INTERVIEW WITH ALAN COURTIS

Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

By Anita Malhotra

The work of Argentine musician and sound artist Alan Courtis (also known as Anla Courtis) is all about expanding musical, artistic and social boundaries.

With a background in teaching music to people with disabilities as well as a communications degree, he co-founded and plays guitar in the groundbreaking experimental band Reynols, which integrated a former student with Down’s Syndrome as its drummer and singer.

Courtis has composed a wealth of electric and acoustic experimental music and has also collaborated in live improvisations across a wide variety of genres and media with musicians all over the world.

Still from Alan Courtis' 2009 live internet collaboration with Pauline Oliveros (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Still from Alan Courtis’ 2009 live internet collaboration with Pauline Oliveros (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

He has released over 300 recordings, many of them in non-digital format, and some of them collectors’ items. He also teaches at several universities and music schools in Buenos Aires.

Courtis’ latest release is Telematic Concert, a live internet collaboration from 2009 with the renowned American experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, whose written work he has also translated.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Alan Courtis, who was at his home in Buenos Aires, by Zoom on June 5, 2020.

AM: What are your earliest memories of music or sound?

AC: I’ve always been curious about sound and music. My brother, who’s a little bit older than me, brought home a lot of music My parents were more into classical music and some Argentinian folklore, but later my brother was also into rock, jazz, soundtracks, contemporary, electronic, field recordings, etcetera, so I heard quite a wide range of musical styles.

Alan Courtis as a toddler in 1974 (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Alan Courtis as a toddler in 1974 (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

AM: Were there any musicians in your family?

AC: My father played a little bit of Argentinian folklore on the guitar, but he was a doctor – a cardiologist. My grandfather came from the Czech Republic and he was a piano player and also played violin and viola. In the Czech Republic, music is very important.

AM: You had some formal musical training in Western music. Could you tell me a bit about that?

AC: I studied classical guitar and piano as well as theory and composition. At the same time, I was playing rock, improvising, and doing experimental stuff in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so I was doing a little bit of everything.

AM: Was your experimental music both electronic and acoustic?

AC: Yes, because in those years I worked a lot with cassettes. In the early ’90s, computers were not that widespread. I had a computer, but it was a lot more difficult for audio.

By ’98, I had my first computer with editing programs, but before that it was cassettes, which I still use. I also have a reel-to reel-recorder, so I like all technologies. And I also worked with different tunings on the acoustic guitar. A couple of years ago I made a record with microtonal guitar. The tuning is completely “non-western.”

Courtis' 2017 double vinyl LP "Buchla Gtr" featuring the Buchla 200 modular synthesizer and Spirit electric guitar (photo courtesy of Alain Courtis)

Courtis’ 2017 double vinyl LP “Buchla Gtr” featuring the Buchla 200 modular synthesizer and Spirit electric guitar (photo courtesy of Alain Courtis)

AM: In terms of experimental composers, were there any in particular that influenced you in those early years?

AC: I was completely absorbing everything: rock music and Argentinian rock music, a lot of improvisation – free jazz – and of course electronic, experimental music.

It was a period when I was just searching for things and realizing how diverse music can be. I didn’t want to copy one thing. I just wanted to mix different things, which is a bit like what I am still trying to do.

AM: For a long time you taught music to people with special needs. How did this lead to one of your students getting involved in Reynols, the band you were in?

AC: That’s part of this diversity I’m talking about and it was completely unexpected. In the early ’90s, Miguel Tomasin – who is the Reynols drummer and singer – came to the place where we were giving classes.

Reynols featuring (L to R) Alan Courtis, Miguel Tomasin and Roberto Conlazo (photo by Nikinoto)

Reynols featuring (L to R) Alan Courtis, Miguel Tomasin and Roberto Conlazo (photo by Nikinoto)

He asked for drum classes, and we tried to find a way to get him started with drum technique. Soon we realized we should play with him. We were trying to work with free improvisation and he was a lot freer than everybody else on this planet.

We were not specially trained in that and there are a lot of cultural barriers and taboos that society has related to that, but we realized how free Miguel was so it was really exciting for us.

Alan Courtis teaching in the Czech Republic (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Alan Courtis teaching in the Czech Republic (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Over the years, I studied science of communication at university, and then we developed a method to play with people with disabilities based on our own experience playing with Miguel.

AM: How would you describe the music that you made with Reynols?

AC: I’d rather not use any words because you need to reset all your parameters when you are listening to it. It’s not trying to fit any market category or music category.

Cover of the 1999 release "Pauline Oliveros in the Arms of Reynols" (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Cover of the 1999 release “Pauline Oliveros in the Arms of Reynols” (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

We have a lot of conceptual projects, like the 10.000 Chickens’ Symphony. And we also made a record with blank tapes. On the box set last year we had some more conceptual projects – one is Reynols Plays the Eiffel Tower. We literally played the Eiffel Tower and made a piece from that.

AM: Reynols has built up a really good following in Argentina. Why do you think it has been so successful?

AC: It’s not a commercial band but it has been successful in social terms because it has exposed a person like Miguel to many people.

We were the first band in Argentina to play on a daily national TV program for a whole year, in ’98. That was a lot of media exposure. It was a medical program, and that probably gave it a lot of visibility.

AM: You’ve done a lot of travelling and collaborating with different people. What is it like to collaborate with different artists?

AC: It’s always challenging and interesting to collaborate with people coming from different backgrounds, like electronic or rock or more contemporary ensembles. The good thing about doing collaborations is that you go out a little bit from your safe comfort zone to sounds that you don’t usually go to by yourself. I think it’s really important to not get trapped in your own selfish stuff.

AM: When you start a new piece of music in your studio, how do you go about working on it?

AC: In the studio, you have to think about how to organize the materials – whether it’s recordings or electronic stuff or field recordings or guitar. I always tell my students that sound is like a being. It’s not an object. You have to work with it, and you have to listen to what it is asking of you. It’s not only about you having control.

Alan Courtis' 2017 solo release "Los Galpones" (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Alan Courtis’ 2017 solo release “Los Galpones” (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

The interesting zone starts when you reach the point where the sounds are telling you things. Of course, they are not speaking in human language, but there are meanings that you can somehow read and then you can interact with them.

AM: Where do you find the best audiences for your music?

AC: I would say you can probably get very good audiences everywhere.

I had good experiences in countries like Japan, where music is very important for them, and I also played in China, Korea and other parts of Asia. And in Europe, as well. I played quite a lot in Norway and the very north.

Japanese noise artist Merzbow (L) and Alan Courtis collaborating in 2014 (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Japanese noise artist Merzbow (L) and Alan Courtis collaborating in 2014 (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

We had one tour that was very challenging for me. It was very near the North Pole  Svalbard – and we were doing scooter rides at minus 30 with everything packed on the scooter. So that kind of experience was really amazing.

I think you can get a good audience anywhere, but each country is different and I’m always interested to discover how it is in each place.

AM: One of the best-known musicians you have collaborated with is Pauline Oliveros. How did you first meet her and how did that relationship develop?

AC: She came here in 1994 for a couple of workshops and a concert. We were there with Reynols but Miguel was not yet with us. We were in our 20s – I think we were probably the only young guys in the whole workshop. Pauline wrote a very funny article for her book Sounding the Margins about her encounter with Reynols.

(L to R) Roberto Conlazo, Pauline Oliveros and Alan Courtis in 2000 during rehearsals for Oliveros' Lunar Opera at Lincoln Centre (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

(L to R) Roberto Conlazo, Pauline Oliveros and Alan Courtis in 2000 during rehearsals for Oliveros’ Lunar Opera at Lincoln Centre (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

And then over the years we stayed in touch with her, mostly by mail and fax since there was no email yet, and we asked her if she would let us remix her stuff. A record was finally released in 1999 – Pauline Oliveros in the Arms of Reynols.

The first edition came with a small bag of sand. It was really great because we just remixed some bootleg concerts of hers that we had on cassette. They were very lo-fi, so we worked with guitar pedals. It still kept the drone – the very deep, intense stuff – but the sound was distorted and compressed.

Then she invited us to play at the Lunar Opera at Lincoln Center in August 2000. It was an amazing experience. After that, we did a tour in the United States and gave a workshop at the Deep Listening Space and played a concert as well.

We stayed in touch for many years for many things. There’s another record that is called Pauline Oliveros and Reynols Live at the Rosendale Cafe. It was recorded at a cafe near Kingston [New York], where Pauline lived.

Poster for the 2009 Telematic Concert by Pauline Oliveros and Alan Courtis (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Poster for the 2009 Telematic Concert by Pauline Oliveros and Alan Courtis (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

AM: How did the Telematic Concert come about?

AC: I did not go to the United States for at least 15 years, so we were mostly in touch by mail and chat. At some point we decided to do a collaboration playing through the internet for Ione’s Dream Festival in 2009. Nowadays that is very usual, but at that time it was not.

Pauline was really into improvising, so it was very easy to play with her. She was very careful with listening and it was nice to see what she was doing with the stuff.

On that recording, I played a guitar that has no strings. It has a pick-up so there’s just feedback, and you can also play the body and it makes some noises.

Alan Courtis' stringless guitar (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Alan Courtis’ stringless guitar (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

I bought the guitar in a second-hand shop and it didn’t have a bridge. I tried a couple of bridges and nothing really worked for it. At some point, the same way I work with people with disabilities, I thought, “We need diversity, so I will play this guitar as it is.” So I just attached the pick-up and played it without the strings.

AM: You’ve just released a version of that concert. Can you tell me about that?

AC: Basically it was the recording of what we played, but we divided it into two pieces because of the length of the LP.

Also, with the internet connection, it was difficult to know exactly how it was working, so I took a recording of what I played here and Pauline sent me the recording from there, and I mixed both to have better quality.

AM: Why is the Telematic Concert only being released now?

AC: We talked with Pauline in 2011 or 2012 and German label was supposed to put it out, but it didn’t happen, so the project lay in the archives for 10 years.

It was released by Spleen Coffin in the United States last Friday as a brand new LP. It’s 18 or 20 minutes on each side, so it’s long but not too long. It’s nice to have it on LP, and of course it’s digital as well and there are two excerpts on SoundCloud.

AM: Did you have any more projects with Pauline?

AC: For the 2010 version of Ione’s Dream Festival, I composed a piece for “newspaper ensemble” and Pauline premiered that piece – In-Formed Music. Then, in 2016, I asked Pauline if I could translate some of her work because I needed an article for my improvisation class.

The cover of the Spanish version of Pauline Oliveros' book "Deep Listening," which was translated by Alan Courtis

The cover of the Spanish version of Pauline Oliveros’ book “Deep Listening,” which was translated by Alan Courtis

Pauline was super happy because she didn’t have anything translated in Spanish and many people in Latin American are interested in her work. After that she asked me to translate a book, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice.

But Pauline suddenly passed away in November 2016 and we were all very shocked. We finally worked on it last year and we released the book and it’s been very well-received.

Pauline was an amazing person. She was so creative and sensitive, and also very open-minded. For me she was first a teacher and then a friend.

AM: Is there a medium that you prefer to release your music in?

AC: Nowadays the basic medium is digital. Considering that, I like vinyl and cassettes very much because they’re the media I grew up with. But CDs are also nice as long as they are well-presented with nice artwork.

I’ve also been doing very non-traditional releases. We made an 8-track with Reynols. We also released micro-cassettes and did a floppy disc release.

Alan Courtis in his studio (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

Alan Courtis in his studio (photo courtesy of Alan Courtis)

AM: Sometimes you go by the name Anla instead of Alan. Why is that?

AC: Miguel started writing my name as Anla and I thought it was great because he reversed the letters and created something new. So in the Reynols days I started signing as Anla, and in Japan they know me as Anla. Sometimes, for artistic purposes, an artist can change their name. In my case it was interesting because it was kind of a broken pseudonym. So for some projects I’m using Anla and for some I’m using Alan.

AM: Are there any other projects that you’re working on right now?

AC: With Reynols we are working on at least six or seven records in different stages. I also have some collaborations that are recorded but not released yet. We made one with Gert-Jan Prins from the Netherlands and also recorded in Oslo with Lasse Marhaug and Jon Wesseltoft.

I’m also working on a project where I recorded very old synthesizers from Argentina. And I’m composing some stuff. It’s good to not stop – just keep on doing things and try to keep the creative stuff going on.

For more information about Alan Courtis or Reynolds, visit UbuWeb: Sound – Alan Courtis, UbuWeb: Sound – Reynols or bandcamp.com. For more information on his Telematic Concert with Pauline Oliveros, visit spleencoffin.com or soundcloud.com

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INTERVIEW WITH MARK KURLANSKY

Bestselling American author Mark Kurlansky (photo provided by GL Portrait / Alamy Stock Photo)

Bestselling American author Mark Kurlansky (photo provided by GL Portrait / Alamy Stock Photo)

By Anita Malhotra

Acclaimed New York Times bestselling writer Mark Kurlansky is best known for his meticulously researched and entertaining histories on topics that may at first seem mundane but become springboards for fascinating journeys through time and across continents.

Kurlansky has written extensively about food (including cod, milk, salt, oysters and salmon), as well as places (Havana, the Caribbean), peoples (Basques, Jews), cultural moments (1968), ideas (nonviolence), and more.

Starting his career as a playwright, he became a foreign correspondent in the mid-’70s, writing for several major American newspapers while based in Paris and then Mexico. He began writing non-fiction books in the early ’90s, achieving his first major success with Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997), which was both a New York Times and international bestseller.

Kurlansky's 2020 book "Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate"

Kurlansky’s 2020 book “Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate”

Kurlansky has written 33 non-fiction, fiction and children’s books, including four more international bestsellers: Salt,1968Food of a Younger Land and The Basque History of the World. His latest book, Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate, was published in March by Patagonia.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Mark Kurlansky, who was at his office in New York City, by phone on April 28, 2020.

AM: Salmon is your 33rd book, and you’ve written about fish several times before. Why did you choose salmon as a topic this time?

MK: In 1997, I wrote a book about cod at a time when the northern stocks on the Canadian Grand Banks had collapsed and people for the first time were thinking about issues of overfishing and fishery management. Actually, when I was a commercial fisherman in the 1960s it was all fishermen ever talked about, but now the general public was becoming aware of it.

Kurlansky on a commercial gill netter in Bristol Bay, Alaska (photo courtesy of Mark Kurlansky)

Kurlansky on a commercial gill netter in Bristol Bay, Alaska (photo courtesy of Mark Kurlansky)

And over the years since then, it became clear to me that overfishing and fishery management was only one of many problems – maybe even the least of the problems. I thought that salmon was the perfect way to make that point because as an anadromous fish, on the land and in the sea, everything that we do to hurt the earth hurts salmon.

AM: What are some of the issues that are highlighted by looking at the loss of salmon around the world?

MK: It’s bad farming practices, urban sprawl, deforestation, pollution, pesticides, dams, climate change – especially climate change. Basically almost everything we’re doing wrong to the earth.

AM: Is one issue more important than the others?

MK: I’d say climate change is the most important, for a few reasons. If we’re talking about a fish that can’t live or reproduce in water that is warmer than 68 degrees, clearly there’s a problem. Alaska this summer had a very warm summer and it had very large salmon runs, but many of them died because the water was too warm.

Kurlansky's 1998 book "Cod: A Biography of a Fish That Changed the World"

Kurlansky’s 1997 book “Cod: A Biography of a Fish That Changed the World”

In addition to that – maybe even more important than that – is the issue of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide loves water, so about a third of carbon dioxide on the land ends up in the ocean, which makes the water less productive for organisms.

So things like zooplankton and small fish like capelin no longer grow to the sizes they used to. What this means is that there is less food for sea animals to eat. The oceans, particularly the Atlantic, are losing their carrying capacity. And if the oceans can’t feed the animals in it, it’s all over – it’s just cataclysmic.

AM: You have said in previous interviews that we can learn from the current pandemic in terms of addressing climate change. Could you elaborate on that?

MK: I look at the way people, societies and governments are dealing with this pandemic and how they’re willing to do absolutely anything that has to be done, including shutting down the economy. And I think about climate change, which is actually a far more dangerous problem than a pandemic, and we have failed to make people understand that drastic things have to be done to stop this. I’m not sure why we haven’t got that message across, but we haven’t.

AM: Is there a strategy that you’d recommend to change that?

MK: We have to change the entire notion of economic development. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have economic development. We should. But we have to figure out ways to do it that don’t destroy the planet.

Kurlansky in 2013 at a Barnes & Noble book signing in New York City (photo by Wes Washington, Wikimedia Commons)

Kurlansky in 2013 at a Barnes & Noble book signing in New York City (photo by Wes Washington, Wikimedia Commons)

AM: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

MK: I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was in the third grade, which is basically after I learned how to write. I’m not sure why, but it’s what I always wanted, and I’ve never veered from it.

AM: What were your early experiences writing in the third grade?

MK: This is very funny – I wrote a novel about a fish, which I don’t have any copies of. One thing I’ve learned from the life of Ernest Hemingway is that you’ve got to burn all your early unpublished work before you die.

I wrote a lot when I was a little kid. I’d get a writing assignment and the other kids would turn in three pages and I’d turn in 60 with illustrations.

The teachers were not pleased by this because they said, “I’ve got to read all that stuff.”

Mark Kurlansky, Terry Tempest Williams and Ken Burns at an American Library Association author forum on Jan. 8, 2016 (photo by AuthorForum2, Flickr)

Mark Kurlansky, Terry Tempest Williams and Ken Burns at an American Library Association author forum on Jan. 8, 2016 (photo by AuthorForum2, Flickr)

AM: Was there anybody else in your family who liked to write?

MK: No. We were all big readers and we all talked about what we were reading. But I was the only one who was writing.

AM: Did your parents find it strange that you were always writing?

MK: Yes, this greatly bothered my father. I remember he used to say, “Why don’t you go outside and play some baseball?” This was ironic because sometimes I did, because I loved baseball. My father, on the other hand, never went outside and played baseball. He was the most un-outdoors person I’ve ever seen. But for some reason he was very bothered about me locked away in my room writing.

Kurlansky's book "Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas," published in 2018

Kurlansky’s book “Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas,” published in 2018

AM: Where did your interest in food come from?

MK: My mother was a housewife, and in my memory she spent almost all her time cooking. I grew up in this house with a ridiculous excess of food. She liked to bake, and at any given time there’d be two pies, a few cakes. Maybe that had an influence.

I lived in Paris for about 10 years and worked around Europe, and I was very struck by the way Europeans wrote about food – particularly the French, the Basques, the Spanish, the Italians – in a way that Americans didn’t. And I thought that there should be more about food history. So I started doing that. And then everybody started doing that.

AM: Your books are on a wide range of topics. How do you narrow down your choice of subject matter?

MK: It has to be something that tells a great story, because to me storytelling is the key. And the story has to be of some kind of importance. People are always saying about my books, “He picks these unlikely topics and makes you think they’re interesting.” They are interesting. I think they’re interesting. That’s why I have to make you think they’re interesting.

Drawing of a Zebu by Mark Kurlansky from his book "Milk"

Drawing of a Zebu by Mark Kurlansky from his book “Milk”

AM: How do you go about gathering and organizing all the material for your books?

MK: I first of all read a lot, as you can tell if you look at the bibliography of any of my books. I’ll read a hundred books or something. And I look at academic papers, which are sometimes painful but have interesting things buried in them.

In New York I have the great advantage of the New York Public Library, which is an unbelievable resource.

When I was doing my Salt book I found a thousand titles on salt in the New York Public Library. All sorts of things, like an original document of the decree of the Assemblée nationale ending the gabelle – the salt tax. Just unbelievable stuff in there.

Kurlansky's 2002 book "Salt: A World History," which was a New York Times and international bestseller

Kurlansky’s 2002 book “Salt: A World History,” which was a New York Times and international bestseller

And then I go to places and, where possible, I interview people. Even if it’s history and there’s nobody left to interview, just seeing the place.

I remember for the Salt book, I went to the site of Carthage in Tunisia. Just looking at that place – and you can still see what the Romans did – I learned more about the Roman Empire than anything else ever taught me. It was brutal, ruthless. So it’s always important to be there.

Kurlansky delivering a lecture at the Albaola museum in the Basque Country, Spain on July 3, 2014 (photo by ALBAOLA, Flickr)

Kurlansky delivering a lecture at the Albaola museum in the Basque Country, Spain on July 3, 2014 (photo by ALBAOLA, Flickr)

AM: How do you keep track of the information when you read books?

MK: When I read books I flag everything that’s of interest. I do all the research before I do any writing. And the next thing I do is I spend a few months working on an outline, in which all these flags are put in their place and all the notes from interviews and everything I have is part of that.

Theoretically, all I have to do is follow this outline, but it ends up being much more complicated than that. But it’s a good start.

Mark Kurlansky with his dogs Tallulah and Begonia (photo © Sylvia Plachy)

Mark Kurlansky with his dogs Tallulah and Begonia (photo © Sylvia Plachy)

AM: You’ve also written some fiction. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

MK: I love writing fiction. I actually always thought I’d be a fiction writer. I got into non-fiction because I became a journalist, which is kind of something I did for money, but I loved doing it. And from there I got into non-fiction, and I’ve written much more non-fiction than fiction.

I particularly love writing short stories. I’ve written three collections of short stories. It’s funny because if you just separated my fiction – I think it’s five or six books – that’s not a bad body of work for a fiction writer. But because I’ve written so much other stuff, people always act like it’s a little sideline.

AM: Have you written plays as well?

MK: I was a theatre major in college and I wrote seven or eight plays and had a couple of them produced. I earned enough money from one of them to finance my first trip to Europe. But I became very frustrated with theatre, which is to say I became frustrated with Broadway.

Kurlansky's 2010 book "Edible Stories: A Novel in Sixteen Parts"

Kurlansky’s 2010 book “Edible Stories: A Novel in Sixteen Parts”

I was in this situation where I wasn’t writing for Broadway anymore and I wasn’t interested in Broadway. There are writers who are content with never being published by a commercial publisher, but I don’t think that’s a good place to be. So that’s why I got out of theatre.

AM: You’re very prolific and these books must be labour-intensive. How do you get all this work done and what is your schedule like?

MK: I work most days from about 9 in the morning to about 7 at night. It used to be more like from 8 to 10, but then I started wanting to come to see my kid and things like that. I work 10, 12 hours a day but I have built-in breaks.

Dog-walking is a good break, and I play the cello. And I have a treadmill in my office. So I have lots of diversions here.

AM: Can you tell me about the book you did with your daughter?

MK: It started off as a game. I’d spin the globe and she’d close her eyes and put her finger on the globe, and wherever her finger landed we would do a dinner from that place. We called it “International Night.”

Kurlansky fly fishing for sockeye on the Eyak River, Alaska with his daughter, Talia (photo courtesy of Mark Kurlansky)

Kurlansky fly fishing for sockeye on the Eyak River, Alaska with his daughter, Talia (photo courtesy of Mark Kurlansky)

My daughter is a great ham. She was nine years old and with great fanfare she would announce “International Night” and she used to put together costumes for the country.

Then my editor said, “You ought to do a book about this – make it 52 nights.” At that time we’d only done about 30, and then we had to do 20-something more.

I actually went back and redid a few things because I had to make sure they were all good recipes and worked well, because there’s a greater demand on publishing then there was on just pleasing my wife and daughter. They’re an easy audience. My daughter and I made this stuff together and we had great fun. And we had great fun doing the book tour.

AM: You’ve written some books for children as well. What do you get out of writing for children that you don’t writing for adults?

MK: The thing I love about writing for kids is that they haven’t made up their minds about things. When you write for adults, basically they’ve already decided, and if they agree with you they’ll like your books. So I think most of my readers are kind of musty environmentalist types and I don’t know that I’m converting many people, although I’ve had a few interesting experiences.

I actually got a letter from a guy in the military who said he resigned his commission and got out of the military because of my book on non-violence. So it sometimes happens, but when you’re writing for kids, it’s like cooking for hungry people. They just want to gobble it up.

AM: You do the artwork for your books too.

MK: I illustrate most of my books. I love illustrating. Because of the pandemic I found myself with some extra time. My next book after Salmon is a book about the history of fly-fishing, and I did 12 drawings in graphite and charcoal and ink of different rivers that I’ve fished. And I also did drawings of a bunch of artificial flies.

Kurlansky fishing for trout in Big Wood River, Idaho with his daughter, Talia (photo courtesy of Mark Kurlansky)

Kurlansky fishing for trout in Big Wood River, Idaho with his daughter, Talia (photo courtesy of Mark Kurlansky)

AM: You’ve said that you’ve learned about yourself through the process of writing. What did you mean by that?

MK: When you create a body of work, and 33 books is definitely a body of work, you learn interesting things about yourself because there are certain consistent things.

For instance, almost all of my books have the theme of survival in one way or another. Now, I never thought of myself as a person who spends a lot of time thinking about survival, but there it is. It’s very interesting to see these patterns.

For more information about Mark Kurlansky and his work, visit markkurlansky.com.

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INTERVIEW WITH ZHOU BING

Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

By Anita Malhotra

Renowned Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Bing has directed and produced over 100 documentaries, many of them on historical and cultural topics.

After completing a PhD in art history at Nankai University, he worked for CCTV (China Central Television) for 20 years. In 2014, he launched his own company, Sun Media International, which has offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Los Angeles.

Zhou Bing’s award-winning productions include Dunhuang, Forbidden City, When the Louvre Meets the Forbidden City, The Bund, A Century with Cars, South of the Ocean, Millennium Bodhi Road and Snow Leopard.

They have been broadcast on CCTV as well as internationally on National Geographic, History, Sky TV, NDR Fernsehen, ARTE and elsewhere.

Protestors in Zhou Bing's 2020 documentary "Hong Kong Moments" (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

Protestors in Zhou Bing’s 2020 documentary “Hong Kong Moments” (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

His most recent film, Hong Kong Moments, follows seven Hong Kong residents (a front-line protestor, police officer, volunteer paramedic, taxi driver, tea-house owner, and two candidates in local elections) during the protests that took place in Hong Kong in 2019.

The film is being shown via digital streaming at the 2020 Hot Docs Festival Online until June 24.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Zhou Bing, who was in Los Angeles, on May 29, 2020 via Zoom and with translation by Executive Producer Ricky Choy.

AM: Why did you decide to make a film about the Hong Kong protests?

ZB: I am a new immigrant to Hong Kong but I love Hong Kong, and have always wanted to make a documentary about Hong Kong. Three or four years ago I had the idea to make a documentary with people from different backgrounds to show their life in Hong Kong – their dreams and hopes.

A poster for "Hong Kong Moments" (courtesy of Zhou Bing)

A poster for “Hong Kong Moments” (courtesy of Zhou Bing)

So when this movement happened I decided to combine the original concept I had with this movement.

We have seven protagonists in the film and they are from different backgrounds, so we wanted to show all the different points of view and lives of these people to the audience. For me, it’s also a very important historic moment to record as a documentary director.

AM: Was it difficult to get the participation of the protagonists?

ZB: It was not easy to get their participation, especially the front-line protester, the first-aider [volunteer paramedic] and the police officer.

They were concerned that we might cause damage to them or the groups that they represent by shooting something that was not real and presenting something fake to an audience.

Zhou Bing's crew filming a street demonstration in "Hong Kong Moments" (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

Zhou Bing’s crew filming a street demonstration in “Hong Kong Moments” (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

So we took two months to prepare everything, including the communications with all the protagonists to earn their trust. Also, for the police officer, we made an application through the PR department.

We spent time communicating with all the protagonists, telling them we wanted to make a film from a neutral standpoint. And that’s why they ultimately agreed to be filmed – because they wanted to speak in their own voices to the world.

The volunteer paramedic in "Hong Kong Moments" (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

The volunteer paramedic in “Hong Kong Moments” (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

Our producer, Ricky, also played an important role by organizing the entire crew. We had a large film crew, and many of them were local people from Hong Kong. They were very professional and very passionate about the film, and because of them it was easier for us to communicate with the protester.

Director and producer Zhou Bing (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

Director and producer Zhou Bing (photo courtesy of Hot Docs Festival and Zhou Bing)

AM: The film has no voice-over but is told through images and the voices of the protagonists. Why did you choose that approach?

ZB: I used this approach for two reasons. The first is I really admire the American director [Frederick] Wiseman, who always uses this “direct cinema” approach to tell a story. So from a creative perspective, I preferred to use this approach.

And the second reason is that because of the special nature of the subject of the film, it helped me stay more neutral to not have the voice-over of the director and to instead use the voices of the protagonists themselves.

The tea house owner in "Hong Kong Moments" (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

The tea house owner in “Hong Kong Moments” (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

AM: What was the biggest challenge in making this documentary?

ZB: The biggest challenge was to keep a neutral standpoint, because it is easy to lose yourself in the standpoint of the protagonists and their emotions.

Zhou Bing on the set of a film (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

Zhou Bing on the set of a film (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

So it was really important for me to remind myself that I was recording this movement with the perspective of history and that, in the future, when people see this film, they could feel the reality of when this movement happened.

AM: Where did the funding for the film come from?

ZB: Because I had the idea to make a documentary about Hong Kong a few years ago, I had already been raising funds for a few years. Some of the funding comes from my own company and some from my friends in Hong Kong and the U.S. Also, we have a co-producer in Germany and they raised some funds for us from ARTE.

AM: At the end of the film there’s a quotation from the Book of Genesis – “Let there be light.” Why did you use this quote?

Police officers in "Hong Kong Moments" (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

Police officers in “Hong Kong Moments” (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

ZB: I really love Hong Kong, and the first reason I used this quote is because I think Hong Kong right now is in the middle of a tragedy of conflict, and I hope that Hong Kong can emerge from this pain and go towards a better, brighter future.

The second reason is that it’s a kind of blessing for the audience – the people who are in the middle of this conflict. I hope that when people see the end of the film they can have hope that Hong Kong will not stay in this state of pain and conflict forever. That they will see light.

Hong Kong (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

Hong Kong (photo courtesy of Zhou Bing)

AM: Are you planning to do any more filming related to the protests?

ZB: We are continuing to observe all the protagonists, so we will see how their stories develop. And if we can find new funding, perhaps we will keep shooting some of the protagonists.

A poster for Zhou Bing's 2010 documentary about Shanghai's Bund (courtesy of Zhou Bing)

A poster for Zhou Bing’s 2010 documentary about Shanghai’s Bund (courtesy of Zhou Bing)

AM: How do you see your overall mission as a documentary filmmaker?

ZB: When I was younger, I was educated as a documentary director to use the technology of documentary to record real history and to document the thoughts and emotions of people.

That’s the mission of my generation of documentary directors – to record the reality of history so that future audiences can see the real moments that happened before. I have also made many films about history to discover what took place historically and to uncover the treasures in human history.

AM: Did the protagonists see the film yet?

ZB: They haven’t seen the film yet. After the film festivals, we are planning to do a screening in Hong Kong and we might invite them to come to see the film together.

AM: Are you working on any other projects?

ZB: I have some other projects because I am a director as well as a producer. I have a team in Hong Kong as well as one in Mainland China and one in the U.S. So I have a few different kinds of projects going on.

There’s one about modern dance and one about a Hong Kong culture scholar, and also I’m making a documentary about Asians in America being involved in politics and participating in elections. I’m also doing several series and some videos about traditional Chinese medicine.

Hong Kong Moments is available for streaming in Ontario at the 2020 Hot Docs Festival Online until June 24, 2020. For more information about Zhou Bing and his work, please visit Sun Media International.

 

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INTERVIEW WITH MANFRED BAUMANN

Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

By Anita Malhotra

The photos of Austrian photographer Manfred Baumann have a kaleidoscopic range from portraits of glamorous models and international celebrities to hard-hitting portraits of those at the margins of society; from animal and landscape photos to street photographs.

Actress Madeline Zima (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Actress Madeline Zima (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Beginning his career photographing models for books and calendars, he segued into celebrity photography, doing portraits of a long list of celebrities that includes Sir Roger Moore, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Angelina Jolie, Lionel Richie and Natalie Portman, among others.

A desire to shine a light on unconventional subjects led to some ground-breaking projects, including Alive, featuring portraits of the homeless; End of Line, a photo essay on the last journey of death row prisoners in Texas; and Special, about developmentally disabled people.

An animal lover, Baumann is an Honorary Ambassador for Jane Goodall and an ambassador for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

"Mustangs" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

“Mustangs” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Baumann is also a frequent collaborator with National Geographic and an official Leica photographer.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Manfred Baumann, who had just returned to Vienna on the last flight from Los Angeles during the Covid-19 pandemic, by Skype on March 26, 2020.

Manfred Baumann posing with actor Danny Trejo (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann posing with actor Danny Trejo (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: When did you first get interested in photography? 

MB: I got my first camera when I was 10 years old from my grandfather – I think it was Christmas. My grandfather was a photographer and I was always looking at his pictures and was interested in his camera.

Manfred Baumann as a child (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann as a child (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

AM: What kinds of photos did you take when you were younger?

MB: Landscapes. My grandfather was a big fan of the mountains and grew up in the Austrian mountains, skiing and that kind of thing. So we took a lot of photos in the mountains when we were hiking and walking around.

AM: What kind of photography did your grandfather do professionally?

MB: He worked in a post office and did a lot of events like ice skating events and sports events, and he entered a lot of competitions. He worked for a couple of newspapers and he did a lot of landscapes too.

"Sweden" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

“Sweden” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: Your first career was in something different from photography. Why did you not make photography a career in the first place?

Manfred Baumann in the 1990s (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann in the 1990s (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

MB: I think my parents – my mom – said I had to learn something real. So I thought that photography was a hobby, something you do in your free time.

I was 21 or 22 when I read a biography of another photographer, Helmut Newton, and then of Woody Allen. And I thought, “I have to do something of my own. I want to do something artistic as a job.”

AM: Was it hard to make the transition from what you were doing to photography?

MB: I was a salesperson, so I was working in shops where you buy food and this kind of thing. I worked there for five or six years.

At the beginning, when I said I want to do photography for a living, I had two or three jobs. I was always doing photography – going to modelling agencies, working with models, doing tiny photographic jobs. But I always had a second job.

Street photography by Manfred Baumann

Street photography by Manfred Baumann

For example, I was in the military because in Austria it’s the law that every young man has to go there for nine months. And I was a truck driver – like Elvis. Elvis was a truck driver before he became a famous singer.  I was always taking pictures on the side, but I couldn’t make a living from it.

Model and actress Franziska Knuppe (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Model and actress Franziska Knuppe (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: I believe your earliest photography was of models. How did you get into that?

MB: Reading the biography of Helmut Newton was really inspiring for me, so I tried to work with different modelling agencies.

In Vienna, the fashion or modelling industry is not very big so we normally have to go to London or Rome or somewhere else in Europe. But I was in Austria so I did a lot of projects on my own – just booked models, then did some tests. It was a long, hard route.

AM: Some of your early work as well as your current work involves photographing nude models, which many men would consider a dream job. What is the job really like?

MB: I’ve been married to my wife for 23 years now, so for me it has always been about bringing out the nature and beauty of a woman in the photos to tell stories … to bring a softer version like Helmut Newton did, or Herb Ritts – this kind of artistic photography. I’m not that much into fashion; I was always interested in the person. Portraits or models – men or women – I like to show the real people.

Manfred Baumann photographing model Kim Hnizdo (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann photographing model Kim Hnizdo (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: What are some of the tools you use to make models look more beautiful?

MB: I like natural light a lot. I work with Nelly, my wife, who does the makeup and is always on set. I like the models to feel comfortable on set – to have fun. We don’t have a lot of assistants around – it’s more like a family feeling.

"Vienna" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

“Vienna” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

The other point is, of course, a little bit of retouching, a little bit of perfect light, a little bit of perfect scenery like in the desert or somewhere in a national park, or in the big suite of a castle or hotel. To let them feel a little bit special and bring special moments or a special feeling on set.

AM: You have done a lot of celebrity photography. How did you get into that?

MB: I was just a minor photographer in Austria and then I got to know my wife. I said, “We have to leave Austria. I don’t think that we can do anything more here with photography.”

So we went to Canada – to Toronto. We stayed there for one year. The experience was cool – we worked with an agency and we met a lot of people and are still in contact with them.

But after one year we had no money left, so we went back to Austria. And then something strange happened because all the companies in Austria said, “There’s a photographer who was in Canada and the United States. Let’s book him, let’s work with him.” It was a bit weird, but it worked.

Manfred Baumann signing autographs at a calendar presentation (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann signing autographs at a calendar presentation (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

And then we had our first exhibition opening in Hamburg and Sir Roger Moore stepped in and bought one of my photographs.

So that was my first contact with an international celebrity. He gave me a lot of contacts and we became friends and we had two or three shoots together. And it opened the world for me a little bit more.

Manfred Baumann with the late actor Sir Roger Moore (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann with the late actor Sir Roger Moore (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

AM: Which photograph did he buy?

MB: He bought one of my National Geographic photos of New York. It is two metres high and he has it in his house in Switzerland.

AM: How do you approach your shoots with famous people. Do you get nervous?

MB: I was nervous with Sir Roger Moore because he was the first one. I had photographed many German and Austrian celebrities before, but he was the first big international celebrity.

We had our first photoshoot with him in Dubrovnik. He was a really nice guy, a lovely man.

I don’t know how many celebrities I have shot now, so I’m not nervous anymore. For me they’re normal people and I just have fun with them on set like I do with other people and try to do my job.

Actor John Malkovich (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Actor John Malkovich (photo by Manfred Baumann)

And I’m quick – so that’s maybe why a lot of publicists and managers keep coming back to me with new celebrities. Sometimes I just need 15, 20, 30 minutes for the shoot.

All the actors in Hollywood shoot a lot. If you work for a TV show, you shoot five or six days a week, so they don’t want to do an eight-hour photo shoot after that. That’s maybe why they come back – and the results are good.

Manfred Baumann photographing actor William Shatner (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann photographing actor William Shatner (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

AM: You’ve said that a good photographer is a good psychologist. What did you mean by that?

MB: As a good photographer you have to like people. You have to be like a director on set. When we shoot celebrities, we always build two, three, four sets beforehand.

Nelly Baumann with actor and film director Lou Diamond Phillips (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Nelly Baumann with actor and film director Lou Diamond Phillips (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

We fix everything with the lighting so we feel comfortable. We just go from one set to the other like you do when you’re shooting movies.

And of course you also need to be a bit of a psychologist because you have to be on the same level. You have to think about what this celebrity likes, what they don’t like. It helps a lot that Nelly does the makeup. And when she does makeup she starts talking with them.

It’s like a warm-up for me too because a lot of celebrities are a little bit closed at first, but then they open up and are more relaxed. It’s like a family feeling on set and that’s the moment when I shoot them.

Manfred Baumann on set with rocker Gene Simmons at his home (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann on set with rocker Gene Simmons at his home (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

AM: Aside from your work with models and celebrities, you have worked on photo projects on a wide range of topics, some of them quite difficult. Your book Alive, for example, portrays homeless people. How did that project come about?

MB: It was actually Nelly’s idea. When we stay in Los Angeles, we always rent a cottage-house near Santa Monica and Venice.

"Alive" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

“Alive” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

So we had a walk on the pier, on the beach, and we saw a lot of homeless people. There are many homeless people living in tents on the street and on the beach. So Nelly’s idea was to do something to make people aware of the homeless in Europe.

It was a really intense and lovely project to meet all these people on the streets. We had some professional help from companies in Europe that help homeless people. They advised us on what to say, which people were easygoing, and what we could give them. We didn’t give them money – we gave them something to eat.

The photos look like I shot them in the studio but they were shot outside. Some were taken under a bridge; some were taken in the middle of the street, some in parks and some in train stations. I had an assistant with me and the assistant was holding a black or white background and a flash box.

Nelly did interviews too, so when we had the exhibitions, we always had text or recorded voice-overs next to the photos.

Opening of the exhibit "Alive" (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Opening of the exhibit “Alive” (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Each person had a completely different life. One of them – all their family passed away in an accident. Another other one had lost their house. Another was scared to be in an apartment because his grandmother was from the Second World War. And we are still connected with some.

Two years ago we got an email from a man who wrote to tell us that he saw his father in the book. He had not had contact with the father for 20 years and he had bought the book in a bookstore and saw that his father was living on the streets. And we connected them.

Photo from "End of Line" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Photo from “End of Line” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: Another challenging project you did was End of Line, about prisoners in Texas on death row – in fact, on their last journey. How did that come about?

MB: I saw a National Geographic TV show about death row and I thought that could make a really interesting project. 

But it was not that easy because you cannot go in as a freelancer – you need to be associated with a company.  So we worked with National Geographic and it took two years to arrange everything. You cannot write emails to the people inside the prison, so we wrote letters back and forth. We had, I think, 100 letters from different prisons. Even the smell, if you open a letter, is special. It smells like a long journey or like you’re in a damp house.

Photo from "End of Line" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Photo from “End of Line” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

The weird thing was that five or six days before we had the photo shoot, I was photographing at the Golden Globes. And then we had the road trip to Texas. So before, there was all this glamour.  You were in front of Angelina Jolie for a bit, you did a lot of photos with Natalie Portman.  And then we drove to Huntsville in Texas and were in the middle of death row and it was a completely different world. When you go in you are really controlled – there were police and everything guarding us.

Jane Goodall (photo by Manfred Baumann)

Jane Goodall (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: On a lighter side, you’ve done a couple of books about horses. How did these come about?

MB: Nelly and I are big animal lovers. We support Jane Goodall and are friends with her. We travel around the world and when we meet celebrities we always talk about Jane and her mission.

I do a lot of photoshoots for PETA too. I have done shoots in Canada with celebrities and also in Australia and the United States. We care about and love animals.

I read an article about a woman who was looking after wild mustangs in Nevada and got in touch with her and this was how the project was launched.

AM: Had you taken photos of horses before?

MB: It was actually my first time photographing animals. I do a lot of National Geographic photography, so when you travel sometimes there’s a horse and you take a photo of it. But to actually focus on the horse and be in the middle of a herd of 300 horses was completely new.

"Mustangs" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

“Mustangs” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

AM: What were some of the challenges of photographing wild horses?

MB: To find them we had professional help from a cowboy – he was riding with us. Some of the horses were really shy – when they smell you they run away. Others were really interested – they came a little bit closer. And by the second or third day the horses felt a little bit more comfortable when you walked into the group.

I think the challenge was to catch the different characters, because they’re completely different like humans. One is smiling, another is fighting; one is shy, another comes close to you and looks in the camera. It was a really fun project.

And now we’re working on a project with white horses because here in Austria we have these white dancing horses – trained horses. It was a little easier because they stand trained in front of you. We brought two backgrounds to the stall – fixed everything with a black background. It looks like the horses are in a studio.

Manfred and Nelly Baumann at the Golden Globes (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Manfred and Nelly Baumann at the Golden Globes (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

AM: You mentioned your wife – that you had been working and with her for 23 years. What role does she have in your work and your life?

MB: She is everything. If she had not been there, I’m sure I would still be driving a truck. She does my management, she writes emails, she does all the contracts, she arranges all the exhibitions, she handles the openings and the book signings. She’s much better in English than I am. She does makeup. We work together and we have never been separated in 23 years. We’re always together.

AM: How did you meet your wife?

MB: I was looking for assistants and advertised in the newspaper. And then she came and we worked three years together before anything happened.

Manfred Baumann (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

Manfred Baumann (photo courtesy of Manfred Baumann)

AM: What projects are you working on right now?

MB: I am working on the project with the white horses. I’m lucky – we have already finished the shoot and I am working with the book publisher to get the book completed.

And at the end of this year a big new “best of” book will come out, so I am using this time to sit at home in front of the computer to select these photos because after 25, 30 years there are a lot of photographs. It’s really hard to decide which ones should be in the book.

AM: What is a normal schedule like for you?

MB: When the world is normal we spend only four or five months in Vienna and we are in Los Angeles for two or three months. We do a lot of stuff in Australia.

"France" (photo by Manfred Baumann)

“France” (photo by Manfred Baumann)

This summer, when everything is fine, we plan to go with a camper to Sweden, Norway and Finland for National Geographic. We love to travel. We do a lot of photoshoots in London, Berlin, so we’re always on tour. We’re planning to come to Canada next year, too – to Calgary. 

For more information about Manfred Baumann and his work, please visit manfredbaumann.com

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INTERVIEW WITH NASCA UNO

Nasca Uno in front of the mural he created for the 2019 Berlin Lollapalooza music festival (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

Nasca Uno in front of the mural he created for the 2019 Berlin Lollapalooza music festival (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

By Anita Malhotra

27-year-old muralist, painter and illustrator Nasca Uno (alias Armin E. Mendocilla) is best known for his lush, colourful murals featuring striking imagery of indigenous people and ethno-political topics from around the world.

A tribute (untitled) by Nasca Uno to the indigenous Andean people of Latin America (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

A tribute (untitled) by Nasca Uno to the indigenous Andean people of Latin America (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Based in Berlin, he began developing his craft when he was a child, doing street graffiti and later murals in his hometown of Munich. His distinctive style is influenced by American and Japanese comic strips and by his Peruvian heritage (his mother is Peruvian).

Nasca Uno’s work is often commissioned and has appeared all over Europe as well as in Peru, Cuba, the Philippines, Morocco, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, among others.

Last year, he was invited along with several other artists to create a mural for an art wall at the 2019 Lollapalooza Berlin festival.  Anita Malhotra spoke with him on Sept. 7, 2019.

Nasca Uno working on his mural for Lollapalooza Berlin on Sept. 7, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Nasca Uno working on his mural for Lollapalooza Berlin on Sept. 7, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: How did this project at Lollapalooza Berlin come about?

NU: I got a request two months ago from an agency that was collaborating with SEAT, the festival’s official partner, and they asked me to do a mural painting for the festival. The festival is about music and people, and we were asked to interpret those elements visually. We were supported by the Spanish spray paint brand Montana Colors, and I painted alongside some very cool artists. In the end it was a beautiful project and I had fun working on that mural.

Nasca Uno in front of his mural at Lollapalooza Berlin , with his artist logo visible (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

Nasca Uno in front of his mural at Lollapalooza Berlin , with his artist logo visible (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

AM: Can you describe the content of your painting?

NU: The painting shows an indigenous woman surrounded by inhabitants of the rainforest – more specifically, the Amazonian rainforest. The atmosphere is depicted in a mystical way and you can see two monkeys and a snake sitting on a woman’s shoulder and head.

These animals are very important elements in my paintings. Their symbolism has a very long tradition in the history of art of different cultures. I was born in the Chinese Year of the Monkey – maybe that’s also one of the reasons I love to paint them. It just feels very natural to me.

Visitors to Lollapalooza Berlin interacting with Nasca Uno's mural (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

Visitors to Lollapalooza Berlin interacting with Nasca Uno’s mural (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2019)

I tend to paint people who tell stories through their facial expressions. So I often portray elderly people, whose life experience is visible in their faces. Of course, a younger face can also express many feelings and stories.

But because most of the observers of the mural will be young people, I chose to portray a younger person to convey the message. The fact that mankind is destroying its biggest rainforest is the theme of my mural. The small fire on the flute symbolizes the issue that is happening right now. I wanted to point at it very subtly. This mural is dedicated to the Amazon.

Nasca Uno and his mother at Colca Canyon National Park in Peru in 2017 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Nasca Uno and his mother at Colca Canyon National Park in Peru in 2017 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

AM: Have you been to the Amazon region?

NU: Yes, but always as a tourist. The first time was a couple of years ago during one of my travels to Peru, and the most recent time was in 2017. Next time I want to dive deep inside and experience the wisdom of the tribes native to the area.

AM: Where did your interest in different tribes come from?

NU: My grandmother was born and raised in a Central Andean village, and when I was a child, my family used to take us there. The Andean scenery and its inhabitants’ deep knowledge, spiritual wisdom and connection to nature always amazed me.

This is something that our “modern” society is slowly trying to reconnect to now. I developed an interest in indigenous and ancient cultures as we used to have a book at home about the Incas and the Moche people.

Nasca Uno and his mother in Munich in 1996 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Nasca Uno and his mother in Munich in 1996 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

AM: Can you tell me about your earliest exploration of art?

NU: My earliest exploration of art, I was told, started at the age of three. I can barely remember, but I loved to draw the characters of comics like Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers.

When I was little, my mom worked at an office and always took me with her. She understood very early on that drawing and painting was something that I would do for a long time.

Drawing was life to me. Every new cartoon series that appeared on TV, especially Japanese anime series, got my attention and I drew all of them.

When I entered school I was super confused because I couldn’t spend my whole time drawing. I got in trouble with my teachers, not just from not paying attention to class but also from distracting my classmates because they preferred to observe me drawing. I earned my first money drawing Pokémons and Digimons for my classmates.

Then came Dragon Ball. It was an old TV show from the ‘90s that became popular much later in Germany. Its style had a huge impact on my art and the aesthetics of my characters.

Nasca Uno painting a commissioned piece in 2008 at the Regents Hotel in Trujillo, Peru (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Nasca Uno painting a commissioned piece in 2008 at the Regents Hotel in Trujillo, Peru (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

AM: How did you first get started making murals?

NU: I started doing graffiti when I around 10 – sketches of graffiti letters combined with comic characters. My best friend at the time was super into hip-hop and he asked me to start doing graffiti.

A can of Knauf - a local Peruvian spraypaint - in 2008 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

A can of Knauf – a local Peruvian spraypaint – in 2008 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Together we started out first crew, “EAL,” which stands for “Equality” and painted our first bombings and pieces using trash cans from the hardware store. We lived in a village outside of Munich and were very young, so we didn’t have any connection to the scene.

I was pretty isolated doing graffiti in those first years and developed my own kind of style and aesthetics without any local influences. I was very lucky because close by there was a legal spot you could paint and barely anyone knew about it. I also had family in Barcelona and Peru, so I got the chance to meet graffiti writers there and paint there in the following years.

Nasca Uno with Santas One in front of their commissioned wall in Trujillo, Peru in 2008 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Nasca Uno with Santas One in front of their commissioned wall in Trujillo, Peru in 2008 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

When I was 16 I got to know some local [graffiti] writers from my family’s hometown, Trujillo, which is a small coastal city in Northern Peru.

It astonished me how these guys were able to paint awesome photorealistic characters and styles using low-quality spray paints and roller paints.

Because of the lack of good quality paints, people there were really experimental and used all the materials they had. It showed me that you don’t need fancy paints to do awesome pieces. It really inspired me, so I started experimenting a lot.

Nasca Uno working on a poster (Keep it in the Ground) for Climate Justice Street Art in Berlin (photo by Ruben Caeiro, 350.org, Flickr Creative Commons, Nov. 28, 2018)

Nasca Uno working on a poster (Keep it in the Ground) for Climate Justice Street Art in Berlin (photo by Ruben Caeiro, 350.org, Flickr Creative Commons, Nov. 28, 2018)

Back in Germany I had been doing commissioned work since the age of 13 because the local mayor discovered my work at the legal spot in my home village. It was a good chance for me to train many different skills and styles and to gather a lot of paint to use for my free work. I was able to get a big stock of spray paint so I could paint more and more, and with that money I was able to travel and meet new people.

AM: Are you planning to go all over the world doing your paintings?

NU: Well, as much as possible, of course. There is so much to see out there, and what else is more beautiful than exploring the whole world and the experiences it offers?

A 2019 wall painting by Nasca Uno in the town of Nyaung-U, Myanmar (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

A 2019 wall painting by Nasca Uno in the town of Nyaung-U, Myanmar (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

In the future, travelling should be more regulated because we have to save our environment, but if I have the chance to combine my passion of painting with exploring the world, there is nothing more fulfilling than that for me.

This year I was very lucky to spend three months in Southeast Asia to meet and experience many different people, cultures, heritages and types of wisdom. I had beautiful experiences that keep inspiring me in my art.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about the technique of doing such a large-scale painting as this one at Lollapalooza?

NU: When it comes to large-scale paintings that greatly exceed human proportions, I like to use the paint roller technique to do a first rough sketch. Once this is done and I have my concept, I can work on top of it with whatever technique I like.

Nasca Uno painting "Gutes gedeiht im Dreck" (Good Things Thrive in the Dirt) in 2019 at Urban Art Hall in Berlin (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Nasca Uno painting “Gutes gedeiht im Dreck” (Good Things Thrive in the Dirt) in 2019 at Urban Art Hall in Berlin (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

There is also a way to use grids to transfer your painting on the wall. I try to avoid that because I like to train my skills without using artificial methods.

When I do a sketch for a wall as preparation and then redo it on the wall, it is just a copy of the state of mind I was in when I did the sketch. I’m someone who always wants to learn and develop.

So when I do a sketch for a wall, I leave it very rough to allow for spontaneous ideas. I always like to surprise myself. Of course, when it comes to projects with a busy schedule, you can save quite a lot of time by using a grid.

AM: So you don’t use any artificial method to figure out the proportions? You can just do that while you’re painting on the wall?

NU: Yes, on this scale I can do that just by using my eyes. It’s just experience – pure training. Like a sportsman training his muscles, you can train your sense of proportion. The more you train, the better and more confident you will become at this.

AM: Where did your artist name “Nasca” come from?

NU: The name Nasca came up for the first time in 2009. I painted under a lot of different names before that but “Nasca” originated because of the region and ancient culture in Peru that is said to have created the Nazca Lines, the most famous geoglyphs in the world. I think my brother came up with the name.

Nasca Uno in 2012 painting a mural on a demolished house (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Nasca Uno in 2012 painting a mural on a demolished house (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

I always wanted to use a name that in some way represented my connection to Peru, and one day I read an article in a science magazine that said that Nazca Lines were kind of a graffiti for the gods in former times, because you could only observe them from above the sky. So that was a sign for me to go for that name, and sometimes I add the “one” or “uno” as a classic hip-hop gimmick.

AM: Aside from Lollapalooza, where else do you have work in Berlin?

NU: Actually, all around the city. The most inspiring place I have painted in Berlin was definitely Teufelsberg, an abandoned former spy station from the Cold War that was built on Berlin’s highest hill and is now one of Berlin’s biggest outdoor galleries for urban art.

The abandoned Teufelberg Cold War listening station in Berlin (photo by Sarahmirk, Wikimedia Commons, April 7, 2017)

The abandoned Teufelberg Cold War listening station in Berlin (photo by Sarahmirk, Wikimedia Commons, April 7, 2017)

When I moved to Berlin in 2015, there was an art festival happening in Teufelsberg where I got invited. It blew my mind as I hadn’t seen many places like that. It is so inspirational – I recommend everyone to visit it.

There’s one other beautiful place called the Urban Art Hall, where I painted several murals and pieces. It’s an abandoned post office in the Spandau district and it is run by a foundation that is putting a lot of love in it. It’s a place for everyone to paint and express themselves freely. It’s a good example of what you can achieve when artists are given the space and freedom to do what they love to do.

AM: Can you tell me about your smaller works – those that are not murals?

NU: Basically, the content of a painting painted on a big scale or a small one is the same. The big advantage of painting in a studio is that you can take a lot more time to work on the artwork. Paintings on walls and murals are often dependent on weather conditions, daily costs of lifts, and so on.

Nasca Uno and two children in front of his mural "Ibu Warung" in Canggu, Bali, Indonesia in 2019 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Nasca Uno and two children in front of his mural “Ibu Warung” in Canggu, Bali, Indonesia in 2019 (photo courtesy of Nasca Uno)

Also, painting on walls and murals forces you to go outside and beyond your comfort zone. You go to places that most people wouldn’t seek out such as abandoned buildings, ruins, along railway tracks, ruins and so on. Sometimes you even wake up at 6 a.m. in order to have the full day at those locations or to not attract any attention because of legal conditions.

Depending on the surroundings of the wall you are painting, you get to know the people of the area, listen to their stories, make friendships, and get to know their culture and sometimes even family.

And these experiences can also be integrated into the paintings, which I love. When it comes to painting in public areas, especially on a big scale, it’s very important for me that people can build up a kind of relationship to the painting – it’s not me throwing them a bone in an aesthetic way. In my opinion, that’s one of the responsibilities as a mural painter.

For more information on Nasca Uno and his art, please visit his Facebook page or www.nasca1.com.

 

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INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER BAUDER

Light artist Christopher Bauder and DEEP WEB (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Light artist Christopher Bauder and DEEP WEB (photo by Ralph Larmann)

By Anita Malhotra

German artist and designer Christopher Bauder has married his love of light with technology he invented to create large-scale, otherworldly installations and performances that combine kinetic light with electronic music.

SKALAR, by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

SKALAR, by Christopher Bauder and Kangding Ray, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Among his award-winning works are SKALAR (2018), a large-scale installation created with musician and DJ Kangding Ray; DEEP WEB (2016), a monumental installation and live performance done in collaboration with electronic musician Robert Henke; and LICHTGRENZE, created in 2014 with his brother Marc, a filmmaker, for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Bauder’s installations and live performances have been presented in Germany and around the world, including at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Design in Zurich, MUTEK festival in Montreal and Mexico City, and numerous other venues and festivals.

An audience experiencing SKALAR at the CTM Festival in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

An audience experiencing SKALAR at the CTM Festival in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

He is also the founder of the companies WHITEvoid, the design agency that produces his shows, and KINETIC LIGHTS, which manufacturers and distributes the light systems used in them.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019.

Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Christopher Bauder at his office in Berlin on Sept. 10, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: When did you first get interested in light?

CB: I was basically always interested in light. Even as a kid I started collecting candles and lighters and matchers in a drawer under my bed. I was three or four when my mom caught me collecting them.

I was fascinated with all kinds of light and that’s what I could get my hands on. Later, I started experimenting with light bulbs – with my own fixtures, desk lamps and table lamps. Then I got to know LED and other technologies, and it basically developed from there. It was a continuing love that I have been sharing until today.

AM: What is the fascination about?

CB: It’s the materiality of the light itself. I’m very interested in the output of the light. For example, a laser has a very iridescent, otherworldly, alien kind of look to it. You think you can touch it because it looks so real, but it’s not really there.

SKALAR at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

SKALAR at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

A flame is totally different. A flame seems to be alive. It has this golden look to it – very warm – and we connect it with certain emotions that we have when we sit around a fire.

Then there’s LED. It allows me to create light in any kind of shape I want. There’s moving light – halogen. Each of these light sources has a different property to the light that is fascinating to me. I can use it in in different ways to manipulate it and to work with it.

LICHTGRENZE, a citywide art installation created in 2014 by Christopher Bauder and his brother Marc Bauder to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall (photo by Ralph Larmann)

LICHTGRENZE, a citywide art installation created in 2014 by Christopher Bauder and his brother Marc Bauder to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall (photo by Ralph Larmann)

AM: How did your passion develop into actually doing art with light?

CB: I took a little bit of a detour. I was studying here at art university in Berlin and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in digital media classes.

LICHTGRENZE, Berlin, 2014 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

LICHTGRENZE, Berlin, 2014 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

It was creative programming – everything related to computer and screen output and so on, but I also experimented a lot with 3D software.

I wanted to use all these elements that I was using inside the computer – like polygons or voxels – in the real world.

So I came up with this idea of a three-dimensional pixel – something physical, like a small unit of a bigger form that I could position in space. And that pixel needed to have a colour.

I had the idea to invent a motor system that allowed me to move the light in space by attaching the light source to the end of a cable that I reeled in and out. Through that I was coming back to my original passion about light and from there I started experimenting with what I could combine that with – with laser and all kinds of different light sources.

2047 Apologue, a concept stage show directed by Zhang Yimou that features a kinetic display by Christopher Bauder, presented in Beijing in 2017 (photo by WHITEvoid)

2047 Apologue, a concept stage show directed by Zhang Yimou that features a kinetic display by Christopher Bauder, presented in Beijing in 2017 (photo by WHITEvoid)

AM: What was your first official piece for light?

CB: It was a large-scale installation called ATOM. It was 64 helium-filled balloons each about 50 centimetres high and there was a small LED inside each one.

Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke working on their piece ATOM in 2010 (photo by WHITEvoid)

Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke working on their piece ATOM in 2010 (photo by WHITEvoid)

I had an arrangement of eight by eight of these – it was about 10 by eight metres in size. It was attached to a motor on the ground and I could reel the cable in and out. I could control it through computer software – it was the first art piece in this direction.

AM: Were you the first person who used this technique?

CB: I think so. I would claim that I invented kinetic lighting.

There are so many copies out there and it’s diluting the original source. We have copies of our installations and products coming from China and all over the world, but I’ve been doing this since 2001, so I don’t think there was anything before that.

AM: Your installation DEEP WEB just completed a six-week run in Berlin a few weeks ago. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

CB: DEEP WEB is a large-scale audio-visual installation. It’s 175 15-centimetre diameter balls. They’re filled with water and each of them is attached to a motor – a winch – on the ceiling so we can move them and animate them in patterns. And then we have an arrangement of 12 high-power lasers around this, and the lasers are basically tracking those balls.

DEEP WEB, by Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

DEEP WEB, by Christopher Bauder and Robert Henke, at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Normally, a laser beam would be endless. It would end up on the wall or somewhere. But in this case there is a stopper to the laser beam, which is one of the balls.

So by using this system we can create vector drawings in space. Again, this comes back to wanting to transfer properties of 3D software into the real world. It’s three-dimensional vector drawings that allow me to create architectural forms in space, made out of light.

And I work together with a very famous composer and electronic musician from Berlin – Robert Henke. He’s one of the inventors of Ableton Live, the music software. We present this as an exhibition, so you can enter it at any time and stay as long as you want.

We also have one-hour live shows where we can have a more clearly defined dramaturgy because we can start with something small and build it up to a peak, which you can’t do in the exhibition.So the exhibition is more ambient – you’re sitting on the floor, walking around slowly and it’s more meditative – while the concert is clearly more sound-driven. It has  hard techno music; there are beats. It’s more like a full-on, one-hour concentrated show.

DEEP WEB in Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

DEEP WEB in Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

AM: Are you improvising in the live performances?

CB: We have the possibility to improvise mainly on the music side, and the visual side is directly connected by software programming to the audio side. So if Robert is changing something in his score, altering parameters, this automatically transfers to the visuals at the same time. So every performance is different.

AM: Is the lighting technology something that your company produces?

CB: This is something that my companies WHITEvoid and KINETIC LIGHTS produce. KINETIC LIGHTS is a manufacturer, so we make those motors. We sell and we rent them worldwide. And WHITEvoid is a design agency and at the same time acts as the producer of my shows.

SKALAR at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

SKALAR at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

AM: I have read that you have always been interested in electronic music. Can you tell me a bit about that?

CB: You could say I’m like a techno-kid. I grew up with techno music – I was fascinated by electronic music right from the start. When I moved to Berlin almost 25 years ago, I immediately dove into the Berlin techno scene that Robert is also a big part of. That was always my background music, and when I’m creating art pieces I’m always thinking of the connection with electronic music.

Christopher Bauder (photo by Saskia Uppenkamp)

Christopher Bauder (photo by Saskia Uppenkamp)

AM: What comes first? The lighting design on the computer and then the music, or is it created at the same time?

CB: It’s a truly collaborative process. I come up with a general idea of what I want to create – so, in this example, a combination of lasers and kinetic balls. And then I meet up with Robert and we discuss a topic that we want to illustrate. We have an abstract storyline.

In this case we’re illustrating communication – from the early ways of sending and receiving to multi-point communication, to complex networks, to modems. This is basically a run-through of the development of digital communication from the early days until today. And then we try to illustrate that on the visual side and on the audio side.

Robert is creating sounds that could illustrate different aspects of this topic. I’m creating patterns that could match with certain parts of our storytelling. And then we see what fits together and look at the visuals and say, “This could sound like something like that.” And then either he already has a small snippet prepared or he’s producing something on the fly.

DEEP WEB in Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

DEEP WEB in Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

We do the same on the visual side. If we think, “Okay, the sound is great, it illustrates a certain aspect, but we don’t have a matching visual,” then we create something.

So it’s an iterative process – a ping-pong back and forth until we are satisfied with the overall construction of the show.

AM: Your lighting designs bring to mind the planets and the universe.

CB: Definitely. If you enter our space, if you’re experiencing our installation, you’re somewhere else. We’re transporting you to another dimension or another universe. A lot of people have said that they felt detached from being in Berlin, being at this time, or being who they are, and in the best case we managed to do that. So, of course there’s a strong connotation of creating something otherworldly or alien or like a universe of effects.

DEEP WEB at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

DEEP WEB at Kraftwerk Berlin in 2016 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

AM: How do you choose your spaces for your work?

CB: I like industrial spaces. I don’t like traditional museum spaces – white cubes or black boxes – because they’re just a neutral shell. I like to work with the space because my installations are spatial. You can experience them from 360 degrees. And I like this interplay between the old industrial space and the modern light installation inside.

Christopher Bauder's kinetic light installation CIRCULAR at Paris' Éléphant Paname art and dance centre in 2015 (photo by WHITEvoid)

Christopher Bauder’s kinetic light installation CIRCULAR at Paris’ Éléphant Paname art and dance centre in 2015 (photo by WHITEvoid)

For me it’s very important that the space has a character of its own because I will highlight that through my piece and that will be reflected back onto my installation and give it a nice background.

It’s like the frame around a picture in older times. You had the picture and then the frame gave it kind of a “shine.”

We are creating a similar effect by using old industrial spaces as a backdrop for our installations. Obviously I like big, so the space has to be huge and there are not that many available. So we are always hunting for particular spaces that can match the size and the properties that we need.

ELECTRIC MOONS by Christopher Bauder, at the St. Maria Church in Stuttgart in 2018 (photo by WHITEvoid)

ELECTRIC MOONS by Christopher Bauder, at the St. Maria Church in Stuttgart in 2018 (photo by WHITEvoid)

AM: Can you say a few words about your 2018 work SKALAR?

CB: For SKALAR I worked with Kangding Ray – David Letellier. He’s a French electronic composer and a DJ, and I’m a big fan of his. With SKALAR we tried to dig more into basic human emotions. I realized with previous shows that you can trigger really profound emotions in spectators with very simple combinations using technology.

We have light, we have movement, and we have sound. They are very abstract and we use a lot of technology to create them. There’s nothing natural about it, but we can still trigger very profound emotions in the spectators.

An audience experiencing SKALAR in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

An audience experiencing SKALAR in Berlin in 2018 (photo by Ralph Larmann)

Some people feel sad in some parts; other parts make them feel elevated and happy; in other parts they get angry because it’s very aggressive. We got that feedback a lot from audiences, so we realized we were on to something.

With SKALAR we were digging into that. We used a cycle of eight basic human emotions and we tried to illustrate each of those emotions with a combination of light, movement, colour and sound. I think we were quite successful with SKALAR in recreating this palette of emotions with the very abstract means that we had at hand.

AM: What are you working on currently?

CB: I’m working on a new show – also related to light, of course. I’m trying all kinds of combinations of a lot of different light sources. Before I was always focused on one aspect and now I’m trying to cover multiple things.

The Hakkasan Grid designed by Christopher Bauder, at the Las Vegas nightclub Hakkasan in 2019 (photo by WHITEvoid)

The Hakkasan Grid designed by Christopher Bauder, at the Las Vegas nightclub Hakkasan in 2019 (photo by WHITEvoid)

We are also working on a lot of projects where we do derivatives of our art installations for more commercial clients.

So we will do an installation for a club in China and probably a club in Switzerland, where we will use similar technology but in a club context to illustrate what the DJ is playing.

We’re also working on touring SKALAR. We will be in Mexico City in November for a whole month, and we will be in Amsterdam in January for one month. And then we’re looking at other shows probably in China and wherever we can find suitable spaces and opportunities.

AM: What future developments do you see with your company?

Christopher and Marc Bauder’s inauguration with the Order of Merit of the State of Berlin for the installation LICHTGRENZE (photo courtesy of WHITEvoid)

Christopher and Marc Bauder’s inauguration with the Order of Merit of the State of Berlin for the installation LICHTGRENZE (photo courtesy of WHITEvoid)

CB: I want to tour our pieces more to the general public – maybe even multiple at the same time. We do a lot of corporate shows, but it’s just a limited audience. So we’re looking to tour our installations more worldwide and also to show them for a longer time to be able to appeal to a broader audience.

For me it’s very important that this is not art for a certain peer group or special interest group. This is not just for art lovers or for people who like electronic music – it’s supposed to be for everyone: from children to old people. In Berlin it works quite well. We attracted 50,000 people in one month. But we need to get the word out and transform that all over the world when we’re touring, and that takes a bit of time.

SKALAR can be seen at at the Frontón México in Mexico City until Dec. 2, 2019. For more information about Christopher Bauder and his work, please visit christopherbauder.com or whitevoid.com.

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INTERVIEW WITH JEFTA VAN DINTHER

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther (photo by Nina Andersson)

Choreographer and dancer Jefta van Dinther (photo by Nina Andersson)

By Anita Malhotra

Dutch-Swedish choreographer Jefta van Dinther’s work is driven by his explorations of the physicality of the moving human body as it interacts with light, sound and materials, and the sensory affect of these explorations on the audience.

A graduate of the Amsterdam School of the Arts, van Dinther was a dancer before becoming a choreographer in 2008. Since then he has choreographed 10 works, four of which are currently touring in Europe: Plateau Effect (2013), Protagonist (2016), Dark Field Analysis (2017) and The Quiet (2019). 

A still from Jefta van Dinther's "Plateau Effect" (photo by Jubal Battisti)

A still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Plateau Effect” (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Based in Berlin but with close working ties to Stockholm, van Dinther has received numerous grants and awards, including the Swedish Theater Critics’ Dance Award for Plateau Effect.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Jefta van Dinther in Berlin on Sept. 5, the day before Plateau Effect received its Berlin premiere by the city’s prestigious Staatsballett.  

Jefta van Dinther on Sept. 5, 2019 at the Relish Restaurant in Berlin following his interview with Artsmania (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Jefta van Dinther on Sept. 5, 2019 at the Relish Restaurant in Berlin following his interview with Artsmania (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: When did you first become interested in dance?

JvD: My interest in dance as an art form started when I was 17, when I was brought to a studio by chance by a friend in Stockholm. It was an open class – a jazz class – to see if you wanted to start one of those evening hobby courses.

The teacher was so enthusiastic about me that he immediately pushed me to start dancing four times a week. I had danced before, but that was the turning point for me becoming really serious about it.

The reason I became serious about it was that I was in Gymnasium – senior secondary school – in Sweden and I was on a track of becoming an academic. I was very good at everything at school, and it came easily to me. I found that dancing was the only thing that I really had to work hard to achieve. It felt like getting your hands dirty – in a very complete sense. So from one day to the next, I decided to join that program. And a year and a half later, I did an audition for a dance academy.

A still from Jefta van Dinther's "Dark Field Analysis" (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

A still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Dark Field Analysis” (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

Prior to that, I had had performance experience. I grew up in a Christian environment – my parents were missionaries. They were travelling the world telling people about God.

I had performance experience from the age of six – playing in plays, singing on the street, sometimes moving in a kind of gesture, choreography or formation of kids singing about God.

Jefta van Dinther as a young child (photo courtesy of Jefta van Dinther)

Jefta van Dinther as a young child (photo courtesy of Jefta van Dinther)

AM: What countries were you performing in?

JvD: My first experience goes back to Japan when I was six, and I also lived in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Morocco, and for one year in the United States. That is when the idea of performing started – the idea of being in front of others and also this idea of conveying something to people.

It was very much about converting people, but it’s not so different from what I’m occupied with right now. There’s something about conveying and talking about something and bringing people somewhere.

AM: You studied dance in Amsterdam and you danced with other choreographers. What led you to decide to become a choreographer in your own right?

Jefta Van Dinther working with "Plateau Effect" dancers (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Jefta Van Dinther working with “Plateau Effect” dancers (photo by Jubal Battisti)

JvD: For me, there was never a calling to be a choreographer. It was really about the dancing body and having an interest in a kind of physical research.

After school, at first I was in a more classical company structure, where you’re given choreography and you perfect your model.

But quite soon after, I started to work with choreographers who were very collaborative – where the agency of the dancer was also very much a part of the creative process. There was always a person responsible, but there was also a kind of co-authoring with the team as a whole, and especially with the dancers.

I worked in these settings for a few years, and then I felt I wasn’t getting to try everything I want to try. So I asked for a research grant. Back then it was possible to get a research grant in Amsterdam.

I pulled together two other dancers and we had this project that didn’t have to result in a show. I would say the foundation was made there. Many of the things that would later develop also appeared in that research project.

Still from "The Way Things Go" by Jefta van Dinther (photo by Yoav Barel)

Still from “The Way Things Go” by Jefta van Dinther (photo by Yoav Barel)

AM: What were these elements?

JvD: Kinesthesia, for example – the power that it has on the spectator. The kind of mirroring that happens when you watch a body in motion and how that body enters your body.

Still from Jefta van Dinther's "It's in the Air" (photo by Peter Lenaerts)

Still from Jefta van Dinther’s “It’s in the Air” (photo by Peter Lenaerts)

A sense of duration – my work deals with a strong sense of time.

I was also researching into how face had been very excluded in my dancing background. I wanted to bring that out and let that be part of the dancing body. And then it became natural to crystallize these findings in performances.

Only a few pieces later I started to think in the reverse way: “What am I making, what do I want to talk about, what do I want to bring to an audience?” First it was more like, “What do I want to do with my body? How do I want to explore my body?”

AM: After studying and working in Amsterdam, what brought you to Berlin?

JvD: I moved here 10 years ago, in 1998. I had wanted to come here for a while already. I had lived in Amsterdam for 10 years and was tired, in a way, of its smallness. And then I met my ex-boyfriend of that time. And it was just an easy call to go. It was like, “I fell in love, I went.”

Jefta van Dinther (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Jefta van Dinther (photo by Jubal Battisti)

AM: What is the dance scene like here?

JvD: I am not so affiliated with the dance scene here, except for my recurring relationship with the theatre Hebbel Am Ufer, which co-produces and presents all my works. I’m Swedish, and for the last six years I’ve been getting structural funding from Stockholm to run my company.

This is the first time that I have felt that I work locally. I’ve had shorter rehearsal periods of one or two weeks here, but I’ve been in a kind of circuit of dance that works a lot through the residency system. So I’m always travelling to rehearse somewhere through partners that provide studio or theatre spaces. It’s been a very, very nomadic life with a kind of home base here.

People assembled in front of the Komische Oper before the Berlin Premiere of "Plateau Effect" on Sept. 6, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

People assembled in front of the Komische Oper before the Berlin Premiere of “Plateau Effect” on Sept. 6, 2019 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

I have this big gig here with Staatsballett Berlin and I think now is the time to really start to expand on my possibilities here because I have got married and bought a flat here. So this is going to be my place to stay.

AM: The Berlin premiere of your 2013 work Plateau Effect takes place tomorrow. Can you tell me a bit about the piece and its title?

JvD: “Plateau effect” is a term that is used for when development evens out. For me this plateauing is interesting because we live in a society where development is something we always talk about. If something is not increasing, we consider this bad. So I wanted to look at what happens in a plateauing situation. Celebrate that form; linger on that.

Still from Jefta van Dinther's "Plateau Effect" (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Plateau Effect” (photo by Jubal Battisti)

In the end, I think the work has become something different because it’s more about slow processes. There are waves, there are curves in the piece – but there’s always a progression. There’s a slight boiling that starts to boil more and more and more.

Still from "Plateau Effect" (photo by Jubal Battisti)

Still from “Plateau Effect” (photo by Jubal Battisti)

AM: Is it very challenging to work with nine dancers?

JvD: Actually, it was originally for nine but I wanted one of the alternates to be in the piece, so I have made it for 10 now. I find it very beautiful to work in big groups. Of course, the challenge is there are many voices, and finding time to bring in so many voices.

"Plateau Effect" poster (photo courtesy of Jefta van Dinther)

“Plateau Effect” poster (photo courtesy of Jefta van Dinther)

I’m pretty directive as a choreographer, but I’m also collaborative. It’s important to me that their voices are part of the creation process and eventually also the piece.

Also, it’s important that we communicate about what works and what doesn’t work. I would say the most challenging aspect of that is to find time to speak together because you’re so many people. It’s the 10 dancers. It’s also the lighting designer, two set designers, the costume designer, the sound designer and two assistants. There are many voices there.

AM: Does improvisation play a role in Plateau Effect?

JvD: There are a lot of things that are set, but there are also a lot of things that are not set. It’s a complex layering of physical, spatial, performative undertakings that the dancers have to do in real time. And it’s by being busy with a complex set of these in each section of the piece that the choreography unravels.

It’s like a score that the dancers have to re-interpret every time, which has some very fixed points. They have very clear sound cues, for example. They have light cues – when certain things should shift. But who is where doing what, and if an arm is up to the right, or if they’re touching the floor, all of that is very improvised.

AM: Is there any audience participation in your work?

JvD: Not in a literal sense. I’m much more interested in a very subjective, almost cinematic experience for the spectator, where you forget about the other audience members and this work enters you.

Still from Jefta van Dinther's "Dark Field Analysis" (photo by Max Stürmer)

Still from Jefta van Dinther’s “Dark Field Analysis” (photo by Max Stürmer)

Many of my works are very overwhelming of the senses. There’s very loud music; the light is a very present and active player. I often work in the very dark – like in Dark Field Analysis. You can’t actually see anything but those dancing bodies on stage.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about Dark Field Analysis?

JvD: Looking back, I’ve made 10 shows, and what I see now is that in every work I look for some altered state.

And the altered states can be through sexual experience, through depression – Protagonist, for example – through intoxication, or through a “rush” of something.

With Dark Field Analysis, there was something about what the encounter with someone else does to you and your state, and how that can be a very altered state, even through a simple conversation. That was one aspect for me – the encounter with someone else and how that shifts something about your self-perception.

Still from "Dark Field Analysis" (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

Still from “Dark Field Analysis” (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

And there was also this other idea, which is where the title comes from. “Dark Field Analysis” is a term that comes from a branch of alternative medicine where you take a drop of blood, you analyze it under a microscope, and you can actually see your living blood in front of you.

So I had that test done. And to me that was a very interesting, deeply profound, and uncanny experience of looking into myself.

Being myself and at the same time looking into myself – literally, anatomically, I was seeing my blood and the way that it would disintegrate and dissolve, and the way that the red blood cells would interact or other bodies in my blood.

So Dark Field Analysis is also about that. It’s about getting into your own anatomy, but also your emotional life, your psychological life, into areas unknown.

AM: The Quiet is your newest work and I have read that it was set in a post-apocalyptic time period. Why did you set it then?

JvD: That’s what has been written about it – it’s not my phrasing. The last pieces seem to have something to do with technology and future.

Still from Jefta van Dinther's "The Quiet" (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

Still from Jefta van Dinther’s “The Quiet” (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

The Quiet wasn’t necessarily about that, but through the reactions of the audience and through what has been written about it, I understand more and more that the piece brings something out that deals with something archaic on one hand – rituals, gathering of people sitting around a fireplace, constructing something, walking – coupled with something that is very futuristic and technological.

For instance, they find a hatch in the floor, they open that hatch, and they gather around it as if it’s a kind of campfire. But it’s a hatch with a basement, and the light that comes out of it is very artificial. So it makes people think of a television or a computer.

Still from "The Quiet" (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

Still from “The Quiet” (photo by Ben Mergelsberg)

These two images together, they don’t make sense. So people started talking about that piece as if it started after some sort of apocalypse. Why are we in a world where there are only women? It’s a world without men, it’s a world that is slower, with leftover traces of what might have been a house.

I guess it’s an interpretation based very much on the esthetics – the light esthetics, for example, or the costumes they’re wearing. It’s a beautiful dialogue for me: the archaic and the futuristic. 

AM: You are touring four of your works in Europe over the next half-year or so. Are you creating any new work at the same time?

JvD: I’m just starting a period now where I’m an associated artist with Cullberg, the company I made Plateau Effect for originally and that I made Protagonist for. They are the biggest contemporary dance institution in Sweden. And for the next three years, me, Deborah Hay and Alma Söderberg will be the associated artists with this company.

Still from "The Way Things Go" by Jefta van Dinther (photo by Yoav Barel)

Still from “The Way Things Go” by Jefta van Dinther (photo by Yoav Barel)

So for the next two years I’m making one work per year for them. One of them is a solo, and one of them is a group piece for the whole company. That solo I’m starting on already in a few weeks, but I always work very slowly, so the premiere is not until next November.

I always try to have at least a year for a project – not in real time of spending time with a dancer, but spread out over that year. It’s very important to me to revisit what we make and then have a break. Work, have breaks, come back to it, see it again, and have lived life in the meantime.

For more information about Jefta van Dinther and his work, please visit jeftavandinther.com. 

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INTERVIEW WITH DIANA SCHNIEDERMEIER (INTERACTIVE MEDIA FOUNDATION)

Diana Schniedermeier of the Berlin-based Interactive Media Foundation (© Interactive Media Foundation)

Diana Schniedermeier of the Berlin-based Interactive Media Foundation (© Interactive Media Foundation)

By Anita Malhotra

Diana Schniedermeier is a Managing Director and Executive Producer at the Interactive Media Foundation, an award-winning, non-profit company based in Berlin that produces culturally and socially relevant productions in a variety of media.

Their innovative projects include Inside Tumucumaque, a breathtaking VR installation that allows participants to “see” from the perspective of five animals in the Amazon rainforest; Baukraft, a Minecraft contest aimed at improving social conditions in an overcrowded Berlin neighbourhood; and Das Totale Tanz Theater, a stunning VR installation inspired by Bauhaus concepts in which the participant interacts with hundreds of digital dancers on a multi-story virtual stage.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Diana Schniedermeier on September 9, 2019 about the Interactive Media Foundation’s work at its office in Berlin.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about the Interactive Media Foundation?

Diana Schniedermeier at her Interactive Media Foundation office in Berlin (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Diana Schniedermeier at her Interactive Media Foundation office in Berlin (photo by Anita Malhotra)

DS: The Interactive Media Foundation started in 2013 and we are a team of experts from digital media, from narrative, from film, from games, and what we are trying to do is find expressions for topics that are relevant to society. These might be cultural topics, ecological topics, or health topics, for example.

When we start to research a topic that is interesting to us, we always have two questions: to whom do we want to communicate, and how do we have to communicate it so that it reaches people intellectually and emotionally? And so we have done graphic novels, motion graphic novels, games, and have been doing VR for a few years.

Then we look for partners: technological partners, partners for distribution, for financing, because we are a small company. Our main role is thinking about the topics, how to convey them, and who to work with. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK WATSON

Montreal musician Patrick Watson (photo by Patrick Gouin)

Montreal musician Patrick Watson (photo by Patrick Gouin)

By Anita Malhotra

It’s hard to imagine a more authentic, sincere musical voice than that of Montreal singer-songwriter Patrick Watson (also the name of his band), who will release his sixth studio album this fall.

Audiences connect with him on a highly personal level, as shown by the heartfelt comments left on his YouTube videos by fans and the warmth of audiences at his live shows.

Watson’s musical approach was influenced by growing up in the small Quebec town of Hudson, where he sang in local church choirs.

After studying music at Vanier College, he toured as himself and as a band with such artists as James Brown, John Cale, Philip Glass, The Cinematic Orchestra, Amon Tobin and Feist. He and his band have also toured extensively internationally in their own right.

Patrick Watson's second album, Close To Paradise, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize (photo courtesy of Patrick Watson)

Patrick Watson’s second album, Close To Paradise, won the 2007 Polaris Music Prize (photo courtesy of Patrick Watson)

Releasing his first album in 2003, Watson won the Polaris Music Prize in 2007 for his second album, Close to Paradise, and went on to release Wooden Arms (2009), Adventures in Your Own Backyard (2012) and Love Songs for Robots (2015).

Several of his songs have been featured in movies as well as in TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, and Orange is the New Black.

Watson is also a soundtrack composer and recently created the sound and music for Gymnasia, a haunting virtual reality piece co-produced by the National Film Board and Felix & Paul Studios, and directed by animators Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski (aka Clyde Henry Productions).

Anita Malhotra spoke with Patrick Watson by phone on June 11, 2019 about his work on Gymnasia, his approach to music and his current projects.

AM: How did you get involved with doing the music and sound for Gymnasia?

PW: Chris and Maciek work for Clyde Henry Productions and I usually do all the music for their films. We got involved in VR because Felix & Paul Studios had asked Chris and Maciek to test out a camera of theirs – to do a little short.

We did this very humble video of me playing in my studio. In the initial test they noticed that a certain type of simplicity was really crucial. The whole thing is meant to feel like you’re sitting there, and at one point I look at you. If it’s done well, the effect of being alone with someone in VR is a strange experience, even before you start adding any kind of fancy stuff. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH SANDRA BEASLEY

Washington, D.C. poet Sandra Beasley (photo by Milly West)

Washington, D.C. poet Sandra Beasley (photo by Milly West)

By Anita Malhotra

Sandra Beasley’s poetry is striking, surprising, clever and funny – and often inspires the reader to learn more.

Based in Washington, D.C., Beasley is the author of three poetry collections – Theories of Falling (2008), I Was the Jukebox (2010) and Count the Waves (2015).

Her poetry has been published in dozens of magazines and journals, including Poetry, Black Warrior Review, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird and Oxford American and she has won numerous awards, most notably the New Issues Poetry Prize and the Barnard Women Poets Prize. 

In spring 2019, she held the John Montague International Poetry Fellowship sponsored by Ireland’s Munster Literature Centre and University College Cork. 

Beasley, who holds an MFA in creative writing from American University, is also a non-fiction author and book editor.

Beasley's 2015 book of poems, "Count the Waves" (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Beasley’s 2015 book of poems, “Count the Waves” (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Her memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life was released in 2011, and she is the editor of Vinegar and CharVerse from the Southern Foodways Alliance (2018), an anthology of poems about Southern food. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tampa’s low-residency MFA program.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Beasley, who was at her home in Washington, D.C., on May 20, 2019.

AM: What are your earliest memories of being drawn to the written word?

SB: Probably the simple request to be excused from dinner early at my grandmother’s house.

I would usually beg to get away from the adult conversation and they’d send me downstairs. And downstairs usually meant picking up one of the books, or one of the Reader’s Digests off the table, and reading.

Sandra Beasley as a young girl celebrating her birthday (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

Sandra Beasley as a young girl celebrating her birthday (photo courtesy of Sandra Beasley)

For many years my favorite first poet was Emily Dickinson, in part because there was a brown softcover reader of Emily Dickinson’s poems – I think it was one of my uncle’s college textbooks. That was the first one I would go to when I got away from the dinner table. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH ALISON SNOWDEN AND DAVID FINE

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

David Fine and Alison Snowden at their Vancouver home (photo © Chad Galloway)

By Anita Malhotra

Vancouver-based animators, directors and writers Alison Snowden and David Fine received some very good news recently – an Oscar nomination for their most recent animated short film, Animal Behaviour.

The film, produced and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada, is a humorous look at what happens when a new animal joins a canine-led therapy session for five animals (a leech, praying mantis, pig, cat and bird), who are struggling with their natural instincts.

Still from "Animal Behaviour" by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Still from “Animal Behaviour” by Alison Snowden and David Fine (photo courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada)

Snowden and Fine, a husband-and-wife team, have been working together since they met in the early ‘80s at England’s National Film and Television School.

Their films include the Oscar-winning short animation Bob’s Birthday (1994) and the Oscar-nominated shorts Second Class Mail and George and Rosemary.

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

Alison Snowden and David Fine at the National Film Board studio in Vancouver (photo by Katja De Bock)

They also created the animated TV series Bob and Margaret (1998-2001), for which they served as executive producers, writers, and in Snowden’s case, voice actor. Other TV series they created were Ricky Sprocket: Showbiz Boy and Shaun the Sheep.

Anita Malhotra spoke to Snowden and Fine, who were at their Vancouver home, by phone on Feb. 8, 2019, two weeks before Oscar night on Feb. 24, 2019.

AM: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination and the other awards you’ve won so far for Animal Behaviour. I understand you’ve just come back from Los Angeles. What were you doing there?

AS: They have a luncheon for the Oscar nominees. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and they take a big group photo of this year’s nominees, and it was really lovely. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CAMILLE SEAMAN

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

By Anita Malhotra

Photographer Camille Seaman is best known for her stunning photos of polar ice and habitats as well as for her dramatic photographs taken while storm-chasing. Her unique style is informed by her Native American heritage and its emphasis on connection with and respect for nature.

A TED Senior Fellow since 2011 and a frequent public speaker, Seaman has received several awards, including a 2006 National Geographic Award and a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University.

Three books of her work have been published, and her photos have appeared in National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine, among others. 

Seaman recently moved from California to Ireland, where she is working on her first novel. Anita Malhotra spoke with her by phone on Dec. 3, 2018, a few days before she left for Antarctica on her latest photographic project.

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: Can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and your childhood?

CS: I grew up on Long Island. My family on my father’s side are indigenous to Long Island. We’ve been there for thousands of years – part of the Shinnecock tribe. And my mother is black and Italian, so she came from New York City out to the island and met my dad and they got married. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTINA COSTANTINI AND DARREN FOSTER

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary "Science Fair," at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary “Science Fair,” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning investigative journalists Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster have been getting a lot of positive buzz about their first feature film collaboration, Science Fair.

Full of humor and deftly crafted, the inspiring film follows nine extraordinary teenagers vying against 1,700 others to win coveted prizes at one of the world’s largest international science fairs.

The film has played to almost unanimous acclaim, winning audience awards at several film festivals, including Sundance and South by Southwest (SXSW). In April 2018, Science Fair was acquired by National Geographic, who are distributing it in cinemas and schools and plan to broadcast it in 2019.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Costantini and Foster, who are based in Los Angeles, on Nov. 6, 2018, a few days before Science Fair began its Nov. 9-18 run at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema.

AM: Can you each tell me a bit about your career before Science Fair?

DF: Both of us were journalists before we became filmmakers. I did a lot of TV docs. The opioid crisis, immigration and the drug war were probably my primary areas of focus over the last 10 years or so.

So it was a bit of a departure for me to do something like Science Fair, but it was a much needed and very happy departure. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been partnered with Cristina on a previous project.

CC: Darren and I worked on a project about fentanyl together, which is a deadly opiate that has made both the U.S. and Canada’s opiate epidemic much more deadly. That was, like it sounds, a very sad story.

Cristina Costantini's previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Cristina Costantini’s previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

And I had done also a lot of reporting on immigration and sex trafficking and prisons and detention centers. So, like Darren, I was ready for a break. And it was actually during the fentanyl documentary that we started talking about this idea of doing a science fair documentary.

I was a science fair kid when I was in high school, and it totally changed my life, and it validated me during the dark years of high school. I learned just so much from it and I’m really in love with this world.

We started talking about how fun it would be to go to the fair and scout the characters and tell the story. So we went to the 2016 fair, and that’s where we met many of the kids that are in the movie.

Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH HANS HEMMERT

By Anita Malhotra

German conceptual artist Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

German conceptual artist Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Berlin-based artist Hans Hemmert is best known for his groundbreaking conceptual artwork, most notably his performative balloon sculptures. His work has been exhibited at the MoMA in New York, the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea (CGAC) in Spain and Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

"o.T. - "Yellow sculpture fitting to beer crate" (1998), balloon/air/artist/ beer crate, Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“o.T. – “Yellow sculpture fitting to beer crate” (1998), balloon/air/artist/ beer crate, Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

It can also be found in many art collections around the world, including those of the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsinki, Malmö Konsthall, Berlin Landesmuseum, German Bundestag, and the Jumex Collection in Mexico City.

Hemmert is also a member of the collective “inges idee” (Hans Hemmert, Axel Lieber, Thomas A. Schmidt and Georg Zey), whose more than 50 striking public sculptures can be found in Europe, Asia and North America.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018.

AM: Where did you grow up?

HH: I grew up in Bavaria – in the countryside.

AM: What were your first experiences with art?

"Unterwegs" ("On the Road"), 1996, balloon/air/artist/car; lightbox slide, 100 x 160 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“Unterwegs” (“On the Road”), 1996, balloon/air/artist/car; lightbox slide, 100 x 160 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

HH: At school I liked to work with my hands building small models made of paper, or working with clay. And this developed in my youth.

I knew that I wanted to do something with my hands – not with texts and words, but with pictures and three-dimensional objects. I started studying philosophy in ’81, but then it became clear that I wanted to enter arts school.

Hans Hemmert at the age of 6 in Bavaria (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

Hans Hemmert at the age of 6 in Bavaria (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

AM: What interested you about philosophy?

HH: The interest came from the religious education I had in Bavaria. My family was very religious – Catholic. I was even in a seminary from age 10 to 17.

There I got a lot of religious and philosophical input, because we were reading the old Greek and Latin philosophers.

I started studying philosophy but realized that I’m not a scientist but an artist. Then I got a place in the art school in Berlin and studied sculpture for five years.

Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH FRED PENNER

Fred Penner at Cooper's Gastropub in Ottawa, where he was interviewed for Artsmania on May 11, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Fred Penner at Cooper’s Gastropub in Ottawa, where he was interviewed for Artsmania on May 11, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning children’s entertainer Fred Penner is still going strong after a 45-year career entertaining and educating not only children, but also their parents and grandparents, many of whom were part of his audience when they were young.

Born in Winnipeg in 1946, Penner worked as a singer/songwriter, youth worker, children’s entertainer and stage actor before releasing his first album, The Cat Came Back, in 1979.

In the mid-‘80s, he was invited by CBC television to create his own children’s TV show, Fred Penner’s Place. The popular show ran from 1985 to 1997 in Canada and from 1989 to 1992 in the U.S. on Nickelodeon.

Fred Penner performing on Sept. 16, 2017 at CityFolk festival in Ottawa (photo by Michael Anderson Photography, courtesy of Fred Penner)

Fred Penner performing on Sept. 16, 2017 at CityFolk festival in Ottawa (photo by Michael Anderson Photography, courtesy of Fred Penner)

Penner has released 13 albums, four of them garnering Juno Awards. A passionate advocate for children, he has won four Parent’s Choice awards and has been a spokesperson for organizations like UNICEF, UNESCO and World Vision. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1991.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Penner in Ottawa on May 11, 2018, on the first day of his five-day run at the Ottawa Children’s Festival.

AM: How did your shows go today at the Ottawa Children’s Festival?

FP: They went well. The 11 o’clock was sold out and the 1 o’clock was a smaller house but with some lovely connections There was a family from upstate New York, and they had contacted me a while ago saying that their daughter was a huge fan and would love to have an opportunity to meet me, so I gave her one of my Fred Penner T-shirts and we had a lovely connection.

The cover of Penner's 2017 CD, "Hear the Music," which won a 2018 Juno Award for Children's Album of the Year

The cover of Penner’s 2017 CD, “Hear the Music,” which won a 2018 Juno Award for Children’s Album of the Year

That’s always the delight of my performing, no matter where it is. It’s not just singing a couple of songs and then people singing along, but that shared moment after when I’m signing autographs and doing pictures. People want to go a little deeper and then tell me some of their stories.

AM: What kind of material are you playing at the festival?

FP: It’s an hour performance, so about 15 songs. The majority are original tunes – many from the new CD that I produced last September called Hear the Music. And there are the standards that the audience is expecting. A song called “The Cat Came Back” and “Sandwiches” are the number one and two requests. And then I intersperse that with some hand games and sign language things.

Penner being congratulated by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn after being named to the Order of Canada in 1991 (photo courtesy of Fred Penner)

Penner being congratulated by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn after being named to the Order of Canada in 1991 (photo courtesy of Fred Penner)

AM: I imagine it’s not the easiest thing to entertain children because of their attention span.

FP: I don’t think of it in terms of attention span, I think about it in terms of listening to them and engaging with them. I think of my performances as a musical dialogue, so I’m singing universal topic songs about animals or food or families or co-operation.

I’ll put out these songs that the parents can connect to, grandparents connect to, children can connect to. And after the performances, the caregivers and the child will continue the triangle of communication.

AM: Can you give me an example of that?

FP: There’s a song called “You can do it if you try.” I wrote it years ago based on a Japanese children’s company that was playing in Vancouver at the kid’s fest there. Parents have come to me and said that they use that song when their children have felt insecure or feeling they’re not able to do a certain thing. And the parents will say, “Remember what Fred says. You can do it if you try.” Knowing that the parents are taking some of these songs and the concepts and bringing them into their own lives is really quite overwhelming.

AM: When you perform live, is your audience mainly children?

FP: No, it’s 50/50 at least and often more adults than kids. The first album, The Cat Came Back, was out in 1979. That decade – the ‘80s into the ‘90s – was the heyday for what we were doing – with Sharon, Lois & Bram and Raffi and the core of those performers. Continue reading

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