Happy 4th birthday, you inspired/inspiring kid, you —
You’re welcome, darling! Anytime…
Happy 4th birthday, you inspired/inspiring kid, you —
You’re welcome, darling! Anytime…
A couple items to share, pardon the self-centeredness, but hey, this is a blog, right?
First, hot off the virtual presses: Radio Berkman has just posted a snappily edited podcast featuring yours truly in conversation with the one and only Ethan Zuckerman about world/whirled music, globalghettotech, jerkbow, tribal, moombahton, and platform politricks, among other things. Go check out the full post here (where you can also stream or DL the audio).
Second, it took the dedicated team that organized TEDxIrie just a week and half to edit & post the talks to YouTube. You can see them all here, including my own talk — which, in somewhat classic w&w form, tried to pack in a little too much and grooved a little too hard in places — but if you watch just one, it has to be Ebony Patterson’s “Fashion Ova Style” (which I’ll embed below).
For those of you who have been following some of dancehall’s style trends in recent years — whether we’re talking skinnyjeans and mantourages or bleaching — you’re no doubt aware that Jamaican masculinity appears to be undergoing some peculiar revisions. Unfortunately, a lot of the coverage of such turns — both on and beyond the island — tend toward a sort of surface sensationalism rather than a deeper grappling with their implications. But Ebony goes in DEEP in her art and her talk, and her discussion of dancehall’s “camp” dimensions and the structural relations between gender (roles and representations) and employment seems to me a thoroughly insightful reading. It helps, no doubt, that she is a genuine dancehall devotee who also works in other worlds (the art world, first and foremost).
Her talk is probably the smartest, most nuanced, and most creative engagement — Ebony is a stunning visual and conceptual artist — with these complex questions that I’ve yet to behold. I just wish you could see her art in full color, as we did on the big screen in Kingston a couple weeks ago. Nevertheless, this is well worth your time:
Last weekend Rebecca’s grandfather, Seymour, passed away. It wasn’t a total shock — his health had been on a slide for the last few years, worsening in recent weeks — but he wasn’t hospitalized at the time, and you can never really prepare for the still sudden-seeming void left by a loved one who leaves.
Becca’s uncle, Bruce, found a note that Seymour had apparently composed during the final days of his life. I took a picture of it on Seymour’s desk, sitting alongside an old letter addressed to him in Rockville Center, where he lived most of his life, as well as a fragment of a photograph of Bernice, Seymour’s wife and longtime life partner. It makes a pretty poignant visual vignette, I think.
The note reads:
I TRY TO SEE THE WORLD AND REACT TO IT THROUGH MY PHOTOGRAPHY —
LIGHT IS THE KEY TO THE WORLD AND SEEING IT HELPS ME FEEL I AM PART OF LIVING — AND BEING ABLE TO CHANGE THE WAY I CAN LIVE — NOTHING EVER ENDS AND I CAN ALWAYS BE PART OF IT — AND MAKE A PERMANENT RECORD OF IT — MY OWN RECORD THAT CAN CHANGE —
Clearly, Seymour saw himself through the lens of a photographer. As those who knew him know, it was photography through which Seymour chased his muses, adored his family, and framed many moments of extraordinary beauty. Speaking at the service for Seymour, Becca noted his penchant for pronouncing beautiful with a strong E in the middle, which gave it a nice effect. I always enjoyed it, especially as spoken in his gentle, semi-hoarse, post-Yiddish New York accent. Strikingly, many of the most BEAUTYful pictures Seymour took were of utterly ordinary things — the miracles of the blowing clover and the falling rain, or kids playing street hockey in Hell’s Kitchen.
A few years ago Seymour asked me if I was interested in his and Bernice’s record collection. It was taking up too much room in their house, especially among the dozens of boxes of photographs, and no one ever listened to them anymore. I gladly accepted and have been hauling several hundred extra records around ever since. It’s a wonderful collection, ranging from post-war exotica and Judaica to the classical canon (and considerably beyond) and painting a complex picture of a certain sort of ad-hoc aural heritage, dimensions of which no doubt will develop and deepen as I listen through it all — and wonder about how it sounded, & what it meant, in a Long Island living room many years ago. I’ve wondered aloud about this before, and, in tribute to Seymour, I’ll be re-running that post next, followed by another long-stewing and overdue episode of Musical Travels with Seymour and Bernice.
So long, Seymour. Thanks for the record(s) —
THAT CAN CHANGE —
A few things to add to my recent post about graffiti in Mexico City —
Tambi√©n te mando unos links de los libros que nuestra editorial tiene actualmente sobre arte urbano hecho por mujeres, haber que te parecen, ah√≠ tambi√©n viene textos m√≠os sobre el arte urbano en M√©xico y su relaci√≥n con problemas de g√©nero.
Desbordamientos de una periferia femenina:
And while we’re on the topic of awesome online flip-page book scans (check that first URL above), this is a fine time to share a link to a flippy version of Tomo, the art/architecture/design magazine edited by some of the same DF denizens who were crucial in making the event an event (or a series of them). I’m happy to report that my post on graf en La Ciudad has been translated & excerpted to run in the latest issue of the magazine, devoted to Postopolis DF. Looks sharp!
Finally, I want to append to the discussion another resonant passage about all the writing on the walls in Mexico. This comes from John Ross’s “phantasmagoric” history of Mexico City, El Monstro (p. 145-6):
Painting walls was a Mexican art even before the people had a name — ancient caves from one end of the country to the other are enlivened with prehistorical glyphs. The Toltecs embellished the walls of their short-lived empire with painted images of the gods. The Mayas decorated the chamber of their dead emperors with messages to the future. The Aztecs daubed the snake wall that fortified their sacred precinct with fantastic serpents. The messages advertised on these rough canvases often depicted the gods’ predilection for the peoples who had painted them and the peoples’ heroic supremacy over their hapless enemies.
Obreg√≥n needed walls to get the message out. He would turn them into billboards for the revolution. Jos√© Vasconcelos, his secretary of public education, had those walls.
Armed with Obregon’s largesse, the secretary of education contracted a trio of hotshot young muralists to stipple the walls of public buildings with revolutionary icons: Diego Rivera, just back from Paris; the stern and doctrinaire Marxist David Alfaro Siqueiros; and Jos√© Clemente Orozco, an explosive visionary. Of the three, Rivera was physically and temperamentally the most prominent. Over six feet tall and close to 300 pounds, with bulging eyes (his beloved Frida referred to him endearingly as mi sapo — my toad), Diego would cast a ham-fisted shadow over Mexican art for half a century.
Since my first trip to Mexico City, I’ve been struck by graffiti in DF — the amount, the quality, the style.
From everyday tags to stencil ads, grand pieces to snarky jests, locally steeped and globally conversant, the ubiquity and diversity of graffiti in DF is quite stunning, as a few flicks from last week attest–
Of course, the stencils above, especially the Upper Playground logo at the end, show how graffiti as hip-hop practice shades into what increasingly travels under the banner of “street art” / “arte callejero” as it dovetails with explicitly or hybrid commercial ventures (including DJ Ali’s promotions as well). Along these lines, it was interesting to notice that UP also puts up wheat pastey posters around town (or at least around “las zonas super nice” como La Roma, where I spotted this). Given these emerging practices, future studies of graffiti in Mexico will no doubt need to reevaluate the degree to which these techniques are inherently “transgressive” or exist outside of the market.
The convergence between graffiti, street art, art worlds, and commercial ventures — an increasingly contemporary phenomenon in cosmopolitan cities worldwide — offered a frame for the 2nd session I arranged at Postopolis! DF. I invited the people who run Upper Playground DF / Fifty24MX Gallery, Liliana Carpenteyro and Arturo Mizrahi, as well as two of the artists with whom they’ve worked, Saner and Wendell McShine, to come and talk about what they do and how it fits into the larger institutional matrix for art in DF (which is, of course, HUGE — Mexico City is brimming with galleries and museums). I liked the idea of hearing from both Saner and Shine, since they represent the gallery’s professed desire to exhibit both local and international artists, more or less equally — or “50/50″ in Lili’s words.
By bringing this hybrid venture momentarily into the center of our discussions, and including artists/practitioners as well as curators, I hoped we might dig into some pressing questions about how DF functions as an incubator for innovative art and how transnational commerce (increasingly?) fits into the picture. (Watch the panel here.)
In her presentation, Lili emphasized the ways that UP/Fifty24 supports local artists while boosting their profile by bringing in talent from abroad. She also foregrounded the degree to which their projects took place in public, outside of the gallery/store space, such as the painting of a bus by Seher, Sam Flores, et al. en la plaza Lu√≠s Cabrera.
I would have liked to hear a little more about how Upper Playground DF, and its location in La Condesa, specifically served to reach a certain (and perhaps new?) clientele / audience. For as with DJ Ali’s parties in Polanco, UP/Fifty24 seeks to invite young people into art (including hip-hop’s artistic forms) through the draw of hip urbanity (or as the parent UP website puts it, by “representing progressive urban lifestyles”). Upper Playground DF — and Upper Playground more generally — is clearly betting that the “naco es chido” renewed appreciation for Mexicocity (if you will) will continue to stimulate contemporary art and commerce in the City.
Such an approach, not coincidentally, also manages to appeal to big international brands, and hence helps to fund such efforts. Obviously, introducing such a commercial angle is not uncontroversial. Some ideologies of authenticity in the art world and in certain schools of hip-hop strongly privilege economic autonomy and disdain corporate involvement or commercial success. (Notably, while discussing his own work and trajectory, Wendell McShine offered an interesting perspective on the question, pointing out that he had started in the more mundane and commercial world of animation but has sought to “crossfade” his work in that realm “into the art world.”)
Lili’s response to a question about this quandary was straightforward. As reported by Tomo (and edited/translated by me):
Question to Lili: What would the scene be without corporate support?
Lili: Well, it is seeking support from all sides. The money may come from the State or from trademarks. A billboard on Masaryk [the chic commercial strip in La Condesa] can cost up to 90,000 pesos a month. It is better supporting artists.
Like graffiti itself, the presentation about Upper Playground DF raised some contentious questions about how to make art public and “free.” An interesting addendum is that Lili’s partner at Upper Playground DF, Arturo, told me later that selling spraypaint is the big money-maker for the store, suggesting that graffiti in DF remains as much about on-the-ground practice as anything:
For some observers, Mexico City presents “a limitless canvass of concrete awaiting artistic reform” and today’s graffiti artists join a long line of critical practitioners of “el gesto primitivo,” including 16th-century dissidents who taunted Cortes with carbon etchings on the white walls of his palace in Coyoac√°n; for others, it is simplemente illegal, a sign of urban blight and disrespect. The latter camp view graffiti artists as the ubiquitous visual equivalent of squeegee men at stoplights — public molestations that should be cleared from the streets (as Giuliani Partners recommended to DF back in 2003 — though, clearly, DF’s anti-graffiti unit is making little progress). But as reviled as it is in some quarters, graffiti has also occasionally — and prominently — received official sanction from the city, such as for the work of Neza Arte Nel (fotolog | youtube) or the repainting of the boundary walls around el Estadio Azteca.
It’s no coincidence that Tom√°s Brum’s magazines are centered on graffiti, as opposed to MCing, DJing, b-boying, etc. Or that TT Caps carries a nice coffee-table book on the history of graffiti in Mexico —
During his presentation at Postopolis, Brum asserted that “El brazo m√°s fuerte, visible y que m√°s me gusta del hip hop en M√©xico es el grafitti.” (“Graffiti is the strongest and most visible branch of hip-hop in Mexico, and the one I like most.”)
As a student of hip-hop’s global diffusion, this is not exactly a revelation to me. It’s remarkable how often graffiti (or breakdance) is the form of hip-hop that first seems to take hold in places outside the US (which suggests that visual / non-linguistic forms are more easily embraced and localized). Films like Wild Style and Style Wars have clearly left their mark in Mexico and continue to inspire, even, oddly, when they inspire people to tag their titles around town using rather little style at all —
Interestingly, many of the histories of graffiti in Mexico I’ve come across point to Tijuana as the first frontier for the form in Mexico, as Tijuana quite literally serves as the northern frontier, the border to the US. This is an interesting point, as it implies that graffiti was transmitted more strongly (and quickly) person-to-person rather than via the flow of media. If that’s the case, the paths of hip-hop in Mexico differ in some interesting ways from the more common global hip-hop trajectory whereby films such as Wild Style or Breakin’ provide the first artifacts (and de facto instruction manuals) in places outside the US. Of course, such a narrative — as opposed to one that situates graffiti in the broader local contexts of Mexico’s great muralistas and the Tenochtitlanian taunters of Cortes — allows the practice to be viewed, and dismissed, as a fully foreign import.
Given this discursive backdrop, it was not surprising that most of the questions for Saner revolved around whether or not he was a vandal or a criminal. Before meeting Saner on Thursday, I was pleased to actually spot a few of his tags around town. Despite his success in galleries, he clearly remains active on the street:
To the question of how he labels himself and what he does, Saner responded: ‚ÄúSolamente hago lo que me gusta, no me etiqueto. Ni tampoco quiero etiquetar.‚ÄĚ (“I just do what I do. I don’t label myself, nor do I want to label.”)
Some considered this (reasonable and commonplace) answer a copout, an evasion, or worse, some disingenuous deception. In the halls at El Eco, I encountered some strong, if whispered, opposition to Saner’s embrace of the mantle of the underground artist. I was told that his commercial success (including a sold-out series of pricey vinyl toys for Kid Robot, exhibitions at Pictures on Walls in London, and invitations to paint in Europe) belies any real commitment to being underground (regardless of the gestures toward ephemerality and unobtainability represented by burning his work at the Border Gallery).
Obviously these are complicated questions, but grappling explicitly with them — and thinking about the economic and institutional ecosystem for young artists (especially those steeped in street art) in DF — was precisely my point in organizing this session. The same questions could easily be posed to another talented local artist, Seher, a sometime collaborator with Saner, and another favorite of Upper Playground DF, who has also enjoyed some commercial success tattooing vinyl toys and partnering with companies like Volvo.
One thing I feel the need to say, however, regardless of this vexing (but inescapable?) imbrication with commerce, is that the work these guys do is, to my eyes, just utterly fantastic, captivating, provocative, and rich. I know there’s not really any way to bracket issues of enmeshment in commerce, but somehow a consideration of aesthetics, of form and content and zeitgeist, too often gets sidelined when we attend to such “contextual” factors as $$$. It would be better — and a more truly holistic aesthetic approach — to somehow bring the two into dialogue with each other. I’m afraid we didn’t have the time in our session — 15 minutes is but a blink — but another reason I wanted Saner and Shine in on the conversation, is that I was hoping we could speak to issues of form and style and why it is that graffiti-related art seems to resonate so strongly in the arenas of high art as well as in the hybrid world of art & commerce that seeks to market “urban progressive lifestyles” even as it makes crucial space for young, contemporary artists.
My final guest at Postopolis, Said Dokins, brought some trenchant thoughts to bear on all of this. Said has been praised in global street art circles for his work, but he is no Banksy-come-lately. Said has long been deeply engaged with the local graffiti scene, among other efforts producing a book about female graffiti artists in DF, and he also places his work in the storied tradition of anarcho-critical muralists in Mexico City, some of whom are his mentors and teachers.
He is also rather thoughtful — and self-consciously so — about the work that he does, and the work that it does (culturally and politically). For his presentation at Postopolis, Said delivered a strong statement about his art and how it expresses ideas about urban space, dystopia, power, subversion, and, among other specificities, how the omnipresent symbol of the skull in Mexico might represent the tragedy of history. (I quite like the idea of Benjamin’s angel of history wearing a m√°scara de calavera.)
Allow me to quote a passage that seems particularly relevant to the central questions of this post:
Desde que hago graffiti mi relaci√≥n con lo no autorizado, con el acto ilegal ha marcado muchas formas en las que opero, trato siempre de salirme con la m√≠a, de hacer lo no esperado, de estar en el l√≠mite de lo legal. En el caso del avionazo, no hab√≠a una intenci√≥n de acci√≥n directa contra del sistema hegem√≥nico y el poder en un acto de choque, si no m√°s bien aprovechar para que desde el sistema, es decir de los mecanismos de validaci√≥n establecidos, ya que el proyecto en s√≠ mismo fue apoyado, actuar como agente que de alguna manera se√Īala problem√°ticas pol√≠ticas y sociales, a trav√©s de la burla, infiltrando el desorden.
Since I do graffiti, my relationship with the non-authorized, with the illegal act, has marked many ways in which I operate. I always try to get my way, to do the unexpected, to be on the edge of legality. In the case of the plane crash, there was no intention of direct action against the hegemonic system and power through an act of shock, but rather to benefit from the system, from established mechanisms of validation, since the project itself was supported — to act as an agent that somehow fingers problematic political and social issues, through mockery, infiltrating the disorder.
Given Said’s indisputably radical, if practical, attitude about his art, it’s worth noting that the first comment on Saner’s post about his Kid Robot success is from Said himself:
ESO ES CHINGAO!!!! A HUEVO BANDE EN CORTO!!1 YEAH!!!
And while it’s tempting enough to stop there, I can’t resist adding yet another pregnant pic to the pile:
This is painted on the wall outside the HQ of the Partido Popular Socialista (PPS) on Avenue Obreg√≥n, portraying the work of portraying the workers! It’s quite an image, especially the way it leaves one to imagine what on earth might fill the thought bubble beside the graffitero’s head.
Clearly, despite several valiant attempts to do so, the story of graffiti in Mexico City and Mexico more broadly is still being written (whether in books, at blogs, or on walls). The form and practice has undoubtedly been Mexicanized even as it continues to be influenced by waves of worldwide wild style and street art, and it is inspiring to see how Mexican artists continue to navigate local structures of support and opposition as well as opportunities abroad for the sustenance of their work and their lives.
Whether the trend toward a kind of commercial hybridization exemplified by Upper Playground DF makes a greater impact on graffiti in DF than, say, post-Guiliani anti-graffiti squads, sin duda, remains to be seen. (Or is that unseen?)
The great irony of Postopolis!, as fellow blogger Nicola Twilley observes, is that the intense, consuming nature of the event itself tends to preclude much blogging about it. Add to the 60 or so presentations packed into 5 days the bewildering and inviting charms of Mexico City, and you’re lucky to make a virtual
peep tweet at all. (To their credit, the Tomo folks made a valiant effort at live-blogging.)
But 140-char chunks hardly do justice to the immersive experience of Postopolis DF & el Districto Federal. So I’ll be taking a few posts to recap of some of the best things I heard, saw, and ate. And I heartily recommend checking out similar efforts via los blogs de mis colegas queridas: e.g., Regine, Daniel, Jace.
This antinomy, if I may, between realtime and online is somewhat appropriate given that Postopolis, despite its bloggy roots, seeks to recognize the importance of asynchronous internet discourse while creating a temporary space for material experience, immediacy, and the face-to-face sociality that the blogosphere generally lacks. This goal was achieved last week in DF, with bubbly success I think, and it was unlike any sort of event I’ve even been a part of. (“Conference” wouldn’t begin to describe it.) This is due in no small part to all the local partners of Storefront and Domus, namely Tomo, El Eco, and all the awesome architects, artists, students, y toda la gente who stopped by.
The other thing that Postopolis does well — again mirroring the blogosphere’s criss-crossing modes, media, and methods — is to offer, as former Storefront head and now Domus editor Joseph Grima put it on the first night in DF, “a transversal reading of a city.” Having held Postopoles in New York and Los Angeles, Mexico City seemed a fitting and exciting choice for such a project. It’s an immense city, a “megacity” as they say, and, without a doubt, an American capital with few peers (S√£o Paolo and previous Postopolis sites, New York and Los Angeles, spring to mind). If one finds David Lida’s recent chronicles of Mexico City persuasive, one might go so far as to call it “the capital of the 21st century,” given that, as Lida argues —
Mexico City isn’t so much loaded with poor as it is brimming with people slowly struggling to scratch their way out of poverty. The improvised and informal nature of the community is emblematic of the way a megalopolis functions. Most people in Mexico City — indeed, most people in the world — live in a place much like it. (53)
Crucial to our grand endeavor of producing such a “reading,” of course, were the 60 or so invited local guests who offered up the grist for our bloggy mill. From architects and photographers to sewer divers and human rights activists to experts on the history of grain and water in Mexico (City), I think it’s safe to say that the bloggers curated up one hell of a transversal portrait of DF’s diverse dynamism, of el Monstruo‘s seemingly unending series of distinct but overlapping worlds — as well as its imbrication with other worlds across space and time.
Indeed, when my own guest, 2phase, a DF-based rapper and producer, invoked Tlaloc as the sky threatened to open up on us, it seemed a poignant gesture to the wider worlds we inhabit. Mexican rap? Sho nuff —
As I’ve explained previously, it was my aim, given the awesome power of invitation, to assemble a slate of guests who might help sketch out how hip-hop makes space for people working in its forms in the City, how it helps to constitute a scene or set of scenes, how it enters into commerce and local institutions of various sorts — basically, how it manifests and represents, to employ some apt rap parlance. Mi colega Regine Debatty, of We Make Money Not Art, is being generous when she asserts that I “drew a picture of Mexico’s hip hop and street art culture.” But I do feel that, together, mis invitados and I — with the constant & indispensable assistance of Camilo Smith — were actually able to scratch through some surfaces over the four sessions I presented.
The first discussion I hosted was maybe the liveliest, thanks in particular to the entertaining riffs of Tom√°s √Ālvarez Brum, a local hip-hop impresario who publishes two graffiti magazines, Rayarte and BlackBook, and perhaps more importantly, runs TT Caps, a hip-hop shop in El Centro Hist√≥rico that sells pertinent books, magazines, spraypaint, t-shirts, CDs and DVDs — often on consignment for the artists producing them — and includes a tattoo parlor to boot. The store also hosts readings (incl for this, which I picked up) and live performances. Clearly, TT Caps — and Brum more broadly — is central to the scene in many ways.
Brum is a total character, and I’m sorry I don’t have the video to share (or review) at the moment; I’m hoping they’ll all be viewable soon thanks to Domus. I’m also sorry that so much of his talk went over my head, as he was speaking some rapidfire and at times rather chilango Spanish. Take this bit conveyed by Daniel Hernandez, for example, which, significantly, seemed to receive more laughs and RTs than anything else Brum said:
Discussing the hip-hop subcultures of Mexico City with Wayne Marshall, Tom√°s Brum Alvarez of Rayarte, a D.F. graffiti magazine, broke down the lack of public space and media outlets in the city for hip-hop nacional. While doing so, he made a pointed dig at the old guard at El Chopo, whom he argued are resistant to incorporating hip-hop into the scene there. He referred to himself jokingly as a "choposuario," and then said, no, he's an "artes√°ngano."
Couldn't help laughing out loud. "Choposuario" is a compound slangism that describes the graying old rockers who still guard El Chopo like it's some kind of countercultural holy grail (which it is), but also connotes a kind of nostalgic delusion for the old days of the tianguis — which is now almost 30 years old. But artes√°ngano was totally new to me. S√°ngano is another slangism that describes a lazy figure who leeches, or hooks others into doing his will. So what's an artes√°ngano? An artesano, artisan seller, who hustles without shame? Whatever its intended meaning, I'll definitely be using it when inspiration strikes.
Brum was joined on stage by DJ Ali of Masare Records, who I wanted to bring into the conversation as someone using hip-hop to tap into other sorts of commercial channels — among others, sponsorships by the likes of Rane and Serato, not to mention local brands and institutions, and residencies en las zonas “super nice” como El Polanco o La Condesa. Importantly, while Ali may in some ways leverage hip-hop to support his commercial efforts, he also quite clearly leverages these efforts for the sake of local hip-hop. I was told by several locals that Ali is a stalwart booster of the scene, constantly shining light on local MCs and creating opportunities for them to perform.
As an interesting contrast/complement to Brum’s daily grind, Ali promotes hip-hop in DF by staging grand events such as the I <3 Hip Hop concert he put on last November, for which he brought Jazzy J all the way down from Brooklyn. The event, as noted in my walks around La Roma, continues to enjoy some “street team” style promotion —
Since Brum and Ali were able to speak to a certain level of institutional scaffolding for hip-hop in Mexico City, I was hoping that a second session on hip-hop, involving practitioners at the level of performer/producer, would help to flesh things out further. And I think that 2phase and his Poblano labelmate Lil T’ko — in conversation with Camilo — did so with panache and detail.
Because he grew up in Chicago, I was able to follow 2phase a lot better than Brum or Ali. Several years ago 2phase relocated to Mexico City (if I recall correctly, he was born there), to attend audio-engineering school, picking up some skills that have been instrumental in his success as a producer and as someone now running a studio that aims to serve a clientele beyond the local hip-hop community. His own transnational experience is typical of the “cholo rap” scene in which he participates, connecting Mexico proper to trans-border Mexican sites such as Chicago, California, and Texas.
2phase and Lil T’ko, before closing with a rousing rap that may have been an energetic high for the Postopolis! stage, discussed the ins-and-outs of running modest record labels, putting on shows, and sustaining their careers as artists and producers. Camilo did a fine job of interviewing, asking 2phase to elaborate, at one point, on what he meant by “mainstream” in Mexico/City. (He meant: on radio or TV.) Among other things, I was thrilled to hear 2phase talk — without any prompting — about DLing music production software and watching how-to’s on YouTube, especially since these very activities keep cropping up in my present project on music industry in the age of internet. Although they spent more time discussing local, material efforts than those in the virtual realm, they’ve clearly got their MySpace game on full-blast (note that 2phase’s page lists DJ Ali and TT Caps as friends). To wit: even the mixtape they handed out at the end of their presentation has its own page.
One interesting question from the Postopolis audience was concerned with how some of 2phase’s peers from the same audio engineering school he attended can’t seem to get jobs doing punk or rock work, and yet, 2phase has managed to sustain a career and build a burgeoning label, studio, and production company around hip-hop, which is by all accounts a smaller and far more marginal scene than rock or punk (indeed, the words underground or subter√°neo got thrown around plenty in our discussions). Interestingly, this suggested to Camilo that marginality may have its upsides. As he wrote to me via email, “hip-hop is marginal in the D.F. music scene, but at least these guy can carve their niche, thanks to that.”
Margins are spaces of their own — & it can be easy to lose sight of that.
But if hip-hop still remains in some ways marginal or underground or subter√°neo in Mexico City, graffiti is quite the opposite. Graffiti is everywhere. It transcends hip-hop, tattooing toda la Ciudad —
My next recap will build on this post to discuss how graffiti relates to and departs from the local institutions of hip-hop in DF. Hasta entonces —
Next week’s Postopolis! DF happening is shaping up to be super stimulating and utterly exhausting. The schedule has been posted, and it boasts an array of guests that range from art/design-world titans to a dude who’s been diving DF sewers for three decades, and pretty much everything between and beyond.
The diversity of participants is really quite stunning, and I’m especially looking forward to encountering perspectives and practices well outside my typical spheres of interest. Should be a mind/myopia-blowing event in that way. But I’m also excited, obv, about some of the guests that strike closer to home, such as those invited by Jace, to whom readers need no intro, or by Daniel Hernandez, a DF-dwelling journalist who writes an excellent blog and is just finishing up a book, which I’m keen to read, about the “emo riots” that went down a couple years back. (In fact, I think I discovered his blog because of his coverage of anti-emo violence in Mexico.)
I’m very interested in the way that something like “emo” (especially broadly construed) or, closer to the heart of this blog, tecktonik or jerkin find their way to Mexico, not to mention how or why they resonate and what kind of cultural work they do. I would have loved to find the right person to represent TCK MEX or even some Z√≥calo flaneurs to come down to El Eco and, come se dice, baila bn chidO xD
I didn’t have much success there, however, maybe because, basically, TCK has already come and gone. (Ah, the ethnography of ephemera!) Also because YouTube mirrors are not great gateways to actual people. And perhaps p/q this too: despite bloggy appearances, I still really need to work on my chatroom Spanish. At any rate, I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears out while there, and I can’t wait to pick Daniel’s brain about how the discourses and practices of “emos” and “tribus urbanas” in DF might shed some light on how YouTube dance culture is itself received and reshaped in La Ciudad.
That said, as I reported in a previous post, I did manage to find a great group of people to come and share some of what they do with us. Allow me to recap and expand on that initial announcement, complete with dates & times for those of you who will actually be in town.
If that’s not enough, I’m also going to be playing music no fewer than 4 times over the course of 5 days. Sounds nutso, no? But when you’re asked to warm up rooms (or calentar motores) for DJ /Rupture at various clubs in and around Mexico City, alongside other good friends who are great DJs, you just don’t say no. At least, I don’t. So here’s how that’s breaking down, FYI —
And that’s it. ¬°El fin! Not sure that I’m going to be able to do much of anything else, much as I’d like to explore new corners of DF once again. Oh, there’ll be some fieldtrips for breakfast and lunch and such, but, man, this is gonna be one tight schedule. ¬°V√°monos!
Readers of this blog should know my love for Mexico City by now, so it‚Äôs with great pleasure that I announce my participation in Postopolis DF! A 5-day conference-conversation on urbanism in one of the world‚Äôs most amazing cities‚Ä¶ In other words, if you were thinking of coming to DF this summer, now‚Äôs a great time‚Ä¶ And don‚Äôt worry gringos, vamos a tener realtime Spanish-English translation for y‚Äôall. It‚Äôs going down the second week of June, June 8-12, at El Eco‚Ä¶
I didn’t write this either:
From 8-12 June 2010, Storefront for Art and Architecture, in partnership with Museo
Experimental El Eco, Tomo and Domus Magazine, will host the third edition of Postopolis!, a
public five-day session of near-continuous conversation curated by some of the world?s most
prominent bloggers from the fields of architecture, art, urbanism, landscape, music and design.
10 world-renowned bloggers from Los Angeles, New York, Turin, Barcelona, London and
elsewhere will convene in one location in Mexico City to host a series of discussions, interviews,
slideshows, presentations, films and panels fusing the informal and interdisciplinary approach of
the architecture blogosphere with rare face-to-face interaction.
Each day, the 10 participating bloggers will meet in the magnificent courtyard of Museo
Experimental El Eco, designed by Matthias Goeritz, to conduct back-to-back interviews of some
of Mexico City?s most influential thinkers and practitioners ‚Äď including architects, city planners,
artists and urban theorists but also military historians, filmmakers, photographers, activists and
musicians. The talks will be conducted in either Spanish or English, and translations will be
available. Each day of talks will end with an after-party hosted by some of Mexico City?s most
influential music blogs.
But I’ll be writing a lot while there, no doubt. (They’re turbo-charging the internettings at El Eco for the occasion.) And I’m really excited about how my slate of invites is coming along.
Not surprising to readers here, I’ll be staging a conversation (or two) around hip-hop in DF. Minding that the conference is concerned, in a rather capacious way, with questions of space and design, I’m aiming to focus on what we might consider hip-hop’s institutional embeddedness in Mexico City. Mil gracias to my man on the ground, Camilo Smith, a former writer for the Source and the LA Times (and smokingsection!), who’s been grinding in DF for the past year, looking hard into the local hip-hop scene(s). Check out this post on transnational “cholo rap” for a taste (or see the comments here).
With Camilo’s help, I’m plotting to bring in an assortment of MCs, DJs, and other practitioners as well as people who are directly involved in manufacturing, distributing, and, in a variety of ways, producing hip-hop there (in the form of shows, CDs, magazines, etc.). I’d like to ask questions about what it entails to run an independent label in DF, how the spaces where shows are held and music is exchanged fit into the larger music/media topography of the city, what’s the character of the interplay between locally and foreign produced stuff, not to mention, at the more symbolic level, how questions of race and place come into this. We’ll see how much of that we can jam in / tease out over a couple 15 minute blocks!
Camilo also turned me on to some striking visual artists working in the city and making stuff that really resonates with other longstanding curiosities of mine. One such, who I’m thrilled to announce is confirmed for Postopolis, is Said Dokins, whose work is very much in the vein of contemporary subversive street art which finds deep inspiration in graffiti style and practice. Take for example the recent piece, “Avionazo en la Plazuela,” a project pasting paper planes in the Plaza del Aguilita in Mexico City which the artist describes as “a satirical reflection on the mechanisms of threat and power in which we are engaged, the political farces and scenarios created at the expense of the suffering and disruption of others”:
…whereas ‚ÄúRe-Birth‚ÄĚ a work of video art produced w/ Mauricio Rodriguez takes flight from graffiti culture in a totally different way —
Another artist who Camilo pointed me to, and who I’ve confirmed for Postopolis, Trinidadian ex-pat Wendell McShine, also works in mixed media, including video, like this evocative short:
The video above is apparently a sketch of some sort for an ongoing series called “La Puerta Abierta.” It’s clearly inspired by a lot of classic Mexican iconography, and yet it takes some wonderful departures too, drawing on some shared cosmological ground between Mexico and the Caribbean. McShine recently had a showing of another part of the series, “Behind the Blue Door,” at Gallery FIFTY24MX | Upper Playground in Mexico City. The following video account of the opening drew me in with the Slum Village intro; the evidently enthusiastic response his art is getting in Mexico City is impressive —
This article about McShine’s work led me to an interview with the folks who run Upper Playground Mexico. Some of their comments at the end of that interview, where McShine’s art is described as combining “animation, illustration and fine art with a mixed Caribbean-Mexican feeling” made me really wonder about how we can talk (concretely?) about making contemporary art inspired by national folklore (whether it’s one’s “own” nation or not) without, as the Upper Playground people put it with regard to another artist, “falling to clich√©.”
But let me back up a bit, the artist in question is Saner (glossed as a “graffiti artist” in the video above) and what they specifically say about him is that he’s “one of the few Mexican artists that explore our countries [sic] folklore without falling to clich√©.” I couldn’t resist looking into Saner’s work of course, and it’s hot like fire (sometimes literally).
So I’m psyched to round out my invited speakers with the trio of Wendell McShine, Saner, and Lili Carpinteyro, one of the head honchos at Upper Playground Mexico. I haven’t quite figured out, as with the hip-hop invites, how best to parse all of these fascinating intersections, but I’m looking forward to the challenge — and to the privilege of enjoying such (humbling) power of invitation!
Finally, it should go without saying that I can hardly contain myself in anticipation of the other 50 or so fascinating folks who’ll be coming through and sharing some aspect of what they do. Click through my esteemed blogger colleagues’ sites for their own announcements in the coming days and weeks —
Urban Omnibus (Cassim Shepard) www.urbanomnibus.net/
Intersections (Daniel Hernandez) www.danielhernandez.typepad.com/
DPR Barcelona (Ethel Barona Pohl) www.dpr-barcelona.com
Toxico Cultura (Gabriella Gomez-Mont): www.toxicocultura.com/
Tomo (Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa) www.tomo.com.mx
Mudd Up! (Jace Clayton aka DJ /rupture) www.negrophonic.com/
Edible Geography (Nicola Twilley) www.ediblegeography.com/
We Make Money Not Art (Regine Debatty) http://we-make-money-not-art.com/
Strangeharvest (Sam Jacob) www.strangeharvest.com
Suffice to say, if you’re in Mexico City, or have some way to get there, you should definitely join us for this. Seems like it might even rise to the level of amazingness that makes DF one of my favorite places in the world. This’ll be my third time there in three years. ¬°Que suerte!
Ok, back to that odd mezcla of rusty Spanish brain and Google Translate as we continue making plans…
Postopolis! DF is organised by Storefront for Art and Architecture, and presented in partnership with El Eco, Tomo, and Domus. Additional sponsors include Mexicana, the British Embassy, Urbi VidaResidencial, UNAM, Difusi√≥n Cultural UNAM, Cityexpress, and XXLager. Special thanks to the organizers: Joseph Grima, Daniel Perlin, C√©sar Cotta, Jos√© Esparza, and Blog Non Stop.
The students in Elizabeth Stark‘s class at Yale this semester, “Intellectual Property in the Digital Age,” have put together a wonderful 24-minute documentary on “borrowing culture in the remix age,” including some really smart, confident, eloquent, and creative people (though I’d have liked to see some browner faces in the mix). Anyway, do check it out; it’s worth it for the mindblowing Eclectic Method intro alone —
Dr. Lakra in his studio — photo by Daniel Hernandez
I’ll be playing some music tonight at the Good Life, from 9-11, as part of the afterparty of the opening of a new exhibition at the Boston ICA, the first US solo show of the work of Dr. Lakra. A tattoo artist who goes well beyond the canvas of skin, recently extending to vintage pin-ups among other pregnant texts, Lakra’s work is really interesting and provocative, gathering influences and styles from all over, and I’ll be doing my bestest to offer something in the way of sonic counterpoint. (Smearing guacharacas on unlikely audio partners seems one possible route, but I’ll take less obvious paths too.)
“It is particularly fascinating that Dr. Lakra began his career as a tattooist and treats paper like skin,” says Friedhelm H√ľtte, the [Deutsche] bank’s Global Head of Art. “He makes use of images from popular culture in a very unique way, combining Appropration Art with folk elements. By ‘tattooing’ and overpainting 1950s glamour photos and nostalgic postcards, Dr. Lakra transforms them into bizarre studies of beauty, Eros, and transience.”
Indeed, at the core of his output lies the concept that any surface-literally, any at all-can be tattooed. Which is precisely what he does: on dolls, on coffee cups, on vintage magazines and posters that he digs up at flea markets, on any “skin” of his choosing. The result is what Mexican art theorist and longtime friend of Dr. Lakra, Mariana Botey, calls “displacing meaning in the chain of industrial cultural production.”
“Lakra has a very sophisticated understanding of popular culture,” Botey says. “In particular with certain kinds of low culture, where issues of taste are marking an interesting class subaltern structure. So there is a kind of logic in his work that makes him one of the best in the genre.”
In other words, as Lakra himself puts it, “low” vintage pin-ups and advertisements become altered time warps under his tattoo gun and border on the “high.”
“It’s the transformation of the object,” the artist says. “It is something that someone for whatever reasons considered valuable, or wanted to save. So the person saves it, archives it, and it acquires this other value.”
The ICA show runs from April 14 to September 6. The Good Life jam tonight is open to the public. Come on out & tattoo the floors with your feet.
I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from. I represent like that.
wayne at wayneandwax dot com