“There is a kind of day that is very grey or brown . . . it is a mood or tone I often feel on a dreary day, waiting for a taxi before it rains or going to some kind of daily routine . . . It’s the experience of being on the street in open space, or just inside ourselves. What do we feel, what do we choose to notice and sense on a given day? It’s about the internal and external landscape of the place as I experience it.”

From "Taking note", by Nicholas Laughlin, in the August 2006 Caribbean Review of Books

Friday, May 4, 2007

Tropical Night: random notes '06

"Right now I’m just declaring the vocabulary, and trying to get rid of some of the old stuff too . . . a lot of little ideas . . . some are just plain ambiguous. So you could see there’s a narrative -- I mean, a whole story could be told. I feel like in a way I’m still on the outside of the story, like I’m trying to get in -- it’s very much like a literary enterprise. It’s a narrative enterprise with images without really resorting to a straight comic book. So I’m using the vocabulary and trying to find my way through it."

I am not sure what I am doing with this new series of drawings.

Often, in my work, I move back and forth between the private singular process of making notes--taking note of things in the world around myself; investigating visual vocabulary--and public works aimed at a specific moment or context. Sometimes these personal reflections become preparatory notations for these public works, like “Attack of the Sandwich men” or “Terrastories”. However, over time, I have begun to understand or accept that the conceptual process itself becomes the actual work.

As a result, I returned to basic and direct materials such as pencil, paper and a few inks. I became curious as to how far these speculations/conceptualizations, with simple means, could go. I was never sure where it could, but I enjoyed the process and proceeded. I began to call it my “cultural autopsy.”

Being unsure is not very fashionable in the space in which I often find myself operating. I am more interested in conversations and investigations, rather than assertions about culture, identity and the competitive language of owning and knowing. I have always had to negotiate through and around such territorial enterprises. Of them, I have remained as wary as I am astonished.

A historical perspective?

The underlying premise that informs my perspective of art in this part of the Caribbean is derived from the knowledge that many of these islands were not supposed to be "societies" to begin with, after the period of conquest and plunder. They evolved into industrial sites managed by overseers and absentee owners. Today, it feels as if most islands are occupied by private and public regimes that continue to exploit this inherited structure or operation.

They were essentially labour camps created by Europe (an earlier version of the “Neo Con Jungle" perhaps?). The region, throughout the process, was very far away from the promises of the Enlightenment, but deeply embedded in industrial structure of Modernity. Some have argued that “plantation economy” is essentially Modern with its trans-national operations of forced and transplanted labour, extracted and transported raw materials and international treaties around trade routes.

The struggle of the creative individual in this century and particularly in the post-independence era has been about defining "value" in human terms. Today the "civic" promise, under the auspices of the "new state", is a tough product to sell to those whose lives and means of living are rooted in home-grown conventional responses to power and powerlessness. "Survival Business" for all involved is already debased and expediently shifty and shifting.

Anthropological surveys have already told us who we are, and what forms of "originality" we are supposed to entertain them with (too). So the story of our art is the story of a search for "truth". "Truth to ourselves?" It is a story about becoming, but on terms and conditions related to a historical dynamic and narrative in which we have something at stake. Questions remain about this “we” also.

Perhaps the monumental aspect of our reality rarely arises from edifices and objects but, more so, from actions, and from our very presence moving in space attempting to "be".

We were never supposed to be “ individuals” either. How to respond to something like this in a place with a history of slavery and contract labour?

The surveys now define us as units of labour or units of consumption. How to read our attempts to reconcile the traditional dichotomy between the private and public or cultural space? Often when I sit in my studio and make a mark on an empty piece of paper trying to imagine, dream or figure out something, it feels odd, as if I am boldfaced to even feel I could have that right or privilege. Who am I addressing and into what conversation is it being inserted? The drawings are as much actions as they are objects--they record an ongoing internal struggle.

The notebook page or compositional frame or territory became an arena from which or within which a sense of discomfort and outrage is navigated. So…what are these little drawings? Are they a declaration or assertion of self/experience through a series of symbolic arrangements? What am I up to in this symbolic field constructed with handwritten reflections and referential symbols appropriated or fabricated? Am I investigating my voice and voiceless-ness simultaneously and in the current social context?

Narrative & Personal Vocabulary

I am very wary of narrative, as it often feels like an imposition on experience; a rationalization that inhibits as much as it offers consolation or promises order or meaning…

Each image declares new paths and either lays to rest overly familiar concerns or allows them new readings in the shifting associative structure.

The movement from the private notebook endeavour to another, while being conscious that these drawings are now possibly intended to be displayed, has made them feel “performative.” Initially I had never imagined a viewer. I simply enjoyed the reverie and the moments of getting something down in a manner that either captured some thought or visual sensation as best as I could.

I often throw out the drawings and lose faith in them, and on other days they feel, if not look, better.

As the series grows, when I move them off of my desk and put them on the wall, the tone or the effect gets to something I sense or have always sensed while living in the Caribbean; the mood or tone of the ordinary daily visual space and its existential and or phenomenological register.
One can “read” or “view” the work from close up, or one can step back and see/experience the entire effect--the world they approximate.

During moments of political disturbance or on just bad days or dull ones…the world changes…the same street feels different according to various things like how much money you have in your pocket…etc…

the hunger


"Some people live here and others work here" is often repeated in various ways through regular conversation, and through the education and advertising systems. After travelling through the region and to other parts of the world, I feel like there is some kind of slow-motion genocide or erasure of so many lives and experiences… The image of Goya’s heavy sepia images came to mind, and of this giant devouring a smaller being… The giant looks to me like he is trapped within the horror of his own gesture.

This brown-ness or dark-ness--this sense of the night or of the recessed/repressed or the dark or in shadowed space that is not between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. with intermittent clouds, as seen on the postcards. But, this is what I know or feel often.

So I like this feeling I get--this engagement of the sensibility--something that just feels decadent?


However, each of these drawings/notations has a few lines of text, as they trigger some thought or reflection… The cake is about “manners”--being under it or having it. Imagine being sent to a party as a child and being told by your elders to never take the first slice on the tray, never take the biggest, and never take the last slice, or you will shame yourself and them. So then, why am I in the party in the first place? It's about watching a tasty but unattainable/unaffordable thing, and the way we were trained to never have such aspirations, while seeing as a daily norm others satiate themselves… and feeling like an ass in the process of understanding one's needs and interests… Like being able to see oneself as a real artist at all, like those people in the shiny magazines.


I draw a tiny mongrel that has pissed in the four corners of the paper. I draw a figure jumping from one stack of books (narrative/place?) to another… each time wondering as he descends if he will have the spring-action to land lightly so as not cause the pile to collapse, but also to be able to bounce back into the air to land on the next one as he moves around. This jumping figure recurs in my work.

In another image, it was about when you jump up into the air to look over a wall and you are about to return to the ground. You hover for just a fraction of a second before gravity pulls you back. At that moment you wonder if you will be able to spring back up again--the sense of the repetition of the gesture or effort takes its toll on you, and you begin to wonder if you could sustain it… Each time you hover you look over the wall and into some perceived domain or beguiling illusion of comfort that is so removed from anything you have ever felt or have been taught to expect in life…

hop, skip, jump

There is also the “pira” or little bench that refers to small incremental gestures that build up over time. It’s the kind of bench that people use to do simple humble daily things like weeding a garden or vending at the side of the road or shining a shoe and so on. It’s often portable and is often intriguingly worn or weathered into shape by use over an extended period of time.

To me each symbol or sign unravels over time. The old questions remain: Am I planning a new video, a series of performances, an installation, or are these notations the conceptual work itself?


Christopher Cozier

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