Monday, February 28, 2011

Abuelo's treasure

I found this old wooden chocolate box at my Abuela's house on my recent visit to Uruguay. She said my Abuelo who passed away just over 10 years ago had a habit of collecting all sorts of little bits of seemingly useless things. I found all manner of things in this box including bits of elastic, little religious medals, buttons, coins, old telephone tokens, chains, needles, magnets, nails and even a set of cufflinks. Abuela said she had kept a few of his little treasure collections which he would put into old jars, tins and boxes like this. He didn't sort any of his collections. He was a bit of a hoarder but whenever someone was looking for a spare button or nail or piece of chain or elastic he always had just the right thing handy. Because most of the family thought it was just rubbish that he kept round, none ever really touched his collected items and so they've survived relatively untouched. Only he knew exactly where everything was, which jar or tin had what.

My grandparents grew up poor and went through much hardship throughout their life. They made a living by cleaning, cooking and looking after well-to-do people's homes and children, whilst raising 5 children of their own. I find it interesting to look back at the lives my grandparents lived and compare that to some the material remains and traces of their experience. I wonder if they ever got to eat the expensive fine chocolates that came in the Felfort box or if the luxury for them was to have found or being given the box once the chocolates had been enjoyed by someone else.

I'm still trying to work out why it is that I am attracted to these things, why I seem to place such significance on what to someone else is just a box of rubbish. I'm not sure its as simple as putting it down to nostalgia. I have seen so much of myself reflected in these material traces, that I cant help but think they are instrumental not only my to my sense of identity but my ability to then process and articulate my experience. I feel as if I again need to revisit Susan Stewart's book On Longing to find better understand my relationship to these objects and how they in turn inform my art practice.

I left the box behind in Uruguay in Abuela's safekeeping, but she encouraged me to take something with me. I have brought back with me the small religious medallions of various saints and places. I'm not quite sure how or if I will use them in my artwork, or if I will see them differently now once I unpack them and see them in a new context. I suppose for now they'll just be added to my own collection, which is very similar to my Abuelo's: messy and un-categorized.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Take you on a tour: Montevideo to Minas

Roadside beauty salon

Roadside bakery offering the typical 'bizcochos' which are small croissant like pastries

Signboard advertising sale of log wood for parillas (bbq's), there is also graffiti
in the background in support of one of the main national teams Peñarol or Manya

The 'Disco' is one of the most common supermarket chains, similar to Coles or Woolworths

Political party murals such as these are very common, painted signs are also used by businesses

More political murals and banners near a public park

Many street corners are taken up by pizzeria bars and diner style cafes

Monday, February 14, 2011


(Thank you)/Special Services

For rent/in an instant

More secure/More of More/Free gift

At the best price/Jackpots today

Our pride


Nearest you always

When I travel I feel very conscious of the fact that at some point in the trip, I have crossed from one place to another. The difference having crossed a border isn't always immediately recognisable until you get off the bus, plane or boat. I have been criss-crossing many borders lately, mostly by bus and on each trip I have been taking photos of the road and signs. There is always a similar pattern, we tend to leave from an urban area and the further we go the more sparse the buildings and houses become, the signs larger and or small and rustic. People must think I'm crazy taking photos from inside the bus. Most travellers just sleep or talk to each other or even listen to music with their earphones plugged in. Most of the bus trips I've taken last from between 2 hours to 10 or more hours travelling overnight. No one seems to care about the journey in-between, its all about how to pass the time until the destination is reached. Sometimes, I enjoy the 'boring' part in-between more. Could be because the getting on the bus or getting off on time or making sure you are on the right bus or having to go through customs or find seats tends to stress me out a bit. I much prefer the part where once you are in your seat you can relax and just look out the window.

Looking back on all my photos from the bus trips I started to copy some of the text on road signs, murals and posters. This started the Signposts/Letreros series above. They seem to form a nice little narrative as a collection. Looked at together they give an insight into some of the social preoccupations in South America; housing, cost of living, politics and personal security.

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signpost |ˈsīnˌpōst|
a sign giving information such as the direction and distance to a nearby town, typically found at a crossroads.
figurative something that acts as guidance or a clue to an unclear or complicated issue : there are few unambiguous signposts for doctors facing ethical issues.
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Monday, February 7, 2011

Uruguay Field Notes: Street Parades II

The Llamadas (literally means 'calls') parade took place over 2 days in Montevideo on the 3rd and 4th of February. The llamadas is a competitive event specifically for the comparsas or drum groups including dancers and other key carnival figures. It was a great atmosphere on the two nights but particularly the second night was a standout with some of the best comparsas on show. I loved all the colour and texture of the costumes, the comparsa banners and amazing flags that bearers would wave over the crowd. They say it brings you luck to touch the flag as its waved past just over your head. The winning comparsa on the night was Elumbe, and far from signifying the end of the competition, the Uruguay carnival continues on with various comparsas performing in local clubs and at theatres. Just now as a I am writing I can hear the local comparsa rehearsing a few blocks away.
Along with the smell of wood fire as parillas (bbq's) are fired up I'll miss the call of the drums when I return home to Sydney.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Uruguay Field Notes: Street Parades

One of the many Carnival floats to take part in the parade

Bits of paper and styrofoam debris left behind by kids
who throw the foam in the air as the floats pass

One of the many street vendors that continuously walk by offering food, drinks,
ready cut foam, foam in spray cans and masks

An interesting shop-front along Av.18 de Julio

View of office buildings along Av.18 de Julio

I have been in Montevideo Uruguay for the past 2 months. I've been incredibly lucky to be able to spend some time thinking about my art practice, developing new work and gather research for my thesis. Although I have come back to Uruguay before, this is the first time since I was little that I've been able to stay during January and February to see the
Carnival street parades. Uruguay has the longest Carnival season of any of the South American countries including Rio in Brazil. The photos above were taken along the main street (Avenida 18 de Julio) in Montevideo on the day of the 'Desfile', a street parade marking the start of the competition for best carnival performers. There's an amazing atmosphere here this time of year. I've been totally seduced by the summer heat, brilliant sunsets and the vibrancy of the Carnival.