THE NAME OF A THING | CROSS INTERVIEW
This sections opens an ongoing long distance cross interview between main collaborators Jacob Logos and Felix Bachmann Quadros. It also provides relevant information on the work process at the heart of this project.
Jacob Logos has a long heart felt affiliation with Aboriginal culture. An inherited interest in Aboriginal land rights from his Greek grandfather has provided Jacob with an artistic perspective and connection to the symbolism, the innate narrative, and the mystical nature of traditional painting and carvings. It is present in his art, and in his vision of life.
FELIX: You’ve recently finished working on a memorial marker set at an important location in Adelaide. How did you approach this work, and in what ways did your personal ideas managed to connect with the original intention?
JACOB: I was part of a group art exhibition at Adelaide Town Hall in 2014, ‘Historia’, explore the themes of Adelaide’s History. The Adelaide plains Aboriginal people, the Kaurna, were almost totally wiped out by white settlement here, and like most Australian Aboriginal tribes, for whatever reason, not much is widely understood about their culture. When you’re looking for topics to depict in Adelaide’s history, or Australian history really, there is no going past this one, considering the gravity versus our current level of ignorance, denial, and the ways in which our true history is obscured by the written accounts, which are still widely accepted as fact and taught in schools.
Names of places and streets have been given to Kings and Queens and wealthy land owners and explorers and politicians, and each time their title is spoken the power of their inheritance is unconsciously given to them like an offering of respect. This idea of ownership is the settlers legacy, conquered land, the expand and rule and right to claim.
I have settler ancestry, as well as more recent immigrant family ties, I was looking for the personal path into this long debate that would somehow legitimise my position. Naturally you want other people to see what you see when something is wrong, you want to make it better, through whatever means are available to you.
Firstly I explored Kaurna language translations, because I have often used words as visual elements in paintings. Language was topical at the time, the Kaurna Linguistic group was doing a lot of work to try and bring the language back from the void of colonial suppression laws. Also because language being the conduit into cultural knowledge, myth, legend, spiritual connection and eventually sacred knowledge, visual impressions and interpretations were fairly limitless. I discovered and contacted correct channels to obtain permissions to use Kaurna language in public with correct spelling etc.
My recollections of that exhibition and the process was that I perhaps pulled a lot of punches, because of what I thought was inappropriate for me to express at the time, I didn’t think it was constructive to present ‘angry’ or provocative images.
Three years later, the renaming of Victoria Square was being celebrated by the creation of a Kaurna reconciliation artwork, which was put out to tender by the City Council.
Adelaide was designed as a grid, by its Military designer, with Victoria Square at its centre, so it was an important piece.
At this stage of my understanding, I think the blame of the original atrocities of our colonial history are traced back and levelled at the Monarchy, the ongoing human rights violations are our own problem. Seems a logical start to a solution to lop off the head of the obvious culprit, find our own National Sovereignty as a way forward to identity and healing...
So I saw this as an opportunity to influence that change, and try to learn more about the Kaurna culture.
As a personal intention, I also wanted to use art to feed the diminished spirit of the site. If you are sensitive to it, there is an unmistakable heaviness or stagnation in the city, its not just me who’ll tell you that, I’ve consulted with a number of people in the process and over the years, all with fairly similar theories of why, and all with their own ideas of how it can be remedied. I tried a few trusted suggestions, but mostly used the same sort of heart felt principals I’ve practise in my painting for years. The imagery was developed with Aboriginal children from Adelaide, their own interpretation of language and cultural meaning. I didn’t talk much about what I wanted from them, they just got on and drew. At that stage I felt this was also a way of protecting the project from the intense emotion of other artists who I consulted with, which was, though understandable, intensely negative and potentially derailing.
The children have a chance to learn the truth now, re imagine what this place could be like in the future, and connect to their ancestry through language and art, and there is immediate power in that.
The final artwork which was installed in June this year was a much smaller version of the original concept, with the intention that it be extended in future works, with future budgets. Influences of compromise were imposed on almost every aspect of the project, and it was a fight most of the time, but I feel the original intention was protected throughout, and the work that is in the ground holds a strong and optimistic heart.
There exists now I can see, an immense potential for further research and action in the arena of cultural respect, truth and reconciliation. I just don’t think it can happen with the weight of a bureaucratic harness around your neck.
Perhaps with this lesson under my belt I can be wiser about how I approach it next time.
FELIX: You are a very profuse artist in generating imagery, reducing and idea to the symbolic or having the ability to reach the essential through detail. How do you relate to matter in your work and in this sense where are you in the natural progression of your evolution as a visual artist?
JACOB: I have had an objective out of body view of my painting or ‘image’ based practise over the past 16 months or so in the pragmatic and cerebral installation of public work and the absolute explosion of the parameter field that comes with working in that area. That period of self reflection has somehow brought me closer to the essence of what I am trying to get at as a painter. In some ways my nose was too close to the canvas, and too lead by the alchemy of learning and understanding material and process, which I like most painters love.
I have also questioned the efficacy of painting in the world today for being an accurate and authentic conveyer for what it is I am trying to explain. In this process of ‘stepping back’ from traditional large scale painting, I can see less of what it is I am after in a number of my paintings, I really don’t think I have scraped the dust off of it...
Interestingly I found far more of those ‘accurate’ markings in my sketch books which I have continued to fill over the last few years. This for me is an important analysis and it is of course effected by so many interconnected aspects of an artists life. It will drive the next phase of how I consciously choose to create, both in a vital material sense and also in the motivation to come closer to an accurate language of imagery, of self expression and the expression of the ‘thing’ of the idea.
JACOB: Internally, it seems many of Australia’s current political issues and often not in line with international perception.
With your background and professional practise being strongly and diversely international, Latin America and Europe… How do you see a collaboration of this type, particularly its ‘product ‘contributing to unfiltered, international communication -
FELIX: One of the first things that strikes me about the history of Australia its long past. Although I’ve lived almost half of my life abroad, I was born in Latin America. As a young boy I grew up with the impression that our continent’s history was only 500 years old, to then realise it was more like 5’000. The indigenous culture and history proved an astonishing find. In my adolescent I was a traveler. I used to take long periods of time to discover places and with an almost insatiable need to take in all what was around me. Pre-colombine culture had a strong impact on me, because it was like diving into an unknown force of human nature. A sort of access to ancient knowledge. And this was allowed. It was undisclosed, and everywhere.
Australia’s inhabitants have been there for about 40’000 or more. This is a very long breath of time in civilization standards. It preceeds our notion of history. For years I read about the songlines, the dreaming, about the political and traditional system that Australian aborigine lived with, about the populating of a vast territory, and their deep connection with their surroundings, nature and geography.
As we started talking about THE NAME OF A THING, and the importance of recovering the Kaurna language at the center of our work, I quickly realised my ignorance on the subject matter. Also that I was a foreigner, and that in many respects the dialogue of reconciliation is a deeply local (national) discussion. I was also surprised on how little is known worldwide about the history of Australia. How this discussion opens to our now globalised world is in part out of my very own interest. As humanity goes, our past is all of our pasts. It cannot be or appropriated. For it becomes shortisighted as an issue of financial and economical speculation: a thing attached to discussions about mining interest reather than human identity. Ancient knowledge belongs to all humanity.
As we come to understand the interconnectedness in our world, we understand as well the importance of our every action. Deforestation in the amazonian rainforest affects precipitation in Britain. Desertification and soil depletion in the Pampas has an impact in the cost of our dinner in Europe and infant mortality in Latin America. Leaching of an open- pit mine’s produce up in the Andes can affect an entire valley, produce massive migration, and blow up the levels of poverty of a country and an entire region. And this is not just a socio-political idea, it taps into the essence of how we live our life, and how we will need to adapt to living life today and the very near future. So in the same principle I feel the knowledge addressed in the reclaiming of the Kaurna language is of a universal worldwide interest.
What does the Kaurna language tell us about their vision of the world? How does it approach symbol? How does myth fold into everyday language? I am interested in the cognitive function of language, that which generates though process, and therefore is part of a system. But more importantly: how does the reclaiming of a lost language change the way we see and relate to the world.
A few years ago I met an African percussionist, who lived in Paris. He was working with linguists to rediscover lost dialects and languages of Africa through drumming. They would travel Latin America to find rhythms, beats and notes that gave clues to how certain African tribes would talk 400 years ago, long lost to the colonial slave industry.
Language is everywhere. It is written, spoken, or performed. Ancient greeks would dance a labyrinth, while Plato “walked” his classroom lectures. It contains information of our evolution, and it holds the key to our future as a human race. It is universal through particularities. The way we see the world and what words we used to describe it can allow us to grow but can also distant ourselves from the essence of life.
So for me it is also quite natural to collaborate in this way, breaking geographical boundaries is a need today, and I would add quite urgent. We need to see things from many different perspectives and find the common ground that holds our existence. And this is not something that can be answered through the imposition of hegemonic values, or economic traits, it belongs to the softer tissue of our existence. It is about giving value to things that are closer to our collective soul than to politics or geographical boundaries.
And on the subject of language, I am currently very careful when using the word “product” as way of formalizing an artistic output. Art has become very institutionalized, which means it requires for an artist to explain in depth what he wil do before he does it or be stemped for life by a degree in an artistic institution. For us looking on the sidelines, it seems we need to laid down each step of the way in order to fulfil minimum finantial status. So the word “product” or “production” is also a way of leveling down creative work to numbers, market, product, placement, and distribution. And when this happens we have lost the essence of our work as artist: in its center there is a process, and it is a lively one.
JACOB: Perhaps more than most, your work is presented across numerous languages. Where is your ‘core’ in terms of creative language? Where are you most comfortable, where are the restrictions, and what are your observations of the transformation of that work through its inevitable translations.
FELIX: I think it inevitable that creative output today happens through multiple languages. I’ve been on it since I’ve meandered my way into working professionally as an artist back in Buenos Aires and in London after the turn of the milenium. I see a story through multiple angles so letting this happen with others in order to find a common ground provides an “active” relationship with an audience. I mean active in the how of Gaston Bachelard viewed the truest form of sharing imagination not by delivering a formed image, but by knowing the image behind the image, open - ended. And this is what an artist does through his work: he moves back towards the origin of an idea, and in the process makes it available. What we see is process translated into form and a common language makes it accessible or “readable”.
I have always moved between creative languages and association of ideas to generate composition and then find its form. The “core” of my work lies in the association of ideas. Being able to receive an input and translate it into movement, colour, an image, a word. Incidentally, I have been interested in neuroscience for a while and the way our mind works. I was working on a project to the subject of memory for a virtual reality. Our physical hard drive is actually very small, but it is through synapse and the intangible association of ideas that images are stored and creativity accessed. Alexandrn Luria wrote extensibly about this on “The life of a Mnemonist”, having analysed a patient with total memory capacity for over 40 years. Take our capacity of association away, and it is like erasing our hard drive and our memory goes with it.
And the only way to keep our associative capacity active it to keep generating new associative patterns. If we instrument this type of understanding art today, through intangible translation of emotions, ideas, concepts or feelings, we can find new ways of generating cognition. As human beings I mean. In our evolutionary path. Not like Raymond Kurzweil’s “singluarity” moment in which we will become a lesser entity to computers (or artificial intelligence), but more towards the eternal consciousness to which we have, again and again through our history, been related.
As an artistic creation begins so does a movement towards an audience, and therefore this movement is somehow perpetuated through the process of creation.
I find myself very comfortable in several areas, but mostly when putting things into contrast, finding pitch and frequency, tone and energy. Words are a clear structure for me in this sense. When I write words vibrate. But I also access information through the moving image and the movement of the body. I constantly correspond things to others as a director or as an actor, through s film or contemporary dance. Because deep down in the dark corners of our ego we are all hiding the same things. Schopenhauer boils it down to the essential guilt of being born. Others turn to forgiveness. The great mexican writer, Juan Rulfo, who became a pillar of latinamerican literature with only two novels and a book of short stories, sustained that every human expression essentially deals with the same three things: love, life, and death. What becomes interesting is the subjective value, the how a particular person sees something. How we live things internally ad uniquely, and ultimately how this relates in a collaborative group and then an audience member.
But I am ultimately a very “un-comfortable” type of person: I enjoy a good glass of wine in a terrace to an interesting chat. But I am always going beyond. I am creative in the edge: finding new ground, but not loosing touch with the known aspects of my inner self. What has been won through hard work, failure and sure, some success.
I do believe however that to place one’s though on an issue is sometimes enough to provoke action. And as we know, action is the single most important element for a transformation to happen. Active imagination is an action, for example. So is contemplation, or even meditation. The amount of activity in silence, if you’ve experienced it, tends to its infinite reversal.
What happens through time when there is a sharing of a creative spirit through artists collaborating, is that the body of work continues to expand: it finds life in extraordinary places: in the intimacy of an audience member, in the dark corners of consciousness. And through this the form of an artwork evolves, transformation happens through a succession of changes and events. Transformation is a big word though. I don’t intend to diverge further into it right now. But the idea is simple: connect, be open to receive a stimuli, play, move, and give back. Transformation is a sport.
JACOB: On the Shamans role in preserving ancestral knowledge and understanding the symbols of mythology to communicate. We are dealing with concepts which are in many cases pictorial in tradition, and more often, purely conveyed through story telling. There is no doubt that cultural mythologies provide access to the collective unconscious, the global community, so how can we extend the scope the methods of this project to included, for instance, South American Indigenous culture.
FELIX: The most immediate response is that how we relate to our ancestral knowledge today is somehow less tied to scientific progress and more towards spiritual values. And this is true be in Australia and in Latin America where resources from the past linger as folklore. There is a prerequisite in understanding there is more to life than the everyday institutionalised entertainment infused - concrete business like transe we call reality. If we start accepting that there is a broader dimension to things we can perhaps start accessing other sources of vitality. But we need to get our heads out of the end of the 20th century consumerism paraphernalia that led to this our post modern pop like world today. The difficulty is that here’s a very strong mass of current keeping your head down. It’s a pornographic world with the means to numb your overexcited senses to mush.
Shamanism is having a bit of a resurgence today, as it is filling the empty center of our human experience. In the vain of William Blake’s “The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself.” A voyage. In Europe alone it has already become a bit of a fashion to attend ayahuasca ceremonies, a traditional medicinal ritual that is brought from Latin America. But if you allow yourself to go through the smoke of fashion, you can start understanding that there is simple knowledge at work, and that it is the shaman’s responsibility in preserving the vital relationship with our natural world, with our ancestry, and with the spirit or “other” world.
The figure of the shaman can access what other’s can’t see. We instinctively fear what is unknown or unseen.
The artist, for one, is of shamanic value through cathartic exercise. An artist processes information usually less interested in the commercial value of his activity but towards the existential need : to perform the artistic act. If we eat crap we’ll deliver crap. Like the worm. The curative value of our intake, be it food or imagery, is most certain for our survival and evolution.
So I also see that the role of shamans and the role of pure artistry access similar grounds. The trickster, for example, present in the mythology of every culture of the world, was the one who tricked the gods, but tricked all around in order to reach a higher ground of knowledge. A sort of clown to the western world, that is allowed to do what others can’t.
I have of recent come to think that I fundamentally live in a different reality to a lot of people. Life for me is not about making war or who’s fucking who. It’s not a class act. It’s the right and benefit to be alive and transcend to a higher state. So I personally kind of relate to it all. But I can also understand a different approach towards the mathematics of the lunatic life equation of the rich and poor, the subject and the subjected.
The shaman carries subtle and powerful knowledge from a time in which the level of community was much tighter. People worked together for the benefit of the other as much as the benefit of himself. And this is shared through ritual and the use of medicinal plants. Ritual requires a person to arrest the skeptical thought and move into experience. Repetition, chants, dance, breath, are all keys that open dimensions of perception. Certain words and certain tones open spaces within. Our capacity of living beyond our times is present in our DNA. We are made of threads of genetic information, but this is also cultural and mythical. Myths provide story at the ground of our culture: this is certain in pre-columbian Latin American cultures, as it is historically for the Greeks, the Far East, China or Japan. Everywhere. It is a global phenomenon our ancestry. We all come from somewhere. The Cretan Aegean labyrinth was a map of ritualistic movement and dance that folds and unfolds and might resemble our brain. Pierce through the texture of perception reality.
In many Latin American countries these rituals are practiced regularly, as they are seen as a communion to ancestry, the natural world, but also the discipline of the “folding of time”.
So we start realising that there are hidden common elements, that are accessed by a community: and that need to be resolved not only by an individual persona, but by the collaborative work - be it psychic (as in the working of the soul not only the head) or intellectual- of an entire nation.
Somehow this is where we are now. And I would suggest perhaps in the need to broaden the understanding of our ancestry. Pay due respect. Learn. Grow. If we are rid from the prejudice we can then find things are closer to our own selves. We all carry our own regulating shaman inside.
We know now that Jung used to have self inducing extreme psychic journeys that have delivered the recently published Red Book. Visions not only of the man himself, but of the community around him and war torn Europe.
I remember I saw a retrospective of Turner’s work at the Tate Britain when I was living in London and was completely moved by his life’s transition towards nothingness: towards white paint on canvas. As if the sun in the center of his earlier work had encompassed the entire canvas, always closer to the beholder. And this was way before visual art took towards the abstract.
Japanese Zen masters provide Koans as an answer to the progression of thought: A Koan cannot be solved rationally. It is used to provoke “great doubt”. A famous one being : “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” If you’re willing to know the answer it might hurt. But it’ll be worth it, because it will surely not be the sound that you’d be entertaining in your thought but something far more practical.
So there is a universal access everywhere to our distant spiritual world, which is nothing but inside each person and does not lies somewhere in the far stretches of the universe. The unconscious is available, and we need to relate to it. As we need to relate to what we constantly push towards the shadow of our own selves. It is there, it won’t go away, and we need to relate. And this is what the shaman does: opens an access of relationship with one’s self, with time, and with the natural world, at a personal and a community level.
This is an empowering act.
It cuts through the petty dependency of our addictive every day life. And if this is then the case, a broader world of mythic value becomes available and we can start seeing beyond our selves. The narrative in the story we are telling ourselves, or have convinced ourselves is the only and unmovable narrative to mankind, what our life is about, can then change.
We humans construct the narrative of what life is. But this unconscious contract of a story can be so extraordinary massive that it can actually generate blindness. We are in our own narrative, that’s for sure.
English botanist and journalist Goeorge Monbiot recently addressed this issue through political terms pertaining to society as an organ : as long as we are telling ourselves the same story we cannot change the way we live our life (and our world). He calls our actual story the “Restoration story”, in which there is always a hero that brings balance to an unbalanced world generated by negative forces. Our story is in many terms a common mythological approach established into the social pattern of our modern world. Monbiot suggests it is time to start understanding that the “Restoration story” we as humanity live by might not be necessarily the most practical or useful in terms of our sanity and thriving as a species. In fact, we are heading towards a final stage at this level of existence it seems, literally consuming the very rubbish that we still believe has made our life easier. So our ancestry has many clues into the evolution of the story of life, in how we relate to reality through myth and symbol, and perhaps also into how our common global story today might adjust itself, finally, to a different narrative.
Regardless of what the future of humanity might bring, what holds true is that the curative work of shamans, elders, and masters, is at the heart of what we call the human experience.