By Cristina Balma Tivola
I met Alessandro (one of the Original Cultures organisers) at Dalston Kingsland train station at noon on the second day of the London event. Laurent, the organiser with whom I have until now maintained contact via email regarding Original Cultures, will arrive later. My interest in the project comes from an error of interpretation about its intentions. But, as often happens in these cases, that error has led to a pleasant surprise, and I begin wondering with Laurent – on the basis of what I saw and read online about the first event in Bologna last year – how I could participate. He offers me to follow the production process of the visual artists and to write about it. Documenting the ‘behind the scenes’ of an artistic production: what could be more fascinating to an anthropologist? One who loves to know people, the reasons behind their choices and inspirations, the relationships between artists and the aims of their work, not to mention my own curiosity about the growth of the project until it is shared with the public. For all these reasons I happily accept their offer.
Alessandro leads me through Ridley Road market to Hiraki Sawa’s study, who contributes to the project by providing both the creative space and his own skills as a visual artist to complement the work of DEM Ericailcane and Will Barras. It’s a beautiful sunny day in East London and the street is bustling with people of all backgrounds running between stalls where products from around the world are on display (and particularly from African and Caribbean countries, in this borough). We make our way between Nigerian fabrics and colourful North African women with small children in strollers, fireworks, street vendors and stalls selling bananas, okra, sugarcane and strange potatoes with different shapes. A building at the side of the market hosts some studios, among them Hiraki’s, temporary headquarters for the visual arts side of Original Cultures LDN ’10.
We walk through corridors which function as storage rooms and finally to the space in which the artists work: a large room, extremely bright, a few useful materials for the work (stocks of A4 sheets, tripod and camera, pens, pencils) and a coffee table on the right with anything you need to prepare cups of coffee and tea – in the best tradition of hospitality which I have been repeatedly exposed to in London, often superficially dismissed as the ‘capital of solitude’. Feeling home at work.
“This is something important” – Alessandro says while explaining me the project – “that they [the artists] feel safe, can work effectively (within the little time available) without stress, are able to concentrate and most of all enjoy it”. All this must run smoothly, both in terms of production and in terms of relations and this is the first impression I take – as an outsider coming from usually different experiences.
The visual artists are working primarily on creating shapes and designs which are then edited for stop-motion animation. All of this will then be projected live along the music which is being written by the 3 musicians in another workshop, located in North London. A challenge, given the short time available. Yet the day moves along without apparent stress. “How many characters will you develop?” – I ask. “All the ones we can do” – DEM answers.
The delicacy of this balanced and continuous production process is such that I refrain from asking questions not to break the spell of a situation that works – although I have my list of questions ready should the situation arise and I can satisfy my curiosity.
Laurent arrives with large quantities of food, including pies, crisps and Italian-style pasta with tomato and olives. He tells the news about the place where the showcase will be given, holds the ranks of the agreements as they are developing, and coordinates the contacts among the various interlocutors.
Even later in the afternoon, unexpected difficulties will arise, and artists and organisers will work together to find a solution. But everything will apparently be solved in the most extreme quietness, not because of superficiality, but more likely because of their habit of working with short deadlines and unexpected obstacles.
The craftsman in our imagination is the artist who creates with few resources and, as a result of learning (if not earning) by practice, produces works that attract visitors from simple premises that become jewels in his hands. As in a dance, the four artists design, colour, paint, carve, and then – in pairs – shoot photos, animating them and commenting on the success of the first few sequences. Like a dance, where words are few – because harmony is already an acquired prerequisite.
“I would like him to work on it the way he wants, that is, I’m curious to see what he does from the very simple things that I do. Today he made an animation, from what I gave him, which I liked a lot”- says DEM to Ericailcane and Alessandro about Hiraki’s work. At dinner all the artists, musicians and visual, organisers and some of their friends – usually separated by borders and distances – eat, talk and share jokes.
Then, DEM timidly and warmly invites Hiraki to work on what he can give him. Mutual respect is deep, as is the curiosity to see how the work of another person can transform and reinvent your own.
The final words of the evening are Om Unit’s (one of the musicians): “We didn’t think about something that we (the musicians) want to tell the public on Friday, we just decided to produce music you can dance to, even if we all produce music in different ways and styles… We know vaguely what they will do for the visual part, but we are not influencing each other. If image and sound match, fine; if they are totally at odds, fine as well. We will discover how it will be on Friday when we set it all up and see it together for the first time.” The work of a tight-knit team of craftsmen eager to make way for the showcase itself and enchant themselves by the potential outcome of this syncretism.
DEM takes another piece of A4 paper, and begins to draw eyes and bubbles.