Work, Musings, Writings and Projects from FLEFF's Checkpoints Lab 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
We were privileged to have three wonderful presentations during our FLEFF Lab: Checkpoints Project panel. Monica Haller and Elvira Dyangani Ose appeared in person, and Leslie Garcia appeared remotely due to circumstances beyond her control (but was able to come two weeks later to give a well-received workshop to the class). We'd like to feature a selection of summaries from the panel to show the diversity of responses and projects discussed.
The FLEFF Panel: Activist Retooling was taken place on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. It featured three guest panelists: Monica Haller, Elvira Dyangani, and Leslie Garcia. The panel’s concentration was on the guest panelists’ projects that focused on the importance of media activism. It was significant to see that all three panelists were females who emphasized the role of women empowerment in the realm of media and the arts. The three projects underline the uses of media technologies and arts to convey the political structure of our cultures. It was interesting to see the diverse background of the panelists who were united on the issue of social change and empowerment through the use of collaboration in arts.
The panel started off with Monica Haller’s Veteran’s Book Project. Haller works with many U.S. veterans who were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan to create a book that archived and displayed their lived experience affected by the U.S. wars. The books were a collection of images, photos, postcards, letters, and journal entries that the veterans have invited to share with us, the public. It is a door into their memories and experiences. The books combined the use of photography, writing and printmaking. Though we did not go through the same experiences they did, the books had a striking impact on a reader once opened because of the lack of text, just raw images and personal handwriting. There were no Photoshop alternations. I admired Haller’s projects and its intended purpose to share a collected memory of a bleak and opaque war we sometimes forget we are having through the individual experience of the experts. The books are not mass-produced but made to order and much of the profit will go to the veterans and their families. Currently, Haller is hoping to work with the Iraqi people who are most directly affected by the war.
The second panelist was Elvira Dyangani, an Equatorial Guinean who is a Spanish curator of Contemporary Art. She focused on Contemporary African Art and Culture. She showed a lot of examples of the projects she worked in Africa dealing with community activism and reclaiming the urban space. An interesting project she showed us was called “Dikalo de Bessengue” which involved artists working with a group of young local people from Douala to create an experimental radio for the whole town. They were all rapping in French and bonding with each other in the collective experience. The radio was made to be a radio for the people by the people, empowering local communities. She talked a lot about the African art movement in modernism and showed us links from the Nishio workshop, Dak’art, the Chimurenga Library, WikiAfrica, AfroPixel, and Ker Thiossane. Although presenting us with the many examples of projects and art establishments she has worked with, I was lost and confused in her presentation because she did not explain the main focus and theme of her presentation.
The third and final panelists was Leslie Garcia, who unfortunately was not able to physically come to the states but we were able to skype her from Mexico City. Leslie’s collaboration on the Dream Addictive project was very innovative in combining applied science, from computing, visual programming, hardware production with art and design. They work through Open Source publicly and freely sharing their ideas and knowledge on research. Based in Mexico, she said it was challenging to have Mexicans support and display their work; usually they have to come to the U.S. They also develop workshops under Upgrade! to teach women about technology and those who are interested. I am curious to see where they get funding to develop such technological projects and where they can be able to install their exhibitions on a larger scale to the public. A lot of times media labs are supported by corporate sponsorships in aims of creative and innovative marketing. However, Dream Addictive seems to still have the indie and underground appeal that is meant to be shared, enjoyed and educated to all. Having the Open Source ideals in their best interest and McLuhan’s quote as their motto, Dream Addictive seeks to empower, distribute and promote knowledge of electronic culture and raise awareness of sustainability in their projects.
During the FLEFF panel, some of the most intriguing works presented involved how artists and activists in Africa used public space as a means of expressing and reclaiming identity. Throughout the course of our class, notions about public space--and our relations with them--have consistently been a topic of conversation.
At its most organic, public space typically refers to "an area or place that is open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level."
When put into practice, public space is far more limiting than such a definition explains. For example in the "Game on Public Space and Women," Andrha Pradesh explored the relationship that women have with public space and nuances inherent in that relationship. For example, the project, which was based on three years of research, highlighted how, “There is still a very conditional access to public spaces for women in the society. A loitering woman is looked upon as one with loose morals unlike the ‘good private woman’ who is out in a public space with a ‘purpose.' Only when men and women have the freedom to move about in public spaces without any purpose, can the boundaries and divisions within a society be removed.” (Shilpa Ranade)
Another group whose work focused on reshaping cultural relations through public space was the Critical Art Ensemble, a collective of "tactical media practitioners of various specializations" who explore "the intersections between art, critical theory, technology and political activism." Public space is in many ways the epitomization of these intersections which are, at least in my opinion, defining factors in the establishment of identity; not just on an individual level, but a cultural one as well. For this reason, art that looks at reclaiming or reshaping the nature of a public space by the community can also be seen as a call for the reshaping of societal dynamics. The work of artists in Africa that were shown during last week’s panel highlighted how activism can be used to influence notions of public space and societal relations, particularly in terms of community relations with what is considered public.
Out of all the presentations given, I found I was most passionate about Monica Haller’s project. The artist is concerned with social justice and strives to produce a product that highlights the individual’s experience. In her project she explained on Wednesday, Haller presented a series of books. These books are authored by various kinds of people affected by the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the help from Haller as the editor and consultant.
The series is called “Objects of Deployment” and is part of what is called the Veterans Book Project. Each book acts as a separate archive of one person’s perspective. The author’s are war veterans, mothers of soldiers, and citizens of the countries personally involved in the current global issue. The author’s incorporate personal photographs, letters, journal entries, and poems from their experience in the war.
Haller has set up workshops for the bookmaker to fully form their approach and lay out of their personal archive. These workshops travel and meet the authors at their desired locations. It is here that their message or plan becomes more directed. The software provided was viewed as incredibly easy for the participants. When un-hashing a part of his or her lives that is difficult to ponder about, the last thing needed is a frustrating template.
Looking through the books during the presentation, I found that I became very connected with the bookmakers and their final product. The project takes on a life that is unrecognizable to the general public. The books provide voices and perspectives that go unheard. These are books are archives. In class discussion we spoke of Derrida, who had spoke of a multiplicity of ways to read a text. In this project, it is interpretation of perspective that provides the most interesting components. For instance, the photographs taken and incorporated by each author truly exemplifies the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
The series seems to unlock a latent world to the true reality life in the war life. However, the project is not solely for the public, but for the bookmakers themselves. It is therapeutic and releasing process, as if to say, “here, this is what my life truly is.” In one book a young soldier states how the truth was he never shot a gun. Confessions like this truly form an intimate connection between author and reader.
These books are beyond beautiful. While some images maybe disheartening and grotesque, that is the point of the project; to depict the reality of it all. The project puts a face to a generalized group. No longer are these individuals just labeled among the masses as “soldier,” “citizen,” or other, but are acknowledged as Jim Wilson, Jon Turner, and Pamela Olson.
This project is provided to the public for free as a PDF or print on demand. The availability of this piece incorporates the series as a more global interaction. The presentation and the ultimate product have been inspiring in a beautifully simple and complex way.
As we learned back in February from Derrida, archives are conglomerations of data, which help form our vision of the past, present, and future. The authority of an archive is granted because it contains and controls the presentation of information, the building blocks of our knowledge. There is particular power in the way in which the information is presented, the form of the archive, because it shapes how certain aspects are valued. A fairly simple example of this would be an archive of music arranged by producer versus one arranged by artist.
The power an archive has in shaping popular perception can be more potent, and also, more subtle. Archives have the power to reinforce or contradict popular beliefs through the information they contain and the way it is presented. the Veterans Book Project is an example of an archive working counter to the mainstream narrative.
Veterans Book Project is a collaborative art project directed by artist Monica Haller. Haller operates as consultant, editor and publisher for Veterans, families and people effected by the war to make books of their stories. The books contain mementos from the authors time with war: photos, postcards, letters and rerecorded memories. There are currently 31 books completed, however through workshops Haller runs across the country, more will soon join the ranks.
The library of books created by this project is a powerful archive of the US’s current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cover of each book is decorated with a name and a photo, with little indication of the heart wrenching stories that will follow. Through the presentation of data in these books a new narrative of the wars is created: a narrative on the ground, an intimate narrative.
One could argue that much of the information in the books is already offered through news sources, both mainstream and alternative. However, the presentation of these books reforms the narrative, changing its impact by decreasing the amount of check points through which the information must pass. Instead of a long chain of information sources and nodes diluting the personal aspect of the war, there very few checkpoints between teller and receiver. In fact, the main check point is the book, offer recipients direct access to an archive of data about the war and its individualized effects.