Remembering Bookmann geocites 2004 – Adele Todd and Lisa Brice

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Paradise Lisa Brice / Adele Todd

Two artists from opposite ends of the world, South Africa and Trinidad in the West Indies, came together to collaborate on a project called Paradise.

Adele was looking at the way her island is being changed by drugs and violence. Lisa looked at how much Trinidad during her first visits had seemed to represent paradise. By her third visit she began to peel back the layers of Caribbean society, revealing the less than pleasant underbelly – presenting many issues familiar to her from her home country. Lisa aimed more to critique than criticise contemporary Trinidad, to comment rather than judge, and joined Adele in a dispassionate look at contradictory forms of representation through the paradise concept.

Adele’s starting point was the issue of kidnapping, until recently an unknown crime to Trinidad, yet now looming large, and she created two confining constructions based on actual plywood boxes seized by the police as a device to secure and restrain kidnap victims. Lisa’s focus was on large billboard-sized photographs of idyllic seascapes, typical of those she had seen in Germany to stave off the winter blues.

When the two artists first unveiled the posters in their studio, they spent several hours lounging about in front of the fake scenery, as if they were really at the beach. They began their process from this acute sense of ‘unreality.’

The result of two months of studio collaboration was a critical elegy and lament on how much paradise is increasingly becoming an ideal, a fantasy that has little to do with yearning for a place in the sun: even those from warm climates need something more.

Images from Trinidad newspapers of public indecency and gun violence were converted into grid/pixel format. This gave the impression that these actions had actually happened amongst the fake tropical scenery. Adele took the ‘gun culture’ concept further by using beer drip mats as a form of line drawing. The mats connected with tourism and lounging around.

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The large billboards were reminescent of backdrops used in photo studios in the 60’s and 70’s and people really took advantage of the subconscious reminders of those times.

Lisa used a wall drawing taken from a bar in Grande Riviere, Trinidad seen during the 1999 big River International Artist Workshop. The drawing was of a woman holding an ice pick and glaring out at the viewer whilst standing before a huge web. Interestingly, Adele also used the same image embroidered on oversized leaves at the same venue in 2000. She also included text found typically in Trinidadian rum shops on painted signs reading, ’No obscene!’

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Lisa and I really wanted people to see what work in progress was like. Here she is with Natalie at the beginning of working on “The Couple.” We only used paper taken from the posters. Yet despite the limited palette, Lisa created a masterful piece.

These processes formed a dialogue based on graffiti and the mundane in Trinidad and South Africa, with Lisa adding to her earlier work focusing on social injustice. The artists were also extremely fortunate to receive curatorial help from the artists Godfried Donkor (London/Ghana), Richard Bolai and Embah (Trinidad and Tobago).

There was a complex work that was not included in the show, an Origami aeroplane that was to be hung from the ceiling: playing with folded shapes, Lisa’s journey to Trinidad, and a tourist‘s welcome to the island. The artists vowed to continue with the piece, possibly in another location outside the Caribbean, perhaps South Africa.

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On the opening night and during the show, the artists found that the public enjoyed interacting with the work, taking pictures in front of the billboards and even sitting inside the kidnap boxes. Neither artist could recall ever seeing people getting involved with art pieces so intimately without being invited to do so.

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Chatting with Dr. Patricia Mohammed, Head of the Department of Gender Affairs and Development Studies about Lisa and my decision to include our working process in the show

Adele Todd’s first Trinidad show was Hit! (National Museum and Art Gallery, 2000), that dealt with a topic no artist in the Caribbean has wanted to touch. Since then she has continued to focus on difficult subject matter. The latest was her performance dealing with domestic violence, “when you dream wedding”, (University of West Indies, 2003) involving traditional wedding attire and the destruction with a machete of a blood-filled cake. – 2004

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