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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Voices Of The Pandemic

A film by Milton Raposo

The 2020 Bermuda Biennial provides an engaging platform from which our island’s artists can tell their story. The Biennial  programmes which accompany the exhibition are focused on expanding this platform, creating dynamic opportunities for our communities to share their stories.

Voices Of The Pandemic is a project by artist and filmmaker Milton Raposo, founder of Method Media and former deputy chair of the Bermuda Arts Council, which explores life in Bermuda amid the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on our communities.

Shortly before the pandemic hit, the BNG received a small grant from the Department of Community Affairs’ Cultural Legacy Fund to record the voices of the community. In light of the abrupt changes that this has brought to life in Bermuda, we have decided to put the grant towards funding this important project as part of the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.

The project invites you, the public, to share your experience of day to day life in these extraordinary times. The theme for this year’s Bermuda Biennial, Let Me Tell You Something, inspired by a quote from the late author and Nobel laureate Toni Morisson, asks artists to tell their own story. Now we invite you to tell yours.

We sat down with filmmaker Milton Raposo to find out more about the project and how people can get involved.

Photograph: Milton Raposo

BNG: When did you start working on the project and why?

MS: I started working on this project in mid-March, around the time that the uncertainty started to be apparent. Originally the idea was to record everything related to the crisis, but that wasn’t practical considering social distancing and other mitigation efforts. As the situation unfolded, it became apparent to me that a part of this was not being documented and that is the direct effect the pandemic has had on the average citizen, whether it be someone who contracted the virus or someone who has lost their job. There has been a lot about essential workers and some capturing of behind the scenes work but not a lot about the direct effects on people. To me, that is more interesting. 

BNG: The pandemic has affected us all in ways that are both universal and uniquely personal. How do you intend to capture this?

MS: The title, Voices of the Pandemic, speaks directly to that. There are so many threads to be pulled on but knowing what is emotionally unique to Bermuda while also relating to what is happening around the world is key. Our pandemic stories have a uniqueness but ithose stories also relate to what is happening to people in other places like Italy or Spain.  

BNG: The reverberations of the pandemic and its impact on how we live our lives will be long term and will evolve over time. How will the documentary capture this multi-stage process?

MS: My intent is to avoid making a “recap” documentary as such but instead to capture what is current and in the moment. Right now, there are people who are sick or unemployed with stories that are unfolding. It sort of pens me in with how I’m going to deal with those individuals down the line, if I bring them back, but that could also be interesting to the narrative. As Bermuda gets back to normal, I expect new stories and developments. We’ve all had a fundamental shift, or disruption, in our ways of thinking and every day practices and I expect stories to be revealed because of that.   

Photograph: Milton Raposo

BNG: What are the most interesting stories that you have recorded so far?

MS: Without revealing too much, one story is of one of the first people to get Covid-19; one of the imported cases. Another is of a tourism professional with a staff of 15 who didn’t even get the chance to gear up for the 2020 tourist season and now fears that tourism might be largely written off this year. Another interesting story I am working on getting is that of an essential worker in a position of prominence within their organisation who lost a family member to Covid-19 but they had to be on the job. And so while they were trying to protect Bermuda as a whole, their family suffered a direct loss.

BNG: What are you looking for in terms of submissions and potential interviewees?

MS: If people have been impacted by the pandemic in any way at all, they should reach out. No story is too small. People have to be comfortable with going in front of a camera and telling their story. I promise not to make it a long drawn out affair. Also, if they wish to send in a video describing what their current situation is like, they can. The camera phone has proven to be very useful tool! I’m trying to avoid lifestyle clips however. 

BNG: Are there are any stories that you are keen to capture that you haven’t yet managed to get on film?

MS: Yes, the hoax believer. There is a large segment out there that either believes this all a hoax or, for whatever reason, is not taking this seriously at all. Looking at social media, it appears there are a lot of people like that. I believe that voice should be included.

Photograph: Milton Raposo

BNG: What do you hope to achieve with the film?

MS: A few things. I’m a big believer in documenting periods of time of national importance and telling untold or underreported stories. I think this film will feed directly into the theme of this year’s Biennial, Let Me Tell You Something, which reveals some of these stories.

It’s cliche to say but I hope it will document a period of time in Bermuda’s history where we joined a global effort to push back against a serious threat to peoples’ lives and livelihoods. It’s easy to joke about the laid back attitude associated with island life but Bermuda hasn’t seen a threat like this since possibly World War II, or more recently the 1970s riots.

Bermuda is a great example of survival – from figuring out how to capture rain water, to riding out hurricanes better than anyone else, to being home to insurers who bail other global communities out of their own national disasters. In that sense, Bermuda routinely punches above her weight and reveals her own powerful, special voice.

If you would like to take part in the documentary please contact  programming@bng.bm. Submissions are open to Bermudians living both on island and abroad.

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Interview: Dr Edwin Smith

Transience

Transience, by artist and educator Dr Edwin M.E. Smith, is a striking installation produced for the 2020 Bermuda Biennial. The artwork, which is large in scale (144 x 96 inches) was created by applying duct tape directly onto the wall of the Young Gallery. The painstaking installation process took over 24 hours to complete. Yet the work, by its very nature, will be destroyed when the exhibition closes.

We caught up with Dr Edwin M.E. Smith to discuss the intricate technique behind his work, the importance of fleeting moments and his pride at seeing former students included alongside him in the exhibition.

BNG: Transience marks a change in direction for you, having predominantly worked with acrylic, charcoal and chalk prior to this. What is it about duct tape that attracted you as a medium?

ES: The decision to use tape for this installation is not as new or even as dramatic as it may initially appear. I have used duct tape in my work Culture of Entitlement 2 (2014) to reference Bermuda Day traditions and the usage also resembles the linear approach used in previous instances of my work such as Paper Boats (2009).

Culture of Entitlement 2 by Dr Edwin M.E. Smith (2014)

Last year I created a tape installation I Shall Only (2019) in a gallery in the John Macintosh Hall in Gibraltar during an art residency. This recent use with limited materials and time made me consider the medium for more developed possibilities and was quite timely as I turned my attention the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.

Duct tape easily replicates the forms, lines and monochromatic values that are characteristic of my image making. However, along with the aesthetic consideration, duct tape, as a non-permanent medium excellently contributed to Transience as this is an installation that is also intended to be non-permanent.

Paper Boats by Dr Edwin M.E. Smith (2009)

BNG: What were the challenges of working with this medium?

ES: Compositional manipulation in my effort to highlight focal points, create balance and say what I want to say are the most challenging aspects of my work. This remained the case even as now used duct tape as the primary medium. I am a planner and try to anticipate every possibility. Having said that, duct tape definitely has unique considerations!

I searched for appropriate colour, widths, lengths, textural surfaces and tack characteristics. I also needed to have a surface that I could draw on. Importantly, I had to ensure that the tape remained on the wall for the duration of the Biennial, although I knew that the work would be in a climate controlled environment. I even produced a maquette to assist with my experimentation and to visualise the plan for the jurors.

I was happy with my calculation choices and the installation was completed without much excess. My son, and fellow artist, Micrae Smith assisted with the installation which took approximately 25 hours, not much longer than originally anticipated.

There were happy discoveries in addition to these considerations. I did not anticipate that the underlying masonry and the gallery lighting would cause the grey tape to have a stainless steel or metallic finish. I believe the result positively contributes to the work.

Installation begins on Transience.

BNG: Could you please talk us through the installation process?

ES: I digitally separated my composition into two parts – an underlying grey layer and a top black layer. In turn, these were projected onto the gallery wall and sized to meet my desired dimensions.

Starting with the grey layer, I applied the tape to the positive areas of the projected image. I chose to do this with horizontal strips to maintain a textural consistency. I outlined the image onto the tape with a white acrylic marker and even made additional drawing adjustment to assist with the intricate cuts I had to make.

Finally, I trimmed the excess tape and went over the whole installation with a brayer and my palms, pressing to ensure adhesion.

The work was created using contrasting layers of grey and black duct tape.

BNG: Transience is an ephemeral work. When the exhibition comes down the piece will effectively be destroyed. How does this add to the work?

ES: The fact that the work will cease to exist at the end of the exhibition is extremely important and reinforces my concept of individuals participating in a fleeting moment. I want my viewers to grasp and take away the concept – which is, the importance of the moment.

On another note, the fact that this work only exists for now increased my enjoyment of the design and creation process. In the process I was totally freed from the concern or interest in producing art that would eventually sell.

The artwork begins to take shape.

BNG: This is your 7th Bermuda Biennial. How has your inclusion in the exhibition over such a long period of time shaped your practice?

ES: I feel fortunate to have been selected for inclusion as often as I have and I continue to enjoy my participation in Bermuda’s visual culture and in the exhibition. Inclusion in the Biennial may have had some influence on what I do, but I believe that time and my total life experiences are really the shaper of my practice.

I am the first to recognise that I am not the same person that I was yesterday and, without a doubt, the times are not the same as before either. I believe change should be reflected in my work as well. I enjoy my explorations and, as an art educator, I emphasise that sameness may reflect limited creativity. Without a doubt, the Biennial has served an excellent avenue to document the journey.

The finished piece measures 144 x 96 inches.

BNG: As the Senior Lecturer of Art and Design at the Bermuda College you have seen a number of your former students exhibit in the Biennial. What does it feel like to see former students, such as Naimah Frith who is showing for the first time this year, included in such an exhibition?

ES: I am happy to see my former students getting involved and taking advantage of opportunities. It should be , and remains, a natural expectation for me that my students will want to be part of the art world that supported their artistic development. Hopefully, their participation signals that they regard their perspectives as valid and an important contribution to be shared and added to local discourse. I am glad to remain connected with them even though increasingly I am simply one of the old guys!

Inclusion in major exhibitions such as the Biennial provides recognition and assists in personal growth but also provides relevant documentation through inclusion in prestigious catalogues and possibly, at some point, inclusion in the canon of Bermudian art history. Their work becomes part of the tapestry that will in time provide a future audience a glimpse into the realities, conversation and values held within this island home.

BNG: Sarai Hines, one of your former students, is leading a digital programme for the BNG Youth Arts Council this term. How does it feel to cross paths with some many of your former students as they establish successful careers of their own?

ES: Miss Sarai Hines and others are creatives who are making their career choices work for them. This is never easy as they are often times when significant others encourage the pursuit of other paths. I want to see them succeed!

I often reflect on when they were in the classroom and I remember their enthusiasm and approach not only to their own art making but also their critique of the art world they were entering. I am excited to see their maturity but I am more excited to see that their passion and work ethic has not wavered. I am proud of them and will continue to support them in any way that I can.

BNG: The Youth Arts Council students studied your work for their first module. They interviewed you and have also produced their own artworks inspired by Transience. How was the experience for you?

ES: I enjoyed the experience, as I expected I would! I am always happy to engage young people who have an interest in the arts. Now I am looking forward to seeing which aspects of Transience appealed to them. Their points of view are as important to me as are analyses and reviews received from other individuals who may or may not be immersed in the art world.


Artwork by BNG Youth Arts Council student Tcherari Nu Kamara, age 15

“My piece is about how time, while it facilitates growth and learning, can also be something that traps us if we pay too much attention to it. Inspired by Dr Edwin Smith’s piece Transience I used tape to create part of this artwork. I decided that the watches would work as handcuffs to represent the feeling of being trapped by time. The watches are made out of tape with bold, geometric print to provide a contrast against the more organic forms in the rest of the artwork.”
Artwork by BNG Youth Arts Council student Nae’ Zori Weeks, age 14

“I choose to do a big healthy tree mixed in with trees that have perished. To me, trees symbolise life. The dead and cut down trees in the background symbolise how humans have killed the earth. The sky is dark with thick grey smoke because factories are polluting the air that we breathe. I added clear tape to the ground to make it look as if there are plastic bags and bottles. I wanted to incorporate the tape as a reference to Dr Edwin Smith using tape in his work.”

The BNG Youth Arts Council, aimed at students aged 13 -17, produces art activities relevant to the teens of today. Registrations is free. For further information contact education@bng.bm.

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Meet The Jurors

Behind the scenes with Bermemes

As a member of the International Biennial Association, the Bermuda Biennial, sponsored by Bacardi, provides local artists with the opportunity to have their work seen by some of the foremost art professionals in the world.

Bermemes caught up with the jurors for this year’s exhibition, Melissa Messina, an independent curator and curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate, and Kimberli Gant PHD, the McKinon Curator of Contemporary Art at the Chrysler Museum, when they were on island in January.

The film, which is presented by Qian Dickinson, explores the making of the exhibition and looks at ways in which emerging artists can get ahead.

Click HERE to view the film.

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Biennial Jigsaws

BNG Puzzles

To celebrate the digital launch of 2020 Bermuda Biennial we have produced online jigsaw puzzles of both Gherdai Hassell‘s large scale collage Interactions Bermuda and Antoine Hunt‘s mixed media artwork This Is Not A Home.

Click HERE for the Interactions Bermuda puzzle (shown above).

Click HERE for the This Is Not A Home puzzle (shown below).

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Art In Isolation

Creativity In Confinement

Finding Comfort In Chaos

Jon Legere is a Bermudian mixed media artist who works with video, paint, collage, photography and sculpture. He has shown in numerous galleries globally and his collaborative video installation “TURNS” with mentor Margot Lovejoy was part of the 2002 Whitney Biennial in New York City.

His 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork A Shell Is A Façade, which marks the artist’s fifth inclusion in the exhibition, looks at the enigma of language and how this can be used to both reveal and conceal information.

Jon lives and works in New York City where he is currently sheltering in place. We caught up with him to discuss life in lockdown in one of the cities most affected by the pandemic and how he is using art to make sense of the situation.

2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork: A Shell Is A Façade, 2020. Installation, video, wall stencil. 50 x 50 inches.

BNG: How long have you been sheltering in place and how are you using this time?

JL: I think today marks 43 days. It’s been a wild ride. We have a ten month old beautiful baby girl, a rambunctious seven year old who’s had to learn how to use a laptop overnight for remote classes and a little Havanese puppy. All contained within a nine hundred square foot apartment in Brooklyn. But we are all healthy and staying somewhat sane so no complaints. 

BNG: How has this affected your studio practice?

JL: I’ve always been comfortable with chaos so long as I could figure out a way to contain and make sense of it. I haven’t cracked this one yet and that’s the hardest part for me.  So I’ve been trying to develop new mini routines which give me a sense that I’ve got a handle on things. 

BNG: What are you making and why? 

JL: One of those tasks was to organise the flat files in my studio in Greenpoint. I started arranging all of these old drawings, collage clippings, photo copies, notes, photographs, love letters and tape rolls out onto the floor. After examining all the fragments holistically I wanted to stick what I was seeing on the floor to the wall. So I just threw them on the wall with push pins, tape, glue and didn’t care what was exposed or hidden. Stepping back they are like maps. Topographic diaries of life prior to quarantine.

Banker Street, 2020. Paper, tape, acrylic, spray paint. 50 inches x 65 inches.

BNG: What creative projects were you working on when the crisis hit and how have these been affected by the pandemic?

JL: So many projects so little time. I was invited for a few weeks residency in Italy this fall which is now on hold. I keep seeing photos from the chateau where the residency is on instagram and it feels like a dream. I think it’s good and healthy to dream into the future.

BNG: How do you think the art world will be changed by this event when we go back to a (new) normal?

JL: The world has already changed and adapted and I don’t think there will be any going back. But this is the case with or without a global pandemic, we are constantly evolving. I think during times like these it’s just more noticeable because it’s happening in such an accelerated real time. 

BNG: What is inspiring you at the moment?

JL: Humans. How malleable they are to adaptation and their resilience. 

Aphabeta limited edition hand drawn poster, available exclusively at BNG.

To accompany the 2020 Bermuda Biennial, Jon Legere has produced a limited edition hand drawn poster. Each is one is numbered and signed by the artist. These are available exclusively from the BNG for $50. If you would like to reserve one please email programming@bng.bm.

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Art In Isolation

Interview: Charlie Godet Thomas

Art In Isolation

Art connects us and reflects our stories. As we collectively shelter in place across the globe, many artists are using this time of enforced isolation to make work that responds to the pandemic and the abrupt changes that it has brought to daily life. 

Charlie Godet Thomas is a British/ Bermudian artist whose work includes writing, painting, assemblage, photography, sound and video. His 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Short Poem (Threadbare) marks the sixth time that the artist has been included in the exhibition.

We caught up with Charlie to discuss the autobiographical nature of his practice, the intersection between words and the visual arts and how the pandemic has inspired a new body of work. 

BNG: You are currently living in Mexico City. How is the pandemic affecting day to day life over there?

CGT: There are several restrictions in place, but they are not as severe as in other parts of the world. A major issue is that so few people in Mexico City have the luxury and stability to be able to remain at home. Many of the trades here rely on a steady stream of people in the streets – food stands, open air markets, shoeshine stalls and what have you are still operating. Only yesterday, a Marimba was set up outside our block, it was played for about an hour, so we haven’t witnessed the dramatic changes which seem to have taken place in other major cities.   

Mexico City

BNG: How has the current situation affected your artistic practice?

CGT: I’m not using my studio at the moment, but as many of the shows and projects I was working on have been postponed indefinitely, there is thankfully no pressure to do so. Part of being an artist is realising that any parameters given to you are an opportunity to focus in on what they will allow, or to see how those parameters can be subverted. I have very few materials at home, so I have focused primarily on my writing, I am currently putting together a proposal for a publisher, a collection of poems which would be paired with works from my series Illuminated Manuscripts. I am also working on small scale sketches in paint, mainly in my notebooks. They might later manifest into works but essentially they are just a way of thinking through some of the thoughts and feelings that come with living through a large scale global pandemic.   

Charlie Godet Thomas
Song of Concern (Unfinished Floating World), 2019
Acrylic on paper, wood, coloured pencil, pins, light fitting, cut plastic water bottle. 
214.5 x 152.5 x 2.5 cm
Photographer: Jonathan Bassett
Image courtesy of the artist and VITRINE

BNG: Your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Short Poem (Threadbare) is a wood cut print that takes inspiration from home-made posters. What attracted you to this as a device?

CGT: I have always been interested in any format where language and imagery meet, be it in illuminated manuscripts, graffiti, subtitles in films, foam funereal letters, in signage or in advertising of different types. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that my dad was a copywriter (who wanted to be a writer) and my mum an art director (who was an artist). Everything pointed to the fact that I would inevitably sit awkwardly between the written and visual arts. When I made Short Poem (Threadbare), I was looking closely at those home made posters that you can rip a phone number off of, the idea is so simple but ingenious. It’s a very sculptural approach to using a two-dimensional piece of paper, and I have always had an interest in the relationship and interplay between two and three-dimensional media.  

BNG: Did you put the posters up across the Mexico City?

CGT: I did, because I like to draw attention to things which feel overlooked, but which deserve to be studied more closely. The block print I made meant that the essential function of the poster, to convey and distribute information about a service, was removed. My intention was that the removal of information would allow the format could be considered without distraction. Interestingly, some of the tabs from the bottom of the posters were removed, so people were still performing the action expected of them. Absurd, but funny and unexpected.    

Charlie Godet Thomas
Song of Concern (Ventriloquised Selves), 2019
Acrylic on paper, wood, coloured pencil, pins, light fitting, cut plastic water bottle. 
214.5 x 152.5 x 2.5 cm
Photographer: Jonathan Bassett
Image courtesy of the artist and VITRINE

BNG: This is your 6th Bermuda Biennial. How has your inclusion in the exhibition over the last 12 years impacted your career as an artist?

CGT: It has had a huge impact. I was still studying my Bachelors degree when I was first selected for the Biennial in 2008 and it gave me more confidence in the direction I was going in with my work. Much further down the line now, I can see the development of my work through the prism of the biennial which is strange, it’s rare to have the opportunity to see such clear incremental shifts. I have also met some wonderful artists and curators through the Biennial, the Bermuda National Gallery have supported me in innumerable ways to date, none of which would have come about without my inclusion in the Biennials. 

BNG: You work across many different mediums – painting, poetry, photography, sculpture, film and sound. Your most recent works, including those made in isolation, mark a return to painting. Why is this?

CGT: I painted from a very young age, but because my mum was a (brilliant) painter I felt that I wanted to explore other avenues away from what felt like her specialism, if only so that I could return to it from a different angle at a later date. I have always had a painterly approach to all aspects of my work, so I don’t see it as a return as such, but it has become more prominent in my practice in the last couple of years. One of the practical reasons for this is that when I moved to Mexico City, I didn’t have any materials and the easiest and cheapest things to get hold of were paints and paper, so writing and painting took centre stage. 

Charlie Godet Thomas
Study for OXXO / OH NO, 2020
Acrylic and pencil on Fabriano paper
34.8 x 24.6 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and VITRINE

BNG: Study for OXXO / OH NO, was the first piece that you made in isolation. Could you please talk us through it?

CGT: This came from an evening when I passed my local OXXO convenience store and saw it full of people eating together and chatting. I had friends in Europe under total lockdown, so COVID-19 was really concerning me. At that time here however, the government were playing it down because they were worried about the effect it would have on the economy. That scene really troubled me, and in my head I kept exchanging the name “OXXO” and the words “OH NO” until I had to get them out on paper. OXXO are the biggest chain of convenience stores in Latin America, so it felt like a good vehicle to express my frustration at what I saw as an impending disaster. 

Charlie Godet Thomas
Study for The World Curling at its Edges, 2020
Acrylic and coloured pencil on paper
29 x 21.5 cm
Image courtesy of the artist and VITRINE

BNG: Your most recent work, Study for The World Curling at its Edges, elegantly sums up the current situation. Could you please tell us about it?

CGT: This was a notebook sketch of an empty restaurant interior, it allowed me to play with text, with the mirror script “CLOSED” on the outside of the windows. Oddly in September I had made two large scale works which depicted an empty office and an empty supermarket which have taken on a new significance now, I suppose the sketch came off of the back of those works. Also, the caption “Pretty Vacant” seemed appropriate, after all, who doesn’t like The Sex Pistols.  

BNG: What else are your currently working on?

CGT: I had just set up an upcoming series of projects under the name No Soy Basurero, that were going to be held in my studio, but which have had to be put on hold. I had programmed in some really exciting artists: Georgia Horgan (UK/Mexico), Carla Lamoyi (Mexico) and Wendy Cabrera-Rubio (Mexico). Whilst they aren’t going ahead at the moment it has given me more time to refine some of the details and give more consideration to how the programme will work once it can go ahead.   

With my own practice, I am working on a commissioned work from the series of sculptures “Cloud Studies”, these are weather vanes which make use of the trope of the personal storm cloud which is often found in cartoon strips. One of these works was just shown in Regent’s Park, London, as a part of Frieze Sculpture and this commission came as a result of that exhibition. I’m looking forward to seeing how the piece comes together. It’s a much more collaborative approach, working with fabricators, architects and structural engineers which is something new and exciting for me.

There are a few other projects which I am a part of, but I need to wait patiently for the world to start turning again before they happen. 

Charlie Godet Thomas
Detail of Cloud Study (Partner Dance), 2019
Installation view, Frieze Sculpture 2019
Photographer: Steven White
Image Courtesy of the artist and VITRINE

Find Charlie at www.charliegodetthomas.com and www.vitrinegallery.com

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Artist Talk

In Conversation: Bryan Ritchie

The Art of Printmaking

2020 Bermuda Biennial artist Bryan Ritchie recently gave a talk for the BNG live from his home studio in Wisconsin in which he gave an overview of his practice and the concepts behind the art he creates, which primarily focuses on drawing and lithography.

Bryan has exhibited extensively in Bermuda, Canada and the United States and his work has been included in five Bermuda Biennials. He is currently a Professor of Art in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Stout where he recently concluded an additional role as Department Chair. 

You can watch the talk HERE.

Swimmer (Maybe I should get out and participate), 2019. Charcoal and pastel on paper. 30 x 22 in. Selected for the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.
Maybe I Should Be Me, 2018. Charcoal and pastel on paper. 30 x 22 in. Selected for the 2020 Bermuda Biennial.

Artist’s Statement

My work explores social and political paradigms through implied narratives. I respond to a myriad of sources, including social interactions, media influences, daily rituals and memories.  My process stresses invention, with an emphasis on mark making and character development, to create depictions that explore a place between abstraction and representation. My entries for the 2020 Biennial represent a recent body of work produced while serving a new employment role as a department chairperson.

To remain connected with my creative practice while I learned the administrative assignment, I established a drawing ritual with specified working parameters. The resulting body of work became a whimsical snapshot into a period of risk, vulnerability and achievement. I questioned axioms regarding what is valued, what are aimers in life, and how does one navigate doubt, insecurity, failure and loss to achieve goals. The work was raw, but honest and gave form to shared questions about how to remain hopeful and vigilant as we age and accept new challenges.

Find Bryan at www.Bryanritchie.com and @bryanritchie4617

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2020 Bermuda Biennial

Interview: Gherdai Hassell

Interactions Bermuda

Bermudian artist Gherdai Hassell’s mixed media artwork celebrates the black female figure. Exploring ideas about representation, perception, identity creation, and childhood, her vibrant collages capture and center the gaze.

We caught up with Gherdai, who is currently studying for an MFA at the China Academy of Fine Art, to discuss her artistic process and the importance of the arts as we navigate these uncertain times.

BNG: You grew up in Bermuda and are now studying in China. How have the two very different experiences shaped your work?

GH: Growing up in Bermuda definitely shapes my artistic practice. Bermudian heritage is so rich and vibrant. I draw on many experiences I had growing up in Bermuda. Being in China has also had a profound impact on my work. It has underscored a pride that I never had before in my heritage. When you’re placed out of context, it makes everything clear – who you are, what you want to say, and why it matters.

BNG: Your work celebrates the strength and beauty of black women. Historically, there has a been a lack of representation of people of colour in the art world. Is this something that you were aware of growing up? How has it influenced your practice?

GH: I was less aware of the lack of representation when I was a child because being from Bermuda, and growing up within the community, I saw and engaged with mostly black people. In real life, there was representation. I’ve always had wonderful black women in my life: my mom, aunts, grandmothers and family friends. It wasn’t until I got older and started engaging with media and traveling that I became more aware that images being presented about people that I knew and loved did not reflect my real life experience. So I wanted to create work that does.

BNG: You describe you work as ‘an exploration of self through various materials which suggest that identity should be self-determined and understood’. Could you please expand on this?

GH: My process is meditative. The work unfolds as I make it. I never know exactly what it will look like when I begin. As I’m exploring the ways in which I can use and manipulate material to create, I’m also exploring parts of myself. I’m fully in the moment – mixing paint, cutting, drawing, making marks, assembling, discovering what could be. I’m on a quest for understanding and acceptance of my own identity when I work. I create from my subconscious. When I’m exploring materials, I’m also exploring untapped parts of myself.

BNG: Your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Interactions Bermuda is an incredibly ambitious large scale installation which incorporates collage and painting. At 6 ft x 8 ft it takes up an entire wall of the Young Gallery. Could you please take us the process of creating and installing the piece?

GH: Interactions Bermuda is my most ambitious and largest piece of work to date. I created the collages in my studio in China. I started with the faces and upper half of the figure then created the limbs. The figures are all over 4ft in height, so to get the work to Bermuda I had to disassemble the work and re-assemble it on site in the Young gallery. I then created the Aura Mural around the figures directly on the wall.

BNG: This is your first Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to you to be included in the exhibition?

GH: I’m thrilled to have my work exhibited on such a platform, to have my work curated by an international jury and shown alongside some incredible artists.  I’m particularly happy to have my work showcased on such a platform so early in my career. Taking part in Biennials was something that I had planned to do perhaps midway through my art career, so I feel like I’m a little ahead of schedule. I’m very humbled and grateful for the opportunity.

BNG: Your work was showcased in the last year’s Wearable Art Gala, which was founded by Tina Knowles and Richard Lawson, and chaired by Beyonce Knowles-Carter and Solange Knowles. How did your inclusion in such a high profile event affect your career?

GH: The artwork I displayed at the event was an experimental piece. It sold for over $6,000 – about $1,300 above asking price.  I was thrilled to be included and even more pleased that the work went to such a worthwhile cause. It gave me the opportunity to take a step back and to reflect and grow as an artist. It has strengthened my belief in my messaging and my work.

BNG: Their team discovered on social media. How has Instagram provided a platform for your work?

GH: Instagram is a great platform for artists as it allows you to tell a visual story. I have created and grown my brand on Instagram. It has allowed me to connect with other artists – both in Bermuda and across the world. Most of my press opportunities and sales outside of Bermuda have come through Instagram.

BNG: You are a great role model for young Bermudians. Do you have any advice for local emerging artists who are looking to further their practice?

If you have a dream to be an artist, go after it. Just do it. Artists are so crucial to our society. When you step out on faith, everything you need shows up to meet you halfway. As everything has shut down due to the coronavirus lockdown, people are turning to the arts more than ever. They read books written by artists, they watch films directed and acted in by artists, they listened to music created by artists and they looked for inspiration created by visual artists. Without art, life wouldn’t be as beautiful. So create your work, we all need it. Find a mentor – early – it can make a difference on your path. I’m willing to help any young artist coming up in Bermuda, please connect with me on instagram at @hassell_free.

Interactions Bermuda Mixed media collage. 6ft x 10ft x 0.5 ft.

Artist’s Statement:

The eyes of the figures are an access for viewers and a veil or protection: a safe space for the women to exist. The collages are avatars, an exploration of self through various materials, which suggest that identity should be self-determined and understood. I employ multimedia to communicate the complexity of being myself, out of context.

Categories
2020 Bermuda Biennial

Interview: Arié Haziza

Wild Randomness

Canadian artist Arié Haziza heads the catastrophe risk analytics function for a reinsurance company on the island. His 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork Wild Randomness looks at situations in which a single event can have a disproportionate impact on our individual and collective lives.

As we navigate these uncertain times, his work felt like the perfect starting point for Stories – the Bermuda National Gallery’s new blog.

We sat down with Arié to discuss his work, which explores the lack of predictability in outcomes; a notion which we are all having to learn to live with in ways which seemed unimaginable only a few weeks ago.

BNG: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

AH: I moved to Bermuda in early 2001 from Canada. I head the catastrophe risk analytics function for a reinsurance company on the island. I regularly collaborate with Nassim Nicolas Taleb, author of the best-selling book The Black Swan, and Professors Galla Salganik-Shoshan and Tomer Shushi at Ben-Gurion university, on topics relevant to the reinsurance industry ranging from ‘fat tails’, ‘black swans’, cascading phenomena and decision-making under lack of knowledge and ‘convexity’. 

Apart from my family, I really have two passions in life – the mathematics of rare consequential events and art.  There is a saying that, in science you want to understand the world and in the business of infrequent events you want others to misunderstand the world. In my opinion, in art, you want to experience and share with others something about the human condition.  

BNG: Have you always made art?

AH: I have always had a deep connection to art.  For me, an artist is someone who has something new and consequential to communicate with the audience and, at times, in ways that have never been done before. I have attempted to develop a body of work that is closest to the way I perceive the world around me.

My main motivation is the exploration of the aesthetic representation of wild randomness.  How do you generate different meanings and images to different viewers?  While doing so, I also have had opportunities to revisit art themes from the past, to nurture a dialogue with artists through their work.

BNG: This is your first Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to be a part of the exhibition?

AH: I am very honoured to be part of the 2020 selection and sharing the walls with such a talented pool of artists.  The theme Let Me Tell You Something, inspired by the great Tony Morrison, connected to my experimentations with art.  I should also mention that, thanks to the Bermuda National Gallery, I have met over the years many artists whom I admire, including William Collieson, Edwin Smith, Graham Foster, Jacqueline Alma and Chesley Trott, just to name a few.

BNG: Your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork is very prescient. When did you make it? What prompted it?

AH: The triptych was composed over a fourteen-month period culminating in December 2019.  For a long time, I had been struggling to find the best support possible for this type of work.  I experimented with various medias including works on paper, sculpture and computer-animations, before resolving to use mixed media on canvas.

BNG: Wild Randomness looks at the lack of predictability in outcomes – a very real situation which we now find ourselves navigating. Do you have any words of advice from your studies into this state?

AH: What we are currently experiencing is a severe unforeseen chain reaction of dependent events triggered by a virus outbreak. It is a kind of connect-the-dots situation.  It started with a local triggering event – a virus outbreak – that has in turn generated a healthcare crisis, first locally, then regionally, then globally. This in turn has generated an economic and financial crisis that may in turn be generating a political and conflicts crisis.  These systems also interact with each other via feedback loops to worsen the overall impact on our lives, activities and economies. 

The effects will be far reaching in scope and in time.  Circuit breakers (virus weakening or disappearing, stoppage of international air travel, quarantine/isolation, vaccine…) are key to stopping this chain reaction.

A previous catastrophic event that belongs to this class of cascading phenomena is the 2011 9.1 magnitude earthquake that impacted Japan.  The earthquake generated a tsunami that then caused the flooding of the buffer electrical systems at the Fukushima nuclear plant which in turn resulted in a significant nuclear accident.

I would argue that global climate change belongs to that class of cascading events and is a significant challenge for the future of the planet.  I often refer to global climate change as the mother of all cascading phenomena or in mathematical language as a “Factorial Cascading Event”.

BNG: Wild Randomness is a triptych. Can you talk us through the three pieces and what they represent?

AH: I am hesitant about “explaining” the three pieces, as I would like viewers to develop their own interpretations and images. But as you asked me, I will provide some insight.

On the left side –

This piece makes reference to those events that rarely occur but that result in significant impact.  If you look closely you will notice oscillations similar to what you would see on a seismograph used to record an earthquake.  The red “lollipops” are a tribute reference (a clin d’oeil) to a magnificent gouache by Alexander Calder that you can see in one of the ballrooms of the Hamilton Princess Hotel.

Centre piece –

I invite the viewer to read a few lines of numbers on the canvas and experience the kind of vertigo one would experience on a roller coaster. This piece presents a large number of computer-simulated numbers from complex algorithms used to model the emergence of extreme events (hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics…).  The vast majority of the numbers are small, reflecting our day-to-day experiences, when nothing really intense occurs.  But rarely, you get to see a huge spike appearing out of nowhere.  This one occurrence will account for 99% of your total experience.  An analogy I like is going out at sea in the hope of seeing whales.  The vast majority of the time you keep waiting and nothing happens; suddenly you see the tail of a whale for just 10 seconds.  That very moment will be the most precious memory you bring back home!

On the right side –

My intention was to use a basic chart to summarize data, the type of charts we all get to look at and use in our daily lives, on social media or at work.  Certain viewers who have looked at this piece mentioned that they feel some sort of repulsion triggered by the violence of that very negative red bar which was preceded by a long, positive and stable experience.  For many of us, this piece will resonate with the on-going crisis.  This piece is also my contemporary interpretation of a genre of still-life paintings developed in Europe in the 17th century paintings called Vanitas, filled with symbols of death, that reminded the viewer of the fragility and briefness of life.

The three pieces together compose a window into the world of wild randomness.

Wild Randomness (Triptych), 2020, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 36 x 2 in.

Artist’s Statement:

Randomness, the lack of absolute predictability in outcomes, is inherent to the human condition. One can make conjectures or rely on the most sophisticated predictive tools available, yet no one can tell with certainty what tomorrow will be made of.  My body of work evolves around the investigation and aesthetic representation of Wild Randomness, which corresponds to situations in which a single event can have a disproportionate impact on our individual and collective lives. 

Wild Randomness is the domain of non-linearity, discontinuity, abrupt change, instability, divergence, cascading effects, feedback loops, crises and dislocations.  It is a domain where the more data and information you collect about a subject of interest, the less you understand it.     

I consider myself a collector of wild randomness, designing elaborate mathematical models to generate and record millions or even billions of simulated extreme behaviors data samples.  I invite the viewers to experience for themselves the vertigo of navigating through random wild data, and to generate their own images which are of infinite variation.