Jeff Mills: ‘These visions aren’t supposed to come from black guys from Detroit’

[Jakarta, LTTW] The majority of urban youngsters have a big interest in night-life clubbing and willing to spend their time and money on partying on weekend. Sing and dance to the electronic dance music, excessive use of alcoholic drinks and drugs are like a compulsory lifestyle. It is not surprising at all if people and media talk about it. From the profile of the hottest DJ, review of the top dance club around the city, to the exciting experience from each of party goers. While those issues become trending topic, very few people discuss about the story behind the scene.

This time Pop music mostly goes along with electronica elements since EDM (Electronic Dance Music) has gained much larger audience if we compare it to other music. This condition come up with the fast growing in technology, also it has much to do with the spread wide of software developments especially in audio and music production software.

But, are we aware that electronic dance music has exist more than 30 years ago? Young African Americans started it around 1980’s in Chicago and Detroit that we all know today with Chicago House and Detroit Techno.

Detroit techno has a unique value and the scene had has obtain several figures that influence many people and others. As we know some of prominent figures of Detroit techno are Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Carl Craig and Jeff Mills whose profession are DJ and producers.

The consistency and seriousness on doing the art activities reveals that they have departed from it is predecessors; where in the past time Detroit city had gave many musical outputs, such as “The Motown Sound”. The effect of the hard works they made to the city is to reborn the metropolis where before there were a lot of abandon buildings and places at anywhere in Metro Detroit, yet it has much problems in the society as well as gangsters war. The result is magnificent, now Detroit Techno is a flagship of the big city and the musicians earn from what they did.

Then again, it is not a finished job. They are facing the new problem as we speak and will be facing increasing challenges ahead. Be a better artist and make this scene going up to the next level, it’s such a dream that they want to achieve in the future. For instance we can see Jeff Mills’s effort that is what he did in his project together with Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra (To see the performance you can watch the video below).

Exhibitionist 2 is released on 25 September; Jeff Mills plays Light from the Outside World with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican on 24 October

Ai Weiwei exhibition at Royal Academy of Art, London

[Jakarta, LTTW] In this century the World is in great need of great figures who carry upon them the great values, and in our point of view Ai Weiwei is one such appropriate figure. Regarding his work, the Chinese-born Ai Weiwei is an architect, fine artist, and also a democracy activist; and it is his democracy activism that leads him in his artistic vision, confronting the local government while they hold on to their Communist ideology. Ai Weiwei’s activism reminds us of our recent “Your Thoughts” discussion topic on Sovereignty and Humanitarian Intervention, an issue that continues to be relevant today.

One prominent project that involve Ai Weiwei was the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing. He has regretted helping the Communist government to complete the project, as it gives an impression that the stadium project shows to the World that China has high-quality, modern infrastructure; he has later disavowed his involvement in the design of the stadium. He has also been detained and placed under house arrest and under intensive surveillance under the Chinese government for his protest of the Chinese government’s handling of the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan, China. Ai Weiwei has stated that the Government has not been honest in their disclosure about the victim data of the earthquake, most of whom were children/students. In connection to this catastrophe Ai Weiwei has held art installation projects overseas particularly in Europe.

"Remembering" - installation art by Ai Wei Wei
“Remembering” – installation art by Ai Weiwei

To better understand Ai Weiwei as an artist we also recommend watching the documentary film, “Never Sorry”, created by Alison Klayman, which rather clearly conveys what he was doing at the time.


Despite his controversial actions, Ai Weiwei is very brave in his decisions to push boundaries; even as his Motherland has gone so far as to demolish his art studio in Shanghai, China; and even after the Beijing government on another occasion given him State-sponsored rewards. Ai Weiwei continue to be a prolific figure, never giving up under the constraints that oppress his life, he continues the artistry of his works, driven by political context while being aesthetically and visually marvelous.

And now he has a huge number of worldwide followers, all inspired by his life and what he has done for the sake of the minorities and the oppressed. However this World has become sorely lacking figures who has such a high level of commitment, and we need more people like him to exist in order to make a better future.

(EU, FZ)

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei show at Royal Academy to house heaviest sculpture

BBC News, 16 June 2015

A monumental work by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei will be the heaviest sculpture ever shown at the Royal Academy of Arts. The 90-tonne installation, entitled Straight, is made from steel rods from buildings damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. It forms part of a major retrospective of Ai’s work opening at the Academy in London in September. The show is being mounted in Ai’s absence, since he cannot leave China.

Following the Sichuan quake, Ai collected some 200 tonnes of twisted steel rods destined for recycling. They were straightened by hand in his studio in Beijing and returned to the form they would have been in before they were bent by the earthquake. The resulting artwork is described by the RA as “a sober monument to the victims of the earthquake”.

In a statement, Ai said he was “honoured” to have the chance to exhibit at the Royal Academy.

“I’m very happy to be a part of it. This exhibition is my first major survey in London, a city I greatly admire. The selected artworks reflect my practice in recent years, and also include new works made specifically for this show.”

Among those new pieces is Remains (2015) – a porcelain work that replicates a group of bones excavated at the site of a labour camp that operated under Communist leader Mao Zedong in the 1950s. Adrian Locke, co-curator of the exhibition said: “Working with Ai Weiwei has presented us with new challenges but his ability to comprehend space, even without having experienced it first-hand, and the clarity of his vision for the use of that space in relation to his work has been revelatory.” The RA said exhibition was developed in close collaboration with Ai, who “virtually navigated the spaces” from his studio in Beijing.

Ai used a similar method when he helped but together an exhibition of his work at Blenheim Palace last year. The artist has not been able to leave China since his passport was confiscated four years ago. An outspoken critic of the Chinese government, Ai was detained for almost three months without charge in 2011. After he was released, he was accused of tax evasion and fined 15m yuan ($2.4m, £1.5m). As part of his bail conditions, the Chinese authorities imposed a foreign travel ban on the artist.

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy runs from 19 September – 13 December 2015.

News article originally published at the BBC News Website.

Struggle: James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas

Last August, the 80WSE Gallery of New York held an exhibition of sculptures by James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas. Born in 1926 in Missisippi, USA, James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas was a self-taught African-American sculpture artist and Delta Blues musician who mostly lived in poverty and underappreciated in the middle of ongoing racism. He died in 1993, this exhibition is the ‘largest ever dedicated to his art’.

The History of Blues itself greatly inspiring because the suffering and limitation becomes a power to create, and makes art as an important tool to define certain values and manifest various of struggles and hopes within society. Like Van Gogh, what James Son Ford Thomas creates in his sculptures and his music proved what is “Good Art” and what is an “Artist”.

Be seen or unseen, big or small Son Ford Thomas already succeed to performed his roles as an artist, musician, and individual within his society. Can we reflect what he went through, what he felt, and what he did?



Review: Art Carved From Inequality by James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas

by Roberta Smith, July 9, 2015, for the New York Times

“James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas: The Devil and His Blues” at New York University’s 80WSE Gallery is an inspirational show about the perseverance of art, and the tragedy of inequality. But it is also a thing of joy: It brings the work of a wonderful and underappreciated artist to the fore.

It presents about 100 small, often painted clay sculptures by James (Son Ford) Thomas, a self-taught African-American artist. Born in 1926 in Eden, Miss., an upland village in Yazoo County, he lived his adult life in nearby Leland, Miss., mostly in severe poverty, on the Delta plain. He died in 1993.

This exhibition is the largest ever devoted to his art, which made a rare New York appearance in “When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South” at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2014.

The sculptures depict a partial universe of animals, fish and birds; tiny occupied coffins; tableaus of everyday life; and some very striking skulls. Most numerous are the heads and portrait busts of people real, imagined and presidential (Washington and Lincoln).

The show has been organized by Jonathan Berger, 80WSE’s director, assisted by Mary Beth Brown and Jessica Iannuzzi Garcia, graduate students at the university. It is arranged evocatively by theme in three galleries; big platforms bring everything almost to eye level or, more often, face to face. It is a must see.

Tall, lean and ascetic-looking, Thomas is better known as a singer and guitarist in another largely self-taught genre, Delta blues, although his fame is limited mostly to dedicated blues fans. Under the name Son Thomas (he also used James Son Thomas), he released his first solo album in 1981.

He was in many ways a classic country bluesman, favoring acoustic over electric and usually recording alone, accompanied only by his guitar. But he sang with unusual sweetness and ease, more Brownie McGhee and Mississippi John Hurt than Robert Johnson or Lightnin’ Hopkins. His small sculptures can initially seem rawer than his music, but they soften and complicate emotionally.

Thomas and his wife, Christine, raised 10 children on next to nothing. He worked as a gravedigger, fixed motors, painted houses and sold his sculptures. There was slight relief after 1967, when the folklorist, scholar and writer William R. Ferris sought out Thomas in Leland.

At the time, Mr. Ferris, who would later lead the National Endowment for the Humanities under Bill Clinton and is now a professor at the University of North Carolina, was making field recordings that helped prove that Delta blues was a thriving, not a dying folk art form as some believed.

Thomas had been refusing to record after a bad experience with a local music company, but he and Mr. Ferris, a Mississippi native, became friends, and he relented. Six tracks of his songs appeared on “The Blues Are Alive and Well,” a 1970 album of Mr. Ferris’s field recordings, along with tracks by Lee Kizart, a blues pianist, and Lovey Williams, a guitarist. In 1973, Thomas traveled to Yale, where Mr. Ferris was then teaching, and gave his first performance outside of Mississippi.

This exhibition resonates with his music. Next to a beguiling self-portrait bust, his 1983 LP “Highway 61 Blues” plays on a turntable in a kind of analog loop (it’s flipped by the gallery’s receptionist as each side finishes). Two short documentaries also feature his music. One, shot by Mr. Ferris, also documents the family’s bare-bones existence.

On voice-over, Christine Thomas speaks of going to work in the cotton fields when she was 9 and marrying at 14. On film we see her fixing dinner, assisted by probably one of her daughters, who opens several cans of peaches with a large knife. It is as if Walker Evans had trained a movie camera, not a still one, on black people, instead of white, and had asked them to talk about their lives. But it’s heartbreaking to realize that Mr. Ferris’s film is from 1969, three decades after Evans.

Thomas made sculpture almost as long as he made music, from an early age. When he was not yet 10, an uncle taught him a few chords on the guitar and then how to gather and mold “gumbo,” an unusually intractable clay native to the region. He seems to have been gripped by both modes of expression. He stole practice time on his uncle’s guitar and sneaked out to juke joints, while living with his grandparents, who were raising him.

In 1942, Thomas, then 16, bought his first guitar (Sears Roebuck & Co., $8.50) with money eked by helping his grandfather sharecrop cotton, a ruinously exploitative system. And he earned his nickname by modeling Ford trucks (and other vehicles) with moving wheels, both as toys for himself and to sell. He frequently told of selling a box of sculpted horses to a man from Vicksburg, Miss., for $3, more than either grandparent earned in a week.

An untitled work from 1987. (Philip Greenberg for the New York Times)
An untitled work from 1987. (Philip Greenberg for the New York Times)

Mr. Thomas’s sculpture gained brief attention in 1982-83, when about a dozen of his pieces were included in “Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980,” a landmark exhibition organized by Jane Livingston and John Beardsley at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. that traveled to the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere. With 20 artists, many of whom had become known only since the 1970s and then usually only in the South, the show was the most extensive, prominent indication that Southern black folk art forms a lode as rich as the blues.

The 80WSE show is an opportunity to consider the link between the art and the music, their shared basis in a nearly untenable reality and in improvisation and the subtle variation of simple forms. It begins with a gallery painted black and a platform occupied by a menagerie of birds, fish and other creatures — significant forms in a place where hunting and fishing meant more food.

Front and center, and most carefully painted is a little quail, an unusually meaty bird that — in one of those lesser-known humiliations of Jim Crow — blacks were traditionally forbidden to kill.

At the center of the platform, a hand painted gold reaches out of a bit of blue, suggesting someone either drowning or rising again. And scattered among the wildlife are the skulls. Thomas made them by forming heads and then cutting away the clay to achieve skull-like blockiness. They come with real teeth or dentures, eye sockets often lined with aluminum foil, and are usually hollowed out at the back.

Thomas intended these cavities, also foil-lined, to function as paper clip holders or ashtrays, but they create a double presence: skull in front and the hollow hood of death following close behind.

In a smaller gallery, painted white, the open coffins hold men in suits, looking convincingly dead, a bit dry, and the tableaus show solitary men eating watermelon or sitting on logs as if resting from work.

The final, largest gallery displays the heads, both male and female, with skin tones in buff, pale pink and occasionally red, and several shades of brown and black. Some are made entirely of clay; others are elaborated not only with paint but also with eyeglasses, jewelry, hair (both real and artificial) and maybe teeth (usually artificial).

The eyes are often glass marbles, which can create a slightly wild, haunted look. They seem electrified, perhaps moved by the Holy Spirit, or by the blues. Their abandon evokes Thornton Dial’s charcoal drawings of faces framed in undulant, slightly hallucinatory lines.

The plainer ones seem more thoughtful and nuanced. Once their gravity sinks in, the others gain it, too, conveying different personalities.

In the end, most of the heads become so realistic — and mysterious — they could be people having their photographs taken, doing nothing yet revealing a lot. In Thomas, Leland found its own Walker Evans.


“James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas: The Devil and His Blues” runs through Aug. 7 at 80WSE Gallery, New York University, Manhattan; This article originally published on August 2015 at the New York Times.