On Experience Ooga Booga

In the fall of 2015 Current Obsession launched its #4 Supernatural Issue, in which editors attempted to connect the mystical notions of shamanism and magic to the creative process itself. While the concept of the artist as shaman was elaborated by artists in the mid-20th century, Current Obsession was curious to find out how it’s reflected in today’s world. Essentially, it’s about creating one’s own narrative, mythology and belief system, while daring to challenge the conventions of art and design.

 

by Anneleen Swillen

On December 19th 2015 we explored the theme of supernatural through a one-day event. ‘Experience Ooga Booga’ brought together diverse contemporary views on the supernatural and its implementation in artistic practice. Artists and designers active in diverse artistic disciplines (fine arts, design, contemporary jewellery and even food design) filled the afternoon with their talks and performances or showed their works on display. All of this happened within a modular scenography that challenged the artists to start from one uniform element to create their presentation: big, rectangular, grey foam blocks, all in the same shape, size and material. This resulted in a composition of blocks used in a variety of ways: serving as a pedestal for the work, but also functioning as a table, projection wall or even seating. Inspired by the twodimensional format of the Current Obsession Magazine, walking between these blocks referred to looking through the magazine’s pages.

© Mathieu Garnier

With our diverse and comprehensive programme we tried to create an inspiring environment that encouraged dialogue, as well as taking the time to experience and reflect upon contemporary artistic practice. By addressing the theme of the supernatural, we mainly focussed on the artists’ awareness through time-consuming making processess and profound artistic research, giving an answer to our ever-changing, fleeting society (of course, our own event lasted only one day, paradoxically. But even in this limited timeframe, we tried to offer a moment of depth through concentration and contemplation).

 

Octave Vandeweghe kicked off the afternoon with a talk about his artistic practice and his residency in Trier University of Applied Sciences, 
Department for Gemstones and Jewellery, Idar-Oberstein. In his work ‘A Brilliant Cut’ Octave explores the link between the natural and faceted shapes of (gem)stones, transforming them into cutlery and referring to prehistoric knives’ function and aesthetics. At Experience Ooga Booga he presented some of his recent pieces on custom-made stainless steel wire stands, pinned into the foam block as if they were archaeological findings on display of a museum. These pieces were both part and preview of the installation ‘Cultured Manners’ that he was creating at that time.

© Mathieu Garnier
© Mathieu Garnier

Octave’s pieces entered into an interesting dialogue with the ‘Chocolate Rocks’ by product designer Michal Avraham and chef Borch Socher. A project that yet again shows how a collaboration between two makers from various disciplines often has a surprising result, while offering new points of view for the individual artists. Using their foam block not only as a pedestal, but also as a preparation and cutting table, Michal and Borch sliced the rocks and handed them out during the event. Made of natural pigments of dried fruits and vegetables, the rocks revealed their surprising filling and offered an alternative experience of design and taste. Adding a playful and delicious touch to the event, these edible stones were definitely hard to resist.

© Mathieu Garnier
© Mathieu Garnier

The event continued with a reading performance by Anna Bak, an artist with a special focus on survivalism as an alternative mode in our lives. Her recent project and book ‘Wilderness Survival – A Guide to the Aesthetics of Survivalism’ (published by Onomatopee in 2015) played a crucial role in her performance. Dressed in her ‘survival outfit’ and backpack, which in fact is an artwork, she marked the ground with chalk, wrote on the window (‘Time spent in a space, does not necessarily equal time spent in the mind.’) and told the audience three stories about how she almost died. Witnessing these acts and hearing these stories, of which we didn’t know whether they were truth or fiction, was a haunting and intimate experience. The way Anna handled her self-made tools or marked the ground were very poetic gestures. I found it interesting to see how she even addressed, though probably not intentionally, the notion of wearability when tying a piece of wood around her ankle and thus maybe even transforming it into a piece of jewellery. After turning the space into an imaginary wilderness during her performance, Anna used her foam block as a pedestal for the content of her survival backpack, laying out all sorts of tools. On display in-between the Chocolate Rocks and the A Brilliant Cut pieces, these objects evoked interesting thoughts about contemporary making processes, natural materials and craft.

Anna Bak during her reading performance © Mathieu Garnier
Anna Bak’s book ‘Wilderness Survival – A Guide to the Aesthetics of Survivalism’ © Mathieu Garnier

Pieter Paul Pothoven has a special interest in the Middle East. In his work he explores the role of specific elements of this turbulent region in Western (visual) culture and contemporary media. One of my favourite moments during his talk was when he engaged in a dialogue with the art historian, educator and jewellery theorist Marjan Unger about ‘the life of the stone’ – an encounter between the worlds of contemporary jewellery and fine arts all thanks to lapis lazuli. In response to Pieter Paul’s talk, Marjan afterwards shared some reflections with us: ‘So many aspects of jewellery design cannot be specified if there is no space left for its magical aspect. Capitalism and rationalism often reduce or even take away the possibility to play with the unreal and the supernatural. In contemporary jewellery we talk about design and formal aspects, technique and choice of materials. Most attention goes to the individual maker’s world, which of course is very interesting, but jewellery is meant to be worn and not to be stored in a glass box forever. My attention nowadays goes more and more into the ethnographic, to jewellery and artefacts addressing human lusts and burdens. All these indefinable aspects of jewellery are found there, often in fantastic stories. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by Current Obsession’s theme of the supernatural and I really felt like some ooga booga! I remember Pieter Paul’s presentation well. He went to the mountainous areas in northern Afghanistan to find the mines where the best lapis lazuli is extracted in the whole world. After being indulged in the art historical aspects of lapis lazuli, its chemical composition and iconography, he was a little sceptical towards lapis lazuli’s magical qualities. But thanks to its iconography – raising questions such as ‘why is the virgin Mary pictured in an expensive blue cloak?’ Or ‘Why are the paintings by Johannes Vermeer so intriguing?’ – Pieter Paul went along in a discussion concerning the magical aspect of lapis lazuli. Suddenly he started explaining how many variations of lapis lazuli are distinguished by the Afghan people and the meaning they link to each of these variations. His installation ‘Lapis Lazuli from Serr-i-Sang’ (2012-15) consists of projections from an old-fashioned slide projector for which he made slides with very thin, sliced lapis lazuli pinched between two small glass plates. To describe this work, I can use no other word than ‘magical’’.

During Experience Ooga Booga Pieter Paul showed his work ‘Shaft. Gallery. Drop.’ (2015). In a clean white vitrine put on top of a massive wooden block lays ‘A Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Source of the River Oxus’ (1841), a book by John Wood, cartographer and lieutenant of the British-Indian navy, who visited the mines in 1838 and wrote a detailed and personal account of tis spatial properties.

 

In the evening, artist, writer and performer Jasper Griepink, assisted by Viola Renate of Pinar and Viola, conducted a ‘Bondage Wedding Ceremony’, an alternative gentle wedding ceremony in which the bodies of a couple, a group of people or an individual are fully bonded and tied together. Pieter Paul Pothoven, together with a young couple, decided to take part in the ceremony on the spot. Jasper and Viola created an intimate and dreamy atmosphere by dimming the lights, putting on soft music and lighting candles. The audience sat around two big foam blocks that were used as a mattress and stage for the ‘trio’ to lay on during the Bondage Wedding. Witnessing this ceremony was such a fascinating and intimate experience and although as the audience we didn’t take part directly, I felt strongly aware of this moment and connected to that particular place and the other people present. Balancing between performance art and a ceremony, Bondage Wedding raises thoughts about the artist as contemporary shaman, or is it the other way around? By addressing the human body as the medium of interaction in his work, Jasper reflects upon its role, relationship with objects and place in our Western society and at the same time addresses the role of performing rituals in familiar as well as foreign cultures within the 21st Century.

 

Jasper Griepink conducting his bondage wedding ceremony

In collaboration with a costume designer Janneke Raaphorst, Jasper created this year’s Current Obsession’s Piece by Piece. The result is a ‘wedding jewel’ based on the ribbons that are used in his Bondage Wedding ceremonies. (Piece by piece can be purchased through the Webshop)

Jasper Griepink - Piece by Piece The #4 Supernatural Issue
Jasper Griepink - Piece by Piece The #4 Supernatural Issue
The trio after the bondage wedding ceremony Photo Anneleen Swillen

In-between the talks and performances, the visitors could discover ‘Things that happened’ by Icelandic artist and designer Brynjar Sigurðarson. This book about his work is accompanied by a vinyl in which he recorded and composed (auto) biographic stories that he has collected throughout his journeys. In the introduction of the book, Lidewij Edelkoort states that Brynjar is ‘a big fish’, and she is absolutely right.

The funny and original lyrics from performance duo Echo + Seashell (Henna Hyvärinen and Susan Kooi plus an IPod) are still in my head as I often find myself humming them (‘Frutti di Mare, bon bon box…’). For their act at Experience Ooga Booga they started with Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ projecting the lyrics on the foam block with one of their photos in the background. Catchy songs performed in the ever-changing colours of the party lights in combination with their serious expression made this a very enjoyable act and a perfect way to conclude our Ooga Booga afternoon.

Echo+Seashell
Echo+Seashell

During their performance Echo + Seashell wore Vann Kwok’s ‘(Out of) flux’ pieces that were also on display during the day. Through wearing, the pieces became active as jewellery, instead of design to look at and contemplate about, forming a connection with the concept of these pieces as we can find in Vann Kwok’s artist statement: ‘(Out of) flux addresses the relationship between what occurs naturally and what is technically produced. The collection illustrates how the placement of a piece of jewellery both on and off the body affects posture and gesture in relation to one’s surrounding space. The struggle between the natural and the artificial is evidenced through the process of making by employing machine (technology), using traditional craftsmanship (humanity) and applying process that involves the participation of natural environment (nature). The collection also aims at exploring the relationship between time, space and body.’

 

Experience Ooga Booga was concluded by The Maybemachine who played some supernatural beats while everybody stayed for a drink and a chat.

 

 

Experience Ooga Booga was a busy afternoon filled with dynamic conversations and surprising encounters. Not only an inspiring and intense experience, co-organising this event was also part of my PhD research in the arts into the expressive potential of presentation within the artistic process (University of Hasselt and PXL-MAD, 2015 – 2019). Co-curating this day gave me the chance to experiment with both traditional and alternative ways of showing and experiencing contemporary artistic practice. Thereby I focussed on creating a more active and profound way of getting into contact with jewellery, art, performance, design, and of course, the artists themselves. Experience Ooga Booga was about presentation as well as production, about making and taking time to completely indulge in the artists’ practices and works.

Vann Kwok’s pieces, one moment placed on a pedestal and the next worn by Echo+Seashell during their performance, once again stressed how different ways of presenting jewellery tell different stories. On display, these objects will be looked at, and the viewer will wonder and imagine what their function might be. Once worn, the pieces proove their potential, and also intention, to be jewellery. Statement pieces as they are, thanks to their original and striking design, they make us question differences as well as similarities between jewellery and objects.

Jasper’s bondage wedding raised thoughts about the position of the 21st century artist-shaman and the role of rituals in our contemporary Western society. By taking bondage wedding ropes as a starting point for the creation of this year’s Piece by Piece, Jasper and Janneke combined fetishism and wearability, something that is already present in jewellery but thanks to these designs approached from a different angle.

Pieter Paul’s focus on lapis lazuli is a starting point for interesting conversations within both fine art and contemporary jewellery and beyond artistic practice. One could say that he is an artist-geologist, exploring not only the scientific qualities of lapis lazuli but even more the development of its image, from where it is mined to where it is exported and thus in all the different ways, fields and forms it is used.

 

With ‘Cultured Manners’ and ‘A Brilliant Cut’ Octave emphasises upon so many important themes of crafts and jewellery: (gem)stones, tools, the time-consuming making process, the display of artefacts, and so forth. Combining these concepts in a subtle as well as strong language, the designs address so many different aspects of the above-mentioned and open up for further discussion.

Brynjar’s book and vinyl provided another way of showing and experiencing artistic practice. Looking at his works and listening to the vinyl brought some peace during our ongoing, busy program.

And also Anna’s book ‘Wilderness Survival – A Guide to the Aesthetics of Survivalism’ is definitely a must-read for anyone who can use some inspiring points of view and survival tips for the everyday wilderness we are living in.

Michal’s and Borch’s Cholocate Rocks are a great souvenir of this inspiring afternoon. I am curious what else this duo will come up with in the future!

 

Although next time it would be great to reach an even broader audience (Experience Ooga Booga was still very incrowd, with mostly people from ‘the field’ present, but of course it was also very nice to see all these familiar faces), we tried to create a welcoming event for people in- and outside the artistic field, and I hope we managed in that. Experience Ooga Booga was not only an enriching experience during the event but also the preparation and organisation before. We got into dialogue with the artists and communicated with them on a regular basis towards the event, to discuss their concepts, the programme and the scenography, and the different positions of approach and translation of all this into a one-day event. I am convinced of the importance and relevance of each of these young artist’s individual practices, researches and works. As I will keep an eye on them and their artistic evolution, I am proud that we could include them in our event and give them a platform in which we not only challenged them and their work, but even more, we challenged ourselves.

Some familiar faces present during EOB. From left to right: Liesbeth den Besten, Vann Kwok, Anneleen Swillen, Ineke Heerkens, Nolia Shakti, Jantje Fleisschut, Liesbet Bussche and Lucy Sarneel.

Experience Ooga Booga took place on Saturday 19th of December from 1 till 10 pm in Studio 47, Amsterdam.

During the Bondage Wedding, Jasper and Viola were dressed in clothes and accessories by Gerda Postma / IKKAI, Pinar & Viola, Henrik Vibskov and Andrea Crews.

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