Pecha Kucha: 6 mins 20 secs

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Producing, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on August 7, 2009

If you start with the sentence “My practice is focused by place,” then the next sentence that logical follows is “I’ve been working in … Ireland, Palestine, Siberia.” Whereas if you start with the sentence “My practice is focused by context,” then the next logical sentence can be any one of a very large number of things… [more]

This text and the associated slides were presented at the Pecha Kucha held at the RSA in Edinburgh.

Pecha Kucha Invite

What am I reading?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on September 1, 2007

The Paradox of Plenty, T L Karl University of California Press, 1997

As I understand it so far, the resource curse is an articulation of the problems faced by those parts of the developing world apparently blessed by an abundance of raw materials – in particular oil. In these parts of the world, the Niger Delta being a good example, the population consistently suffers.

Terry Lynn Karl’s The Paradox of Plenty articulates a chain of consequences taking the oil boom of 1973-74 as a starting point. This runs (very roughly) as follows:

1.  Context – Oil is property of State – results in lack of distinction between State political role and State economic role.

2.  Context – Oil sector is unpredictable – prices fluctuate.

3.  Price of petroleum quadruples and then doubles again in 1979-80.

4.  Action – This results in a massive increase in government expenditure attempting to make a ‘great leap forward’ – ambitious and expensive, state financed and focused on industrial development.

5.  Thinking – Reserves are understood to be limited and its necessary to move quickly.

6.  Thinking – Assumption that value of oil would appreciate if left in ground.

7.  Action – Increased foreign borrowing to facilitate the ‘great leap forward’.(by 1980 key capital deficient oil exporters combined debt $100 billion, rising to $275 billion in 1994).

8.  Consequences – Expands jurisdiction of State including into industrial production.

9.  Consequences – Increases private sector investment funded by increased credit and money supply.

10.  Consequences – Wage levels increase beyond increase in productivity

11.   Consequences – Influx of foreign workers and other demographic changes including urbanisation.

12.  Consequences – Massive imports of luxury goods – domestic production cannot keep up with demand.

13.  Consequences – Improved public welfare – middle class grows quickly.

14.  Context – Skewed relationship between the regulatory, extractive and distributive functions of the State. Spending has become the primary mechanism of Stateness, as money increasingly us substituted for authority. There is a consistent lack of development of a tax regime and fiscal relationship with the public.

15.  Consequences – economy overheats, State expenditure surpasses oil revenues (example the combined current accounts of the cluster of ‘capital deficient oil exporters’ went from 1974 $24 billion surplus to 1978 $14 billion deficit).

16.  Consequences – Budget deficits.

17.  Consequences – Exchange rates appreciate – currencies are overvalued on the basis of the oil sector. Cheapens imports, undermines local production, leads to dependency.

18.  Consequences – Public sector becomes inefficient through overloaded infrastructure. Macro industrial projects overrun, are postponed and cancelled.

19.  Consequences – Inflation although high is not as high as other developing countries.

20.  Action – To counteract increased reliance on imported food, price controls and import restrictions on, in particular, the agricultural sector.

21.  Action – Increased subsidy for low income groups and unprofitable firms.

22.  Thinking – Politically impossible to reduce subsidy on economic downturn.

Corruption, one of the persistent issues, occurs because of the tendency to use the buy support using the resource rather than winning it through the achievement of programmes benefiting the population.

What is interesting about the ‘resource curse’ is that it is clearly created by the developed world’s massive demand for, in particular, oil, and other specific raw materials. This has one obvious and one more discrete consequence.

The obvious consequence is that it directly links our actions in the UK and other developed countries with the state of affairs in, for instance the Niger Delta. They would not be ‘cursed’ if we did not have an unlimited appetite for their raw materials.

The second and slightly more discrete aspect of the linkage is that the exploitation of resources in places like the Niger Delta by international corporations is wholly directed towards the efficient extraction and transportation of those resources away. The resource curse basically means that corporations in the developed world only operate in places like the Niger Delta in order to extract oil and ship it to customers in the ‘West’. They have no customers, and therefore no concern with the populations in places like the Delta. All the skilled staff, all the shareholders – all their key publics – are elsewhere. Inevitably therefore anyone who isn’t a customer doesn’t exist.

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What am I reading?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on July 1, 2007
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Nature and purpose of art

Posted in Civics, Texts by chrisfremantle on June 11, 2007

“You see in this country for instance (Britain) writers are not involved in the sort of things I’m doing, because it’s a much more settled society, writers write to entertain, they raise questions of individual existence, the angst of the individual. But for a Nigerian writer in my position you can’t go into that. Literature has to be combative, you cannot have art for art’s sake. The art must do something to transform the lives of a community, of a nation, and for that reason you see literature has a different purpose altogether in that sort of society – completely different from here….

And a writer doesn’t earn money in Nigeria, because although you have a 100 million people, most of them cannot read and write there, so literature has a different purpose. So here I am, I’ve written 22 books, I’ve produced 150 episodes of a T.V. programme which everybody enjoys, but I’m poor!

But that is of no interest to me. What is of interest to me is that my art should be able to alter the lives of a large number of people, of a whole community, of an entire country, so that my literature has to be completely different, the stories I tell must have a different sort of purpose from the artist in the western world. And it’s not now an ego trip, it is serious, it is politics, it is economics, it’s everything, and art in that instance becomes so meaningful, both to the artist and to the consumers of that art.”
Ken Saro-Wiwa from ‘Without Walls’ Interview

What am I reading?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on May 29, 2007

Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People, Heinemann

“As I stood in one corner of the vast tumult waiting for the arrival of the Minister I felt intense bitterness welling up in my mouth. Here were silly, ignorant villagers dancing themselves lame and waiting to blow off their gunpowder in honour of one of those who had started the country off down the slopes of inflation. I wished for a miracle, for a voice of thunder, to hush this ridiculous festival and tell the poor contemptible people one or two truths. But of course it would be quite useless. They were not only ignorant but cynical. ” p2

What art have I seen?

Posted in Exhibitions, Producing, Sited work by chrisfremantle on May 16, 2007

What have I read?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on May 16, 2007
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The economics and geopolitics of the abolition

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on May 15, 2007

The wider historical context of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade by Hakim Adi and published on Pambazuka

This essay provides and alternative analysis for the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1807 It addresses the role of Africans and working class people, and re-describes the history highlighting economic and geopolitical motivations of the ruling classes in Britain.

What would Ken do?

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on April 16, 2007
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Variant Lauch

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on March 17, 2007

Remember Saro-Wiwa

Posted in CV, Producing, Sited work by chrisfremantle on November 10, 2006

Remember Saro-Wiwa, the Bus, the first Living Memorial by Sokari Douglas Camp

I’m working with PLATFORM on this major public art project.  I’ve been involved since July and this is the day of the official launch.

Producing and Project Managing > Remember Saro-Wiwa

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Sokari Douglas Camp – Sweeping

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions, Sited work by chrisfremantle on September 9, 2006

Sculptures by Sokari Douglas Camp at
Camberwell College of Arts, London
26 July – 13 September 2006

Nigeria comes to London. Well actually Nigeria and London have been together for many years. Sokari Douglas Camp CBE! Sokari Douglas Camp is an artist, and more precisely a sculptor. Sokari Douglas Camp lives in London. Sokari Douglas Camp was born in Nigeria, and more precisely in the Niger Delta. We need to be precise to avoid confusion.

The exhibition Sweeping is a group of recent work across a range of scales.

Positioned on the forecourt of the College, and visible to passers on the Peckham Road, is Asoebi Women (2005), made as part of the Africa05 season and shown at the British Museum. Of course its also the eponymous ‘water feature’ for Ground Force – thus essentially and at once Nigerian and British.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in Purple Hibiscus, describes the women at Christmas in rural Nigeria: “They all looked alike, in ill-fitting blouses, threadbare wrappers, and scarves tied around their heads.” (p91) This sheds a light across the work, one confirmed by Sokari in the text in the catalogue. Poverty and making do are key.

Inside the Gallery are two larger than life size works – a pair of figures, Accessories Worn in the Delta (2006), and a single figure Teasing Suicide (2004). Various other smaller scale works are also included – at least one of these is a maquette, but all stand on their own.

Sokari Douglas Camp works in welded metal. She is immensely skilled as well as provocative and reflective in her work. She addresses Britain and Nigeria, Peckham Road and Port Harcourt. The exhibition is full of life and death.

The statement offered with the exhibition illuminates this.

‘Sweeping is about management, order, facing up to the truth. As we sweep, we whisper things to our chores – I think I do that with my sculpture. I work on things that disturb me, take ordinary experience and turn it into a surreal picture. But life is surreal.’ (Press Release)

But this statement is more interesting if you read it in the catalogue. It goes on:

‘…and women take it in their stride. We tolerate the most extraordinary things.’ (Catalogue)

The last statement, missing from the press release, adds a completely new, feminist perhaps, dimension. It becomes less ‘art world’, less distant, more present, more personal.

The process of making sculpture is about telling, or perhaps admitting, the truth. What results from telling the truth as you make art is a new understanding – a heightened awareness.

The Bus, the maquette for the Living Memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa states ‘I accuse the oil industry of the genocide of the Ogoni’ Its a very unsubtle statement. Other works in the exhibition open up the personal psychological experience in much richer ways. The Bus speaks to the public shared space. It asks “Which bus are you on?”

The figure, Teasing Suicide, that confronts you as you enter the gallery is holding an AK47 pointing in its mouth. I interpreted it as a female figure. I interpreted the pink paint covering the head and shoulders as the consequences of squeezing the trigger. But the work is also one of the most beautiful. Sokari Douglas Camp is immensely skilled at working with metal, and the imagery cut into the body of the figure is just stunning.

The large pair of figures, also I think female, entitled Accessories Worn in the Delta, are loaded down with AK47s and ammunition. They face each other, but they are like caryatids rather than in a personal confrontation.

One of the smaller works, the Coca-cola Ladies (2004) also is a curious configuration. A group of perhaps eight tall figures of women surround a slightly more vulnerable figure in the centre of the group. The figures are made from mild steel, the head dresses red, crushed and cut coke cans. The eight are linking arms, and the whole assemblage is moving purposefully. There is almost a praetorian sense to the group. Making sculpture out of found materials such as coke and beer cans has become a ‘traditional’ activity in Africa, but the psychological strength of this work is huge.

Sokari Douglas Camp’s work is infused by her cultural inheritance. There is no possibility of failing to recognise the colours, patterns and shapes in the work. The short film Sweeping, perhaps just a ‘study’ of the idea, highlights the action focusing on repetition and pattern in the dust. In the background is a house. The front wall of the house made from concrete blocks pierced with a simple repeating pattern – you know – the sort also used for garden walls. In that, as much as in the patterns left in the dust by sweeping, you can see the importance of the cutting and drawing through the steel.

Each work contains a psychologically complex situation – standing, protecting, confronting, crying, killing – genocide. They are personal responses to human experience. My instinct is that the human experience is rooted in Nigeria, and it stands as a challenge to London – Nigeria is conflicted, but Nigeria is strong. It also asks the person in Peckham “Have you experienced anything like this?” to which the answer is probably “Yes.” Just as the Bus, and PLATFORM’s whole remember saro-wiwa project, aims to make what happens in the Niger Delta a reality to people in London, so all Sokari’s work seems explore the idea that ‘ We tolerate the most extraordinary things’.

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