23.3.2009 Sirpa Jokinen
Exhibition at MUU gallery March 13 – April 5, 2009
Signals from the South’ is an annual showcase of projects from ‘the South’ (South America, Africa, Asia). This year’s exhibition features work by Venzha Christ / Yogyakarta New Media Art Laboratory (Indonesia), Geraldine Juaréz (Mexico), Annemie Maes (Belgium) and Vanessa Gocksch & Juan Carlos Pellegrino (Colombia). The exhibition is organised by Pixelache festival in collaboration with Artists’ Association MUU.
Pixelache Helsinki (2-5 April) is a festival of electronic art and subcultures, organised since 2002.
This exhibition is very welcomed to Helsinki especially today, when the main museums seem to plan their exhibition programs to attract mainstream public thus omitting challenging views. After a long period of suspicious atmosphere towards non western cultures caused by the War against terrorism it feels refreshing to see these works from Indonesia, Mexico, India and Columbia.
The exhibition demands the visitor to open up to worldviews and situations of people from these countries but at the same time it also rewards the visitor with imaginative strategies in use of technology and understanding different environments and societies. The defenition of art gets redefined as a side effect as well.
The days when the rich westeners one-sidedly went to the third world countries to teach the use of technology and finanzed it are gone. In the western world technology is mainly focused to make profit for certain brands, which aim to spread its marketing as wide as possible in the world. As a counter force there are the indigenous people of South America, Africa and Asia, who live in a close connection to the surrounding nature in remote villages and who want to preserve the balance of profiting from the nature and taking care of it. Signals from the South exhibition introduces projects that can teach us westerners how to use technology imaginatively and how to define it ethically.
The project of Vanessa Gocksch and Juan Carlos Pellegrino introduces the Poporo Luminoso. It is a rechargeable flashlight made of the shell of the calabash vegetable that the indigenous people use to grind lime to be mixed with coca leaves. The rotating movement to recharge the flashlight imitates the movement made traditionally in meditation grinding the lime in the proporo.
The ecological point of this work is that you don’t have to dispose used batteries to the environment. The video in the gallery shows however the spiritual leader of the tribe hesitating with a smile about the Proporo Luminoso. He does not accept it because the Proporo is a sacred object but he does see the humour in the project. The Proporo Luminoso does not solve the problem of used batteries disposed to nature but it shows the indigenous people that they don’t have to stand still as society, they can develop and use new options in technology based on their own traditions.
Chronicle _ Therapy is the sound installation of Venzha Christ that explores the electromagnetic spectrum. The installation catches inaudible sound frequences in the room from water containers and converts them into audible sounds. The analog system of the installation uses the iron table as a grounding. The system also includes sensors that enable the audience to influence the electomagnetic field inside the installation.
New definition of art
Juha Huuskonen the curator of this exhibiton has considered the political and social perspectives of the works more important than if they belong safely within the traditional borders of Western art. This relaxedness about the artistic output of the exhibition causes it to challenge the definition of art.
Geraldine Juárez sees art as a tactic that allows her to do all the things that supposedly she should not do. Referring to her work in the exhibition she says: ‘It is the best excuse in front of a cop’. At the same time she questions the effort of defining art altogether.
The aim of the work of Venzha Christ is to create a simple situation for the audience to explore the surrounding environment. He feels he is not creating anything new but rather enhancing the already existing. Everything is art for him. A bottle on a restaurant table can at the next moment be part of a conceptual installation in an art museum. What will be counted as art depends on the perspective we choose.
Vanessa Gocksch defines art as a form of communication. She wants to integrate the communication with the indigenous people and their message to the western world into her artwork. Their message is that nature needs to be protected. She thinks that as investigation or community work art is today breaking its traditional boundaries. The Proporo Luminoso is a way to integrate two separate worlds. The western art world is far apart from the world of the indeginous people.
Jon Irigoyen guest from the Bask country in the exhibition opening defines artivist ( as coming from the word activist) as a person, who uses art to point out what he thinks is current about politics, culture, social relations and the way he leads his life and work.
Venzha Christ thinks it is important not to limit oneself to simply political activism. Education Focus Programme (EFP) that he founded concentrates on involving people from the indonesian villages getting good education, accessing library, computer and information. His community combines art, technology and society. Indonesia is the most corrupted country in the world and activism that is simply political is useless in his mind. Activist is someone who does something real and directly useful for the society. Activist shows the people of the village what kind of things one can do with one’s knowledge. He wants direct and simple activism based on knowledge.
Vanessa Gocksch suggests an artist who works on ecological issues rather than political to be called artecologist.
Geraldine Juárez thinks that all art is political, sometimes more sometimes less passive. All art is engaged with social issues. That is why she does not see a point for the concept artivist.
Politics of Change
Annemie Maes from Belgium accepts happily to be called artivist. She sees her work as documentation art. She has documented the work of the Barefoot College in India that trains middle aged illiterate women to build solar energy systems for their villages. At stake in the process is much more than electrical engineering: women become independent after the education and their self-esteem rises. They are fed up being under the yoke of men. The women who have received the education become teachers for women in Africa in their turn.
A woman from a village in India Magan Kawar belonged to the purdah-system of the Rajput-caste. Rajput women are supposed to stay their whole life behind the purdah-curtain and not allowed to see or meet other people. Her husband travelled to the Barefoot College to see what it was like. Magan Kawar followed him and got an education as a solar lighting engineer. Now she wants to show other women that it is possible to get out of the purdah system.
Tools for the end of the world
The photographs of Geraldine Juárez show a religious act in a situation where one would expect it the least: in front of a cash machine, in front of a stand selling dvds and computer games and in front of a police officer. The setting creates an atmosphere of ultimate seriousness as if this act were the only possible thing left to pursue. Geraldine Juárez combines scapulars, religious objects made of fabric with the photographs.
During the period of colonization in Latin America the Catholic church forced the native people to abandon their original religion and turn into catholism. As a result people hid symbols of their original religion behind the statues of catholic saints and just pretended their faith and devotion to the Catholic religion. Geraldine Juarez wants to help to combat power, greed, surveillance and copyright in the contemporary world with her art.
The writer is an artist based in Helsinki