Artist Talk at AAF

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Toye Gbade Oloyede, Ayoola Gbolahan and Esther Polak.

In the afternoon a group of about 15 people gathered at the AAF. The idea was to discuss the NomadicMILK project in depth, as there never seems to be a chance for this during an opening.

I decided to start the “Artist Talk” with a short introduction to my work. I showed some slides of other work and explained how the NomadicMILK installation was inspired by the history of landscape painting and by the conceptual and land-art of the sixties and seventies.
After this introduction we experienced the installation for about 20 minutes.

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Akinwolere Muijiwa and Fatai Adewale

We started the discussion with some questions about how the robot works, and how the mono prints were made. As they do not resemble familiar spray-paint pieces, but rather photographic images, I had to explain the technical details about how they were made. The atmosphere of a true “Artist Talk” is established.

Heymann Ogbem: “What I like about this exhibition is that it makes you an actor and a spectator. I never thought about recalling my tracks before, let alone having to explain my routes. You can follow the man as he is tracing his track, all by himself. It takes him through a precise process that you can follow. You are really in the field. Imagine if you would be able record all of your tracks: that would be a new form of expression.”

Ayoola Gbolahan: “Did you ever track animals? I imagine with animal tracks the result gets more abstract.”
Esther: “Ivar and I did a piece on sheep this year in Scotland. We tracked grazing sheep and a dog rounding them up. The result was indeed a more abstract piece.”
Aisha Idirish: “This is a new medium to approach landscape, with GPS. Are there other artists working like this? Or is it just you?”

I cite some examples of other artists working with GPS. I feel it is important to present the medium as one with many different possibilities.

Heymann asked about the milk and agricultural contexts, about the main differences between European and Nigerian cattle rearing, and whether the milk tastes different in the two places. I explained that the main advantage of working with cows in Nigeria was the meaningful role of mobility in the West African situation. Although the Zebu cows are much better adapted to tropical conditions and look very different, the Nono produced tastes the same as European yogurt.

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Ayoola Gbolahan, Esther Polak and Noah Shemede

Heymann suggested that technology makes all the difference. If the same technology would be available for the Fulani they could produce in the same, European way.
I try avoiding this well-known discussion, since I am neither an agricultural scientist nor do I have that ambition. But there is no easy way out: Heymann again says, “As your art stems from this fancy technology… the project might ignite another consciousness about technology all together…” This is probably true. But does that make me, as an artist, responsible for all of possible effects that participating in the project might bring to the participants? I never took it that way.

Heymann points to the prints: “In the end you are a painter and this all takes us back to the paint and canvas. This is where you are now on the canvas. But how far can it go beyond this? Do you foresee it going any further? If I have one hundred of your works, am I going to have hundred lines? Where will you be in 30-40 years?”

I explain: “For every project so far I have developed a new form of visualization. I don’t think that I will use this exact robot visualization again for any other project. It was specifically developed for this project, because we wanted to be able to show the tracks to people who live outdoors. As more time passes the use of GPS will become more and more wide spread, and this is a new development that I will incorporate in future projects. So I know the visual outcome will be different, because this will be a different starting point. As long as the technologies are in the process of change, there is a basis for new approaches. It is very difficult to predict what kind of role the technology will play in society in say ten years; consequently it is also very difficult to predict what course GPS as artistic medium will take. But hopefully my work for the coming 30-40 years will relate to this in different ways.”

Okechukwu Uwaezuoke: “Shown to a Dutch audience, the people might think that this is what Africa looks like. But Africa is so diverse. You can find these people, the Fulani all over West Africa. There are Masai who live kind of the same way, but different. You are doing this work as an artist, not as an journalist. You have the artistic license to show what you want to show. But people might take it very literally. Maybe before you show it, you must give a brief talk… to the audience…”
Akinwolere Muijiwa: “To prove what? I don’t understand what you mean. To tell them this is not about all Africa?” (Laughter)
Okechukwu: “The real question is the clarity, of what the project is actually trying to say. I was more making a comment, not asking a question. There are two attitudes in the West: either very patronizing about Africa, or just a distorted image. We all know that.”

Ivar: “But if you now imagine seeing the project without any explanation, and you would take it literally, what would or could your conclusion be? And how terrible is that?”

Okechukwu: “For me that would not be possible. I know already about these people and how they live. So I am aware that the information is incomplete.”
Ayoola Gbolahan: “I still think some real information before the show starts…”
Ayoola: “But this is what she did. She explained. What she was saying was that it all had to do with movements. All was about the movements of the milk. It started I the city, with import of milk.”
Okechukwu: “Excuse me, people will only understand that if they have an understanding of the project as an artwork. Here for example we are a selected audience.”
Toye Gbade Oloyede: “You can’t control perception. If you show it to a zillion people, you will get a zillion interpretations. I get comments like this a lot. When I shoot [pictures] I like to go out in the creek, go out in the gutter and shoot. And when I come back, and I show my images … People come and tell me: look, why don’t you go and take pictures of people who are wearing suits? Go to the bank.”
Ayoola: “This is the problem of Africa.”
Everybody talks at once.
Akinwolere Muijiwa: “I think there is a balanced view in this project. There is an image of the Fulani but also of the people in the city. The story is not about the Fulani, it is about the milk. It is not about Africa per se.”

Esther: “I want to emphasize that I never experienced the Fulani people nor the truck drivers as validating existing prejudices of people in the West on Africa. I experienced them as very knowledgeable, self-conscious and as having a strong agency about their own lives. Of course there are always people who, when they see somebody with a cow, immediately think this person is stupid. Probably all over the world people from cities will look down on people from the countryside. We have that in Holland as well. I don’t know about your experience as an audience, but what I find telling is that during the workshop the participants seem to forget about the camera, about the microphone, even about this strange robot. It is their life put on stage, and they react accordingly. They all have a different perspective. And I would hope an European or African or any audience picks that up.”

Aisha: “Maybe for me it would be a solution if you could give the feeling of this is a particular place, give it a name. That would differentiate.”

Yemi Olakitan: “Yes, where exactly are we in Abuja? That’s what I mean.”
Esther: “Do you would think it would help if I said: this is in Kuba, Abuja?”
Everybody: “Yes! Exactly!!!! That would prevent from a feeling of generalization.”

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Aisha Idirish, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke, Bob Nosa Uwagboeand and Yemi Olakitan

Ayoola: “You exhibit the piece, you take a lot of effort. What do you want people to get out of this artwork?”
Esther: “For me it is about mobility and how that differentiates in the experience of space. I did not particularly want to show Africa or Nigeria, but I was interested in this location because of the complex patterns of mobility. When we did the project on sheep in Scotland, nobody asked whether we did justice to Scottish sheep farmers. People mostly just asked why I work with GPS. But as soon as I started working in Africa, I was questioned about ethics. I experienced that as telling: Africa is not seen as just another part of the world where you can work as an artist freely. But that confrontation only made me more determined to just do so.”

Toye explains about the workshop he did recently with Dutch artist Lino Hellings at AAF. http://www.papaplatform.com/?cat=8
“During the exhibition of the workshop results some people asked: why is it only pictures of poverty? But I am wondering: this in Ikoja, Lagos, we did not even go into the suburbs! This is just images of any other street corner. For me art is about truth. Of course you can also take pictures of nice cars in Lagos streets.”

Ayoola: “We are artists. We try to do our work from our state of mind. If you are a cameraman and you go somewhere thinking ‘why is this place like this? This is my pain,’ all you capture will be pain. Another one goes to Ikoja as well and snaps all the Bentleys there. That is also available and it looks glamorous. It is the state of mind of the artist. It is not the view of the place. You can take shit and you can take nice. Europeans know that Nigeria has Rolls Royces as well. Trust me, haha.”
Everybody speaks and laughs.

Esther: “I still want to know what you think of the work as a form of landscape depiction, just from an artistic point of view.”
Bob Nosa Uwagboe: “Five hundred years from now, will we still work with painting and canvas? What you are suggesting is that that might change. Is that right?”
Esther: “Yes.”
Ayoola: “I think it depends on the medium. About the video, if Esther says, ‘in the medium of video art, this is landscape’, than I agree this is true. If Esther says, ‘in the medium of digital art those monoprints are landscape’, that is also true. But for me the monoprints do more to represent the feeling of landscape than the video.”
Akinwolere: “You made those prints in the tradition of art objects. That I like. You should really try to sell them. Not only for the money as such, but to make this kind of work sustainable. If it takes you two years to raise funds for this in Europe, it will take 100 years in Africa. It is a great thing to be independent.”

Present:
Toye Gbade Oloyede photographer
Ayoola Gbolahan painter
Esther Polak artist
Noah Shemede chief brother from Makoko (Lagos fishing community)
Heymann Ogbem painter
Aisha Idirish, painter
Okechukwu Uwaezuoke art critic/editor
Bob Nosa Uwagboe artist/painter
Yemi Olakitan journalist/media consultant
Akinwolere Muijiwa painting /installations
Fatai Adewale painter
Ivar van Bekkum artist/photographer
Francis Okoduwa filmer/AAF staff

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