Amy Karle’s work as American Arts Incubator exchange artist to Poland considers the "Layers of Life" and how we form —biologically/socially/emotionally/spiritually — on all levels, while questioning, “What is life in and through the bio-tech era?” Karle wanted to transcend these layers — from the micro to the macro, from the individual to the social, from the internal to the external, from the depths of the earth to the sky, space, and beyond. She conducted artistic research in the labs at Copernicus Science Centre and in two UNESCO heritage sites, the Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines. She did research in one of the deepest parts of the earth accessible to humans in Bochnia, and studied crystallization, salt and concepts of space at Copernicus. Karle researched how nature forms and grows: in this case the natural additive manufacturing (natural 3D printing) of salt and crystallization. She also considered salt as a vital, life-sustaining element in our bodies and of our earth, and learned about theories surrounding the origins of life concerning salt. Combining her research, influences, and inspiration, she created performance art, sculptures, and a show for the Heavens of Copernicus Planetarium in collaboration with Copernicus Biolab and Planetarium team, as well as Grain Films.
Recently the Dnipro river has been experiencing high levels of pollution through harmful algal blooms, a widespread phenomenon caused by toxic industrial runoff and global climate change. The river has transformed from something once abundant with life, to being covered in a layer of algae that can suffocate the lives of other species. I wanted to explore material transformation through the lens of the Dnipro, and have created intimate portraits of the river in acrylic, transferring it's boundaries to become a central focus to address this topic, layering and juxtaposing man-made tributaries with ancient and natural flows. Creating a water battery with polluted water from the Dnipro with speculative algal bioreactors, I consider converting cyanobacteria and polluted water in the Dnipro into energy; in this case, for illumination. A re-framing of the river helps us to reconsider our impact on it and future methods of harmonious collaboration with it, other ecologies and non-human species.
ARUA.xyz is an augmented reality map containing digital sculptural works by multiple Ukrainian artists featured in this exhibition, as well as an online browser-based project. It is an intervention of space, a re-writing of present geographies, a disruption of physical and digital borders, and a intentional positioning of new cultural digital monuments throughout Ukraine. For this exhibition, these sculptures can be seen in the gallery, but they can also been seen at the different locations where there are highlighted on the map when visiting those locations through a smart phone. ARUA.XYZ will live beyond this exhibition to include additional works by other artists from Ukraine who are interested in this digital intervention of space within and surrounding the boundaries of Ukraine.
The project is a immersive curatorial project for expanding the participant projects in the space of L'Uzine and for proposing strategies for l'Uzine to continue to function as a scaffolding or incubator for art-and-technology-based community enterprise in Casablanca. It considers l'Uzine's building through a series of formal reinterpretations, alternately as a puzzle, a ribbon, a klein bottle, and a collection of nodes for sensory projects that express the diversity, knowledge, and expertise of the many populations of Casablanca.
Additionally, it proposes smaller-scale artistic interventions - low and high-tech that can serve as either independent or systematic links among spaces and/or exhibits.
Narrowcasting is a project inspired by the 2018 Womxn’s March in Seattle, Washington and named after the news sharing practices of the early years of Sangham Community Radio in Andhra Pradesh. In the early methods of this female run community radio, women recorded the stories of their neighbors on cassette tapes and spread this information by playing the audio in different villages. Working toward a more diverse conversation in the global movement toward gender equality, I used garments created by Seamstress, a Kochi based company owned by Rasmi Poduval, to infuse networked mobile amplification devices to project
the stories of voices from gender minorities. The intention of these garments is to provide a platform for people in a position of privilege to use their bodies to amplify underrepresented narratives and to have an active uniform to be used in performance and protest. Local female and transgender activists were interviewed at Pepper House, in Fort Kochi, and this audio was woven together to create the content projected in this work.
I am so proud, again, of all the participants as individuals and as teams. There are a few other notable teams that were crucial in realizing these project work: ZERO1, L’Uzine, and the American Consulate in Casablanca.
I want to thank them for their help in supporting the program from start to finish and for inspiring the project that I am currently wrapping up as part of my exchange. This was a team effort.
In particular, the energy and excitement of L'Uzine have been my muses for this project.
The same line repeats in every iteration of the project proposal leading up to my departure to Morocco, “My personal project will be an architectural scaffolding for the participant projects…” Familiar neither with the organization nor with the participants, I imagined I would build a structure or design a space that could host each of the participant project prototypes.
But over the course of the workshops and as the participant projects developed, I realized that this scaffolding already existed; every day, the flurry of events and excitement, the rhythms of dance and meditative motions of textile design, the focus of the camera lens, the reverberations and translations of music, the flittering of fabrics, the echoes of philosophical conversations, and the fun that moved across, up and down, and around the building of L’Uzine.
Raucous laughter and decisive actions emanate from the 1.5th-floor administrative offices. Delicious smells waft up the stairs from the kitchen where Fantom and Fatima prepare a meal for the staff and visitors to eat together, pausing between energetic spurts of technical management, deconstruction, shopping, posting, meetings, and, of course, answering seemingly incessant questions from guest program coordinators, like me.
Zineb Haddaji’s responsive, positive, and witty perspective kept the program and the projects moving within and beyond office hours. Maria Daif’s infectious enthusiasm gave context to the projects. The care with which Nadir Houboub considered each shot, sequence, and composition and the poetry of each image by Ahlam Maroon represented our program so eloquently. Hamza Lyoubi's even and careful timing and articulation, and Abdessamad Bourhim’s intense and speedy technical execution bolstered our work. The workshops and exhibits also would not have been the same without Dounia Jawhar's calming presence, Sabrine Hakim's insightful questions, Abdessamad Noudirate's energy and resourcefulness, and Kristi Jones’s indispensable insight and support. And, last but not least, Fouad was always ready to open a door.
The concept for my project came from the recognition that L’Uzine — as a building and organization — is a scaffolding that can and does support not only prototypes but ongoing work on the critical questions and concerns expressed and explored by the participant projects. L’Uzine’s heart and muscle are already doing the inspiring work of community building, recognition, and representation. Its body is filled with diverse projects and programs that display, disclose, and question.
L’Uzine’s building is not only a center of culture, it is also a cultural puzzle. It is a place where mega-cultures, mass-cultures, and sub-cultures connect, coincide, collide, and fuse together. Its spaces are allocated to music, dance, theater, performance, photography, painting, and design, and its circulation spaces host encounters among artists. The cultural puzzle re-imagines the way the building is subdivided — grouping spaces to create variegated cultural portraits through a diversity of disciplines and sensory stimuli.
This is a curatorial concept:
Three puzzle pieces represent the heart and muscle — L'Uzine's staff — the Heart, the Arm, and the Spine.
Five puzzle pieces represent cultural exhibitions, inspired by the Rhetorical City participant projects: each one uses a collection of sensory spaces to immerse visitors in a sub-culture — each organ perceiving, processing, and interpreting different aspects of the exhibit.
Meanwhile, the Cultural Canvas & Composites concepts are a fusion of the American Arts Incubator model and some of the incredible work that is already underway at L’Uzine.
AAI bolsters the growth of artists through the development of art projects addressing questions of community, technology, and entrepreneurship. Shamsher Virk and Maya Holm provided an incredible foundation, and go above and beyond in coordination to support this process. And the Department of State and American Consulate were so generous in their support of the program and participation in its exhibition event — especially Stephanie Jensby, Salma Benbouia, and the Consul General, Jennifer Rasamimanana.
Artists explore and grow at L’Uzine — some participate in workshops and projects for fun, some become employees of the organization, and some become recognized city-wide, nationally, and internationally for their craft.
The Cultural Canvas & Composites concepts underscore the role that L’Uzine already plays as an incubator by providing concepts for small and large, singular and serial, physical and digital interventions.
I want to return for a moment to the basis of this project — asking questions about empowerment through mapping and data collection and representation. Among the great concerns with power, data, and mapping are disempowerment, misrepresentation, and obfuscation, respectively. However, perhaps if we understand the systems by which these are constructed, we can become not only critics of but also activists within them, transforming the criticality that sometimes seems external to societal structures into something that is intrinsic and inherent to societal growth and development.
Perhaps social entrepreneurship is an exquisite product of opportunities for open self-expression and public conversations about convictions. And, finally, perhaps this constructive-criticism-turned-social-entrepreneurship is a form of love that can ultimately make a positive impact on our families, friends, neighbors, and communities.
I can't wait to see what forms the AAI participant projects take as they develop in the future and to see what configurations L'Uzine might take as it continues to do its incredible work
It’s been an incredible month at IZOLYATSIA, and I can’t believe how far we’ve come! March 29th was the opening reception for Emergent Tributaries at IZONE, showcasing collaborative works from the community groups as well as myself. The name of the exhibition is in reference to the Dnipro River, which has historically played a central role in shaping the landscape and cities alongside it in Ukraine: as an ancient trade route for goods and supplies, a place for cultural exchange and gatherings, and a provider of energy through hydroelectricity.
I chose the Dnipro River as an entry point into this exhibition — as a meeting place of cultural exchange for a visiting artist and curator from America working at IZOLYATSIA, which is right on the riverbank. I also chose it metaphorically for its ecological network, which connects Ukraine through its many tributaries, as this exhibition has done the same for artists gathering from different parts of the country.
Now linked with digital technologies in a similarly networked fashion, Emergent Tributaries reimagines the present and future of Ukraine through the eyes of these artists and their collaborative new media works. Along the Dnipro riverbanks as well as in other physical and digital spaces, they have refigured cultural identity, personal identity, and our relationship to ecological systems, technologies, our bodies, and the spaces our bodies inhabit through speculative design and design fiction.
There were four main collaborative projects in the exhibition:
The Waters Come Into My Soul examines water pollution in Ukraine, particularly along the Dnipro River. The industrial run-off and overabundance of phosphorus, nitrogen, and phosphates causes active reproduction of cyanobacteria that spurs the "Dnipro blossoming" phenomenon, which negatively affects the flora and fauna of the river as well as the physical and psychological state of the people living nearby. The group investigated this phenomenon through digital textile prints, algorithmic video, projection, 3D prints, microscopy video, and sound.
The Waters group: Julia Beliaeva, Elena Klochko, Bogdan Moroz, Anna Prokopets (Umka Estebanovna), Iryna Proskurina, Alla Sorochan, Olga Tereshchenko, Oksana Chepelyk
Island Ї is a speculative floating artificial island on the Dnipro River. It is an open university and a scientific laboratory — a platform for artistic and scientific projects. Island Ї is a rhizome of diverse ideas, styles, and decisions that represent the diversity of Ukrainian identity. It combines harmoniously what seems like an insoluble contradiction: an academy of sciences, an erotic education center, self-regulating sails, and architecture with biomimetic forms achieved through futuristic technology of adaptive and regenerative growth.
Island Ї moves freely along all the rivers of Ukraine, to all the cities and remote towns and villages, influencing people and changing society through forms of nonlinear and horizontal interaction.
Mincult group: Yurii Efranov, Elena Klochko, Yaroslav Kostenko, Anastasiia Loyko, Mykhailo Rozanov Kateryna Shyman, Krolikowski Art
Session Room involves ASMR and Ukrainian identity, focusing on the lack of boundaries between public and private space. This project features a zoned, partially enclosed space in which the viewer can feel solitude and simultaneously experiment with various tactile and auditory elements including 3D video portraits of the artists and their voices.
MEDITATOR group: Alina Borysova, Anna Kakhiani, Anna Korniets, Irina Kostyshyna, Alyona Mamay, Oleksandr Manukyans, Hanna Shumskam, Oleksiy Yaloveha
Spidertopia explores a theoretical renaissance of Ukrainian identity free from territorial invasions. Using the language of traditional “pavuk" or "spiders,” module-like elements of Ukrainian home decor which pre-dates Christianity, the project applies it to a utopian world. But within that high-tech world, we notice something strange… Spidertopia highlights a peculiar Ukrainian attitude on the verge of comedy, tragedy, and irony that has seemed to persist. It is an exercise in self-observation: times are changing, but do we change with them?
SPIDERTOPIA group: Ivanka Borodina, Olha Vashchevska, Serhii Nizhynskyi, Maria Proshkowska, Bogdan Seredyak, Olga Synyakevych
For my personal project, I focused on the “Dnipro Blossoming” phenomenon. I wanted to explore material transformation through the lens of the Dnipro, and created intimate portraits of the river in acrylic, transferring its boundaries to become a central focus to address this topic, layering and juxtaposing man-made tributaries with ancient and natural flows.
Using a water battery with polluted water from the Dnipro and speculative algal bioreactors, I consider converting cyanobacteria and polluted water in the Dnipro into energy; in this case, for illumination. A reframing of the river helps us to reconsider our impact on it and future methods of harmonious collaboration with it, other ecologies, and non-human species.
Another project I did in collaboration with participants and my partner Donald Hanson was ARUA.xyz, an augmented map containing digital sculptural works by multiple Ukrainian artists featured in this exhibition. It is an online browser-based project, and also an intervention of space, a rewriting of present geographies, a disruption of physical and digital borders, and an intentional positioning of new cultural digital monuments throughout Ukraine.
For this exhibition, these virtual sculptures can be seen in the gallery, but they can also been seen at different mapped locations via smart devices. My hope is that ARUA.xyz will live beyond this exhibition to include additional works by other artists from Ukraine.
Over 200 people attended the opening exhibition and the showcase lasted two weeks. Following the opening, we had a panel review where all the groups presented their work and their future plans to evolve their projects over time. Arts and culture professionals from Kyiv gave critical feedback on all of the works and helped teams formulate actionable plans for their development and expansion into other communities.
It's been an intense and transformative month — I had no idea what we would make together when I arrived in Kyiv, but I couldn't have imagined a more tremendous outcome. I am so proud of all of the beautifully crafted and meaningful works made by everyone in this program, and feel blessed to have met so many wonderful people during this time, and to have made so many new friends.
I am immensely greatful for the experience I had in Ukraine with IZOLYATSIA and with all of the talented artists I got to work alongside. I learned so much, and feel my perspectives on artmaking, teaching, and collaboration have really shifted during this time. I truly hope for more international opportunities to teach and work with communities as it really fosters true cultural exchange and dialogue.
I plan to continue my work with the Dnipro River, which has now grown into a collaboration with three of the AAI participants, and my plan is to return to Ukraine in July to develop this project further. I am sure all of these projects and connections incubated through AAI will continue to grow in the months to come, and three of the projects already have potential future showcases and exhibitions on the horizon later this year.
Arriving in Ecuador during the time of corn harvest, I was deeply impressed by the magnificent cornfields. I envision that was what parts of Manaháhtaan (precolonial Manhattan) used to look like. I also was delighted to learn that the companion-planting agricultural practice of the Three Sisters Garden (interplanting squash, corn and beans together to support each other) was also prevalent in Ecuador; another proof of shared knowledge across ancient Americas.
I also ate a lot of corn during the months of March and April. Between boiled, grilled, tostada, mote, and quimbolito, the best was my first humita prepared by Maria Edubijes Mendez de Jesús, aka the beloved Doña Mary. Mary, always beaming with the warmest smile, is an Afro-Ecuadorian grandmother who often works as the chef at Casa de Artes Yarina, my American Arts Incubator host partner organization. While I directed American Arts Incubator — Ecuador, I noticed that the feminine labor of Doña Mary, the woman who took care of our wellbeing, was often invisibilized. Her warmth, similar to that of Mother Earth, is often taken for granted.
In an interview, Mary expressed: “If I were to be an element of nature, I would be a medicinal plant." As I got to know her, Mary shared that she had endured a traumatic childhood and had singlehandedly raised three children. I also learned that she is a medicinal plant healer, political activist, community organizer, culture bearer of bomba music and dance, and is now becoming an authority of regional gastronomy.
For me, Mary represented not only the strength of pachamama (Mother Earth), but also the core lessons of resilience and survivorship that initially drew me to working within the context of Casa de Artes Yarina and Museo Viviente Otavalango’s past as the Antigua Fábrica San Pedro, a site of indigenous exploitation between the 1850s through 1970s.
In local marketplaces, I noticed that cornsilk, a potent herb to heal urinary tract and kidney infections, was tossed as trash. Thus, my counterpart Ana Cachimuel and Mary helped me procure cornsilk from market vendors and I braided them to frame a drawing I made of Mary adorned in medicinal plants she uses to heal people. The drawing was then activated with a video interview paired as an augmented reality feature.
In addition to weaving cornsilk to tell this story of resilience, as part of the 28-day incubator challenge, I introduced how to create augmented reality (AR) based experiences to amplify intergenerational and intercultural dialogues to address social inclusion. As we used digital art to reveal historical patterns of exploitation and intercultural strife, I was weary of replicating unbalanced power dynamics within our incubator. My participants were diverse in age and socio-economic status as well as cultural, professional, and racial backgrounds. We had heated conversations on racial and gender equity. We searched for alternative terms to social inclusion and questioned concepts such as, "who has the power to include/exclude?"
This process led to the formation of three community projects that each received small seed-grants to build project prototypes: Yuyay applies augmented reality to site-specific community murals, Mama Cuchara is an AR Spanish and Kichwa language book on medicinal plants, and Warmi Tukushka stages immersive theater with rural communities for a social tourism project in order to generate income for Indigenous communities.
There were limits on how much I, as an artist, facilitator, admin, PR and community manager, teacher, exhibition designer, and translator could contribute to a community. Despite running the program with minimal infrastructural support — internet was often nonexistent, rain seeped into our tech workshop spaces, and I nearly fainted due to sleep deprivation compounded by altitude sickness — what we had was strong community spirit and ingenious resourcefulness thanks to Ana Cachimuel, her family, as well as the participants. I also acknowledge the behind-the-scenes support of Maya Holm and Shamsher Virk of ZERO1. Each team put forth hardwork and met my tough love with grace.
As folks looked to me for leadership, I often thought of my cohort of AAI "artstronauts" who are all exploring how to adapt the art and tech incubator to a demanding foreign context. There is no formula as each incubator is different, and that is the beauty of the AAI program. I admit that I had moments of disillusionment as I became acquainted with local community politics. Randi randi (the kichwa expression for reciprocity, literally meaning give and take) was constantly preached to me as a core cultural value, yet it was not always practiced and at certain moments I was hollowed witnessing crude self-interest and nontransparent resource distribution. Yet, witnessing Mary's resilience, I knew that I had to exert myself and call out problematic circumstances. #CulturalDiplomacy.
The day of the panel review was truly a highlight! The community projects were beautifully installed into a cohesive exhibition in Casa Cruz of Museo Viviente Otavalango. Each group passionately delivered their pitches to the judges and the public consisted of many community members, elders, students, and even the executive director of the Fábrica Imbabura, Edgar Flores.
Rich exchanges and insightful critiques took place during the public presentations, and each community project received additional support in the forms of mentorship, invitations to local incubators, and possible funding opportunities. Several participants traveled to Arte Actual Flasco, a social science and humanities cultural center in Quito, to share our process with a wider audience and connect rural and urban dialogues. I was full of admiration for each team sharing their aspirations.
I’ve been back in the U.S. for less than a week and am trying to prolong that enigmatic transition period between settling back into my New York City routine, digesting the lessons from my intensive incubator challenge, and brainstorming next steps for my incubator participants to really thrive for the long term.
I leave inspired that many people in rural Ecuador, despite living in poverty, are still on their ancestral land and can live off the produce yielded from their home gardens. Their food sovereignty gives me hope that a regenerative and cooperative economy is viable. I believe that my incubator participants still have the possibility to carve out a new economy centered on sustainable land-based practices with healthy communities who will continue to cultivate the resistant ancestral technology called corn, generation after generation.
The participants have worked so incredibly hard to create insightful and beautiful projects.
With impressive tenacity and efficiency in a short amount of time, participants have developed profound bodies of research into the critical issues that concern them — surveying their neighbors, leading workshops with children, interviewing students on a university campus, and talking to other artists about collaborative projects. In the process, we are also developing new friendships and relationships across art, technology, and culture.
They planned and produced, explored and innovated, played and discovered. The projects are not yet complete. I hope that they will never be complete — they are so many potential paths to pursue! Some aspects of the projects will be furthered over the coming months, some tangents may be followed through the end of this year, others....we have yet to see!
Some of these project futures were imagined during the course of the panel review, which was inspiring and exciting! We were honored by the presence of Jennifer Rasamimanana, the Consul General of the United States in Casablanca; Maria Daif, Director of L'Uzine; Kenza Amrouk, independent curator; Mohammed Fariji, L'Atelier de l'Observatoir; and Kristi Jones, consultant and curator. Each member of the panel represented different aspects of the program goals and I am so proud that their observations included positive and constructive comments on the structures of the presentations, the level of craft, and insight into societal questions of the projects.
After completing and presenting their initial research and another ideation session, participants formed project groups — some related to the previous research, some new.
The groups are collecting, creating, designing, iterating, revamping, and installing their projects with excitement and enthusiasm. I am continuously impressed with how brave they are in choosing strategies for engaging people in public spaces, representing their ideas, speaking candidly about their concerns, and embarking on learning new technologies in the process!
Our space at L'Uzine has become an epicenter of exploration as each group returns and shares new cultural and technological discoveries.
After a survey introduction to new media techniques, individual participants have chosen different technologies to focus on as they develop group projects. With the help of FabLab Casablanca, they are using media such as laser cutting and Arduino sensor kits to build dynamic exhibits and online maps to include complex and thorough sets of information.
Le Littoral | Amine, Loubna, Taha
To Art or Not to Art | Jalila
ReZero4izer le Zero4 | Youssef and Yasser
I am so thrilled to work with this incredible cohort: a group of philosophers and artists with a wide range of artistic and technical talents with passions that include history and memory, environmental causes and science, as well as social justice and art. There is no way I could have ever predicted how amazing the participants in this program would be. I am blown away daily by their commitment, inquisitiveness, and nuanced approaches to the profound questions that move them. Through them, I am seeing Casablanca.
The departure point of our studies is the idea that sensory and spatial mapping are interpretations and projections.
A space represented by a void is not necessarily empty.
A space replete with information is not necessarily accurate.
Information can be left out.
Information can be filled in.
DATA: quantifiable information
MAP: data interpreted through space
EMPOWERMENT: knowing how generate to data to create maps that represent one’s own opinions, convictions, or knowledge.
Vast quantities of data are generated each second as we function in our digital environments. Patterns are found in this data and mapped according to preset priorities. In Rhetorical City, we look into what happens when we define the data we generate and choose the priorities by which data is analyzed.
In conversation with our tools, we choose how to deconstruct and reconstruct information, including information and images of ourselves. Using bristol paper and vinyl cutting machines, participants created layered, three-dimensional portraits of themselves. In converting their pixel-based portraits into vectors, the participants chose the level of resolution of their portraits. In a more abstract version of the exercise, Abdelilah selected very large-scale pixels of an image based on parts he liked or didn't like rather than based on color or tone. The product is a mask for the image that reveals or conceals personal preference.
To put these tools and processes into context, we looked at a survey of digital fabrication technologies and visited FabLab Casablanca to see some of them in action!
We discussed the reciprocal cycles of interpretation between ourselves and our tools — be they hand or digital drawing, an X-Acto knife, a vinyl cutter, a laser cutter, or a CNC router.
As pattern-finders and interpreters, how do individuals perceive, translate, and analyze?
To engage our bodies in the construction and relation of meaning, we started the program with a game of synesthetic exquisite corpse: by sharing sensory experiences collected throughout L'Uzine with one another, the participants created interpretive sequences, which then led to conversations about how we structure meaning and information through the creation and comparison of categories.
How do we create categories? How do we structure knowledge? How do we recognize the subjective in the process of categorization and how do we allow this recognition to liberate us from the pre-judgements and perceptions we have inherited? How do we display and validate our interpretations in relation to other interpretive systems that exist?
How do these corporeal experiences, memories, and categories impact our reading of our urban spaces?
Through quick mapping exercises, participants then connected their physical (sensory) categories and memories to their cities.
Otherwise invisible moments of experience, communication, and translation thus became conceptual trajectories through the city.
How can the connection and interpretation of corporeal and urban spaces help us understand, articulate, and propose action for critical social questions?
Research groups formed in the first week based on a quick ideation exercise. Using GoPros, audio recorders, and cell phones, the groups started to articulate societal questions of physical and economic access in public space.
Questions of accessibility, diversity, gender, environment, and economy were among those discussed and explored. In the process, different forms of transit to explore the life of spaces such as an unfinished highway, the bus, a skatepark, and major intersections.
After this initial research, groups formed based on ideation exercises exploring interests, identifying questions, and expanding skill sets. The social challenges that participants have taken on are large and complex, the products and processes proposed are eloquent and elegant; working with them to develop these is not only fascinating, but also fun!
American Arts Incubator is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by ZERO1. The incubator in Morocco is produced in collaboration with U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca and L'Uzine.
I can’t believe how quickly time has flown so far this month! IZOLYATSIA and the IZONE Creative Community have been incredible spaces to conduct workshops in and to connect with the arts community here in Kyiv. Before the workshops began, we received an overwhelming amount of applicants to the program. After choosing 34 artists, it has still been a very large group to work with, but full of wonderful and talented humans! The artists in the workshop make up a very diverse group of Ukrainian artists, coming from different places within the country and with varying levels of experience and background in the arts.
It’s been an incredible delight to work with all of the artists, and to have them so engaged in learning new digital skills and envisioning new projects of their own. I’ve been so impressed by their original ideas and concepts — taking the skills I presented in my speculative design workshops and applying them to cultural and ecological issues in Kyiv and Ukraine. I was told that speculative design is not a common practice or taught very often here, and people are having a lot of fun thinking outside of practical design boundaries to reimagine future cultural spaces and technologies along the Dnipro River and elsewhere in Ukraine.
It’s been enlightening to hear about what is important to participants from their cultural context — there are some universal issues, as well as some topics that would not be considered as much by Americans due to our different backgrounds, geographies, and histories.
Each artist in my workshop has had a different vision and speculative design for how they would like to see the future of Ukraine and shared their vision during a critique on the penultimate day of our workshop series. Some artists were really drawn to each others' visions and decided to work together in groups, applying their skills to different parts of a bigger collaborative project. Others were drawn to common themes and have created a new project from these themes. There were some artists that had a lot of difficulty working in large collaborative groups, as this is not a common practice in Ukraine. Most participants are artists who are used to working alone.
Fortunately, after overcoming some obstacles, all the groups were in place and starting to create some incredible works. We had a group excursion to visit Fabricator, one of the biggest fabrication labs in Kyiv, and artists are using this facility to do laser cutting, CNC milling, and 3D printing in addition to IZOLab, the smaller fab lab connected to IZONE.
I’ve been so full of warmth and inspiration working with all of the participants during this time, and am so excited to see all of the works these artists will produce over the next week.
The fierce equatorial rays, crackling fire, rising smoke, floating ashes, cultural protocols with community elders, taytas and mamakuna — these are the constant elements that have accompanied American Arts Incubator — Ecuador since we began in mid-March. We kicked off with an artist talk, “ACTivaciones: Art, Community and Technology,” at Quito's Arte Actual Flacso, which was followed by an early morning drive to the exchange city, Otavalo, to work with Casa de Artes Yarina housed in Museo Viviente Otavalango.
The following day I experienced my first press conference that would not start until the scent of palo santo pervaded the art center. The occasion was honored by a beautiful arrangement of wild flowers collected from the surrounding fields on a totora mat to celebrate friendship and diversity. Community life is very vibrant here. I was quickly integrated into communal lunches and invited into people’s homes. My host partner’s contemporary Kichwa music group, Yarina, is a band made up of eleven brothers and sisters that perform together with a three decade trajectory. Community is a permanent fiber in local culture.
My incubator participants vary in age, education level, class and heritage backgrounds, as several come from different native communities in the Imbabura province while many others identify as mestizo. Trying to find a way to address social inclusion through art and technology within a new cultural context and such a diverse group has required me to further explore cultural protocols, race relations and cultural specificities.
Our first day of workshops focused on exploring power dynamics and shared values within our group, getting to know the historical context of Museo Viviente Otavalango’s previous life as a factory that exploited Indigenous laborers and developing intro-level AR experiences. We also had a hands-on learning experience at Pakarinka Culture Center to learn about ancestral customs with Kichwa culture bearers. This day included healing with the sacred “cuy” (guinea pig) and medicinal plants, meeting traditional healers and midwives, and creating a pachamanka meal together as we discussed connecting to cultural roots and indigenous revitalization.
To contrast the learning experience in a rural setting, we also toured Ciudad Yachay’s (Ciudad de Conocimiento) state-of-the-art facilities including a supercomputer, fablab, technology and entrepreneurship initiatives.
All of these experiences helped us develop community projects that address social inclusion using cultural and educational methodologies. As I write, they are in full production mode as we gear up to install prototypes this week and pitch the projects to potential supporters. One of the projects, Yuyay, is an effort to create site-specific AR-activated murals in Museo Viviente Otavalango.
The project engages deeply with what it means to be an “Art, Community and Technology” incubator in a small Andean city in Ecuador. When we think of the word technology, we often think of 20th century innovations. Yet, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, this incubator accounts for ancestral technology. Otavalango’s previous life until the eighties was the Fábrica San Pedro that employed native workers under harsh conditions to produce woven textiles. This was the first factory in Ecuador and produced woven goods made from "telar callua," a pre-Incan form of backstrap weaving.
By the mid-19th century, the factory imported mechanical weaving looms from Boston to maximize production. Fast forward to 2018, and we are engaging digital media in an arts incubator to retrace the social history of the site through the impacts of the industrial revolution and the persistent threads of ancestral technology.
While I teach augmented reality workshops, I am also taking weaving classes in the old factory and getting an inkling of how contemporary machinery evolved from this ancient practice. Weaving is coding in binary motions, performing mathematical calculations, enacting geometry and executing precision. It is also about transmitting oral history, ancestral knowledge and following the movements of those who came before us in the social fabric.
I have thought a lot about what I would have done differently now that I have completed the exchange in Kochi, juggling tight deadlines within a demanding program. My first thought was that I should have chosen an easy personal project — something that I was completely familiar with and could turn out for an expecting crowd. The problem with this is that I have been an artist too long to not challenge myself. The point is the process, right? To grow and try to make sense of it all, and be successful in a way that feels like a true accomplishment. It is what I was asking workshop participants to do — to leave the comfort of aesthetically pleasing art behind to address an uncomfortable topic like gender equality and wrestle with it, focusing on exploring this challenge over the desire to make something impressive, finished, or entertaining without concept. If I was asking this of them, then I needed to set the example myself.
The success of my project was in supporting a locally-owned, female-run textile business during this exchange, and accomplishing a project, initially intended to use pirate radio broadcast methods, in a way that was respectful of Indian law. I also thoroughly enjoyed talking to five generous womxn who were willing to have their stories of struggle and success recorded for this project. It is content that I hope to build upon as I figure out how this idea will evolve.
When I think about choosing an easier project, or trying to be less ambitious with the Amplified Voice Workshops, or even being assigned a topic that was less challenging than addressing gender equality, I keep hearing a popular Malayalam saying that is told as a warning to girls: “Whether a thorn falls on a leaf, or a leaf on a thorn, it is the leaf that will suffer.” This saying reminds me of the necessity for all womxn to experience life, freedom, and respect in spite of the obstacles in our global patriarchal society, and I can’t help but to hope that instead of suffering, we can begin to see the leaf as transformed into something new, which will soon ignite a fire.
Pepper House is one of the locations my partner organization, The Kochi Muziris Biennial Foundation, uses for exhibitions, artist talks, and residencies. It's also the home of their art library. I have been spending many days running workshops and ironing out the details of my own project in this beautiful, historic space.
As a creative and progressive organization providing space for local and international viewpoints, I have been fortunate to have deep conversations about gender rights, learn about the methods transgender people navigate this community, and on one special occasion, unsuspectingly walk in on a band practice session of the reunion of a well-known local group who was playing in one of the many places the biennial has developed as artistic space. I have also been told that more Kochi community members attend the biennial each year, and that their tolerance for, and interest in, more challenging forms of art is growing.
Due to the nature of this foundation, “The People’s Biennale,” I have also been surrounded by a 20- to 30-year-old crowd who either work for or are involved in the biennial. As an artist-educator-dreamer, I have aspirations for creating spaces where conceptual and cutting-edge art is accessible to the community and art provides access for people to be empowered, rather than an opportunity or event focused on only one demographic. The Kochi Muziris Biennial has achieved this. I have met more than one young person here who has said they had no interest in art until the biennial changed their viewpoint, and that they are now pursuing careers in art that will take them further than they ever expected.
Association with the program also provides a kind of freedom that allows young people to operate outside some of the cultural expectations in the area. Just as I am able to walk on the streets after dark or wear clothing that shows more skin as a tourist (without someone attempting to admonish me for not acting acceptably), the young people associated with the Bienniale, especially women, are granted more leeway to navigate outside of acceptable cultural norms.
These access points will hold even more resonance in 2018 as the next biennial develops under the curatorial actions of Anita Dube. The word here is that women and transgender artists will hold a prominent place in this next exhibition, an important and progressive move for Kochi, which I can only hope will inspire curators back home.
The view out of my studio window looks a little bit like home. Kochi is an extremely cosmopolitan city with a 97% literacy rate. In many ways, it reminds me of my home, Seattle, which also has an extremely high literacy rate for the U.S., and is a shipping port with large dockside gantry crane, a history of leftist politics, and an affinity for plaid (here it is called Madras checks).
Selfies at the Kerala History Museum with my amazing assistant, Aparna, whose interest in contemporary art was spurred by the biennial.
As a daughter of immigrants in Turtle Island (aka North America), I strive to be in allyship to the original peoples and the land and waters that nourish me by activating multisensory storytelling and interdisciplinary art, including sculptural installations, performances, lectures, community engagement, writing, olfactory art and experiential technology collaborations with Native culture bearers, creative technologists and scholars. This trajectory shapes my approach to the American Arts Incubator (AAI) exchange where I will be supporting social inclusion of Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian populations in Otavalo, Ecuador through sharing how new media storytelling may shift dominant narratives.
I will be working with Centro Intercultural Comunitario Yawar Wawki Casa de Artes that is housed in Museo Viviente Otavalango, which previously was a textile factory that exploited Indigenous labor for two centuries until it was taken over by workers in 2011. Within this context, Casa de Artes counteracts marginalization and historization of Indigeneity through revitalizing Kichwa language, music and weaving. I am humbled to work with resilient people that embody self-determination. With my workshop participants, I hope to develop site-specific extended reality content to support spreading the story of self-empowerment. Our process will be a co-inquiry on how new media can amplify voices critical to futurity and challenge the notion that indigeneity and modernity are incompatible.
I want to take this opportunity to broaden general conceptions of technology to include ancestral technologies such as weaving, agriculture, plant medicine and wayfinding. I credit my AAI mentor Cristóbal Martínez (read his writing on Tecno-Sovereignty: An Indigenous Theory and Praxis of Media Articulated Through Art, Technology, and Learning) who pointed out that weaving was the first computer and that we must always question the ideologies embedded within the technologies we use, and how they may occlude other forms of literacy and perpetuate power structures. This resonates in an age where we rush to embrace new technological trends without contemplating how often they are derived from military initiatives that were once instrumentalized against certain marginalized communities. Navigating these power dynamics will be one of the first challenges I will face as the Incubator’s lead artist and I hope to find a balance between emerging and traditional media throughout our workshop.
Drone VS. Fort, Rhunhattan Project, April 2017. Image by Beatrice Glow and Highway101, etc. Exploring the embedded ideologies of technology, we used a drone to photograph Fort Belgica that was built by the Dutch East India Company on the original Spice Islands of Indonesia. By using 20th century military-derived technology (drone) to document 17th century military technology (fort), I reinterpret and subvert the ideology belying the drone and use it to support decolonizing perspectives.
Gearing up for the exchange, I have been rereading Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples by Linda Tuhiwai Smith. I am also learning about Andean culture and cosmovision through learning the Kichwa language. For example, the word for “person” is runa, and the full definition is “a being of nature that acts with force and wisdom.” My teacher gave me a Kichwa name that realigned me on the path of runificación, which urges me to act in my full potential while being conscious of my relationship to the ecosystem and the cosmos.
During my stay, I hope to learn more about how Indigenous communities in Ecuador have been at the forefront of environmental stewardship, most recently evidenced by the Yasuni resistance against the pipeline construction in the Amazon Rainforest as well as the 2008 constitutional enshrinement of the values of sumak kawsay (buen vivir), whose vision for environmental health is critical to a sustainable and socially-just future. I am curious to learn how this is implemented on a day-to-day level, the challenges, and how these takeaways may guide and strengthen parallel North American efforts. My time in Otavalo will undoubtedly expand my understanding about the ramifications of colonialism, environmental racism and Indigenous revitalization.
"The long poem of walking manipulates spatial organizations… it is neither foreign to them… nor in conformity with them."
—Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life
I am so humbled by this opportunity to simultaneously teach and learn in Casablanca this March. And I am so excited and fascinated by the process of investigating how to explore questions of interest and concern to participants from a wide range of backgrounds.
It’s exhilarating to feel how aligned my host organization, L’Uzine, is with the goals and strategy for the exchange. After checking in this Saturday morning with Zineb at L’Uzine, it was clear that we are on the same page: working to develop an exchange that emphasizes interdisciplinary, cross-media, and cross-scalar collaboration and looking forward to the discoveries and experiences it might produce!
Together, workshop participants and I will be testing how research into personal narratives and critical cultural questions can be articulated through urban spaces; how collecting can lead to creating; how data visualization and mixed digital and manual prototyping can evoke and interrogate concepts; and how mixed qualitative-quantitative analysis can form the framework, foundation, and inspiration for novel sensory experiences.
The topic of the AAI exchange in Casablanca is youth empowerment2. The idea of the workshops is to provide conceptual frameworks and technical skillsets that facilitate innovation, entrepreneurship, and engagement. For those participants developing an artistic identity, I hope the workshops can also help with discovering and choosing expressive media; while for more experienced participants, the skills may help bring new research and data-processing techniques into their work.
For me, the development of these frameworks started with my family and the childhood experience of immigration. More recently, I have started to dissect (and self-map) the complex paths that experience led me down.
The self-map image starts to get at the following questions:
What can we discover when we start to explore the individual as a vessel of socio-historic confluences through quantitative analysis?How does one identify, question, embrace, and express an awareness of one’s own familial and philosophical lineage(s) in the process of exploring socially-critical topics?Can some of it happen through numbers? Can spreadsheets shed their corporate connotations and become powerful tools for artists? Can some of it happen through the senses? How can we identify and deploy physical experiences in exploring and articulating intellectual challengesWhere is the limit of one type of mapping and what subjective additions to we make to maps when representation breaks down?And how can we unroll an experience to discover and display narratives of cultural relationships?
L’Uzine is already involved in exploring its urban context. In particular, the Aïn Sebaâ exhibit investigated its neighborhood. I hope that this exchange will offer a way to supplement the great work under way and to develop some novel approaches to understanding self and space.
Wait — did I already say how excited I am to see what backgrounds, interests, and media workshop participants bring into the fold? What implications might rhetorical construction, collection, data visualization, and mapping have for the modes of expression and creation that participants engage in? I look forward to observing and participating as responses to these questions (and more!) coalesce and dissolve in the experimental framework of the “Rhetorical City” workshops at L’Uzine!
2. According to World Bank’s “Kingdom of Morocco Promoting Youth Opportunities and Participation” (June 2012), the landscape of employment in Morocco has undergone radical shifts in this century.