only starting to be tapped now by researchers, given it was mostly lost during the years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
▌ PHONOGRAPHY 音系学
phonography or field recording, occupies a very predominant position in Chinese sound art, almost taking over the role of documentary films. however, it does not focus on the rendition of reality, but the interest is purely about the fascination with the sounds of modern China themselves in an emotional and intellectual sense. because of this, it has sometimes been defined as “Confucian”, given its emphasis on humanism and the interest in linguistic diversity, given the richness of diverse Chinese dialects and accents.
Zhong Minjie and Li Zhiying are part of a phonographic collective, PlayBack Unit from Guangzhou, whose mission is to extensively document the city’s acoustic environment. in their artistic practice, they tend to violate personal privacy by shamelessly listening to private phone calls and recording in private spaces, granting their audience “voyeuristic” audio access to otherwise socially forbidden spaces.
a clear case of focus on modern China is Yan Jun, first Chinese artist to win the honorary mention Ars Electronica prize for media arts in 2011, with his Music for Listening on the Earth (2008-2009) piece: the artwork consists of “micro-sounds” from the building where Yan Jun’s previous work, Wormhole (2008), was installed, such as human movement, gurgling of the water pipes, air flow, and other noises that were recorded by contact microphones strategically placed. by modulating them in order to make them otherworldly, the artist also aroused in the audience a sense of alienation from everyday sounds.
Sun Wei, Chengdu local, is renown for his Song for 100 Children (2006), a performance/installation. the work consists of two Chinese printing machines, which are fed a text of the lyrics of the homonymous Sichuan folk song. the printing sound is digitally recorded, modulated, and amplified. The outcome is a spectacular, psychedelic music, despite its “traditional” source input. the artist was able to translate the Sichuanese traditional song into a modern, electronic sound, due to the printing process, which indeed is unique to that specific song’s document.
▌ POLITICAL 政治
some see sound art as a potentially highly critical form of sound art. however, as Yao Dajuin puts it:
“The political element is rarely found in sound art in China. And the reading of the Chinese harsh noise scene as critical protest would prove to be too simplistic and naive. The artists in general are not overly interested in politics, and even for those who are, sound art would not be their channel of expression. It’s not so much the overall climate of censorship as a shared sense of futility and apathy in the post-1989 era.”
indeed, some artists claim their artworks are political but are often more theoretical than critical, addressing the era or society rather than a specific target. therefore, especially if devoid of lyrics, sound art is rarely censored.
the Torturing Nurse band from Shanghai is the most typical example of extreme noise act: extreme performances including explicit and sexual clothing and even hot wax dripping on their bodies while on stage, such as in their 2007 performance.
Hwang Dawang and Zhang You-Sheng‘s Minkoku Hyakunen – “100 Years of the Republic of China” (2011) is the most obvious case of political criticism in sound art. it is a political satire on the Taiwan nationalist government, which was then celebrating its 100th birthday, using invasive field recording, where the artists comment and “act” on the various scenes.
the Hong Kong-based Samson Young, is also one explicitly political sound artists: In Pastoral Music (2015), he reviewed six hours of footage of US bombings in the Middle East on mute, recreating the war sounds with a set of unlikely instruments. his artworks all clearly indicate an art practice focusing on the sounds of violence and sounds as violence.
▌ DIGITAL 数字化
in China, there has been special attention to the internet and smartphones as a source of noise, with specific interest to social media platforms, the medium, and once again the social elements behind them. most recently the focus shifted to User Generated Content platforms, highlighting a change of roles from the audience as such to the audience as collective producers of sounds.
Jiang Zhuyun performed a phone-based work Start with Wei – “start with hello” (2005) in which he had two cellphones set up so that one’s mouthpiece would be next to the earpiece and vice versa. he then dialed two random numbers and recorded the spontaneous, yet dysfunctional, dialogues which took place. he thus enabled two strangers to connect and unknowingly engage in a conversation with an equally confused counterpart, causing the two to doubt, for a second,
Zhang Liming is an artist that worked with social media scapes, and set up the Harbin Sound Map (2008) an open web sound project that allows users to post and share their own recordings based on their geographical location. therefore, the artist combines space and sound to visually and sonically map the city, thus creating a unique spatial archive of phonographies that develops independently from its creator.
Wei Wei’s performance iPhone Improvisation (2012), consists in an experiment in which she attaches various transducers to an iPhone. then, she performs various physical actions as well as digital actions on the smartphone, thus recording a stream of physical and digital noises. the artist thus is proposing to use a smartphone as an actual instrument, by both physically and digitally playing it, but also allowing it to autonomously “improvise” given the unforeseeable combination of sounds the phone’s components would produce.
▌ OTHER 另外
the sheer number of sound artists in China makes it impossible to effectively categorize all of the past and current trends of Chinese sound music. however, find listed below some specific noteworthy mentions of artists with different takes on sound art.
the Buddha Machine (2005) was created by electronica duo FM3 (Christian Virant and Zhang Jian) using cheap, mass-produced, Buddhist prayer machines. the artists replaced the buddhist chanting with FM3’s own electronic ambient tracks. not only the concept was successful, but the marketability of the artwork for mass consumption, positions it as a jokingly critical look at Chinese mass production culture and superficial religiousness.
Wang Changcun’s Antechre (2007) live performance in Shanghai and its subsequent release in Post-Concrete’s “Archival Vinyl” series is an interesting take on Chinese copy culture as related to sound. the name and content both hint at the British electronica duo Autechre, specifically their Untilted CD. Wang’s performance was intentionally presented as one of the many widely popular bootlegs of the real band Autechre’s performance. the similarity was painstakingly accurate, down to the perfect copy of made-up bootleg lineage listing, the pauses of the recording, and the audience applause. he thus “tricked” consumers into listening to his performance while looking for the almost homonymous band’s performance. the artist is then creating a humorous paradox in which users looking for free illegal music, end up downloading free legal artworks.
▲FM3 – Buddha Machine
▌ PLATFORMS 平台
an indispensable element for the development of this scene is the presence of established sound art labels and platforms in China. below is listed a selection of them.
Nojiji/Raying Temple: is one of China’s DIY experimental music labels. Focuses on harsh noise, free jazz and warped post rock. the label was created by a small community of self-selected outcasts. the group runs Raying Temple, a DIY performance space/recording studio/bar in Tongzhou, an industrial suburb of Beijing.
Zoomin’ Night Live Recordings: is a now-defunct weekly experimental music showcase located at D-22, in Beijing’s university district. Zoomin’ used to attract a scene of university students and recent graduates every week. the artists performing there mixed post-punk, No Wave, early Krautrock, Modernist Minimalism and other forms.
Subjam: subjam.org is the source of many projects of Yan Jun, a pioneer of Chinese sound art. subjam and its sub-labels Kwanyin Records, Yaji, and Mini-Kwanyin, published a vast catalogue of sound art, including field recordings, concrete poetry, sound art, collections of music writing, independent films, and design books. Subjam has also organized hundreds of live performances and music festivals such as MIJI concerts.
Post-Concrete: is one of the largest sources of recordings and articles on Chinese sound art and experimental music. Yao Dajun is its founder and custodian, who has extensive connections to mainland artists and can be considered one of the forefathers of the Chinese scene.
Beijing Sounds: is a website (sinoglot.com) archiving field recordings from Beijing. its primary focus is linguistic, cataloguing different dialects with detailed explanations of regional variations in pronunciation and vocabulary.
Pangbianr: pangbianr.com is an online source for discovering avant garde/emerging music from Beijing and elsewhere in China. the archives include audio and video streaming, reviews, interviews, and articles about independent Chinese art, music, and film. the platform also organizes performances, screenings and various events in Beijing.
▌ CONCLUSION 总结
it appears that the golden age of Chinese sound art has by now passed and gone, peaking in the mid-2000s and having a short revival in the early 2010s. however, it is undeniable that China has what Yao Dajuin defines as an “inexplicable acoustic energy” which one can only hope will be able to evolve into an innovative force for the field of sound art within and outside China. however, some argue that this potential will only be valuable when the Chinese artists will be producing content “out of sync” with the sound art abroad, fostering real innovation.
Concrete letters, words in a radio broadcast and poetry in three dimensions. After they graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2016 the married couple started to make art together as well. In April they completed a month-long residency, titled Text As in Campbell Works in London, where they let their mother tongues of English and Russian collide and started the search for a collective vernacular. Their work was on view previously in group and solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, London and Moscow. I spoke to Kat and Mike about their collaboration, the importance of place and the formal aspects of language.
You work together, but also as solo artists and in collaboration with other artists, through different media and disciplines: how and where do you start?
Our story began at Art College 6 years ago when we shared a studio for the entire 3 years. Then in our final year it all got too much and we started dating as well. However, we only started working together after we had graduated. Kat needed a photographer/driver for her project Where does sculpture go when we cannot take it home? and Mike offered to help. At that point we realised that we share a lot of common interests and decided to begin working together. Since then we have done numerous shows as a duo. However we have quite different approaches to our work.
For me, inspiration comes by setting up a method of working that allows chance or instinct to dictate the results; I like to construct games for myself and to work with pairs of things that I then aim to fuse together. I will often begin with a question that I set myself: usually that involves seeing or reading about something and then using a specific material, I will see how that idea can be translated or re-materialised into that medium. I am interested in how ideas can exist simultaneously as objects, words and images. Through my practice I am looking for how an idea changes as it moves and is translated across these mediums.
As for me, inspiration comes from different experiences of my body in architectural and urban spaces; rollerblading, walking and climbing through these spaces informs my sculptural approach to the work I make. It also reflects in the materials I choose to use, especially when it comes to concrete and scaffolding. Another big inspiration for me is language and its potential to transcend meaning. Ideas usually come from a crossover of these two areas of inspiration and the journey from an initial idea to the outcome is when the logistics, aesthetics and context for the work is worked out.
When working with each other we start with a conversation based on a similar interest in something and, because we approach the same idea very differently, we often work individually on the same idea and then synthesise the results. During this synthesis we can be very direct and passionate with each other which can sometimes lead to emotional rollercoastering. However, through this conflict we as a pair are able to produce more thought-through and vigorous work.
When working with other people we follow a similar process but we act much calmer and are less shouty.
WORDS & WORK
What were the outcomes of the Text As residency? Did you arrive at a collective vernacular?
The idea for the Text As residency evolved from a show in Russia that we had done two months previously. The show was called какие слова (Which Words) and had stemmed from us revelling in and reflecting on our own miscommunication with each other in English and Russian. Having enjoyed working in text for that show we then wanted to use the residency to see how the meaning of words changed across mediums rather than languages. The manifesto printed during the Russian show ended up being used as the template for how we structured the residency: each of the four weeks was dedicated to a specific medium (printmaking, casting, performance and broadcasting.) Each medium used the works produced in the previous week as a material for the next one. We then decided to open up the residency to the public, through a series of workshops to see how people would engage with our ideas and ways of working.
I really enjoyed the printmaking week both as a way to develop my own practice and as an experiment in producing co-authored text works with participants of the workshops. Before the residency Mike and me developed a method that we called sequential poetry, which we implemented into the printmaking workshop. It is based on each participant printing a line of text, one after another, forming a rather abstract and vivid flow of narrative and structure that is not in the control of a single person. This way the text appeared so alive and the meaning was constantly changing after each addition made to it, gaining a performative quality.
My favourite moment was during the week of performance. The Gallery space was filled with the printed and cast concrete pieces that we had made so far and we invited a group of 15 students to come and create installations out of the objects surrounding them. Working sequentially, each person would choose either a print or sculpture, and then reading aloud the text on its surface they would arrange the pieces within the space. It created a truly spatial poetry: a fusion of gesture, spoken word and constructed visual landscape. It was at this moment I believe that we were the closest to creating a truly collective vernacular.
The project is definitely still open, and very much informs our current practice. Ultimately we would like to produce a publication that summarises and develops the ideas and work that we have explored so far.
How do you feel about the relationship between art and writing on art – since your work itself investigates reproduction of text, meaning and finding new dimensions of interpretation?
That’s a very difficult question. Writing about Art at its best can provide new ways of looking at Art: reinvigorating the old and expanding the new. However it can also be used as a crutch or filler to support Art that is overly opaque. It depends upon the language used and the intention of the text that is produced. Personally, I prefer texts that add something to the Artwork in a creative or narrative way, that do not rely on overly clichéd academic terms and instead interact with the image or object presented in a simple and thought provoking way. Similarly, when using text within an artwork I am looking at the interaction between what it means as writing and how it is presented as an object: i.e. text has the same potential to create images or ideas within the mind of the viewer as the form of a sculpture or the image of a painting. When you begin to combine these elements, each act of collage creates new potential interpretations. It is about playing with the anticipated meaning of words in the same way you would with any other material or image.
When I use writing in art it is to create a space within which a narrative can unfold. However, this narrative is never a definitive one but instead made from fragments floating in and out of conscious meaning. They exist in the same way as I experience dreams.
Do you like other people’s interpretations of your work; do you both share the same interpretations?
Yes, other people’s interpretations of our work are always brilliant to hear. We like to think that once we have finished a piece it is then separate from us and has a life of its own.
No we do not share the same interpretation of our work.
You have had solo and group shows in Moscow, London and LA, using your native tongues which use different scripts for the work displayed in these different contexts. Do viewers respond differently to the work, depending on the languages they know? Do you keep the language of the viewer in mind?
Before we started working with text there was less concern for the possibility of misinterpretation or alienation of viewers from the work depending on the language they speak/don’t speak, because it was possible to contextualize our works in both languages. Moreover, every time we exhibit in different spaces or for different audiences, even if they speak the same language, we keep the specific context of the show in mind and try to make our work accessible but also open for various interpretations.
Nevertheless at the core of our work together we are interested in how text can exist beyond a purely linguistic sign: how it can be broken down into a pattern forming an image, as shape forming a sculpture or as the rhythm of sound in space. Our aim as Kat said earlier is to find a way for words to transcend their linguistic meaning.
In terms of how viewers have responded to our work in different countries I have found that it depended much more upon the culture of that country and its relationship to our individual nationalities than the ability to understand the language of the work. As soon as text of a specific language is present in an artwork, viewers are able to signify what culture that artwork comes from, and that can affect how the artwork is interpreted. In some ways you could say it depended upon what they were looking to find in the work as a reflection of themselves and their perception of us.
When we were preparing for the show in Russia we had to select works that made sense for a Russian speaking audience. For works in English we came up with tailored translations and I got to show text works made in Russian, which were more appropriate for that show than any other show in the UK.
I think there are a lot of different levels of translation happening in your work, especially of course with regards to Text As, where apart from using different languages you also translated words and their meanings into different materials and actions. How do these levels of translation intersect and connect for you?
These levels of translation make a lot of sense in our practice, because they eliminate direct, ordered and grammatical ways of dealing with language, which we both are not that interested in, and instead they appear as a playground full of possibilities of material, conceptual and even performative engagement.
Do you feel tied to a specific place and is place important for your work? What does London mean for your artistic practices?
Place always plays an important role in my practice because I have lived between Russia and the UK since I was 16 and a lot of my inspiration comes from the contrast of architectural, social and linguistic elements of both countries. I also feel like the theme of home and belonging has been a prevalent one in my practice, especially in my text works in the Russian language.
The location of where I am making work greatly affects the kind of things that I am thinking about and the materials that I am able to use. The spatial restrictions of where I am making something or where I am showing something creates a challenge that will feed into the end result of what I produce.
For us being in London means having a great studio space that we have spent a long time looking for and then adjusting to fit our needs. It is also the city where the community of artists that we have worked and will continue to work with is based. Also, here we have the support of institutions we are allied with and a lot of opportunities. However, it doesn’t mean that we are tied to this location and not considering the possibility of moving.
In conclusion: where do you both see your artistic practice move to?
Working together feels incredibly empowering and makes me feel as if we can do anything, of any scale and complexity. We keep on expanding our shared practice committing to experiments and projects that I wouldn’t attempt on my own, and having each other to bounce ideas against. I see our future being full of great discoveries and challenges.
I feel as though doing the residency and working with Kat over the last three years has hugely informed my practice and opened me up to many new ideas and ways of working. It feels as if we are at the beginning of something exciting with many possibilities for the future. I wouldn’t want to close it down with anything too specific though, as I think both of us like to instinctively react to change.
My name is Todd Lanier Lester and I started the project, Luv ‘til it Hurts, a two-year project on HIV & stigma. The Think Twice Collective has agreed to join the LUV ‘coalition’ … I’ll explain what that is along the way, but just wanted to say thanks for being in an open-ended conversation with me. The last project I co-made, Lanchonete.org was a five-year investigation of the right to the city in São Paulo, and also took a collective form. I enjoy the pace and other characteristics of collective decision-making. freeDimensional, a 10-year project on free expression and artist shelter was the first of a three-project set that have spanned almost 20 years. What connects the three projects is that they are all durational, rights-focused and open to multiple stakeholders.
I really appreciate the questions Think Twice came up with and appreciate your attention to my project.
Paula Nishijima (a Think Twice member) and I met in Milano at ENGAGE, a Public School for Social Engagement in Artistic Research hosted in October 2017 by Via Farini. Paula is Brazilian and I live in Brazil, so we started there. That was followed by a Skype chat with the group in Leiden (Netherlands), and an ensuing discussion about our ‘projects’ being in dialogue. I’d like to dive into the questions:
I started it because I’m HIV+. I started it because it is personal. But, too, I believe it can have a ‘benefit’ (as such) on a macro level.
Todd Lanier Lester
1- What is “Luv ’til it Hurts”? Why did you start it?
LUV is a two-year project on HIV and stigma. In the FEATURES section entitled Field Notes, I discuss some of the parameters I apply for the making of a durational, rights-focused, multi-stakeholder work. I share the ups and downs of this style of ‘making’, and try to point to ‘spots’ of learning from both my previous projects and those of other artists. I plan to keep this section going throughout the two years. In fact, these are the field notes for a book I’m writing that focuses on methodology and looks at a twenty-year period of such art making. It’s a different and related project I’m working on as I shift more into writing. I first presented the ‘hinge’ in my work between LUV and some research writing I’ve embarked upon at the Economy and Society Summer School, a weeklong doctoral symposium co-hosted by University College Cork and the Waterford Institute of Technology, bringing together scholars from diverse disciplines to discuss fresh perspectives on ‘the economy’; the market, the state, production, consumption, redistribution, value, money, work, commodities, poverty, welfare, inequality.
[*Paula, when we met in 2017, Lanchonete.org was not quite over yet (and still isn’t:). I was already rabidly note-taking for the book, but probably didn’t yet know LUV was going to be a project in this series. I have had the idea for an HIV-related project ever since I contracted HIV in São Paulo some five years ago. In Milan I showed the Queer City film, representing an important ‘episode’ of Lanchonete.org, and actually the most rhizomatically robust of the various sub-projects/foci that comprise the five-year research platform of Lanchonete.org on the right to the city. In fact, Queer City continues still in various forms. Queer City was the way I began experimenting with HIV themes in the hybrid artistic director/curator/ administrator/producer role I assume for durational projects that I set off and forecast end dates. I proposed Queer City ‘into’ Lanchonete.org just as any of the multiple stakeholders could propose and develop ideas into action. When I use the words ‘producer’ and ‘action’ herewith, I’m referring to Walter Benjamin’s 1934 address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism (Paris), The Author as Producer.]
I can jokingly say that I’m tired of making multi-stakeholder projects. But I also plan to have fun with the last one, Luv ‘til it Hurts. What I mean is that I plan to use some of the methods and tactics from the first two projects in order to lean-down bureaucratically and shorten (to two years) the LUV project … rather abstractly. But at the same time, LUV is the most personal of the three projects I refer to here. I started it because I’m HIV+. I started it because it is personal. But, too, I believe it can have a ‘benefit’ (as such) on a macro level.
2- How did LTIH start?
In February of 2018 I received an unsolicited R&D grant. I had mentioned to a colleague in philanthropy that I planned to make a project, but I didn’t say what it was. This was an exciting encouragement, and frankly the first time in my 20-year practice that I have received money in advance to work on a project. That money was used for making a website and paying people. Most of the money was redistributed as re-grants to initiatives such as Humans as Hosts, Coletivo Amem, the Houses of Zion and LaBeija, participation in the 2019 holiday Love Positive Women (a project by artist, Jessica Lynn Whitbread), creation of the LUV game with a team of Egyptian designers, etc. In discussion with Taiwanese artist, Kairon Liu we decided to make a limited edition postcard set from his Humans as Hosts project, which he carried to the 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. In a very useful way, this served to launch the two-year period of the project, and it therefore ends around the time of the next international AIDS conferences in 2020 in Mexico DF and San Francisco.
I mention above (when referring to Queer City) that I have the prerogative to create/direct/lead a portion of the LUV project and invite others to participate. This includes corresponding with others and writing for/on the site; designing a game with other people; collaborative events; media partnership; playing the new game together; and sharing in the construction (um, conjuring) of the ‘end game’ of the project, which will be an artist-led, philanthropic device offered to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
At the same time, the projects have historically been flexible enough to accommodate the ideation and leadership of other artists, participants or stakeholders. Looking back at freeDimensional, somewhere around the midpoint, artist Sidd Joag was hired to direct the organization. One of the first things he did was to create new schematics for how freeDimensional explained how danger can affect global artists and how the project addressed this urgency. You can see visualizations in the 2011 Artist Residencies & Conflict Areas event publication, and they carried forward to illustrate our most comprehensive output (an artist safety guide) as a project, the freeDimensional AdvoKIT (download). For Lanchonete.org, there were similar ‘episodes’ led by other participants. For example, Zona da Mata is a project by artist Rodrigo Bueno who participated in one specific way focused on the environment. Another way to see this is that Lanchonete.org participated in Rodrigo’s project for the year, 2016. And, Episódio Haiti was led by Raphael Daibert who participated in all the activities of Lanchonete.org, having helped to launch the project from the beginning. This was natural as his focus is on migrations.
Here you asked me how it started and I’m about to tell you how it will end. One is that we might be able to say something about the philanthropic device by the time of the AIDS conferences. In fact, I’m working on a graphic zine with artist Niki Singleton that should be ready by February 14, Valentine’s Day 2020. By that time we will amp up our plan to reach Elton, and in the meantime someone will hopefully ‘steal this idea’ and run with it. What I’m saying is that the duration, start and end dates are both important and somewhat arbitrary. The projects don’t stop on a dime. And, if they are launched well–at least inter-planetarily or intergalactically–they keep advancing even after the end date. These ‘durations’ allow for a form of accountability to the stakeholders, communities and demographics that the projects include and address.
Don’t you think there are enough ‘global’ things, organizations and such? If what constitutes art can sometimes be called an art world, shouldn’t we perhaps board the first spaceship out?
Todd Lanier Lester
3- Why is it an “interplanetary” project? and why “galactic”?
I am working with an old friend. Here is where I brag on a buddy, Adham Bakry. He is mentioned in this article, Street Art Illuminates Egypt’s Lingering Problems. Check him out. When freeDimensional was moving around (it had mobile desks for a year each in ‘residency’ in the Middle East and Cairo specifically at the Townhouse Gallery and South America via a residency at Casa das Caldeiras in São Paulo) I met Adham and he did some of the original design work for freeDimensional in Cairo, joining the team for the remainder of the project. He then drew the first schematic for me when dreaming up Lanchonete.org. There was a lot going on in both regions at the time in residency field, and these two cities provided a look into the regions. Around that time I led the writing of desk studies on residency practice in each region for some partners whose names I forget. I should find those two documents for my site:)
The idea for Lanchonete.org came, of course during my freeDimensional residency in 2008 at Casa das Caldeiras. My friend Joel Borges who created TodoDomingo at Casa das Caldeiras (as well as its international residency and various community programs) both welcomed me on that 2008 residency and has been a part of the ideation for Lanchonete.org from the beginning. He serves as the President of the Associação Espaço Cultural Lanchonete (the cultural association/ entity under Brazilian law) until now.
So for one, I’m working with partners and friends who have been stakeholders to past projects. I’m asking them to perform in certain ways, perhaps building on past actions. I raise money to pay them:) I’ve asked them to help guide me … to help me get the maximum out of the idea based on how we know how to work together.
Adham and I know how to make interplanetary and intergalactic projects. I had to urge him to give me first designs early and not perfect them. I wanted it a little raw. But too we agreed on a face-to-face design session that was this past March. I would go to Egypt (Port Said) and see into his current project, a popular heritage museum with a revolutionary mentality. Pedagogy and learning and local change. I would engage his project at the level I wanted him to engage mine. We would eat fish together at the Suez Canal and take our bikes on the ferry to Asia. I would understand what he’s going through, and he would understand the same in me. We would care for each other at that basic level. We would reconnect a little before making work together. We would break bread… to go with the fish. I would meet his wonderful colleagues on the museum project and revive my interest in the Arabic language.
In the richness of ideas that comprised those days in Port Said and Cairo, an idea sprung up for a game. It came from Saif, a 23-year old guy from Port Said, but with Cairo-savvy. He said, why not model it after Exquisite Corpse, a game I’ve come to learn is played all over the world … sometimes with image continuation and others with words. Before I even understood what he meant, he gave me the scenario of going into a Cairo cafe and seeing an iconic sticker/tile on the back of a laptop, and it referencing the LUV project, or game as it were. That one would know that the person with the laptop was cool with HIV .. or something like that. You all at Think Twice are thinking about language. I was in Port Said in a café w/ Saif, Adham and others. I was acting a little queer. I had black fingernails. The manager turned off the radio, and waited for us to leave. So, Saif is not wrong to consider a ‘safe’ way to play, as such…
Or, another answer as question: Don’t you think there are enough ‘global’ things, organizations and such? If what constitutes art can sometimes be called an art world, shouldn’t we perhaps board the first spaceship out?
4- What is the aim of the “coalition”?
The coalition is for doing exactly what we are doing. For having a discussion. You’ve asked me some questions that find me in a methodological and rather light mood. I’m heading to NYC soon to launch a publication on Artist Safety Hosting and it’s been a throw-back to some earlier ideas. The coalition is for ‘doing something’, and I’d really like for folks involved to understand what I want to do with the philanthropic device, and perhaps lend a hand. But at the very least they should play the game with us.
5- How are you featuring this “gamification” in your work?
Saif and I jammed on the game idea sitting in a circle of ten guys on the floor drinking the booze Adham had gotten at the airport using my ticket stub for duty free. We watched videos and smoked hash. Some of us did. I laughed at what, in Arabic, made them laugh. We spent time together. By the next day in the office Adham was ‘on it’ .. he doesn’t like the virtual side of things (preferring the street stencil), so he wasn’t thinking anonymous, multiplayer (online), but rather the logic of the game and design of the tiles. What might become iconic and end up on the back of a laptop. In Cairo or New Delhi in a cafe. Adham poo-poos the idea of a virtual game, while introducing me to ‘his game guy’ Sanjay in New Delhi, saying ‘he’s the one who can do that for you … I’m doing the first part.’
Here’s the design challenge I posed to Adham and his team. I was already almost sure I would treat the LUV project in three acts, and that Adham’s (and the ensuing game) would be ACT I. I had come to Port Said to get some work done, big picture work. The challenge:
I’m making a philanthropic device in the midst of the LUV project, which should also be a discussion. We should talk about what we need, and what we can do / offer. We should make a new ‘device’ to help out. On HIV and stigma. As artists. And/or poz people.
HIV is personal. By March I was already 9+ months into the project. I told Adham’s team that I would pull back on broad stakeholder outreach. I would seek out partners from past projects, but not specific to HIV ideas and work. I would reconfigure a team or ‘agency’ for the purpose of getting to the end(game), the device. I can say better later how Acts II and III move the process along.
I told Adham’s team that I needed an ‘activity’, something to do with a public. Something that would enlist stakeholders in a way I’d not tried before, one in which I did not ‘front’ each conversation. The activity would allow me to ‘deploy’ the evolving process of device-making into various contexts (art world and non). It should be good. It should look nice. It should open up online, social media and PR opportunities through its application. It should stand alone. It should be fun. A game.
It should be something so simple (perhaps more so than the philanthropic device that takes a whole two years to make) that it would open up countless new discussions that cannot be generated outside discussion.
OK, so we (Paula N. and I) talked, and I asked if Think Twice would be interested in helping to launch the game. The game is ready. You can get the gist of it in Thank you to Lois Weaver (ample version), and if you all are game, I’ll get you a game pack in the coming weeks. We already know that it launches in Grenoble on October 25th in French and Arabic, and hopefully Bogotá on the same day with Daniel Santiago’s project, Luciérnagas. So, I’m sure we can find a unique way to engage between LUV and Think Twice in this general timeframe and direction. It could take the format we find most useful. It could work/aim toward your potential meeting next Spring on the topic of language.
There are lots of ‘language’ angles in the project.
I think that if you give me the ‘go ahead’, I’ll consider how to communicate the game to Think Twice as we are developing ‘packets’ for Grenoble and Bogotá, so relatively soon. We are launching the game online on this year’s World AIDS Day, December 1. As well. Think Twice and the coalition can be a part of that. Somehow. The game changes as the ACT progresses, so we should really just play, and you’ll see.
6- What is action research and how is it developed and/or materialised in the project?
Oh gosh, what is algebra? I’m kidding. I was reading an article the other day that called ‘artistic research’ a discipline, area and method all in the same article without differentiating usage. Action research is perhaps related to grounded theory or various participatory methods. I figure phenomenology is a part of it. I am working on a book and PhD at the same time. The book is called Variations in Worldmaking. The PhD is in Sociology. My advisor, Maggie O’Neill has experience in action research. With all that in the ‘soup pot’, I decided to ask Maggie if she could help me tease out characteristics of my methodology, the methods I practice with, by keeping an eye on the LUV project. I produce writing on the overall book, but she knows that until the end of the two-year period (until July 2020) I have to give special attention to the final project in the three-part series. I let her know when I post new field notes online. But it is my responsibility to pull those into the research I’m working on. It is my design to have the final project, action-like hinge with the research that uses the timeframe of the three projects taken together, as well as their rights-focused themes and those taken up by other artists interviewed for the research. What a mouthful.
7- What are your other projects you inspired yourselves to when you founded LTIH?
The artists who got together in various ways like the Treatment Action Campaign, ACT UP, VisualAIDS and many other activist and artist-led (or fully included) endeavors. I want to give a part of myself to help out. I want to do it in a way that invites others to join me. Something like that. I think at a later stage in our discussion I’ll be able to share the short list of artists I’m interviewing for the Variations book. That would be another way to answer.
8- what’s the difference between you and these projects?
Not much. That’s good and bad. I have a playful writing project coming called El Mejor Karate. It will have a site. It will have some things to say about the ‘splitting’ we do and don’t do as artists when we make immersive projects. Adham is involved in it. It’s coming soon. The website will be www.tllester.info/elmejorkarate someday soon.
The ‘art world’ (as such) is not a place that automatically gives care. I think one needs to have support to make a project that touches on the ‘autobiographical’ … I chose sociology for its ability to accommodate personal narrative.
Todd Lanier Lester
9- How does this ‘personal aspect’ you mention influence the methodology or the way how you engage the stakeholders in relation to the previous two projects?
Up above I mentioned the design challenge I went to Adham and team with. Working on HIV elicits emotions amongst the artists and activists who share their stories. I want to think that multiple stories can be told through LUV. In the beginning however, I ran at it too hard. I got bruised by some of the initial engagements. In some of my field notes, I speak about this ‘emotional heat’ that I see as both essential but also to be ‘handled with care’. If this seems vague, please make sure to read the Benjamin text I’ve mentioned above. I think it is fair to say that the first two projects hold themes that affect me but don’t infect me. That’s a bit crass I suppose. I care about artist housing and safe haven, and would want it if I needed it (freeDimensional). I love cities and living in them. I pretend to live between NYC and São Paulo after all. To have my eyes open (in these two places and others I travel to) is to be in a discussion on the right to the city. But for LUV I need some space. If it gets too hot for me, I don’t produce. Ask me more, and I’ll be explicit about what I mean. The ‘art world’ (as such) is not a place that automatically gives care. I think one needs to have support to make a project that touches on the ‘autobiographical’ … I chose sociology for its ability to accommodate personal narrative.
10- What would you say is the necessary quality, in order to be able to contribute in the LTIH projects?
Help me make some noise. Ask hard /nice questions like these. Let’s find a discursive way to launch the game together in your context. I travel to the Netherlands a lot. I’ve spoken at Leiden once. In the process of my research in Cork, we are engaging the gallery at the university. When I was last in Cork (second city in Ireland), I was on Grindr and someone thanked me for sharing my HIV status. When I talk to my colleagues in Cork (the ones involved with my research), I ask them, ‘what do we need here?’ There is a conversation to be had in Cork, Ireland. There is a conversation to be had in Leiden, Netherlands. Please oh, please do not let us keep this at the treetops of discussion. With an old colleague I’m discussing how the game travels with a theatre piece around Zimbabwe. Let me discuss now with you, new colleagues how the game plays out in your context.
11- How can interested people contribute to the project and collaborate with LTIH?
“BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! is not supposed to be super-smart or clever.” so goes the exhibition pamphlet of BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! at Ravenstijn Gallery, Amsterdam.
the exhibition is in simple words a collection of gay portraits at the border between photo-art and pin-up queer photography. some of the featured works are extremely powerful.
a remarkable series, the Cumfaces by Stuart Stanford, is intimate, attractive and repulsive at the same time. the title is self-explanatory and the three selected works are very strong statements, capturing the expressions of the models in the moment of bliss coinciding with the ejaculation. the intimate nature of the action clashes with the setting in the public space, in an attempt to dissociate the act from its culture-specific shamefulness.
some other works were very aesthetic, with smart use of colours or with nods to the drag and trans community. for instance, RED by Iakovos, a series naked portraits of tasteful nudes in red, is one of the series which steps up from the rest of the exhibition, giving a clear, visual, contemporary photography vibe. instead, Legs for Days by Tyler Udall, a decadent composition in interiors with a man in half-drag, is, per se, a clear, if somewhat edulcorated, reference to the drag community and the New York ball scene’s slang. Pasa by Sarp Kerem Yuaz, a portrait of an static man with colourful patterns being beamed on his body, is maybe one of the exhibition’s most contemplative works, hinting at an inner search for the self.
by these premises, one can see how the exhibition is showcasing male nudity for the pleasure of the observer. this can also be read as a critique of the traditional role of female portraiture in European art history. in fact, it is interesting to see how the objectification of the male body is close to absent in art museums, and exhibitions such as these help in understanding the unequal treatment that female and male bodies received throughout history. such an example can be made of the featured artwork Odalisque, by Luke Smithers, which, while very literal, is also effective in reproducing the pose and setting of the Great Odalisque by Ingres, but with a male subject.
whereas the exhibition should be praised for creating a critical counterweight to the objectification of the female body in arts, it is astonishing to see so little diversity in a 2019 exhibition. the subjects in the portraits are all rigorously white, they are all of the tribes of twinks or otters with a similar body-type and are all handsome in the western standard of the term. in fact, body-positive messages are the great absent of the exhibition. from a gay, white young man perspective as of the writer, this appears to me as very distorted representation of the LGBT community in an exhibition. in fact, the owner of Little Black Gallery, which hosted the exhibition first in London, Ghislain Pascal is cautious in defining this an LGBT exhibition (also given the complete absence of lesbian community) and defines it “Gay and Queer.”
imagine being a gay man of different heritage and being confronted, in this exhibition, with the emanation of the paradoxical nature of the contemporary gay commmunity: a discriminated community which up to today is still discriminating on aesthetic and racial bases. to be sure, this kind of discrimination is not a LGBT prerogative, but it is enough to sign up for Grindr, PlanetRomeo, Tinder etc. to find in few clicks a profile with a “no fats” or “no fems” or “no asians.” however, this is obviously part of a larger topic of discrimination within the LGBT community, which one can explore by following the links below.
notwithstanding its self-declared superficiality, the exhibition is able to touch on some interesting subjects such as sexual freedom and the objectification of female and male bodies. nonetheless, the visual appeal of some of the featured series is undeniable and self-evident. however, besides featuring pin-up/art queer photography, a topic which has been researched in-depth for some time time now, and thus a bit dated, the exhibition has some aspects indeed superficially dealt with, such as body positivity and representation of minorities.
Think Twice performed on the 12th of February 2019 a dedicated workshop on the topic of the relationship between the cultural and natural spheres. the workshop was performed during one of the instances of the Leiden University Master of Arts class “art and earth” inspired by Bruno Latour’s Facing Gaia.
the Think Twice team began by introducing the research of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Déborah Danowski, “Is there Any World to Come?” we asked the class to discuss the reading. the answers hinted at an interest on the concept of civilisation itself, in an attempt to observe the ecological standing of the “amerindian” perspective of what is nature and what is culture. however the class also pointed out how critically and inherently “western” the contribution of one of the authors was, because of his evident poststructuralist formation. however it was also mentioned how the relationship between nature and culture, in the reading, was implied to be of identification: we have several natures and we share the same culture.
an artist who anticipated this movement by erasing the line between culture and nature is Lygia Clark. within the framing of the workshop, we enacted an experience/situation/performance inspired by her Proposição “Canibalismo.” once the experience was concluded, the class tried to unpack it in a group via the use of single words to describe their experience. some of the words leaned towards the sensorial sphere and the experience of gradual acclimation to intimacy. others leaned towards the relationality between humans of mutual support and trust. some described the relationship between humans and nature and its exploitative undertone.
the group concluded by discussing whether the blurring of the lines between culture and nature, could actually help humans in taking better care of the environment by quit treating nature as an object but bringing it about as a peer. whereas it is impossible to give a straight answer to this issue, we hope that the workshop will stir up the debate and provoke the participants in researching more in-depth on the topic.
Latour, Bruno. 2017. Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime. second edition. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Excerpt of Danowski, Déborah, and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. “Hà mundo por vir? Ensaio sobre os medos e os fins.” 2014. Cultura e Barbarié. English translation forthcoming. 2016. Polity Press.
Butler, Cornelia H., Lygia Clark, Luis Pérez-Oramas, and Antonio Sergio Bessa. 2014. Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1988. New York: MoMA.
Think Twice launches today. we are a collective of researchers, professionals and thinkers focusing on critical of contemporary issues in the still colonial contemporary academia and beyond. the collective works both as a news outlet and as publishing platform for critical essays. to encourage the proposition of fresh ideas, Think Twice has a yearly focus on specific topics, for which a yearly call for papers is published.
think twice: power-full language
understanding powerstructures through discourse
Think Twice launches today. we are a collective of researchers, professionals and thinkers focusing on critical of contemporary issues in the still colonial contemporary academia and beyond. the collective works both as a news outlet and as publishing platform for critical essays. to encourage the proposition of fresh ideas, Think Twice has a yearly focus on specific topics, for which a yearly call for papers is published. a selection of these papers will be published on our platform.
the inaugural provocation of Think Twice addresses Language as a tool used in the construct of power in contemporary cultural discourse. the power of language is often explicit in the language of power, in canonized statements reflecting how society was shaped throughout the years.
by changing language, can we change the constructs of power? how can art translate language as an alternative discourse?
power-full language open debate proposed by Think Twice includes a series of actions taking place at the end of 2019 combining theory and practice through social participation and interaction. the group’s online platform, to be launched soon, will work as a channel through which interaction occurs and memory is documented. the laboratory of thought or provocations aims at bringing to life different topics analyzing language and power through the lenses of broader domains such as philosophy, literature, cultural history, contemporary art, etc. pro-creation materializes the discussion initiated by the laboratory of thought in the form of a symposium + workshop + public artistic intervention in which social engagement is the key factor.
we want to find new ways to understand culture, and we want them now.
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