Wednesday, June 20, 2007

B'Us (part 1)

Throughout our presentations and workshops the artists in Bishkek had one major concern. Money - money to make art and art that would make money. First off, Ji and I wanted to get the point across that you don’t need a lot of money to make art - it starts with the idea and concept and realizing that concept with the available resources. This point was illustrated by the work done by street artists in New York City and other major cities throughout the world. Artists use inexpensive material like chalk, packing paper and balls to create public art and as a result received notoriety from their peers and the art world at large. Ji also explaining that although he did not make money directly from his bubble project he did so indirectly. He was hired by his present employer because of the bubble project and was in Bishkek because of the bubble project. These are some of the points we wanted to get across when we created B’Us – making something out of nothing for very little money.

In the B’Art courtyard was an old soviet-era bus, which was used as storage for material artists no longer needed but didn’t want to throw away. It had no engine and the tires were flat so it wasn’t going anywhere. It was a shell of its former self. We wanted to make it useful again. As it turns out, a lot of the contemporary artwork coming out of Bishkek is video art. So we decided to transform the bus into a screening room which will showcase the work of Bishkek artists as well as artists from all over the world.

The interior design was inspired by the local transportation - both public and private. The interiors of the small mini buses that transported people all over the city were completely covered in monochromatic carpet, usually black, with curtains covering all the windows. In contrast are the cabs with brightly colored mismatched fabric covering the seats and sometimes the interior walls.

The fabric selected for the B’Us is of Uzbek design. It was selected because the colors reminded some of the young artist of the colors of the US flag – which made a connection to them and us. The interior walls and seats were covered with it, except for the curved ceiling which made the interior look somewhat like a yurt. The B’Art TV and video equipment was used and the B’Us was unveiled at the reception showing one-minute works by artists all over the world.

B'Us (part 2)

B'Us (part 3)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bishkek Street Art Project (Part 1)

Kendal and I wanted to achieve two things during our trip:

1. Work with the artists and volunteers in Bishkek to create a new identity for the Bishkek Art Center, previously known as the City of the Artists.

2. Create a public art project relevant for the people in Bishkek.

We were in a great shape with our first objective. We had the new name, a great logo and many creative ideas for B'Art (Bishkek Art Center). We still didn’t have any idea for the public art project. Here was our challenge: It had to be inexpensive (less than a few hundred dollars), easily executed within three days, and accessible to the general public (something simple and visual).

I started to look at the streets for any inspiration: Walls, garbage cans, ads… typical things any city offers. I wondered, “What is unique about the streets of Bishkek?” The answer was found on people. I realized many people on the street were in a squatting position. While it’s a rather uncomfortable position for most of people in the West, squatting is a very natural position for people in Kyrgyzstan. They socialize, relax and wait while crouching down, with their knees sticking up. They even do their business in bathrooms squatting, a nightmare for people who are not used to it.

For people in squatting position on the streets, their vantage point is low, so I wanted to create a piece which was small and placed low on the streets. But what?

Bishkek Street Art Project (Part 2)

One of the main events in the recent Kyrgyzs history is the coup d’etat, which took place in 2005. Also known as the Tulip Revolution, a popular uprising leaded by Bakiev–the current president of Kyrgyzstan– forced the corrupt president Akayev to fleed the country, thus starting a new government. This revolution, which was backed by CIA, was a violent and traumatic event for the country. Thousands of people invaded Akayev’s presidential palace, looted shopping malls owned by Akayev’s family and destroyed private and public properties. Akayev fled the country in a rush aboard his helicopter.

I talked to several Kyrgyzs about this event and I realized the images of the looters carrying TVs, sofas and clothing out of the stores are still very much present in their consciousness. There was a sense of shame the whole world saw such a low point of their country.

Irony is that many believe the current president Bakiev is as corrupt – if not more corrupt – than the former president. As in most of the revolutions throughout history, we see the pattern of history repeating itself: The oppressive and corrupt power is ousted by opposing party who gain the popular support and ultimately the governing power by promoting freedom and justice. Once they’re in power, the exploitation, the corruption and the abuse of power start again. Think about the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Cultural Revolution in China and more recently, Chavez in Venezuela.

Bishkek Street Art Project (Part 3)

Bishkek Street Art Project (Part 4)

Based on these events, I created a series of small horizontal posters showing one-eyed tiny creatures carrying objects belonging to human, such as cell-phones, ipods, shoes, spoons, and so on. Higher above them, there is a flying helicopter with an American flag, carrying another one-eyed creature. A pair of boxing gloves is tied to the helicopter. The creature is meant to portray the new president Bakiev fleeing the scene by an American helicopter. It’s a well known fact that Bakiev is an enthusiastic boxer.

The illustrations in the poster are done deliberately in the style of cartoons, thus seemingly funny and harmless, however, they offer a much thoughtful interpretation. Cartoons are great vehicle for social criticism precisely because they seem so innocent and fun. Think about the Simpsons. It can only get away with its social and political commentary because it’s a cartoon.

The mini poster shows the parallel between the worlds of tiny-creatures who are looting humans’ belongings and the humans who are looting each other. It refers to the coup d’etat of 2005 while hinting the possible future as dissatisfaction with the Bakiev is growing among the Kyrgizs.

I observed the reaction of several passersby after the posters were placed. They stopped and looked and wondered with curiosity. Through an interpreter, I asked what they thought about the poster. Some asked: “Who are these creatures?”; “Why are these creatures carrying these objects?”; “I think they’re fleeing from a disaster.”; “Why is this guy in a helicopter?”; “Why there’s an American flag in the heli?”; “I think this is an American who’s coming to save them.” There were many interpretations I didn’t even think about. And that’s the beauty of art. Once it’s done, once it’s out there, it breeds a life of its own. It’s the observers who give the stories and its life.

The passers may not see the political connection in the small posters, which is perfectly fine. The fact is that for the most of people in this country, the idea of public art is associated with bronze sculptures of some communist political figures standing in the middle of a square. So, this kind of street intervention is something completely new for them. What’s important to me is that these posters stop them from their daily routine and invite them to think and use their creativity as an individual, something they are not used to do, due to many years of communist anti-individual regime.

Bishkek Street Art Project (Part 5)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The B'Art

The Party

A couple weeks ago Ji and I arrived here a little jetlagged but excited about being here and working with B’Art: Bishkek Art Center (previously the “City of Artists”). We didn’t know what to expect or what we had to produce. We did know that we would be giving lectures, conducting workshops about public art to young artists who didn’t know anything about public art was. At our first meeting with Shaarbek he expressed the need for a new and fresh identity, collaboration between the young and established artists, a public art project, and a program to encourage the continued growth and development of B’Art: Bishkek Art Center. It all came together in a fantastic event.

I Heart Bishkek

A few months ago I didn’t know a place called Bishkek existed. When Susie emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in working on a project here I had to Google and Google Earth it to see where it was. Thought I got a sense of the geography, the mountainous landscape, and history from the search engine, I didn’t a sense of the people and it’s the people that make this place most incredible. The Kyrgyz are beautiful, kind and generous. The short time we spent here has produced life-long friendships.