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Monday, 22 December 2008

'Couture' is the Only French I Speak

A look at my experience at the Pret-a-PARTage workshop, Dakar.

I have just returned from an almost two week stay in Senegal as a participant of the Pret-a-PARTager workshop run by the German Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (IFA). The workshop consisted of seventeen artists from Berlin, Dakar, Douala, Hamburg, Cape Town, Kinshasa, Lagos, London and Stuttgart, coming together to produce a art/work around the theme Art and Fashion.

The participants came from Photographic, styling, performing as well as designing disciplines and were all well established in their disciplines, such as Akinbode Akinbiiyi, co-founder of the Bamako Biennal of photography and Performance artists Athi-Patra Ruga. My role was to document the workshop process through a report so my time was spent listening, observing and conversing with the artists.

The participants were made up of primarily two main languages, German and French although the workshop was designed to be in English, with things getting lost in translation. One thing that was for sure for me was that being at least bilingual French English, would definitely be of benefit to me working in and around West Africa.

As with any trip abroad I had sneakily thought that that could also be a really great holiday in spite of the heavy work schedule. Boy was I wrong. The time was very intense, with work going on around the clock. Even at the dinner table work was being discussed, there was clearly no clocking off time.

I continue to work with the group and IFA on the work created over the period of the workshop but for more info please see:

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Towards a police State

On the 4 December T. Hammarberg, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, presented the Council of Europe with a report on surveillance and Human Rights in the Europe post 9/11. Entitled “Protecting the Right to Privacy in the Fight Against Terrorism,” the report takes very important (even if already obvious for many of us) conclusions on the dangers of the current tactics employed to fight terrorism:

We are rapidly becoming a ‘Surveillance Society.’ This is partly the result of general technical and societal developments, but these trends are strongly reinforced by measures taken in the fight against terrorism.

In the context of the fight against terrorism, this means individuals are at the risk of being targeted for being suspected ‘extremists’ or for being suspected of being ‘opposed to our constitutional legal order,’ even if they have not (yet) committed any criminal (let alone terrorist) offence.

‘Targets’ of this kind are moreover increasingly selected through computer ‘profiles.’ Even if some may be caught, there will always be relatively large number of ‘false negatives’ - real terrorists who are not identified as such, and unacceptably high numbers of ‘false positives’: large numbers of innocent people who are subjected to surveillance, harassment, discrimination, arrest - or worse. Freedom is being given up without gaining security.


In the process, all of us are increasingly placed under general, mass surveillance, with date being captured on all our activities, on-line or in the ‘real’ world. Such general surveillance raises serious democratic problems which are not answered by the repeated assertion that "those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear."

Now as I said before, this conclusions bring no news to those of us who have since the beginning been concerned with the terrifying dissemination of surveillance systems through the fabric of our everyday lives. Still the point that I think its worth stressing in the conclusions of this report is the fact that the fight against terrorism is one of a prophylactic kind: the policing institutions surveil our lives in order to identify individuals that match a certain profile for then to punish them for a crime they will (most certainly) commit. (Any reminiscences of Minority Report in here are obviously not mere coincidence.) The tactics then is then to avoid the crime instead of punishing the criminal; that is, to surveil and control the population instead of disciplining the bad guys by sending them to prison. Very good idea was it not for the fact that the psycho-social development of individuals is not an exact science and nothing assures us that a certain individual will become a criminal just because he or she fits in a certain criminal profile - hence what Hammarberg calls the ‘false positives.’

This move away from discipline to control brings with it strong and real dangers not only for the 'false positives' like Jean Charles de Menezes, the brazilian electrician shot in the head 7 times by the police in the aftermath of the London bombings, but for the general population in terms of the small but substantial changes happening around us - DNA records, ID cards, CCTV systems, and the possibility of having someone monitoring our lives without us knowing simply because we might look like this or that.

Now what made us, heirs of the western democratic values, agree with this is something I’ve been trying to understand for quite a long time now. Citizens of free countries, inhabitants of multiethnic post-colonial cities, we have suddenly accepted to give away our rights - rights to privacy, to anonymity, to movement, to rebellion - in the name of a supposedly boosted sense of security. But the question is: do we really feel safe(r) now? Was it worth it? And, most importantly, will we regret it?

What do you guys think about this?

Council of Europe: Commissioner for Human Rights, Protecting the Right to Privacy in the Fight against Terrorism, 4 December 2008. CommDH/IssuePaper(2008)3. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at:  [accessed 13 December 2008]

#1 © Isabel Pina Ferreira
#2 © Alexandra Ferreira

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


I always find the process of learning new working methods an exciting one and after many bouts of second-year-at-art-school-existential-angst it finally seems like many of the ideas I’ve had during my first term in the second year have started to pull together. I’ve been wanting to incorporate sound into my studio practice for a while but its only now that I’ve really committed to learning as much as I can in terms of the technology and media skills involved in using this medium. This is something that has made me very enthused about almost all the work I’ve been doing these last few weeks. The process of attempting to learn things that sit outside what you’re comfortable with however is always a challenge and I often find this nagging little voice at the back of my mind warning of possible failure that I have to suppress at all costs. I found an article about a man that was writing a book on his quest to track down all 43 people formerly in the band The Fall. I was fascinated by Mark E Smith’s reasoning for changing his line-up so regularly; that having a regular turnover of band members promoted ‘creative tensions’ that prevented against the group’s sound becoming stale and set. In a similar sort of way I feel it important to reassess your working methods to ensure these don’t fall into the comfortable and to stop you relying on formulas that may make your work routine and predictable.

I’ve also made the learning that when at University if there’s an area you’re interested in that’s not covered by your course but can be found elsewhere on campus then start going to those lectures instead. I know it sounds obvious but I suppose I think it’s worth mentioning.

Speaking of which, I met Vicky Bennett yesterday, during a lecture for the Sonic Arts degree at university. It was very exciting. I was lucky since I'd only heard by word of mouth that she was speaking about ten minutes beforehand. I had a vague idea of the work she produces from a number of tracks I'd downloaded from The Wire magazine website some months ago but strangely enough I'd heard more of her work than I’d previously thought and had no idea these were her creations. I'd first heard 'On the Rooftops of London' on the former Radio Three show 'Mixing it' (since being removed from the Radio Three schedule this amazing show can now be found every Wednesday evening on Resonance FM under the name 'Where's the Skill in That?') and immediately I liked it. The piece is a montage of numerous waltzes from various films and musicals such as Oliver Twist and Mary Poppins and what was really attractive for me was the emotional connection I had with the memories of these films through their being referenced in the piece of music. Funnily enough I didn't know it was Vicky Bennett (normally under the name of 'People Like Us') who was responsible for this until I recognised some sort of an aesthetic in the pieces she played us during the talk. Her sound and video work is largely constructed from samples, (some of which you can have a look at on her website) cultural artefacts re-appropriated, cut-up, rearranged and reformed in order to create new narratives from recycled media. What caught my attention most of all was the comparison she made between the re-appropriation of narratives and musical arrangements within folk traditions and her methods of making work, as though this could almost be described as a digitised, globalised form of folk art. I was lucky enough to talk to her after the lecture and we found common ground in discussing the sad demise of 'Mixing It'.

Well, I guess the point I’m making with all this rambling is possibly the importance in taking risks and exploring new working methods since the experience can be such a valuable one…and it can often be a great antidote when you’re creatively ‘stuck’.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Pick of the Week 08.12.08

As you may have noticed there has been abit of a dry spell on the blog as everyone seems to have the dreaded humbug flu. I was off all last week gobbing in a festive napkin and downing paracetamol like it was mulled wine, but you aren't here to listen to my mucus related tales you want to know what our herd of angels and shepard's aka bloggers are up to this week....

Blindness - Chosen by Joao
"The new film by Cildo Meireles, it has had mixed reviews: not as phenomenal as the book by the Portuguese Nobel winner Jose Saramago from which it was adapted but still a great visual experience. And that's the point for me - the film is made of images while the book was made of words. The focus of our attention should be the stunning sublime visuals sometimes so cold and empty, sometimes so human (like when the dog so humanly licks the tears off the face of Julianne Moore's character); no words are needed for conveying such a strong idea of a dehumanized (more primitive? more truthful perhaps?) society where a dog assumes human characteristics.

Place - Chosen by Holly
Sir John Soane's Museum
13 Lincoln's Inn Fields
open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10-5pm
Wonderful place especially at this time of year

Exhibition - Chosen by Joanne
19 December, 8-10pm
Eileen Simpson and Ben White play a DJ set featuring out-of-copyright clips, blips and loops sampled from 19th Century music boxes, player pianos and other automated music machines. This is followed by a p of a new composition made in collaboration with Felix Thorn for Felix's Machines, and assembled from out-of-copyright material for the player piano.

Group - Chosen by Yasmine
A group of artists called Framework based in Swansea do loads of community focused projects and they're always looking for collaboration,
There is an event on the 9th December, check out their facebook profile here

Book - Chosen by Lisa
British Animation: The Channel 4 Factor by Clare Kitson
Lisa went to see some Channel 4 animations in a special screening hosted by Kitson on Friday night, they were enthralling. This book explores the way animators have used the medium of the moving image to explore creative ways of communication.

Symposium - Chosen by Sam
Art in the Social Sphere
January 29 2009
Loughborough University
£10 (including lunch)
Speakers include: Dave Beech, Barbara Steveni, WochenKlausur, Public Works, Yvonne Droge Wendel, Lisa Cheung
The symposium will focus on current artistic interest in responding to a social context, questioning its ability to be both conceptually interesting and to offer a meaningful contribution to the society in which it takes place. It will focus on issues of authorship, the motivations behind an increase in engaged practice and the degree to which art can ultimately effect social change or social cohesion.
It will analyse specific case studies and look at the motivations behind artists choosing to work within a social context. It will explore the impact of changes in society, particularly in relation to social infrastructures and networks, and the degree to which these have compelled artists to use their work to support both communication and community.

Theater - Chosen by Carly
Pick of the week is definitely Hansel and Gretel at the Barbican - A reinvention of the Grimm classic, the audience are walked through a wintery land and towards a sugary, sweetie house where someone is waiting... Looks to be a beautiful experience!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005

What most people know of Annie Leibovitz is her prolific work for Vanity Fair magazine. Iconic portrait after iconic portrait of ever-more iconic sitters: from George W. Bush to John Lennon, from R2D2 to Leonardo DiCaprio, from Cindy Crawford to Queen Elizabeth II, from Demi Moore to Patti Smith. They are all here. However, it is the other stuff, Leibovitz’s more personal work – of her parents, of her children, of her lover, Susan Sontag – that gives the National Portrait Gallery in London’s current photographic exhibition real depth.

This show, beautifully curated by Charlotta Kotik and coordinated by Susan Bloom, first opened in 2006 at the Brooklyn Museum and has since appeared in San Diego, Atlanta, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Paris and, after London, will appear in Berlin. The success of the exhibition is evident in the string of renowned galleries and museums that have taken it on, and it doesn’t take a lot to see why they have done so.
Kotik’s successful blending of Leibovitz’s highly recognisable, super-glossy Vanity Fair images with her unknown and very personal works is perfectly executed. We see intimate snaps of Susan Sontag in the same series as a one of Leibovitz’s most famous celebrity shots: the pregnant Demi Moore. This could be jarring, but rather feels like it shouldn’t be any other way, a revelation rather than an obscuration. The personal works actually inform the professional works, giving them a resonance that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise be felt or recognised.

Likewise, we see how the professional works have affected the personal ones. Leibovitz’s relationship with Sontag, Sontag’s death in 2004, the death of her father, her relationship with her children and her relationship with celebrity over the past thirty years, are revealed to be intrinsically linked, each making up a very important part of Leibovitz’s oeuvre and, accordingly, life. This linkage is enhanced by the arrangement of works by feeling, rather than date, subject or genre. Kotik has allowed (no doubt with the input of Leibovitz herself) the emotion conjured by a photograph to precede any sort of curatorial dogma, which often dictates how a photographic exhibit is arranged.

Somehow, the pieces of the jigsaw are made to fit, with even the gigantic landscapes Leibovitz did for Conde Nast Traveller becoming personally relevant through the story Leibovitz tells of their conception. They, like all the works, only add further insight and scope to the exhibition, further depth to this very personal and profound portrait of A Photographer’s Life.

Perhaps the key to the exhibition’s success is the scrapbook room in which small prints of Leibovitz’s work have been tacked to a pin-board. This room, almost completely lined with (relatively) tiny Leibovitz works, is the nucleus of the exhibition. It contains personal photographs, out-takes from epic shoots for Vanity Fair and Vogue, and variations on works in the exhibit. The near-casual nature of their display (though I’m sure it’s well thought-out) encourages the feeling that this is a very personal display; even perhaps that Leibovitz has herself chosen where each photo will be tacked. This furthers the idea – whether grounded or not – that we are here privy to something quite personal: the inner workings of one of the world’s great living photographers.

All this begs the question, however; what is this exhibition about? Is it about Annie Leibovitz, the photographer, or about Annie Leibovitz, the woman? Is it Annie Leibovitz we are after, or is it her photographs? Why does it seem to work so well, having personal images alongside professional ones? Is Leibovitz’s life to be reduced to her photographs? Or are her photographs raised to the level of a life? Perhaps it is both: The photographs are her life and her life is the photographs.

Whatever it is, there is something here that is often missing from exhibitions: the feeling that the Great Artist is a person, just like us. Consequently, we feel a sense of accord with this illustrious acknowledgement of Leibovitz’s work and life. Likewise a comfort that there are two things that render us all equal: love and death.

Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005 runs until 1 February, 2009. For more information visit


Saturday, 6 December 2008

Art vs. Grades

I went to an open day at London College of Communication to find out about their Graphic Design courses last Wednesday. At these things I usually hide behind my hair and try to not make eye contact with anyone (a habit I really ought to break, as I’m going to have to learn to network if I want to get into the design industry) but this time someone came and introduced me who seemed determined not to be put off by my introverted nature.

This woman I got talking to turned out to have no art qualifications past GCSEs. She wasn’t in college, she was working for a web design company, doing the technical side of the job. A spirited young woman, she wanted to be doing something more creative. She wanted to be doing something weird and wonderful with her life. After asking a few people for some advice she had decided to look at doing a Foundation Degree in Graphic Design to nurture her creative potential and to provide her with the qualifications to prove that she has such talents.
The university doesn’t ask for grades, for UCAS points, for experience. The course she was looking at just wants a portfolio to show a prospective student’s thought processes and potential, as well as an interview to determine if they’re the kind of person they want on their course. You don’t need to have sat through college to go to an art university. You don’t even need to have done a Foundation diploma, like I’m struggling through right now. So long as you’re self motivated enough to practice your talents so you can show them off in an interview, you can get into university.
After all, art isn’t about knowledge, it’s about creativity, and you don’t need to sit through college to gain that.
On the other hand, however, it does give artists and designers some bad press, perhaps some people do not consider a degree to have as much ‘worth’ as others if it does not ask for you to have been a particularly good student at school? If it’s what you want to do, though, who cares what anyone else thinks…