Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bonjour Ladies and Gentlemen! Comment allez vous??

This was my view for many hours. I am guessing that what you are looking at is Russia. As a former cold war era vet, I appreciate this picture more than you will ever know. Maybe, I hope we really can stop all of our global domination nonsense and actually live in peace. From Seoul to Munich Germany and then it was onwards to CDG. Travelers always have stories, because honestly, when you are traveling by yourself, you find a strange dependency on others that can make people feel uncomfortable, even fearful. It was a journey that began in a taxi, to a high speed train, to a couple of airplane rides, a bus ride, a metro ride or two...to staying with a Lt Col from Sri Lanka, to finally get to my flat. Oh there were numerous nameless, faceless people I never met before...who just didn't their jobs to get me where I am. However, there is one thing I am, and that is happy. Two days into my Paris journey...and I have slept little, my stomach is having a hell of a time adjusting to the French cuisine. However, it took me a microsecond to realize why I love Paris. It is a city that is alive.
I was able to make my appointment with Mr. Jim Haynes. Sunday dinners at his flat, which was a former sculpture studio, is always a must for me. I heard that Jim was featured on NPR, and smiled as one of his guests kept talking about how she just heard about it and decided to hop a plane to meet Jim, who has the world come to dinner. I adore Jim because he genuinely loves people, is a wonderful writer and author and one of the funniest libertines I have ever met in my life.
The Holiday lights are on display along the Champs Elysées. Here are a few of the scenes that people normally ask to look at while in Paris. Outside of these scenes...I hope to share with you some things that are more substantial. The world is hurting, and though I am in Paris, I came because I have missed being here and life is too short to say 'no'. I said 'yes' and figured out how to make it all come together one piece at a time.
The Eiffel tower still stands, and I gladly walked kilometers to get here at the end of a decade of excess, changing dreams, of endings and beginnings...to embrace life fully. I don't know how my journey will continue. I don't have all of the answers. No one does. However, you get up, breathe and choose to keep on going.
Hang in there. Believe in what you are doing...and try like hell to live your dreams. No one else can live them for you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Seeing the Wonder of a Fairytale

There is the famous story of Anne Sullivan, who was the storied teacher for Helen Keller. During my year in Korea, I have often referred back to Anne Sullivan's struggle to get through the mind of a blind and deaf child, to communicate with her. Keller was violent, striking out at the world and at her teacher because she couldn't understand a thing. Helen Keller is a student that would have challenged the heart and soul of many teachers. As a matter of record, her parents were desperate to find a single teacher that could work with Helen. I have often felt like Anne Sullivan during this year, and yes, it has been a year of miracles.

This is my final week in Korea, and it has caused this liquid salty substance, known as tears, to come to my eyes.
I watched the children perform, sing, tell stories, and participate in an open class that I taught for the parents to observe (ah, no time for stage fright) how I worked with their children on a daily basis. This was an audience you don't want to disappoint. I decided to tell the story of "The Little Fir Tree", which I had vaguely remembered as a child. I had the children come up, one by one to select an ornament and decorate the small artificial tree to transform it for the use of a story that on the surface seems so benign. These little beings would tell their parents what they had selected and would place the ornaments on the tree. I saw nods of approval, pride in their smiling eyes, and most of all the morale of the story is not to say, "I am too little", but to be perfectly content with who you are. The tree wanted to see life, to possibly be a part of a ship or a timber in a house. Instead, the tree was beautified for sick children in a hospital ward, and touched and loved by the children. Smiles began to mask the threatening tears, because it hit me in that moment what these children had meant to me.
I didn't have one Helen Keller, I had two of them. They did not want to be at school. They didn't want to learn English. They were violent, stubborn and fought with everyone. I thought of Anne Sullivan and thought to myself, 'at least they can hear and see'. It took a lot of work to reach them both. They both happened to be incredibly talented, and on this day, I was presented with this bouquet from the most violent student I have ever had. He achieved the most of all of the students, winning a city-wide art contest, a speech contest in Seoul, and he became one of the best students. The other 'Helen' also transformed during the year, she began to achieve her own greatness by being herself.

I have to apologize for the sound quality, it is horrible...but here is the first verse of "I Have a Dream" by Abba...sound totally out of tune...but with the bravado that only children have.
As we joined the students in the third verse, on that little stage, I saw the whole audience join us as we sang. This is going to sound totally like I am a wet blanket...I cried.

I saw the wonder of a fairy tale.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seven Seconds...The Art of Memory

Jorge Lizalde and Mathilde Lopez Gomez are the brilliant minds behind a unique project I ran across this year, called Mnemonic . I was drawn to it immediately, inspired by their process of taken images and tying them to memories of complete strangers. I queried Jorge and I submitted one of my turning point memories as a child.

This memory is now called, Memory Number 009.

Here is the script I provided and the work they produced.

One of my earliest memories is of my mother awakening us in the middle of the night, with her finger pressed to her lips in a shushing motion. “Let’s play a game of hide and seek.” , she began. Her hair was long and dark, her blue eyes penetrating mine. “But we must not make a sound.” I saw suitcases in the corner, and our clothes were put on in a hurry. Silent dressing of three children, as I was the oldest…I looked at my younger sister and put my finger to my lips as my mother had done to me. My baby brother with his sparse blonde hair peeking through the the crib rails.

“Shhhhhh…we are going to hide, and now don’t make a sound.” The quiet whispers as we went down the stairs…with my little sister in tow. A low rumbling sound of an awaiting cab as we made it out the door, In the dead of night, with amber street lights…swishing by. Feeling the rocking motion of wanting to sleep, during this game of hide and seek, leading us to a bus terminal the crowds not so thick, and tired blinking eyes of flourescent blindness. Climbing the steps with toddler legs to feel the stiffness of false comfort of a seat…as I looked out the window to see the flashing of the streetlights as we drove out of Chicago that hyponitized me into a deep sleep.

That was the night my mother left my father when I was barely four years old.

7 seconds with Jorge and Mathilde
Mnemonic - The Art of Memories

Why have you focused on the early memories?

Both our work focuses on images and memory, Jorge as a principle of work as his pieces are always based on an inward investigation about memory, family and loss.

Whereas my work is often orientated towards our memory’s selection and deformation, and therefore its great potential of mythology.

As an image-maker, Jorge wanted to recreate his own first image-memory and became quickly conscious of the difficulty, confusion and eagerness it triggered and the impossibility of doing it on his own. Memories are not stored with more or less precision but recreated each time we remember. Early memories are even more so the results of multiple layers of invention, sometimes ours but also others, therefore any attempt to define them becomes an archeology-project of oneself. And as early memories are often remembered with and through disparate data, ours and other’s, they also should be recreated with others.

While working on The Motherland Project, a performance research with actors and dancers about images, origins and memory, we have experienced their re-creation with others but also discovered their common ground. Through out the rehearsals, however false, embellished or extremes, these deformed memories were highly personal and truthful while remaining very generic too, like tapping into some common fond.

In parallel to these projects we were both interested- and scared- by the enormous flow of images and videos living on the web. Scared as it does challenge your legitimacy as an artist, a photographer or theatre maker but also fascinated as the juxtaposition of this infinite amount of individuality/knowledge/beauty is incredibly exciting and hold huge potential.
We felt that something as intimate, sacred and defining as early memories could be created and live in that web format: A common memory database, very personal and generic at the same time, the compilation of all of us in its essence.

We looked for a format to open the process to people creativity and channel the multiple images and video available on flickr, you tube and other common database.

By extracting, re-cutting, re-shuffling online data we attempt to be as close as we can to the early memory written and offered by the authors.
There are many subjective people involved:
-Authors’, who recreate at the moment they remember, organise and shape their text.
-Ours, while we read the script, imagine it then find and choose online data-themselves infused with everyone’s particular image, look, grain, genre- then cut and shape the memory.

And this very fragile, secret, unformulated souvenirs, somehow come to light helped by everyone to stand on its feet.

Mathilde and Jorge provided brief biographies about their past work and present vision for themselves.

Jorge is a photographer and video maker. He is currently completing an MFA in Fine arts at UWIC, Cardiff, UK.

He previously trained at Universidad of Salamanca in Spain, where he obtained a Ba in Fine Arts and at EFTI in Madrid where he completed a professional course and master in photography.

Since 2005, he has been living in London and most recently Cardiff where he has been working as a freelance photographer for different companies (theatre, dance and marketing) and published on varied newspapers and website notably the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent and varied e-magazines.

His artistic practice is rooted in memory and stillness.
He has taken part in different group exhibitions in Spain (Alumni Master Exhibition at Photoespaña) Argentina (Festival de la Luz) and the Uk (Relics at Art Salons and Make it a good experience at Eight Club and Millar Rosenfalk) and also worked along actors and dancers creating stills, videos and searching live image system for The Motherland Project.

Mathilde is a theatre director and scenographer, currently Creative Associate at National Theatre Wales.

She trained at Central Saint Martins in Performance Design, worked as a designer for ITV, BBC, Channel 4, The Knitting Company, and Ex-Machina, assisting Carl Fillion on La Celestina and 1984, both show directed by Robert Lepage.

She founded The Knitting Company with actors from Jacques Lecoq and Philippe Gaulier Schools and directed Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy by Witold Gombrovitzc, Hotel Europa (La Suspension du Plongeur) by Lionel Spycher and Prometheus (extracts of Aeschylus Prometheus Bound) at the Cochrane Theatre and Hoxton Hall; Cien años (series of devised episodes based on One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez) for theatre and non-theatre spaces in London and Prague.

From 2006-8 she completed Birkbeck’s MFA in theatre directing and assisted several productions at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Theatre Royal Stratford East in London.

She also worked as literary manager for Theatre Royal Stratford East, then devised Crosswired, a dance piece developed and presented by East London Dance and the Barbican Centre and started The Motherland Project, a performance project on image and memory.

Where do you hope you can garner an exposition?

We would definitely need more time, resources or/and recruit artists to work with us to generate enough material (maybe 100 memories) for the work to have the impact we want for an exhibition.

Also, we feel that the strength of this project is in the process and the making, therefore can only conceive it in the real world as an exhibition/performance, a working Mnemonic factory with script writing tables, data selection bureaus and montage ones.

More over, to legitimise its place in the real world and respond to the actual ground where it stands, the real exposition of this originally web project will need to create the memories of the actual people coming to the event or living in the area.

The Mnemonic Factory could take place in commercial, private galleries or arts fair where the project will approach visitors and invite them to participate. We are also approaching an Alzheimer foundation in Cardiff as we thought of co-organizing workshops with Alzheimer patients to recreate their first memories and then create a projection/performance with and by them.

Another option is to keep it on the web where it originated and recruit more artists, memory makers and programmers to create a software that does what we do, encompassing its complexities, but quicker.

If anyone out there is open to the challenge, we are open to proposals.

How long is this project going to be in development?

Our first aim is to find the time and resources to cope with the demand as we are only 2 and the whole memory-making process takes 2 weeks which is much too long for the web pace and the patience of many subjects.

Jorge during his year at University of Wales (Institute Cardiff) will explore the possibilities of rooting the project in the real world and making it accessible to those who don’t have access nor inclination to the web. He is particularly thinking of direct mailings.

If you would like to participate in this project, I encourage you to be a part of this journey. I believe it is going to be something incredible and you can be a part of it too. Contact Jorge and Mathilde at memory landscape with a short script of one of your earliest memories. I will tell you, based on my own experience, they are an absolute pleasure to work with.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Making Wine out of Sour Grapes of Wrath

To start out this entry, I thought about today. It's December and we are experiencing a bit of rain today after no snow, and uncertainty about the seasons here in Daegu, South Korea. Technically, winter doesn't start until December 21st and I think Korea is one of the first places I have ever lived that sticks by that calendar, not a snow flake to be seen. I have always been amused (sometimes to the point of laughing) when I watch the fear of fear when a person is caught outside without an umbrella. The local populace here seems to believe that the rain will melt them. I have seen people go through great lengths to avoid getting wet, the shimmy walk, the courageous dash into a convenience store or coffee shop, or standing under an awning to avoid the water at all costs. Water is kryptonite.

Today, I forgot my umbrella. Today, I just walked with my hat and coat and smiled and the rain proceeded to fall in its steady stream. Everytime I spied a look of horror, my smile grew bigger. I just kept thinking about all of the things that could be worse and my damn smile was pasted on my face, maybe the rain affected my sensibilities and made me a bit snarky. It is OK and sometimes OK is a wonderful feeling. I people are going through a lot of things right now and I know it's not my job to fix others and try to tell them it will all go away. I have this problem, where I just want people to be happy. I really do. Sometimes get annoyed with my positive nature. Sometimes people get annoyed with my big picture focus. I can't help that about myself. Just as much as I can't control the reaction to rain that I see in South Korea.

Life is messy. You get wet sometimes, and if you appear like a drowned rat, it isn't the end of the world. I guess it doesn't bother me if my mascara runs down my face and I laugh a little too loud and I am soaked to the bone. What I have thought about were all of those little lists I would make.
This is not important to anyone, but it was for me. I was told about the scarcity factors in Korea and I was provided a list of what I would not find in South Korea. My goal was to find everything on the list, like a hunt to debunk the list. At the top of my list was French Wine....yes I adore it, in moderation of course. However, I rekindled this passion with a distinct snobbish attitude that I am almost not too proud of. Actually more in fun. I wanted to find as many French Wines as possible...and if I had a bathtub...I would have bathed in it, just to say I did it.
However, I did the intelligent thing, I drank Merlot, Cabernet, Bordeaux, and in a pinch just table red wine that was bottled in France. My chief complaint was about trying to have a campaign in Korea about red wine. I foot stomped my point in as many restaurants and bars as possible, even having to uncork some bottles myself for the wine stewards (yes, they asked for my help)...to please serve the wine at room temperature. I can get zealous about things...forgive me.
I did have the pleasure of going to a strange vineyard, in a tunnel...however, persimmons are not grapes...so does this count?
I have enjoyed the sounds and sights of music, the culture, and it reinforced for me...never, ever, let anyone tell you what is impossible. Impossible is a word for quitters...and maybe that is why I love to do things the hard way, the impossible way, because it never is impossible. I never said it had to be easy, just sweeter.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reflections along the way

I discovered during this journey how much I grew to love teaching. You hope to learn a lot about yourself through the eyes of your students. You see how fearful they can be when you first walk into that classroom, especially when you are not at all like them. It has been an amazing experience integrating with a culture that has just as many complexities as anywhere else.
The curtain is getting ready to close and I know I have less than three weeks in Daegu. There has been so much that I have seen and experienced here, much more than had I visited as a tourist. I have seen the beautiful heart that is present here. I have also seen closed minds with an air of superiority, just as you would see in any other part of the world. Sometimes a foreign view threatens the status quo. The stereotypes that hinge on cultural behavior can only be changed by individuals. I have learned to see through the appearances that are so carefully protected.
I have learned to be humoured by comparing the differences, like going to a movie theater and wanting to ask why all ticket holders receive assigned seats instead of being able to sit where you want. Then again, why ask why? Sometimes you just go with the flow and look at the seating chart to find your seat.
I have also been inspired by the creativity I have seen blossom. The creation of a space station out pieces of vegetation and apples from a six-year-old girl, named Kelly, made me realize I taught them more than English. I was also pleased to hear of one my students winning an art competition in the city. It is with these little touches on their lives, seeing their achievements, how much they have learned and have grown; I realized my own growth through them as well.
So as I watched kindergarten graduation pictures taken this week, for a graduation I won't be present for, I smiled for the camera as well. I was one of their first teachers. They were my first students. You really never forget your first teachers and I won't forget mine. It has been an honor to have been part of their lives.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time to Take Five - Egypt, Art, Wine, Vines, and Jazz and other observations

It's time for a trip around the world, and time to talk about time. It will be time for me to leave South Korea soon. Everything seemed to call attention to time for me. This time, I walked by one of my favorite stops, and a new collage made by young hands caught my eye. It has been an incredible year here in Korea. I have had an experience that has enriched me in so many ways. Though this blog, I have also had a voice to share my observations, my encounters with local populace, my explorations in the culture, and having the experience of being an outsider looking in. I have grown in my appreciation of what it means to be different. The superficial differences gave way to looking at what unifies us all. The ways we communicate, dress, our physical features do not make us who we are. I do hope I return one day, perhaps it may be sooner than we think. I have been enriched by the blogs I tend to read on days when I seem to want more of the world.
Ramona dropped by, author of Alone in Holy Land to let me know about this gift of appreciation for me. I really appreciate it when someone likes my work, so here, in this forum I say thank you Ramona. In turn, there are five blogs I am passing this award on to. Of the many blogs that I have read and looked at, these are just a sample of the ones I really enjoy. In no particular order I invite you to take a look at the following blogs.

1. Bernadette Simpson's Escapade through Egypt is a wonderful photoblog that goes from A-Z. I sometimes feel dusty when I look at her blog...the images are incredible and captures a complete range of life through her lens.
2. I was drawn to this blog because of my love for literature, the name caught my eye. The writing style is magic, and I see the genius in his words. Gertrude's Flat with Derek Osborne is a worthy blog to sit down and explore.
3. One of my passions in life is Jazz. I found someone who is absolutely more obsessed by this passion. The education, the stories, the factoids...not to mention the sounds this blog brings to me...a pleasure that makes me appreciate the art even more. On This Day in JAZZ! is a must for those who think they know everything to know about Jazz. Confetta you are brilliant!
4. Canadian Artist, Earthula Black, AKA Elaine Bergland, has a wonderful show room of art that is a reflection of all she desires in life. I just love her style and she will work at her craft as long as she breathes. The Glamorous Life is a must view for your own private showing.
5. This next blog is really a labor of love. There is a bed and breakfast in the South of France that I have been following. I have read their stories of struggles their vines, their animals, and the life that is just so wonderful, simple, rich, and full of well...love. The love of their life...all of it. Le Couvent, Roujon in Languedoc, France is captured by the wonderful and charming Lizzie Betts-Gosling. If anything I want to do in this life...I want to go their vineyards, put on some work gloves and get to work. Maybe I will some day soon. It would be worth it to delay some plans for this adventure, not to mention the wine.

The other place I would like to refer all lovers of art and established and emerging artists is a wonderful venture called discovered artists. An enterprising web site and blog for established and emerging artists to come together with lovers of art in a global venture; which everything is. I discovered this wonderful haven, a vehicle for artists, Discovered Artists.com which enables artists to sell their work directly to the public, and opportunities to share more about your projects.
This picture is proof that Koreans do have bathtubs. I laughed thinking about my shower sink, and thought for a moment if I should ask for one of these 'planters' to take home.
Another sign it is almost time to go is the tree that just went up near where I teach. Yes, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas and almost time for tea.
More posts to follow...