Uprising Art is media partner of the first edition of the BIAC, Biennale Internationale d’Art Contemporain de Martinique, that takes place between November 22, 2013 and January 15, 2014 and which theme is « On the Resonance of the Literary Outcry in the Visual Arts ». For this need, Uprising travels to the Martinique from November 19 to 26 to report on the event and conduct a series of interviews of the organizing team, the invited curators, the artists in residency and the artists from the International and Martinican Pavilions.
Follow us to know more on the backstage of the event and its main outcomes.
Exclusively an interview of Holly Bynoe
Artist, curator and co-founder of ARC
Curator of the Pavilion of Martinique for the BIAC
Uprising: You are curating the Pavilion of Martinique: how did you select the participating artists?
Holly Bynoe: Before being commissioned by Johanna Auguiac-Célénice to oversee the production and the curatorial framework of the first incarnation of the BIAC, I invested a few months into developing a working relationship with most of the contemporary artists working and living in Martinique, through a relationship that ARC Magazine developed with the DAC (Ministry of Culture).
I had two working visits prior to my commission and was able to engage and meet with a wide range of local creatives. In February 2012, I had my first working visit with the curatorial team en masse and had numerous studio and collective visits with about 30 artists over the course of a week. This was a dynamic assessment, which lead to an initial long list of about 20 artists who were invited to participate formally in April to the BIAC’s open theme. Due to previous commitments and availability, we wound up with a final list of 10 artists who lend a comprehensive perspective to the nature of Martinican art as it stands today.
Professionally, I would have loved to work and engage with more artists in different capacities but given the logistic constraints (exhibition space), political motivations and interests (partner institutions), and economic limitations we were only able to work with a handful of local artists. I am hopeful that the follow up event in 2015 will present an even greater dynamic range of works that speak to the interconnectivity of the region and how we are working to break down artificial and falsely enforced boundaries.
Uprising: Are all the artworks new ones, produced specially for this first edition of the BIAC and are they a result of the artists’ interaction with the general theme of the biennial “De la resonance du cri littéraire dans les arts visuels”? Or did you also include former pieces?
HB: In the open call we stipulated that we wanted each artist to respond to the theme, and as such we found it crucial for the Martinican artists that the platform of the BIAC could offer them a space to create new works and deal with ideas that may in other ways have no definite platform.
The majority of the works in the local pavilion are new with the exception of some works included that were already referencing the theme and call heavily. Due to the nature of Cesaire’s legacy of Negritude and all of the other literary stalwarts that have risen from the French West Indies, it comes as no surprise that visual artists have been responding to issues of malleability, identity and the cultural implications of truth.
For example, Gilles Elie-Dit-Cosaque’s short film ‘Zetwal’ (2008) is an imaginative documentary, which tells the story of local legend Robert Saint-Rose’s attempt to propel himself to outer space through the poetry of Césaire. The story speaks to the long-standing impact of the writer’s artistic and political work, and his négritude ideology on a population still recovering from the effects of slavery. Cosaque re-edited Zetwal specifically for the exhibition, and its truncated timeline of 9 minutes is drastically reduced from its original 52 minutes – telling an altogether different story. Works by Elizabeth Colomba, who is virtually unknown in Martinique, will be showcased for the first time in the country. She will be exhibiting two older paintings and one large work entitled ‘1492’ in response to the theme.
The remaining participating artists have been working over the last 4 months to bring their proposals to life, and include projects which re-imagine and reconsider landscapes, tragic histories, absurdities and the politics of being and living in a complex 21st century.
Uprising: How did you, yourself, as the curator, integrate this theme in your conceptualization of the local Pavilion?
HB: I used the theme very loosely to develop a framework for the call for works. I wanted to ensure that this wasn’t read or interpreted in any linear or reductive manner, and that the resonance of literary arts in work can in fact originate from numerous sources – from Derrida to Benjamin, Senghor to Woolf. Due to our oral traditions in the Caribbean it was important for me to not only think about personal development, but also the rich history that Martinique has with prominent writers like Fanon, Glissant, Chamoiseau and Césaire.
It was worrisome to see how the centenary was celebrated; Césaire became a mythological and oversized figure in public spaces. It became problematic to have set outlets which rendered him as a sort of dictator/glorified figure which was set to honor his legacy and life’s work. The BIAC’s theme served as a framework for me to organize an open invitation that valued how truth, fiction, myth, history (oral and aural), and interrogations can offer up new narratives that are bolder, truthful, complex and contradictory.
In essence I feel that In Flux attempts to offer another perspective that starts a level of critical thinking that is so very important for our evolution and creative community’s development.
Uprising: Could you give us more insights about your curatorial approach to the Pavilion and what motivated it?
HB: Curating an exhibit on a sister island is laden with many fears and hesitation. I felt an open connection to most of the artists, and knew for this to work I would have to engage with overcoming the fear of being an outsider working in a territory that was foreign, with a wide range of inaccessible material – foreign literature. After the first work visit, all of these ways of thinking about my entry became unimportant and the work experience that I developed as a publisher gave me a way to remain neutral while keeping objective and open to artists’ concerns.
In Flux, a double entendre, speaks in essence to the fluidity that is innate to the space in which these artists work, and how that filters into the construction of ideas and their lives. This exchange is transformed depending on artistic ingestion: cultural, philosophical, poetic and social.
As a means of marrying influence and imagination, In Flux creates a pathway to think about and reflect upon each artist’s unique and idiosyncratic vision, which mirrors the changing landscape of the archipelago and its contents.
Uprising: Did you seek to particularly involve the diaspora in this pavilion? This has often been a key point in your practice and actions (ARC, curating experiences…).
HB: The only artist that is supported in the local pavilion who comprises the diaspora is Elizabeth Colomba, I don’t include Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque because of his working relationship to Martinique. I have worked with Colomba on previous ARC related projects. First, on issue 3 in 2011 and earlier this year at VOLTA NY, where we presented her work at the art fair in New York City.
She had always expressed interest in returning to Martinique as an artist and introducing the local public to her paintings, which are truly phenomenal – form, subject, and aesthetics. It is of serious importance as cultural thinkers in the region that we keep looking outwards in order to understand how the world continues to be shaped and what new connections we can make that would broaden our scope of thinking, being and experiencing.
My curatorial and editorial work with ARC is in fact, this. With a publication it becomes important to solidify certain boundaries and even more important to break them. To remain relevant we have to look at it all, and my practice involves being more aware of current art practices that also lie outside of geographic constraints.
We cannot speak about the development of a visual arts industry in the Caribbean without a significant buy in from artists, institutions and foundations throughout the diasporas. At the end of the day it boils down to what you can access to become autonomous – funding, material, expertise etc.
There is a need now more than ever to involve artists and professionals of the diaspora in the conversations and make cultural institutions; academics, curators, cultural centers and foundations understand that the Caribbean is shifting in terms of its relationship to contemporary visual arts.
Uprising: What place will be given to performance or video in this pavilion?
HB: Video art and New Media works have constituted the brunt of my curatorial experience for the last 3 years. I work annually as a curator with the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) producing New Media and tend to set my affinities to artists who have an interdisciplinary practice.
I would say that 4 out of the selected 10 artists are using video and/or performative elements in their projects in a very fine way. David Gumbs has been exploring the nature of interactive art and his project Soleil Magma and I am excited to see the way he chooses to engage with the public as a director of the project, and even more interested in seeing the way the technology will morph to accommodate an idea that is sure to grow and transform.
Other artists are using video, sound and images as supporting investigations.
Uprising: Are many emerging artists included?
HB: 10 artists have been selected for the pavilion, including some established artists like Christian Bertin, mid career artists like Bruno Pédurand and Hervé Beuze, with the majority of the selection focusing heavily on younger contemporaries like David Gumbs, Elizabeth Colomba and Shirley Rufin.
It became important for me to find a way to orient my interest with the younger artists who are frequently written out of larger local projects. Based on the selection, you can see that my focus lies heavily on the support and dialogue that can be fostered with this generation of artists who are often practicing outside the normative ideals that existed in generations previously.
David Gumbs for example will be presenting ‘Soleil Magma’, an interactive video installation which will broach the idea of participation and include a performance piece on the opening night of the Martinican Pavilion. Taking his work as an example, the artist is using a very personal experience growing up in a tropical landscape, but now subverting the imagery through the use of mimicry and mistrust. Soleil Magma’s heat and playfulness speaks about a current experience and providing a platform for experimental works is crucial to the value of this project.
Uprising: Currently, what are the dynamics that can be highlighted in Caribbean contemporary art?
HB: I don’t consider myself an expert in the field, nor do I have an intensive history with Caribbean contemporary art, yet I feel at this time there is a certain energy and effervescence present throughout the organic and natural way that artists are responding to their surroundings and the circulation of images and ideas that encompass their daily lives.
I don’t consider this unique to the region or significant to Caribbean artists only, but the way in which this circulation has impacted on the region since its birth does say so much about how we deal with multiplicity, interbeing, and the rhizomatic qualities that have constructed the subterranean essence of our Caribbeanness.
Uprising: In the Caribbean region, several biennials already exist (Cuba, Aruba, Dominican Republic…); in which way can the BIAC contribute to the regional dialogue, and also extend further and access the international scene and a global dialogue?
HB: I think it is important to think of a location like Martinique, which exists discreetly in the Southern Caribbean, as a robust and powerful site for an international arts biennale. It is important to look at the other models that exist to figure out how we can engage with dialogues that run parallel, but also think about ways to inject new conversations into the mixture. These larger biennales exist around a model that is now current. Here we are given the chance to experience and engage with more dynamic structural issues which can lead to a spontaneous linkage of works and people that can be engaging, new and one that expresses or answers to the needs of this space.
I think with any new biennale, we have to always question the need and the relevance of the programming prepared. Is it answering to a larger cultural call – how can we use Martinique as a deposit site and a laboratory to investigate new trends and methods of operations?
Uprising: You regularly curate exhibitions or are involved in film screenings; you are also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of ARC Magazine. What are your commitments in your curatorial and professional practice?
HB: I use my curatorial practice as a means to revise and showcase the way artists are working to reconsider their placement and voice in this world. Professionally I am working towards becoming equipped with the skills needed to put in place a sustainable practice for arts administrators, curators, scholars, critics, writers and artists, in order to start a Foundation to foster a healthy, nurturing environment for creative disciplined work.
Uprising: You are also an artist, working mainly with photography; isn’t it frustrating to put aside your own practice for the moment? Do you wish to go back to it?
HB: I have taken a hiatus from my creative practice to think about ways in which I can develop the visual arts industry across my networks. Right now, I feel this is more important than my own selfish creations. What would the end point of this creation be if we don’t have productive ways of sustaining our individual practices? For me it was more logical to think about developing policy, scholarship, and other means of protecting our art works which means dealing with the back end of a creative practice.
I wish to go back to my practice, and will once there is a need; in that way I am practical.
Uprising: According to you what are the main challenges Caribbean art must face and overcome to succeed in imposing itself on the international scene and art market?
HB: There are several things that lie in opposition to the Caribbean art industries’ inclusion into an international market, or for it to be considered a credible and valuable thing to support. The problems include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Lack of education – proper curriculums in high school, the availability of affordable BFA and MFA programs, fellowships, governmental and private sector funding, and the availability of scholarships and workshops to further education and skills development;
- Lack of policy and cultural bills to add value to the visual arts industry through the development of legislation (national and regional), residency programs to further integration, and the development of Museums and National Galleries;
- Lack of a functioning creative ecosystem to drive the production of work;
- Secondary investment in works created by artists – the lack of collectors and a culture that values work;
- Lack of professionalizing the arts industry – artists are often unaware of what it takes to reach the market. Having experience with larger institutions, appraisers and professional developmental tools would encourage ways to rethink models of outreach.
These are just a few primary hindrances that prevent us from accessing an international market and thus achieving sustainable practices. I hope through the programming developed with the BIAC that we can speak more about practical ways to combat this, while encouraging artists to think about new ways to envision their livelihood.
Uprising: What are your upcoming projects?
HB: ARC Magazine has just released its 8th Issue and we will be working to present the project at Art Basel Miami Beach. I have been invited to be a curator at Transforming Spaces 2014, in Nassau, The Bahamas. ARC will be working more closely in the coming year with The Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., and other informal artist initiatives across the region and internationally. In September will be curating the 4th incarnation of New Media, and we are currently in talks with institutions in NYC, Senegal, Miami, Toronto and London to develop special programming and exhibitions that will affect ARC’s ability to develop sustainable long term programming.
On the flip side of that I am hoping that my work with the BIAC will enable me to build connections with other art professionals, which will impact the trajectory of my emerging curatorial practice.
By Clelia Coussonnet
Headline picture’s credits : Portrait. Image courtesy of Nadia Huggins