Friday, August 21, 2015

Moroccan Writers Abdelaziz Errachidi and Mbarek Sryfi at VCCA

Moroccan writers Abdelaziz (“Aziz”) Errachidi and Mbarek Sryfi are currently in residence at VCCA working primarily on the translation of Aziz’s second novel, The Kitchen of Love, which he finished when he was at VCCA in 2011. “I was in a bad situation last time I was here. So I didn’t move; I just stuck at my table and worked for 20 days and I finished the novel and sent it to my editor from Virginia.” (Aziz came to VCCA in 2011 as part of Beirut 39, a collaborative project between, Beirut UNESCO's World Book Capital 2009 celebrations, Banipal magazine and the British Council among others that identified 39 of the most promising Arab writers under the age of 39.) Unfortunately, during that visit Aziz was seriously injured in a car accident near Charlottesville. He was in the ICU for days and then in the hospital for weeks, returning to VCCA to complete his residency in a back brace. Despite this, he remained in a great mood the entire time and today, brushes off the incident.)

Aziz grew up near the Sahara Desert in Zagora, Morocco, and now lives in Agadir, while Mbarek, a poet, short story writer and lecturer in Arabic at the University of Pennsylvania, lives in this country.

Being an author and a poet makes Mbarek particularly well suited for the responsibility of capturing the distinctive language that marks an author’s voice. As Mbarek explains, “You’re not just making photocopies, you’re really writing a new version of what you’re translating. I call it ‘transforming’ because it’s not just taking it from one language to another language.”

Translation is very much a collaboration between the two writers. “It’s important for me to know the person whose work I’m translating,” Mbarek says. “As a Moroccan, I also have to get it right. An American could possibly get away with mistakes of nuance because nobody’s going to question him. With me, I’m in the spotlight. I also bear another responsibility because I want Moroccan literature to come to America. And, I want it to come the right way.”

Mbarek’s endeavor is made all the more challenging because Arabic is such a complex language. “There’s a lot of talking, a lot of sentences and synonyms. By contrast, English is very straightforward. I have to make sure I am being true to the author’s intention while building an accurate image in English”

“I write with my eyes,” says Aziz whose inspiration is the desert. “All my short stories and novels are about the desert. There aren’t a lot of other Moroccan writers who focus on this.” Writers in the Arab world have a good status. “That’s historically that’s been the case, says Mbarek. “Arabs have been writers since the beginning of history.”

With that long established history and the welcome escape from day to day travails their work provides, it’s no wonder writers have a powerful voice in the Arab world. And, according to Aziz and Mbarek, if you are a bestselling author of literature, your words have much more import, than say, that of a politician.

While on call for Mbarek, Aziz is also working on his third novel, which, inspired by the events of the past three or four years, is a story about love and revolution in the Arab world.

Mbarek has translated poetry and fiction from French and Arabic. He has published in CELAAN, Metamorphoses, World Literature Today, mead magazine and is currently a contributor to Banipal. Two of his publications were published with Syracuse University Press in Fall 2014, Monarch of the Square, an anthology of short stories by Muhammad Zafzaf and Arabs and the Art of Storytelling by Kilito. Two other manuscripts are under consideration: The Blueness of the Evening, a collection of poems by Hassan Najmi with Texas University Press and The Elusive Fox a novel by Muhammad Zafzaf with Syracuse University Press.

In addition to The Kitchen of Love, (2013), Aziz has published: Alley of Death (2006) Childhood of a Frog (2005), Nomads on the Cliff (2006), Sands of Pain (2007) and Foreigners at my Table (2009). He has received many awards, Union of Moroccan Writers’ Prize for Childhood of a Frog (2005), “Acharka” Arabic Prize in the Emirates for Nomads on the Cliff (2006), Sakyat Essaw Prize for his short story, “The Basket of Colors” (2006) and the Ibn batouta prize for “Sinbad of Sahara” (2014).

The Moroccan Ministry of Culture sponsored Aziz’s travel to the United States for this fellowship.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

April Vollmer Publishes "Japanese Woodblock Printing Workshop"

Artist and printmaker April Vollmer, one of the most distinguished Japanese woodblock printing practitioners and instructors in the West, has just published Japanese Woodblock Printing Workshop, a comprehensive guide to this age-old art form.

Revered for its non-toxicity, use of handmade materials, Japanese woodblock printing (mokuhanga) is also easily employed with other printmaking techniques.

A practical and inspirational guide to the discipline, Japanese Woodblock Printing Workshop combines April’s comprehensive knowledge of the Japanese printmaking practice and tradition with instruction. 

Examples of a diverse array of prints by leading contemporary artists in the field, as well as April’s own work are featured in the book.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Kristina Borg's Art Practice Empowers Community in Milan Neighborhood

Kristina Borg’s artistic practice focuses on public space and collaborations with communities. Originally from Malta, Kristina has been living in Milan for the past three years while completing her master’s degree. While in Milan, Kristina’s interest was piqued by a neighborhood called Isola (island), which seemed like such an anomaly in the middle of a major city. “I come from an Island,” Kristina says. “When I think of an island, I think of the horizon all around which is visible on the coast. Inland, there is no horizon or at least it’s a different kind of horizon.”

Kristina’s project centers on the inhabitants of La Casa Verde (the Green House) and the neighboring apartments. Isola was a traditionally working class area and home to a number of artists. In recent years, the residents have watched their neighborhood fall victim to “the arrogance of urban conventional planning that interferes with one’s intimate and private space. In 2005, a green lung of a green space around these residential structures was tragically destroyed so that the headquarters of the Lombardy region and its 160m-tall office building, the Palazzo Lombardia could be built.”

Kristina began her project by setting up a series of workshops with residents arranged around three themes:

1. My bed
You can’t get much more personal than your bed and in a very real sense a bed is like an island. Kristina explains: “While working on this project and reflecting on the term ‘island’ I happened to be reading Species of Spaces and Other Pieces by Georges Perec. In the chapter entitled ‘The Bed’ I came across Michel Leiris’s quote “lit = île”. As Perec explains in the footnote, this literally means “bed=island”; for Leiris the similar sound of the two French words has somehow determined the closeness in their meaning. I found this similarity particularly interesting and the first workshop focused on the term ‘bed’.”

2. Island
This second phase referred directly to the history and the urban transformation of the Isola district itself, with a special focus on the Green House.

3. Outside the window
What did we use to see outside the window? What did we smell? What did we hear? What about the present? What do you see? And in the future, what would you like to see?

The workshops resulted in a series of works, including two performance pieces. In the first, When the Greens Meet (2014) Kristina and a group of residents of the Green House walked from the Isola Pepe Verde (the community garden which the neighborhood managed to create and secure in an agreement with the local council) through one of the sections of Isola that has suffered the most due to the gentrification process. With them they carried a spool of red ribbon that they unwound, attaching it to lampposts and traffic signs on the way to the Green House situated a half mile away. When they arrived at the house, the ribbon transformed itself into a long red banner (reminiscent of the red flag used during revolutions when people moved out to the street to take back their city, e.g.: the Paris Commune), which was unfurled from the fourth floor terrace. 

“Last summer I took time for reflection,” says Kristina. “This was no longer the point of arrival; it’s actually the point of departure for the next piece. I could see there was a lot of availability and the urge to do something with public space. Basically, the residents of the Green House want to cancel the perception people have of them—referring to them as ‘these poor people remain entrapped by the skyscrapers’. They’re fed up with this idea and they actually want to transform the building into a monument of dignity, which has resisted all the transformation surrounding it.

“In November, I continued working with them and instead of focusing just on the Green House, I wanted to include the people who live in the neighboring streets forming the perimeter of the Lombardy headquarters. I created a questionnaire for them to share their narratives and ideas. One questionnaire was returned to me with two photos slipped inside to explain to me the view they had once seen outside their window before the skyscrapers were built. It was a beautiful vista of the Alps.”

For Costruendola Insieme! (Building it Together!), 2015, her second Isola performance piece, Kristina wrote a narrative, gleaned from the questionnaires, and this was also presented through a set of eight illustrations. She then drew details of these with pen and ink on pieces of material cut from the red banner used in When the Greens Meet. She made 100 of these “holy pictures” which assumed the role of religious relics and were distributed to people inviting them to the Green House during the first weekend in May. She chose this particular weekend because it was the official inauguration of the International Expo taking place in Milan. This was significant because all the projects: the demolition of the green space, the construction of the skyscrapers, the heliport (which still remains the current struggle of the residents) were all planned with the Expo in mind.

Once at the house, people could listen to the narrative, see the illustrations and get a complete picture of the story. There was also a model of the house that obtained the status of a temple: a shrine to host and protect the sacred soul of the Green House. Attendees were invited to take the talking-temple-house for a walk while listening to the narrative to see the references made to the district. An impressive 45 people showed up for the event.

Kristina’s process, which incorporates the use of evidential photographs, maps and other data is reminiscent of the lengths taken by a legal team for a complicated court case. And in a sense, her work on the Isola neighborhood is exactly that. It couldn’t be more appropriate to use this kind of “fire” to fight the fire of bureaucratic urban renewal.

In looking at these fully realized dissertations on civic practice, one is left quite breathless by Kristina’s supreme competence as organizer and archivist. But there is also a potent element of fantasy and surrealism in the work that transcends all the information. For example, the red banner obtains the status of the sacred soul of the building and the unfurling represents the diffusion of the soul of the house into public space. This haunting, raw emotion is central to Kristina’s approach. It imparts depth to this important work that gives voice “to those who never give up but continue to defend their rights and the value of the community from the privilege of the few”, as Kristina claims in the dedication of her narrative.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Richard Blanco Reads his Poem at Formal U.S. Embassy Opening in Havana

VCCA Fellow and Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco took on what he described in an NPR interview as in some ways “the easiest and also the hardest” assignment of his career writing the poem “Matters Of The Sea” or “Cosas Del Mar” in honor of the official reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Richard, who is no neophyte when it comes to important state occasions, having been the inaugural poet at President Obama's second inauguration was at the embassy to read the poem.

Blanco’s work has appeared in
The Nation, Indiana Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Triquarterly Review, and several anthologies including, The Best American Poetry 2000, Breadloaf Anthology and American Poetry: The Next Generation. He has been featured on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and at various conferences and venues including the Miami Book Fair, the Southern Writers Conference, and the poetry recipient of a Florida Artist Fellowship. A builder of bridges and poems, Blanco received both a bachelors of science degree in Civil Engineering and a Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Florida International University. Blanco was Assistant Professor and Poet in Residence at Central Connecticut State University where he taught Creative Writing and U.S. Latina/o Literature.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Peter Snoad’s New Play, "The Draft" to Debut in September

Peter Snoad’s new play, The Draft will be at the Hibernian Hall, a multicultural performing arts center, in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood from September 10-20 where Peter is playwright in Residence.

Using the stories of real people as described in Tom Weiner's book Called To Serve, Stories of Men and Women Confronted by the Vietnam War Draft, Peter deftly presents the terrible dilemma confronting millions of young Americans and the choices they made which changed their lives forever.

The drama is interwoven with music, archival photos, video clips and poetry. “Together, they give voice to the passion, the anguish, the joy, the inspiration, and the intense personal and collective struggles of a generation,” says Peter.

Peter devoted his VCCA fellowship to working on
The Draft, organizing a reading of an excerpt of the play for the VCCA community when he was here.

This year marks the 50
th anniversary of the arrival of the first U.S. combat troops in Vietnam and the 40th anniversary of the end of what the Vietnam War.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Barbara Bernstein's "Drawing a Breath" featured in Essay Collection

A collection of ten essays, Drawing in the Twenty-First Century: The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary Practice (Ashgate, 2015) edited by Elizabeth A. Pergam, a professor in Sotheby’s Master’s program, examines how drawing has been defined over time and how its particular qualities (line, immediacy, reticence of materials) have great appeal to contemporary artists who have moved the medium way beyond paper and pencil.

The diverse group of artists sited includes Monika Grzymala, Sophie Calle, Andrea Bowers, Ellsworth Kelly and VCCA’s own Artist in Residence Barbara Bernstein who also wrote the essay, "Drawing a Breath" in which, she proposes “that we consider drawing as a phenomenological way of being in the world, a philosophical investigation of experience.”

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pat Zalisko's Pivotal Residency

This just in from Pat Zalisko (Pat has donated her Mapping San Angelo March 2015  (Pictured above) to VCCA.): 

Have you ever been in a place and time, and realized then that it was a pivotal moment? 

Mapping San Angelo March 2015 represents that instant for me. 

Between March and April of this year, I participated in a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an international program with a breathtaking compound in Amherst, Virginia.

This fellowship and residency included an invitation to study for a month at VCCA's compound in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was given my own private, nicely outfitted studio—one filled with light, abundant space and lots of inviting blank walls.

On this idyllic old farm, all of our meals were catered, our rooms were perfectly equipped, and I was joined by supportive and creative visual artists, writers, poets and performing artists from around the globe. If we weren't creating new and exciting work and only if they chose to do so, the fellows inspired one another with our respective work product. There was no external pressure to produce, no intrusions from the outside world. We were in a sanctuary and had each been given the gift of time and space. 

I attended this residency with many fascinating and well-known people, at a time of year when I was able to witness this gorgeous, ancient compound transform with the seasons. With labor and deliberation, my own work took a shift. I slowed down, reflecting on our world, what we and nature had created and pondered why.