When Images Come Home to Roost: Notes on Blue Curry’s PARADISE.jpg

Blue Curry - PARADISE.jpg, at the corner of Orange Street and Port Royal Street

Blue Curry – PARADISE.jpg, at the corner of Orange Street and Port Royal Street

Although the Jamaica Biennial 2014 has now closed, we intend to continue the dialogue. Here is a guest-post by freelance curator and art writer Nicole Smythe-Johnson, who served as project manager for the Biennial and had special responsibility for coordinating projects such as Blue Curry’s.

Bahamian artist Blue Curry flew from London, checking his contribution to the 2014 Jamaica Biennial as luggage. Almost 300 feet of wall poster, divided into sections of 8 by 10 feet were packaged in two large rolls and encased in cardboard. Even though the National Gallery had provided the artist with a letter explaining the nature of the work, and the fact that the piece would not to be returned to London after the exhibition (only because it would be destroyed by then), the customs officer was unconvinced.

Blue Curry - PARADISE.jpg

Blue Curry – PARADISE.jpg

As the person meeting Blue on behalf of the gallery, I was called into the customs hall to explain how exactly these were artworks and not advertisements, and why the giant rolls of poster were of “no commercial value”. I did my best, but after 15 or 20 minutes of trying to satisfy her philosophical and functional queries, I began to worry that we would have to leave the posters at customs that night, while the officials figured out what code should apply to this as yet unheard of class of object; artwork of “no commercial value”.

As a last ditch effort, Blue offered to show the officials a mock-up of the poster that he’d printed on a letter-size sheet. He handed the print over, a simple rectangle of gradated blue. The customs officer looked at us as if she wanted to say “yu tink mi born yesterday?”, but instead she said “all of that is just this?”

Blue Curry - PARADISE.jpg, mock-up of installation on Port Royal Street

Blue Curry – PARADISE.jpg, mock-up of installation on Port Royal Street

We left the airport shortly after, with the posters in our possession. Seeing that innocuous blue rectangle seemed to drain the fight out of the official. Surely something that simple wasn’t worth arguing over, it certainly didn’t look like it was worth much.

This has been a recurring theme with PARADISE.jpg. People ask the same question over and over: “But what is it?” As Blue and his motley crew of volunteer assistants (themselves young artists and art students) went from site to site, slathering wallpaper glue on abandoned buildings and painstakingly moulding the poster to crumbling facades, people came from everywhere to ponder the strange image. Some thought it was preparation for something else, “are you going to paint it?” Others approved of the intervention, “yeh man, pretty up di place.” Even if they weren’t sure what it was, “likkle colour.” Several offered advice: “Yu nu si se dat nu do good?” or “Wha kinna glue dat? Dem foreign glue naa go work pon dem dutty wall.” The public installation sessions became a little game, what input will be offered next?

Blue Curry and crew at work on PARADISE.jpg

Blue Curry and crew at work on PARADISE.jpg

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Jamaica Biennial – Bulletin # 4: Blue Curry, Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque

Blue Curry - PARADISE.jpg, mock-up of installation on Kingston streets

Blue Curry – PARADISE.jpg, mock-up of installation on Port Royal Street

A special and new feature of the Jamaica Biennial 2014 is that we invited six international artists to participate with special projects. Here is our third and final post on the subject, on Blue Curry (Bahamas/UK) and Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque (Martinique/France):

Blue Curry, who was born in Nassau, Bahamas, in 1974, is a London based artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation. Using his own idiosyncratic language to transform objects and commonplace materials he engages with themes of exoticism, tourism, cultural commodification and authenticity. Blue Curry’s work often undermines fantasies of the tropical paradise by disrupting the mythic components intrinsic to this clichéd narrative. He obtained an MFA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College after which he was featured in the Catlin Guide to the top 40 emerging UK artists in 2010 and profiled in a two-part BBC documentary on graduate artists the same year. He has shown widely, participating in the 6th Liverpool Biennial as well as in group shows at P.P.O.W Gallery, New York; the Art Museum of the Americas, Washington DC; and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London among many others. In 2011 he had his first institutional solo show at the Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV), Germany and is currently showing a new commissioned work for Unsettled Landscapes at the SITE Santa Fe Biennial, New Mexico.  He has recently been nominated for the Cisneros Foundation Emerging Artist Grant.

Blue Curry – Untitled (2012), cement mixer, sun cream – Liverpool Biennial 2012

Curry writes about his Jamaica Biennial 2014 project, PARADISE.jpg: “I plan to cover walls and buildings in Kingston and vicinity with a large poster image of a continuous seascape culled from the internet. This infinite seascape is an impossible paradise unspoiled by people and still awaiting discovery. The image might have originally been taken somewhere in the Caribbean but has been so highly manipulated that it is now unrecognisable as belonging to any one location. It has become a generic image used by marketers to conjure up fantasies of a tropical paradise. The expectations that this sort of imagery creates of the region are unrealistic, limiting and impossible to live up to. The work is an intervention in the public space which returns this image to one of the many places it is supposed to represent and in doing so participates in the very act of tropicalisation by covering up what might be seen as unsightly urban areas of the city.”

Elie-dit-Cosaque, Gilles - still from Zetwal3

Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque – Zetwal3

Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque is a Martinican director, photographer and graphic designer. He began his career as an art director in the advertising business. In 2000 a short films series called Kamo triggered several projects in the French West Indies, such as the documentaries as Ma Grena’ et Moi, Outre-Mer Outre-Tombe about funeral rituals, and Zétwal, the extraordinary story of a Martinican who built a spaceship propulsed by poetry. More recent films are La Liste des Courses, a reflection about consumption in the French Caribbean and his latest, Nous Irons Voir Pelé Sans Payer. His films have been shown widely and received awards in French, American, and African festivals. As a photographer and visual artist, Cosaque has taken part in many exhibitions, such as Photoquai 2007, organised by the Quay Branly Museum in Paris, Entrevues at Fondation Clément in Martinique, Latitudes 2009 at the Paris City Hall, and BIAC 2013 in Martinique. Continue reading