STREET ARTIST REVIEW

Articles, Culture

GIVING A SECOND LIFE

Everything can be art, it depends on the way you look at it. For example, someone can be moved to tears by seeing a Caravaggio painting or listening to a Beethoven symphony and then critisize some tags written on their door. But I can be mesmerised by the tag and not appreciate the painting or the symphony. As everything in life, it depends on your point of view, you know, your freedom ends when mine starts or where the police sees you paint”. That’s what Nain Fingers, a graffiti artist, believes of art. 

 Born and raised in Barcelona, Nain Fingers started painting with his friends because it made them feel like “badasses”. But soon he got hooked and realized that “if you do it in the proper space and you give the appropriate message, you can catch the attention of those who are not really into the graffiti world and make them think”. As graffiti are outside museums or art galleries, they take you by surprise so the impact is greater. He paints big graffiti in more or less legal zones like abandoned spaces or factories in ruins in order to avoid getting in trouble with the police. However, it’s not always like this and he bombards the walls with random paintings of his signatures until he runs out of paint or time. 

The pseudonim of Nain Fingers stems from a motorbike accident where he lost a finger. From that moment on, it became not only his signature but also his identity. However, as in Spain English is normally translated in a literal way and people pronounced [nine] instead of [najn], he decided to change it. 

Although doing graffiti is a way of channeling his emotions, he doesn’t do it just for himself but for the spectators as well. This is why he tries to paint graffiti “with an agressive message about something I believe in so you have to give it more than a look to understand it”. Paradoxally, when he doesn’t care about the message beyond the artwork and just lets his hand go with the flow, it’s when it doesn’t leave indifferent and, indeed, makes people think the most. 

Simple, strinking, rare and constantly evolving. This is how he defines his own style. He has always liked the chiaroscuro, that’s why his colour palette basically consists of black, white and grey. At first, he tended to draw only lines, outlines and shadows, without filling them. But afterwards, he became obsessed with realism, old photographs and its details. And that’s what he did. Nevertheless, he admits that another possible explanation for the lack of colour is his laziness. 

Birds are one of the recurring images that most appear in his graffitis. Although it may seem an aesthetic decision, it has a deeper significance. During an epoque where he was “screwed up emotionally”, he could only paint birds. It was as if he had “a strong longing for freedom or something like that”. He is not the first -neither the last- to paint birds. The brasilian street artist L7m, one of his biggest influences, also uses these feathered creatures even though they appear in flashy tonalities. 

But he isn’t the only influencer in Nain Fingers’ masterpieces. Vhils, a portuguese artist who has made a name for himslef in the artistic world with its unique method of carving walls, has contributed to the Spanish artist in the figures: they both paint faces. However, Nain puts more empashis on women visages. “Painting women has always fascinated me: their eyes, their wrinckles… I must confess that I’m an inconditional fan of women. All of them are crazy but if it wasn’t for them we would be really bored”. 

To conclude, Nine Fingers not only paints beautiful graffiti to express his feelings but also to give a second life to those demolished and unused spaces. As the american writer Jarod Kintz said:“Rather than demolish an abandoned warehouse, why not just cover it with graffiti and call it art?

MUSIC REVIEW – Hozier’s concert

Articles, Culture

2 YEARS, ONE TOUR AND 13 SONGS

Andrew Hozier-Byrne, the 25 years old Irish born and raised artist, came to Barcelona for the first time on the 19th of February, with the company of his six piece music band formed by a cellist, a drummer and a trio of vocalists. Razzmatazz was the concert hall chosen to host the concert, and it was great. The low-light atmosphere of the room was in perfect consonance with Hozier’s gothic settings and the sound quality was not bad.  I listened to all of the songs many times as I have the vinyl, but listening to it live was a really different experience.  I’ve always loved live music, but sometimes there are artists who play the same songs and change nothing, and it can be a bit disappointing. Hozier didn’t do that. He added a cover song and also gave much more important to the cello, which brought tenderness to the show.

Everything was great but the audience. I realized that most people were foreigners, but I couldn’t have possibly cared less. However, my discontent came when a soft lyrical song started and people started talking so loud I couldn’t enjoy the song completely. Why would you pay a 30 euros ticket and not listen to the music? The answer to this question is still a mystery to me.

Hozier seems a quiet and shy person, but when he is on a stage, he acquires more presence, security and confidence. As for his appearance, it is not what you usually expect of a singer, but much more casual and unpreoccupied instead. In fact, he seems not to care much about the clothes he wear or the way he looks. He is skinny and pale, and always wears a ponytail, even though his managers complain because they would prefer him to wear his hair loose. For someone like him, having the pressure of different clothes label who want him to support their designs is really stressful: “I’d never thought about how I looked, how I dressed, before all this. I had a winter coat and a denim jacket”.

There are many alternative singers nowadays, so what makes him so special? On the one hand his unique and incredible voice; dark, strong and powerful. He has been compared to George Ezra because they are both young but have a voice that seems of an old man. However, Hozier doesn’t share Ezra’s country-like sounds, but has a style that mixes soul, blues and rock –the song Jackie and Wilson is a good example-. His father was a local blues musician, so Hozier was very influenced by this kind of music, but also by choirs: he sang in a coral group when he was 15. When asked, he also pointed Leonard Cohen and John Lee Hooker as his influences.  

Hozier’s success came when his hit Take Me to Church video– about love, absolution, the Church and gay rights- went viral. The video shows a gay man being beaten up by homophobes in Russia. It came out in the context of the Sochi’s Olympic Games, as a protest against the anti-gay actions that took place in Russia back then, and which Hozier described as “no less than nightmarish”. Later, the ballet dancer Sergei Poulinin appeared dancing the song in a video directed by David LaChapelle, which went viral again. Until now, the hit has won an Ivor Novello, it became Spotify’s most viral tune in 2014 and has been five times certified platinum in the United States.

Nevertheless the song was nominated on the Grammys Song of the Year in 2015 but didn’t win. “The biggest reason “Take Me to Church” won’t win Song of the Year is that it’s ahead of its time. The Grammys (in fact the entire music scene) may not be ready for the strong lyricism that explores sexuality and its place in religion” said the writer Marilisa Sachteleben in an article published in AxS.

Like all of Hozier’s songs, Take Me to Church is really lyrical, metaphorical and with a strong idea behind it, that the artist wants to send to the audience. Consequently, he has been asked many times about the meaning of the song, and he answered “The song is about asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love.”  However, it has been criticised because it makes a point about how harmful religious doctrine can be. Hozier also claimed that “Sexuality, and sexual orientation – regardless of orientation – is just natural. An act of sex is one of the most human things. But an organization like the church, say, through its doctrine, would undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation”, and that was what was sinful and offensive, even to God.  Growing up in Ireland, he had felt the power the Church holds over people lives. “For me growing up, I had a Christian upbringing and I just noticed this Catholic influence in school. It has an aversion to sexuality and to women and it institutionalizes sexism and homophobia”, he said.

As we see, Hozier is very critical with the Church, but still, he said he wouldn’t define himself as an atheist: “it’s too absolute. But I don’t have any faith. I think faith is an absurd thing but I’m OK with that. There are no answers because the universe never asked a question in the first place.”

After playing this afternoon in Istanbul, Hozier is returning home. It has been a long first worldwide tour for him, as it started two years ago. He has played in the States and Australia; Europe was his last stop. No one knows what is going to happen next, but I am not the only one who after more than two years longs for a new CD. He’s been singing the same 13 songs for a long time, so now might be time for new ones. Yet, having achieved fame and success on his first CD also has a negative effect, because fans are not going to be contented with less.  

MOVIE REVIEW – Suffragette

Articles, Culture

THE ONLY LANGUAGE THAT MAN LISTENS TO

On the 20th of December the citizens of Spain went to the polling place to choose the new Spanish president. We –men and women- queued, showed our ID and voted; there was nothing strange in that. We weren’t thinking that not too many years ago women weren’t allowed to do so, and that back in the twentieth century some women had to fight to get that right. They were called The Suffragettes and their struggle is revived on Sarah Gavron’s new film Suffragette

It needs to be remarked that even though the title is in singular and the movie focuses on the life of Maud Watts, it is also a testimony of the bravery of the women from the working class who risked everything fighting for their right to vote. They saw how peaceful protests changed nothing with disappointment, and consequently radicalised by turning to violence smashing windows and blowing up mailboxes. As “War’s the only language that man listens to”, vandalism was the only way to make their cause be noticed.  

Maud Watts is a young lower-class Londoner who works in an industrial laundry. Her daily routine is shaken up when she is caught in the middle of a Suffragette riot. It is very interesting to see how Maud’s character evolves throughout the film. At the beginning she is not a Suffragette at all and she criticises the vandalism. Later on, when she is faced with the brutality of the police and the lies of the government, she loses her temper and –a bit involuntarily- gets involved. It is the first time that her hair literally gets messy, yet she claims she isn’t a suffragette, but afterwards her innocence and passivity vanish, she sees her maturity and then affirms she is a Suffragette. Maud is no longer just what the patriarchal and sexist society has made her, a mother and a wife, but someone who stands up for her rights. The Suffragette’s leader, Emmeline Pankhurst’s speech in a clandestine meeting had been of great influence to her. Pankhurst had said: “I would rather be a rebel than a slave”, and Maud is sick of being a slave: women didn’t have a voice in the Parliament, but neither in their work nor their home. She is determined to change that.

This screenplay was written by Abi Morgan, with whom Sarah Gavron had already worked before in 2007, when she wrote the script of Brick Lane, which is also set in London and focuses on a lower class family with a dramatic life who faces a melodramatic separation. Nevertheless, in Brick Lane there is also the exoticism of India and some rural scenery, whereas in Suffragette we can only see the industrialized London. 

The setting of the film is based in London 1912 time, and it has been perfectly pictured with its streets with antique cars and buses, a carriage driven by a horse, many puddles on the ground, some newspapers on what it looks like a kiosk, the façade of an old chemist, etc. There is a clear contrast between East London, where the working class lives and Central London, where people look wealthier and are dressed fancy. But, what is more impressive is the Glasshouse Laundry where Maud works: the steam that fills the atmosphere and the sweat in the clothes of the workers create a realistic ambience which makes you able to imagine very clearly how hard it was to work in such bad conditions.

But it wasn’t movies Gavron started filming. At first she started with documentaries, which seemed easier but what she really loved was narrative filmmaking. In Suffragette two of the characters are based on historical Suffragettes. Emmeline Pankhurst –performed by Meryl Streep- played an important part in helping to found the Women’s Social and Political Union, organisation that gathered the Suffragettes, and Emily Davison –performed by Natalie Press- was a WSPU militant. Yet, Maud Watts is a completely fictional character, and we musn’t forget that Suffragette is a film and not a documentary, even if the historical background is realistic. As Abi Morgan highlights, they did a lot of historical research, like reading original testimonies and public records about police surveillance operations. It took six years to get the film made. 

It is easy to find historical documentaries about women fighting for their rights, and specifically to have the right to vote, such as One woman, One vote. However, most of the documentaries are made in the United States, and consequently only refer to the movement in that country. In 2004 Katja von Garnier directed Iron Jawed Angels, a TV movie about north-American suffragists, but there aren’t many more examples. Suffragette brings this historical reality closer to a wider public who may not be interested in documentaries, but love a blockbuster. 

This film was clearly designed to be a blockbuster, and it is through the cast that the commercial aiming of the film is obvious. Not only a well-known actress like Carey Mulligan got the lead role –being named ‘Actress of the Year by the Hollywood Film Award- and Helena Bonham Carter a secondary yet essential one. But Meryl Streep also has her moment of glory and she even appears in all of the official posters. Still, Streep isn’t too important and her presence in the film only lasts few minutes. On the contrast, Anne-Maria Duff has an important role in the film but is absent on the poster, maybe because she isn’t as famous as the others. To me it seems that the choice of the actresses that appear in the promotional images was made to attract a larger public.

All of us know how the story ends; therefore I can say it without needing a spoiler alert: women got the right to vote. However, this victory is rather bittersweet as now, a century later, there is still a long way to go to reach equality between men and women. Furthermore, the film also makes you think about legality; in the twentieth century the law prohibited women to vote. That law needed to be broken, as sometimes disobedience may be necessary. Violet Miller, Maud’s colleague says to her: “You want me to respect the law? Then make the law respectable!”.

BOOK REVIEW – Les llavors del silenci

Articles, Culture

WAITING TO REACH THE SURFACE

There have been lots of historical novels written on the Spanish civil war. There is For Whom the Bell Tolls, written by Ernest Hemingway, or Soldados de Salamina by the Spanish writer Javier Cercas. However, Les Llavors del Silenci (Silence’s seeds*), novel by Àlvar Caixal, goes one step further and is no longer just about the war. Instead it goes in depth about the human condition, highlighting the importance that our origin has in building our identity and emphasizing how the past shapes our present and therefore demonstrating that oblivion always has negative effects.  

The Spanish civil war ended many years ago but in Spain there are still some open wounds, particularly in relation to what is known as “historical memory”. Many victims of the Franco-era were buried without being identified and some living relatives, frustrated by the Spanish government, have turned to Argentina´s judicial system for help to push the government to carry out exhumations.  Àlvar Caixal’s novel is more relevant today than ever: only last month, Ascensión Mendieta, a 90-year old woman, managed to see the reopening of the common grave where her dad had been buried after he was executed by Franco’s soldiers.

For people like Ascensión, the past cannot be buried and forgotten. Alfred, the main character of the novel, feels the same way which is something that troubles him deeply. After his father’s suicide he discovers some hidden documents that relate his mother to members of the International Brigade who went to Spain to fight for the republic. Consequently, Alfred starts digging into his family’s past searching for the secrets that had always been hidden from him. His search to discover more about his origin and identity leads him to England, the country where Emma Tavistock lived. She was a young woman who loved a British volunteer who fled to Catalonia and the reader learns her story through some letters that her niece has kept safe for many years.

Àlvar Caixal, as the main character, is a digger himself: he is an archaeologist and Les Llavors del Silenci is his first novel. When he won the BBVA Sant Joan award in 2013 he was completely unknown in literary circles. Him winning was quite surprising because in the previous years, the prize had only been awarded to famous authors. Being an archaeologist has certainly had an impact on his writing. Not only that he did an exhaustive documentation for the historical episodes and worked slowly, digging into his characters past layer by layer, but it even took him four years to finish the novel. He wrote and rewrote until he was satisfied with his work.

In spite of the apparent realism of the novel, throughout the story magic elements appear, such as dreamlike images and inexplicable facts. Alfred is convinced that a sort of “power of nature” is responsible for all of the strange things that keep happening to him and that seem to be leading him to the answers he longs for. It’s in that sense that the novel reminded me of the magical realism of the Latin American writer Gabriel García Márquez, who accepts magic as intrinsic in the rational world. These magical elements don’t undermine the credibility of the whole story but paradoxically they create an atmosphere of surreality that is really easy to believe.

In a world where everything is consumed at a high speed –fast food, tweets, instant news -, books like Les Llavors del Silenci can modify your reading habits; it is not something you can read on short journeys in the underground, but a novel to be read slowly, without any distraction. Only this way you won’t miss the delicacy of the prose, the exquisite, chromatic portraits of the sceneries and filled with plenty of adjectives. Every single word that appears in the novel seems to have been chosen very carefully and accurately. A novel written in such a poetic and lyrical style requires you to take time delighting in it. Even the title is poetic and suggestive: Alfred’s family had been silent about their past, but those secrets had germinated into the next generation, waiting to sprout out and finally reach the surface.

*Literal translation, the book hasn’t been translated.