ARC Feature Portfolio: Ewan Atkinson’s ‘The Neighbourhood Report’

ewan portfolio

The online presence of Barbadian artist Ewan Atkinson’s latest body of work, ‘The Neighbourhood Report’, has been growing steadily, furthering the cryptic narrative of the group of characters he created.

Assistant to director at Fresh Milk and ARC Magazine Katherine Kennedy interviews the artist to shed some light on the background of the project, and about what to expect – or not expect – from the intimate and seemingly incriminating glimpses the audience is granted with every new update. Read more below:

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‘The Neighbourhood Report: A compendium of Neighbourhood esoterica presented in ordered disorder by various denizens.’ This is the verbose introduction the visitor is met with on the virtual home of Barbadian visual artist Ewan Atkinson’s latest body of work. The Neighbourhood Project has been a long-term investigation of Atkinson’s into the lives and surroundings of an assortment of fictional characters he has created, stemming enough from the artist’s life and influences to be relatable, while being shrouded in enough mystery to weave a fantastic tale of intrigue. Each online update to the series feels like it renders the viewer privy to the secrets of the Neighbourhood, almost putting the audience in a position of power when we learn about or catch the characters in incriminating moments of seeming indiscretion – but we cannot take that at face value, much like many of the updates fed through social media each day.

I ask Ewan if he can shed some light on the fascinating series – but not too much, of course. Just like the reader must decipher the introduction, the ‘ordered disorder’ is also left to the viewer to translate. The more you follow the scenes offered in the report, the more invested you become in its community; and the more acclimatized you become, the further you are thrown when appearances are not what they seem.

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Katherine Kennedy: Can you give us some background to the Neighbourhood Project, which has been an ongoing series of yours for a number of years?

Ewan Atkinson: The Neighbourhood started with a rather cartographic exploration of a fictional, ever-changing geographical space. It transformed quickly because my interest in narrative made a series of characters a mandatory addition.  I explored these characters in drawings and photographs. It was, and still is, a performative task. I ‘play’ each character with costume or image manipulation, my features are the building blocks for each character. I was interested in certain factors that influence the development of an individual persona: nationality, education, circumstance, concepts of self and of community. The deeds of this motley crew are culled from my own experiences, family anecdotes and a diverse range of cultural influences. This started as a way to reconcile whatever I had experienced with whatever I had read, watched or been told. It was about connection, about belonging somewhere, I wanted to see if anyone else was on the same page (or station). While these themes and influences are still present, lately I have become obsessed with additional elements: the production of meaning itself (why we impart significance and why we long to share it) and narrative as a device for deception or escapism, intentionally or otherwise.

com·pen·di·um:

a brief treatment or account of a subject, especially an extensive subject.

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KK: Please tell us how the previous manifestations of the project evolved into your current growing body of work, ‘The Neighbourhood Report’.

EA: There was a lot of time in-between one group of work and the next. If I wanted an audience to be able to understand the scope of the project, that what I had produced up to that point and whatever might come in the future was part of an intersecting web of narratives, I had to find a way to bind them. The Neighbourhood Report aims to do that. It supports the physical work.  Yes, it’s a sketchbook of sorts, but as far as narrative is concerned it’s prologue, newsflash, interlude, flashback, and appendix all at once. The report was also conceived as a personal exercise. I hadn’t been making anything on a regular basis. I had been tossing ideas around in my head for too long, thinking too much. I needed to release some pressure and force myself to let it out.

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KK: ‘The Neighbourhood Report’ is housed online, and utilizes sites like Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter. Do you see social media as an important part of this work? Would you consider the pieces leaving the virtual space and functioning in, for example, a gallery setting?

EA: Online dissemination was an obvious choice. I wanted to utilize the way in which images function on social media, they can appear and disappear with relative ease, but there is also an archival element, and of course with virtual networks the broadcast radius is indeterminable.  These observations are nothing new, it was just my turn to play with it. I love the idea that they are only digital, that the images don’t physically exist even though they appear as though they might. Their construction relies on illusion, an illusion that toys with the desire to covet an object, no one can hold them or own them. When people ask if they can buy one, I tell them they already have it.  Yet, I have not ruled out physical manifestations. My love of books makes a collection of beautifully bound volumes more than appealing, but for now, it’s up in the air.

es·o·ter·i·ca:

things understood by or meant for a select few; recondite matters or items.

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KK: A theme which seems to be present in many of these pieces is one of transgression, and how these transgressions are perceived by both the viewers and the characters themselves within the series. How significant is capturing these moments of indiscretion to the work?

EA: When a state of belonging is in question, transgression is always a crucial modifier. But what I’m really digging at are the factors that build impressions and suggest purpose, this lies somewhere between the personal and the communal. I try to present moments or pieces of information that are seemingly “pregnant”, informed by dubious context and ripe for picking (apart). There’s shame and shamelessness all over this place. Has a transgression indeed occurred?  What signifiers construct this impression?  Where does meaning lie (or lie)?  It is not clear whether there is significance or not; in fact, it is the very possibility of inherent significance that I attempt to obscure. In a broad sense, it’s a shameless exercise in absurdism. I allude to complex webs of meaning, and the references are diverse, but I’m also a big fan of red herrings. Who you gonna trust? ;)

Read the original review on ARC Magazine.

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Fresh Performance Chapter 3: Performance & Power

FRESH MILK in collaboration with Damali Abrams presents Chapter 3 in the Fresh Performance Project: Performance & Power

Power is a complex notion. There are so many systems of power that seem to control our destinies with so many groups feeling oppressed for various reasons.  In American society, which cultural critic bell hooks describes as ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’, power is held foremost by wealthy straight white men. The quality of the institutions we have access to such as healthcare, education, and employment are dependent upon our ability to appeal to those in power for whatever scraps they choose to share with the rest of us.

Thankfully there are many groups and individuals who continue to insist upon quality of life for all people, as there have been throughout history. Many artists utilize performance as a means to confront these systems and speak truth to power. However I think that Ewan Atkinson and Seyhan Musaoglu‘s work challenges systems of power in more subtle ways.

Ewan Atkinson’s work plays on the Caribbean tradition of masquerade. As in the custom of playing mas, Ewan intends to challenge the viewer to step out from the comfort zones of our day-to-day personas. Though he does not view this as a subversive act, I think that challenging our comfort zones is often a great catalyst for personal and collective transformation. Since Ewan’s use of performance is mostly in performative photographs, he is hesitant to call it performance art. Definitions and classifications can be very slippery as we saw in Chapter One of this documentary, Defining Performance. But for the purposes of The Fresh Performance Project, I am interested in art that includes performance of any kind.

Seyhan Musaoglu’s work explores the radical possibilities of sound art performance. I met Seyhan years ago when we both showed our work at Synthetic Zero events at Bronx Art Space. Later she included my work in SØNiK Fest,  a festival of sound, video, interactive media, and live performance that she curates.

Seyhan and I were scheduled to meet up for her interview during the beginning of the Occupy Gezi protests in Turkey. When she told me that we had to reschedule because she was attending daily solidarity protests outside of the Turkish consulate in midtown Manhattan, I decided to film her at a protest. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to document the performance of the power of the people. Though Seyhan is quick to point out that her art is separate from her activism, her work is rooted in feminism and deconstructing elitist art world ideas. She is also a classically trained guitarist who emphasizes the importance of learning the structure of music before experimenting with creating new sounds or noise art. It was especially exciting to be able to include two examples of Seyhan’s sound art as the soundtrack for this chapter of the documentary.

Damali Abrams

About Seyhan Musaoglu:

Seyhan Musaoglu is a multi-media artist whose work spans the fields of live performance, sound art, film and video, and 2-D media. Drawing inspiration from diverse sources ranging from science fiction imagery, to fashion, to modern dance choreography, her work investigates the gap between sound production and music composition, contemporary feminist theory, and the history of avant-garde filmmaking. She has been performing widely with collaborations celebrated internationally in genres of sound and experimental noise. She is also an innovative independent curator, and is the founder of the sound, new media & peformance festival {SØNiK}Fest. Seyhan holds an MFA from Parsons the New School for Design. Some of the venues her work has been presented at are: The Kitchen (NYC), New York Studio Gallery (NYC), Lit Lounge (NYC), Curta 8 Film Festival (Brazil), and Istanbul’s famed venue, Babylon. To see some of her work: http://www.seyhanmusaoglu.com/

About Ewan Atkinson:

Ewan Atkinson was born in Barbados in 1975. He received a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1998 and is currently pursuing an MA in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.  He has exhibited in regional and international exhibitions of Caribbean contemporary art, including most recently the 2010 Liverpool Biennial, “Wrestling with the image: Caribbean Interventions” at the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington DC, and “Infinite Islands” at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.  Atkinson has taught in the BFA program at the Barbados Community College for over a decade. He also works as a freelance illustrator and designer.

A Performative Moment – Presentation for Northern Kentucky University

On Thursday May 16th, FRESH MILK presented a programme to group of visiting students from the department of theatre and dance at Northern Kentucky University, USA. Presentations were made by Barbadian artists Ewan Atkinson, Sheena Rose and Shanika Grimes, local playwright, actor and artist in residence Matthew Kupakwashe Murrell, our two international resident artists Marla Botterill and Conan Masterson, and our off-site resident artist Damali Abrams who joined us via skype. All of the participants engaged in discussion with the students on performance, and the many forms it can take in the arts.

All photographs taken by Mark King.

FRESH MILK’s Presentation for the e-CREATE Barbados Symposium 2013

Annalee Davis introducing FRESH MILK

On Friday April 12, FRESH MILK gave a presentation to the visiting delegation of professionals involved in the Brazilian creative industry as part of the e-CREATE Barbados Cultural Industries Symposium and Showcase 2013. The symposium was a three and a half day initiative organized by the National Cultural Foundation (NCF), Barbados which featured seminars, discussions, and networking opportunities focused particularly on introducing local creatives to the thriving contemporary arts markets opening up in São Paulo, Brazil.

The visiting arts delegates included curator and cultural producer Bel Gurgel, head of marketing and sales at Galeria Millan in São Paulo Vivian Gandelsman, Program Director of Videobrasil Thereza Farkas and Founding Director of Urbanflo Creative Consultancy in the UK Jenni Lewin-Turner. They were greeted at the FRESH MILK studio to freshly baked banana bread and coffee, and then shown to the gallery space to view a few pieces on display before the presentation. Founder of The Fresh Milk Art Platform Annalee Davis introduced the organization, speaking about its mission to support production and excellence in the contemporary arts, notably by giving young emerging talent a nurturing space to create, make connections and circulate innovative ideas. She also shared information and images from FRESH MILK’s programming so far, and some of its upcoming plans.

A few artists who have been involved with FRESH MILK then had the opportunity to present their work, showcasing firsthand some of the local and regional talent being supported. Performance and visual artist Shanika Grimes, visual artist and Assistant to Director at FRESH MILK Katherine Kennedy, artist and photographer Janelle Griffith, artist, educator and board member of FRESH MILK Ewan Atkinson and photographer and fine artist Mark King, who recently completed his residency on the platform, all spoke articulately about their work, while Annalee introduced the work of artists Sheena Rose, Grenadian artist/activist Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe and Versia Harris in their absence. This diverse range of work from gifted artists rounded off  a morning which encompassed what FRESH MILK stands for:  building connections within an inclusive environment in the hopes of broadening our community, and creating opportunities for Caribbean talent in the global arts arena.

We would like to thank the NCF and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth for making this event possible, and all of the visiting delegates for coming out to see what Barbados has to offer. We are very excited about the possibilities which have arisen from e-CREATE Barbados, and look forward to strengthening the bonds formed with all of you through reciprocal exchanges in the future.

Photo credit: Mark King, 2013