I N T E R V I E W S : Johnny Stollmeyer

For victors to Trinidad and Tobago, this is one of our traditional carnival characters called the Midnight Robber. King Cobo, performed by John Stollmeyer is a sample of  his keeping of the  traditions of Carnival away from the grip of commercialism.

The King Cobo character’s concept was born, as Mr. Stollmeyer explained in 1990, Toronto ‘s Caribana . In 2000, King Cobo dies and is incarnation as his mother, Nikita B Nekbet, the vulture goddess of Upper Nile. A times the  King Cobo Midnight robber forgets his lines…that’s ok, his heart is in the right place.

I N T E R V I E W  by Adele Todd

You are an environmentalist and activist at a time when it wasn’t cool or even understood, how has this shaped your work?

I call myself a conceptual artist/deep ecologist, these two strains have informed my work since my first one-man show “The Counterfeit” (1982) inspired by my initiation into Rastafari with the Bobo Shanti in Tunapuna. This lead to an interest in making functional art out of indigenous natural resources. I took a class on basket weaving in tirite with the Carib Community of Santa Rosa. Moving to Canada I apprenticed as a woodworker. Throughout this period I was producing the, first, calabash and later adding coconut shell, high fashion natural jewelry line. I have done a little exploration on making my own earth pigments. All my various practices are directed to the issue of evolving sustainable human societies whose economic systems work within ecological laws. Presently I am working in the field of Permaculture, designing edible landscapes of food forest gardens at all scales.

JOHNNY STOLLMEYER Artist’s Statement reads:

Recognizing the artist’s role in society as visionary and agent of world change I take my mission as being to facilitate the paradigm shift. Finding ways to gently ease us into the Post/Industrial, Post/Scarcity Ecological age. The golden age of anarchy, the time, soon to come, when no one, without regard to age, gender race, class or species, has the right or the inclination to tell any one what to do.

Making the connections to the surviving sustainable, egalitarian, autochthonic, pre-conquest, tribal, animist societies that have existed for most of human evolution. Pointing out that the conditions that precipitated our hierarchical, wheat and dairy addicted cultures into being ten thousand years ago no longer prevail except in our own un-evaluated feelings. There is enough to go around.

The awareness of our complete loving connection to all life on Earth, to the elements and to the creative, intelligent, evolving Universal Continuum is inherent. Reality is benign; the world is a sacred place and we humans belong in such a place. Our socialization into “civilized” beings creates the limited ego that then requires effort to transcend. I take from the practices of Yoga, Tai Chi and Wilderness Awareness an attitude that informs all activity. Using the found objects of Indo/ European/Semitic vocabulary, materials from the natural environment and reusing the non-biodegradable synthetic refuse of the industrial growth society I make work intended to create healing change in myself and in the world.

2. You play a character at carnival, how long have you been doing this and why?

In 1990 while living in Toronto Chris Piniero invited me to play in the band “Birds are us” for Caribana.

I already had in my possession a RCA flight suit and a gas mask for chemical warfare, it occurred to me that they could be the basis of a Turkey Vulture costume that would be a metaphor for the Congressional/military/media/ industrial complex: “I ain’t no hawk I is King Cobo”. In the process of building the costume I kept having to put down tools in order to write down these lyrics that were coming into my head. At the end of which I recognised that I had the beginnings of a Midnight Robber speech. So I went into Robarts and did some research and found an old Caribbean Quarterly out of UWI, Jamaica that had an article on the form including some traditional speeches. I cobbled something together and did my first public presentation of it at the fifth North American Bioregional Congress in Kentucky in 1994. In 1996 I was initiated into the Rapso Fraternity with their Breaking New Ground show. I met Brian Honore the same year and joined The Mystery Raiders.

Through this character I am able to articulate my perspective as a cultural critic in a performance mode. In 2000 King Cobo (US) died in a hail of bullets, brought down by the affinity group of young drummers, the Dread Earth Movement (DEM). He was reincarnated as his own mother, Nikita B.

3. Tell me about your early training in the Arts?

I was essentially self-taught until university. After failing to get the required grades for med school I did a summer course and entered the second year Visual Arts programme at the University of Western Ontario.

4. When did craft become a part of your process?

In the late 70s I was living in Santa Cruz on the family estate. The old estate house, La Regalada, was surrounded by calabash trees planted by my grandfather for growing orchids and supplying water vessels. Chunky jewelry was in and one of the varieties that had small spherical fruit, good for shack shack, gave me the idea of making bracelets. When I cut off the ends I realised I had material for earrings and pendants. I pioneered applying batik techniques useing molten bee’s wax as the resist to create negative space and soaking the shell in bleach.

5. You practice yoga and meditation, how does this impact your philosophy?

I set aside time to indulge in these practices sporadically and with reluctance and resentment. My philosophy would have it that these “spiritual” technologies only became necessary following the development of conquering tribes fuelled by aggreculturally(sic) based exploding populations that have for the first time become globalised in this century.

The early child rearing practices of pre-conquest cultures, where the infant never experiences loss of skin contact with another human until they make the decision themselves and breast feeding continues for between 4-7 years; where the adults that one encounters at birth are fully present, confident with delighted attention and where the foundational ethic of the community is that everyone including strangers should always feel comfortable: creates the appropriate environment for the development of a fully functioning human being who already experiences their complete connection to the kosmos.

6. What can artists do to be greener?

I am conflicted here, should we be getting the non-biodegradable synthetic materials out into nature as quickly as possible so that she can come up with the enzymes to deal with them one time and done or would it help to reuse this detritus in our works so that they can be entombed in some wealthy collectors air-conditioned apartment for another 10-20-30 years. Obviously in geological time it is immaterial, the damage has already been done.

All of us have to evolve more sustainable lifestyles. That means living as much as possible within the carrying capacity of the watershed we inhabit and having good relationships with communities in other watersheds who have products that we need so that there can be fair exchange of surplus.

7. What have you been working on lately and where can your work be seen?

I have been gardening lately. Sculpting clay lined ponds for aquaculture, rock piles for reptile habitat and mandala shaped beds for the vegetation. Laying out a food forest of my favourite fruit and nut trees. Can be seen at 6 St. Ann’s Ave.

8. What would your perfect art world look like?

Food is free again and everyone is their own artist, doctor and priest/ess. The culture is loaded with participatory ritual celebration of seasonal changes. Making art, which just means expressing our skills, singing and dancing are everyday activities.

Thank you Adele for this opportunity to articulate my position.

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