Saturday, June 26, 2010

Changjiji GOODNESS!

we visited the site for Neighborhood Watch today. we've decided that we will be using the projections in the exhibition to blanket the buildings in digitalized rice paddy fields. below the projections, on the metal suddered doors, we will have a seperate set of projections that will stream interviews with the oldest generations of Bhutan, alternating with interviews with the youngest generations of Bhutan. These projections will only show mouths speaking. It is our hope that we'll be able to gather enough projectors to have at least 9 voice installations running at once. the stories they will share will blend into one voice...made of the voices of Bhutan that are falling farther and farther away from eachother as progress threatens "the great divide"'s growth.this particular projection will open and close the exhibition.

today, in the gleaming himalayan sun, tenzin dorji shared his memories of what Changjiji used to be. "This land was all the most beautiful paddy fields in Thimphu. It was green. When i was young we would drive on the road above and look down at the paddy fields. I lived just across the expressway, and when i would look there was nothing here except the old homes that you can see [behind and amidst] the new buildings." later on, as we are walking toward the expressway to get a cab back to town he says quietly, "i suppose cities always change..."

it is tenzin's memories of Changjiji that have sparked our desire to show Changjiji as it once was, using projection. Bhutan has changed drastically...those changes have been most drastic in Bhutan's capitol city...and, as Bhutan approaches development carefully, as I talk more with the artists who will participate in this exhibition I realize more and more that the Bhutanese truly hope to 'develop' respectfully and with dedication to the Bhutan that once was. Their land and values are indeed a part of them...and when I hear people reflect on the changes that have swept into Bhutan I can't help but feel frustrated and truly touched. Does anyone else speak of their land so beautifully and honestly? Is there any place left in the the world that is EVEN ATTEMPTING to approach modernization the way Bhutan is?

Tensin remarked, "when the buildings are built they don't actually think about it. they just build. there is no green left in changjiji...and these buildings have not even been planned for."

along with the tremendous visual presence this housing complex has, Changjiji is also Thimphu's most fragile neighborhood. It has fallen victim to the effects of rapid modernization...poverty, gang violence, drugs, general "youth problems"...all these issues, which didn't used to exist in Bhutan...are festering in Changjiji. With the help of the Royal Bhutan Police, a new law enforcement outpost has been built in Changjiji. the crime rate has fallen according to young children who Tshering Dorji talked with while we visited the site. however, "the gangs still fight on the other side of the housing complex, opposite the police outpost". theft and burglary are still a problem and the children of Changjiji are often found skipping school or performing poorly. unhealthy domestic situations are still present and presence of gangs (and their influence) is still an issue. along with work that will reflect physical change and the passage of time in this kingdom, work will also reflect the social changes that have occurred...

i share some photos of the sight with you all.

as always...there is more to come!

i send my most excited greetings from the beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Neighborhood Watch

I've been hesitant to write about this because I haven't been sure whether everything would come together. After meeting with the (FANTASTIC!) artists from Dato Creative studio and Happy Valley, I am full of hope and excitement.

Thimphu, Bhutan (in collaboration with at least 10 other cities across this crazy planet) will be initiating its first ever completely public projection art walk project. "Neighborhood Watch:A Projection Walk" will be held in Thimphu BHUTAN, El Paso TX, Tampa FL, Austin TX, San Antonio TX, Seattle WA, Oslo NORWAY, Copenhagen DENMARK, Paris FRANCE, Melbourne AUSTRALIA and Juarez MEXICO (this one is pending on account of the current safety situation, but it is my hope that we can find a way to execute the project safely...fingers crossed everyone).

I'll give you all some background on the project:

eighborhood Watch was initiated by Chelsea Goodwin in Tampa, Florida. It was inspired by the “Lights on Tampa” exhibition. a group of graduate students from the University of Florida came together and began discussing the possibility of mixing classic American drive-in theatre, some delicious grass roots organization and the kind spirit that is naturally shared when we are members of a common community together to create a public work exhibition. the initiative was aimed at sharing art with the public using complete access as its method.

in 2008, Jaime Carrejo, who was an original member of the planning group in Florida, moved back to his hometown of El Paso to take a professor in residence position at the University of Texas at El Paso. it was there that he and I met and decided to take on the challenge of such a project.

along with projections, we installed three-dimensional work in participating neighbors’ yards.

in 2008, the project was coordinated between El Paso and Florida and was submitted to the VISION 08 Festival in Chicago that year.

the ultimate goal of the project was that every time an artist relocated they could initiate the project in the city where they were based. in this way the project was to spread to multiple cities across the U.S. with dedication to the spirit of sharing life through art.

the method:
digital images of art work are projected onto the exterior walls of homes and three dimensional work is installed in the yards of homes. everyone (the public, the artists and all inhabitants of the city and environment) is invited to watch and talk as they took a walk amongst the art work. the project hoped to spark conversations, questions, ideas and perspectives that could be shared in this process.

ephemeral art:
ephemeral art does not exist permanently. It lives for a brief moment, or perhaps a long breath and then it’s gone. this exhibition, by nature is ephemeral. it is installed in one day and it opens for a single night. the public is invited to join Neighborhood Watch in viewing, interacting with and discussing the art work that is exhibited. the art work, the discussions and the ideas that are raised during the exhibition flourish through the night and, if successful, the exhibition opens up topics of discussion and a sharing of ideas that will carry on after the exhibition has closed.

non profit ideals:
there is no monetary compensation for this project, only general wonderful feelings that come with sharing our work with our neighbors around the world.

Now,when i decided to come to Bhutan I had to be certain of what i wanted to do while i was here. i was going to work with youth. i was going to teach sculpture. i wanted to discover the many ways in which art can help us live alongside them. i look back now and i realize, that while the children at VAST have developed their abilities to think three-dimensionally, that lesson is perhaps a tiny shimmering flicker in a sea of very beautiful and booming stellar lights! with two months left in Bhutan, i smile. i believe that we took on this adventure together and we have all learned so very much. (we of course referring to the 200 plus young people i've worked closely with during my time in Bhutan...and some lady named xochitl) perhaps, when the time is closer for me to depart...for me to return... i'll share in more detail what precisely i have learned and what i hope they have learned.

right now, however, i will say that i only hoped i would be able to reach a point in the project to be able to introduce something like "Neighborhood Watch" in Thimphu. in all honesty, i've only just realized how much Neighborhood Watch, in many ways, has shaped my own hopes for art...and the hopes i have for whatever work i make in my life. the sheer thought of being able to offer Neighborhood Watch to these beautiful Bhutanese people gives me goosebumps.

Neighborhood Watch exhibits work that is a reflection of your time and place in the world. initially, the idea was that participating cities would have live feeds going down...and each city would be connected via cyber space. so...essentially, by attending one exhibition in your own city, you had a chance to attend the exhibits in the other cities. and if the work submitted is effective, you get to have a glimpse into the life of worlds you don't live in. unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, we've had a hard time making this live feed work. and now, considering HUGE time zone differences, live feeds will be difficult. however, we're working on getting a website operational so that whatever is missed due to physical challenges can be viewed on the website.

the project is incredible and often times, i have trouble even getting my head around the tremendous power of such an exhibition. in bhutan, specifically, i am truly overwhelmed with the potential of such a project. this exhibition will be the first of its kind in bhutan. my goodness!...this exhibition is Bhutan's 'first' in many ways. as i wrote in one of my first blogs, 'contemporary art' is a completely foreign entity in Bhutan. a great majority of Bhutanese have never seen a single piece of contemporary art--eastern or western. most arent aware of how art has shaped the art CAN shape the world, echo the world...make the world. considering Bhutan's present situation (the situation that involves the big huge world meeting Bhutan's protected safe and beautiful world) the work that will be created for this exhibition will be unlike any other work submitted...the potential for these participating artists to reveal so many truths about the world is tremendous! we've discussed briefly during our first few meetings the duality of Bhutanese existence. Bhutan is living in two worlds at once. Bhutan is living in two 'times'.

It is important to keep in mind, drastic and rapid urbanization is one of Bhutan's most significant issues presently. I suppose one could argue that is THE broad issue from which every other issue stems. For Bhutan's leg of the exhibition, I proposed we hold Neighborhood Watch in Changjiji neighborhood and the members of the collective here agreed that it is IMPORTANT and NECESSARY to hold the exhibition there.

I'll be "co-facilitating" a workshop in Changjiji (or Changjiji 'housing complex' as it is referred to here) in July. i'd like to share some of the background on Changjiji as it was written in the proposal i recieved from Sonam Palden, a teacher at Loselling Lower Secondary School in Changjiji:

"The Housing Complex is known for its diversity of social background and quite recently it has infamously captured the headlines of our national newspapers. The Royal Bhutan Police felt the need of outreach station at the complex to curb and prevent the diverse social problems and it soon opened an outreach police centre at the hub of the Housing Complex. The crime rate in terms of vandalism, car-hijacking and other stealing acts, etc. apparently has drastically reduced. However, the problems associated with drugs and gangs have virtually boomed. The number of early school-leavers seemed to have increased and their influence on our school children is quite staggering and pretty alarming. Within last three months the number of our students abusing cigarette, drugs and other psychotropic substances has inexorably escalated. The gang fights have frequented injuring our young children and nocturnal gang prowling has literally posed grave danger to the late night commuters. Due to the support of the hard-core gang- bangers (early school-leavers) at the Housing Complex, the amateurs in our school are questioning the safety of other innocent children. They are often bullied and extorted and very few of such cases are reported to the school management. This has really debilitated some of our children who often insist to play truant just to elude these gang bullies.

Through our survey study and analysis of the ground situation while closely working with our abusers and gang-members, we came to learn that the to learn that children as young as 10 years old are into abusing substance like marijuana, tablets, all kinds of tobaccos, other psychotropic substances and even precursors. We have wide range of abusers and gang members irrespective of gender and age. The findings of our school counseling division reflect that many of the abusers are low academic performers and directly or indirectly they have very close connection with the notorious early school-leavers
residing in their residential vicinity.

The school has done all it can to accommodate to the needs of children with special needs, but it has been an uphill climb, for the school does not receive any support nor cooperation from the parents since most of the time their parents are defensive of their children. The school is guardian to three students who are completely neglected by their parents. Students are counseled by the school counselors but are worried that the students might need more than a few hours of counseling. Through our close observation and thorough analysis of each individual abusers and gang member and other problems either by influence of senior abusers or available of the superfluous of unsupervised free time. Many of them lack parental guidance since many parents come from mediocre or low income group who often entail working late hours. It is also known that majority of our children with special needs are rooted to broken families and dependent on their relatives who often maltreat them. In 2008and 2009, we had two cases of suicide which had close link to the problem deliberated here. The problems mentioned here are further aggravated with the complete dearth of recreational facilities and avenues where children can positively take part and keep themselves aside from gangs and drug abusers. Though we have a outreach Youth Centre at the Complex but truly it is not able to cater to the needs of our children with such needs. In fact, it cannot and it is impossible since the youth population in the Housing Complex is extremely high and they go to almost all the schools in Thimphu bringing up with them their own problems and these problems are infecting our children causing the pernicious impact to our entire school population. Literally our children are in great stake and we strongly feel the need of some viable solution to combat these problems. It is not just the concern of the Changjiji Colony, but a concern of entire society since these children would have an invasive adverse impact on the future of our nation. It is our responsibilities and duties to prevent them from going astray and however if they are already plunged into these problems then we must think of ways to help them."

what will we all say to eachother?
(thimphu and the other cities...and of course all of you!)

what will we reveal?

what will we conceal?

what will we feel?

what will all this make us say?

the reception of this exhibition in Thimphu is unpredictable. i'm sure...well...i'm sure we'll just have to see!

i do hope, if you keep up with this blog, you'll join us on August 21, 2010 for "Neighborhood Watch:A Projection Walk.

as things develop i will happily share the exciting news with all of you. tomorrow, we will be meeting and visiting the neighborhood the name of positive progress and art!

as always...there is more to come.

i send my warmest greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"meeting and departing is natural phenomena"

thick clouds are swallowing the mountains again. soft rain falls and the occassional car drives slowly down the sloping road outside the window. there's a stillness and a silence laying itself over the city...and in my own calmness and stillness, i remember, "xoch...share!"

i have no idea where to begin! since i last wrote many beautiful things have happened in this crazy himalayan land. i'll focus on one particular stream of events...Freg flew away back to Australia on Saturday. i sat back trying to figure out what i was feeling having said goodbye to the second very dear friend I have made in Bhutan. The Reb stayed for four months and looking back it almost seems like she was only here for a blink. Freg was here for three months and i'm sure with a little bit more time, his time here will also seem like a blink. just as, i'm sure, when my time here ends i will feel as though it was also a blink (probably longer blink, but a blink nevertheless). the beauty about these blinks, however is that they're not like a regular blink. they're not the normal involuntary action our eyes perform to clean themselves. these blinks are the kind that allow your eyes to open back up to the sun. I would never say i was seeing darkness before all of this, but i can absolutely say that after having met both of those beautiful people i can see a little bit more clearly now. there's a little bit more sunlight behind this Himalayan mist.

the Four Friend's Theater Club had its final performance (collaborating with me and Freg) and it was incredibly successful! Her Majesty the Queen Mother Tshering Pem Wangchuck attended YDF's foundation day celebration as the guest of honor. Along with Her Majesty, His excellency Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley was in attendance as a distinguished guest. Ministers and heads of government were also in the audience as well as teachers, writers and a handful of young people. Her Majesty was very pleased with the work Freg and I had accomplished with the "Four Friends Theater" participants and bid Freg and I her farewell for the night with thanks, hugs and kisses. it was a huge honor to be able to show her what the 13 of us had accomplished first hand. I have to thank Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan's Opposition Leader for his participation in the performance...he did a wonderful job.

these last three months were the most touching, difficult, beautiful and powerful months i have been a part of in Bhutan. if there is any higher honor than to be given an opportunity to share our work with Her Majesty I would say, with confidence, it was my greatest honor to have the opportunity to work with such incredible young adults. having met the members of Happy Valley has revived my hope in the joy of sharing, learning and giving. the co-operative itself, faces a lot of internal issues. each member is an example of one or more of the many faces and levels of the "youth problem" in Bhutan. they haven't been paid in months, but they go forward clinging to the hope that the work they do will help someone and eventually provide them with a means of survival. since i've met them, they've lost two members of the co-operative and tshering, the blow horn, never fails to fall silent for a moment when he reflects on what may become of Happy Valley. i always only smile and reassure him that such beautiful things always way or another.

i could never be more grateful that they were willing to donate their time to working with me and freg through YDF. the more familiar i become with their situation and each member individually, the more i understand the sacrifice they made to make the project a success.

we spent three months together, thinking, analyzing, questioning, imagining and planning. youth issues were our main focus. we DISECTED the "youth problem" in bhutan as thoroughly as possible and to the best of our combined abilities. we pulled together our observations (which were incredible to witness as they came together, considering the different perspectives that were working together), we pulled together personal experiences and most importantly, we learned about each other's lives. the final product of the workshop was a drama depicting a group of four friends (honoring the traditional Buddhist story of the four friends, Thim Pha Pin Zhi) who were trying to start a youth co-operative in Bhutan. Considering the group of young people who were participating in the workshop-all Happy Valley members and the bright and engaged Sonam Wangmo-we were able to frame the drama accurately according to the problems Happy Valley has faced as Bhutan's first co-operative organization and according to the problems each participant was facing or had already faced at some point in their lives.

The four characters in the drama were the elephant, the monkey, the rabbit and the bird. Each character was dealing with their own issues...issues which were interfering with the organization of the youth organization. the elephant, who was given the task of recruting new members for the youth group faced substance abuse issues. the monkey was assigned the task of fundraising for the group, but failed to do so when he caved into materialism and the loss of a value system. the rabbit had trouble focusing on organizing the youth group because her circumstances forced her to seek work in a drayang (entertainment bar) which led to her exploitation as a dancer and singer. the bird, who was the leading figure in the co-operative faced obstacles working with the bureaucracy in Bhutan while he tried to help his three friends overcome the issues they were dealing with.

the performance was based upon forum theater, which you can read about in one of the previous blogs. each time the participants performed for an audience, we called on members of the audience to replace these main characters and make the choices that were necessary to change the outcome of each act for the better. thanks to support from YDF, the performance was offered to "Young Volunteers in Action" (another program intitiated by YDF)in Thimphu, Punakha, Bumthang and Tsirang. Each performance in the different dzongkhags had its incredible moments as youngsters acted out their own real life solutions to the problems we were presenting in the drama. there are, however, two particular performances i know i will never forget.

The Early Learning Center in Thimphu invited us to have a rehearsal performance for their students about a month ago. The elementary school is the only school in Bhutan educating its students through a value based curriculum. There are beautiful things happening at the ELC and the folks there deserve great commendation because they have taken the idea of Gross National Happiness and are educating their students with dedication to the principles of GNH. We were a little bit nervous, considering these children were younger than our intended audience of YVIA (young volunteers in action) members... but we were also very excited because the innocence of children always offers some of the world's most valuable lessons.

During the drug addiction scene, a young boy who was maybe about 8 years old took to the microphone with enthusiasm, replacing the naughty elephant. the elephants friend, who was overweight and glued to a video game, was the target for the elephants recruitment efforts on that day. whhen the young boy took the stage he tried to distract his friend from buying drugs using several different methods. finally, the clever boy grabbed the television and ran off with it. the overweight friend, of course, wound up leaving the video game parlor where the drug dealer was and chased the boy who was running off with his t.v. it was a beautiful sight to behold! such a simple act pointed to so many more complicated levels of the problem. the little boy understood that the environment was as poisonous as the drugs would be. he understood that by removing his friend from that environment he could more easily place him in a healthy environment.

i also witnessed a very beautiful moment in Tsirang.

after hours of acting out possible solutions for the scene which addressed drug addiction,the final solution that resolved the issue was meditation. a young man took to microphone and immediately refused to give his friend money to purchase drugs. he invited the drug dealer and his friend to join him in meditation instead. he sat down beside them, on their level and led them in meditation. the two supporting characters finally calmed down (they had been pushing the boundaries of their characters for a few hours...resisting the solutions the Tsirang students were offering). Within a few seconds, i looked around and realized that the entire room of 150 students had joined the meditation. the entire day had been filled with laughter and sound, and suddenly, the entire auditorium fell silent. as i write this nearly three weeks later i still feel goosebumps spread across my skin.

this solution was beautiful for a few reasons. the drama of that moment was absolutely breathtaking. this solution also silently addressed the idea that it is difficult to take help from someone who is not willing to place themself beside you but instead prefers to help you while towering above you. a young lady had tried the same solution but did not sit with the two young men. she stood above them and instructed them in meditation. when the second volunteer took the mic, he immediately sat between the two young men...and they immediately closed their eyes with him. The solution was also beautiful because it was a very Bhutanese way to solve the problem. a solution like this would probably never work in the U.S., but the moment i heard silence come over the room i knew...we've done it!

the remainder of our day in Tsirang was spent singing and dancing together. we were careful to select only the scenes that depicted problems that were relevant to each group of youngsters. in thimphu, all four scenarios are relevant, however, in smaller and more rural dzongkhags like tsirang, the only scenarios we felt were appropriate were substance abuse and materialism. the shortened performance schedule gave us an opportunity to split the group of 150 into smaller groups to discuss the issues they felt were most relevant to them. i was pleased to share a discussion with a group of about 15 youngsters who, by the end of the discussion, understood that the issues they are facing having many causes and effects. they understood that the issues they are facing are multi-layered and that it is important to understand the MECHANISMS that propel problems forward. each group was able to develop a short act on the issues they discussed. alcoholism, which led to divorce, which led to youngsters joining gangs was a common thread of issues. through discussion, the group i worked with proposed that perhaps, in order to stop the gang problem, issues of alcoholism could be addressed that would lower divorce rates and therefore lower gang membership. they proposed a law that called upon "owners and servers at bars to have a limit on the amount of alcohol they serve their customers. if a customer was already intoxicated, they should not be served more." HOORAAAYYYYY!!!!

after this, i jumped up and down several times and we made a slogan to help them think about things simply in the future (in case no one was around to think about things with them).

"what is happening
why is it happening
what do i want to happen!?"

we closed the formal portion of the workshop with all 150 YVIA members asking these questions in unison...and then came the fun!

the youngsters sang for us and danced and by the end of the day (nearly 10 hours later) they were asking me to teach them ballet. by seven o'clock in the evening, i stood before 6 brave kids, teaching them the basics of classical dancing.

after about an hour and a half, i decided to end the ballet class (so as not faint!) and go outside to enjoy the jungle. the night was spent with eyes wide open hiding within my sleeping bag. tsirang is warmer so there are bird-sized mosquitos in its jungle...iill avoid going into the details of the other flying objects i saw...but am happy to share that, with my AMAZING luck, i had the fortune of sleeping under a very confused very humongous flying object. for fear of it falling on me in my sleep i opted to stay awake. (a great portion of the morning was spent laughing at myself with the girls who were sharing their room with me).

the next morning we loaded ourselves on to the bus hesitantly. we did everything we could to prolong the goodbye. we sang more songs...we took photos...we told more stories and exchanged addresses. after some time i realized i should board the bus before any waterworks started going down, so i made my way for the bus door. as i approached it, beautiful young Jamyang approached me with a note in her hand for me. i held it tightly and promised i would read it on the road. hugs were had and we headed off, feeling full of hope and full of sadness that we couldn't stay longer...

as we made our way around the first bend...i opened up the note Jamyang had timidly handed me.

it read:

"Dear Sochi Sister:
I, Jamyang Sekar would like to thank you all for a wonderful programme. Yesterday we enjoyed a lot. Now I can make out what to do and what not to do. I especially enjoyed your dance (ballet dance).

As a saying goes "meeting and departing is natural phenomena". So have a safe journey and hope to meet you all soon.

We will be missing you all.

Love you, miss you
and please take care, Sister.


as always...there is more to come.

i send my warmest greetings from the ever lovely Kingdom of Bhutan...