Natalie McGuire

Flight Connections vs. Creative Connections

Greetings from Ateliers ’89 and Caribbean Linked III! After a tentative couple of days, with some flights delayed in pursuit of Aruba – leaving a few of our participating artists stranded – we were finally all united at the invigorating Caribbean Linked III launch evening event in the Ateliers compound last night.

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Most of us had journeyed here the day before, navigating airports in two or three islands to catch flight connections, creating obscure patterns in the sky through the air routes necessary to reach Aruba. Though the complicated itineraries were no doubt a factor of stress for organizers Elvis Lopez (Director of Ateliers ‘89), Avantia Damberg, Annalee Davis (Director of the Fresh Milk Art Platform) and Holly Bynoe (Director of ARC Magazine), we were greeted with warm smiles and warm food as pockets of delegates trickled through Reina Beatrix Airport over the hours. Those who congregated in the dining room however, couldn’t contain enthusiasm for the upcoming weeks, and post-flight conversation delved straight into speculations on diversity and identity in artistic practice throughout the Caribbean region.

The next morning, a few of those who woke up at Ateliers were immediately escorted to be featured on TeleAruba’s Nos Mainta, the popular live morning show, in order to promote Caribbean Linked III and the opening event that night. Colombian-Curaçao artist Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata, Jamaican Leasho Johnson, Trinidadian Alex Kelly and GuadeloupeanRonald Cyrille joined Elvis to express their creative practice in relation to the residency.

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Later that morning, we had an extensive tour, given by Elvis, of the beautiful grounds and colourful buildings where Ateliers ’89 is situated. Located in the middle of Oranjestad, (the capital of Aruba), Ateliers ‘89 is a major centre of creative development in the Caribbean. Apart from hosting regional and international artists through residencies, Ateliers is a key institution for art education in Aruba. Examples of programmes include one for children aged 4-6, and another, a series of workshops on contemporary art open to all ages. Being an advocate for diversity in art disciplines, the spaces on the Ateliers compound host theatre performances alongside photography darkrooms, artist studios, lecture halls and the residence living areas. These are all wrapped around a large open air courtyard, with an outside stage for events. In the front of the site sits the large exhibition hall, with a smaller room used as a second exhibition space directly opposite. Art is integrated into every corner of the compound, with public installation works including those by Curaçao artist Tirzo Martha, Swiss artist Moritz Ebinger and Elvis himself, cohabiting with the architecture and residents.

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The set up for the ‘meet and greet’ opening night that evening included the re-opening of a July exhibition entitled A Deviation from Everything. This exhibition consisted of experimental new media and video works by Ateliers students, all created on the premises. Narratives including those of exile, digital abstraction, loss and film noir were projected onto the walls of the exhibition hall, sprouting out of monitors sitting on pedestals and laying on the floor. One work was particularly striking, an untitled piece by student Orswin Winklaar. A small mounted basket on the wall housed a projected video, surrounded by tiny red flowers scattered across the wall and along the floor, picked from a tree in the Atelier yard. The limited size of the projection invited viewers to get close, to almost climb into the basket, into the work. The content of the video depicted connections between human interactions with the tree on which the flowers bloomed, and interactions with each other. In the presence of the same, real flowers and the close proximity to fellow visitors in order to decipher the work, viewers themselves became participants in this artistic exploration of physical and emotional connectedness.

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By the time the official launch of Caribbean Linked III began that night, only two of the artists were still on the way – Jodi Minnis and Leo Aguirre. In his opening speech, Elvis emphasized the importance of connecting people in the Caribbean, creatively and socially, and that the logistical barriers of not having direct flights between islands needed to be broken down. However, calling us all onto the stage to be introduced, the visual of nine young creatives from the Caribbean standing together in one physical space had an undeniable presence. Having deepened conversations with each other around contemporary practice earlier in the evening, there was a unanimous and almost instinctual desire to produce collaborative works. Standing there, we were a signifier that though the restrictions of geographical boundaries may attempt to deter links in practice, the collective ambition for a co-constructive exchange amongst artists, writers and curators from throughout the Caribbean is only swelling with development. Thank you so much to Ateliers ‘89 for hosting us – I’m extremely looking forward to the next three weeks, the public presentations and connected discourse that will be produced!


Presenting Stories, Interrogating Histories

“it just is
like air
and everything in between
we fabricate ourselves
and tags
with intense complex labels”

– Natusha Croes, These are the Things we Don’t Say

The last few days here at Caribbean Linked III have been saturated with incredible stories – sharing each others’ experiences, sharing the experiences of Aruban art and heritage. Public programming in the form of presentations by the artists has begun, with Bahamian artist Jodi Minnis and Aruban artist Natusha Croes running the first sessions on the evening of August 13th.

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Jodi Minnis, one of the youngest in this year’s residency group, was the first to present her practice. A multi-disciplinary artist, Minnis began by giving a context of growing up and living as an artist in the Bahamas, and her inquisitive nature towards found objects in her surroundings. The first set of work she presented was Labour (2014), a series of sculptures exhibited at Pro Gallery which consisted of found materials such as chicken wire, rope and fishing net. In Minnis’ recent work, however, she moves into an exploration of how the female body functions in the Nassuvian social space, including sexual taboo and the borderline misogynistic attitudes towards monogamy. These elements were evident in a performance piece she shared entitled In order for you to consider my mind, you must be enticed by my body (2014), shown at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas’ National Exhibtiion 7 – NE7: Antillean: an Ecology. Dressed all in black and wearing heels, Minnis [climbed up onto a step ladder dressed in a very suggestive tight dress and heels] walked along a huge blackboard mounted to the wall, writing out the words “in order for you to consider my mind, you must be enticed by my body” repeatedly. Then, climbing a large ladder, she proceeded to systematically rub the words out. Due to the consistency of the chalk versus the cloth used to erase though, most of the words just blended into each other, leaving a mass smear of blurry projected assumptions.

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Jodi Minnis presenting at Ateliers ’89. Photo by Avantia Damberg.

Providing context for the work, she outlined to the audience how it had been conceptualized after an encounter in her own life, where she was offered an important opportunity based on her appearance. Another work Minnis presented was a recent collaboration with artist Edrin (Chris) Symonette entitled Brown Girl in the Ring, which was a piece presented at Hillside House for the annual Transforming Spaces 2015. Drawing from the childhood playground game ‘Brown girl in the ring’, a hula hoop mounted onto the gallery wal contained painted text such as “get out the ring you can’t dance,” “don’t pick me to be a lover” and “this gal loose eh where she learn to wine like that.” In the wall space encased by the hula-hoop, her collaborator Symonette created a mask cast of her face, painted with white tribal-like lines around her features. Speaking to the audience, Minnis explained her curiosity with the lyrics of the game, especially the part which asks the ‘girl in the ring’ to dance, which provided a moral dilemma – if the girl did not dance provocatively, she would be told to get out. The more sexual the dance, the more the girl would be considered to be ‘participating well’, but then too sexual and she would be called ‘loose’. Minnis noted that boys would not play at all. This context, combined with the notion of it being a ‘brown girl’ that’s in the ring, provides discourse around a preconceived type of body in the Bahamas subtly becoming sexualized from a young age.

Minnis wrapped up her presentation by sharing the line of artistic inquiry she was hoping to develop for this Caribbean Linked III residency. Building on the exploration into sexual perceptions of the female figure in the Bahamas, Minnis has begun interrogating the language used in Bahamian calypso songs in relation to sweethearting, the notion of taking a lover covertly alongside being in a committed relationship. This concept is repeated throughout the Caribbean, with the terms outside man/woman and horning used in other Anglophone islands. In the sphere of how this practice has become normalized through popular music, Minnis is also interested in the contrast of attitudes towards men and women who ‘sweetheart’.

Performance work and investigations into sound connected with the second presenter that evening, Natusha Croes. Croes is a prominent figure for the local audience, having completed workshops at Ateliers ’89 before leaving Aruba to study at GerritRietveld in Amsterdam. A multi-disciplinary artist, she discussed her 2015 graduate show, entitled Plethora Feelings, a piece which contoured her performance landscape with poetry, and cushioned it into a narrative video work. Speaking to the group, Croes expressed that separating the performance aspect of the piece into two concepts was a result of her indecision around which of the two she wanted to materialize.

The first component involved her sitting under a red table in what she calls the ‘red room’, a room basked in a deep red glow. Whilst she sits, a single invited viewer enters the room and joins via a chair at the table, Croes obscured from view at their feet. The viewer then actually becomes a participant in this intimate performance, conversing with Croes as she asks them personal questions. When they answer, she pushes miniature objects through a small ‘red door’ fixed onto the table, hoping to spark an emotional connection. This one-on-one interaction creates a space of sharing and emotional connections between the artist and participant.

Natusha Croes presenting at Ateliers ’89. Photo by Avantia Damberg.

Natusha Croes presenting at Ateliers ’89. Photo by Avantia Damberg.

For the second concept, Croes audibly illustrates a spoken word poem – one of her ‘stories’– with rhythms from found objects. Using a loop machine, she recorded the sounds of a rock as an indicator of a heartbeat, and lead pipe as an indicator of blood navigating through veins. Then re-playing them, the layered sounds provide a track for her physical interactions with an adjacent pile of natural and man-made debris, whilst delivering the words of her performance. The harsh edges of these found objects resonate with the sharp emotions expressed during the performance. Both of these components were filmed, to create a third space, a video work entitled These are the Things we Don’t Say. As well as the details of her graduate show, Croes expressed the complexities of re-immersing into the Aruban landscape as an artist, including the balance between creative ambition and financial restrictions, a familiar theme across the Caribbean region.

After the presentations, Aruban artist, musician and Caribbean Linked veteran Kevin Schuit took all the residents to San Nicolas, which was hosting its weekly Caribbean night. On disembarking the van, we were instantly enveloped by a sensory mix: the sound of samba bass seasoned with steel pan music, the waft of fried local food encasing street vendors, the sight of bodies moving en masse to the directions of a band who took court on a platform in the center of the activity. The similarities in the atmosphere to that of fetes in other islands was undeniable – instead of the lyrics commanding you to dutty wine or wuk-up or chip down the road, the moves were to salsa forward, salsa back, put a hand in the air and repeat. Once we were full with drinks and vibes, we piled back into the van and headed to an old and abandoned community, under the navigation of resident filmmaker Leo Aguirre. Seroe Colorado, or ‘The Colony’ as its known as, was as beautiful in its tranquil demeanor as it was eerie in its derelict aesthetic. Traipsing through the broken glass of former windows and looking out at the pitch black horizon decorated with punctures of light from buildings far beyond, there was a collective sense of being part of bigger stories – the story of this former community, the story of the community we were creating in this residency.

Exploring ‘the colony’. Photo by Jodi Minnis.

Exploring ‘the colony’. Photo by Jodi Minnis.

The next day all of us visited Fort Zoutman, a former military outpost from colonized Aruba, for an informal creative gathering. Whilst we sipped drinks and devoured an aphrodisiac fish soup, we were given a tour of the Fort’s museum, now housing historical artifacts of everyday life during that period. However, more interesting than the objects immortalized in their glass cases and replicas scattered across the floor, were the placid narratives decorating the wall text and being delivered by the tour guide himself. The subtle oppression of women’s work rights was masked as their preferences for being housewives or nuns. Field tools were described as being used by the anonymous “them.” And the only explicit reference to slavery during this time was contained in a single sentence, describing settlers who brought slaves with them.

Tour of Fort Zoutman. Photo by Jodi Minnis.

Tour of Fort Zoutman. Photo by Jodi Minnis.

Speaking with our guide after the tour, Mexican percussionist Diego Espinosa and I discovered there was a more intricate slavery narrative in Aruba that was discouraged from being shared across the island. For instance, an industrial building across the road was pointed out to us, and it was explained that until contemporary times, it had flown three flags – the Aruban, the Dutch and the Dutch West India Company. However, due to the association with slavery that the Dutch West India Company had, the flag was replaced by a plain white one. With the global consciousness shifting in terms of revisionist history, the irrelevance of these masked representations of Caribbean heritage and the need for the cultural narratives to broaden becomes even more obvious.

The subjectivity of historical, social and artistic stories has been popular discourse amongst the residents so far, as a point of cultural familiarity in their exchanges. These also become evident in beautiful ways through their public sessions and Aruban encounters, as will be detailed in the upcoming post on the next set of presentations.


Kiko ta kiko Caribbean Linked III?

Kiko ta Kiko? This informal Papiamento greeting for ‘what’s up?’ translating directly into what is what? is usually answered with suave, meaning chill, or cool. Papiamento as a language encompasses the creolized Caribbean – a mix of Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, African and English – and the exchange definitely emulates the amicable nature of the Ateliers ’89environment, the familiarity that grew into a strong connection between the residents of Caribbean Linked III. But the question could also reflect a deeper inquiry, one that mirrors the interrogation of these residents into the Caribbean experience. What is what? What is it to come from the Caribbean? What is an island, having a background of living in more than one island, living in the diaspora? What is belonging, the experience of home? What is the sense of self, the sense of existing ‘in-between’? Even from the very first night, after hours of complicated travel, navigating airports in two or three islands to catch flight connections, creating obscure patterns in the sky through the air routes necessary to reach Aruba, our late hour conversations were ignited with these questions.

Aruba’s vastness. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

Aruba’s vastness. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

The first week of the residency was filled with sites of exploration, exploring Ateliers ‘89, the Aruban landscape and heritage, each other. We visited Fort Zoutman, a former military outpost from colonized Aruba. Despite being presented with the placid narratives masking any notions of slavery; we discovered there were more intricate slavery implications in Aruba that were discouraged from being shared across the island. For instance, an industrial building across the road was pointed out to us, and it was explained that until contemporary times, it had flown three flags – the Aruban, the Dutch, and the Dutch Trading Company. However, due to the association of slavery that the Dutch Trading company had, the flag was replaced by a plain white one. With the global consciousness shifting in terms of revisionist history, the irrelevance of these masked representations of Caribbean heritage and the need for the cultural narratives to broaden becomes even more obvious. Diego Espinosa connected strongly with this, and his residency work was influenced by its implications in Aruba. Working with local artisans Ciro and Marian Abath, he created a beautifully intricate symbol of this concern in a detail of his installation – a sculpture entitled Glass Chimes / Blood Crimes.

Detail of Diego Espinosa ‘Glass Chimes / Blood Crimes’. Photo by Annalee Davis.

Detail of Diego Espinosa ‘Glass Chimes / Blood Crimes’. Photo by Annalee Davis.

By the time the second week of Caribbean Linked III commenced, we had got to know each other better as creatives, and exploration turned into a common attraction to the in-between. Whether it was the in-between of practice methodology, of mediums used in work, of senses of belonging, or of the vastly varied Aruban landscape, these are spaces that seem to appeal to a lot of us. Aruban Natusha Croes in particular connected to this notion of the in-between, communicating a sense of belonging in its uncertainty, through the poetic construction of both her intimate performance piece and the accompanying video work.

Natalie at Arikok. Photo by Jodi Minnis.

Natalie at Arikok. Photo by Jodi Minnis.

We encountered more of the Aruban landscape, by trekking through Arikok National Park, the North Coast, Seroe Colorado and the Baby Beach area, including the intriguing Pet Cemetery. In Arikok, there is one of many sites of Amerindian rock drawings in Aruba. Down a path to the side of the main walking track, we were able to view them through bars fixed onto the landscape. This in-between space of engaging with our present surroundings and gazing onto past indigenous artistic expressions spoke strongly to Leo Aguirre, Aiko Roudette and Razia Barsatie, whose exhibition works reflect their interrogation of the motifs. At Baby Beach, we encountered cliff edges, staring out into the ocean, and the large presence of the wind turbines lined along the north coast. The beauty in this vastness of elements, also experienced in our hike to the Natural Pools, is something that invigorated all of us, myself in particular. The salt water healing my body and my insecurity, the desolate terrain strengthening my stability, the light and wind and moments of solitude cleansing my thoughts.

Leasho ‘Promise Land’. Photo by Jodi Minnis.

Leasho ‘Promise Land’. Photo by Jodi Minnis.

The connection here has been incredible, especially seen in the bonds between the artists. The spaces of sharing stories, thoughts, beers, skills. Permanent inks on their skins solidify these connections. It provides something tangible, to encourage the intangible sustainability of this experience. Experiences that although happened in the organized play of Aruban exploration, also more strongly happened in the quiet hours of the space in-between night and morning. When most of Aruba was asleep, they would paint their experiences onto its silence. Hunting its ‘wildlife’ in the collaborative cockroach capturing that was essential for Jodi Minnis’ work. Transforming the wall of a deserted roadside building into a Promise Land with the street art of Leasho Johnson, while Aiko and Leo capture the rogue-like action. But the most significant experience, seemed to be in the subtle connections found through their conversations.

Detail of Aiko Roudette ‘Wondering the Lacuna’. Photo by Rebecca Roos.

Detail of Aiko Roudette ‘Wondering the Lacuna’. Photo by Rebecca Roos.

Caribbean Linked is absolutely a site for collaboration and connection, for exploring practices and ideas, for navigating the ‘in-between’. However, it has also been a site of deep personal reflections for myself, and these artists. Reflections on our sense of belonging, on our place within the Caribbean. The notion of what ‘Caribbeanness’ means to us – what is what? In this space, our sense of self has deepened. With every interrogation of identity, the self will always expand. The exhibition is setting up to be a testament to this, of the beautiful, vulnerable, provocative, political, tangible, mystical and bonding ways we conceptualize our sense of self and of the Caribbean, and the comfort of existing ‘in-between’.

Artists at Baby Beach. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

Artists at Baby Beach. Photo by Natalie McGuire.


Exploring the In-between

As the second week of Caribbean Linked III commenced, and we got to know each other better as creatives, a common interest became apparent – an attraction for exploring the in-between. Whether it was the in-between of practice methodology, of mediums used in work, of senses of belonging, or of the vastly varied Aruban landscape, these are spaces that seem to appeal to a lot of us.

Monday the 17th August saw the arrival of the last artist in residence – Razia Barsatie from Suriname. Having known Columbian-Curacao resident Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata from their time studying together, Razia settled in with the group quickly. That evening, Holly Bynoe and Diego Espinosa delivered presentations on their practice. As an artist, curator, editor, writer and project director, Bynoe is no stranger to engaging with the ‘in-between’ of different components making up her professional sphere. She began by detailing her role as Director and Editor of ARC magazine, a space that has undoubtedly facilitated the shift towards intra-regional exchange between creative communities. Bynoe then spoke about the three major ongoing projects where she implements her ideology of community driven programming in Caribbean arts. This includes Caribbean Linked; New Media, an experimental film branch of the trinidad+tobago film festival; and Tilting Axis, an annual conference with leading creative practitioners in the region and diaspora, generating discourse on sustainability and development of Caribbean art spaces.

Holly Bynoe delivering her presentation. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Holly Bynoe delivering her presentation. Photo by Avantia Damberg

The next area of her practice that Bynoe detailed, was the curatorial space. Working within a methodology that aims for better visibility of contemporary art from the Caribbean internationally, Bynoe challenges the stereotypes and limitations of working in this space. This includes being the first non-national to co-curate (with Michael Edwards) the 2014 National Exhibition at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB). She is now Chief Curator at the gallery. Another exhibition Bynoe highlighted was Field Notes: Extracts at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporic Art in New York (MoCADA) (ongoing until Sept 27th 2015), formulated around exploring new visual narratives of felt experiences in the Caribbean.

Having recently joined the curatorial staff at the NAGB, the third segment of Bynoe’s presentation encompassed her thoughts on the institution model in the Caribbean. Probing into the institution’s relevancy on the visual landscape of the region, Bynoe stressed the need for it to function as a “social and cultural agitator”, “connector and conduit”, “Think Tank”, “healthy ecosystem” and “window to the future”. Her practice at the NAGB will be focusing on nurturing the relationship between the community and the institution.

Mexican multi-percussionist /sound artist Diego Espinosa Cruz González presented next, about the ways his practice is an artistic inquiry, and explores the in-between space of music, performance, and visual art installations.

One piece which illustrates this was the 2013-2014 work Techua. Espinosa Cruz González spoke in his presentation about understanding complex multi-percussionist instruments, and how this informed the creation of new instruments out of unobvious materials. In this work, an expansive mural was created by Espinosa Cruz González, and Mexican artists Nuria Montiel Pérez Grovas, Adán Paredes and Taller los Alacranes out of high temperature ceramic tiles, manipulating the surface to house sequenced indents and raises. Then, with knife-like utensils, Espinosa Cruz González played an elaborate composed piece amongst the ceramics composed by himself and Mexican/Dutch composer Felipe Waller.

Diego Espinosa performing ‘Techua’. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Diego Espinosa performing ‘Techua’. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Another aspect of Espinosa Cruz González’s practice is the intricate performance of the pieces. He identified that the seemingly improvisational performances were designed down to every movement, the same way the pieces were composed down to every note. It emphasized the incredible ensemble result of the works presented. In particular, the collaboration in Six Drawings by Randall (2013-2014), a sound and visual installation response to the hyperrealistic drawings of Julia Randal. The custom-made electronic balloon instrument and music was created by Canadian composer David Adamcyk, and Espinosa Cruz González. Sitting with the balloon between his legs as the instrument, Espinosa Cruz González captured the intensity of the images and connected the viewer’s visual sense to extraordinary audio sensations.

This model was extended further in the 2014 monumental piece Espinosa Cruz González shared also entitled Six Drawings. Performed at the IX Symposium of Immersion and Experience in Montreal, the balloon this time was linked to a reactive video projection by Maotik spanning over 180 degrees on the ceiling and walls of the building. As Espinosa Cruz González played the balloon’s surface on the stage to generate sound, the audience were transported through the wrapped simulation of interwoven geometrics responding to each encounter with Espinosa Cruz González’s flesh. As though they themselves were inside of the balloon. As though they were in the in-between of reality and surrealism.

During the day of Tuesday the 18th August, we explored some of the Aruban landscape, by trekking through Arikok National Park, the North Coast, Seroe Colorado and the Baby Beach area, including the intriguing Pet Cemetery. In Arikok, there is one of many sites of Amerindian rock drawings in Aruba. Down a path to the side of the main walking track, we were able to view them through bars fixed onto the landscape. The in-between space of engaging with our present surroundings and gazing onto past artistic expressions. At Baby Beach, we encountered cliff edges, staring out into the vastness of the ocean, and the large presence of the wind turbines lined along the north coast. The Pet Cemetery, a stretch of land dedicated to the burial of pets, was also along the coast, further down from Baby Beach.

That evening, Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata and Leasho Johnson gave presentations on their works. Franco Zapata, a Colombian-Curacao artist, is also on the staff at the Instituto Buena Bista (IBB) in Curacao, one of the partner organizations of Caribbean Linked. She spoke about IBB’s programming for young creatives looking to study the arts, but also about the new gallery space, Esmerelda, they were creating, one for artists returning from studying abroad. These emerging practitioners were returning to Curacao in an in-between state of studying and the next step in terms of professionally pursuing art. IBB aims to provide a platform for their exploration of future practice.

Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata presenting her work. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata presenting her work. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Franco Zapata works across painting, sculpture and installation. The first piece she presented was the 2011 work Come Under the Table exhibited in inner city Amsterdam. The piece, a giant table structure placed on the roof of a car park, was a comment on the living situations of some of the residents in the area of the exhibition. Franco Zapata was intrigued by the phrase ‘under the table’ being used for workers who were paid without having legal status in Amsterdam. By exaggerating the dimensions of a folding table, Franco Zapata encouraged the viewers, most of who were not at all in the situation of being paid ‘under the table’ to physically stand under her table.

The most extensive series she presented to us, was the recent set of works entitled Duality. These paintings act as an interrogation to traditional gender roles in Colombia. The repeated protagonist of the scenes – a genderless figure with an iron for a head, is seen engaging in various metaphorical situations such as plowing through a neoclassical pillar. Through these works, with what Franco Zapata suggests is her ‘alter ego’, she interrogates the expectations put on women in the household.

Another recent work further emphasizes narratives of social commentary, this time directed at Curacao. The 2014 installation I am who I am because of the weather, probed notions of racial diversity in Curacao. Painting from two photographs – one of an Afro-Caribbean Curacao resident and one of a Euro-Caribbean Curacao resident, Franco Zapata merged their skin tones and features to create a racially hybrid figure. In the presentation Franco-Zapata noted that the reaction to the figure in the installation by viewers was mainly one of familiarity. By navigating the racial ‘in-between’ of Curacao, she provided commentary that the contemporary population is better recognized in its hybridity than its diversity.

Jamaican artist Leasho Johnson was the second to present that night. Johnson’s work is a gaze onto the space in-between commentary on the Jamaican experience and comedy in the visualities of its landscape, such as the behaviour of people and animals in urban Kingston and the movement of the body in the Dancehall space. Working across painting, sculpture and street art, Johnson casts a critical eye on the gender roles and the hyper-sexualized connotations of Jamaican culture. For instance, the series of paintings entitled Bananas, where the tropical symbol of a banana becomes as phallic commentary. One work from this series in particular, the 2013 piece Brace, depicts the naked outline of one of Johnson’s female avatars (Fluffy) – cartoon-like, with no facial features apart from a wide grin reminiscent of the golliwog doll, bent over and gyrating on a bunch of bananas, painted figuratively and positioned well inside of her lower torso.

A striking area of Johnson’s work, however, is his exploration of the space between colonial cultural depictions and contemporary cultural depictions, using strong representations of tropicalization and sexual exploitation. Layered on top of this exploration, is the insertion of that imagery into the physical landscape of Jamaica. The 2015 work Back – fi – a – bend was installed on the street side of an apartment complex wall over Labour Day weekend in the island. Six female figures stand in a row, all supporting a large bunch of bananas. The first five figures are renderings from colonial imagery – vendor women, carrying baskets of bananas on their heads, depicted in the photorealist style that could be found on postcards. The sixth figure, is one of Johnson’s dancehall characters, bending over and ‘carrying’ the bunch of bananas on her lower torso, re-interpreting the situation as something sexual. In this work, Johnson connects the exploitation of tropical labour imagery to the exploitation of female dancehall imagery – who too have to ‘labour’ through elaborate body contortions, in order to appear sexually appealing in the fete. These works are just a small sample of the intricate narratives and commentary Johnson presented to the group.

Leasho Johnson, ‘Back-fi-a-bend’, 2015

Leasho Johnson, ‘Back-fi-a-bend’, 2015

Exploring belonging through the ‘in-between’ spaces of life is something which resonates as a creative, especially if functioning within and outside the normative sphere. As the new works begin to form at Ateliers ’89, and experiences broaden, it’s exciting to see what elements of these explorations translate into this space.


The Self and The Caribbean

The Caribbean Linked III experience has, like, intra-regional encounters can do, brought up inquiries of the sense of self as an individual versus the sense of self as a person from the Caribbean. Meaning, in the face of the diversity of ‘Caribbeanness’ through bonding with those in the Anglophone, French, Spanish and Dutch countries, our own connections with notions of selfhood become sites of interrogation.

On Wednesday 19th August, a few of the residents returned to Ciro and Marian Abath’s studio for a glass blowing workshop. As Colombian-Curacao artist Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata stated in her artist account of the trip: “Working with glass is no joke, nor is it a “cool” thing to do. It’s rather hard work and a lot of concentration when melting/blowing glass. It even felt like the material (glass) was using me to become whatever it had to become by the hand of GRAVITY. The glass was just doing its thing and occasionally I would try to convince it to do my thing.” This observation provides an interesting analogy for functioning in the Caribbean. Our sense of self is arguably organic, shaped by the gravitational pulls of our experiences. However, an externally imposed ‘Caribbean identity’ that has molded imagery of the region for over a century, also attempts to mold this sense of self, trying to convince it to portray a singular identity for functioning in the Caribbean space.

Glass blowing workshop with Ciro and Marian Abath. Photo by Jodi Minnis

Glass blowing workshop with Ciro and Marian Abath. Photo by Jodi Minnis

That evening, the presentations by Alex Kelly and Manuel Mathieu iterated this notion. Trinbagonian artist Alex Kelly has only recently expanded his practice to address conceptual notions, specifically those geared towards socio-political commentary. Now working in the Alice Yard initiative Granderson Lab, Kelly explained in the presentation how initially he made art geared towards catering to the picturesque. This is something that all practitioners can relate to; the balance of making art that is socially aware and making art that can provide financial sustainability. But while studying at the University of The West Indies St. Augustine (UWI), Kelly’s work shifted towards commenting on Trinidadian life. One piece Kelly presented was the 2014 Pink Poui in St. Joseph Cemetery. A painted blue background provides a floating space for a stencil of a yellow cow, standing on a grave. The work was a response to the repeated imagery of the Poui tree in Trinidadian tourist art, commenting on the way imagery negates the actual visuals of everyday life. Another significant series of work, #islandlife, interrogates the gluttony of the picturesque on social media, in particular, Instagram. Users posting photos of the idyllic Trinidadian scenery would use the descriptive hashtag islandlife. On Instagram, hashtags act as a classification system, and so all images with the same hashtag label are grouped together in their own sphere. With islandlife, however, these images of beaches or poui trees or carnival blanket the harsh realities of violence and political tension in Trinidad and Tobago. Kelly creates small canvases of alternate images of ‘island life’, comprised of depictions of newspaper headlines highlighting violence, or visualities of his own social commentary. For instance, a stenciled image of a graduate, encased in a baby bottle, interrogating the way education is less an avenue of critical thinking, and more a space of being bottle-fed ‘learning’ to lead into employment. Kelly then intercepts the Instagram #islandlife virtual sphere with his images. This interrogation of the sense of ‘Caribbeanness’ with the perceptions of existence via the lens of the self, is a theme Kelly is expanding during Caribbean Linked III, facilitated by interactions with the regional artists in the residency.

Alex Kelly presenting his work. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Alex Kelly presenting his work. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Haitian artist Manuel Mathieu presented after Alex Kelly. Working across painting, installation and film, Mathieu’s practice expands beyond the boundaries of Haitian identification. His acute awareness of how his work and self are perceived in a Caribbean context allows for Mathieu to negotiate the space between identity and preconceptions. This has resulted in some works completely extricating from any Haitian reading, such as the work Rendering. Here, an anonymous narrative is portrayed – that of long distance relationships. Two small screen boxes are placed on a shelf, touching each other loosely. Then, playing on a loop, are two tongues stretching out to reach each other, but not being able to cross the boundary of the box they are contained in.

However, Mathieu’s interrogation has also explicitly addressed his consciousness around preconceptions of belonging. This is manifested in his ongoing work Spooky. Labeled as an ‘appearance’, Spooky has encountered four sites of potential belonging – Haiti, Volta NY, Paris and Montreal – and according to Mathieu fits into none of those spaces. That his ideas of what Spooky was, is, could be, is non-communicable with the people and places he has staged the appearances. This active realization suggests that Spooky then reinterprets as play, as almost a performance of heritage, of self, disengaging from the environment that does not generate a utopian sense of home. Yet in this disengagement, connecting more with Mathieu’s sense of self. Is this a condition of navigating the boundaries of ‘Caribbeanness’?

‘Spooky’. Photo courtesy of Manuel Mathieu

‘Spooky’. Photo courtesy of Manuel Mathieu

On Thursday, after a culinary change of pace, having munched on delicious tacos and burritos courtesy of El Mexicano– we saw the presentations of Leo Aguirre and Simone Asia.

Before their works, however, we had a guest speaker share his body of films. Aruban Juan Francisco Pardo is a well-known filmmaker both in the island and internationally. Focusing on local narratives, he presented to the group his range of films that capture the beauty and the alternate narratives of Aruban life. For instance the film 10 Ave Maria depicts a man wrestling with his sexuality and his sense of societal belonging. In addition to the films, Pardo spoke about the filmmaking climate in Aruba, avenues to get films at festivals, and what needed to be improved in the industry.

This led into Texan / Mexican filmmaker Leo Aguirre’s presentation. Currently studying at the University of Texas, Aguirre shared the short films he had made so far, as well as an upcoming production entitled A Breach on the Horizon. With Mexican heritage, Aguirre at first resisted the sense of portraying hegemonic Mexican narratives, especially around immigration. But still acknowledging that sense of self, that aspect of his identity, his films layer the narratives of his diverse characters, creating a sense of depth in the portrayal of Mexicans in the U.S. This is evident in a recent film he spoke about, El Fuego Detras. Themes of abuse, depression and violence are applied to the white male American character as well as a young Mexican girl character, who share the protagonist space. Therefore the lines of stereotypes become blurred in a quiet, beautiful way, mirroring the quiet, beautiful landscapes that Aguirre captures and connects to the viewer. His latest production in Texas also casts a gaze on the Mexican immigrant circumstance, but with the same conscious attention to expanding stereotypical narratives.

Still from Leo Aguirre’s work in progress.

Still from Leo Aguirre’s work in progress.

At Caribbean Linked III, Aguirre has taken the elements of his previous work, especially the calm sublime of the landscape, but turned his narrative lens onto a conceptual colonial encounter with Aruban indigenous stories. It will be exciting to see the end product on Sunday!

Thursday evening ended on an emotional exploration of self, with the presentation by Barbadian artist Simone Asia. Asia’s intricate ink illustrations are testaments to her conflicts with Depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Portraits of crying women are attached to elaborate designs flowing out of their heads and surrounding the background of the works. Geometrics reside alongside mystical figures and flora and constructions and debris and constellations to comprise a glimpse into Asia’s psyche. Her latest pieces are an exploration of the emotion, the disconnectedness she felt in the first week of her residency here: elements of cacti and sand and the vastness of Aruba have infiltrated the imagery in her works. This sense of vastness is also re-iterated in her exploration of the wall space as an area where her work can be expressed. The sense of vast insecurity is one which resonated with all of the young artists, and, after her presentation, it seemed as though Asia was closer to connecting with the group, embodying the ‘linked’ notion of this residency experience.

Simone Asia delivering her presentation. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Simone Asia delivering her presentation. Photo by Avantia Damberg

Although Caribbean Linked is a site for collaboration and connection, for exploring practices and ideas, it has also been a site of deep personal reflections about the artists’ sense of belonging, of their place within the Caribbean and notions of what ‘Caribbeanness’ means to them. And in this space, their sense of self becomes deepened. With every interrogation of identity, the self will always expand. The exhibition is setting up to be a testament of this, of the beautiful, vulnerable, provocative, political, tangible, mystical, and bonding ways we conceptualize our sense of self and of the Caribbean.

Masha Danki.

Natural Pools

Natural Pools


Linking the Intangible

“Things aren’t so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.”[1]

All the unsayable experiences, that manifest into visual constructs.

The intangible perceptions, that are sometimes shared, that in this space of sharing have articulation and communication imposed on them.

The art that becomes corralled by narrative.

I think of the suspicion of narrative by the Caribbean artist, in Christopher Cozier’s echo of “I am very wary of narrative as it often feels like an imposition on experience, a rationalization that inhibits as much as it offers consolation or promises order or meaning.”[2]

Is this narrative always an act of imposition, though, or do these visualities somewhat quietly long for an outlet of connection, a shared space of understanding, of belonging, via language? Isn’t that where art writing began, as a “cultural instigator,”[3]when did it become so formalized that it now acts as tool to implement boundaries around expression, a relentless categorizer?

Natusha Croes, still from II ambient, 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

Natusha Croes, still from II ambient, 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

I was invited to Caribbean Linked III mostly to write, including a critical thought piece on the works produced for the exhibition at the end of the residency. To facilitate an outlet of connection / imposed communication (depending on the viewpoint) for these twelve participating artists from throughout the region, and the visual manifestations they presented. For a lot of them, being ‘emerging’ meant that their practice would not have had much previous written thoughts directed at them, outside of a school-based setting. During the residency, my relationship with words became a cross section of connections. I wrote words, capturing the tangible moments of exchange and touching on productivity, through blog posts. I used words administratively, and molded them differently them when directed. I have read words – the artists’ verbalizations, the programme directors’ reflections, the voice of a veteran Caribbean Linked-er who contributed to the blog. I have listened to words, in the expressions of artists’ enthusiasm during the residency, the directors’ visions and frustrations, the concern from some of the artists around their own ability to articulate. I have engaged in discourse, exchanging words with the artists that extended beyond the physical space of Aruba.

Photo by Natalie McGuire.

Photo by Natalie McGuire.

These interactions with the plethora of words around Caribbean Linked III, around its function, implications, relevance, the explicit connections and the subtle relationships, have all been absorbed, have all been meditated on. What remains, in a traditional trajectory of exhibition grammar, is the exploration of the intangible spaces, of the artworks. In the struggle to form language around the artists’ works, however, I found that actually the manifestation of Caribbean Linked III itself was the most significant art work of the residency.

Therefore I’m not going to assume the authority to corral these artists’ experiences, their creative energy, their intangibility, into the narrowness of language. It cannot encompass the incurable transparency of sharing that was such a critical lateral space. What Nicole Awai describes as the “passage between perspective and periphery.”[4] Instead, this essay could perhaps be considered as a scaffold for articulation, a growing, malleable document, rather than an artifact. Their phrases are already decorated throughout my own here, intertwining streams of consciousness from conversations that transcend physical spaces. It is already a co-constructed manifestation of the unsayable things.

CLIII

Caribbean Linked I-III (CL) so far embodies Joseph Beuys’ notion of a social organism as a work of art, a concept he explored in 1973, where art functions as a politically functioning force that shapes society, but only if all individuals are invested.

Interestingly, he explained the concept as “much that is as yet unexplored, [and] has first to form part of our consciousness: insight is needed into objective connections.”[5] In other words, for an effective social organism to contain the elements of art, the in-between intangible spaces, and how they connect with the tangible spaces require an active awareness and subsequent involvement from invested persons. For CL III, there is evidence of equal community participation at every level. The invitation of artists was a result of monthly conversations between directors Annalee Davis, Holly Bynoe, Elvis Lopez, and creative localities across the region. The coordination of the residency was a collaborative process of three entities in the Anglophone and Dutch Caribbean, executed mainly via a digital space. On the ground, in the three-week bracket, the programme structure was highly lateral, with very little distinct notions of authority. The participating ‘emerging’ artists shared public platforms with more ‘established’ practitioners such as the directors and visiting curator David Bade to share their works and ambitions. Formal feedback sessions were minimal, with only two sets of structured studio visits between the mentoring group and the artists, aimed to facilitate expression rather than corral it (mostly). Any other feedback during that period was peer-to-peer, and took a patronus[6]-like existence as diligent encouragement. Even the documentation of the project had a horizontal approach –the digital arena contained voices of the artists via their texts on their experiences, the guest blogger, and the director’s reflections.

Natusha Croes, Holly Bynoe and Jodi Minnis. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

Natusha Croes, Holly Bynoe and Jodi Minnis. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

With that context of the project on a whole, as an exhibition, therefore, CL III arguably subverts contemporary frameworks to develop a curatorial ecosystem, cultivated by what Bynoe describes as the generosity[7] of practice, in both the fostering of the directors and the open heartedness of the creatives. The press and logo for the exhibition were designed by Jamaican artist Leasho Johnson. The spatial logistics of Ateliers ’89 were curated by the artists themselves. The installation was contributed to by everyone, even off-site Aruban artists. This ecology itself becomes Beuys’ social artistic expression, becomes Rilke’s unsayable experience, becomes art. The presence of this ecology was in our consciousness throughout the project, as Trinbagonian Alex Kelly shared with fellow Caribbean Linked artists, “we were all elements in a grand and most important creative endeavor.”[8] How this endeavor manifested, therefore, is more significant in the intersections of the works created during the residency, rather than isolating the perceived content of the individual pieces in the exhibition. To analyse what these artists produced in isolation, is to negate the collective creative consciousness that is revealed via Caribbean Linked III.

Alex Kelly assisting Leasho Johnson in the exhibition space. Photo by Rebecca Roos.

Alex Kelly assisting Leasho Johnson in the exhibition space. Photo by Rebecca Roos.

The interchanges were absolutely evident conceptually in the collection of works produced, but in addition one physical connecting component in every work became strikingly obvious. As though an attempt to materialize the immense intangibleness of their shared experience, every single resident artist, in varying forms, had included at least one found object from their Aruban environment in the works they produced. This was not an explicitly deliberate coherence, rather, a natural occurrence, and so could illustrate a patterned network of collective consciousness.

Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata, Simone Asia, Diego Espinosa and Jodi Minnis. Photo by Diego Espinosa.

Marvi Johanna Franco Zapata, Simone Asia, Diego Espinosa and Jodi Minnis. Photo by Diego Espinosa.

A site to embark on navigating these patterns in the works produced, could be the first segment of a three-part performance work, Lemba Drifting Güira, one of around ten cross-disciplinary pieces produced by Mexican artist Diego Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez during the residency. Mostly creating sound pieces, Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez explored the spaces of repercussions beyond the moments that sound is communicated, to build content in a sphere which encompassed the works of the artists around him, both participating in the residency and local Aruban artists. What he coined as a “creative explosion”.[9] Lemba Drifting Güira expanded on work he did during a residency in the Dominican Republic – wearing a ‘Lemba Güira Armadura’ a Taino inspired armour instrument, named after the Hispañola slave, Lemba, who led a revolt against slavery. Immersion of this work in the collaborative environment is layered. On the surface, there is participation in the performance itself from spectators, who in the instance of CL III, were comprised of mostly the artists and the local artistic community. We followed Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez around the Oranjestad based grounds of the Ateliers, to encounter a public monument to Juan Pablo Duarte, a key figure for the independence of the Dominican Republic. Another layer lies in the exchange of this work beyond the performance space, with that of fellow resident, US-Mexican-Aruban artist Leo Aguirre. Lemba in the Cave is a video work of Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez performing Lemba filmed by Aguirre, in the Quadirikiri caves in Arikok national park. The location of the caves, also features in the quietly haunting love letter to the Aruban historical landscape that is Aguirre’s residency work, Imperious Seas. Deeper into the collaboration, sound recordings of Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez’s Lemba can be heard throughout Aguirre’s film. Aguirre expanded on his signature visuals of the contemporary sublime in Imperious Seas to invite viewers to interrogate the silence of Aruba’s colonial history, displacing found European objects from Ateliers ‘89 in sites of Indigenous meaning, such as the Quadirikiri caves. In what could be perceived as a response to this silence as well lies Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez’s glasswork Glass Chimes Blood Crimes. Made in collaboration with Arbuan ceramicists Ciro and Marian Abath, the deep red sculpture consists of two parts – stalactite shaped drippings which suspended from the ceiling, reaching down towards a stalagmite contoured bed of glass, nestled in sand. The chiming, a sound to break the silence, is also a comment on the decorative nature of Aruba’s landscape, somewhat exploited in favour of tourism (a familiar Caribbean narrative) with the contested history contained being buried.

Avantia Damberg, Simone Asia, Ronald Cyrille in Quadirikiri Caves. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

Avantia Damberg, Simone Asia, Ronald Cyrille in Quadirikiri Caves. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

This attachment to / intervention of the landscape connects to Vincentian film artist Aiko Roudette’s work Wondering the Lacuna, produced for CL III. Roudette gathered found pieces of the landscape, created drawings, paintings and cutouts of figures, generating a projected video work to materialize an immersive installation experience with Aruba. Standing amongst the play of light, cut through by the shadow of sharp branches, whilst viewing a tumbling portrayal of natural pockets around Aruba, there was a strong sense of that intangibleness that had engulfed the residents. I couldn’t help but be moved by how she had been moved, not only by the landscape, but through the interactions of the other residents. It was apparent in her indigenous inquiry, which mirrored Aguirre and Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez, her value of found objects, which resonates throughout the works of all the artists, and the immersive agenda she executed for the engagement of the viewer. Roudette expresses this shift of consciousness, stating: “As I learned more about everyone’s work and I saw how different all the work is, I understood that while we are physically separate we are working together for a vision that we all share.”[10]Surinamese artist Razia Barsatie continued this environmental inquiry in her work, Conversation #2. Using found branches, Barsatie assembled two table-like structures, to support a stretch of cotton on the top and bottom end. Again, visiting indigenous symbolism, Barsatie layered the sensory experience of the viewer by meticulously painting the outlines of figures inspired by her encounter of the Amerindian cave drawings in Arikok National Park, using a paste made from spices. This olfaction engulfment allowed for a unique encounter with the visuals of her work, what she termed as a “conversation between your mind and your senses.”[11]

Aiko Roudette and Leo Aguirre at Ateliers ’89. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

Aiko Roudette and Leo Aguirre at Ateliers ’89. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

Linking this notion of connection to Arikok National Park and promoting a conversation of minds, Barbadian artist Simone Asia invited viewers to glimpse at hers, through her three works The Fine Line Between, Before I Disintegrate, and, Arikok. The Fine Line Between was an expansion of work done in a residency at Alice Yard with Asia’s illustrations done directly on the wall. Noting their loaded content, in terms of Asia’s grappling with her interior narratives, having the work larger than life-size coaxes the viewer into her world, the permanent marks on the infrastructure of Ateliers providing symbolism, to an extent of the mark Asia herself exchanged. Both of the smaller works on paper spoke of Asia’s experience in a more literal language. Before I Disintegrate depicts the anxiousness Asia felt with not fitting in, stating, “I found myself being very overwhelmed and more insecure. I felt as though I was not connecting very well with most of the artists. I also had difficulties being inspired and adjusting to the space. I was over-thinking everything.”[12] Arikok, then, contains the narrative of transformation from those senses of non-belonging, to strong connections with both Aruba and the other residents. It includes a delicate wasp nest, the found object from Arikok National Park. Guadeloupean / Dominican artist Ronald Cyrille also used an artifact from the park, that of a dead lizard, its stenciled outline woven into the beautifully grotesque wanderings of his aesthetic psyche. A set of [number] works displayed captured moments of interactions with Aruba, and the residents. His signature dog-like creatures mapping out Cyrille’s internal processing of encounters, playfully distorting themselves and their portrayed environment. Cyrille also depicted the Quadirikiri Caves, in a work of the same title.

Manuel Mathieu, Alex Kelly, Leasho Johnson and Jodi Minnis in Arikok National Park. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

Manuel Mathieu, Alex Kelly, Leasho Johnson and Jodi Minnis in Arikok National Park. Photo by Natalie McGuire.

In addition, Cyrille negotiated the politics of space by integrating his work into the environment on a wall in the Ateliers compound. One of his creatures occupies not only the wall but, by extension, the tree behind. Cyrille stated: “After doing some city trips, I was very surprised by the lack of public art, lots of blank walls of abandoned houses. It gave me the sensation that everyone there is “disciplined”.

In Street Art circles, we used to say: A white wall equals mute people. I wanted to invest in them, to democratize my art practice in some way. Create a closeness to the people and finally give them a voice.”[13] Jamaican artist Leasho Johnson also interjected the Aruban landscape, his found object being an abandoned building on Dominicanessenstraat in Oranjestad. Here, a new avatar named Promise Land dips low to pooch back on the building and comment on exotic gentrification, which is for sale. Speaking about the work, Johnson describes: “The time I spent here in Aruba showed how much the space and identity of Aruba had conformed to fit the ideals of tourism. I was expecting the space to affect my work, in the end it was my work that had affected the space. I had started off trying to find things in Aruban culture that related to my usual course of interest however, in the long run I decided to take what I had been using in my native space to contribute to this one.”[14]Johnson’s explorations of new visual icons for Jamaican sexual and cultural exploitation through dancehall music translated into the questions of profiteering the blended heritage of Aruba.

Annalee Davis portrait in FOR SALE, Photo courtesy Diego Espinosa.

Annalee Davis portrait in FOR SALE, Photo courtesy Diego Espinosa.

This links into another of Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez’s pieces – FOR SALE – a series of portraits of us all wearing the ‘Lemba Güira Armadura’ instrument and standing under ‘for sale’ property signs; visually connecting us through repeated images with the politics of space that Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez enthusiastically explores in his interrogation of Aruba’s silent slave heritage. This notion of politics of space malleably reconfigures in the works of Trinbagonian artist Alex Kelly, Bahamian artist Jodi Minnis, and Aruban artist Natusha Croes. Kelly’s untitled installation provokes the viewer to consider the intangible space that is a post-independence Caribbean. Comparable to the practice of placing an avocado, for instance, in a brown paper bag to accelerate its ripeness, Kelly lines up rows of identical brown paper bags on a pallet board (found just outside the Ateliers ’89 compound). That detail of the overall work is situated on the floor between two paintings depicting icons of ‘development’ (that mythical entity), to pause on the forced acceleration of economics, politics and society of Trinidad and Tobago. Though in previous explorations this space was specifically Trinidad and Tobago, inserting his probes in an Aruban context brings to light the transferrable implications in cross-linguistic postcolonial territories. Aruba is just as easily identifiable as being exploited by touristic force ripeness.[15]

Bahamian artist Jodi Minnis hones in on one possible social repercussion of force ripeness in the Caribbean, with her installation Roach on my Bread. The term is derived from a Bahamian calypso song and refers to the notion of ‘sweethearting’, having lovers outside of a committed relationship. Not only a commentary on the social ambiguity of ‘sweethearting,’ Minnis revealed the vulnerability in her personal experience of being a “Bahamian female who has been the roach, the bread, and the person being roached”[16] through the necessity of her interactions with cockroaches for the work – creatures highly feared by the artist. This was depicted in the painted works including Dans le bain, but also in the process of gathering live cockroaches for the sculptural aspect of the installation, setting them up in containers with baked Johnny Bread, literalizing the concept of ‘roach on my bread.’ This tangible vulnerability allowed for connections with the residents to deepen, as they assisted in the catching and containing of the roaches.

Jodi Minnis and Natalie McGuire standing by Roach on My Bread. Photo by Rebecca Roos.

Jodi Minnis and Natalie McGuire standing by Roach on My Bread. Photo by Rebecca Roos.

Aruban artist Natusha Croes also exists in that layered space of vulnerability and social idiosyncracies evident in her two video works –  I in-between & II ambient – and the performance entitled Portal. I in-between & II ambient express this stratification of emotion in a testament to processing experiences. Footage of CL III outings from a Go-Pro camera are collaged together and, with the work in-between, a spoken word piece by Croes; with the work ambient, an experimentation of sound. in-between is delivered in grayscale, the moments of landscape and interaction becoming visually assimilated to coax out the narrative of the poetry. ambient, in almost a strong reaction, is heavily saturated with sun drenched colour, the images bouncing against each other and engaging in play with the inquisitive soundtrack. This playful inquiry speaks to Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez’s sound work Casino Miss Milagros, which was co-constructed with Croes and a second Aruban artist, Kevin Schuitt, who participated in the 2013 residency. The three artists collected found sounds in a casino in the touristic area of Oranjestad, and Espinosa probes into a mundanely manifested surreality that exists within the parameters of tourism.

In Croes’ Portal, she extended the possibilities of vulnerability to a ‘found’ spectatorship, in having the viewers of the performance at Ateliers ’89 be participatory elements of her piece. Using a handmade pulley and a voice recorder, Croes would extend an intimate question to a viewer seated at the other end of an Ateliers corridor. The participant would then record an answer into the recorder, and Croes would pull the device back towards her. This exchange would continue whilst projected in the background, a video played from what one could assume was the viewpoint of the device, rolling forward and backward down the corridor. At the end of the session, Croes would then “analyse” the answers she had been given, in a gesture of connection or understanding. It could be that she was emulating her own experience of connection via probing, the gentle excavation of intentions during her time at Caribbean Linked III. Haitian artist Manuel Mathieu probed into this excavation of intentions in his works for the show, particularly Study 1. Mathieu’s interests lie in interpretation of art and the malleable perception of meanings. In speaking about encounters during the residency, he stated: “We are all using a transitory language in order to communicate. I wonder how many of our thoughts get lost in translation.”[17] Study 1, comprises flame-manipulated paper then addressed with paint, to create two amoeba-like repeated visuals. Presenting this duplication of imagery, Mathieu could be alluding to the sense of an aeonian Caribbean existence shared with the fellow residents across language barriers.

Colombian-Curacao artist Franco Zapata felt the significance of this intangible sense of resonance stating, “I think it’s important to document this whole experience, not only in a technical way, like Caribbean Linked III is doing on social media, but a more intimate way of documentation. A portrait that can come closer to what I, we, have experienced during this residency. In Aruba, the group gathered here reflects a diversity of phenotypes, personalities and approaches towards art, which makes it an environment that is very rich.” [18] Franco Zapata’s work, Souvernir dis mis Amis, is a manifestation of that intangible portrait of the rich environment. Eleven small canvases each wrapped in the black plastic bag, which featured in her larger two works (both titled Thank You Aruba)contained a collage of found objects from around the shared studio spaces, depicting scenes from her CL III experience. However, it was not just that. Franco Zapata had asked all the artists to draw from memory an outline of the country they came from. Then, using those shapes, she created terrariums of memories on the plastic bag canvas, depicting aspects that connected her to the artist whose country-shape she was working with.

Photo by Razia Barsatie.

Photo by Razia Barsatie.

One repeating resonation with the artists is that CL III has transformed them, but not necessarily in any way that can be measured tangibly. Maybe the transformations lie in the validation of existing and working within the ‘in-between’. In my presentation I spoke about pioneers such as ARC and Fresh Milk filling a void, founding an army through the ‘in-between’, ready to reclaim a creative expanse that had been swallowed from under us in the cultural eclipse of tourism. This army of contemporary artists, thinkers, writers sees the Caribbean creative community as more significant than the cultural exclusivity of national identities. These nurturing platforms provide a space where, as emerging practitioners, we are relentlessly supported to have creative freedom. I shared my belief with the other residents that with this freedom comes a collective responsibility to expand critical artistic practice to the best of our ability. Perhaps the transformation they struggled to articulate lay in this simple act of meeting their comrades who are also residing within the in-between territories, confirming that these are spaces of growth. Recognizing this collective consciousness that exists in Caribbean Linked. Because it does, on so many levels – even now, as I am grappling with words for this expression in isolation in Barbados, Croes is digitally sharing a spoken word piece with all of us, part of which states:

“Everything I write, is just a translation.
Just an interpretation of somebody else’s poem.
I’m layered with multiplicity.
What I love about spoken word? Is that you start from your experience.
It dismisses shame from the get-go.
It has the tendency to create a space where vulnerably, we can exist.

‘Cause words, can never carry the weight of our consciousness.”[19]

The virtual sphere facilitates the sustainability of this ecosystem, feeding into the global communities each artist resides in, strengthening their willingness to be part of the battle. This intangible space that transcends geographical boundaries, this shared consciousness, contains incredible minds who continue to transform their environment, strengthening the vulnerable links within each other and beyond into the creative praxis of the Caribbean. These twelve artists are now fully aware of their capacity for contribution in shaping this intangible rhizome, which Davis describes as “endless and without a centre.”[20] It is endless- the expansion of critical creative practice in the Caribbean is boundless, and as contemporary practitioners, we are the ones who are mapping the new cultural landscape. Let’s never lose sight of that.

Notes:

Thank you CL triad (Annalee, Holly and Elvis) for including me in this iteration
Thank you Holly for quietly inserting the intangible experiences into my consciousness
Thank you all for sharing your words, and for continually probing my own

[1] Rilke, Rainer M. Letters to a Young Poet, 1903-1908. Mitchell, S. (trans.), 1984, p.4

[2] Cozier, C. Artist statement, retrieved from http://christophercozier.blogspot.com circa 2013

[3] Bynoe, H. ‘Generosity and the practice of art making’, ARC Magazine,http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/2015/08/generosity-and-the-practice-of-art-making/ retrieved 15/09/15

[4] Dees, S. Nicole Awai (conversation with artist), 2014. Retrieved from http://africanah.org/nicole-awai/ 21/09/15

[5] Beuys, J. ‘I Am Searching for Field Character’, 1973, in Bishop, C. (ed), Participation, 2006, p. 125

[6] a partially-tangible positive energy force. Rowling, J.K., the Harry Potter series, Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 1997-2007.

[7] Bynoe, H. ‘Generosity and the practice of art making’, ARC Magazine,http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/2015/08/generosity-and-the-practice-of-art-making/ retrieved 15/09/15

[8] Kelly, A. WhatsApp group chat, 14th September 2015

[9] Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez, D., Artist Report | Caribbean Linked III, 2015, retrieved from www.caribbeanlinked.com

[10] Roudette, A. Caribbean Being. Retrieved from http://caribbeanlinked.com/artist-texts/caribbean-linked-iii/aiko-roudette/18/09/15

[11] Barsatie, R. Email correspondence, August 29 2015

[12] Asia, S. Caribbean Linked III. Retrieved from http://caribbeanlinked.com/artist-texts/caribbean-linked-iii/simone-asia/16/09/15

[13] Cyrille, R. Caribbean Linked III Retrieved from http://caribbeanlinked.com/artist-texts/caribbean-linked-iii/ronald-cyrille/21/09/15

[14] Johnson, L. Caribbean linked III Retrieved from http://caribbeanlinked.com 21/09/15

[15] Derived from the term #forceripe used by Kelly to identify a detail of his installation

[16] Minnis, J., Caribbean Linked III, retrieved from

[17] Mathieu, M. One Lucky Bird, retrieved from http://caribbeanlinked.com/artist-texts/caribbean-linked-iii/manuel-mathieu/21/09/15

[18] Franco Zapata, CARIBBEAN LINKED III – An experience by Franco Zapata retrieved fromhttp://caribbeanlinked.com/artist-texts/caribbean-linked-iii/franco-zapata/ 21/09/15

[19] Croes, N., WhatsApp group chat, 16th September 2015

[20] Davis A., Skype conversation with author, 14th September 2015