Posts in Art + Design
Photography, Prague & the Creative Boom of the Early-90s: a Glimpse of History with photographer, Alena Kotzmannova

Photography was always a part of life and a family tradition for Alena Kotzmannova. Taking pictures was a hobby her parents and grandparents also enjoyed, transforming their apartment bathroom into a dark room of her childhood home in the 80s. But for Alena, traditional photography was just the start. She tells us, “I wanted to study photography, but I didn’t want to study at the film academy because it was limited to classical studies.” Alena was more interested in pushing the boundaries. She tells us she wanted to, “cross the boundaries between photography, video, and experimentation with new technologies.” Today, she explains that this is common but when she was in school programs that crossed disciplines didn’t exist—she had to carve her own path.

Education was not the only area in which Alena was at the cutting edge of the arts in Prague. As a young creative in the 80s and 90s, Alena was part of an important moment in the history of Czech arts scene. She tells us she felt fortunate to be, “part of a major boom of a creativity after the revolution.”

She tells us:

“After the revolution everything was new—nothing was established. We all worked together to build the atmosphere. There were lots and lots of art openings - every day. It was a very important time. You could suddenly see some work of artists who didn’t exhibit during communist time but now you were seeing these secrets and surprising works that until that time were hidden. It was a really special atmosphere and it’s hard to compare to today. Then, there was such a focus and a common expression.

There was this special mixture of “old Prague” which wasn’t renovated and it was kind of empty so I remember I was going across old town square at 5am and it was completely empty and I went from school to home because I developed photos throughout the night, and you could stay there all night and you just had a key (which is impossible now) and Prague was still the Prague you know from the old photos but the atmosphere was changed and enthusiastic.”

Alena’s 20+ year career has taken her all around the world exploring thematic questions such as place, identity, and memory. On her website, she explains one of her most recent collections The Wing Just Leaving The Desert, stating, “the most important quality of our memory is the subjective ability to forget, meaning to determine what is important and what is not. This regeneration of memory allows us to reorganize lived and stored experience and thus to see things anew and differently, from a different perspective.”

For Alena, the memory of Prague in the 90s is nostalgic, her memories full of passion and excitement for the creative energy of that moment in time. She describes the city today as having become “a very touristic place” but asserts that there are still some “hidden surprises that can appear in special situations.”

One of these places is in Prague 4, “down by the river.” This area has served as inspiration for one of her installations entitled, 193 Meters Above Sea Level. As a landlocked country, Czech Republic relies on the imagination of the sea, rather than the sea itself. She explains that, “I think that people who have the sea just as imagination, they have the ability to imagine more about it than people who live right on the edge of the land and sea.”

Art + Design, PraguePlace Makes
Curation and Inspiration - a Conversation with Museum Director, Alfred Weidinger

Neatly dressed, wearing his signature mustard yellow specs, Alfred sipped his cappuccino and quickly put us at ease with his disposition. He was both professorial and unassuming as he described his experience as Director of the MdbK Leipzig Museum of Fine Art. What quickly became evident was this: Leipzig is not only the location of this museum but also, its history and character are his inspiration.

When Dr. Alfred Weidinger became the Director in 2017, he was tasked with the challenge of infusing the museum with a dose of innovation to make the space a destination. What has emerged from this challenge is a story of experiential design punctuated by historical references, “pushing” tastes, and creating a space of art the represents Leipzig.

…and Leipzig has a fascinating story. Some of what Leipzig is best known for:

  • Trade Fairs: Leipzig known as the “gateway to the West” during GDR (East German) days

  • Johann Sebastian Bach’s home until his death in 1750

  • A major publishing city before WWII (often called “buch-stadt” i.e. book city)

  • An art genre: New Leipzig School in painting

  • Gose style beer

It’s no wonder the city’s history is Alfred’s main source of inspiration. He says, “every day I open a new page in a history book. Every day since I arrived is a new page.”His approach to the museum experience is both elevated and very human. His priorities also reflect this approach. He’s invited Tomas Saraceno to do an installation, visits local artist studios (often 3-4 in week), and is frequently the first person from a museum to knocked on their door. He aims to push the tastes of local Leipzig patrons while also creating a space where they feel free and comfortable.

Alfred Weidinger

Art: Andy Warhol
Leipzig Museum Atrium

What are your first impressions of Leipzig?

It’s a really young city and a lot of people have a sense of doing great things to move forward, not backwards. There’s huge power and huge potential.

This is a special city. Today, it's the fastest growing city in Germany. Leipzig was always a very independent city in terms of it’s thinking. It hosted a major a trade fair during the GDR, a place where people from both sides would gather. But even thousands of years before, in the middle ages, Leipzig was an important intersection point for trade. It's always been at the intersection.

Even today Leipzig conserves this feeling: Leipzig is always a little bit different.

How do you think about this mentality when you’re planning for the future of the museum?

The museum is a really great space and we need to give this space to the people. We are in a wonderful building, a great construction, and amazing architecture so I especially want to push the young artists and encourage them to think in large dimensions.

We have six terraces and halls that are 16 meters high! This space brings a lot of possibilities and potential. I know we’ll have the opportunity to show really influential artists—who are used to dealing with the scale. But I also want to give the young ones the chance to deal with the space. We're not New York and we're not London where you have to exhibit only the highest level. Here you can let the museum also be a laboratory.

I also want to share contemporary art. It's interesting, the artists in the GDR had knowledge of what's happening in the Western part of the world, but only from books. Everything was in black and white on a page.

Leipzig Museum

“The museum is a really great space and we need to give this space to the people.”

How do you balance being a museum of the city while also trying to push tastes as you mention with contemporary art?

I have to think about everything and everyone because we need to take care of the people who are living here—their needs, and what they want to see. But on the other hand, I have to teach them something, to attract them, and to push them a little bit (even if it doesn't always feels so nice). I have people who say "I don't like this. This is not art." It takes a while, but my aim is tolerance. It might seem like a low level, but if you get tolerance for contemporary art, you won.

I love that, taking pieces of inspiration from history and tying them into the museum. is there a particular place in Leipzig where you find inspiration?

I really do get inspiration from the history of the city. Just a few weeks ago someone told me in the GDR time there was a cinema in the train station—a 24 hour cinema. You just walked in and saw a movie for free. Isn't that great! This got me thinking about the space here [in the atrium]. I want to make 24 hour art spaces within this part of the museum.

And talking to people. I talk to and visit studios every week. Three to four artists every week. And this is very interesting because I get to see all mediums, genders, and ages. On Tuesday, I visited an artist in the countryside who is 88 years old. The stories he shared with me are so interesting and provide so much inspiration.

We have to take care of these people because in history, they were almost forgotten. In 1989 everyone felt this common sense: we are a new country this is great with lots of potential. Artists in this time worked for a few years really intensely. They made lots of works because they felt so powerful, but it took a turn and was a really sad time. Very few artists were able to swim on the top of the wave, most crashed down. When I visit with older artists, sometimes I am often first person from a museum in these 30 years who has knocked on the door.

How do you think about your role in this?

letter from artist in Leipzig

I try to do something for them. When you walk into the lobby by the front desk, there are four paintings on the wall. The painter is a 87 year old Jewish man, so he was completely forgotten. He lived here, and it was not an easy life here in Leipzig. He left the city after the fall of the wall because he felt there were more opportunities elsewhere. But no one was took care of them.

When I met him, we had a really nice talk. He was so grateful for the visit that he decided to give the museum one of his paintings as a gift. Later, he wrote me a letter that said, ‘I really like what you're doing and it's better to stand on two legs so I'll send you another one (painting).’ He sent me four and asked the people of Leipzig choose which to keep. For a while we had an iPad where visitors would vote to decide. There were thousands of participants!

For you personally, How did you find yourself at this museum in particular?

My career in art started in my childhood. I great up on Lake Attersee, a small lake near Salzburg where Gustav Klimt spent almost 16 years in the summer and then studied art history and archaeology in Salzburg. Later, I went to The Albertina in Vienna and focused on the work of Oskar Kokoschka and Gustav Klimt. I worked for more than 20 years in Vienna, but when this position opened here at MdbK I thought, let’s give it a try!

Leipzig and Vienna are linked. Here in Leipzig, we have an important painter: Max Klinger, but he is also a key figure for Austrian art. Klinger believed in the idea of a "Gesamtkunstwerk" (total work of art), adopted from Richard Wagner (also from Leipzig). He transformed the idea of the “total work of art” into art itself. This was new to the Viennese, and they appreciated this ideology: everything as art. As a result, Klinger was invited often to show his work and today, many important works from Klinger are owned by Austrian Institutions and only on loan here in Leipzig.


ART AT LEIPZIG MUSEUM

If you find yourself in Leipzig, walk into the atrium and up through the museum and think about more than the art you see: consider the history, the city, and the space as you explore. The space itself is quite magical and there is no ignoring the architecture. Designed by Hufnagel / Putz / Rafaelian, the museum boasts six massive atriums and unique interiors.

Stay in the know: Be sure take a look at Dr. Weidinger own body of work as photographer and art historian, found also on his personal website.

Dr. Alfred Weidinger on Instagram & Twitter

MdbK Museum on Instagram & Twitter

 

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Takuya Isagwa and the creation of Japan's hottest new fashion label: mister it.

“Do you know the Japanese concept, Iki? There’s no translation, and it’s very hard to explain. But it’s a part of our culture and style.”

Here’s what we learned. Iki is to be cool, but understated. A small detail. Human, subtle, but surprising. “It’s not a big oh wow, but it’s a small approving head nod.” When you realize it, it’s really special.

iki.JPG

"Women often hold a baby over the arm, so this detail is placed so that the baby’s eye will catch the mark. It's Iki."

Takuya Isagawa’s work is really special. We met at his studio, in a building filled with creative-types, to learn about his journey to launch his fashion label mister it.

Takuya’s story as a designer began as a young boy in Osaka.

As is often the case for a younger sibling, admiration for his older brother and a subsequent introduction to the world of sneakers quickly grew into a deep passion for fashion. “When I was six years old, I tried to dress like my brother. At first I just wore cool sneakers and a cap. But it wasn’t long before I wanted to make something myself.” 

As soon as he made the decision to be a designer, he had a singular drive: to study in Paris and to work for his favorite designer, Maison Martin Margiela.

He did just that.

Takuya finished his fashion studies in Paris and won first prize for his final collection. Even so, he was worried because he did not think he was proficient enough at French to land the dream job.

But he didn’t let that stop him.

He enlisted a friend to help him prepare for the interview. “I memorized the presentation in perfect French” and he landed the job he’d always wanted at Maison Martin Margiela. And a dream it was! Takuya told us that the team at Maison Martin Margiela felt like family, and always welcomed him even though he admits, “I still couldn’t speak French well." 

When he eventually left the job to launch his label, he wanted to show his gratitude to his teammates. Collection 00 from mister it. was not for the public, but rather was designed for ten specific people - a gift to his former colleagues. Each piece was thoughtfully crafted specifically for each person. The four images below feature examples from this collection. Takuya describes these as (1) an outfit to highlight one of his friend's tattoos, (2) an integrated eyeglass chain for a forgetful friend, (3) an ironic McDonalds joke, and (4) pants that make walking impossible. He explains the pants saying, "when I was working at Maison Martin Margiela, I was running all the time. But for the launch of my brand, I designed pants for myself as a symbol. I wanted to stand still so I could simply watch and be grateful."

 
 
designer clothing

Takuya's inspiration always come from those right next to him, from the people he knows. He describes, “the importance of this work is for more than just beauty. My idea is to make things for real people. The brand’s concept is this simple.” The pieces combine of functionality with design and put the person wearing them at the center. He intends to make pieces that will be cherished. "My hope is that these clothes can last for a very long time. If people take care of them, they can last almost forever. These are things you keep wearing and even pass down through your family."

You can find mister it. products in multiple locations in Japan! His pieces are available at EDITION, n id a deux, VISIT FOR and ocaille

Please take a peek at their website, misterit.jp - we guarantee that Takuya Isagawa and his label, mister it., will soon be well known names in the fashion world.


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Salvation through Street Art: a conversation with Judith de Leeuw
 Photo provided by Judith

Photo provided by Judith

Two years ago, Dutch artist Judith de Leeuw spotted a street corner in Amsterdam that captured her attention. The location was perfect. It was the wall of Boulangerie Le Mortier, at the corner of Vijzelgracht and Fokke Simonszstraat, right in Amsterdam’s Central district. She created a solemn portrait of a Amy Winehouse.

The wall was covered in ugly graffiti, and the owner of the building was more than happy for Judith to paint over it with a new creation. This wall was the perfect opportunity to express herself in a public space, right in the center of the city she loves.

This new creation changed her life.

Over beers at a little cafe in central Amsterdam, we spoke with Judith about the inspiration for this mural, how it transformed her career, and why she thinks art saved her life.

 Photo provided by Judith

Photo provided by Judith

When did start making art?

I’ve been drawing portraits since I was four years old. I still have a portrait I drew of my father when I was five years old. As I got older, I started doodling in class. I’d always get poor scores on my Biology tests because the teacher didn’t like my drawings. To be honest, no one really liked my drawings back then.

How did you start doing graffiti?

Around 13 years old I became a pretty big problem child. I was smoking too much weed and at one point I just stopped going to school. I became more and more rebellious until I found graffiti. I found a paint shop around the corner called HENXS, which I still visit every week. I was so nervous at first, because I thought graffiti was something associated with criminals and aggressive behavior. I was so nervous when I walked in that my hands were shaking. In the end I chose a color that doesn’t work well at all. I chose pink and painted arrows everywhere. That was terrible and pretty shameful but oh well, you’ve got to start somewhere!

street art - judith image high res

I then found a group of friends through graffiti. All we did together was drawing, painting, and graffiti. When I look back on it, I think it saved my life. If I didn’t find graffiti I think I would have done something else that would have taken me down a bad path.

How did you go from painting arrows to creating amazing pieces all over the world?

I started studying art education and began to combine my love of portraits and graffiti. For the first time I tried making portraits with spray cans. At first it was really bad. When people see my work now they say, “how do you do that?” but they don’t know that it’s taken years of practice to get here. The past few years, I’ve been using spray cans pretty much every day and every night.

Then I did the Amy Winehouse painting. At that point in my life, I was just doing it for myself. At that time, I was just a very shy start-up. Then that portrait changed everything. It was the biggest moment of my life to have people appreciate my art for the first time.

What was the inspiration for it?

I watched the documentary on Amy Winehouse, and was listening to her music a lot. Even though she had died a few years prior, she kept coming up again and again in conversations I had. I realized that most pictures of her were when she was smiling, before she got addicted to drugs. I wanted to leave a portrait of Amy as she really was. But it was also to express my own state of mind. It was a number of things that all came together at this one focal point. It’s the first true creation from my heart and soul.

It’s crazy because I didn’t expect anyone to like it. When I finished it I thought I had messed it up, so didn’t even take a picture of it! The piece becoming famous is really weird, because I was just making something for myself.

 Photo provided by Judith

Photo provided by Judith

What’s the latest project your excited about?

Last week I had the opportunity to do a mural at Rotterdam’s Central Station. It’s really insane! I had been dreaming about doing a huge building in such a prized location. It’s weird when you dream of something for years and years and then are standing there and doing it in reality!

What’s the street art scene like in Amsterdam?

It’s pretty complicated. It’s difficult to get a wall in Amsterdam for a piece, because all of the houses are protected monuments. Mostly you have to do stuff semi-illegally, or wait years until you can get a wall in Amsterdam. As for now, Rotterdam is a much easier place to create a public art piece. When I think of street art and innovation I think of Amsterdam as the rich whining person and Rotterdam as the young playful one, throwing candy everywhere. But my best friends are here in Amsterdam, my colleagues, my best friends. A lot of my colleagues are older but I can instantly talk to them and there has never been a problem of them accepting me. I get along with them really well. That’s how you know when you belong somewhere I guess. If it wasn’t for people helping me along the way, I’m not sure it would have happened.

What are your dreams for the future?

I accomplished one of my dream one week ago at the Rotterdam Central Station!. It would be amazing to paint something in the center of Amsterdam. I mean a really big mural. I want it to be in the center. I really want that. Maybe I should do it, just like I did with the Amy Winehouse portrait.

Keep an eye out for Judith and her stunning portraits. She has a number of international plans on the agenda, so who knows - she just may be in your city! You can find her work on her site here: www.jdlstreetart.com and on Instagram.


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Welcome to Daijiro's Monochromatic World
Daijiro Smiling

My university professor once described creative power as the ability to comfortably hold two opposing ideas at the same time. By this definition, contemporary artist, Daijiro Hama, has supernatural creative power. Throughout our conversation, every point he made had a counterpoint. He explains, “there's always something good and there's always something bad. That is actually the reason why I started painting monochrome."

Painting in only two colors is liberating for Daijiro. Before he began painting in just black and white he tells us, “color started to feel like too much information. With color I started to think instead of paint. I wanted to be more pure or natural.” Self-reflection and conveying his most true self is an important part of Daijiro’s work. As he describes, his art helps him, “see the truth.”

 Daijiro begins every day at his study by painting one small sketch and taping it to the wall

Daijiro begins every day at his study by painting one small sketch and taping it to the wall

Daijiro was born in Japan, but he never felt like he fit in. ”I always felt really uncomfortable in Japan, always kind of doubting the Japanese system or some general Japanese mindset,” he explains. So, when he turned 20, he left for Canada to try the vintage fashion business - a line of work he thought would be inspiring, creative and really fun.

IMG-2234.jpg

He quickly found that discovering vintage goods did not fulfill his creative drive, and spent his afternoons drawing and painting in cafes - so much so that other regulars started to notice his work. Daijiro credits the people he met during this time for his artistic career. A group of friends in Toronto opened him up to the world of art. He says, “they started to take me to openings and galleries. I'm from the countryside so I didn't know about galleries or even that there are people out there who buy painting.”

outside Daijiro's Studio

Today, Daijiro lives in Kyoto. He returned to Japan six years ago, and feels comfortable here now. He is inspired by the quiet rhythm of the city (though he worries there might not be enough tension to push his work forward...remember: there is a good and a bad side of everything). He explains, “in Kyoto it’s easy to get bored in a good way. The best spot for this is Kamo River, you just go there by yourself and just don't think about anything. Just keep walking and you get an answer.” He starts every morning with a run along the river, seeking inspiration and peace in this daily routine.

To see more of Daijiro Hama’s work, visit his website: http://www.daijirohama.com and find him on Instagram


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Chicko takes on Graffiti, Interior Design and The Saigon Projects

When we asked interior designer, graffiti artist, and photographer, Nguyen Tho (artist name, Chicko), to suggest a place to meet for an interview - he proposed The Factory. We sat outside the colorful containers of this beautiful Arts Centre, drank some coffee, and continued our conversation as we walked through the exhibit inside.  

The Factory was a perfect place to meet as it represents both innovative design, in architecture and interior, as well as contemporary arts. Chicko lives in these two worlds, specifically - interior design and art.

Chicko Nguyen Portrait
 
 “The Factory aims to be a dynamic destination for art, designing innovative programs illustrating the criticality of Vietnam today.”  www.factoryartscentre.com

“The Factory aims to be a dynamic destination for art, designing innovative programs illustrating the criticality of Vietnam today.” www.factoryartscentre.com

 The Factory, Ho Chi Minh City

The Factory, Ho Chi Minh City

 

Chicko is part of an emerging group of young people driving the art scene forward in Saigon. His foray into the arts began in 2010, when he and his friends created a group called The Saigon Projects.

The group travels across Vietnam, painting and exploring new areas of the countryside. One of the most inspiring things about the group is how they share graffiti with local communities. He describes this process saying, “When we go to a new town, we start by explaining with what graffiti is and bring spray cans along to show them how it works. We’ll demonstrate how to sketch, and they can even try it out themselves. People love it!”

 
 Photo taken by Chicko 

Photo taken by Chicko 

Despite travelling all over Vietnam to paint, Chicko tell us that he still finds most the most inspiration from his hometown of Saigon. This wasn’t always the case. He says, “When I was young, I didn’t really understand the culture of Saigon. But now, sometimes I wake up early, find a small local shop, and watch people as they go to work. I also love driving around at midnight, taking photos, and finding inspiration all around for my graffiti and interior design.”

This inspiration is evident in his work both with The Saigon Projects, and his daytime gig is as an interior designer. Chicko is passionate and skillful at crafting experiences for people who enter a space, whether it’s a coffee shop, restaurant, house or hotel.

Be sure to keep an eye on this emerging artist and designer, as he’s beginning to make waves the city.


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What the heck is Tape Art?
 

We meet with Robert König, co-founder of TAPE OVER, at his Berlin-based studio and talked about the organization’s electro club origins, tape as an artistic medium, and the process of growing an international tape art crew.

 

The Origins

It’s not every day that you hear of an international business getting its start at electro-clubs. But in a city where the nightlife and creative pulse are intertwined, it isn’t crazy to think your next venture might be the result of a late-night conversation.

What started as  Lamia Michna’s idea for a class project quickly evolved into a new medium for artistic expression at clubs and festivals. In these early days at the clubs, co-founders Lamia and Rob were easy to spot in a crowd. Not only were they taping on the club walls, but also on people’s faces and bodies. Rob describes this use of tape as a type of makeup and says the duo always arrived...taped.

He paints a picture of the electro-clubs scene in Berlin, saying:

 Robert König, co-founder TAPE OVER Berlin

Robert König, co-founder TAPE OVER Berlin

Partying here [in Berlin] is a creative thing. It's not just about going [to a club] to have fun, but also about the people you meet. It's about the musicians, artists, and others who use the space to express themselves and do something creative. It’s a place where you have a lot of freedom.

For us it was normal, but I notice it’s not the same feeling, atmosphere, or group of people in other cities. For example, in New York, you go out to party and then you go home. In Berlin, the club opens on Friday and closes on Monday so people have time (and yes, they're probably also on drugs). They are more open to meeting new people. It's the mindset that connects the people and the possibility.

As they become more known, the business-side of the project grew and they decided to establish TAPE OVER Berlin officially in 2011. Soon after, brands began approaching them to work on commissioned projects. Today, they work with major brands and organizations across the world (including Adidas, NIKE, Converse, Vodafone, Telekom, Hermes Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche and Red Bull) taping objects, people, and spaces with their captivating geometric creations. Today, TAPE OVER consists of 10 tape artists, making them the biggest tape art crew worldwide.

Growing a business and a team

Rob attributes the growth of TAPE OVER to finding the right people to work with.

The first person to join the crew was a determined teenager, Enni, who called and asked if she could do an internship.  Rob says, “we laughed at the time because we were just some people doing art and of course we didn’t offer internships.” But when they met Enni a year later, “we thought, why not, she's half our age but let's give her a chance. We're so glad we did - she is really inspiring.”  Even though she's still the youngest in the crew, she is often the lead on projects. Rob says, “To see an 18 year old girl manage the group and do all the business communications is incredible.”

As for the others who have joined the crew, Rob explains, “it just happens on the way. It's why we like collaborating. You can see if the energy and the chemistry is right. If it is, we invite them to join. Collaborating with other people always makes work more interesting so we love to do it."  

It’s evident that Rob doesn’t take his job for granted. He says, “I love my job. On my ideal day, I would work on this. I hardly consider it work. Like everyone tells you, it’s about the team, about passion, and putting the time in. This has everything."

Tape Art: the medium & the process

The TAPE OVER Berlin team are pioneers in using tape for art, and they're constantly experimenting. Beyond taping walls and bodies, they are always looking for new ways to connect with other art forms. One of their favorites methods is what they call "Tape Mapping," where video mapping and tape art work together to create enchanting visuals.

 Title: champagne shower type // tape art installation size: 4x2m // material: duct tape & adhesive foil // artist: LaMia & ROB // place: épernay france (www.tapeover.berlin.com)

Title: champagne shower type // tape art installation size: 4x2m // material: duct tape & adhesive foil // artist: LaMia & ROB // place: épernay france (www.tapeover.berlin.com)

Tape has unique benefits. Rob explains, “if you don't like a line, you can just take it away and try again. It's not like other methods. If you have a pencil, you have to use the rubber. If you have spray paint, it's just there. Tape makes it really easy to experiment. But it can be hard to know when to stop. Sometimes you just have to say, it's done.”

Check out their work:

To work with Tape Over Berlin, reach out via their website. And keep your eyes peeled, their work is all over the world!


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Inside Kyoto's Mysterious Modern Culture

Most Kyoto guidebooks suggest visiting the city’s stunning shrines, ancient temples, and traditional teahouses, but the advice seems to stop there. As a visitor, it is tricky to tap into modern Kyoto—a place with a rich sense of tradition, a culture of patronage, and hidden pockets of arts and music.

GoldenTemple2.JPG

Enter Sara Aiko, founder of Curated Kyoto, a travel company dedicated to providing visitors with a deeply personal experience of the city.

 Sara Aiko, founder of Curated Kyoto

Sara Aiko, founder of Curated Kyoto

We chatted with Sara at Walden Woods Cafe, a coffee shop designed to emulate the feelings evoked from Thoreau's writing. Yes, it’s places like this - thoughtfully designed spaces and experiences - that make Kyoto, Kyoto. Sara explains, “I don’t like using the word unique to describe a city, because every city is unique. But it's the only word I can use. Kyoto is very unique, even in Japan.”

Throughout history, Kyoto has been the cultural hub (in addition to being the actual capital for over 1,000 years) of Japan. Walking through Gion, viewing manicured gardens, and visiting the beautiful shrines is truly awe inspiring. As Sara says, so much of “the charm of the city” lies in the commitment to preserve culture, heritage, and tradition.

However, it is the delicate combination of both past and present elements that Sara finds so inspiring about the city. She tells us, “Kyoto really knows how to mix modern elements and traditional elements together. That's why I love the city. They still have the old, but know how to make it relatable to people. That's really hard to do. It can easily become tacky, too modern, or too cool and lose that charm. But in Kyoto, they know how to do it in a subtle way.”

Subtle is a word often used to describe the city. Sara says, “Japanese culture is subtle, but Kyoto is particularly subtle. This includes communication here. We're not very loud. Even our design and creativity is subtle.” But she is quick to add, “but there's an edginess to Kyoto as well that's being created by the younger generation. It’s just starting to pop up.” Sara explains that due to a relatively low cost of living, “people feel like they can focus more on freedom of expression rather than what will sell commercially.”

 Gion, Kyoto

Gion, Kyoto

Sara describes these new modes of expression as, “Freedom. A way of expressing without conforming to the Kyoto way or Japanese culture. Japanese culture is very rule based. These artists have given themselves permission to be more themselves.” Y Gion is an example of a new space that aims to support this emerging scene. The multipurpose venue was started by Takuma Inoue to bring the creative community together. Despite the prominence of galleries and cafes, there previously weren’t places for artists to go and feel free. Thanks to people like Takuma, that’s starting to change.

There is so much to discover in Kyoto, but much of the scene remains under wraps. As an outsider, Kyoto remains mysterious, sublime, and fascinatingly unique. If you want a chance to peek into the creative side of Kyoto—a place that is growing a creative culture in a respectful, but modern way, we recommend reaching out to Sara and to book a personalized experience at Curated Kyoto. She gives a view into the side of Kyoto that just can’t be found in a guidebook.

 


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Will Phu Quoc become an Island for Art?
 Sunset at The River Mouth (Dormstay Riverside Hostel), Phu Quoc

Sunset at The River Mouth (Dormstay Riverside Hostel), Phu Quoc

Will Phu Quoc, Vietnam become an island dedicated to contemporary art? Peter, owner of The River Mouth and The Phu Quoc Gallery of Contemporary Art (GOCA) certainly hopes so. 

Lying on a hammock by the river, Peter tells us about his dream. He imagines that the hostel we’re sitting at will offer artist retreats and that his gallery and bar will promote both local and international talent. The ultimate vision is for others on the island to follow suit and start their own artistic spaces, making Phu Quoc a true art destination. 

 Community dinners hosted at The River Mouth, Phu Quoc

Community dinners hosted at The River Mouth, Phu Quoc

He’s not far from this vision of building a creative community.

Today, a visit to The River Mouth usually includes a community dinner below twinkle lights, prepared by an amazing chef and drinks expertly crafted by Hiep (who also helps with the gallery and bar). Both Peter and Hiep are passionate about what they hope to build. The Phu Quoc Gallery of Contemporary Art already attracts visitors from across the world. While we were in town, the gallery featured an impressive range of modern sculpture, mixed-media photography and paintings. Even the design of the space itself was a delight!

Unfortunately, there is an alternate path for the future of Phu Quoc. As tourism is picking up across the island, trash has become a serious issue. While some beaches are far enough off the beaten path to remain (relatively) clean, most are not so lucky. Massive resorts and hotels are lining the beachfront and dumping waste straight into the ocean. Tourism overall is on the rise, but return visits are low - something that would be necessary to compare with the likes of Naoshima Island in Japan.

We're not completely pessimistic though. After spending a few days with both Hiep and Peter, we felt inspired by their commitment to making Phu Quoc a destination for the arts. Only a quick 30 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc is well positioned to become an international cultural hub, artist haven, and art tourism destination. The question remains: can artists save a place from human filth? We sure hope so!

To stay at The River Mouth Phu Quoc (currently under renovation, but back soon)

To visit the Phu Quoc Gallery of Contemporary Art (don't miss out, have an expertly crafted cocktail while you're there)

 Starfish Beach, Phu Quoc

Starfish Beach, Phu Quoc


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From tagging in Paris to festivals in Saigon – the journey of Suby One.

A Different Kind of Art School

On a warm March morning in Saigon, we met with Trang Suby (artist name Suby One) over a cup of Vietnamese coffee. Even before the caffeine kicked in, Trang’s presence exuded an infectious energy. It was immediately clear how important building an art scene in Saigon is to him. Before we get into that, we first must go back to where it all started on the street of Paris.

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It’s hard to think of a cooler artistic education than tagging subways with a crew in the Paris underground. For Suby, the streets and trains of Paris were simply the most accessible places to learn, practice, and make new friends.

“I started tagging in 1991, because the older guys in my neighborhood were tagging. I also had a mentor who lived next door to me. He was three years older, which at the time was a big age difference. He seemed so cool, so I started painting with him. I then started a graffiti crew and every Wednesday at 2pm we’d go watch the older guys do big graffiti pieces and learn. I wanted to be part of something, and had no idea I’d still be doing it today. Some people give up, but I just kept at it. I liked the fact that we were leaving something behind, even if it was just a tag.”

We found out there are a few rules in the graffiti world that are part of the learning process. Suby explains, “There are rules. You learn tags first, then do some bubbles, and then you can do a piece. There’s an evolution to it.”

After learning from others for more than a year, Suby tagged his first subway in Paris. He explains, “I was the one young guy the older ones would bring in to tag the trains. I did this for about five years, but had to stop because I was tired of being chased by the authorities.”

From Graffiti to Galleries

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Suby continued to tag other parts of Paris, but as he got older Suby started thinking more about his legacy as an artist and building something more permanent.

“You can spend two or three hours going to tag a train and it sometimes only lasts ten minutes. Something you make one day can be gone the next. You get older and you think, maybe other mediums can last longer than graffiti. For me, it was a natural transition.”

While artistically it was a natural transition, mentally it was a big change to go from showcasing work on the streets to being presented in art galleries. It was an internal struggle. He says, “When you grow up and see fine art exhibitions you think, eh, that’s not for me. At the time I thought, if I ever get shown in a gallery, I’m going to do something really different and unique.”

He followed through with this promise. In 2010, Suby was invited to create a few pieces for an art exhibition in Paris to mark the anniversary of his graffiti crew. His work definitely stood out. “Everyone was doing graffiti for the exhibition, and I wanted to do something more abstract on canvas. People didn’t really like it and thought it was pretty weird.” Despite the feedback from his peers, the exhibition was very encouraging for Suby. “On the last day of the exhibition, the gallery curator called me over, and someone bought my painting. It was a great feeling.”

Building a Scene in Saigon

Suby has worked relentlessly to create unique, visual masterpieces on walls and canvases throughout the world. He’s also moved to Saigon. “It’s a call of the roots. My grandparents and parents were both born and raised in Vietnam. When I moved here, it helped me understand so much more about my family and about myself.” The lifestyle of Saigon also is much more suited to Suby.  “I like the way of life here. Europe was great but Ho Chi Minh City is more relaxed. You actually have time to see friends.”

The move hasn’t been without its challenges. “There aren’t many big murals here. It’s hard to get access to that kind of space and to get the proper scaffolding.

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The street art scene in Saigon is still in its infancy, but Suby is working hard to make it bigger and encourage the younger generation. “If one guy succeeds, others will follow. If there are no mentors or examples, nobody will pursue this as a career. It’s exciting to show kids that it’s possible to have a career as an artist.”

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He’s backed up these words with action. Suby organized a two-day festival with a few others at The Factory, an arts center in Saigon. The festival showcased over 25 artists, DJs, break-dancers, and rappers. With a determined look on his face, he says that “a group is starting to form” in Saigon, and we believe him.

Please check at Suby One’s work on Facebook and on Instagram


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A look inside Ho Chi Minh City's emerging creative scene

Linh Nguyen’s influence on the creative community in Ho Chi Minh City is palpable. The first venture he opened, Saigon Outcast, filled a gap the city didn’t know it had: a space for people to congregate, to create, to feel inspired, and to feel at home. He has since opened two additional unique venues in restored, creative spaces: Rogue Saigon, and SOMA Art Café.

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A few days after we first met and interviewed Linh, we spent an evening at Saigon Outcast. Kids scrambled up the climbing wall, a group of artists focused intently on their live model session, a graffiti artist painted the entrance wall, and friends sipped on beers at picnic tables…this was all happening at the same time. Everyone relaxed, treating the space as his or her own. A fellow patron explained, “Linh’s places are such amazing hubs. I felt like even though I didn’t know anyone, I could go there and something would happen or a nice conversation would spark.”

Finding space to share art, music, and creative thought can be hard to come by in a city infamous for having exhibits, shows, and entire venues shut down by the government. Opening places like this is financially risky, pouring effort into hosting a concert that might be shut down at the last minute is not for everyone. But Linh’s passion for creating platforms where people don’t have to feel intimidated to share their work and opportunities for expression inspires him to continue to pursue these venues. The young creative community is "really hungry and restless but shy. They seem like they've been suppressed and they have so much to prove and achieve and get their name out there. They have so much energy. Really, they are very passionate. But they need encouragement and places to work.”


Saigon outcast

Beer garden meets alternative events space, graffiti, climbing wall, craft beer, live music, flea markets... 

Opening Saigon Outcast with a small budget in 2012, Linh and his friend Ha, found an inexpensive piece of land and pulled together containers and an old VW camper van in an artful way. “When I opened Saigon Outcast, it was for myself really. I didn’t know there was a demand for this type of space…but clearly there was." Immediately, the space filled with artists, skaters, and friends. Saigon Outcast became known as a destination for graffiti art, music, and collaboration: “The first couple years we had so many graffiti artists on the walls so that when it peels, you can see the layers of all the previous art works.” Today, Saigon Outcast hosts events most nights of the week, from drawing classes, movie screenings, farmers markets but many also stop by for a beer with friends.

Rogue Saigon

Rooftop specialty beer and music venue. 

Looking for a new place to host concerts (after receiving noise complaints from Saigon Outcast) Linh opened second venture. “The craft beer scene boomed a few years ago, but there weren’t any craft beer spots. At the same time, we didn’t know how long we would have Outcast because of noise complaints with our music. I needed to move the bands somewhere else, so I opened up a place that could have music and great beer!" Located on the top three floors of an old building, Rogue Saigon is a perfect spot to sip on one of the local craft beers on tap and overlook the city below.

Soma Art Cafe

Organic (and local) coffee and art gallery featuring up and coming artists.

“Saigon is really small. We know each other. There are only five galleries in Ho Chi Minh right now and they are all booked out with really famous artists selling their work at high prices. Soma is different, we feature up and coming artists who might not otherwise have a place the show their work." Situated in a beautiful building in District 2, Soma is a fantastic place during the day to have a delicious cup of brewed coffee with a friend. Stop by at night for art openings and a cocktail!

 

What’s Next for linh?

Linh hopes that he inspires other "business to do the same and to open spaces here for sharing creativity." Promoting music and arts in Ho Chi Minh drives Linh to keep working. He has observed that young artists lack confidence, and hops to set up more opportunities for mentorship with foreign artists. In the music scene, he wishes there were venues that could host international musicians. There used to be two: Cargo and Outcast, but with Cargo closing and Outcast's neighborhood growing, they've recently they have had to turn away amazing acts (such as Damien Rice!). "Right now we’re depleted of our capital since we work alone. But until I get it out of my system, that’s what I want to focus on."

Stop by one of Linh's three hangouts and stay tuned, we're certain Linh will have more up his sleeve! 


 

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The Visual Experiments of Dani Labrosse
Dani
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We met Dani on March 15th, a national holiday in Hungary. Because it was closed, we had to reschedule from his favorite cafe, Telep, to another spot open and protected from the rainy day. We talked about his work, his passion for film, and Budapest's fantastic cafes and cinemas.

Labrosse, born in 1997, began “obsessively trying to draw” and develop his personal style when his kindergarten teacher scolded him, telling him he didn’t know how to draw because he decided to put 10 fingers on each hand. Dani explained, “That had a big impact on me when I was that little. It really upset me.” But it certainly didn’t stop him. He was only 6 when he decided he could make a career of art. His step-dad gave him a Wallace and Gromit VHS that included an explanation of Nick Park’s process, and that was it. If Nick could do it, so could he.

At 18, Dani had his first solo exhibition as part of Budapest Design Week, and has already established himself as a fixture in the Budapest art world. His most recent group show was a Young Artists exhibition at Godot Pop-Up. “They had artists who were all only 16-21 years old. It was so eye opening to know that there is so much new brilliant art being created here. Even I wasn’t aware of it. It was really impressive. Obviously I don’t have money to buy art, but I was contemplating how I could call dibs on one of them because they were so impressive.”

Dani's pictures feel as though they are coming to life, and some actually do. His recent explorations with Augmented Reality combine illustration, animation, and his work in short film.

Dani's fear of producing less than his best keeps him experimenting with new methods, routines, and mediums while remaining true to his style and commentary on day-to-day life. His girlfriend is teaching him to paint, he has just completed an augmented reality mural for an ad agency, and he has spent the past two years working on a half live-action, half animated short film.

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To achieve the “scraggly sketchy style” he likes for the film, he is drawing over every frame. He admits that he “could finish the film quickly using After Effects or just overlaying myself” but instead, in this four minute film titled, Man Who Ate Himself, he is hand drawing the 24 frames per second (yes, nearly 6,000 frames).

He explains this tedious process, saying, “Being hunched over a computer and drawing frames by hand can get monotonous and mind numbing, so I have to focus on something else to avoid being bogged down. If I keep working on it for too long, it will end up not being as good because I will half-ass it or something. I like to do different things because it won't be as fun anymore which will make the end result not as good.” His days vary, with the exception of his dedication to morning coffee and doodling his first thoughts. Similarly, when he works on a new project he describes his process as “spontaneous,” starting with an idea “as a jumping board but then ending up in a different spot.”

When he’s not working, you’ll find Daniel either at the cinema or at his favorite cafes. “I love going to the movies. Just going into a theatre, sitting there and having the whole room go dark and focusing on the screen. It’s one of my favorite experiences in the city.” Lucky for Daniel, Budapest has amazing art-house independent theaters. Some palatial, some jazzy, some dilapidated-thrifty, these spaces are also worth visiting for their cafes and bars and lingering for a discussion on film. For Labrosse, Bem Cinema and Theater Toldi are the best in town, and are dreams places to have his short film screened when its finished.

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District 13, where he lives, is “a really inspiring neighborhood” known for a rich history of cafe culture “where people would meet up at cafes to talk about current political climate or philosophy and that kind of stuff.” Keep an eye out for a new series he’s starting soon in which he plans to “go to cafes or cake shops, interview the owners, and draw a portrait of them in their shop.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a peek at his website: www.labrossestuff.com and stay tuned for his short film, The Man Who Ate Himself.

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Kilomet109 seamlessly blends traditional techniques with contemporary fashion.

You likely own clothing that was made in Vietnam (brands like Target, H&M, Gap, and Zara all manufacture clothing here). But there’s more than fast fashion coming out of this country. Fashion label Kilomet109 is leading the charge with traditional artisan techniques adapted for contemporary design. Bigger than a trend, they are setting the stage for a new, sustainable fashion movement across Vietnam.


After winding through narrow streets in a quiet northern section of Hanoi, we knocked on an unmarked door and hoped for the best. Taking off our shoes as we entered, we were greeted by people sitting at sewing machines and arranging textiles. Relieved, we knew we were in the right place.

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We carried on upstairs to where designer, Vu Thao, and her family live. Sitting at the table with Thao and her husband, we drank a cup of tea, ate Mung Bean Cakes, and chatted for hours. Later on, we toured her museum-like racks of traditional clothing and her label, Kilomet109’s previous collections.

About six years ago, Thao decided to take the leap and started her own fashion label, Kilomet109. After two years of intense research Thao launched her first collection in 2012. Like every collection since, each piece preserved traditional artisan techniques while blending contemporary, functional, and attractive design. Her 2014 collection, SEEDS, marked her first hand woven “100% sustainable collection, [using] home grown fibers and natural dies. A – Z made by us from planning through the end.”

Early Days: There Was No Word For Design

“In Vietnam during the 80s and 90s we had few choices. We had to make our own clothes. Everybody developed self-made skills from parents and grandparents and others in the community. I grew up with that.” Despite “always having a really strong connection with textile,” the thought of becoming a designer never entered her mind. “Design wasn’t a viable career. You could make something, but you were a laborer or tailor. It was more about making, not about the idea generating of design. We actually didn’t have a word for that at all.”

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A major turning point for Thao came in 2000, who was working at a magazine at the time. When “open policies in Vietnam were passed, it changed the whole scope of how Vietnamese dressed. Society was changing a lot and people started to pay attention to appearance [as a way to] express yourself.”  It was then that she decided to return to school for fashion design. After graduating, she worked for other designers and also taught at a fashion school. Teaching her students about sustainable design inspired Thao to do it herself. “I knew Vietnam could be a leader of this movement [of sustainable design], and that I should be one of them.”

Named in homage to Thao’s hometown, situated 109 kilometers from Hanoi, Kilotmet109’s designs appear to be effortless, simple, and high quality. To be clear, simple does not imply boring or thoughtless—quite the contrary. Each button, color, and thread is a thoughtful decision; every decision is a negotiation between design, functionality, and traditional craft.

The art of Thao’s work is in naturally “weaving together the message of protecting local [craft] in a contemporary form.” She hopes her work will help Vietnamese people realize “we can use what we’ve got and transform it in a modern version. It’s not the fashion from the past, it’s the now fashion. It’s the future.”

Blending contemporary design with traditional artistry comes with its fair set of challenges. But, by forging strong relationships with the artisans themselves and working through issues of communication and process, Kilomet109 has not only gained global recognition, but has set the standard for integrity, quality, and collaboration between old and new.

The Design Process: Experiments, Shifting Mindsets, and Play

Thao is the sole designer at Kilomet109, but she works closely with artisans in nearby villages who have passed down their craft for generations. Collaboration, particularly with a language barrier (each of the villages near Hanoi has a different language), is a delicate art. “In the beginning [when I suggested new designs] they were quick to say no, it won’t work. They would do it, but without believing in it.”


   The process of adapting the Batik technique to new designs     “Batik is a technique that I applied in our latest collection. I spent two weeks with the group of Blue Hmong observing six women sit around like we are, in the kitchen. They make designs of flowers and animals by looking at each other and doing the same thing. It takes so long to make one piece and they use five to ten tools for each one.     [At the end of our time there] I asked them to use only one tool, whichever one they liked. I gave them a simple sketch of geometry, lines and dots, and told them to play around with it. The young girls were okay trying that, and the older ladies just laughed. All of them thought this [exercise] was only for the moment, not to make to a design.     Later when I came back with the design for the collection, they couldn’t believe I used this work. They were shocked and thought ‘is this design from that day?’   

The process of adapting the Batik technique to new designs

“Batik is a technique that I applied in our latest collection. I spent two weeks with the group of Blue Hmong observing six women sit around like we are, in the kitchen. They make designs of flowers and animals by looking at each other and doing the same thing. It takes so long to make one piece and they use five to ten tools for each one.
[At the end of our time there] I asked them to use only one tool, whichever one they liked. I gave them a simple sketch of geometry, lines and dots, and told them to play around with it. The young girls were okay trying that, and the older ladies just laughed. All of them thought this [exercise] was only for the moment, not to make to a design.
Later when I came back with the design for the collection, they couldn’t believe I used this work. They were shocked and thought ‘is this design from that day?’ 

To try and overcome this challenge, Thao spent more time in the village in order to better understand the subtleties of process and tradition. Quickly, collaboration improved. “When you are willing to spend time with people, the relationships are so much easier on both sides…they know I make an effort to work with their tradition…now, we really inspire each other. Sometimes I have ideas that are too ‘out there’. I can make experiments in the studio, but when it comes to cost and production, their input is really valuable.”

The biggest shift Thao observes is that “[the local artisans] are not saying no when I have designs. They ask for it! ‘What do you have next, what’s the next?’ Before it was [resistance] but now they talk about next idea, next collection, next project. It’s really nice to see.

Hanoi: A Village within a City


When a young woman noticed a glass button on Thao’s dress, she invited Thao back to her house in search of buttons handmade by her late father years ago. After hours of searching in a dark room, they found and admired the stunning collection. At the young woman’s request, Thao took home the buttons. “She said her father wanted the buttons to go to someone who loves them. Hanoi has these kind of surprises. Even for someone like me who’s lived here so long, you always find something that wows you.”

“There are so many hidden places where people are making things. It’s very helpful for my design. Whether it’s simple silk thread or hand make glass buttons, we can make them ourselves here. It’s a really wonderful thing that we still have here. It is like a village that exists within a city.

 I’m so fortunate to live here and work in the countryside. Hanoi provides a great balance for my personal life and design. I love the speed of Hanoi and how it’s always moving.

When you live in the city you have to consider so many things – traffic, air, movement. So my design considers that. When I make a jacket, I have to think about how to get on a motorbike without the material bunching up. The city is so many things at once. Even the colors of Hanoi are really inspiring. It’s endless visually.”

We’re excited to watch as Kilomet109 continues to pave the way for fashion design in Vietnam. Shop their past collections here: http://kilomet109.com/shop/


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Gap Filler: Placemaking, Design, and Rebuilding in Christchurch

I have to admit, as a designer passionate about the role of design in place making, I was excited to visit Christchurch and see how the city has redefined itself in the past 7 years following the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. As a visitor, I felt inspired walking around, witnessing the creation of public parks, active street art festivals, and delightful moments of design that encourage tourists and locals to explore in new ways.

 Gap Filler's The Pallet Pavilion, 2012-2014 (credit: Maja Moritz 2012)

Gap Filler's The Pallet Pavilion, 2012-2014 (credit: Maja Moritz 2012)

We quickly discovered an amazing organization, Gap Filler, behind so many of these installations and creative events in the city. Gap Filler describes their organization as “a creative urban regeneration initiative that facilitates a wide range of temporary projects, events, installations and amenities in the city [Christchurch].”

Co-founder Coralie Winn, and two others “began the initiative in response to the very first quake we experienced way back in September 2010. We did a one-off (or so we thought) project that involved turning a vacant lot into a colorful, quirky garden with borrowed plants, furniture and more. We hosted live music, outdoor cinema, poetry and more over two weeks. The response was pretty amazing, so we then did a second, very different project (which actually disappointed some who wanted more of the first project) before the February 2011 quake wreaked havoc on the city, taking 185 lives and changing things forever.”

 Rebuilding the ChristChurch Cathedral started this year and is expected to take 10 years.

Rebuilding the ChristChurch Cathedral started this year and is expected to take 10 years.

 The Cardboard Cathedral (a church literally made of cardboard) opened in 2013 designed by architect, Shigeru Ban.

The Cardboard Cathedral (a church literally made of cardboard) opened in 2013 designed by architect, Shigeru Ban.

Throughout our time chatting with friendly Kiwis at the many fabulous cafes throughout the city, we heard so much appreciation for the creative and empathetic approach Gap Filler has taken in bringing joy to the city. But, unsurprisingly, we also learned that rebuilding a city is complicated, emotional, and downright difficult.

Frustrations with Rebuilding

Many creative projects that felt “good” at first seem to have lost their charm among locals. The container mall, the weaving in and out of orange cones, and the innovative Gap Filler projects, now often feel like a sad reminder of what 7 years later, is still not in great shape. A barista at a café summed up a mindset we heard over and over. “People like to call [Christchurch] creative, but I just want it to be the way it used to be. I’m just really ready to get back to normal.”

 Gap Filler's giant spray paint cans in Christchurch's East Frame.

Gap Filler's giant spray paint cans in Christchurch's East Frame.

Gap Filler’s Coralie Winn understands this mentality. “We tend to be the target of negativity from a small section of the community here, who see our work as a waste of time, messy, 'gypsy'-like and having run its course. To say it another, and possibly overly-simplistic way, temporary stuff has served its purpose and it's time for a proper city now. I think this sort of attitude wouldn't be the case if more of Christchurch was rebuilt by now and the rebuild wasn't taking so very long. People vent their frustration our way, as they are annoyed about the state of things.”

Gap Filler isn’t just about post-quake revitalization. It’s about responding to the needs of Christchurch. Coralie explains Gap Filler’s approach:

“Placemaking, DIY urbanism, whatever you wish to call it is known throughout much of the world. But in Christchurch, temporary urban activations or interventions tend to be understood as a post-quake thing and struggle to shirk that connection. We've done projects that respond to what have identified as needs or lacks in the city. I guess we are hoping that in time, tactical urbanism or placemaking, will be better understood as a useful, purposeful practice.

 Greening the Rubble car park installation in Gap Filler's community car park, Good Spot.

Greening the Rubble car park installation in Gap Filler's community car park, Good Spot.

"Gap Filler brings creativity, provocation and participatory projects to the city in the context of a rebuild that has not been especially consultative and very top-down and heavy handed. The projects we undertake have certainly changed as the city has evolved. To that end, now that we are nearly seven years from the disaster you will find our projects these days have a much higher design aesthetic than many earlier ones. This evolution was based on public feedback. Our projects in the last two years have often used the public realm (i.e. Council owned land like footpaths) or walls of buildings rather than ex-demolition sites as they did a few years ago. Such sites were usually privately owned, which made the whole process faster. Working with local or central government to access public land is much slower. Examples of such recent projects are Super Street Arcade, Open City, DiversCity (comprising Ping Pong and AyoAyo - a mancala).”

What’s next for Gap Filler? 

We can’t wait to return to Christchurch and see the latest Gap Filler projects. Coralie provided an exciting vision for the future and their switch towards a social enterprise model:

“We've not readily identified as a social enterprise thus far and that's for a number of reasons but now, we do. We are increasingly needing to undertake paid work to ensure we can continue as funding for our work has changed as time passes.

We have recently begun work in the East Frame, five blocks of prime central-city land to be developed as part of the government's master plan for the rebuilt city. This land will have town houses and apartments for 2000 people built on it over the next 8 years. We're leading a temporary space activation program on this land, enabling all sorts of groups and people to do projects here, as well as delivering some of our own. This work is paid and it's also part of a permanent development being led by the country's largest building company, Fletcher Building and this case, their Fletcher Living division. Fletcher Living has been required by the national government to enable temporary, community uses of the land so that’s where we come in..

We hope that our work on this land, although temporary, will have a permanent impact. So we will be doing fewer projects per year and more collaborative, paid projects such as one we have coming up out at the airport to make their public realm space work better for its users and for the airport, too. We really hope to infuse the values behind what we do into more and more projects.

To summarize I want to use a word you won't know. Kaitiaki tanga. It's te reo Māori for custodianship or care-taking. Māori, like many indigenous (and I might just say, more enlightened peoples!) don't see themselves as owners of any land but rather custodians. We see ourselves as a kind of creative custodian of the land or spaces we use, taking on the risks but making empty land contribute positively to the city and allowing its citizens a chance to participate by making something on that land and ultimately making the city a place that they want to be.”

We’re inspired by Coralie’s participatory approach. If you are too, please check out their website and consider donating at http://gapfiller.org.nz/

 Gap Filler, Super Street Arcade (credit: Erica Austin 2015)

Gap Filler, Super Street Arcade (credit: Erica Austin 2015)

Street Art + Synergy: a conversation with Sage from Dragon School

Plan some extra time in Oakland’s Chinatown because walking through Downtown Oakland’s streets inevitably means stopping to look at exquisite street art. If you look closely, you’ll notice most of the murals in this areas are signed, “Dragon School 99.”

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We were curious what this meant, so reached out to their executive director, Sage. We were lucky enough meet with him during a Sunday afternoon session of Dragon School.

Dragon School is a nonprofit that, in their words, “provides youth and artists a unique place to experiment with street-art and show civic pride. Dragon School's method re-imagines the neighborhood as a shared culture of art, where unity is strengthened by diversity. We are a multi-cultural, independently operated non-profit. Dragon School is community engagement on the purest level.”

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Sage says that Dragon School celebrates “Oakland’s rebellious spirit” while at the same time “creates a sense of joy when people walk by and see whimsical art on their buildings.”

Creating sense of place: at its heart, Dragon School is a beautiful, synergistic collaboration between businesses, youth, artists, and community. Sage told us that this culture of synergy is Dragon Schools’s secret sauce—truly celebrating and uplifting an authentic spirit of Oakland’s Downtown/Chinatown community. They’ve recently expanded beyond Chinatown to West Oakland and East Oakland.

In creating these murals in collaboration with the community, they’re also drawing more people to areas of Oakland they might not otherwise explore. Sharing art in this way creates new opportunities to create opportunities to inspire resident and visitors of the area alike.

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Mahuki: where entrepreneurial spirit and culture collide.

Sulu Fiti, Outreach Manager for Mahuki, chats with us about creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) sector.

On a sunny morning in January, we had the opportunity to chat with Sulu in Muhuki’s beautiful office space, located within New Zealand’s national Te Papa Museum. The first of its kind, Mahuki is Te Papa’s innovation accelerator focusing on entrepreneurship in the global cultural and heritage sector. 

Sulu could not have been more welcoming. We chatted about Mahuki, growing up in Wellington, and his ideal day in the city.

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Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a born and bred Wellingtonian, and I’ve lived here for most of my life. I’ve also lived overseas during various semi-professional rugby playing stints - three seasons in Wales, two in Ireland, and one each in Ireland, and Australia. I’ve also lived in Samoa a couple of times. My parents are Samoan immigrants who came here in the 1960s. They met each other in New Zealand, and raised our family here in Wellington. They came from nothing, and were poor even by Samoan standards at the time. So my siblings and I are very fortunate that we were brought up wanting for nothing, in an incredibly supportive, and loving family. We had a fantastic upbringing in Wellington.  

After spending time abroad, what has brought you back to Wellington?

It’s home. My family and friends are here. And because of Wellington’s relatively small size, there's a real sense of community here. I love that. It's amazing how many people you become connected with in this city. In particular, within the start-up community everyone seems to know one another. There is a great creative vibe in the city, and you can really see that in the vibrant startup scene.

Also, being the seat of government, there are a lot of government agencies, and while in the past that has given Wellington a rather staid image. It’s certainly not how you would describe Wellington now. At Mahuki we work with a lot of government agencies and educational institutions, and they are starting to embrace a lot of startup methodologies in the way that they operate. Government can be a big clunky machine, but they are really trying to implement some of the startup philosophies such as iterating quickly, and running design sprints. It's really refreshing to see that kind of thinking in that sort of environment.

What brought you to Mahuki?

I came through a business accelerator in 2017 - the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator - where I fast failed my company which was looking to make it easier and cheaper to send money to the Pacific Islands using the blockchain. After some market validation in Samoa I decided that it wasn’t worth pursuing the business further. We didn’t have a big enough point of difference in the market to make the type of penetration that would have made us stand out from others in the space. I've worked in many different jobs - but most recently in startups.

I work as the Outreach Manager at Mahuki, and my remit is to find exceptional talent for the full Mahuki programme. I also work closely with educational institutions, government agencies, and other interested parties. I’m also heavily involved in the local startup scene. We run a pre-accelerator programme which involves delivering workshops around the country to those interested in the sector, with a particular focus on Maori and Pasifika.  

That’s amazing! What makes Mahuki such a unique place?

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It is a space where entrepreneurialism and culture collide to create innovative solutions that enrich galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM). It's the world’s first accelerator in this sector, and that speaks volumes about Te Papa's constant effort to be ahead of the curve.

We produce a four month bespoke innovation / entrepreneurial programme designed to help teams of between 2 to 6 members develop their idea and business to produce a commercially viable solution.

How did the program originally get started?

A few years ago Te Papa examined ways in which it could adapt and innovate in an increasingly digital world. They looked at a few different models, and the accelerator model is what they decided to go with. From day one Te Papa has always stood out from the crowd. It has a pioneering vision within its DNA, and that ‘out of the box’ thinking courses through Mahuki.

What are some examples of teams that have gone through the program?

We’ve had a really broad range of teams come through Mahuki. Just a snapshot of some of the teams include Curio, which is an online publishing platform that lets museums, galleries and libraries make their own digital interactions. We’ve had a social enterprise team who created an app for matching volunteers with organizations; another team, Excio, has created an app for enjoying  works of art / photography on your mobile device. Breadcrumb deliver location-aware indoor positioning solutions, Vaka Interactiv, are a Pasifika team working on a portrait interactive - think Harry Potter - by using ethno-cultural empathy via two way communication. We’ve also had a team in the burgeoning V.R. space, a data analytics team, a bunch of gaming developers, and a team who are looking at using technology to learn, and preserve the languages of Oceania. I’m really looking forward to seeing who comes through the Mahuki programme this year. Bring it on!

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What have been some of the biggest challenges for the program?

The biggest difficulty is not only finding talent who want to explore opportunities in this sector, but also in communicating just the broad scope of opportunities that are available for people. Typically when you think of museums, your first thought is front of house exhibitions - but there are opportunities for enterprise in areas such as ticketing, catering, and retail, just to name a few. We are being proactive in building and growing our own pipeline by extending our reach into the Maori and Pasifika communities, who aren’t greatly represented in the sector. We know that there is a rich vein of talent out there, and we aim to plant the seeds for that next wave of talent with some of our targeted workshops. A lot of the challenge is in communicating the challenges that face the sector, and whether people can come in and have a business or initiative that solves those challenges. We have a set of twelve challenges that guide what Te Papa and the industry are looking at, and we are currently in the process of revisiting these.

What make most you most excited to come to work each day at Mahuki? 

What I'm big on - and this speaks to my cultural background - is promoting diversity. Last year we had three Pasifika teams come through the Mahuki programme, and also an all-female team of three young entrepreneurs. It’s a great start, but we need to be doing a lot more to tap into those communities. We’ve got a unique opportunity at Mahuki to take a lead, and make a significant difference in this area. Also, innovation is innovation - and being involved with startups in whatever industry, whether it be fintech, agritech, VR, or whatever - is just damned exciting.

Through Mahuki, we are pioneering and championing the concept of ‘culture tech’ – a fusion of emerging technology with a New Zealand worldview that embraces the deep storytelling, content and traditions of Maori and Pasifika culture in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museum (GLAM) sector. Telling deep and genuine stories resonates with these cultures and we are heralding a new frontier where those gifts for storytelling can be fully realized.

One last question for our readers exploring the city. What’s your ideal day here in Wellington?

That’s easy! I'm a beach person, so I love going to the beach and being in the water. My favorite beach is Princess Bay. It's my fave because it's not as busy as the others in the city, but also because it gets the last drop of summer sun. So you get some amazing, dramatic sunsets there. It's beautiful just to sit there at 9pm in the evening and watch the sun go down. But shhhh. Keep it on the d-low, us locals like to keep Princess Bay a secret.

Another good / bad thing about Wellington - depending on your point of view - is our weather. Our winters can be pretty horrific. We have a really bad wind...apparently. I just call it a breeze. It puts a lot of people off, but I think it just invigorates us locals to be creative.

 

The Dream of Roots: a Conversation with Kelly Spencer

On a sunny day in Lyttleton we met Kelly Spencer (making art using the name Kell Sunshine) in an empty lot next to where the historic Harbourlight Theatre stood before the 2010/2011 Earthquakes. Lyttleton, a town of under 3,000, is just a twenty-minute drive from Christschurch. Despite its small size, it packs in more local coffee spots and artistic spirit than cities far more populated.

We came to see the mural Kelly just finished the night before as part of the 2017 Street Prints festival. Across the street in the Lyttleton Coffee Company, we sat outside along the port to hear more about her piece, sense of place and roots, and the joy and vulnerability of painting walls.

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I had to paint on walls.

It's social. It's outdoors. It's moving—moving my body. It's talking to people and meeting new people. It's listening to music, loudly.


On Painting on Walls

I dabbled at first, but then I got the bug and I had to paint on walls. It's social. It's outdoors. It's moving—moving my body. It's talking to people and meeting new people. It's listening to music, loudly. To do a wall, I feel more involved in everything that's going on around me, in the space and in the community.

People say the weirdest things when I’m up on a wall painting….so often positive, but a lot of people just don't know what to say. You're exposed and vulnerable so people are really ready to talk to you which is good, but then they don't know what to say. They’ll say things like, “did you paint that? Are you being paid to paint it?” But it's also really beautiful—people share little bits of their life with you because it's there in the public realm.

About the Piece

Choosing a mural with the word Place was fitting for so many reasons. I wanted create a piece that holds place—people stuck it out here to rebuild [after the earthquakes] and everything that goes into having something like this happen to your home.

Place seemed like a bold, solid word to hold the main composition. I was actually going to write the full quote [from Salman Rushdie], but I didn't want it to sound cheesy—which is a concern doing type. If they don't know the idea behind it they might not think about it in the same way. The [word] journey is the idea of the seeds traveling across the area from the flower to the bird, since birds are one of the few ways that seeds can travel. The bird is there to symbolize travel and freedom and transience and the poppy is there, rooted in the ground. And [I chose] a poppy—because around the corner I saw a little patch of poppies when I arrived in Lyttleton.

On place.

When people talk about looking after your mental health, they often talk about putting roots down. When I try to visualize that place of “roots” I get caught up in this whirlpool...even though I love my homes—of Gisborne and Wellington. It wasn't until reading The Ground Beneath Her Feet and saw characters who are most themselves when they are moving that I realized I'm just carrying these roots with me and that's fine.

"The dream of Roots. The mirage of the Journey" - Salman Rushdie

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follow Kelly: @kell.sunshine 

Retail in Oakland: a conversation with Viscera's founder Ari Takata-Vasquez

Meet Ari: artist, designer, creative director and founder of Viscera

Viscera: A brick and mortar in Downtown Oakland

I opened the shop in 2014 with the idea that a store would be an interesting way to explore all the different creative avenues I am interested in. This idea that I could start a shop where the visual pieces are done in house—from graphics, photography, a lot of the product, and the store design.

While I was in grad school, I studied city planning and focused on urban planning I did my thesis on downtown’s open space. In one class, I looked at affordable care acts on downtown Oakland’s economy. One thing that struck me is we lose so much retail money. We have the biggest retail leakage. People who live in Oakland aren’t spending their money in Oakland—they’re spending it in San Francisco, in Walnut Creek, Emeryville and that’s bonkers to me. We lose 2 billion dollars—that’s 2 billion dollars that could be circulating in our economy, helping to create jobs. 

Why Oakland?

Oakland has a mix of people who are really excited about what they’re doing and sort of going to do it for themselves even if there aren’t the systems in place for that. Art Murmur is a good example of that idea that we’re going to make it happen for ourselves and not wait for the city to do this for us. The scrappiness is what draws me to downtown.

Stores act as pseudo public spaces. When you got to a new city, you stroll around and if you have a nice person in the shop you say where do you go and explore, what do you like and they’re your tour guides. 

Downtown Oakland's Creative Future.

People need to realize small business isn’t a given, you have to choose to support. We’re typically not as convenient, and more expensive but we’re more expensive in just dollars, no in external costs. If you’re a creative person who ever wants to make money off of your work, you have to support the places that share that work and craft. 

Yes, we could be an e Commerce, but the physical location is so important to Downtown Oakland. If I close, it’s not going to be another indie retailer it’s going to be a national chain. We have something like 4-5 cranes with ground floor retail, but none of them are suited for small business, so that’s one-way design and physical space impact what happens downtown. We have to hold onto what we have now because it’s not going to come back. But it’s hopeful, Downtown Oakland makes things happen for itself. Historically we’re a place that doesn’t give up. Local resilience is kind of a motto.

Inspire.

I basically just walk everywhere. I don't leave downtown which forces you to get a really intimate knowledge of a place. I can literally see a picture of anywhere downtown and know what street that’s one. So having that tactile memory of being somewhere with a visual is really inspiring. It’s people though, that are the most inspiring. Being in the shop, and having people ask to buy a card, and then you talk to them and you find out they have all these interests and it a humanizing process of meeting the real person with a storyline and that’s really interesting.

Collaborate.

I collaborate a lot in the shop. I work with a lot of small makers who are independent who care about what they’re doing. I also host pop-ups in the shop, so that smaller brands who need one on one, maybe they’re e-commerce but based in Oakland and need more one on one time with their customers.

Before I opened the store, I threw a business owner brunch and said “let’s all pull together” so we all know each other now so we message through out the day sometimes and stay in touch. And we send each other clients. We choose to be collaborative, rather than competitive

Create

So some of the clothes I made here in the shop, and the rest of the stuff, I live in a live/work unit near Preservation Park. So I’ve been trying to separate the art and making as work and making for fun. Because that can get stressful when I think “this is dollars” while painting. So I do my paintings and sculptures at home. It’s new that I bring them here to share because it’s so vulnerable. So I have a little desk with all my different mediums.

Share.

I have a piece up at The Heart is Oakland at Classic Cars West which was a collaboration. It’s nice to put it out there when you know it’s for a good cause. Digitally too - sometimes you get doubtful and sometimes it’s nice to snap a picture and share on Instagram to see if people like it.

Fashionable, wearable art by Alex Steele

Meet Alex: Based in Oakland, California, she makes fashionable, wearable art pieces. 

How does your city/place impact your creative process?

I think living in Oakland and the Bay Area impacts my creative process by pushing me to continue making my art and craft for a living. I feel that the area I live in is very supportive of creatives, and I see how people love the idea of owning handmade, artistic things.

I think the fact that there are so many big organizations that foster events for creatives to come together and showcase and sell their work (such as West Coast Craft, Renegade Craft Fair, Urban Air market, etc.), as well as local shops that host workshops, and individuals who put together smaller pop-up events at local venues or their studios. It seems like there is always something to be a part of, or to check out, which creates the creative community. Also, the fact that there are a ton of independent boutiques, women-owned nonetheless, that care about handmade items made by local artists, make for a driven community of artists that are supported to do this full time.

Where are you inspired?

I find that taking walks clears my mind for inspiration, and so I enjoy taking walks often. I also feel super inspired when I participate in craft and design fairs, where I am surrounded by other driven and passionate makers. I actually love just walking around the different neighborhoods and parks near my house in Oakland. I prefer to take walks to do my errands, and I try to take different routes to keep it interesting. It's mainly for the exercise and a breath of fresh air to clear my head. When I am moving and able to daydream, ideas come easier to me.

I feel the most inspired when I am a part of craft and design fairs and am surrounded by so many other artists, makers, and designers. In addition to seeing all the exciting things people are creating, I love observing how everyone sets up their booth spaces with their unique ways to display their work.

Where do you collaborate?

I collaborate in my art studio, or my home studio, or a friend's studio. They are private places to focus and work out ideas.

Where do you create?

I work from my home studio often, because I have a backyard where I can spread out and be messy with my materials (or work with messy materials!) I also have a separate art studio where I go to work out new ideas and do assembly work for my collection.

Where do you share?

I primarily share and promote what I am making and doing through Instagram (@alexsteele). 

Image above from her Instagram account.