Therese Hadchity Reviews Alberta Whittle’s ‘Hustle de Money – A Performance by Bertie aka Big Red aka General outta Glitter Zone’

The rude boy and the contemporary artist:
Alberta Whittle’s performance ‘Hustle de Money’

Performance art seems to be taking root in Barbados, and this can not the least be ascribed to the possibilities opened up by a private, non-commercial space like Fresh Milk. In late November, the platform thus hosted ‘Hustle de Money’ by Alberta Whittle (‘aka Big Red aka General outta Glitter Zone’).

The performance ostensibly responded to a familiar dilemma, not just of the socially engaged artist, but of every conscientious contemporary citizen: how do we negotiate the daily challenges to our personal sensibilities and residual morality? How do we, as women, respond to stereotyping, objectification, predatory behavior and what might be perceived as other women’s self-degradation? Are chauvinistic dancehall lyrics and lewd comments from the rude boy on the street inexcusable, ignorant or the self-defense of a wounded masculinity? And if it is – do we denounce it, patronizingly describe the ‘perpetrators’ as victims or withdraw from commenting on what we do not understand? In ‘Hustle de Money’ Alberta Whittle instead set out to ‘try it on’!

The event was preceded by the circulation of a number of witty ‘mock-posters’ in which the artist appeared as both male and female icons of popular culture. In sexually suggestive outfits and postures, Whittle thus advertised the event, but also exposed the fixation on sexuality, which infuses a range of contemporary industries, from music to tourism.

The performance itself, however, changed the tenor from that of benign satire to that of a deliberately contrived ritual. Whittle’s open-air stage was the front yard of the Fresh Milk main house and the audience was standing in a semicircle across from the front-patio, leaving enough space for the performance to unfold around a door-sized screen. In the background, presumably to set the scene, two small tv-screens ran looped video-sequences of male dancers.

For the 10-minute duration of ‘Hustle de Money’, the artist enacted movements and recited phrases suggestive of the over-wrought and fetishistic machismo of Caribbean ‘fete-’ and street-culture. Each sequence started and ended with the artist emerging from or returning to the cover of the screen, where she would adjust her costume (alternating between male and female identities: torn up black tights for the female, simple track-pants for the male).

The moves were caricatured – Whittle edged, inched, wriggled, wined and crept across the ‘floor’, but the incantatory enunciation of insistently cocky and provocative rude-boy (or -girl) phrases (‘Get gal easy ’, ‘I beat me chest, ‘cus I know I is the best’ or ‘Bad boy no good. Good boy no fun. I love my Mr. Wrong’) was without theatrical effort as if she was merely tasting the words or trying to appropriate another person’s mantra: the voice laid distance to (or vainly tried to evoke) the meaning of the words, but also put forward the possibility – and this was to my mind the biggest scoop of the performance – that such phrases, also in their regular usage, may serve the purpose of deflective self-distancing.

The morally neutral inflection of the verbal mimicry thus alternated with a less detached irony, which not only came across in the caricatured movements, but especially in the sequences involving an exchange of bananas between the artist and members of the audience. As a phallic symbol, the banana was an obvious reference to the cultivation and insecurities of extreme masculinity, but it also put the more scathing ‘monkey-metaphor’ on the table and thereby lost mimicry’s strategic advantage of ambiguity.

This apparent ambivalence induces the question of objectives: did the artist invite the audience along in an attempt at coming to terms with popular culture, or did she seek to ‘talk back’ and show chauvinism up to itself? And this is where certain problems arise, for in the latter case, the location of the performance is clearly mistaken, and, in the former, the message and its reception becomes circular – Whittle and her audience will be unified in their common uncertainties and redouble the distance to the ‘other’. Moreover, in the cerebral environment of a venue like Fresh Milk, an event of this nature always, in the final analysis, becomes its own subject-matter – and the danger is for the aesthetic to make a mere pretext of the message.

Whittle’s ‘Hustle de Money’ thus exposed the tragic predicament of artists, who – fervently and nobly – seek to reach beyond the confinement of their discipline, but invariably are returned to it. The critical subtext of this event was therefore not, after all, how we should understand or respond to rude-boy calls and hisses, but whether art, if it can only ever gesture towards problems it cannot transcend, must keep trying all the same?

Therese Hadchity, December 2012

All photographs © Dondré Trotman

Photographs from the Artist Talk with Anna Christina Lorenzen and Alberta Whittle

On Saturday December 15th, 2012 our resident artists Anna Christina Lorenzen and Alberta Whittle gave a presentation on both of their individual practices, in addition to their emerging collaborative projects. These new works in progress have seen them playing with the intersections they have found in their own work, as well as responding organically to new environments and surroundings.

Alberta Whittle is a Barbadian artist who returned home to take up a residency at Fresh Milk. Whittle’s work has undertaken some shifts to concentrate with greater intensity her research on hypersexuality in the Barbadian context. Focusing on the fete posters imagery of aspirational life styles and of men and women, she is interested in how these posters become a form of self-portraiture.

Anna Christina Lorenzen is a visual artist from Norway/Germany, who was a founding member of the studio collective, Bergen Atelier Gruppe (BAG). Through the historically and culturally universal medium of drawing, Lorenzen explores the seemingly never-ending cycle of visual representation of the body and the physical representation of the visual image of the body.

Lorenzen and Whittle met in Cape Town earlier in 2012 during a residency program at Greatmore Studios. They uncovered many parallels and meeting points in their individual practices. Whilst in South Africa, they began collaborating in generating performative situations and documenting these actions through photographic stills and video footage.

Thanks to Anna and Alberta for a very engaging talk, and we look forward to seeing how your work continues to evolve!

Artist Talk with Anna Christina Lorenzen and Alberta Whittle

On Saturday December 15th at 5:00pm, our two artists in residence Anna Christina Lorenzen and Alberta Whittle will be giving an artist talk at FRESH MILK. The presentation will consist of three segments:

Jeans vs Leggings

Alberta Whittle – Presentation on her most recent work at Fresh Milk

Alberta Whittle is a Barbadian artist who returned home to take up a residency at Fresh Milk. Whittle’s work has undertaken some shifts to concentrate with greater intensity her research on hypersexuality in the Barbadian context. Focusing on the fete posters imagery of aspirational life styles and of men and women, she is interested in how these posters become a form of self-portraiture.

Anna Christina Lorenzen

Anna Christina Lorenzen  – Presentation on her practice and her participation in the artist-initiated Norwegian art scene

Anna Christina Lorenzen is a visual artist from Norway/Germany, who was a founding member of the studio collective, Bergen Atelier Gruppe (BAG). Through the historically and culturally universal medium of drawing, Lorenzen explores the seemingly never-ending cycle of visual representation of the body and the physical representation of the visual image of the body.

Dutch Blue, 2012 - A collaborative work in progress by Anna Christina Lorenzen and Alberta Whittle

Collaboration

Lorenzen and Whittle met in Cape Town earlier this year during a residency program at Greatmore Studios. They uncovered many parallels and meeting points in their individual practices. Whilst in South Africa, they began collaborating in generating perfomative situations and documenting these actions through photographic stills and video footage. Discovering commonalities in their creative processes and concepts, they are developing a collaborative body of work at Fresh Milk.

 

The talk is free of cost, all are welcome!

 

FRESH MILK IX – Thursday November 29th at 7:00 pm

Kick-start your Independence weekend this Thursday by joining us at the Milking Parlour Studio forFRESH MILK IX, where we welcome the team from the IBB in Curaçao, consisting of co-foundersDavid Bade and Tirzo Martha, visiting Dutch artist Erik Habets, and three IBB students to the platform with a full night of showcasing talent.

Hustle de Money
7:30 pm

Our current artist in residence Alberta Whittle will perform ‘Hustle de Money –  a Performance by Bertie aka Big Red aka General outta Glitter Zone’ which explores the social construction of identity as defined through race, gender and sexuality.

Click on the image above to visit Alberta’s blog.

Presentation by the IBB Team
8:00 – 9:00 pm

The IBB Team will give a presentation, introcucing the organization, speaking about its role in Curaçao and by extension Caribbean society, as well as students Dominic SchmetzKristel Rigaud and Rashid Pieter speaking about their own practices. Visit the IBB website for more information.

FRESH Art Exhibition and Sale

Exhibited all night in the Studio, we have the work of young artists Alicia Alleyne, Evan Avery, Tracey Chan, Shanika Grimes, Versia Harris, Katherine Kennedy and Rodell Warner on sale.

With Independence Day and the Christmas season right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to celebrate local and regional talent by buying some unique artwork – whether it’s for yourself or someone else, this sale is thegift that keeps on giving, as you contribute to our culture and community by supporting upcoming artists.