Text from DEBRIS, Susan Press, London 2006.
From trash comes art – or at least it did in the recent “art experiment” held by artists Blue Curry and Heino Schmid. This showing was labelled an experiment as opposed to an exhibition in the traditional context because of its non-traditional location and subject matter. Tin cans, bottles, electronic equipment, old shoes, discarded toys and appliance parts (among other things) were collected together and displayed in this one night event held on July 7th in an empty shop space in Palmdale. This type of art experiment is about pushing the Bahamian understanding of “gallery” and “art” into new territories for these artists.
As the name of the show suggests DEBRIS was comprised entirely of found material. Things that others have discarded as trash these artists have reclaimed and carefully displayed to be scrutinised and admired as art. Artists have long been working with such materials known as “found objects.” Such objects are as unique and singular as any piece of art in the artists’ view. They have the curious ability to be both lost and found at the same time; having lost their original intended use and owner they have now been found a new purpose and status as art object. Decidedly not pretty, immovable and temporary, the works on show would leave the average art enthusiast scratching their head as nothing was for sale and most of it was taken to the dump the following day.
This type of art production raises many interesting questions regarding the purpose that art serves in the Bahamas. “The question of art as commodity is vital in contemporary Bahamian artistic discourse” suggests Schmid, “Why make a work of art if you can’t sell it? This is common question among Bahamian artists and it contributes directly to the type of art produced.” Taking the consumer, the art patron, out of the equation these two artists have freed themselves to work entirely on creative instinct and to set their own aesthetic rules. As Curry added, “The experience was a freeing one for both of us in that due to our schedules we only had four days to put this experiment together which meant that things had to be done quickly and with a looseness that we are perhaps unaccustomed to. Working this way allowed ideas to develop organically and limited time meant that any overly critical thinking had to be put on hold. “
The place and way that art is shown is also being questioned in their choice of venue. Formerly a clothing store, a video rental store and an electronics shop, the space at No. 7 Alexander Street can now add art gallery to its list of reincarnations. Both artists wanted to work with a “non-gallery” space in order to comment on the limited number of spaces that exist for artists to show work in the Capital and the lack of a private gallery system. The lack of a private gallery system has contributed to a sever e lack of critical discussion about art in The Bahamas. “If we artists don’t begin to branch out and take these inadequacies into our own hands, nobody will do it for us and we will suffer from our own inertia. Art can be in the National Gallery or the Central Bank, but it can also be in Palmdale or Over the Hill … as artists we just have to make sure that it keeps happening wherever it can on whatever budget available” commented Curry.
All of the rooms of the store space were left open for viewers to explore, mostly unaltered since the last tenant moved out. Dark and sparsely lit, nothing was hung on the walls and most of the art pieces lay on the floor to be inspected and walked around. In what used to be the back office, the store surveillance cameras allowed a voyeuristic peek at the movements of other visitors. In the storage room a collection of hanging rusted floor fan coverings turned and twisted throwing their shadows over the walls. One of the most intriguing pieces in the show was a mattress supported by four wooden palettes. Around this “bed” were objects you might find in your own bedroom: a pair of shoes, bedside reading material, trousers slung over the back of a chair. Only when you enter the next room and see a photograph projected onto a screen do you realise that this is not an artistic construct, but rather the relocation of an actual bed found behind the shop.
Curry explained: “After working with the discarded objects we found on the inside of the store we turned our attention to the outside. In the backyard we found a bed where neighbours said a man used to sleep– but had he had not been seen recently. The composition of the bed was so striking we decided to move it into the gallery space in its entirety.” This artwork, aesthetically speaking, was then entirely fashioned by this homeless person or “joneser”. The artists meticulously moved every piece of the outside bedroom inside with attention paid to the placement of bits of paper, pennies and related ephemera as not to disturb its original composition. By bringing it indoors under the definition of art the viewer is forced to not only question the piece as an object or artwork but also contextualize the social conditions under which the work was made. At the end of the one night experiment the mattress and all its surrounding paraphernalia was again put outside in exactly the way it was originally encountered.
Probably the most alarming part of this show is the fact that many of the objects collected were found on beaches in Yamacraw and South Beach. The over four dozen shoes displayed in a pile were found discarded near the water’s edge on one beach. Even the projection screen used to project on was found buried in the sand on the beach. “These beaches are being used as unrestricted dumping grounds. Perhaps seeing this may force viewers to consider the role they play in the contamination of the environment and therefore the creation of these works” says Schmid.
DEBRIS was strategically opened on the evening after the inauguration of the Third National Exhibition (NE3) at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas in order to provide a counterpoint in discussions about art in the country. The NE3 is being held at the highest art institution in the country featuring work carefully selected by a panel of judges and presented immaculately; DEBRIS was held in an empty shop in Palmdale with work of a spontaneous nature with little regard for traditional presentation techniques. It is hoped that viewers who saw both shows back to back were able to surmise a full spectrum of contemporary art in The Bahamas – which may just be entering its most active period to date.
“The Bahamas is in the midst of a cultural renaissance whether people are aware of it or not.” states Curry. “After Independence we gravitated toward American culture and allowed it to eclipse the value of our own artistic output. Now we are realising that Bahamians can produce world-class art and are giving it the respect it deserves.” This newfound self-confidence is translating directly into respect internationally. The Funky Nassau exhibition that both artists participated in this past April held at the Nassauischer Kunstverein in Germany is an excellent example of this rebirth of Bahamian art. Garnering the attention of the national German press and that of international critics, the show was described as the “most exciting contribution” among the exhibitions being held as all of the artists involved “defy the traditional image of the island paradise.” In many ways their German experience was a catalyst for DEBRIS which was just a taste of what is going to be an incredibly active time for these two artists and Bahamian Art on the whole.