Archive of posts tagged with "art"

January 6th, 2016

Arcademish Ish

Last year I published a couple reviews that land somewhere between the realm of ethno/musicology and music criticism — a netherworld I obviously like to explore. One piece engages with the multimedia work of Arca; the other with a cheeky French rap video. One appeared in an academic journal devoted to Latin American art and literature; the other in a museum in Europe alongside an installation of the video and other critical commentary (and then, in an actual book). See below for links and excerpts.

Marshall, Wayne. 2015. “Contortions to Match Your Confusion: Digital Disfigurement and the Music of Arca.” Literature and Arts of the Americas 48(1): 118-22. (PDF)

“Día de los Muertos,” a mix released in late October 2014 by Houston’s Svntv Mverte (aka Santa Muerte), a DJ duo with a name invoking “Mexico’s cult of Holy Death, a reference to the worship of an underground goddess of death and the dead,” opens with an ominous, arresting take on reggaeton. A moody, flickering bed of synths struggles to spring into action before the snap of slow, syncopated snares whips up a perreo-worthy dembow over a bassline so deep that its pitch seems negligible, indeterminate, a force more palpable than audible. As the low-end nearly collapses under its own weight, an upper register synth slices through the atmosphere, soaring and faltering, more Icarus than Superman. The haunting but hopeful lead flutters across a foreboding sonic landscape, ghostly trails of reverb in its wake. A bittersweet tune, it could be cloying but for its warbling, almost pathetic qualities. Instead, a poignant frailty undercuts the digital promise of perfection. The baleful melody traverses a shifting ground of textural breaks and freaky filters, shimmering as it shape-shifts. Remarkably through-composed for loop-centered music, Arca’s “Thievery” seems as committed to repetition and rhythm as variation and development. As such, it is an excellent opening for a set, and a fine introduction to the distinctive sound of Arca, aka Alejandro Ghersi. …


Marshall, Wayne. “Who Deserves It?” Seismographic Sounds: Visions of a New World, Theresa Beyer, Thomas Burkhalter, Hannes Liechti (eds.), 54-5. Bern: Norient Books, 2015. (HTML)

… Low-fi but slick, Charni employs repetition, rhythm, and simple but delirious digital effects to furnish Banane, Waltaa, and friends with Tumblr-esque cascades of free-floating objects of desire: cash, weed, sportswear, nostalgic devices like skypagers and flip phones. Also, French fries and kebab. And faces – many faces, often close up, showcasing a crew as motley as proletarian Paris. They are so fresh that their fashion and facial gestures, in the hip register of the day, appear as flat in affect as their vintage clothes are crisp. Less like they’re looking into a camera than a mirror, or a smartphone. …

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January 17th, 2012

Portrait of the Young Girl as an Artist

Happy 4th birthday, you inspired/inspiring kid, you —

nico, signer of name
nico, drawer of cool "guys"
nico, drawer of cool "guys"
nico made a mad face
nico guy for fern
portrait of sheepy
millie's mom chasing millie in the park
nico draws a father/daughter pic!
Dear Daddy

You’re welcome, darling! Anytime…


April 15th, 2011

Talking Music & Media, Whirled & Jamaican, Self & Other

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).

Radio Berkman 178: Whirled Music

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:

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July 21st, 2010

Nothing Ever Ends


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:



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.

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) —

thanks for the records


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June 29th, 2010

More Writing on the Walls: Graffiti En DF Addenda

A few things to add to my recent post about graffiti in Mexico City


First, Said Dokins, one of my guests at Postopolis, writes to share some supplementary materials — in particular, documenting the role played by women in “arte urbano”:

También te mando unos links de los libros que nuestra editorial tiene actualmente sobre arte urbano hecho por mujeres, haber que te parecen, ahí también viene textos míos sobre el arte urbano en México y su relación con problemas de género.

Desbordamientos de una periferia femenina:

y La calle es de nosotras. La participación de la mujer en el arte urbano:

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!

Click on the picture below to view it flip-book style, or read selected articles right on the Tomo site, including mine.

my graffiti excerpt in tomo's postopolis issue

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.

Obregón needed walls to get the message out. He would turn them into billboards for the revolution. José 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 José 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.


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June 22nd, 2010

Speaking of Street Art…

this may be the best piece yet to appear on Modica Way, aka The Wall at Central Square



June 18th, 2010

Post Postopolis Unpacking, Part 2: Graffiti en DF


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–

as seen on the street in la roma

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.)

lili carpenteyro talks about upper playground
Lili presents as Saner (in plaid) and Shine and Arturo (right of picture) look on

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 Luís 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:

spraycan commerce

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 Coyoacán; 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 Tomás 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 —

DF rap/graf books

During his presentation at Postopolis, Brum asserted that “El brazo más fuerte, visible y que más me gusta del hip hop en México 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: “Solamente hago lo que me gusta, no me etiqueto. Ni tampoco quiero etiquetar.” (“I just do what I do. I don’t label myself, nor do I want to label.”)

saner takes a question

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.

said dokins shares his art
Said Dokins discusses his Avionazo intervention at El Eco

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 máscara de calavera.)

Allow me to quote a passage that seems particularly relevant to the central questions of this post:

Desde que hago graffiti mi relación con lo no autorizado, con el acto ilegal ha marcado muchas formas en las que opero, trato siempre de salirme con la mía, de hacer lo no esperado, de estar en el límite de lo legal. En el caso del avionazo, no había una intención de acción directa contra del sistema hegemónico y el poder en un acto de choque, si no más bien aprovechar para que desde el sistema, es decir de los mecanismos de validación establecidos, ya que el proyecto en sí mismo fue apoyado, actuar como agente que de alguna manera señala problemáticas políticas y sociales, a través 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:


And while it’s tempting enough to stop there, I can’t resist adding yet another pregnant pic to the pile:

portraying the workers

This is painted on the wall outside the HQ of the Partido Popular Socialista (PPS) on Avenue Obregón, 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?)

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June 16th, 2010

Post Postopolis Unpacking, Part 1: Hip-hop en DF


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.

postopolis at el eco

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 (São 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 —

2phase performs (as Camilo looks on) at Postopolis! DF

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 Tomás Álvarez 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 Histórico 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.

TT Caps

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, Tomás 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 "artesángano."

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 artesángano was totally new to me. Sángano is another slangism that describes a lazy figure who leeches, or hooks others into doing his will. So what's an artesángano? 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 —

I &lt;3 HIP HOP

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.

Camilo Smith talks cholo rap w/ Lil T'ko

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 subteráneo 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 subteráneo in Mexico City, graffiti is quite the opposite. Graffiti is everywhere. It transcends hip-hop, tattooing toda la Ciudad —

just another graf-filled wall in DF

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 —

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June 3rd, 2010

Plans to Postopolise My Time


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 Zócalo 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.

  • Tues 6/8 (7-8:30) — At some point during the kickoff evening, alongside my fellow blogger-curators, I’ll talk briefly about my blog and how it relates to what I do. Among other things, and speaking abstractly, I plan to highlight my interest in local institutions and translocal exchanges, the interplay between material and virtual cultures, and how various kinds of architectures and arrangements support and constrain the work my guests / collaborators / consultants are doing. More concretely, I’ll likely show some screenshots and YouTubes and talk about floggers and hip-hop.
  • Wed 6/9 (6:30) — In the first of two local hip-hop related panels (mil gracias to my man on the ground, Camilo Smith), I’ll be talking to DJ Alí, who puts on a lot of shows around town and runs Masare Records & Tomás Brum Álvarez, who puts out a rad hip-hop mag called Rayarte and is responsible for producing and releasing DF hip-hop.
  • Thurs 6/10 (4:00) — I’ll be talking to two visual artists, Wendell McShine and Saner, both of whom mix media and Mexican iconography (among others) in distinctive and provocative ways, as well as Lili Carpinteyro, one of the people behind Upper Playground Mexico, an interesting instantiation of an international venture that collides curated, contemporary art with cool commerce.
  • Fri 6/11 (5:30) — In the second DF hip-hop session, Camilo and I will chat with longtime local (but Chicago deportee) 2phase about making hip-hop happen in Mexico City, with a focus on spaces and access to resources and such, but also aesthetics no doubt.
  • Sat 6/12 (12:00) — My final guest is definitely one of those last-but-not-least guys: Said Dokins, among other things, makes public interventions in the shape of giant paper airplanes admired abroad as “street art at its best.” He’ll be talking about his recent piece el Avionazo of course, but also about something he calls “La máquina distópica de habitar,” along with some thoughts about graffiti, calligraphy, and calaveras (namely, how skulls stage death for the establishment of political regimes), or so he tells me.

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 —

  • Tues 6/8 — Postopolis! opening party hosted by Noiselab at Rhodesia, w/ Rupture & local guests
  • Thurs 6/10 — I’ll be joining DJ /Rupture and N-RON, again at the pleasure of Noiselab, at the CCE (Centro Cultural España)
  • Friday 6/11 — A non-postopolis party in neighboring Toluca w/ Rupture, N-RON, and Dutty Tally
  • Saturday, 6/12 — After all is said and done at El Eco, where some of us will throw down some tunes for the closing party, I’ll be playing a later-night party alongside Rupture, N-RON, and Taliesin again, this time in DF (place TBD)

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. ¡Vámonos!

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May 14th, 2010

¡Postopolis DF!

Readers of this blog should know my love for Mexico City by now, so it’s with great pleasure that I announce my participation in Postopolis DF! A 5-day conference-conversation on urbanism in one of the world’s most amazing cities… In other words, if you were thinking of coming to DF this summer, now’s a great time… And don’t worry gringos, vamos a tener realtime Spanish-English translation for y’all. It’s going down the second week of June, June 8-12, at El Eco…

Oh wait, I didn’t write that (though I share the sentiment). DJ Rupture did. Which is yet another reason that I’m totally thrilled to be a part of

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 – 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”:

click through for more images

…whereas “Re-Birth” 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:

EL PEQUEÑO LIBRO NEGRO from wendell mc shine on Vimeo.

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 —

OPENING NIGHT- BEHIND THE BLUE DOOR from wendell mc shine on Vimeo.

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 cliché.”

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 cliché.” 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)
Intersections (Daniel Hernandez)
DPR Barcelona (Ethel Barona Pohl)
Toxico Cultura (Gabriella Gomez-Mont):
Tomo (Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa)
Mudd Up! (Jace Clayton aka DJ /rupture)
Edible Geography (Nicola Twilley)
We Make Money Not Art (Regine Debatty)
Strangeharvest (Sam Jacob)

Oh and did I mention there’ll be evening events organized by local music bloggers, Blog Non Stop, and that I’ll be playing some 3-5 parties alongside DJ /Rupture and N-RON? (More on those later.)

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, Difusión Cultural UNAM, Cityexpress, and XXLager. Special thanks to the organizers: Joseph Grima, Daniel Perlin, César Cotta, José Esparza, and Blog Non Stop.

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May 14th, 2010

Walking on Eggshells

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 —

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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


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