Arte Temporal en El Zócalo (Temporary Art)

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Chalk Graffiti in El Zócalo

Text & Photos by Kimberly Cecchini

El Zócalo was almost deserted the first time we walked through it; densely populated Mexico City was strangely empty at it’s core despite the square’s fame as a meeting place since the time of the Aztecs. With the Baroque-styled National Palace and green Volkswagen Beetles circling around, Constitution Plaza had the feel of an European city. The dance of the square’s large national flag seemed to be the only activity, so we went off to zig zag through the surrounding neighborhoods and explored the nearby museum of caricatures.

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El Ángel de la Independencia: Symbol of Mexico City

A few hours later, we walked back to the Zócalo. It was now a hive of activity. The activities were as lively and as varied as the city’s storied past. People were milling around, organ grinders played and Native Americans performed traditional dances. Other folks were in a full swing protest in front of the building. And, in the center of the square, young adults were drawing graffiti over the concrete tiles. Temporary graffiti with colored sand.

Some of the artists were simply crouched over the ground; balanced on one blue sand covered hand. In their other hand, they grasped a simple paper curled into a funnel while they carefully sifted sand over their piece of the momentary canvas. Yet some of the youth were wheeling around transparent sand drawing contraptions that looked like vacuums and like a fad we had missed out on in the States.

 

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Chalk Graffiti Contraptions in El Zócalo

Whether the participants looked like they were pausing to take part in a novel activity or they were artists engrossed in their creations, impermanence had taken root. It would at least last until the valley’s afternoon showers. The art was a bit more impermanent than a city sinking into its ancient lake bed.

Honestly, I cannot tell you much more than what is shown in the photos. I did not record many of the designs at the time, but I suspect that many of them went beyond outlines of stars and “I love D.F. (Distrito Federal-a.k.a. Mexico City)”. As I have yet to find any references to the fleeting art of El Zócalo, I would love to hear from anyone with some insight.

Is it a tradition or was it a fleeting pre-cursor to the flash mob?

 

Chalk Graffiti in El Zócalo
Chalk Graffiti in El Zócalo

 

 

Artist Interview: Florian Thomas: Photorealism with Strokes of Abstract Expressionism

Manhattan’s Bernarducci.Meisel.Gallery curates the first solo exhibit in the states for German artist, Florian Thomas

Florian Thomas: “El Centro” 2014 acrylic on canvas 19.75 x 67″

See it NOW-March 29, 2014

Where: Bernarducci.Meisel.Gallery, 37 West 57 Street, New York, NY 10019

Contact: 212.593.3757, www.bernarduccimeisel.comTwitter: @Art57Street

Interview by Kimberly Cecchini/Paintings by Florian Thomas

Tonight at Dawn (TaD): What attracted you to art? How did your work evolve to fuse abstract expressionism and photorealistic painting?

Florian Thomas:  I felt, that it (art) would be the best way for me, to say, what I have to say.

For a long time I used to paint both in coexistence. And for a long time I had the dream, the utopia, to dump the colour on the lying painting and by accident it looks like a part from the realistic world.  And now I feel coming closer to this idea.

(TaD): Why did you start collecting vintage postcards and how did you come to infuse them into your paintings?

Florian Thomas:  I have started with collecting them in the early nineties, because I was attracted by them in an obsessive way without knowing what to do with them. So in the mid nineties, when I started the realistic paintings I used to work with printed images from magazines, books, advertisements and soon I started using postcards – untouchable places of longing.

(TaD): Do you know the locations of some of the landscapes that you use?

Florian Thomas:  Yes and no. Its always fun to visit a place, which I know from a painting I have done and to paint a place I have been. But it has not really an important influence.

(TaD): I read that the abstract brushstrokes you apply to the photorealistic pieces are a reflection of how vintage postcards tend to look with age. I think the way in which the paint breaks up the realistic compositions, the strokes create movement and a bit of chaos. Any additional thoughts on it? How much of it is intentional?

Florian Thomas: I start with the abstract part without purposeful thinking by pouring the color on the lying canvas (at this stage I seldom use a brush) . After numerous layers I start the second part: searching for an image to fit in. it is often a very complex process to bring those two together.

(TaD): Name a medium that intrigues you but you are unfamiliar with it; how and why would you like to manipulate it?

Florian Thomas:  It would be great to make a movie. Possibly a road movie like a dream.

(TaD): Name a song/musician, meal, etc. that you feel would be the audio, gastronomical, etc. reflection of your work. Why?

Florian Thomas:  I feel very familiar with the movies of Jaques Tati and to name one I love the music of Django Reinhardt.

(TaD): Is there anything particularly interesting that is going on in the Munich art scene right now?

Florian Thomas:  For example we just have an impressive show of Matthew Barney’s new work.

(TaD): Share one thing about you that may be quirky or interesting.

Florian Thomas:  In summertime I use to drive a Citroen ID19 with yellow head lamps from the year 1964.

Florian Thomas: “A Four Lane Bridge,” 2011
Florian Thomas: “Menton, dismal nach Osten blick… ” 2014 acrylic on canvas 29.5 x 71.25″

 

 

Shinjuku, Block no. 2 (新宿二丁目)

Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini

In search of last-minute memories for our expiring holiday in Japan, we stumbled upon one in a small corner of the Shinjuku district on our last night. We joined the street festival just as they were just about to kick off the festivities; at the end of a countdown, the participants cheered and created a rainbow in the late afternoon sky as their colorful balloons drifted upwards.

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Balloons released at the start of the Rainbow Fest

It was the 14th Tokyo Rainbow Fest.  Gay pride, Shinjuku style.  Tucked away from the tall buildings and neon lights of the business district, we learned that the Ni-Chome neighborhood is home to a plethora of bars, restaurants and shops catering to the capital’s sexual minorities. The male and female revelers, who were dressed in everything from contemporary and traditional clothes to drag and anime costumes, started roaming and mingling along the narrow streets after the opening event.

Attendees, as you might expect at a pride celebration, appeared to be out and comfortable with their sexuality.  However, I figured that homosexuality might play quite a nuanced role in Japanese society, so I’ve done some research. In 2008, the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center posted a piece on sexual minorities in Japan that noted the country to be “more accepting” than many others but detailed how many live in the “hikage” or shadows of Japanese society.  Additionally, a 2012 article on the Japan Daily Press (JDP) site reported that many Japanese were able to at least envision the idea of gay marriage after Obama announced his acceptance of it in the United States, but that Japan’s more rigid social norms have yet to be really softened with public debate, “Japan is a country where homosexuality may be tolerated, but it is not to be openly discussed in almost any way.”

A more recent Kyodo News survey, as cited by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, reflects the slow progress towards legal recognition for same-sex couples.  Fifty-two percent of respondents said they were either against or not completely comfortable with gay marriage.  Even more telling, were the near 75% who felt, despite their personal opinions, that their society as a whole would not be entirely welcoming of same-sex marriage.  As the post states, though, the attitudes towards sexual minorities may be evolving.  The Japanese business market may be proof of this evolution as illustrated in another JDP piece from January entitled, “Top brands target Japan’s gay population, acceptance growing.”

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Two festival participants in drag

Whatever the boundaries of the Japanese society at large, Tokyo residents certainly celebrated their sexuality that night at the Rainbow Festival. Some people played carnival like games while others started drinking in the traffic free street.  As the sun went down, most people started to slip inside the tiny bars that populate nearly every meter of the tiny precincts.  The “Gay Shinjuku” guide at japanvisitor.com,  shares information on the foreigner friendly establishments among the variety of bars in Ni-Chome because a number of bars in the Ni-Chome are not quite open to foreigners as can be true at other spots in Japan.  It is a bit of an irony, but real estate is at a premium in 15-seat bars and maybe us visitors can forgive bar keeps who tend to reserve them for regulars that have found a home there outside the “hikage”.

References:

“Gay Shinjuku.” JapanVisitor. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

Hofilena, John. “Top Brands Target Japan’s Gay Population, Acceptance Growing – The Japan Daily Press.” The Japan Daily Press. N.p., 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Shoushi, Sam. “Japan and Sexual Minorities.” Japan and Sexual Minorities. N.p., June 2008. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Warnock, Eleanor. “Majority Oppose Same-Sex Marriage in Japan.” Japan Real Time RSS. N.p., 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Westlake, Adam. “Gay Marriage Debate: Japan Next, Hope Equal Rights Activists – The Japan Daily Press.” The Japan Daily Press. N.p., 30 July 2012. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

Pie smashing after the opening event
Pie smashing after the opening event
Rainbow Fest poster
Rainbow Fest poster

Virgin Fingerprints

Text by Kmberly Cecchini

New pharmaceuticals are researched.  And researched, until the FDA decides to be satisfied.  Once approved, they are touted as another notch in the belt of the medical world.  Then the drugs are sold unabashedly to patients with a laundry list of possible side effects; vomiting, drowsiness…cardiac arrest.

Hey, progress has its consequences.

So what about the progress of computing technologies?  Maybe because I did not have an email account until I enrolled in college, I’m a bit cautious about the next big thing.  But unlike my grandmother, whose house was wired for cable for the first time when rabbit ears finally fell off, I’m in the thick of the new media landscape.

Still, I tread cautiously.  I set up a Facebook account and then took it down.  I got into a habit of using my friends’ smart phones until I broke down and bought my own.  I downloaded the Facebook app.  And then deleted it.  Now I check it on my tablet and started a blog.

Yes, my relationship with technology wavers just a bit.  I resigned myself to the convenience of GPS, but won’t buy EZPass.  I may be getting more comfortable about the fact that Big Brother could be at my fingertips, but, hey I’m not going to make it that easy for him.

My latest question came with the IPhone 5S and the wisdom of using my fingerprint as my password. Typing the characters in every time I want to check a text or the weather is a nuisance. However, if someone cops my password, I can change it (at least 3 times until I actually remember it), but I can’t update the unique impression of my finger.

Should I save my virgin fingerprint for when the technology becomes more pervasive?  Will I regret unveiling it before it becomes my signature or unlocks my front door?

Where are the listings of possible side effects for our ever more ubiquitous technology?   In the post Snowden-era, these questions have been accepted more into the mainstream chatter, yet I still think that we are integrating and ingratiating ourselves into this enticing world without really knowing its consequences.

As far as my fingerprint deliberation goes, it dawned on me that the government already has mine catalogued with my professional certifications.  Is it really such a big deal to upload one fingerprint to the cloud for the reward of more convenience?  I suppose I still have 9 others.

From the Archives: Body of Work

Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini

I make sculptures with the intentions of making people dance…so when they engage it, you have to walk around, you have to duck, you have to get low to take these different perspectives…so (viewing the piece) is a constant unfolding.”

Lorna Williams and "Threefold"
Lorna Williams and “Threefold”

In Appositions, Williams does not directly grapple with social identities, but, instead she composes a kind of meditation on the internal self that still gives credence to her own genetic and cultural inheritances as an individual.  She feels that dialogues about concepts such as race and gender are important, but that we sometimes need to engage each other beyond these issues and consider what is universal for us as humans.  Through explorations of anatomy and bodily functions, Williams seeks a more developed self-awareness of our bodies that she believes will foster greater understanding and compassion as people engage in the world.

Threefold is a three segment deconstruction of our bodily structures in which Williams represents the reproductive, the digestive and the nervous/circulatory systems through the apposition of unlikely objects by connections of shape and function.  Plumbing hardware serves as a literal interpretation of the digestive system while a brake handle portrays the stop and release function of our jaws.  Wall anchor screws aptly construe a spine while a light bulb socket sits below a brain woven from human hair with a nervous system connected by brake wire.  “This is me taking time to examine my own body…This was my opportunity to learn myself better and I feel that it is the responsibility of a human, an artist to know so you can put other people in a position so that when they see the work they look at themselves, it makes them kind of touch themselves, and think, ‘oh wow, that is how it’s shaped’.”

Williams continues her intricate play of materials to recount a West African folktale of twins in the midst of being birthed in her homage to the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.

In held, djet, she coils a taxidermy snake into a figure-shaped root system and cradles it within a pyramid construction in an allusion to expelling in the forms of birth, digestion and traditions of honoring the deceased.

“I don’t draw or plan it out; I pick up items and study the functionality of the object and relate it to the functions of the human body.”  Williams’ process in art making is tantamount to her products.   In roots. & rigor,  her creative approach is aptly broken down into the metaphorical subtitles of “feeding,” “digestion” and “defecating” by the filmmaker, tiona m.  Williams’ period of “feeding” is her active collecting of natural and manmade objects. In “digestion,” her art evolves out of a reflection on these objects and questions she poses to herself.  “Defecation” represents the production of her pieces through which emerge a record of her own process of “reevaluation, reassessing, rebirthing and then reintroducing (her)self to (her)self”.

The rhythms of her New Orleanian upbringing plays out in the forms of Williams’ sculptures; “I pretty much take the same approach that someone in the kitchen would take to make Louisiana cuisine, the same way musicians write music, the same way a dancer…choreographs; it’s about breathing and timing.  I make sculptures with the intentions of making people dance…so when they engage it, you have to walk around, you have to duck, you have to get low to take these different perspectives…so (viewing the piece) is a constant unfolding.”  Her textures, connections, materials and her versatile skills as an artist compel the viewer to move about her pieces in a slow kind of dance.  Each new perspective leads to a fresh discovery and connection to the work.

As rich it is already, the career of twenty-seven year old Williams is just at its genesis; she speaks very modestly of her steadily emerging career that has blossomed alongside her relationship with the Dodge gallery.  This September, she will be representing the gallery at Expo Chicago on the Navy Pier (19th-22nd).  Her shows are not to be missed, but if you can’t make it to Chicago, you will have many opportunities to see Williams’ work over the span of what is likely to be a long and dynamic career.

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Lorna Williams explaining one of her pieces in her solo show, “Appositions”
Article as seen in July 2013 issue of Millennium Magazine (www.millenniummagazine.com)
Article as seen in July 2013 issue of Millennium Magazine (www.millenniummagazine.com)

Bringing the Oscar Home

Montclair Film Festival-Pre-Oscar Party-Photo: Kimberly Cecchini
Montclair Film Festival-Pre-Oscar Party-Photo: Kimberly Cecchini

Text & Photos by Kmberly Cecchini

The Montclair Film Festival just held its annual Pre-Oscar Party on Saturday and it was  not just a nod to the industry because the industry is now taking note of Montclair; three of the festival’s films were nominated for an Oscar and one laid claim to the prize.  The winner was last year’s opening night film with Darlene Love, Twenty Feet From Stardom, which documented the careers of back up singers.

Heightening anticipation and raising funds for the upcoming fourth year for the festival, the party appeared to be a huge success.  The venue was packed and lively with well dressed folks.  Partygoers surrounded the stage for a spirited performance from the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and shortly afterwards, an animated group crowded onto the dance floor.

As one of the event photographers for the evening, it was exciting to be amidst the pre-festival buzz.  The 4th Annual Montclair Film Festival will be held from April 28-May 4, 2014.  For more information, visit montclairfilmfest.org and to view more photos from all of the festival’s photographers, visit the Montclair Film Festival’s Flickr.

Montclair Film Festival-2013-Ice-T-Photo: Kimberly Cecchini
Montclair Film Festival-2013-Ice-T-Photo: Kimberly Cecchini

Hikari Express to Kyoto

Millennium Magazine: "Japan" on Cover
Millennium Magazine: “Japan” on Cover

For more of my photographs from Kyoto, please check out the October 2014 issue of Millennium Magazine.

Text and Photos by Kimberly Cecchini

There was something romantic about how the heavy rain beat down on the pavement and filled the intimate street with its cadence. Soaked and lost in Kyoto, I felt as though I had been etched into the composition of a Japanese woodblock.

It was a typically humid summer day, but my husband and I still wanted to explore the neighborhood on foot from the city’s central station to the hotel. Being that street signs can be a bit of a novelty in Japan, we ended up not just learning about Kyoto through it streets, but also, through its people.

A light rain started to fall while my husband consulted the map again, so we pulled our luggage under an awning. Having memorized about three more Japanese phrases than him, I decided to venture a few blocks ahead of him to ask a pedestrian about the hotel. Then, in the span of two blocks, the cooling shower turned into a gushing thunderstorm. Sprinting back through the blinding rain, I returned to find my husband steadying a ladder for an employee under the awning of what turned out to be a kimono manufacturing company.

We made fumbling introductions with the handful of staff members that had gathered in the doorway and, noticing my drenched figure, a matronly woman offered me a hand towel. Through gestures and our limited overlap of languages, I accepted her invitation to take off my sneakers and retrieve fresh clothing from my suitcase. She led me to the back of the office where she laid out two sets of slippers and then downstairs to a locker room.

Dry and grateful, I rejoined the men in looking outside at the relentless rain. The taxi services were inundated, so we were even more thankful when our unexpected hosts kindly insisted on driving us to our hotel and passing on an extra umbrella as a “souvenir”.

The Monterey Hotel turned out to be on a bustling metropolitan avenue, and we laughed when we saw how close it was to the subway station. After bows of gratification and exchanging emails with the young men who drove us, an attentive staff welcomed us into the richly decorated lobby.

Kamo River
Kamo River

The graciousness we encountered during the storm was evident throughout our stay in Kyoto. Although we enjoyed the elegantly presented tapas styled meal where we traded our shoes for a pair of slippers and a balcony view of the Kamo River, it was in the unassuming establishments on Rokkaku Dori that we truly felt welcomed. Later that evening, a couple of local high school teachers engaged us in conversation at a sidewalk bar on the road. We shared impressions of Japan and United States over shochu and beer and they picked up another round just to prolong our chat. We lingered over our meal at the mom and pop grill where the women bridged the language gap with spirit and laughter while preparing mochi filled “pancakes” and noodles in front of us.

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Kiyomizu-dera
Prayer Plaques
Prayer Plaques

On a suggestion from the Osakan teachers, we visited the Kiyomizu-dera temple. The World Heritage sites’s colorfully ornate buildings and wealth of wooden prayer plaques were stunning against the lush mountain backdrop, but I favored the much more personal experience I shared at the Shunkoin Temple. A view of the meticulously maintained gardens, through the expansive windows, set the mood as the young Zen minister compassionately guided us through a practical group meditation session. Afterwards, the reverend shared the temples multi-denominational history and gave us a tour of its colorfully painted gold leaf screens and altar. He allowed us time to meander around the space and answered our questions. Over jade colored cups of traditional maccha tea, my fellow travelers and I exchanged stories of our amiable experiences in the ancient capital.

Three days after the afternoon rain, it was time to pick up bento boxes for the two and a half hour ride on the Hikari express train out of Kyoto station.  We were anticipating the opportunity to savor the end of our Japanese holiday through a last whirl around Tokyo, but we would miss the accessibility of this cozier metropolis.

Shinkoin Temple
Shunkoin Temple

The Man Behind the Curtain: Covering the VH1 Super Bowl Blitz 2014

Text and Images by Kimberly Cecchini

As the step child of the boroughs, New Jersey’s singular VH1 Super Bowl Blitz starred a name I had not heard of, Gavin DeGraw.  Forget about the fact that the New Jersey was the official unofficial host of the big game and I did not even get to a Super Bowl party because the stadium’s melee literally was en route to it.

But thank you, VH1, for at least inviting the Garden State to our own party.

Not that I was clamoring to cover Brooklyn’s prize of Fall Out Boy, but at least I knew something about their music.  And, unfortunately, I did not have the heart to trek through the arctic blast and slushy streets midweek to photograph Janelle Monae’s Blast in the Bronx.   So I tried to unsuccessfully recall one of his hits in a YouTube clip and secured a press pass for Gavin DeGraw’s show in Montclair.

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Despite my having missed DeGraw’s blip in pop culture, I was still looking forward to seeing Montclair’s Wellmont Theater primed for the live broadcast.  It was not a disappointment; the faithfully restored theater popped with the color of TV lighting in my wide angle lens.  The line outside the theater seemed to indicate that he may have been a good choice for the New Jersey spot.  I amused myself before the show by snapping shots of the VH1’s penguin mascot and chatting with the Associated Press photographer next to me in the photo pit.  Having been at the Goo Goo Doll broadcast the night before in Staten Island, he gave me a run down on the magic of television.

“C’mon, New Jersey, that was only a 6,”  one of the show’s engineers prepped the audience for live television with the exact script the AP guy had promised me from his experience at the Staten Island Blitz.  The not so inspiring man from behind the curtain coached the audience on its cheers;  instructing them to loudly usher in Nick Canon and to amp it up for the star of the show.  

Unfortunately, DeGraw may not have been the biggest draw as the crowd of lucky ticket winners had to work a little harder to meet the expectations. A couple of my friends appeared behind me as they were among the folks  that were solicited with free tickets on Bloomfield Avenue in order to fill the place.

At five minutes to broadcast, the folks on the lower level were parted by flood lights, cameras and a small marching band with the penguin.  Nick Canon and his co-host, Stacy Keibler, walked into their protected circle and did their first announcement at eleven o’clock sharp, Eastern Standard Time.

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I’m not sure how many American tuned in that night, but I will say, that DeGraw has some relevancy because there were people in the live audience that were singing faithfully along with him.  But, perhaps because I was more of a cynical observer than a fan, I was more fascinated by the spontaneities of this act that looked like it was cued as effectively as the commercial breaks.  

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In fact, luring the extra bodies from the street was a good move because he played the part of a rock star when he came out into the theater to serenade a lucky lady.  I could not tell you which song it was because when the house lights came up directly after Nick Canon wished America good night, I still could not recall one of Gavin’s supposedly charming melodies.

As the Sun Rises

As I said, Tonight at Dawn will be a variety magazine (as I add the variety) because of the different opportunities that are currently in my life. I am hoping, as I develop it, that I will be able to focus more entries on issues that are closer to my heart such as the environment, social issues and education.  I know some folks (perhaps it is you) that I already hope to interview, but if you know of anybody that has an interesting story to tell or are simply a great source for research, please share!