A LETTER FROM DAMASCUS
25 April 2013, Cervera de los Montes
You asked about the life in Damascus. Obviously, there is pain and sadness on people’s faces. We feel tired and lost. Everyone has lost something - a father, a mother, a son, relatives, friends, at least their dreams, future, job and fortune. Most of the people don’t support any side in the war, they just want this suffering to finish.
The city is crowded from the morning till six in the afternoon. Then people prefer to go home. Evenings, nights and Fridays are dangerous. When there is a big terrorist bombing attack, the people stop moving outside for a couple of days and then they are back in the street doing shopping as usual and going to coffee shops. The restaurants are open, there is food and other stuff to buy but the prices have doubled since the beginning of the crisis. People have more time, now we prepare complicated traditional dishes for family celebrations.
Every morning I go to our family business office. I walk there because now it is dangerous to drive an expensive car. I can’t use my Mini Cooper. Many people have rediscovered biking. It is easier to move through closed streets and checkpoints with a bicycle. Actually, I don’t have much to do at the office but I try to do some archiving work to keep up the routine to continue my life.
I have to be careful not to be kidnapped because people know I’m from a wealthy family though we’ve lost practically everything in the war. Many people have left the country. My friends ask me every day why I’m not going to Europe but I don’t want to be a refugee. We are all Syrians and we must find a solution before losing the country.
Being in a war zone doesn’t mean that you stop living your life. You try to pretend that tomorrow the war ends and you will have a normal life but, suddenly, you hear that one of your friends died so you stop dreaming again and ask yourself why to have silly hopes about future. It is strange to try to do normal things with the constant sound of explosions and machine gun fire. Sometimes I want to cry and laugh out at the same time.
Now during the war, many of my friends have fallen in love, got married and they are going to have babies. I got engaged too with my long time boyfriend. Maybe you die tomorrow, so you can be brave and take important decisions in your life. Sometimes, a lost future makes you see things clearer.
Kisses from Damascus, Iman
WHITE MAN PANORAMA
22 April 2013, Cervera de los Montes
Last fall, Tuomo and me, two Western European white male artists were drinking beer onboard M/S Superstar sailing from Helsinki to Tallinn, a traditional destination of Finnish men for cheap booze and sex.
We talked about the supposedly post-colonial and politically correct art world which, however, showcases constantly stereotypes of exotic othernesses with obscene simplicity and prejudice.
I told to Tuomo about the orientalist attitude that had been reported to me by several colleagues from the Middle East – for example an Arab female artist who had been asked to exhibit works featuring burqa imagery although she works with totally different visual and conceptual themes and a Levantine painter who was happy to exhibit in the renowned Mori Art Museum in Tokyo but complained that she was once again included in a show more for her nationality and gender than a genuine interest towards her oeuvre and attitude. Mori Art Museum advertised its exhibition Arab Express with slogans like Does the Arab World seem distant and foreign?
Why is it so difficult to understand that all artists, independently of their age, gender, race, nationality and religion, wish to be credited as good artists without prefixes like Asian, Arab, Muslim, Jew, black, female or gay?
Tuomo and me got then an idea of a show titled White Man Panorama that wouldn’t analyze white man’s burden but celebrates the clichés equivalent to burqas in orientalist shows: lager beer, team sports, dream cars and big boobs. All selected artist would be male, white, Western, straight and beerbellied.
SEEING RED AND PINOCCHIO IN MADRID
19 April 2013, Cervera de los Montes
I bussed to Madrid to buy more red colors for my monochromatic painting series 57 Varieties. Now I see 59 different reds in the studio: oil, acrylic, enamel, acrylic enamel, enamel spray, acrylic spray. Tutti frutti rossi.
I took advantage of being in the capital city and did things I can't do at home. I had lunch with Aura who is attending a meeting of international curators in the city. After a mediocre lunch at a sunny terrace, we went to Casa Encendida where I liked Albert Oehlen's paintings and then visited the galleries in Doctor Fourquet Street. I wanted to buy Bel Fullana's drawing at Louis 21 "The Gallery" (a strange name for a gallery) but luckily it was sold. I can't afford buying art but I love to collect art by trading works with other artists. I already sent a message to Bel Fullana (a beatiful name for a woman). For consolation I bought a hand-made book of Salvador Allende's last words (much cheaper than the drawing). To finish off the day, I had a drink with Abdul but a brainwashed Falun Gong member came to disturb us with anti-Chinese propaganda. I said that I'm communist but it didn't shut her up. Then I almost missed the last bus back to the village.
DOUBLETHINKING OF NORTH KOREA
15 April 2013, Cervera de los Montes
The propaganda of our Western governments on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea aimed at us, their citizens, is totally schizophrenic. We are told that the North Koreans are stupid, backward and underdeveloped. The capitalist-controlled press laughs that probably their missiles are decoy, made of cardboard, and that they will never be capable to build a functioning nuclear weapon.
On the other hand, our propaganda machine says that the DPRK is dangerous and can attack us any moment with nuclear warheads carried by sophisticated missiles.
We have been informed that North Korea doesn't posses any up-to-date technology but South Korea and the United States accuse them of last month's cyberattack that shut down 50000 computers and servers at South Korean broadcasters and banks last month.
Doublethink is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. The word was coined by George Orwell in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.
HOW TO WASH CLOTHES
11 April 2013, Cervera de los Montes
Laundry is important to my practice as artist. Daily homemaking activities combined with my studio work emphasize my attachment to everyday life, masses and their fears and dreams. I'm not a champagne-sipping airport lounge artist but a cloth-washing supermarket artist.
Last week in Ljubljana, Krista asked me how to wash clothes and get them really immaculate and balmy. These are my tips.
1. STAIN REMOVAL
I use stain removal products in spray, one for greasy spots and other for blood, tomato etc. directly on the dirty area five minutes before the machine wash. I soak totally white clothes in bleach up to 30 minutes. Don't mix stain removal chemicals with bleach.
I wash most of the clothes in 40 degrees. For wool and some other delicate textiles I use a hand-wash program. I wash linens in 60 degrees.
I have four different detergents: a) colored, b) white c) black d) delicate. I like detergent in gel or liquid but never in powder or tabs. I use also extra activator detergent which I have two kinds, for white and colored. For very white clothes I replace the activator with bleach. The activator is always inserted before the main detergent.
Don't trust the instructions, use double or triple amount of conditioner, this gives the fragrant and smooth finish to your clothes. Don't use conditioner for technical water resistant or fragile textiles.
Avoid dryer. Hang the clothes outside but don't leave them in sunlight more than necessary. If you have to use a dryer, don't dry the clothes totally but enough to be ironed. Use in the dryer plastic drying balls and conditioner tissues to avoid bad smell.
Don't spray water on the clothes but ironing spray with starch and conditioner.
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE TOWARDS SLOVENE ART
06 April 2013, Flight JP158 Ljubljana - Munich
I'm on my way back to home and reading the late Slovene curator Igor Zabel's interesting book Contemporary Art Theory (don't be frightened for the boring title). I liked a lot Ljubljana and its small but surprising art scene. I went with Katja to see our Finnish friend Jyrki Riekki's nightmares at P. Nemec Gallery and then continued the exhibition tour to Evan Roth's flight jokes at Aksioma, Koen Vanmechelen's living chickens at Kapelica and Miroslav Cukovic's toilet papers at the International Center of Graphic Arts.
We climbed to the Ljubljana Castle where we enjoyed the views over the city and Mirsad Begic's exhibition curated by Jadranka who is the director of Galerija Alktraz hosting our show. Another exhibition at the castle perplexed us - It looked like kids' play room but was a celebration of the Camel cigarette brand. 100% advertising in a 100% public space. Katja had a smart idea - she told the American exhibition host how much she would love to paint a plastic camel for the tobacco company. Naturally, she would use it for her own purposes. Sometimes I'm not the fastest and the most evil rebel.
MSUM - The Museum of Contemporary Art is a great example that all the museums are not just pretexts to build gift shops, cafeterias and champagne lounges decorated with the logos of the sponsors. Nothing unnecessary and no populism here. Art as difficult as it can get. 10 points for Slovenia. MSUM is located next to the graffiti covered Metelkova, where you find also Alktraz Gallery hosting our show. Metelkova is the former headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army, squatted since twenty years. It's a site for artists' studios, cultural organizations and several discotheques including special clubs for gays, lesbians and disabled. In the nocturne time you can move freely in between the clubs with a beer bought in any of the bars - at least if you are with Jernej, who is, in addition of being our curator, the manager of Tiffany gay club.
MG+ - The Museum of Modern Art astonished us with its collection, especially the paintings from the 60s and 70s. It had absolutely nothing to do with the anti-communist idea of socialist realism. Gabrijel Stupica is now one of my top ten painters. I don't remember when was the last time that an art work touched me so deeply. Now I remember why I decided to be an artist and not a terrorist. Igor Zabel writes that (the true professional in the field of art) has decided on his vocation for the sake of art itself (...). Then, as a true professional, he naturally begins to hate it (otherwise, he would be a dilettante and not a professional). But, in his unconditional love for it, he overlooks and forgives all its shortcomings, even his own hatred.
03 April 2013, Ljubljana
Early in the morning, the embassy of Finland phoned disturbed to Jernej. Finally, they had found out that they are dealing with a dangerous revolutionary artist. Some people in our exhibition team got nervous but I was enjoying of every moment. The ambassador himself wanted to meet me before the dinner he was giving to the press in our honor.
Pekka is different to all other other ambassadors I've met - somebody that I'd like to have a beer with. He was worried that I'm confusing the institution and the person but he must be aware that when he invites me to the official residency, he is solely an institution representing the country. I promised not to pie the man behind the institution. A diplomat knows perfectly how to play this game, much better than any artist. Pekka said me semi-privately that he is a dissident too. Why an ambassador says that? I think it was just a tactical move. Anyways, I liked him a lot and I would be happy to have him after the revolution as an ambassador of the DPRF - Democratic People's Republic of Finland. There was only one thing in him that didn't please me - serving Italian food in the dinner. I'm an internationalist in politics but a patriot in cuisine and culture.
THE BANANA AND PORNOGRAPHY CAKE
02 April 2013, Ljubljana
It's 2am and I'm in my room in Hotel Park. I have an amazing view to the Ljubljana Castle from the tenth floor but I don't see a park anywhere. I'm drawing a cake on the hotel's letter-head paper. Many people think that I do my hotel drawings in hotel rooms but it's not true - actually I need for my work lots of materials I have only in the studio. This time I use only a ballpoint pen. We take the works to the framer tomorrow and I want to juxtapose the fresh drawing with another I have done on a paper of a homonymous hotel in Aleppo, Syria. Park Hotel must be the most common hotel name in the world.
Jernej took us to Sarajevo 84 restaurant for a delicious welcoming dinner. I'm surprised to see how present Yugoslavia is here after over twenty years from its dissolution. Speaking of Slovenia, Jernej used the word ex-Yugoslavia. How long places have an identity of ex-something? It seems that some young Slovenes, who can't remember the socialist times, have a great nostalgia for them. Capitalism is not any more in fashion.
Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek writes that as sarcastic Western commentators duly noted, the noble struggle for freedom and justice turned out to be little more than a craving for bananas and pornography.
THE CAKE THEORY
01 April 2013, Ljubljana
This is what Jernej, our curator, writes about our show at Galerija Alkatraz, Ljubljana.
The exhibition Cake Theory borrows its name from a popular theory in the contemporary People’s Republic of China. The republic’s fast economic growth has resulted in higher living standard and a substantial growth of the national income. Of course – like in most other countries which have gained wealth in the last thirty years of economic conjecture - this has resulted in a widening of the gap between the ‘noveau rich’ and the poor. Theory is trying to solve this awkward, potentially dangerous situation, proposing two alternative courses of action. The first one is to divide the cake equally among the citizens. The second one, proposed by the ‘noveau rich’, is to bake a bigger cake, thus producing more wealth, but still keep the proportion among the pieces the same, in favour of the rich, to keep them motivated for further investment on the one hand, and on the other hand, motivating the poor to work harder to join the rich class. The theory and the two described points of view can easily be projected at the global level, or in fact to any other crisis facing the country, where the conflict between the rich and the poor has become increasingly radical, and where the citizens demand an equal distribution of wealth.
Cakes as pastry, on the other hand, are quite pleasant for all sweets-loving people, and present a pleasurable experience. Culturally, cakes are symbols of happy occasions and are mostly prepared for celebrations of one’s success or important life events. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, promotions, and various communal celebrations are all embellished with sweet pastries, giving them a special celebratory aura and a feeling of excess, to separate them from everyday life. Cakes are also important as an emotional or comfort food when we hit hard times. In any case, we consider cakes as a special dish on our menu, linking them with positive emotions of love, friendship, community and success.
One would ask where economy, cakes and this exhibition meet. They meet in a concept of pieing an act of throwing pies, or in this case cakes, in the person’s face. Initially a comedian practice in films in the first half of the twentieth century, pieing has become an activist practice in the second part of the century. As a political act, pieing is used to publicly mock politicians and other authority figures. The originator of pieing was probably Thomas King Forcade, founder of the High Times magazine, who pied Otto N. Larsen, then the Chairman of the President’s Commission for Obscenity and Pornography. Afterwards, pieing as an act of activism and mockery, has spread immensely. One of the most notorious European pieing incidents was when a Belgian surrealist and anarchist pied Jean-Luc Godard and Bernard-Henri Lévy.
Riiko Sakkinen and Katja Tukiainen have, on the other hand, baked their own cakes. Their cakes have their designated receivers or givers. The cake theory they propose takes us deep under beautiful designs into the ideologies of consumerism and capitalism, a subversion of our everyday products and concepts. The cakes they offer can reveal distinct contradictions of our world. They offer us sarcasm, humour, revolution and doom. There is a cake for every occasion, for any use.
Although both artists collaborated and produced artworks especially for this exhibition, one can notice different attitudes in their works. Sakkinen, in his drawings, intervenes in the existing commercial presentation of products in certain countries and re-contextualizes them in a manner that shows an international globalized ideological dimension behind the product. His intervention is an act of rebellion and satirical mockery of contemporary political and social situation, and finally it is a mockery of us, citizens who submit to, and consciously ignore the obvious ideological dimension of capitalism. In the exhibition, his works are beautifully balanced by paintings of Tukiainen. She, on the other hand, offers us cakes that present us with alternatives to our existing situation. In her paintings there are artists and philosophers that offer us pastry, symbols of their complex thought, which give an indication of a possible social change. Possibilities which have for a long time been confined to artistic and academic sphere, but have recently become more and more tangible for citizens who strive for an equal and fair society. In conclusion, that is exactly the message of this exhibition. To achieve a revolution, a step towards an equal and fair society, we have to fiercely mock the system’s mimicry to reveal its cruel obviousness, but also give a chance to once utopian ideas, that already serve possible solutions to bake a cake, that can be shared equally.