LOSING MY BAGGAGE AND MY MIND
29 June 2012, Cervera de los Montes
I'm now back in my safe and easy life in Europe but my baggage (including two drawings Mahmoud gave me) and my mind are still in the Middle East. I hope that Royal Jordanian brings my bag before Sunday when I'm going to Finland for a vacation with my family. Anyways, my mind will be lost much longer in Syria. And who cares of some dirty clothes, presents and art works when my friends are in a real danger?
The terrorist violence has escalated during this week in Damascus. One of the streets where I took photos for Syrian Democracy was bombed, one of the channels that interviewed was bombed, many intellectuals have been killed. President Assad used finally the word war. People are panicking now. Nisrine tells that the streets are empty and she is crying.
When the West understands that they have chosen the wrong side? When they realize that they are supporting Islamist terrorism? Why the Syrian government is now so oppressive and totalitarian, if just less than two years ago all world leaders visited Mr. Assad?
FEAR AND LOATHING IN DAMASCUS
26 June 2012, Amman
The day after the opening, I gave several interviews for the press and TV channels. Also the Russian Anna News asked me about my point of view of the current situation in Syria. The Russian TV crew had just came back from covering the battle of Homs.
On the way to the airport, I was taken to Addounia TV studios, where I was interviewed for a political analyzes program. It feels that the artists are very respected in Syria as intellectuals. I told in the program that the government must do softer propaganda and attack harder the rebels. Abir and Nisrine said that their names should not be mentioned. Anybody supporting the government is a target for the terrorists. I could say whatever I wanted, I was just leaving the country, but my friends stay there. I hope nobody is in danger for my statements.
Now I'm in the Golden Tulip Amman Airport Hotel watching James Bond and eating a room service cheeseburger. I have my connecting flight early in the morning to Madrid. I feel strange. Very strange.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN SYRIA
25 June 2012, Damascus
Our opening party yesterday was fun but no beer or wine was served, which was a bit strange for a European artist. An older local artist invited me to his studio to have a drink. He told that one of his colleagues, his fellow student in the University, was killed by the rebels two weeks ago. He went to the funeral but didn't feel like going into the mosque. His friends asked why. He told that it was because he is Christian. The group of artists had been together 40 years but they had never spoken about the religion. It's not something the Syrians ask each other. That is a great example of the secular multi-religious society, that most of the intellectuals are now defending against the fundamentalists - independently if they love president Assad's regime or not. This Syria should be an example for the rest of the world.
Syrian national TV came to the opening to interview Nisrine and me. The journalist talked with me before filming and encouraged me to be critical with the government and stated that there is no freedom of speech in the country but he will let me say anything I want. I told that in these circumstances I support the government. He was upset. He couldn't understand my position and told me that as European I should talk for democracy and capitalism. In the interview he didn't ask me about politics. He was right, I had no freedom of speech in Syria.
Later, we had dinner at a terrace in the old town, drinking arak and listening to shooting and explosions far away.
EAST WEST BANANA SPLIT
23 June 2012, Damascus
Today we have been finally installing the exhibition East West Banana Split that will feature works by Nisrine and me. Nisrine shows her new amazing three-channel video Above 47º (from the Halal series), milk bottles titled Wet Dream and a jar of 2 Litres of Compressed Bananas. The Wahhabists have banned the whole bananas as too phallic for women. If the Islmist revolution supported by the Gulf fundamentalists triumphs, the Syrian women - Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Catholic, Orthodox, Maronite, Druze, atheist - can begin to think how to drink their bananas as smoothie under their burkhas.
I'm going to show Super Size Happy Meal Series, The West Is an Orientalist Joke (Arab Street Hookers) and then I'll do in the opening reception the performance The Rise and Fall of the West - I'll burn party decoration flags of EU, USA and other Western entities.
In the evening I lectured about my practice to local artists and then I went to Domino to smoke shisha, drink beer and watch Spain's victory over France. Alone of course, all my colleagues and friends escaped to their homes before the nightly riots. I live in the old town and it's safest place in the city. I can almost cheat myself that everything is all right.
A RIVER OF BLOOD
22 June 2012, Damascus
The all-new Rio 2012 brings Kia’s successful combination of world-class styling, outstanding fuel economy, advanced technologies and tremendous value to the smallest and most economical vehicle in the Kia line-up.
A white Kia Rio is also the fastest way to the paradise - it's the favorite car bomb of Islamist terrorists in Syria. I've been told to get away when I see one of these vehicles parked.
Friday is the free day in the Muslim countries. The streets are empty in Damascus but not because of people are having picnics in the countryside but because they are afraid of going out. The rebels' violence peaks on Fridays.
I walk around the city taking photos of the posters of the candidates of the parliamentary elections held last month. I try to hide my small camera from the soldiers that are patrolling in every corner. Abir said that now it's not a good idea to take photos in public but I need to do my new work called Syrian Democracy.
I'm also planning a sculpture that would consist of a white Kia Rio covered with tomato ketchup. The title will be Rio de Sangre (Spanish) = river of blood.
21 June 2012, Damascus
Abir has organized an intensive cultural week in the city. On Wednesday, we celebrated Mahmoud's opening in the Maktab space and today was the turn of the closing party of Mosaic group show at All Art Now.
The culture is necessary during the hard times. The 872 days of the siege of Leningrad in the World War II caused a famine that resulted in the deaths of up to one million and half civilians. After all birds, rats, and pets had been eaten by survivors, cases of cannibalism were reported. Meanwhile the opera and the ballet of the Hero City were still performing. On the 9th of August 1942, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad" was performed by the Radio Orchestra of Leningrad. The score had passed the German and Finnish lines by air. The concert was broadcast on loudspeakers placed in all the city and also aimed towards the enemy lines. This date, initially chosen by Hitler to celebrate the taking of Leningrad can symbolizes the reversal of the dynamics in favor of the Red Army. This is why I came here - I want to be the Shostakovich of Damascus.
Terrorists win when they cause terror in people's minds. After the events everybody's hurrying to their homes. The rebels' take the streets in the midnight and begin shooting. The police doesn't do anything, maybe they are too scared or these are the orders of their superiors. The islamist rebels kill anybody they suspect of supporting the government and the secular constitution.
We can't begin the installation of our exhibition tomorrow because the Fridays are too dangerous to go outside. My fellow artist Nisrine and our curator Abir will be trapped in their suburban homes.
HIGH LIFE IN A CONFLICT ZONE
20 June 2012, Damascus
I'm lying on my bed in the Suleiman Suite of Beit Al Mamlouka in the old town. The luxurious room with a six-meter-high ceilings and a fountain in the five-star boutique hotel is normally priced 300USD per night and now I got it for 60 dollars. Not a bad place to stay but I'd prefer less high life for myself and more peace for the Syrians.
I had a walk and sipped a beer in my favorite bar, the small place decorated with posters of semi-naked girls in the biblical Straight Street. The old town seems to be very much the same as I left in September, when the city was already empty of tourists. Last year I was photographing pictures of president Assad on the shop windows but now they have vanished. The rebels are imposing forced strikes and have killed shop owners. Anyways, there is no feeling of a danger - no army at the airport, no checkpoints in the road between the aerodrome and the city, no police in the streets. The same border police, who doesn't speak English, had the same questions that the last time. Journalist? No no no. I showed a letter in Arabis written by Abir that tells that I'm here to support Syria, not to fight against it.
I was reading The Jordan Times during the flight from Amman and the horoscope promised me a good luck. I'm going to believe it.
A HARD-BOILED FAMILY MAN
18 June 2012, Cervera de los Montes
When I told my wife that I'm going again to Syria, she got upset. She said that this week she has lots of work and I should be with the kids in the afternoons.
It has been an unusual year, I've been a family man for many months - cooking, playing and painting. Now it's time for a more hazardous and striking enterprise. I'm prepared for my new Syrian adventure. Abir says that the situation is much more complicated than in last October when I left Damascus but I think I'm still enough hard-boiled to take it.
SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY IN SYRIA
15 June 2012, Cervera de los Montes
I booked a flight to Damascus, Syria, for Tuesday. I'm going to stay there one week to install my solo show The West Is an Orientalist Joke at All Art Now. There will be Nisrine's show at the same time and we are planning to improvise something collaborative, too.
Some friends call me crazy and some call me a hero. I think I'm not crazy but consistent with my practice. The political art is not playing with concepts at the studio but going to where the politics happen. I'm neither a hero - the real heroes are those Syrians who try to live their normal life in Syria and defend a secular, multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious society.
ART THAT COULD BE DONE BY ANYONE
13 June 2012, Cervera de los Montes
When I was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, I earned my living by guiding at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. I often heard confusing people commenting that they could have done some works exhibited in the museum.
I think it's easy to fake the lack of content with technique, talent or big production resources. The true art is about ideas, it's about seeing the everyday world with clarity and precision and making it visible and tangible to others. In fact, the most amazing works of art are exactly those that could have been done by anyone and anywhere. That's why feel particularly satisfied when I make a work like The World's Most Powerful People in Starbucks which consist simply of ordinary paper cups of the global coffeehouse chain and names written on them. It could have been done by anyone but it was me who did it.
STARS AND BUCKS IN MADRID
10 June 2012, Cervera de los Montes
On Friday, I went to Madrid to the reception that the ambassador of Finland gave for Martti, the director of the Finnish Cultural Institute, who is leaving his position after five years. Martti programmed my solo show at the Institute few years ago. I also visited the Reina Sofia Museum where I enjoyed the shows of Sharon Hayes and Hans Haacke.
Surprisingly, the best thing in Madrid was my visit, the second in my life, to a Starbucks coffeehouse where my cousin - who had spent few days in our place in Cervera - took me, me when we arrived buy bus in Madrid. If I had been alone, I would have drank my café con leche in a traditional Spanish bar and not in a franchise of an American chain inside a shopping mall. I ordered a small cappuccino (which was huge) and the waiter asked my name. I was baffled and said he could call me Paco.
The paper cups and the customers' names written on them gave me an idea for my next piece. When I had been all the afternoon having drinks with the Finns, I went again to Starbucks before catching the bus back home. I got ten empty cups and now I'm going to write them the names of the most powerful stars of the global politics and business: Vladimir, Angela, Carlos, Abdullah, Jintao...
PAPER TIGER ARTIST
04 June 2012, Cervera de los Montes
Painting is easy - you just go to an art material supplier and get stretchers, canvas and gesso and begin to work. Most of the artists buy their high quality acid-free paper in the same stores but I dislike the paper made for artistic use. Drawing is more personal, direct and true than painting and therefore the material has to have more life, too.
When I was student, I found a stack of rather heavy yellowish paper in a Spanish discount shop, it lasted a couple of years. My next paper, that I've been using until now, was stolen: When I was finishing my MFA degree, I worked in the museum education department of Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, and my boss had found a huge pile of interesting paper in an abandoned paper factory. It was used in kids´ workshops but as it was the best paper I had ever seen, I decided to expropriate some boxes of it.
Ironically, I have sold to the same museum drawings made on this paper thieved from them. Unfortunately, now it's over, I have only two sheets left. During this spring, I've tried other papers of different styles and qualities but I can't find anything that could replace the old, found and then stolen material.
One of the most famous works of Robert Rauschenberg is the iconoclastic Erased de Kooning Drawing. The young Rauschenberg asked the middle-aged Willem de Kooning to give him a drawing that he could erase. Maybe I have to erase now my own drawings and then use the paper again.