This month in our culture blog we take a deeper look into the music of Irish band Emmet Scanlan and What The Good Thought
Emmet Scanlan & WTGT provided the wonderfully, yet delicately, crafted soundtrack for the Irish Short film “Without Words” that won best film at the The Bablegum Film Festival, judged by the highly esteemed director Spike Lee. The film currently has over 378,000 views on YouTube alone. And Over the past few months the band have been busy touring with the legendary Saw Doctors in Ireland (in renowned venues such as The Olympia) and throughout America.
They also played at the Electric Picnic – (after being invited by Damien Rice to play at the big tree) and are building their reputation on the national festival circuit and gaining a strong national fan base. Hotpress describe their music as ‘really special and well polished’, they even did a half page on Emmet Scanlan & WTGT’s new video for his latest single UNDER THE WEATHER which can be seen on YOU TUBE is already receiving thousands of hits.
Having sold over 3,000 copies of their first EP (from the back of their van!), the long awaited release of Emmet Scanlan & WTGT’s debut album ‘Hands’ is right on time to contend with contemporaries of today’s vibrant music scene. The band is a 4 piece, Irish based outfit, with members from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Sweden. Not only are they talented musicians but beautiful ones too! The band captures various styles and blends of music with their diverse instrumentation of cello, percussion, classical guitar, bass and vocals
D E B U T A L B UM “HA N D S ” O U T N OW! ! ! “This cool-as-folk debut from Emmet Scanlan & WTGT is a tight, impressive fully-formed affair. And the truly excellent What The Good Thought are to Scanlan what Lisa Hannigan was to Damien Rice”
A profile of one of our skills exchange members, The Musila Project, who are a family of artists from South Africa
For post-collation coordination of the collected annals, records, materials, recordings, findings and postulations that come out of and form the garnered archives of the thirteen years of happenings of The Mulísa Project at Mulísa Wilderness Studio, the www.mulisa.co.za domain begs to encompass the weaving threads of intertwined telling of a total tale.
From the store of source connected words, visual and audio, rendered in crafts of document and literature, art and graphics, music and sound, ever honing towards essence an expression, and a transmission, of conceptual inquiry and creation, field-applied research and design via discovery and experience, for and in a quest towards the implementation of a natural, flowing, practical living that integrates Respect for Resources, Care for Childhood, Wisdom for Working and Life for Locals, Penelope Aíne Noblé, the Sweep, finds self chiefly in the brOomRoom, in the tactile, the taptile, in clicking, in cerebral ticking, performing manual, analogue, digital and virtual grapple with the processes of generating viable vehicles to transport the voices telling their shaped revelation
Running this absoulutely unique project are Angela and Thomas.
Angela Noelle BA (Witwatersrand) Hons (SA) studied English language & literature, art, movement, dance, drama, theatre craft, piano, guitar, singing & music theory at tertiary level and, privately, thru a range of formal tutors.
Operating a studio with a leading musical director in Johannesburg, vocal training & consultancy services were provided for productions, industry performers, schools, ngo’s, individuals. Diverse public appearance since her earliest years has accomplished professional performance technique, complemented on stage by solid compatibility for delivery with equipment and technology gleaned thru co-management in Sound installation & engineering enterprises. Production of original material has seen her clocking successive session hours in recording scenario. Office administration, organisation, management, communications, desktop editorial & promotional material, marketing, event & operations logistics are fulfilled by vocational liaison with proxy persona pan, ChiefSweep, wOoden family publishing.
Training in secretarial functions and experience acquired thru service in banking, legal, formal and corporate sectors developed practical & conceptual business skills honed through subsequent, independent arts administration application, as active partner in running Admusic, a Concert Sound enterprise providing promoters, artistes, institutions and corporations with event consulting & implementation, staging & sound service, for diverse presentations in the entertainment industry on the road across southern Africa.
As scribe, pan also oversees writings towards 33 titles and coordinates ‘UrthRoar’ recycled art by angela for Africa Authentic 2i, a domestic organisation – a d.o.. Investigating pro-active, ecological lifestyle on the southern coastline of Africa from 1995, with teaching experience in literacy, second language education & literature and an aptitude for speech, reading & writing acquisition, Angela engaged in the direct rearing of her young sons through earth-based, discovery & transmission learning via comprehensive parenting in the domestic arena, whilst managing & co-driving a bio-diverse, self-sufficiency exercise at her site-specific installation eco operating model on 31 hectares of rural land; as cultural facets implicit in this project, writing, composition, recording & performing continued with her wOoden ‘O’ productions directing & managing the implementation of live gig seasons.
Concurrently, from her private vocal studio A.N. VoxStud, she was a consultant on staff in the provincial university drama department as musical staging facilitator in professional company productions and as voice tutor for post-graduate students. Alongside her partner and sons in eco music factory, she works w’O’ in first world regions. A Vocal Artiste who will compose, sing, perform or teach any genre, with particular aptitude for coaching Thrash singers, preferred groove in rock and rhythm & blues, emphasis on whirl-word lyric design and passion at zenith in the theatre, noelle pursues a personal repertoire to stand-up with her comic pleasure.
A SoundSmith of note, Thomas aka numin, has been active across a diverse musical spectrum, from performance in marching bands, brass ensemble recitals, formal, classical orchestras, to custom building sound installation facilities for health clubs!
An erstwhile music teacher, versatile in a range of instruments, Thomas has been recorded in a miscellany of studio scenarios and he is also a multi-faceted, professional entertainer. With apprenticeship and training in sound system design, construction and engineering accomplished in Johannesburg, Thomas formed Admusic, a Studio and Concert Sound outfit. As recording producer for new, in-house material and operating a stadium road rig in delivery of staging and sound for southern African, sub-continent, open-air and indoor events, he worked with top, national, solo and group artistes such as Brenda Fassie, Lucky Dube and Sankomoto.
Having attained music theory, tuba, violin, cello, guitar, double bass to senior examination level, a focus on stringed instruments subsequently toured Thomas around the countryside with his bass fiddle, in acapella, outdoor ‘MusicArt Earth Serenades’, this, an eco music factory, AA2i product associated with the 12 year, independent, self-sufficiency project on 31 hectares of rural, coastal wilderness where he was a co-driver with his partner. A selection of their originals out of these extraordinary times were released on the compact disc “drive by’s” and, inspired, systematic takes of African nature settings shaped a collection of ingenious audio library resource.
The sojourn of artistic sourcing in pastoral scene with its store of prolific, compositional creation turns first world technical for industry product realisation through naw-numin audio works, emf-eco music factory. A team fulfills ongoing composition & lyric, recording & production, sound design & application, staging & performance, desktop to publication and promotion. Concurrent projects range through eco-acoustic ambient, jazz ballad, rock and techno with dramatic style tendency towards theatrical in performance art, installation genre. In priority time and energy, numin is dedicated to his sons, Danann the younger and Doane aka d.j. duanez beat master, rapper, drummer, didjeridoo instrumentalist.
We are Legion Ireland – The Roman Military Society of Ireland. We are Irelands only Roman combat re-enactment group. We portray the Roman Imperial Army between the reigns of the Emperors Vespasian and Hadrian (69AD to 138AD) when the Roman empire was at it’s greatest extent. We portray Imperial Legionary soldiers, Auxiliary soldiers and Celtic allies. We also portray aspects of civilian life around a Roman Army marching camp including traditional skills necessary to keep the army on the move. We use only reproduction equipment of the highest accuracy where historical traceability can be demonstrated. Our armor, helmets, swords and javelins are all exact reproductions of original finds. We portray Imperial Legionary soldiers from a detachment (Vexillatio) of the 20th Legion (Legio XX). This Legion was given the honory name of Valeria Victrix or Victorious Black Eagle. Our Auxiliary soldiers are from the 9th Batavian Cohort (Cohors IX Batavorum) and local Britannic Celtic Allies from the Iverni tribe.
Is it not possible that autocratic science has caused us to over-look an Irish Mendel, or relegated to oblivion many a herb with virtues just as magical as those possessed by the Lusmore?
In A History of Herbal Plants Richard Le Strange points to the extent of botanic knowledge preserved, and lost, in fragments of texts passed down through the centuries. Four thousand year old Babylonian tablets recording the names of over thousand plants; the works of Hua Tu (AD 115-205), the great Chinese surgeon, who administered Indian hemp as an anaesthetic before operating; Susruta (AD 400-), the Hindu physician who prescribed over 750 medicinal herbs during the course of his life, and of course the great Greek and Roman doctors who gave most to Western medical practice, namely Dioscorides whose De Materia Medica was the standard work in Europe for 1500 years and Pliny the Elder whose life works amounted to 37 books.
After the fall of Rome it is chronicled that such expertise travelled abroad. In the East, Avicenna and other Arab scholars developed Galen’s eclectic philosophy into new systems destined to return to Europe in the twelfth and thirteen centuries. In the west monastic schools established the first hospitals, caring for the sick and homeless. Integral to their practice was the medicinal herb garden, a piece of architecture inspired by texts carried across the water.
Why, unlike the Arabs, did the practices of the monastic schools never grow into systematic knowledge? St Basil writes: “To place the hope of one’s health in the hands of the doctor is the act of an irrational animal . . . When reason allows, we call in the doctor, but we do not leave off hoping in God.” Bubonic plague, typhus, influenza, leprosy raged during the dark ages. The Church fought these sicknesses with small infirmitoria managed by monks, and belief. Efficacy of treatments relied on the purity of the patient’s soul. Illness was ultimately the symptom of a diseased soul. Scientific study was paralysed by this tension. Strict religious dogma reigned over Europe for five centuries of ignorance, superstition and plague, so the argument goes.
Dr. Michaal F. Moloney, an amateur botanist from Dungarvan, Co. Watferford, offered something different. Moloney was appointed coroner to West Waterford on the eve of World War I. He had an interest in the Irish language and strong sympathies for the Independence movement-he attended to the wounded Republican leader, Liam Lynch in 1920. Until his death in 1934 he had a pharmacy attached to his surgery, experimenting at times with herbal remedies gathered from anecdote, text and local memory. His house, on Youghal Rd., had a uniquely designed herb garden based on models taken from a 9th century map of the monastic settlement at Clonmacnoise. In 1919 he wrote Luibh- Seancas or Irish Ethno-Botany and the Evolution of Irish Medicine in Ireland, a largely forgotten text found in the early printed books of Trinity College Dublin, It is a thin volume with emerald green fabric bound on a hard cover. His name and the title appear in Irish, in Celtic script, on the front.
The book is divided into two parts. The first provides a list of one hundred herbs, giving Latin, English and Irish names for each plant- often four or five in the case of the Irish due to their different renderings. Scattered around are small anecdotes,
Caltha Palustris; the Marsh Marigold; beárnán bealtaine described as the herb of the May Day Festival, Bealtaine, when it is woven into garlands and hung round the necks of livestock to protect them from evil.
Or, Viola Lutea; Mountain pansy; Salcuac (lit. ‘cuckoo’s heel’) which “ressembles a miniature bird which can be contrived by removing the calyx and corolla off the flower. The stigma then forms a head and neck, the anthers a golden flecked breast with their tongues protruding like green wings.”
The list is far from comprehensive, a beginning perhaps, something he imagined another could expand after him. The second section of the book, only some forty five pages, is the ‘History of Irish Medicine’.
Moloney asserts that Ireland had an advanced culture of health craft long before the arrival of the religious orders, a craft which transcended Western science and the Theologians, a craft which explains how Finghin, the private physician of Conchubar Mac Neasaa, restored a warrior’s strength for three days by the administration of a marrow-mash of cattle bones even as the sinews of his heart were severed “so that it was rolling around inside him like a ball of thread in an empty bag.”
Above: [Page from Bretha Dein Cecht ‘Judgements of Dian Cecht (a legendary physician)’, Irish medico-legal text dating from the 8th century, though written mainly by Donnchadh Ua Bolgaighe in 1468-74. Only complete version is in the National Library of Ireland]
Image from ‘Medicine and early Irish Law’, F Kelly, Irish Medical Journal
In the 8th century AD physicians, or Liaig in old Irish, were professional, of equivalent rank to the blacksmith, carpenter or coppersmith. Being a physician was a trade, not amateur, religious benevolence. Qualifications and legal codes existed: physicians could achieve the status of iolam (‘master’) or sui (‘expert’). Money came as a proportion of fines charged for the infliction of harm (a wound to the face, between the ear and hair, brought a fine of a yearling heifer; a wound on the nose, a prize: two cows and a three year old heifer). The physician received between a quarter and a third of this fine, depending on the extent of the injury. Until proper payment patients left precious belongings in the doctor’s possession.
Wrong diagnosis was not waived by appeal to a patient’s sinfulness. Tight regulations, enshrined in law, meant a system of duties, customs, fees, and fines for possible negligence. A willow wand crossed over the physician’s bag- a bag with individual compartments to keep herbs separate- was understood as a sign that a patient wanted to prevent him from carrying out his professional activities. Surgeons were required to nurse patients back to health at their own expense and time if a single sinew of muscle was accidentally cut during an operation. Injuries qualified for legal consultation only if five drops of blood were shed, enough ‘to fill a nut shell’. Other guidelines focus on diet for invalids: no horse flesh, meat cured with sea-salt, flesh of the whale or beer, except if the physician says so; a limited quantity of free honey from neighbouring beekeepers is prescribed. Two particular vegetables, cainnenn and imus, most likely celery and onion, though the identity is not clear, are favoured, though “the great service given by garden plants in nursing” is emphasised.
The details set out above, from an 8th century medico- legal text, reveal experience, tradition, knowledge far older than the walls of any monasteries. “A study in his native flora in his own language will enable the student to inherit some of the scientific, literary, aesthetic, and religious possessions of the race.” ‘The History of Irish Medicine’, sketching two thousand years of medical history, is, by necessity, brief, couched in the tired, naive language of romantic nationalism. Practices or events dredged from the past, like alien creatures brought to light from the dark ocean floor, are rarely anything more than queer artefacts, their sustaining medium already dead. But it would be inaccurate to think that Moloney appeals to nothing more than the vanity of nationalism. By seeking to unearth potentialities which had foundered in history he picks up threads, threads which deserve exploring if only for the fact of their survival; the hope that residues, and alternatives, do persist.
One of our skills exchange members, Nicki Ffrench Davis, has written a profile about herself and her work in the cultural sector in Cork, Ireland
mmediately on finishing my BMus in 1999 I began work in the craft sector, working for a small knitwear company, Dyed in the Wool. I fulfilled a number of roles including office administration, packaging, basic accounting, retail, wholesale sales representation (national and international) and product design, and was made a director.
In 2004 I returned to education for a Higher Diploma in Arts Administration. I went from there directly to work in Cork County Council’s Arts Office as Music Projects Administrator. The core of this role was to prepare and deliver a residency for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland in Cork, which was primarily an education project.
In the course of my work with Cork County Council I met Francis Humphrys of West Cork Music who runs an international chamber music festival. I have worked for this festival each year since, mostly in Stage Management and Front of House and also work for West Cork Music in various ad hoc capacities from time to time.
In June 2005 I was engaged by Cork 2005: European Capital of Culture to start up and manage the programme’s Public Information Centre. In 2006 I was employed by the East Cork Early Music Festival as their first professional administrator and in September of the same year I began work for Civic Trust House as Building Administrator. This was a start-up project.
I have included below a section from a training Cultural Managers training programme I recently undertook [it may be of interest to some of you]
For me, the two main challenges facing cultural managers are:
1. Environmental management – there is little doubt in my mind that humanity needs to make significant changes in all our activities if our natural environment, on which we are utterly dependent, is to survive. This is particularly challenging for those of us living in Ireland and other islands. (Several farfetched ideas have come to my mind recently – getting sponsorship of whole carriages from train companies on the continent so performers might rehearse enroute to make up for longer journeys?! Festivals procuring a boat in collaboration with each other to allow for similar rehearsal/travel combination?!)
2. Like almost every other industry (bar liquidation/receivership perhaps!) we have serious challenges to face financially. I think it is time to look beyond relying on government funding and sponsorship from business and reappraise how we are viewed from the ‘outside’ as a sector. Many of us have willingly worked for comparatively low pay or in a voluntary capacity on many projects all our lives because we believe (and see) the value of our work. Does the wider community ‘get’ this? How can we nurture community support so that we can avail of skills and material beyond that which we can pay for? Put simply we need to continue to inspire others to support our work for the same reason we do it – for its intrinsic value (not necessarily in a mutual benefit through publicity manner) and perhaps at a much more individual level. To what extent can co-productions help us through, or do we run the risk of halving the amount of actual cultural output?
As well as everything else I’m on the committees of the Cork Orchestral Society, the Cork Jazz Festival and the Cork Cycling Arts Festival and am a founding member of Cork Chamber Choir, Cork Music Collective and previously Dublin Chamber Choir. As an independent producer I have produced several musical events of a high quality, and in 2007 I secured a €15,000 grant to establish and produce a cross-cultural ensemble led by a Congolese guitarist which went on to play to capacity audiences in Cork and tour Ireland
A little over two years ago I started learning the double bass never having played an orchestral instrument before, and am now a (struggling) member of Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra.
Much of my consciousness however goes beyond the arts and the cultural in the common definition – in recent years I have begun to educate myself more widely and have taken an interest in political, civic and economic theory. I have a keen interest in international affairs and try to consult a broad spectrum of information sources, both mainstream and non-mainstream while allowing my own opinions to develop naturally.
I have begun to involve myself in some political activism to a small extent as I am concerned about corporate power, current political power structures and political ideology although I would not yet subscribe myself to any particular political philosophy. I am, however, equally concerned with the dulled interest of many of my fellow citizens in these matters and feel strongly that culture is an essential key to bring about change in this regard. I am excited that I feel for the first time the potential for real positive change in how our civilization is ordered and am committed to supporting cultural evolution wherever possible.
Heres a profile of one of our skills exchange members, an English photographer who has set up his own studio called Naked Eye Photography
J J Budd is a Cork based photographer who runs his own photography business under the name Nakedeye Photography Originally from Manchester J J Budd studied Art & Design before moving off in different directions while picking up odd jobs to support his effervescent travel bug. While travelling the world and experiencing different cultures his love of photography grew and blossomed into an obsession ”Its healthier than drugs put probably more expensive”
While I have a love of art forms in every medium I am also into cooking and have worked as a chef on more than a dozen occasions which I find to be another outlet for creativity to run wild. I dig music from many genres and eras and also keep a close eye on how the champions of Europe are getting on…
This month we get more indepth detail from a skills exchange member on the issue of tax and the state of the music industry in Ireland and what it means to Irish musicians
Last time we looked briefly at the changing face of the industry, and saw how publishing is becoming a more prominent aspect as agencies such as the PPI are moving to recoup all royalties due from all types of public broadcast – and you can bet that it’s only a matter of time before sources of streaming music such as Myspace and Accuradio will be required to pay a proportion of their revenue in royalty fees – after all your content is helping to make them money…
This week though we shall return to the Taxman – in business, as they say in politics, you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I tried, in the December issue of The Mutantspace culture blog, to show that fear that the taxman will take your money is NOT always founded, as those on low incomes can legitimately earn money, buy new gear and pay NO income tax. However, the financial merde is now really hitting the global ventilateur and at this stage I think we probably all know someone who has lost a job.
Some people have seen at least 50% of their pension value wiped out because of the failures of the the Banks to follow their own guidelines, the Financial Regulator not stopping them, and the Government actively encouraging them. So you’d be forgiven (by me but not the state) for not wanting the banks or government to know anything about what you’re earning when they’ve made such a poor job of handling everyone’s money. Suddenly the people who hid their money under the mattress don’t look so silly – they’d seen it all before and learnt their lessons. What can we learn from this mess?
1) Cash Is King
2) No job is safe
3) Governments and Banks aren’t as clever as they think they are
So why the hell would you voluntarily tell this shower of incompetent numbskulls what you’re earning? Seeing as all they’ve done so far is bring us to the edge of bankruptcy isn’t it better to hide it from them? Well, to be honest, I still have to say no, and here I’m going to lay my cards on the table, because honesty is absolutely the best policy. I think it is right to declare ones earnings, and I believe there are valid reasons to do so:
1) Moral. In my opinion if you want the entitlements of citizenship you should accept the responsibility as well.
2) Legal. If they catch you ducking out on taxes they will prosecute you, and then you will have to pay even more.
3) Financial. If you declare it all up front and use your brain you will end up paying LESS in tax and maybe get VAT back from the taxman.
4) Beneficial. Illness, Jobseeker’s, Maternity, Adoptive and State Pension Benefits all depend on PRSI payments, and if you don’t pay (or have the credits) you won’t get the benefits.
Now IF you have declared yourself as a musician by filling in tax form TR1 (available in the tax office) you can tick the box to be registered for VAT. And just as there is a limit below which you don’t have to pay income tax, there is a limit below which you don’t have to pay VAT, currently €37,500 (Revenue VAT Guide 2008). As of current revenue policy any VAT you incur on legitimate business expenses can be reclaimed, meaning that below these limits you are effectively Income Tax and VAT exempt, and so any tax you have paid, including the VAT, is refundable. So – you’re an otherwise unemployed musician but had a good gigging summer and made €2,000 on the festival circuit and you decide to go into the shop and buy yourself a nice new microphone and mixer, a laptop to record yourself, a stereo to monitor recordings with, totalling €1,000 all of which is a business expense because you’re now officially registered as a self-employed musician. It cost you €200 in travel expenses that you have receipts for so your actual earnings is €2,000 – (€1,000 + €200) = €800. If summer is 13 weeks then you earned just over €60 a week, and the welfare office allow you to earn €20 a day for three days a week without losing entitlements. Bingo. As it currently stands once registered for VAT you can then claim the VAT back on your purchases. In the above example that would be about €210. Admittedly this would count towards your income for that period meaning you might lose €16 a week from your giro, but you’re still €60 up each week. Also true, you will be required to pay PRSI, and that is a flat rate of €253 or 3% of your income (2008 figure), but as we’ve seen, one good VAT return will cover that. So finally you’ve earned legitimate money, the returned VAT covered your PRSI state pension contribution, and all above board.
And the paperwork? – you kept your receipts in a folder and wrote up your earnings in a book. Once a year you fill in a form with the Revenue and they do the rest.
At least, I think that’s how it goes!
Hey ho, I think that’s enough for today class. Keep Strumming
On Mar 13, 2009 Sean Corcoran emailed Alan Bamberger:
I’m a great fan of your website and the advice and articles you present. I would very much like to interview you for an Irish online culture. It’s part of a relatively new Artists Resource called www.mutantspace.com that I’m a member of. I’m not a journalist, I’m an artist. I have an interest in how artists can improve themselves by availing of the opportunities that the Internet provides. I have attached an Interview/online conversation that I am currently conducting with Moray Bresnihan, the founder of www.mutantspace.com . We used Google Docs so that we could both work on the document online at the same time. Have you tried it? It makes for a more collaborative approach and the results I believe are more interesting. I would hope to use the same technique for your Interview/online conversation. What do you reckon?
Alan Bambergers Reply:
Appreciate the email. Glad to hear you find the site helpful. I’m happy to do the interview. I’m not really familiar with Google Docs– other than that I’ve heard of it. I usually do the interviews by phone, but suppose I’d be willing to try this out, assuming it’s not too complicated. I’m not that technically inclined, but I do use Google Calendar and find that pretty easy. Why don’t you give me a call at 415.931.7875 or email and we’ll set something up.
I’m in California USA, Pacific Time Zone.
On Mar 14, 2009, Sean Corcoran wrote:
Delighted you’ll take part.
Believe me Google Docs is Simple. I’ll open a document and send you a link to it. You have a Google account so you just need to be signed in and we can both access the document at any time. It’s just like a word document only it’s online and only me and you can access it.
I’ll give you a ring shortly for a chat. I believe it’s 9am with you when it’s 4pm with me. I’m 7 hours ahead of you I think. For the online conversation / interview if we could arrange a target time that suits us both to try to be online each day. Nothing strict but it’s easier if we both have an idea what the other is up to. We can work on it individually at any time but it’s nice to collaborate together occasionally too. That can make for interesting results. This might take days or weeks depending on our pace.
I’ll be Blue if that suits you and if we both initial before our text. We can both edit as we go along and come back and add more bits etc. Some photos would be nice too. If there’s anything your not happy to talk about just say and we’ll remove it. We’ll keep as much of our exchange as possible, even these emails might work good as an intro.
After a brief telephone telephone call Alan replies:
Good to speak with you this morning Sean. I’ll wait to hear from you.
As you’ll see I’ve put our email correspondence in as an intro. Nice to talk with you today and thanks for taking up the challenge.
Firstly let me give you some background. As an artist I have found your articles very enlightening. I like the way your advice is informed, practical and easy to follow, as well as interesting. Also my wife and I had planned to build an Arts Centre on a site we bought on the Cliffs in Waterford. I found your writings invaluable for our business plan. Unfortunately our project was turned down by the planning department. We’re looking at Plan B now, well actually Plan C to be more accurate.
I’ve been building my own website over the last few months and again I’ve called on your expert opinions. Your website really is a fantastic resource for artists (and collectors too no doubt). So I must say a big THANK YOU for that to begin with.
SC: To kick off I wonder would you tell us a bit about yourself. We’ll get to art and your career a bit later. Tell us about Alan Bamberger, where your from, your lifestyle, your life…
AB: Big question Sean– but here goes. Born and raised in Cleveland area of Ohio USA. Majored in psychology in college; moved to San Francisco area of California in the mid-1970s to continue my studies. Developed an interest in antiques and collectibles shortly afterward and by 1976, had begun buying and selling items in those areas. For a while I was also very involved in selling vintage clothing, but by 1979, I began selling antique and vintage paintings. From there, I expanded my business to selling rare and out-of-print reference books on the fine and decorative arts. I had my first article published in 1983, evolved that into a syndicated column for antiques and collectibles newspapers by 1985 (called “Art Talk”) and from there progressively expanded my art world knowledge into the contemporary realm, particularly from a business perspective. I started artbusiness.com in about 1997, and from there, you can read www.artbusiness.com/expert.html for a continuation and brief bio.
SC: What does a childhood in Ohio consist of?
AB: Good upbringing, good parents, two brothers, suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, good schools, good education, good values. Very typical all the way around.
SC: I’d say there’s a big contrast between suburban Cleveland and downtown San Francisco? Do you go back? Do you still have family there? Big lake there isn’t there?
AB: I still have a brother there. Try to get back once every year or two. Always enjoyable. And yes– Lake Erie is so large, you can’t see across to the other side– it looks like an ocean.
SC: Would you describe the more personal side of your life, in terms of living in San Francisco, your average day, your average week, your dog, your cat, family, friends, holidays, likes, dislikes, other pastimes etc. [I hope this is OK with you as I would like to begin by creating a picture of you in an informal style].
AB: Let’s see… dog, wife, two sons (one in high school, one in college), live only a few minutes by car from downtown San Francisco. What do I like? Art. I’m pretty busy these days, so don’t find that much time to get out like I used to. But there are many great restaurants here (I tend to prefer ethnic cuisine– Indian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, old school Italian, etc.), plenty of interesting events, lots of very liberal creative people– so it’s easy to stay entertained. And when I need something more, I can always walk up the hill a few blocks and look out over the Golden Gate.
SC: Wow. The Golden Gate on your doorstep. Your environment is so different to mine. By the way can you insert some pictures that might represent the dialogue? A nice postcard picture of you and your dog at the Golden Gate, now that would be corny! No, your choice whatever you like. Maybe even that picture of you in 3D glasses that I’ve found in a Google Image search. Oh yes I’ve done my research, I’ve even listened to 2 radio interviews you did on Neighbourhood Public Radio. That Jonathon Keats is a character, and a well respected artist too I believe. Anyway some pics would be good.
AB: Pics? OK. I’ll have to take some. I take them for everybody else, but hardly ever of myself. I’ve got one or two on my Facebook profile that would work.
SC: So you’ve been working in the art industry for over 30 years?
AB: That is correct.
SC: Where did you learn about art?
AB: One day, while driving around the Sierra Mountains in Northern California, I bought an old beat up painting in an antique shop for $15– not quite sure why– but I did. When I got back to San Francisco, I found out that if I restored it, it would be worth $3000. That was a mark-up I could get used to, so I decided to become an art dealer. I had about 6 months of income coming in from selling vintage clothes (I was pretty good at it), so I quit that and went about learning the art business– with a 6-month do-or-die deadline. Well… I did.
SC: You have no formal qualifications or training? Have you ever found this to be a disadvantage or quite the opposite?
AB: Actually, it’s kind of an advantage. By learning from people in the business, I not only come to understand the significance of an item from scholarly and historical perspectives, but also in terms of collectability– in other words, how much value it has, why it has that value, and who cares about it enough to want to pay the price.
SC: What have been (and still are) your biggest Influences?
AB: Professional people in the art business and any artist who would take the time to talk to me when I knew nothing and wanted to know everything.
SC: Have you ever picked up a paintbrush or made a piece of art?
AB:I actually won several awards for my art when I was in junior high school, including one nationally, but math and science seemed to be more viable than being an artist, so I gave it up… even though the art teachers strongly encouraged to rethink my decision.
SC: Would you take it up again some day? What kind of artist would you be if you decided you needed a career change?
AB: I play a pretty decent blues harmonica. That’s about all the art I need these days. Though some years back, a friend who owned a gallery asked me if I’d do a piece of art for a group show– just for fun. I bought a pack of water-based markers, did a little abstract, called it “Morning Coffee,” and priced it $45. It was one of 2 pieces that sold at the opening.
SC: Do you love art or is it a job?
AB: What do you think?
SC: Well yes I can see already that you love art but I’m just wondering with the amount of work that must be involved in your enterprise…does the love turn to slog? Or are you Mr Happy every day skipping out your front door?
AB: Love occasionally turns to slog, but then the instant I consider the alternatives, it turns right back into love again.
AB: Bought the domain about 1997, intended to use it as an online resume of my writing– a place where I could direct newspapers and magazines to see samples of my work, and hopefully publish me. Before long, I realized that quite a few people were reading my so-called resume (sample articles about the art business), so I began to expand the site as sort of a consumer advocate service for artists, collectors, and anyone else who was interested in learning about the business.
SC: Do you have any plans for the site over the coming years?
AB: Keep on adding helpful information for artists, collectors, and anyone else who has a hankering to learn about how the art business works.
SC: What’s the most exciting part of your business?
AB: It used to be making a great find at an antiques store or used book store. Now I suppose it’s the adventure of never knowing who’s going to call or email with what kind of quandary. Could be anyone from anywhere. In fact right now I’m doing this online interview for an artist website in Ireland. Uh… wait a minute… never mind. That’s you.
SC: How much time do you spend online and on your computer?
AB: Lots. Maintaining the website, consulting for artists, and appraising art is a full time job.
SC: Do you do this work from home? If so do you have good self discipline or do you end up like me at crazy hours of the day and night trying to catch up? Or pacing up and down, turning the kettle on every ten minutes?
AB: Working from home is great; I love the commute. And yes, I have loads of self-discipline. Sure, I suppose I work crazy hours sometimes, but I don’t really regard it as work. It’s life.
SC: Can you recommend any other websites, printed or online magazines?
AB: It’s got to hold my attention, show me something or make me think about something in a way I haven’t seen or thought about it before. And it has to be well-made. Poorly made art does not do it for me– no matter how brilliant the mind of the artist behind it.
SC: Is your perception affected by the sheer volume of art you have seen?
AB: Yes. The more art you see, the more discriminating you become, and the better you get at making fine line distinctions between good, better, and best.
SC: What types of art do you favour?
AB: Art that holds my attention.
SC: Do you ever speak out about art you don’t like?
AB: Artists and art dealers have a tough enough time as it is without me having to complain about stuff. Plus, if an artist has the courage to make art, or a gallery the courage to show and sell it, then more power to them. Going negative doesn’t help anyone.
SC: Who are your all time favourite artists dead or alive?
AB: I don’t really think that way anymore. I suppose the best answer would be whatever artist’s work I happen to like the most at the moment.
SC: What artists are you into at the moment then?
AB: Let’s see… what have I liked recently… a Richard Lindner show, small paintings of drive-thru windows by Mark Trujillo, abstracts by Naomie Kremer, decorative arts by Italian industrial designer Enzo Mari, a couple of group shows of contemporary Chinese artists. Next week, it’ll be totally different.
SC: What do you think of art schools and what they turn out?
AB: Art school is good; artists need an education just like any other professionals– and an understanding of the evolution and current state of creative expression. As far as inadequacies go, art schools do not teach enough about the business– and I think the main reason why is that many of the people who teach there know little or nothing about how the art business works. Also– sometimes art schools tend to preach about what kinds of art are more or less “worthy” or “significant” than others. If professors would focus more on how to make good quality art, and less on imposing their own personal views on their students, that would be nice. Last time I checked, brainwashing does little or nothing to evolve the creative process.
SC: How many shows would you say you’ve been to?
AB: Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands.
SC: What’s the best party/opening you’ve been to?
AB: The opening night gala of the San Francisco Fall Antiques show is killer. Also the Tribal Arts Show and Asian Arts show. Oh– and there was a Scion sponsored art show on Alcatraz Island once. That was pretty good. People I’ve seen at art events/openings– Steve Martin, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Marilyn Manson, Dianne Keaton, and many I can’t remember at the moment.
SC: How many photos have you taken in your life?
AB: I’d have to guess well into the hundreds of thousands… maybe more.
SC: Do you understand art more from a buyers perspective than an artists?
SC: Are all artists mad?
AB: Not at all. Many are extremely well organized, understand the business, and are perfectly capably of integrating their creative natures with the exigencies of the marketplace.
SC : What pisses you off most about artists (and users of your website)?
AB: People who take things without asking permission.
SC: What do you think about the mystic that some artists like to convey?
AB: Do you mean mystique? Oops yea! People can either try to convey or successfully convey whatever they feel like conveying. My favorite type of conveyance? Genuineness, sincerity, etc. If someone’s trying to be someone they’re not, sooner or later they get found out.
SC: Could you define what you think an artists statement should be?
SC: Should an artists statement be necessary? Why can’t art speak for itself?
AB: It’s perfectly OK to let your art speak for itself… assuming you make talking art. But seriously, I prefer to know something about what I’m looking at. Art is not a random occurrence. Every work of art happens for a reason, and I happen to enjoy knowing what those reasons might be. Otherwise, it’s a guessing game– and it’s often difficult to understand or appreciate something you know absolutely nothing about.
SC: Does the commercial machine of the art industry ever make you laugh?
AB: Yes. I’m endlessly entertained by watching people sell a commodity that has no tangible value.
SC: Sentimental about art? What’s your most treasured piece of art
AB: I don’t really see art that way. If an artists feels compelled to create a work of art and show it in public, I am compelled to respect that.
SC: Have I confused you in this question? I mean are you sentimental about art you possess?…which I guess you’ve answered in the next question.
AB: Yes. You’re right. I am sentimental about a number of art pieces I possess– and money is irrelevant– some are worthless; others are otherwise.
SC: Would you find it difficult to sell certain things you possess?
AB: Yes. Some pieces come to represent various occurrences or periods of my life– in fact, I don’t even care to know whether they have material value or what that value might be because it ruins the pleasure I take in owning them.
SC: Ever make any big finds at flea markets?
AB: Not big finds, no… but decent ones. I supported myself for decades by making “finds” of varying degrees.
SC: What’s that scene like now?
AB: You have to follow it day by day or else you get rusty and out of practice. But for educated informed visionary thinkers with trained eyes, bargains will forever abound.
SC: Do you ever feel that contemporary art has gone to the dogs?
AB: Not really. It’s fascinating to watch what people create… and to learn about why they create it.
SC: What do you think of conceptual art?
AB: I like anything that’s well thought out, no matter what kind of art it is. I’ve seen difficult conceptual art, and delightful conceptual art. As long as the artist is clear about what he or she is doing, and makes the point well with the art– that’s more than enough for me.
SC: Where would you draw the line in terms of art being accessible?
AB: I think art should be as accessible to as many people as possible. My personal mission statement is “More art everywhere is good.”
SC: You worked in the art industry right through the dot com collapse, what similarities are there to the current world economic crisis and what lessons can artists and the art world in general learn from back then?
AB: Read this– www.artbusiness.com/osoquunewec.html . These days, artists have to really seriously demonstrate that their art has value– not dollar value– but value as art. When art sales are easy, like they were for a number of years, artists don’t have to think so much about what the value or significance or “worthiness” of their art might be. But now they do.
SC: You wrote the following piece in conclusion to your recent article entitled; Art in the new economy; Art will always have value and it will always express the most elevated and progressive aesthetics, tendencies, and ideals to which human beings can aspire. Art is timeless; it represents the future– it always has and it always will. It represents talent, brilliance, genius, vision, and the materialization of hope, faith, and the courage of conviction. It represents solace and beauty– an oasis where people can escape from the stresses and pressures of daily life. No matter what happens out there, great art has the power to reenergize, to reinvigorate, and even to heal. Ultimately and above all, it offers the promise that at some point in the not-to-distant future, everything will be well once again and that with the passage of time, we will unquestionably recover what we only temporarily have misplaced. Beautiful words. Do you sense this kind of optimism on the street or is this your own idealistic viewpoint?
AB: I do what I can to help out. If there was no art in the world, what do you think life might be like?
SC: Financially do you think the art scene can continue to be sustainable?
AB: People will always buy art. The size of the art market may wax and wane, but it will never disappear.
SC: Could you give artists your top ten tips for maximising sales?
SC: How important is it for an artist to have a website?
AB: I think having a website is increasingly essential. It’s your portfolio– a record of your art, a presentation of what you believe in, an indication of your commitment and dedication to the profession.
SC: Your site is vast. Could I ask how many hits you get?
AB: I average around 2000-2500 visitors per day.
SC: How do you make a living from your website?
AB: I haven’t figured that one out yet. Just kidding. I appraise art, consult with artists, write statements, write essays, help artists with contracts and contract negotiations, advise collectors on whether or not to buy particular works of art and how much to pay, help people who’ve been victimized by scammers, and consult on insurance, divorce, tax, mediation, and whatever other art quandaries anyone cares to throw at me.
SC: What does art appraisal consist of?
AB: Simply put, an appraisal from me tells someone how much there art is worth and– here’s the important part– why. I support every appraisal I do with concrete verifiable facts.
SC: In relation to San Francisco can a good artist easily make a living?
AB: A good artist can make a living anywhere– even in San Francisco.
SC: Are there any trends in relation to art and galleries?
AB: I’m the last person to ask about trends. I love looking at art. And whatever they have to show me, I’ll look at. Beyond that, I have no idea– nor do I care to get involved. Whatever they make, I do my level headed best to appreciate.
SC: What about artists lifestyles, their studios, collectives, cooperatives etc?
AB: Too broad a question.
SC: Is San Francisco as ‘Arty’ and cosmopolitan a city as we are led to believe?
AB: It’s a marvelous place to live– unlike any other. That I can attest to. It’s about as progressive and accepting as any place on this planet– possibly the best. As for cosmopolitan– let’s call it a very large small town.
SC: How do you manage the amount of shows you attend?
AB: That’s a good question. I really don’t know. I go to as many as I can. The uniquely dense and compact geography of San Francisco allows us who know our way around to go to almost everything all the time.
SC: Is most art still displayed in traditional white cube spaces?
AB: Yes. Although I see more bars, clothing stores, boutiques, bookstores, and even a gardening supply store setting aside space for galleries. That may be a trend– you sell something else to support your love of the arts.
SC: Do big crowds attend shows? What age groups?
AB: Sometimes big; sometimes small. And all age groups. No matter what your age or your propensities, you can find a gallery to hang out at.
SC: Can you spot a buyer amongst those that are there for the free drink?
AB: I’m better at spotting freeloaders, but I meet an occasional buyer. The best collectors know everybody.
SC: Whats the governments relationship with the arts world in San Francisco?
AB: I have been to many art openings at City Hall– several city supervisors (council members) are very supportive of the arts. And there is a San Francisco Arts Commission– they operate several galleries and also commission works on occasion.
SC: What’s funding like?
AB: Be prepared to fund yourself. You have to prove yourself before you get a penny. And then you have to dedicate yourself to being funded– filling out application forms, proposals, and the like. Government funding is sadly lacking in America. Perhaps that may change with the new administration, but I wouldn’t count on it.
SC: Tell us a little about the art layout in terms of neighbourhoods…
AB; Neighborhoods with the most galleries– downtown, South of Market, the Mission District. But there are galleries all over the city.
SC: Does art in San Francisco or even USA seem insular to you? Does it have blinkers on in terms of what’s happening in the outside world?
AB: San Francisco is a place where things germinate, where they begin. It is extremely fertile ground creatively. Often, however, you have to go elsewhere to make your living. That is the nature of the geography here.
SC: Does American events like 9:11, Hurricane Katrina and Obama’s election feature strongly in American contemporary art?
AB: Not strongly, but in tune with the news, and on an occasional basis. Making “current events” art is a tough way to go. There’s an old saying– even older than me (and that’s old)– that “today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrap.” In other words, the fish merchants used to wrap their fresh fish in yesterday’s newspapers. (One more reason why newspapers are history– no matter how much they complain about it. They’re not even good for wrapping fish anymore.)
SC: Have you travelled much? Where’s your favourite place in the world?
AB: I just got back from a quick trip to Montana– a powerfully beautiful region of the American West– reminiscent of the old frontier. Rugged mountainous unforgiving land where you have to be tough and resilient to survive.
SC: Is there much of an Irish scene in San Francisco and in the art community?
AB: San Francisco has a large Irish community– always has and always will.
SC: That looks great Alan. I think we’ve covered a lot. I reckon it’s complete apart from some pictures if you could. I’ll format it and get it ready for The Mutation ezine. Not sure if it will go in for the April issue or else May. I’ll ring the editor now and keep you posted. So get some pics to me as soon as you can. Email them to me and I can insert them might be easiest.
Thanks Alan. Keep up the good work. It’s been a pleasure.
Hilary Williams is a Dublin based multi media artist whose work spans Performance, video, Instillation, photography and drawing. The fragility of mortality, the mistrust of memory, the belief in the Now, and the insecurity of the future motivate her work.
She exhibited in Bulk, Iadt student show Concourse Dun Laoghaire 2005 She received Hons BA fine Art from DL IADT 2005 and MA VIS IADT 2007. She was an award winner in Sculpture In Context Botanic Gardens and Farmleigh Dublin 2004 with Waiting Dialogue, A sculpture/Print/instillation.
She participated in The Passing, The Beyond Performance Tour, Northern Ireland 2005. Writing an An Article Experiencing the NOW. VAI Sept. 2005 She has participated in workshops with; Nigel Rolfe, 2005, Alaistair Mc Lennon and Brian Connolly Fire Station 2007. With Elvera Santa Maria (Mexico), in Belfast March 2008 and Grace Weir in a Video/film/script writing workshop in Firestation, Dublin, in June 2008
Hilary has been involved with Excursions Performance Festival, Limerick Jan 2008 and was the artist involved in Drawing The Line at DIT Art College, Dublin, a live interactive performance 10th March, 2008.
She Participated in Live Performance in This Is Not A Shop Gallery with LIVE BREATH April 2008 and her video/performance work ‘Last Breath’ has been screened in Arts- Claims-Impulse Gallery Berlin www.art-claims-impulse.com, In The Black Box via The Catalyst Art Centre Belfast, and with Mart Art, In the Thatch and Silkes in Galway town during the Galway Arts Festival July 2008. See sample of work at www.mart.ie
In The Back Loft, La Catedral Studios, Dublin, February 2009. A Live Performance Why Waste Your Breath? (20 Minutes)
Performance in an Exploratory Theatre Salon @ The Back Loft, La Catedral Studios, Dublin, February 2009
Live Performance, Body/Landscape, Red Lady, Oinisheer Island, At St Kevin`s Church, September 2008
The Last Three Days, Studio 6 Temple Bar, Mavis alumni (response to leaving the studio). August 2008, a graphite trace of floor boards/text
Screening of video Last Breath at Galway Arts Festival, July 2008
Screening of Video Last Breath, by The Catalyst Art Gallery at The Black Box Theatre, Belfast 2008
Screening of Last Breath at Art- Claims-Impulse Gallery, Berlin 2008
Live Performance, Drawing The Line at DIT Art College Mountjoy Square Dublin, March 2008
Live Performance, Live Breath, at This Is Not A Shop Gallery, Dublin, April 2008
Work In Progress. A three-day, solo, video/performance/instillation exhibition. (Part of the summer exhibition season for MA VIS students),August 17th—19th 2007
Curator Brigid Harney. 33A North Main Street Naas Co. Kildare, ovember-March 2006-2007
Sculpture In Context (invited artist) Exhibition at Airfield, Dundrum Co Dublin, June -September 2005
Student Degree Exhibition. IADT. Triptych, A three screen Performance Video, Dublin 2005
Over the next few weeks, preparations will be underway for the first Fastnet Short Film Festival in Schull, Co. Cork, which runs from May 14th to 17th.
It is great to see a local festival dedicating itself solely to the art of the short film, a medium often overlooked at the larger fests, which depend on big name features to draw the crowds. With awards such as ‘Best Experimental or Animated Film’, it seems that the Fastnet crew are celebrating shorts as an art in their own right, and not viewing them as simply a lowly relative to the feature film.
The short film is an obvious starting point for any amateur filmmaker, low on budget and equipment. Perhaps this use of the short as a starting point, or calling card, in any filmmaker‘s career, is what often associates the term ‘short film’ with shaky first time camerawork, tedious to watch and shabbily produced. However, short film award schemes and festivals such as Fastnet have allowed shorts to be recognised as a medium which can hold just as much importance as any feature.
One perceived problem which many budding filmmakers encounter is that they attempt to create a short film packed full of feature length ideas, inspired as they are by their favourite movies. But writing a script heavily influenced by Scorcese’s genius and then, due to budget restrictions and lack of experience, shooting it as a short, is not always the answer to realising your dream.
The article, ‘Confessions of a Short Film Programmer’ written a few years ago by Mike Plante, for Filmmaker Magazine. (http://www.filmmakermagazine.com/winter2004/line_items/short_films.php), refers to this common practice, when he says “For a programmer interested in the short film as its own art form, it’s just not that interesting to watch a filmmaker demonstrate how well he or she can shoot gangsters walking down the street.” Plante should have a fairly good idea of what makes a short film tick, viewing, as he does, thousands of shorts per year for admittance to the Sundance and CineVegas festivals.
However, this is not to say that shorts must be obscure and avant-garde to garner a screening; some of the most well-received Irish shorts of recent years have been those of the horror or comedy genre such as Brendan Muldowney’s ‘The Ten Steps’ ), a twist on the traditional ‘babysitter in the house at night’ horror or ‘Yu Ming is Ainm Dom’, a light comedy about a Chinese boy who learns Irish before arriving here, not realising that English is now our prominent means of communication. (http://www.atom.com/funny_videos/name_yu_ming/).
I’ve heard people refer to shorts as having a world of their own, and some of the best shorts seem to follow that mindset, sticking to one location and only two or three characters. There’s just not the time for the character development or plentiful dialogue that a feature offers. And, perhaps, that is a good thing: with shorts playing by their own rules, rather than reflecting the themes of feature films, they can be appreciated for what they are, and this makes the like of the Fastnet fest and other short festivals possible.
Some Links for those interested in short film: Short Film Central: This site describes itself as an ‘international short film database’, allowing filmmakers to submit profiles of their films, so that others can than comment and leave reviews. There is a number of Irish shorts listed, but the major setback here is that you cannot view them on the site. Go visit: http://www.shortfilmcentral.com/ Atom Films: An alternative to YouTube as a source of videos and short films. See: www.atom.com
Vimeo: Yet another site proving popular as a place for filmmakers to show off their craft. See: http://www.vimeo.com/
Another travelogue from one of our skills exchange members who is currently seeking out culture on his travels through Peru
You could call Cajamarca the lull after the storm. It`s a sleepy little city perched 2,700 metres high in the lower Andes, in northern Peru. The rolling green landscape around it, the obvious dearth of tourists and the trickling pace of the town just bring into sharper contrast the mayhem that preceded here. There are even faint echoes of home. Each morning`s bright skies are followed by clouds that file in from the mountains, which gives way to a constant flow of evening rain.
It`s around that time that the phone at the centre where Iam volunteering will cut out, you take your chances through the streets that have become rivers and go to stock up at one of the local restaurants. Argentine steak and chips seem a long ways away, though. The routine now is normal and earthy. There is too little money to spend money and too much time. Ideal conditions in which to save on cash and lose on weight.
I wouldn`t have allowed these sedate set of circumstances to get in the way of a Grand Slam, however. No, I was on my own little crest of a wave in Cajamarca last weekend. In the plushest hotel bar on the main square – the only plush hotel in Cajamarca, mind you – there was me, in a large modern hotel bar, one kind waitress with whom I would have to share the joy, and one of the most outstanding large flat-screen TVs I have ever seen. What a waste, I thought, but thank god for ESPN. I had 30 cosy chairs to choose from, sat down in the middle of the room, not too near, not too far, ordered guacamole and coffee, and thought about all the lads filling the bars in Lima, and in Cork. One thing was for sure, there were no Paddies within an arse`s roar of this place.
I suppose she figured it meant a lot to me when Tommy Bowe ran in for that second try. Yes, now it was ours to lose, and I bloody roared that hotel down. I went potty, in fact. I was lost in myself, and lost to the sadness that there was no one to bond with, except herself, and she wore a half-amused, half-scared look. In owing her some kind of explanation I just spouted out, “Es mi país”, tis my country love, over and over. “Es mi país”, and we`re bloody winning. She came round in the end, almost felt involved. How could she not, with me, second by second, imploding in front of her! On the final whistle I stood up, stretched, wiped my face, inhaled that victorious breath, and that deep smile of hers knew it too. The two of us, we were home and dry.
And what of the storm? Well the storm was Bolivia. Oh deary me, Bolivia. Few places polarises visitor opinion quite like Bolivia. Whether you end up grovelling over the dirt and the difficulties, the lack of proper infrastructure, or instead chose to admire its rawness and unique character as a country, tapping away to its own otherworldly pace, you know at least that here, you are in for a different kind of experience. I had regrouped in Salta, northern Argentina, got back my debit card that I had left at an ATM in that mountain village near Mendoza. The choice was to reach Peru via northern Chile, and the Atacama desert, or via Bolivia. In South America, unless you have been lavished with copius amounts of time, you simply cannot do everything. I had been bent all along on reaching Arequipa, and ultimately Cajamarca, via the Atacama and the Pacific coast. But at the last minute, a conversation with an English girl swayed my gut. If there is one place you must see, she implored me, it is Bolivia. If there is one person I wish I had never spoken to, it is that English girl.
The 2km walk across the border into Villazon was as I would have expected. It was early morning, a new country, and having got my passport stamped I strayed towards the bus station a few blocks yonder. My destination would be Uyuni, the base to explore Bolivia`s magnificent salt lake flats, which I understood to be a 3-5 hour bus journey. But Bolivia`s rural bus stations don`t serve merely as transport hubs. They also give a wonderful glimpse into the utter incompetence of the country. You just can`t depend on anything, from the most meaningless aspect of your day, to something more substantial – such as the departure of a bus – to operate smoothly. Bolivians don`t plan for likely eventualities, they make life up as it hits them, or more typically a good while after it hits them.
There would be no bus to take me to Uyuni that morning. Much of the route along the eight-hour stretch had been cut of by a downpour the previous night. I wasn`t too downbeat about that, though the thought that I needed to make time was starting to eat into me a little more urgently now. What was on offer was a three-hour trip to Tupiza, and I could make my way to Uyuni, fingers crossed, from there the following day.
My first act, the purchase of a ticket for Tupiza, was a struggle. Having bought it, I was told my ticket wouldn`t take me into the centre of Tupiza, then I was told it would be leaving at 10am, not 9.30am, then at 10.30am, not 10am. Then a random lady came and told me the original spoil sport had been winding me up all along, that my ticket was good to go. Nobody knew which bus would leave when, so I resolved to take a chance and jump on the first one that came. A bunch of Isreali backpackers were all headed to Tupiza, so I just used them as guides. Bolivians carry their life`s possessions with them when boarding buses, so bundles of food, clothes and animals must be moved to find room for luggage. Three hours of bobbling dirt track later, I withdrew my filthy ruck sack from the bus in beautiful Tupiza.
My second act, determining at Tupiza bus station how quickly I could get to Uyuni, also ended in failure. There would be no buses to Uyuni today or tomorrow, the road (track) was still cut off. So having booked into the nearest hostel, it was time to choose. Wait for the route to become navigatable again, do a four-day tour of the salt flats from the hostel in Tupiza, or skip the lot and head for La Paz.
If impatience is one of your vices, think twice about Bolivia. I couldn`t afford the wait around, nor a four-day trek to the flats. I didn`t have that time, and knew I`d have to pick and choose, so the salt flats, agonisingly, had to go. It would be a bee-line for La Paz, make up some time, regroup, close in on some better roads, then whirl towards Lake Titicaca and Peru.
That Thursday, of course, the La Paz bus was delayed en route to Tupiza. It was like listening into a weather report, wondering if the bus would ever arrive, but eventually it did. In the meantime I passed by a few market stalls to eat something ahead of the journey. I spotted some good looking chips frying away at one, and felt a taste for carbohydrates coming on, but the lady wouldn`t sell the chips without selling chicken to go with it. And that was the moment I stepped back and thought for the first time: “What are they like in this place!” Now I might be condescending, or harsh, but that typified so much. The lack of sense. Woman, I thought, don`t you want to make a living here! So I strolled to the adjacent stall to buy some Pringles, before heading over to the bus, and a half-hour debate on how, and where, passengers would find space for their luggage. Jesus it was madness, like a scene from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and all at stake passengers boarding a bus. It`s like they had a secret language, the language of mayhem, that only Bolivians could tap into. In the end Panamericana would make tracks for La Paz, five hours late, but I was right there, swivelling along with her.
Daylight came and with it a freshly paved road from Oruro into La Paz. Bless Evo Morales and his socialism, I thought, he has provided us with a real road! But on the fringes of La Paz our progress was stalling. Suburban marches clogged up the streets and our red Panamericana was forced to detour, first over pavements, then onto grass and gravelled patches alongside the streets, before eventually separating from the main thrust of the march again. I later found out it was a day of local fiestas, not in fact a peasants´ red trumpeting of Evo`s revolución. Whatever the case, our respite was short-lived, and in El Alto – La Paz`s new city, built spectacularly on a cliff edge 400 metres above the city`s main downtown – we finally ground to a complete halt.
With no budging of Panamericana, the entire busload, with its lone ignorant foreigner, were told to dismount there and then. I was tired, obviously lost, with no sure notion of the remaining distance to the centre. I didn`t realise it immediately, but I was in a seriously vulnerable spot. I was ripe for picking. I could sense that El Alto wasn`t the safest part of town, so went with my instinct to jump in the nearest cab. He called out the second my feet connected with the pavement. Usually I would take time to suck in some air, look about, consider the options, but I was tired and stranded. “Taxi, taxi!” I looked up, saw a genial face, saw what I thought was an offical looking taxi, and made the call. My ruck sack secured safely in the boot, I slumped with relief into the back seat. “El centro, por favor.” He was the perfect gentleman of a taxi driver. He even picked up another female passenger around the second corner, also bound for downtown, also from my bus, though I didn`t remember her face. A little odd, but I was new to the city, I didn`t think twice. And I was just, well, tired. We had a great chat through four or five blocks. They engaged me beautifully. She was en route to Ecuador. I was so content to have secured my passage to the centre. Then the taxi pulled up on a quiet street corner. The driver rolled down the window, enquired as to the interruption, before regularly dressed man opened the passenger door and flashed security ID at me. At both passengers seated in the back, in fact. He then sat in the passenger seat and informed us we needed to be security checked. The driver was told to carry on, but in the direction of the police station, where everything we told him would be verified.
Foreigners were entering Bolivia with fake bank cards. That was his tack. I was truly lost as to what to make of it all, but in a short period of time I still had to design a concrete approach of my own. There was no time to think, because questions were being fired at both of us – initially her, and mostly after that, me – but what moulded my decision making then, more than anything, was the idea that here, in socialist over-policed Bolivia, this could possibly be a regular thing. And I was in no position to take any chances. In almost any other situation, with more energy, and more time to think, I would have responded differently, but here, today, my judgment was primed to be blunted. For them, the bastards, it was the perfect storm.
My interrogator wanted to go through the lot. Declare the lot, I thought. So from underneath my pouch in my hoody, I declared my camera. I was all up front, I just wanted it to end. He took out her bank card, he took out both of mine from my wallet. We were still driving along, slowly. He remarked on the rough edges of her card, the curved edges of mine. So strange, he said. He was frazzling us, and doing a great job. The questions were still coming thick and fast. At this stage, of course, I still believed it was for real, and convinced the driver and passenger were on my side.
When was the last time I withdrew money? Where? How much? He was on the phone to “El capitán”, to check if I had really withdrawn 1,000 Bolivianos in Tupiza the Wednesday just gone. And your pin number, what is your pin number? “El código, no queiro darte el código.” I can`t give you my pin. His capitan was still on the buzzer, it`s important to give us the pin, only for security reasons. Give it to me. “Uno, dos, cinco, zero.” I didn`t want conflict. The back of my mind that now knew this was not right, had no space to breath. What if this was genuine? Logically it couldn`t be, but logic was out the window now, and I didn`t want conflict. “Capitan! Uno, dos, cinco, seis.” No, no, I said, “…cinco, zero!” That`s not your pin number, he retorted. That`s not it. It is, I replied, yes it is. He took my credit card in hand then, but I lied him that I didn`t have a pin because I never withdrew money with it. Amid the horror of bad decision making, that was the one thing I got right.
Then the taxi came to a halt, down a deserted street in some desolate corner of El Alto. It must have been 20 to 25 minutes since I first saw that deceptively genial smile, and Mr security was just about through with the interrogation. He showed me my wallet, my cash, my cards, threw the lot in my small back pack, tied a knot, went through with me once more what was in the ruck sack, then told the driver to help me out with my stuff. Apparently we were at the station. As the taxi driver reached for my rucksack in the boot, I was still convinced he was with me in all this. I used the chance to ask him if I was safe. “Estoy seguro aquí?” Yes, he said, the police station is the green building over there. He put my stuff down, and as I went to reach into my back pack, which was tied good and tight, my back to the taxi, all of a sudden they were gone. They did a good job on me alright. They were very very good. Hats off to them.
The knot opened, it only tood a second or two to realise the camera – with 500 pics – my bank card, and about 100 euro in cash were all gone. Mild panic quickly became crazed panic. I was completely lost. One young girl walking on the street pointed to the nearest main street, so I ran there and jumped into the first cab. The driver had his wife in the passenger seat and his son in the back. Jesus, another stitch-up? Well I had to move, invest trust in the unknown. I`ve been robbed I told them. First I need a phone to call home, then get to the centre as quickly as possible. The final wrong decision was to call my family at home, instead of trying to get through direct to the bank. They were unable to cancel the card on my behalf, and by the time I reached the centre, 40 minutes later, an extra 500 euros was gone from my account. I´m almost certain, however, that my posse of abductors – which possibly included the Panamericana bus driver – would have been swift enough to get to an ATM before I found a phone.
I was so frail now, tired and lethargic, stunned by it I suppose. At the hostel I made a call to Halifax to cancel the card, the local proprietors seemed properly unmoved by the whole saga, like it was par for the course. And in Bolivia, the most edgy and corrupt place I`ve ever been, it surely is. It`s amazing how often we presume to know a place, and how we`ll react to it, and how often we are wrong. As I stepped out from the hostel to go in search of an ATM, with my credit card fastened inside my jeans mini pocket, I walked as the man I swore I`d never become. There I was in the most spectacular setting of any city I`d seen, 3,600 metres above sea level, the highest capital in the world, looking back up towards walls of suburbs on the hills, with El Alto set on top, scene of the crime, and me, wary, scattered, untrusting of anybody, afraid to engage. A bit like Indiana Jones in the Indian slums, not knowing who among the crowds might be after him. At the ATMs there were army clad officers standing by, watching out with sub-machine guns at their sides. I was still sweating profusely, and my only thought on approaching was “What now, are these guys with me, or against me?”
Stepping across that border into Peru was about as efficient as Bolivia got. Maybe it`s the altitude that gets to them, but honestly, even before the chaos of El Alto, I found myself struggling to have regard for the place. Struggling to find empathy for the people, and their poverty, struggling to get something back from them. They were so passive, so muted about things, I thought, well no wonder this country can`t find the time, even with cash from those freed up gas reserves now flowing in, to build a few decent bloody roads. If they ever got round to it, I couldn`t imagine them agreeing a route, in any case. Socialism is all well and good, I`m all up for power to the masses, but what for good character, and good intent? And common bloody sense.
Between the robbery and the rugby, I trekked for four days to Machu Pichu from Cusco, and drowned my financial sorrows with some great backpacking company. The landscapes lived up to all expectations, but more than that it was just fun. Ultimately the scenery tends to fade away, and it`s the camaraderie that stays with you. Bonding over a beer and poker with the best intended of English and Irish piss-taking. Just the ticket to wipe the sweat from your brows. To clear out a little of the chaos.
I still curse that English girl in Salta, and my own luck, naturally. Would I go back and swap it all now, head for the Atacama instead? The more time passes, the more I`m thinking, probably not.
The first leaves of summer spinach are being picked. If there are childhood prejudices you’d like to get the better of now is the time to do it.
As a kid I found trying to chow a side of stewed spinach something like what getting lost in a dark, rainy wood might be like. A squeeze of lemon and a grind of pepper and I’d cheer up though, the sun would burst through and the birds break out in song. I wouldn’t say I feel much differently about it today, the adult-y, mineral flavour can be a joy, but it needs a little harnessing.
The darker and crisper the leaf the more delicious + nutritious. It’s worth going through them and getting rid of any tough stalks. They’ll likely need a good wash too, best done just before cooking. If I’m serving them alongside a meat, I prefer to cook them hard in olive oil; it keeps the flavour fresh and intense. Frequent stirring will be required for them to cook evenly, for which garlic fans may wish to replace the wooden spoon with a fork pitched into a garlic clove.
Sheep’s cheese, spinach and hazelnuts
Soft, new season’s sheep cheese is in abundance at this time of year.
In a very hot pan, fry your spinach in olive oil, season a little and keep stirring so it cooks evenly. When it’s almost all wilted down (it will carry on cooking as it cools) slide it on to a breadboard. When it’s warm serve with the cheese – at room temperature – and hazelnuts on either side.
Serve also with some crusty bread. You might, depending on your mood, find it all just a bit too savoury. If so, a couple of drops of sherry vinegar on the spinach should do the trick.
Almost flourless spinach dumplings
An adaption of a recipe from the evocative voice of Simon Hopkinson in Roast Chicken and Other Stories. Yummy served floating in a clear garlic broth (wild if you can) with a raw egg yolk, chopped curly parsley and olive oil to garnish. Or, as Simon says, with crispy sage leaves fried in nut-brown butter, grated parmesan and a wedge of lemon.
Take the crust of a dry, old white loaf. Chop up and soak in milk. Blanch your spinach in plenty of well salted, boiling water. As soon as the spinach is tender drain it and pop it in ice water. When cool, squeeze the spinach in your hands or a clean tea towel to get it as dry as possible. Also strain out as much excess liquid as you can from the milky bread. Chop up the spinach until fairly fine and mix with the bread (there should be just a little more bread than spinach). Add grated lemon zest, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg to taste. Also add an egg yolk – with about 250 grams of raw spinach, one egg yolk was sufficient – and mix. Add flour to tighten the mixture up a little. Leave in the fridge to chill and then scoop out a heaped spoon full at a time, rolling briefly in your hand and then in flour (make sure to gently shake off any excess flour, there should be a thin and even layer of flour around all of the outside of the dumpling. They’ll be fragile and pretty shapeless. Cook in boiling salted water. When they rise to the surface of the water give them another two minutes, try one to make sure its cooked through – if it’s not you’ll taste the raw flour. Scoop each dumpling out with a spoon rather than draining through a sieve.
A spinach and potato salad
Try and get hold of the waxiest potatoes you can for this one. Be meticulous about getting rid of any tough stems from the spinach and make sure it’s completely dry after washing. A good trick is to pop the wet leaves in the middle of a tea towel, potatograb all four corners and swing like a sling. If served when the potatoes are still a little steamy, it’s very happy on its own. Otherwise you might like a little yogurt mixed with sliced mint, white wine vinegar and salt, alongside it or drizzled over it.
Starting them off in cold, salty water, cook your potatoes, skin on, at the gentlest of simmers until tender. Melt some butter in a pan and toast some coriander seeds in another. Give the seeds a wham, wham and add them to the butter and as it begins to colour take it off the heat. This’ll be your dressing. When you can handle the potatoes peel them with a knife and cut them in half at a diagonal. (It’s a pain for sure this peeling after cooking business but will make a difference as it means they release very little starch as they are cooked, remaining sturdy, waxy and rich). Put potatoes into a bowl and pour over most of your butter (heated again until foaming) shake around and leave for a minute. Then add your spinach leaves, the rest of the butter and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Toss, season with your best salt and serve.
The culture of social networks and our increasing reliance on them has changed our language irrevocably
How much of your day is consumed with the likes of Facebook or Twitter? Initially, these social networking sites were the kind of thing that I would instantly baulk at and was always on hand to castigate any ‘real’ friend of mine for wasting their time taking ridiculous quizzes (‘Are You Clinically Insane?’ – I’m a sociopath apparently) and recklessly adding school friends who were never really friends in the first place.
Fast forward two years and I have found myself in a race with someone to the first 300 friends, once spent a whopping eight hours in one evening chatting to the same person on the Facebook chat facility, and find myself considering every move in terms of a Facebook status update (e.g. ‘Colm is going to stand up in a minute’; ‘Colm is against poverty’), Facebook and Twitter may position themselves at the forefront of modern communication, but is this really communication?
The Facebook status update and, by proxy, Twitter, are prime examples of phatic. Phatic communication has been described as language that serves to “establish or maintain social relationships rather than to impart information,” or language used “for establishing an atmosphere rather than for exchanging information or ideas.” So, in short, the next time you are at the opening of an exhibition or some dreary launch and you are cornered by some over-exuberant schmoozer, bear in mind that they are not really communicating with you, they are simply establishing an atmosphere for their own benefit – phatic.
The term phatic was coined by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the early 1900s and comes from the Ancient Greek φατός (fatos) ‘spoken’, from φάναι (fanai) ‘to say’. Other terms for these types of expressions include small talk and grooming talk – one theory is that humans developed phatic language to replace grooming, an activity that takes up quite a lot of time for our ape relatives and ancestors. And this is where Facebook and Twitter come in; the sheer ubiquity of a status update, telling the ‘public’ what one is thinking, doing or about to do right now, signify an almost Derridean descent into the death of language.
What does phatic language itself represent? The constant usage of phatic in terms of status updates does represent a dialogue being entered into, but it results in a parallel discourse as opposed to real discourse. Essentially, people are talking at one another, or an ill-defined notion of the ‘public’. It was Soren Kierkegaard who maintained that the public is people in general, but no one in particular. It is the thing that has the majority interest, the received wisdom, the widespread urge. It is a major force in our lives and thoughts, but no one is it. You can’t pick out a single person and say that they are the public.
Heidegger took this one step further. His big idea was to say that Das Man (the ‘public’) is actually who we are most of the time. Most of us are so “lost” in Das Man that we are completely oblivious to it. We flee ourselves, says Heidegger, by hiding in Das Man. Mostly we hide from Death, but it also relieves us of the burden of real discourse, turning it into what Heidegger called idle chatter — faceless, buzzing talk that focuses on reaching a consensus that is uttely meaningless.
So, is this idle chatter the way of the future? Nietzsche once said ‘soon everyone will learn to read and write, and that will be the death of language’. Is his prophecy coming true? Perhaps but I have no more time to ponder this, I no longer know I am doing until my status update informs me accordingly and Facebook is calling. ‘Colm is bemoaning the death of language’; ‘Colm will never succumb to phatic’, etc. etc
Sifting through the volume of curriculum vitae’s landing on my desk over the last few weeks or so, I thought it might be worthwhile to pinpoint some of the do’s and don’t do’s of cv-writing in the world of arts administration.
1. Sex It is simple not necessary to list whether one is male, female or otherwise when submitting a curriculum vitae. This is clear from the name usually – for example, a Bernadette McCarthy (hope SHE’s not reading!) recently wrote to me looking for work – “paid work if possible”, the cheek – and casually mentioned that she was, in fact, female. No shit, Sherlock! With a name like Bernadette you clearly ARE female, and most likely ugly with it. Similarly, this takes up valuable space on the curriculum vitae. I haven’t got all day to be rifling through reams and reams of papers, reading about someone’s apparent gender. Anyway, there are hardly any guys working in arts administration, and if there are, they are always gay. This is a fact.
2. Labelling I am a stickler for labelling things properly, for having things done in a neat fashion. I practically INVENTED Microsoft Access, I go to bed at night dreaming of spreadsheets. Anyway, I recently got a CV which, under the name, had the numbers 03121984 followed by 012451941. What does this mean? Are these your robot numbers from your last job on some sort of building site or something? Things like this are ridiculous and clearly waste my time. When I get a CV on my desk that is not properly labelled, I immediately bin it.
3. Experience Example one: “Vice-Captain of Junior ‘A’ Camogie Team 1996/97”
Example two: “In charge of paper round for McNamara’s newsagents, Ennistymon, Co. Clare. Delivered wide variety of newspapers to over 42 people”
Example three: “Donator of blood. 10 gallons to date”
There are all genuine examples of ‘experience’ included on CV’s in 2009 alone. I honestly do not care less if you were the vice-captain of a camogie team, I mean, what is camogie anyway? I have no time for sport, especially ones played by sweaty, hairy men. And, in fairness, a paper round! What’s that about? Is Ennistymon a real place? If the internet was brought to this village, would a pensioner log on with devastating consequences? I think so. Finally, how can one person possibly donate 10 gallons of blood? I showed this to someone else and they maintained that it was a wind-up but I’m not so sure.
4. Spelling This is very common, people just waffling on and on, never once using the spell-check function. I often wonder if people realise it actually exists! I, myself, am a rabid typist and can spell flawlessly this stage because I cleverly have the spell-check automatically correct any errors. Its sheer genius and something I totally came up with by myself.
5. Qualifications College is a particular bugbear of mine. I did my degree in Arts Administration (and got a first, of course) and I deserved it because I worked so hard, day and night, learning how to write essays, do accounting, and, of course, prospering during my own internship (well, I actually had two but I walked out of the first one after a day because my boss was an idiot and wanted me to come in at 9am or something ridiculous. I love that feeling of just storming off on these people without a care in the world!). But some people didn’t even finish college or even get a Masters degree like me! These people DO NOT belong in arts administration because if they have not done the required course, then how can they know how to behave themselves in an appropriate fashion? I mean, come on. We were taught everything in our course about how to conduct oneself, be it in an art gallery or talking to some superior being like an artistic director, but if someone does not have the requisite training, then they will only come across like a buffoon in such exalted company.
I think that’s enough for now. If anyone reading recognises a faux pas in this, well then, it is for your own good and a bit of public humiliation never hurt anyone. Of course job interviews are a whole other story… Until next month, art lovers!
I met Steve in CSN (Colaiste Stiofain Naofa), as a music student studying Music, Management and Sound. At the time I was playing bass in a 4 piece covers band with no real interest in writing songs. Steve entered the course as a drummer, but ended up playing guitar in a funk band instead. When the college year ended Steve had moved back home for the summer. In that time I decided to try my hand at songwriting.
When Steve moved back to Cork in the fall I threw a few songs together and got a support slot with Wallis Bird, Steve came to see that gig and loved my songs, so he offered to play drums. We have been playing together since, doing various gigs around Cork City. Then our line up was finalised when Muireann Holly, vocalist and bass player joined the band.
We played a number of support gigs for bands such as, SnowmanFC, Wallis Bird and the Supermodel Twins. For the last 6 months we have been doing our own headline gigs. We have played Crane Lane, The Quad and our favorite, The Roundy. I’m spending the rest of this year focusing on recording the first album and writing new material for the second album……
our next DIY arts festival, the Trash Culture Revue, will take place sometime towards the end of the year. So if you want to create, produce, get involved, play, experiment, try stuff out, have fun, design, administrate, organise, volunteer or just come along then let me know
we provide free creative and production skills for your arts projects and events through our skills exchange so you can experiment, fail, make and play no matter who you are, where you are, what you do or when you do it.