Saturday, 15 September 2012

Contemporary Guatemalan Art Needs You

In Central America - Guatemala : The city of Quetzaltenango is a mine of cultural gems. On its surface you'd be forgiven for walking the streets and thinking nothing happened in this smoggy, grey place, aside from gnarly old mayan women carrying fruit in baskets on their heads. But open a door and everything changes - doorways lead into arty bars and cafes covered in paintings, to old artifacts and rewired computers - live music blares from a cello and guitar duo, a dubstep event, heavy metal concert, or a marimba - and the people are courteous and interesting. I visited Xela (as the Mayans call the place) after travelling through Mexico and Belize, and have came to rest in this fascinating city for a while to do some Spanish classes (for which the place is famed).

While exploring the city I made a visit to the Cultural Center on Calle 4a / Avenida 19 which consists of the Museo del Ferrocarril de los Altos (an abandoned railway station),  the Museo de Arte (an art museum) and Museo Ixkik (a weaving and textiles museum). The railway station was only used for 3 years and now lies abandoned : a huge empty room with wooden lobby and desks. It's an atmospheric place with great potential and contemporary art space written all over it. The Museo Ixkik is home to a range of weaving, textiles and clothing from the various regions of Guatemala, and we were guided around and given information by a patient and charming woman who showed us men's and women's clothing, and described the meanings behind the designs and patterns used, linking it directly to Mayan beliefs, agriculture and lifestyle. Unfortunately photos are not allowed of this section, so I cant show any. As we left for the art gallery she asked us to tell other travellers about the place, as they are struggling to find funding for adequate promotion. I recommend it.

Rodrigo and myself in the warehouse store

The Museo de Arte next door is run by Rodrigo Dias with whom we had the pleasure of a long conversation with, and a guided tour of his work and that of others in the gallery. Rodrigo has had shows in France, the US and Germany to name a few, and his work is reminiscent of a folkloric Paul Klee. His enthusiasm and commitment is admirable. The Mayor of Quetzaltenango is storing barrels of rubbish in one of his warehouse stores. There's little support or money for the Cultural Center, but the place is primed and perfect for bigger and better things, which is one of the reasons I'm writing this.

Rodrigo tells me he has previosly helped people stay in Xela on residencies and he himself has stayed with others working abroad and seemed enthusiastic about it happening again. He's had books produced of his work and spoke of his friends in France and Germany who've helped him promote his work. He also tries to include and encourage local artists to aspire to better things, and provides a gallery space in which to show their work.

As Rodrigo was talking I couldn't help but think that people in the UK would love a chance to get connected with him, the Cultural Center and Guatemala, and maybe invite him to show somewhere or even arrange a residency swap. Rodrigo spoke good English and was motivated and enthusiastic, he held little hope for financial reward, but is dedicated to showing his work and that of others he knows, wherever and however possible. So if you think you may be interested in showing his work, helping him out, organising a residency or getting involved with Guatemalan art in some way please contact him :

More information on Rodrigo can be found here:
and here :

The art gallery

The muesums old railway station - a perfect art venue?
The warehouse store

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A Knife at the Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain - it's one of the most bizarre and truly surreal films I've ever seen, and last night Birmingham's Fierce Festival held a party in it's honor.

A while back I'd spotted the PST club opposite the Lombard Method artists studios in Digbeth as I was scouting for a location for a music video and wondered what might go on in there. It seems last night was my opportunity to find out.

So off I went to meet Meatfeast drummer uITgs there, after surviving a train ride with a gang of fluffy-booted and face-painted ravers, and I arrived at PST alongside a few other stragglers who were looking around the empty streets for some lights and a door.

Inside met Captain Ed who was preparing for his spoken introduction to the night, wearing a powerful and holy pyramidal mask, and was pleasantly surprised to hear some very underground beats, but a little underwhelmed that the Holy Mountain theme was pretty thin on the ground.

Perhaps after seeing the film, expectations were high - just watch the trailer above and you'll see what I mean about opportunities for a memorable event - but the interior was black and the main room looked all too familiar with DJs at the back, bent over laptops and some psychedelic patterns projected on the walls. The visuals were provided by VJ Leon Trimble (AKA Chromatouch) who is still working hard in the scene and it's great to find out he'd recently had to opportunity to work with audio-visual mashup legends Coldcut.

The club was a maze of small rooms and stairs, and in the basement I bumped into artist Dave Miller as some girls were creating shapes with a mirrored video feed. Halfway into the night a flurry of hi-vis vests brought in a low, red platform over which artist Joost Nieuwenburg walked, creating circles of fire with every step. It turned out the floor was a grid of matches.

Following this, performance artist Brian Catling with a selection of rape alarms attached to a balaclava set them off, one by one, deafening those around to him. As he strode out, he parted the crowd who cowered away, fingers in their ears. A good aural counterpart to the matchman's burning feet.

It's been a while since I went to a nightclub that played music I really like and I wasn't expecting much from an art show, but I have to say I couldn't get enough of the dirty, clattering techno of Oni Ayhun (better known as one half of Swedish electronica duo The Knife). It took me back to Tresor in Berlin and in fact - despite the general lack of Holy Mountain-ness -Oni with his flowing white-shirt, black sunglasses and long dark hair (looking like the girl from The Ring) was a compelling presence.

Mixing art and clubbing is never an easy thing to do, and overall I had a good time and enjoyed the performances (though brief) and the music, but with the visual feast that is the Holy Mountain, and knowing how rich and colourful curator Harminder Judge's work has been in the past, the event fell a little short of its promises.

I'm sorry to have missed Harminder's talk on his work at the New Art Gallery in Walsall where he has been resident recently, but for a taste of what he's about, here's a clip of his Performance Modes of Al-Ikseer.

The Holy Mountain is extravagant and excessive, I guess the need to be frugal may have dampened the opportunities to really push the boat out this time.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Livemocha - Social Language Learning Community

So it's off to Mexico I go. Well, soon... so I've been improving my Spanish recently, and discovered a great website to do it.

Livemocha is a kind of social educational networking site, where you can do language exercises and your livemocha "friends" can mark them and help you improve. The site caters for a whole range of languages, and one of the best features I've found is the instant messaging which allows you to type away to real people.

Ideally they speak to you in your language (which they are learning) and you type in the language your learning (their native tongue), so you can have conversations and help each out with your mistakes as you go. It's a great way to use your language skills in a real conversation without even leaving your house.

There's loads of other stuff too, from drag and drop activities to interactive video sections where you can record yourself responding to a video conversation. It's also free to join the community and you can unlock new sections by collecting points which you earn by contributing and marking other peoples work. In fact it's this switching between teaching and learning, and helping and being helped, that makes the community feel so very warm and friendly.

It's truly a great website, with a great community, and if you want to learn or practice a language online - I have found no better way to do it.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

I'm useless, but not for long. The future is coming on

Woah... where am I? Well, bizarrely, in Lichfield it would appear. Somehow I ended up living in a neat and tidy little city with good food, old buildings, a huge cathedral and a herb garden belonging to Charles Darwin's grandfather. Samuel Johnson invented the dictionary here - yup it's that kinda place - and the other day I sat in a sea of white hair at the Garrick Theater listening to a talk about visiting Burma and planning my escape.

It's not that I don't like it here, but I've just been made redundant from a job I took building computer games for school kids, and have managed to save up some money to go travelling with. Sadly this might mean the end of my band unless we form some kind of virtual counterparts and perform as the Gorillaz. But right now things seem to be tough in the creative industries. The music industry is saturated and no one seems to be getting by, and things don't seem much better for the film industry or the arts.

A while back I worked with the charming Martin Gooch (a filmmaker who has worked on East Enders, Harry Potter and Big Brother) and his words are ringing in my ears... When asked about his choice of 'career', Martin (dressed in scruffy jeans, loose T-shirt and with a foppish non-descript haircut) had said "It's not a choice of career, it's a choice of lifestyle.". It's a quote that clearly demonstrates the creative person's relationship between what would be considered work and how they live.

In a recent interview for Birmingham's Fierce Festival, independent arts curator Charlie Levine's advice on 'making a living in the arts in Birmingham' was "find a part time job... the arts won’t be a 9-5.".

So before I pour yet more money into my creative pursuits, and find other sources of income, I feel like it's time to take a break and regroup. A break to Mexico and Central America.

So for now I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad. I got sunshine, in a bag. I'm useless, but not for long. The future is coming on. Is coming on... Is coming on... Is coming on...

Monday, 9 January 2012

Awesome surreal animation from David O'Reilly

This is just so sublimely weird, completely surprising and unique I had to share!