So, it’s one thing to discover that culture and consumption have become intertwined, and make a call on that, but being a positive forward-looking oake I wanted to see what authentic stuff was out there that wasn’t just a brand moment, but something, well, ‘real’. It’s sounds rather mental to be here in 2012 and talking about looking for the real. A bit like when Paul Simon went out to look for ‘America’ or when Hunter looked back to see the high-tide mark left by the broken-wave of the 60s counter-culture.
First off, how do you define what’s real? How do you capture a pure spirit? What’s culture and what’s commercial? Is it live or is it Memorex? Back to my gut reaction I reckon. If I see something creative going on and feel some kind of reaction deep in my gut that then makes a connection with my brain, then I know there is something worth investigating; worth writing about.
The next step is to ask ‘why?’ and discover the motives behind the creativity/work. This is when the detective work comes into play. There are plenty of people out there who are just chasing fame and money. Art, film, photography, music, etc. etc. is full of wan-a-bees with small dreams, deep pockets they want to fill with loot and Eastpak’s with swag. I’m not going to dwell on that as in the past I’ve got into trouble for calling out the fake, and this piece is all about the real. So I set off to look for...
First stop is the South of France, where in the city of Toulouse, lives and works a photographic student called Marylin Cayrac. I know that she is the real thing because of the honesty and insight that her introductory e-mail possessed.
‘I dared contact you because I found you approachable, as you have a Tumblr, but on the other hand, I think you are someone very famous, very popular... You need to know that Street Knowledge is my bible. I admire what you do, what you've done. I wish I could live and eat thanks to my passion, which is street art and underground culture.’
So I wrote back and we began a dialogue and it was during then that I saw something original in her photographic work as well as in her life and attitude. She is French after all, and I’m so bored of all the male photographers trying to be street and failing miserably. I guess the woman’s touch lends a different sensibility to the work. She began by studying architecture and then swapped it for photography, which strangely mirrors my old nemesis Blek le Rat who started out with architecture and then moved onto art. Oh, and is French. But unlike Blek, she is very cool and humble and has her eyes wide open to learn her craft, which will get her a long way indeed.
When asked about influences, Marylin tells me: ‘My biggest influences are the little artists I find on the internet. I am also a fan of Diane Arbus, Francesca Woodman, Stephen Shore, Miru Kim, René & Radka... And of course, my Polish friend Endowaty who encouraged me to begin Lomography, and does great things himself. It's hard to be an artist in France, and not only about money: you're not taken seriously by people. Art is just a hobby for a lot of French people.’
One part of the quest for originality is about spending time mentoring and nurturing talent. Especially the street shit, as today’s street shit is tomorrow’s high street. Talking of blowing stuff up – this is something that brands and ad agencies can’t really do – they can try but at the end of the day they’re just schilling. For me, it’s something that I’ve been doing since I began putting PDF’s, films, and books out there. It’s part of the process of documenting authentic culture – if you’re doing it for the right reasons.
‘I usually say we are the size of our dreams.’ William Baglione
Next, I spent some time in Sao Paulo eating some lekker local Brazilian food with William Baglione, who is one of the most interesting people I’ve met in a long, long, time. I asked him to try and sum up what he does.
‘I left my career in a financial institution in order to devote myself to work with art. So I work with what I have vocation and pleasure; working with ideas and also sold them, connecting people and making plans for medium and long-term exhibitions in museums and galleries. I am also a father to my artists.’
The one thing I’ve often thought was missing from urban contemporary art (what street art has evolved into) is the old-school style of art dealer: part father, part mentor, part accountant, part fortune-teller. William is the first guy I’ve met working in art that even comes close to this. I know he will probable disagree with me but what he does is a vital part of nurturing artists, and guiding them through the mental landscape they inhabit. But who watches the watchmen? Who inspires the inspirational?
‘My mother is my biggest influence. Other influences were at different times of my life, such as basketball star Oscar Schmidt was the leader of the Brazilian team that won in 1987 the United States in Indianapolis and the Gym was demolished to become parking for vehicles. The lone sailor Amyr Klink, architect Oscar Niemyer, the underground cartoonist Angeli and the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei are also big influences for me. The gastronomy is also possible to extract much wisdom.’
But what is important is that the artists William looks after do not portray the ‘Brazilianness’ or clichés about Brazil. To deal with clichés is synonymous with death, espically in art. William strongly believes in the phrase of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí ‘To be original is to return to one's origins’.
And with these words dubbing out in my head I take the overnight backbreaker flight to New Delhi. Upon arrival I head into the new city of Gurgoan to spend some time with the first notable Indian fashion blogger, Picky C. AKA Charu Gaur Naidu, an ex-advertising creative director who has risen to prominence after successfully covering several Indian fashion weeks with her unique style, eye and picky-ness (all vital for the job). As I’m looking for the real the first thing I have to ask her if ‘Local is Lekker?’
‘Yes. We have the best of both worlds. We understand traditional Indian fashion as well as what's happening globally. With in the first year of blogging, I got the opportunity to become the first Indian blogger to be Invited across continents, all the way to Tokyo to cover Vogue magazine's Fashion's Night Out '11 and a London based designer Jas M.B's store opening. All this gives me faith that there's a lot of scope for aware fashion/style bloggers from India.’
On first arrival I thought Gurgoan to be just a collection of shopping malls, but after a weekend getting hassled ‘Hello friend’ by the hustlers and super-skankers of New Delhi, the place is a breath of fresh air. The one thing about being western in India is that you can never hide and will always stick out like a sore thumb. The trick is not to give them anything to latch onto. Where you from? –South Africa! Or –Tel Aviv! I tell them and they have nothing to say to that, no points of reference or relative working there to bring them one step closer to you. Onwards and upwards and I spend some time casting my eye about looking for what’s original about the place. One of the ways to make sure I spot something real is to have a local guide. Always. Picky knows what’s up, and what’s happening locally.
‘We're definitely a hit at creating a fusion of Indian 'karigari' and western silhouettes. A crop of confident young designers is creating designs that's making international buyers sit up and take notice. I have to say, a lot of credit goes to some of the established designers like Manish Arora for starting a revolution of sorts. Today's Indian designers go back to the roots, to our heritage of intricate crafts like Ikat prints, appliqué and phulkari work on traditional and non-traditional textiles to create anything right from an LBD to a resort sari, yup! Considering how Hermes is making Saris while Thakoon and Proenza Schouler are doing Ikat inspired collections, the line defining the local and international designers is slowly and steadily getting blurred. Yay to that!’
Trying to capture the un-catchable is a bit like trying to shoot Kobe Bryant dunking with a shit digital camera. By the time the thing has clicked he’s been and gone. For me the bottom line is what floats your boat; what puts a spring in your step in the morning. A lot of people can only dream about doing what they’re passionate about 24/7. Most people have to hold down jobs that they might not be that thrilled about, just in order to survive. I thank Jah everyday that I’m blessed with being able to do this shit full-time, but it did take me 20-odd years to get here. Next time – for the second and final part, we take a artistic journey through the cultural landscape – commercial; counter-cultural; and otherwise!