Report on the Inauguration of the Trienal de Luanda
by Laurie Ann Farrell
In autumn 2005 I travelled to Angola as a US Dept of State Specialist Speaker. I went across to work with the Trienal de Luanda team and to lead curatorial workshops for artists, art educators and museum professionals. The cultural renaissance and rebuilding I witnessed in Luanda had a profound impact on me.
In preparation for the Trienal, director Fernando Alvim has spent the last three years (from 2003 - 2006) converting dilapidated and abandoned buildings across Luanda into pristine art galleries, staging exhibitions and creating dynamic programmes to school groups. The Trienal created quite a buzz in art world press and many have patiently waited for this art initiative to come to fruition.
During my stay in 2005 I learned that the Trienal was being organised primarily for the local population. As the first major Angolan art initiative following the civil war, the brief included an examination of the aesthetics of music, sports, politics and global culture along with the impact of music and technology. To complement these themes I proposed to Alvim that Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid) participate in the Trienal. I felt Miller's innovative practice of fusing aesthetics, sound, politics and digital culture would be received well and was a good fit for the spirit of the Inaugural year. Miller's proposed project New York is Now (2006) highlights connections between Luanda and New York City as both cities are melting pots of culture where diverse references are rapidly assimilated and localised.
In November 2006 Miller and I visited Luanda for the launch of his piece and to participate in public programmes and workshops. The opening took place on November 10, the eve of Angola's Independence Day celebration. New York is Now was performed on an outdoor stage built along the beach at the prominent club Miami Beach. US Ambassador Cynthia G. Efird opened the evening with a lively speech delivered in Portuguese. Approximately 3000 people, including eight Ambassadors, attended the event, which lasted well into the early hours of the morning.
In December the Trienal will show approximately 100 paintings created from digital scans of photographs of wall paintings made in the early 20th century by the Lunda Chokwe people. Alvim stated that exhibiting these paintings throughout the Trienal venues is one way of bringing Angolan culture back to the city and its people. In January the Trienal will feature work by contemporary Angolan artists, and in mid-January Alfredo Jaar will travel to Angola as the second part of the American participation for the Angolan premiere of his film Muxima (2005). The artist writes, '(T)he film was born out of my love for African music. During the process of organising my extensive collection of Angolan recordings, I discovered that I had in my possession six different versions of a song called Muxima. And a film was born.' In February and March the Trienal will present works by International artists (including Jaar and a new piece by Miller).
The following text by Paul D. Miller provides additional insight into New York is Now. For more information on his work please visit: www.djspooky.com
An updated Trienal website will be available soon at: www.trienal-de-luanda.net
PauD. Miller - Trienal de Luanda Artist Statement:
'When I was invited to participate at the Trienal de Luanda, I tried to figure out a couple of things: first - how do you balance the idea of technology, digital media, and how people perceive local culture in a globalised age? Second - many of the people that would see the piece in Luanda are way past the limited idea that many critics and theorists describe as the 'digital divide' - how would I be able to portray a cultural milieu where many of the issues driving digital culture in the 'industrialised world' seemed to be a natural extension of how people think about various production processes, and, last but not least - using digital culture to examine local issues.
'I wanted to try and wrap all of that up into a project that would give people what KRS-1 (one of my favourite hip-hop MC's!) liked to call 'edutainment' - education and entertainment. I think that art in Africa has so much potential to communicate to the world, and it fascinates me to look at the way contemporary circumstances have rendered the continent into a multifaceted and deeply complex vision of digital modernity: the streets in Luanda are a flowing market - kids with cell phones, video games, downloaded and bootlegged films... you name it. You see products from various parts of the world, and it's all cheap and copied, and completely connected to the production processes of a world that is fast becoming more and more interconnected.
'How do you make art that parallels what Lucy Lippard liked to call the 'dematerialisation of the art object' - a world familiar to anyone who hears cell phone frequencies, uses satellite dishes, or even downloads files using fibre optic cables. This is the eerily complex, and hyperlinked world that the Happpening I created with the Trienal was meant to portray - music was the glue that held the aesthetics together. I look at New York is Now as an opening salvo that points to a world where 'primitive' responses to digital culture in Africa are laid to rest as illusions projected on the continent by people who are unfamiliar with the deeply complex issues at play in Africa and its relationship to the rest of the world.
'Maybe that's what Happenings as envisaged by Allan Kaprow and John Cage were about - I wanted to link what's going on in NYC to what's going on in Luanda. What better way than to have music constructed out of fragments - elements of the concert were given away throughout my stay, and we even had bits and clips played on Angolan national radio. Duke Ellington once infamously said 'if it sounds good, it is good'. I like to think that the Happening I did for the Trienal is an inheritance as much from composers like Abdullah Ibrahim or Fela Kuti, as it is from the diverse traditions that New York represents. That's kind of the point: with DJ mix culture and the hybrid narratives that it fosters, the different geographies of the world we live in converge and become more connected than anything previous eras could have imagined. That's what my piece invokes.'
Especially created for the Luanda Triennial in 2006, Miller's New York is Now (2006) is a response to the conditions art reflects in the 21st century's fast paced and completely networked global culture. Miller has long been at home on the global scene of digital culture - as a writer, artist and musician, his work has focused on the intricate relationships between what he views as urban culture's uncanny relationship to the production processes of digital media.With New York is Now he explores how memory works using found archival footage to create a tapestry of a city made of improvisations, disjunctions, and multiple rhythms. Inspired by Ornette Coleman's classic free jazz album of 1968, Miller has gone through thousands of film portraits of the city that have inspired his work.
New York has long been considered a global starting point for many of the most important artists of the last century, and Miller's piece begins with the poem Mannahattan by Walt Whitman, rapidly moving through a series of architectural invocations that leave the viewer with a sense that the 'city' for Miller, like Coleman, is a structure made of many rhythms - some local, some global - all syncopated to a collage-based aesthetic. For the Trienal de Luanda, Miller created a collage tapestry of New York through the prism of jazz, and found footage appropriated from material as diverse as Duke Ellington's Harlem Tone Poem, Hans Arp's Rhythmus 21, Situationist architect Constant's Manifesto for a New Babylon, Marcel Duchamp's Anemic Cinema, Meilie's l'homme orchestre, Thomas Edison's portraits of the electrification of Coney Island, George Antheil's Ballet Mechanique and many other bits and pieces from the 20th century.
In essence, New York is Now is a video portrait of a New York at the edge of the recorded imagination - a city made of many rhythms and tempos. Miller's composition looks at history, cinema, and how we think about urbanism in the 21st century. The science fiction writer William Gibson once wrote '(T)he future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed.' Miller reveals to us how much this phrase has come to mean in the realm of digital media as an artform that reveals many of the hidden connections between the way we live in the 21st century's media-dense, global information economy. New York is Now claims a place where all these visions of the urban landscape exist simultaneously.
The US participation at the First Trienal de Luanda is presented by the AmericaEmbassy, Luanda, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U Department of State, Washington, D.C., with the guidance and assistance of Laurie Ann Farrell, Curator, Museum for African Art, New York