The airport being the obvious place where airplanes land and take off, is also an important physical location where some serious thinking is done. It marks a moment when I project my self into the future, and on a returning journey I spend time reliving and summarizing the events during my travels. This time after my exhibition in Harare with rotating objects and drawings I tried to question myself with 6 key evaluation questions such as:
”What art processes were planned and what was actually put in place for the project?….”, but found the answers something short sighted and for the economist. So I page through notes and recall conversations.
The most remarkable moment of the exhibition would have to be that the audience interacted with the artwork by means of a torch, light, solar panels and an electrical motor turning the objects. During the opening for example, people took their time to go from object to object and examine the reaction that the light had on the artworks. In fact what they were doing was examining the effects that the light had on the surface of the object, and this is precisely how I question and observe the small art works. How does the light reflect, what texture does it reveal, what shadows does it cast, what tonal difference in the shadows tell me that the object is three dimensional and finally if I turn the beam of light to an other angle what happens to the image and why? This information I use as an artist to make painting or more sketches. But to come back to the opening, I felt that the audience was captivated, they talked about the objects, the mechanism, the show.
‘So what comes first, the object or the drawing, or the painting?’, guests would ask.
None, I would answer. The exhibition shows the precise evolving process of an artist. The origins of the idea is so far and faint in the past that they no longer have any influence to the present physical form, be it the drawings, paintings or objects. By observing, unfolding and questioning these three forms, I answer with new artworks, that in turn will be observed and questioned again forming a continuous evolving spiral. [action reaction]
‘What are they? What does it symbolize?’ Each person will see what it is, what it symbolizes and how much power it has. Option, a sculptor tells me how ”the bull” triggered his youth memories. One of the objects, a small bull (approximately 2cm high) made of dark brown earthenware clay, glued on the inclination of a triangular piece of wood, spins in the light. ‘When I was living in the rural area,’ Option tells me with excitement, ‘with my parents and grandparents on a small farm, we had a big black bull. It was a kind of crazy bull and on some occasions the bull would escape from its pen. We would always find the beast on top of a hill, feet locked like a mountain goat on the steep rocks and head pointing proudly up, nostrils flared and grunting at the far horizon.’ Later Option wrote in my guest book ”I like that BULL!!”
The airplane took me from Harare to Lusaka and in the early hours of the morning we landed in Dubai international airport where I would catch my connecting flight to Amsterdam. Having some time on my hands, a twenty dollar bill and a wish for a cup of coffee I set off to find one of the coffee chains. When the lady at the counter saw the dollar bill, she immediately said she could not take it, ”It’s too old”.
‘Yeah but’, I protested, ‘I’ve been using dollar bills like this for weeks, dollars can’t get old; it’s money.’
The next place told me my money was too dirty, and they would also not accept it. This encounter put a whole new spin on money laundering. However this left me without a coffee, a worthless 20 dollar bill and I felt like a sitting duck, a target for unscrupulous bank CEOs. It made me link the arts and money, how some art was worth money and other art works as worthless as my dirty money. And yet for the artist, each art piece that is expressed in physical form is a step in the artist’s personal development and so his culture. At the next coffee place I ordered an expensive cappuccino from Harkaman hiding my old and dirty money until Florence proceeded to whizz the machines. Ha! My money was no longer old nor soiled, because Harkaman saw the agreement between himself, the cappuccino and me. [Back in the game].
Bringing art works to Zimbabwe for an exhibition is an exceptional process. Not so much the logistics which consists of making the art works look worthless in a messy suitcase, and thus avoid having to pay import taxes. But an exceptional reversal process as art flows out of the country not in. I have had three solo exhibitions in Harare starting in 1994, 2012 and now 2014 and each time I bring something, it surprises to the brink of ungraspable. Not because the work is indecipherable, rather there are hardly any international exhibitions let alone African art exchanges. In fact there is not much of an contemporary art interest or market amongst the local population, the players are few and the road to any form of success (economical or spiritual) is to Europe or North America. This causes a general unease in the arts, besides the education system is not strong enough to educate about contemporary African art. As the local artists tell me all the ‘important’ art has been sold over eagerly to collectors outside of Africa and what cultural documentation remains is hardly contemporary and is written by former colonists three decades ago. Needless to say there is great awareness amongst artists to educate their fellow man, they know, road is long.
In Zimbabwe the moon is upside down. After a few days in Harare you change your point of view, and some time later you see it like all people living in Zimbabwe, bright and surrounded by dozens of nebulae and other star clusters. The way I observed the art and the maker also changes with time. I have noticed that art is made in a different way. One way that European artists may start making their art work is from the art supplies and tools at hand (canvas, paint and brushes). In Zimbabwe I found that the artists starts from a different point. There is hardly any art material to work with. Creative survivalist know the challenge ”How to open a can without a can opener”. Creative kids know what to do when there is no TV and they have gnawed through their boredom. So the starting point of the artist is from nothing, and that makes the work so very challenging. It is almost like a training, a school of thought, a style like minimalism, but then the ”starting from nothing” style. The Zimbabwean artist starts painting with nothing, then finds household paint, continues to paints mixing colours with offset printers ink, or starts with yellow and finding other colours in the form of plastic bottle tops, sweet wrappers or broken shoes. Or consider this simplification; an artist drawing a silhouette of a rabbit, in Africa they may draw the abstract forms from the space around the rabbit (from nothing), and not from the ears or eyes or fur. When I look at their work the opposite happens, I first see the bottle tops, the electronic print plates, the bicycle pedal and then as if by magic, I see the creation.
During last three days in Harare I freed myself up from the exhibition to spend some time in the botanical gardens and to explore the clouds using a video camera. The clouds form low and rapid in the skies after eleven o’clock in the morning. By leaving the camera on the ground and pointing up towards the sky I recording five minutes at the time. Playing the video fast forward made me realize that the rolling motion of the clouds was similar to the the rotating objects. It is something I want to work with.
But what impact did your art work have?
In 1999 I left the USA after doing a collection of paintings on shadows of basket ballplayers and hotel paintings in Mexico. I thought they had little impact on any one but my self, but I was wrong, Kelsay Myers wrote in 2013:
“But this one looks like spirits,” I said, and it did. What I didn’t say was that the spirits made me want to write. Their shapes and colors haunted me. The sky captured my imagination.”
next: 3rd Ruhr Biennial – Townshipwise different 2015 http://ruhrbiennale.de/