Las Casas Bailaban -‘The houses danced’ Earth-heart-quake funding towards art as therapy sessions with Santa Cruz Cuautomatitla in Puebla ,Mexico.

Santa Cruz Cuautomatitla, Puebla, Mexico is a small town situated on the south side of the active Volcano Popocateptl. Just kms from the megapolis of Mexico City, the quite traditional life of this rural town was disrupted when the earthquake on the 19th September tore through the village of 1500 people destroying half of their homes and causing many landslides widening the gully between the town.

A group of friends formed a convoy of 10 vehicles to take aid to some of the smaller towns outside of Mexico city, this is when they first came in contact with the community of Santa Cruz Cuautomatitla. The help was gratefully accepted and they stayed to help with the demolition of some of the damaged houses. The town is community run without aid entering from the government . Before the earthquake most of the inhabitants lived from the fertile volcanic earth and the regions production of pears.

Most of the community were quite restrained by poverty and the inequality that the hinders Mexico from before the earthquake hit and this tragedy only heightens some of the existing problems that riddled the town such as unstable economy and immigration of young men to the USA.”

Now the town is facing the reconstruction of many of its homes and community buildings and planning how to make the structure of the town more resilient to natural disasters. Due to the nature of the ground ( much of the earth is made up of volcanic ash  and is very soft ) plus the detrimental affects of deforestation causing the ground to become less stable – they are becoming more vulnerable to landslides . The result of the earthquake has left huge crators and dangerous terrain for building new homes.

During these times it is so important to bring joy ,light and creativity to a difficult situation and embrace these connections that are being made between this small community and the influx of  volunteers and support  from various organisations.  The local children are  such are an integral part and essential  energy for the future of the pueblo and with this in mind  , we thought it would be wonderful to offer some creative workshops to the schools in order to offer a platform for creative expression + FUN :).

Over October we raised funds to deliver an art as therapy creative play program with the children effected from the natural disaster in the town.

Yesterday after an early rise @5am and a 3/4 hour journey up to mountains, we made a visit to see how the town of Santa Cruz Cuautomatitla is getting on.I travelled with Sarah and Diego who have been working alongside the community for the past 2 months.

We took a tour of the town and the areas effected by the earthquake on the 19th of September.We also explored the beautiful landscape and massive crators formed across the town post sismo. You can see the reconstruction in action and there are already a few bamboo houses in place. We also enjoyed a delicious lunch from the community kitchen in the plaza and met some of the very welcoming locals.
After a walk further up the hill I met the lovely director of the school :  Escuela Telsecundaria Emiliano Zapata : Rutilo – he was very welcoming and supportive of the project. At the moment resources are stretched as both the secondary and primary schools are all working away together , sharing spaces in some temporary UNICEF tents and existing buildings. The school is a school of 192 pupils in total + 10 teachers.

The town  and school is surrounded by fields of flowers , Amaranth , avocado trees and pear orchards and of course the big Volcano Don Popo in the near distance (it is the final town before your reach the still active volcanic beast) .We are excited to incorporate some of the stunning nature and foods into the creative programme.

Las Casas bailaban project will offer the pupils a programme of fun creative activities , art and play as therapy with visiting artists from mid January. We are all very excited to connect .

Thanks for all of your support and to First Food Residency and The Koppel Project for their generous donations to the project 

Watch this space..

Advertisements

Resilience Shake – A love letter to Mexico

On Tuesday afternoon at around 1pm Mexico experienced its second earthquake tremor in 11 days at 7.1. It arrived only hours after the annual drill commemorating the 1985 earthquake disaster 32 years earlier. This has been my experience of it. But more importantly  an experience of the big perspective shake and humanity power it has birthed.

I was in my 2nd floor flat in San Rafael and a surreal great movement seemed to surge  but this time in all directions , up and down and side to side.I only had time to grab my keys before rushing out and down the stairs with the neighbours from downstairs and their pet terrapin in towel. I galloped out minus shoes , as quickly as I could  and down the stairs , I followed the crowds into the middle of the street eyes like a hawk on everything above us. I noticed my breathing speed up and heard senoras around me wailing. I backed myself into a circle of people of all walks of life  , who had gathered in the middle of the street. We formed ourselves like a circle, protective and facing out at all angles , a survival circle in our territorial instinctive human states.The downstairs neighbours daughter screamed mama over and over again whilst she breathed heavily. A tall glamorous telenovela looking woman emerged from the crowd and said to me  ;

‘No eres de aqui ,verdad?’ (‘You are not from here are you?’)and she took my hand and squeezed it as the apocalyptic vibrations rose up from the ground.

A big isolated fear welled up in me , her grip was like a big golden embrace around my shakey inners, I was more moved by her than the physicality of the earthquake.

And so this theme began.

A puff of dust had dispersed further down the street and I thought , this could be it , the city is falling.

The sun shined bright and the hysteria rised up from the valley. Sirens and smashed glass , broken mirrors abandoned in the street. I returned to my empty flat and analysed the damage , my mirror had fallen and various ceramic pieces had scattered from unexplored bits of my new apartment , I gripped my phone , waiting for some sign of connection to the ones I hold dear.The network was of course overwhelmed ,so every so often through the tiny windows of connection I made scattered whats app words to my friends. A big isolated fear welled up in me once more.I waited for someone to direct me, frozen in shock .I walked out into the street to see if there was anything I could help with, I walked past groups fanning fainted colleagues and lingered around televisions in hardware stores reporting the devastation around the city. When I arrived home I met my flatmate Raquel she was quick to take me under her wing and did what all Mexicans do best , firstly she took me to eat.We then went to visit a neighbour in his gallery La buena estrella  a few blocks down and decided to start taking supplies to the various rescue centres that the civilians had started to organise in the disaster zones. We walked  through the dark crumbling streets , electricity had been cut in parts and imerged to  a chaos of flashing lights and mounts of toilet paper and plastic bottles of water  at a Centro de Acopio at Jardin Pushkin in Roma Norte.People has been there since it happened trying to organise aid where possible  for the victims and damage that had shattered La Roma and Condesa ,  two fancy and ancient neighbourhoods ,I had called home last year.

Several folk in plastic hats and high vis began shouting – FILA FILA and humans gathered in their chained form to move loads of water and food from vehicles gathering around the edges. In the chaos I spotted my friend Coco. In Mexico all my friends are fruits. He was mounted on a bike shouting across the masses of people potential directions of what could be done next , I ran across and gave him a real life – alive squeeze , tried not to tremble into hysterical weeping and left him to his mission, he seemed to be in his element. I decanted a large bottle of water and some supplies from my backpack into the hands of a man who had arrived from another disaster area looking for supplies.

My heart gushed at the amount of people arriving to volunteer or bring aid. We decided to move to another area to make ourselves more useful , we made friends with a lovely man called Nacho and his taxi friend who offered to drive us around where we were needed. There was a panicked power of adrenaline fuelling all of these civilians to help their people. The failure of their government and trust in services means everything is down to the community and boy do the community go all out . Our second stop took us to Chimalcopotla , there we wiggled through the crowds with cartons of milk to deliver to the other side of a scene that looked straight out of  a destructive blockbluster  scene , there was the harsh red and fluorescent light attempting to light mountains of destruction and debris , with brave men and women delicately removing heavy grey parts to try and pull out the trapped humans below them. We helped crowds carry more shovels and tools to remove the excessive amounts of rubble.Every so often someone would raise their hand and silence would fall across the gathered thousands , so the rescuers could listen for life between the rubble and chaos.The mass action and reaction brought shivers down my spine. Never have I felt the power of such human force working together to aid a desperate situation , there were volunteers looking after the volunteers handing out coffee and tortas , a young girl of around 12 offered us marshmallows , I took one and thanked her remembering how it important it was to make others feel useful and included in a terrifying natural disaster and this beautiful reactive mass human movement of aid.

  There is a generosity and kindness which flows through this country’s  life blood , perhaps because of there closeness to death and darkness. Mexico city is a city at the top of a mountain in a marshy basin beside a very active giant volcano; Don Goyo Popo , split between two shaky earth plates. It’s existence is always face to face with extremes and the future is unknown.These are extremes and contrast you see all over the city and interlaced through the landscape. Its ancient fire and violent history are present and are very much pulsating through this urban and sprawling landscape.
You trip over its extremes in the street , as you walk through the neighbourhood and almost fall over homeless people sleeping in the middle of the street. Its poverty doesn’t hide from you , it is part of the material of the city.Its buildings tower and crumble , marking various economic booms and downfalls .The richest of the richest live here and swoosh by the poorest of the poor who have travelled for 3 hours to come sell chewing gum or whatever clever item one can think you could want in moments of transit.

After worming our way out of Chimalcopotla we heading back to delegation Cuauhtemoc where supples were being gathered and organised , we formed great human chains , women and men of all ages shouting AGUAS! (‘Waters’- a sign of be careful) as the literally passed water in its various plastic cargos to the corner of the storage pile , I chuckled at the irony of it all . We sorted medicines and foods into different areas and smiled at each other carrying out these simple mass tasks together , happy in the union of human power. ChidatreeofheartsGP

Greer Pester – ‘Chida tree of hearts’ – prints and postcards available at Cactus and Creatures exhibition @ The Koppel Project , London , running from the 5th of October – the 4th of November. All money from this series will be going towards the rebuilding and supporting of physical and social Mexico post Earthquake trauma.

It is difficult to describe the big emotional wound this experience has carved in me , for all the trauma and fear and shock, this mass shake has connected people who would have never have touched before and stripped all the superficial stuff away to reveal our very human empathetic cores .Its cultivated a little huerto of resilience in me. Its like taking a shower and washing away all the sticky bubble and insignificant worries  away and emerging and walking in your raw clean state and opening up your energy to others from other bubbles.
The world needs more of this.It builds resilience , learning and flexibility in our constructed bubbly identities. We all need to learn to be more resilient and closer to the key human things that matter.Its a shame it takes a violent jerk from big Mumma E to unite us in our shared feeling and openness. There is so much potential for humanity if we could just be a little more present, in a more holistic way each day.

And by god we really need to start listening to big mother E.

She’s got a lot to say , we should listen.

Mexico querido , everyday I am more in love with you , you inspire so much and bring parts of me to life. I am eternally grateful for the experiences and awakenings.

Hasta Pronto ❤

COCHINEAL – ‘The colour of cactus blood’ WRKSHP 2 – FF educational outreach 2017

(

First food residency  :Community outreach program  :October 2017

Workshop 2 :Cochineal : ‘the colour of cactus blood’:

 

T i t l e s :

‘A history of seeing red’ , ‘The colour of cactus blood’ ‘The blood of the gods’.

Names in other languages : Mixteca -Nduco ,Nahuatl -nocheztli,Maya -Mucay, Zapotec – bee,biaa,bia due. Árabe -Dude.

M y t h o l o g y :

“The legendary explanation places two Olmec gods in a fierce battle for possession of a field of nopal cacti. The struggle spattered the gods’ blood onto the cactus leaves, making a strong red ink called Nacheztli, translated, blood of the nopal cactus. Generations used this dye, thought to be the battle residue, for body paint, food and wool dyes.”

O r i g i n s:

Cochineal – ‘La Cochinilla’ is actually a tiny insect that feeds on the ducts of the Nopal like a baby on a teat. People often mistake it’s rich red colouring for the ‘blood’ of the insect but in fact about a quarter of the insect’s body weight consists of carminic acid (which it produces to deter predators);it is this acid, essentially, which gives the cochineal it’s colourful extract.The colour can only be extracted from the females.

After attaching itself to the nopal leaf, the female cochinilla waits fertilization by the male; then after laying eggs on the spear, spins a white milky cocoon around the eggs. In three months the infants mature. The insects are then scraped from the leaf and ground into a powder, producing an extract known as carminic acid. This extract generates the vibrant hues of red dye.With a short life cycle, the females only live for 3 months , the baby walks on the nopal for 3 days and then feeds.

The Nopal thrives with rain and sunshine whereas cochineal must protect themselves from burning in the strong rays of sun and being battered by the harsh tropical rains and finally from a whole array of clever predators.To help sustain themselves they encase themselves in a special white powder and carefully consider sheltered positions on the pad of the Nopal.The wax of the Nopal also provides additional protection.

 

K e y F a c t s :

  • When Cortes invaded Mexico in 1519, he was in awe to find Montezuma and other high members of society dressed in robes dyed with bright vivid red. He was also amazed to see the native women’s hands and breasts painted the same intense color.
  • Cochineal is a strong sign of abundance and prosperity after it became a product so sought after for the finery of the people of the West , mainly for dyeing clothing and being used as a tint for European painters in medieval times.
  • The famous redcoats for the British army were dyed with Cochineal.
  • At one point during the Aztec empire , the cochineal dye was the most valuable export just below silver.
  • Peru is one of the most important producers of cochineal and accounts for 85-90% of world production sadly commercial production in Mexico collapsed in the late 1800s due to the rise of of artificial colouring in the 19th century which in turn reduced the production of Cochineal.
  • Several countries, including Chile, Botswana and the Canary islands, also cultivate cochineal and are together responsible for the remaining 10-15% of production.

Today the demand for cochineal is making a comeback as consumers return to natural products: it is used as a fabric and cosmetics dye and as a natural food colouring and is common in many of the foods we eat today.

A c t i v i t y :

20170424_174027.jpg

Our workshop will explore the magical process of printing and painting with cochineal colour- experimenting with the Carmine tint and combining it with various chemical elements that can subtly affect the colouring of the tint, playful elements such Bicarbonate of soda , lemon and vinegar and even the PH of the paper can dramatically effect the hues produced on the page.It is quite magical to watch the colour transformations.We will further experiment with natural edible artworks painting our newly mixed tone directly onto Tortilla canvases!

/

T H E M E S :

Participants will be invited to paint modern day warriors, people and creatures with the fire of life and resilience in them , similar to the Aztec sun war god Huitzilopochti.

Looking at symbolic imagery around the blood and soul of nature and the Aztec gods and spirits that nurture these magical world resources.

We shall take inspiration from the Nopal as a metaphor for a living and breathing human element and the Cochineal tint like the ancient and wise blood and vivid colour in humanity.We shall encourage playful mark making to confess secrets of the human heart of fire. Tuning into our inner warriors and spirits to come to fruition on the paper.

More specifically we will be looking at the ‘Axolotl’, the special Mexican salamander – or ‘walking fish’ (although it is actually an amphibian) whose magical characteristics are all about magical Mexican resilience.

‘The name “Axolotl” comes from the Aztec language, “Nahuatl”. One of the most popular translations of the name connects the Axolotl to the god of deformations and death, Xolotl, while the most commonly accepted translation is “water-dog” (from “atl” for water, and “xolotl”, which can also mean dog)’

 

Born in the beautiful Xochimilco canals of Mexico City and the ancient Aztec kingdom of Tenochtitlan.This little cheeky and charming creature is only found here and can only survive in shallow fresh water canals.

The Axolotl is a bit of a Peter pan animal , it is one of the few animals that exhibit ‘Neoteny’ which is a process that means it retains its juvenile characteristics until it dies, this is perhaps why it is considered so adorable.

Most salamanders are able to regenerate body structures to some extent. But the Axolotl is extra special in that it can regenerate not only limbs, but also its jaws, spinal cord, skin and internal organs. Furthermore after these parts regenerate there is no evidence of scar tissue.For this factor the Axolotls represent immortality ,they can even receive transplanted organs from other bodies without rejection. They are 1000 x more resistant to cancer than other mammals. For these shining qualities , Axolotls are studied closely by scientists. Sadly despite all of their super powers the Axolotl is becoming extinct , due to the polluted waters and expanding city ,there is also a problem with them being over hunted to be used for medicinal purposes or stolen away as pets. It is estimated there are only around 100 left in the wild.

To the Aztecs, the salamander’s regenerative power was like that of the lake system that sustained them.There is a lot to be learned from these little floaty creatures with regards to our own roles in the eco systems and the narrative of pushing the limitations of our own poor earth , without considering the more holistic effects we have on our environment. Aside from the horror and sacrificial slaughter of the Aztecs, there is much wisdom and magic of these old civilisations before us and how so many of their beliefs and systems were mirrored and based on existing animals and the natural world around them.Society take note!

 

A i m s :

  • Engage participants with a magical transformative visual activity explaining the origins of this magical tint which already is so present in our lives and diets without us realising. Giving folk a sense of the system and origins of the food,clothing , products they eat and wear.
  • Explore other Magical creatures and myths associated to themes of ‘resilience’ such as Aztec gods and the Axolotl.
  • Playful artistic experimentation with an exotic and natural material.
  • Producing a final product which can be taken away and treasured.
  • Inspired by the folkloric origins of the cochineal aiding to translate exciting mental imagery.

*Idea for extended activity* (-Reference to the way cochineal is cultivated in little woven tubes-sacred messages of the heart painted with colouring encased in the woven tubes and hung on the Cactus pad forms like the cochineal.)

M a t e r i a l s :

  • Cochineal -dried insect form to be ground and crushed into pigment.
  • Vinegar
  • Bicarbonate of soda
  • Lime
  • A variety of PH papers
  • Personalised Cactus printing stamps by FF artist Harriet Bruce.
  • Paint brushes
  • Palettes
  • Mixing plates
  • Waterpots
  • Babywipes
  • gloves

P o t e n t i a l w o r k i n g g r o u p s :

Youths – 13-21yrs

Children – 5-12yrs

Families – Parent and tots – 3-5yrs

Adults -18-100yrs

 

 

‘Joy in People’ KPC Banner Commission

Over summer I was invited by the wonderful Kinning Park Complex and Anna Tudos in Glasgow to construct a banner for the ‘March on’ anniversary of a sit in protest that took place in 1996 to keep the building open. I gathered residue materials from around the chaos of the building and pasted a ‘fabric collage’ bursting with KPC symbols of community and collective voice and general ‘Joy in people’ vibes, on the 16th of  July we marched through the local area with banner celebrating the past , present and future of our community resilience.

Nopal – ‘The sacred tree of hearts’ – FF educational outreach 2017

First food residency  , Community outreach program  ,October 2017 , ‘The Resilience series’ :

Workshop 1 :

NOPAL  ‘the Sacred tree of hearts’

O r i g i n s  of a fad :

The Cactus has exploded as a visual fad around the world ,you regularly see its distinctive forms printed on clothing and product and carefully placed in all the trendy spots.But when looking deeper into this unique plant you realise there are so many more reasons why we should be honouring and encouraging it’s use and praise in modern society. At a time when the world is full of fierce and frightening contrasts , heating up and drying out , we look to an iconic plant like the Nopal cactus for inspiration for our own human resilience and survival.

 

The cactus we are looking at specifically is one native to Mexico called the ‘Nopal’ or more commonly know in the west of the world as “Prickly pear”, with it’s bitter sweet fruits known as ‘Tuna’ in Mexico that flower between April to August .Both are  important contributions to the Mexican diet.

 

M y t h o l o g y :

The classic hardy ,complexed and gory Aztec tale goes something like this : After a great betrayal Aztec sun god Huitzilopochtli- (“wheat-seal-o-poached-lee”s) skinned the body and threw the heart of his nephew Copil (son to Huitzi’s sorceress sister)

onto the island in the middle of the Lake Texcoco. He then told his priests that this heart had landed on a rock and a Nopal had grown from it , it was so grand and magnificent that an eagle perched there daily ,feeding from its plentiful fruits and enjoying the sun .He told them when they found it , it would be surrounded by the beautiful colorful feathers of all of the dead birds that the Eagle had fed on. When the people found this image in front of their eyes they discovered the birth place of the great city of Tenochtitlan (today’s mega populated Mexico City) they bowed at the Eagle and the Eagle bowed back.

 

The symbolic image of the flag speaks of the aztec myth of perseverance and spiritual belief system ,guided by wild and forceful gods of war, indeed Tenochtitlan went on to be the capital of the Aztec empire. In pre Hispanic imagery of this myth, the fruit that grows from the cactus is represented as human hearts and in the eagle’s beak is an atlachinolli -an ancient aztec symbol of fire , water + war which could have been mistaken as a snake by colonists , perhaps for this reason it is what appears in the eagle’s beak on the modern day flag.

 

N o p a l  in  t o d a y’ s d i e t :

Mexico is also one of the only countries who eat Nopal as a staple vegetable in their diets. You find it in salads ,  stuffed with cheese and laced through your green smoothies and taco trimmings on the street.Much of the Nopal produce for the city is grown in Milpa Alta in the outskirts of the city where the sprawling city meets ancient rural farming.It is cut and prepared (de spined) so it is ready to feed the 25 million hungry bellies of the huge CDMX.         

 

P u r e   H e a l t h :

There are 160 different species of Nopal ,110 of them are found in Mexico.

It has several nutritional qualities:

 

  • it is a magical flat vegetable full of lots of fiber and vitamins
  • It has been linked as a great aid to various diseases such as Diabetes.
  • It helps purify the blood and is rich in calcium.
  • It lowers blood sugar, lowers cholesterol.
  • It is also used as an anti – inflammatory in treating gastritis or issues with the intestine
  • In India it is used to treat whooping cough and asthma.

 

More recently Nopal has been developed as a fantastic new fuel product !It can be found fuelling machinery in the state of Michoacan, Mexico :

The fruit or prickly pears are pureed, mixed with manure, then left to decompose, producing methane,”Climate Home explained. “That gas is used for fuel and burned to generate enough electricity for 300 homes at 50 percent cheaper than grid prices.“- Eco watch.

This special plant could be powering us in more ways than one in the future.

A c t i v i t y :

Inspired by the beautiful and intricate structures of the Nopal , its unique and fibrous pads stacked and sprouting from various angles like extended intricate heart and hand systems.We are going to build are very own inspired sculptural forms.

T h e m e s :

The unique sensitive and hardy personality of the of Nopal has inspired our special sculptural- ‘sacred tree of hearts’ -body and soul sprawl- workshop. ‘The Nopal’ in ancient indigenous languages translates as ‘The tree of hearts’.

Exploring this theme we will construct our own Cactus inspired sculptures with messages from the heart , honest whole hearted commentaries on social resilience and perseverance in our times , made with the honesty of our hands.

A I M S :

  • Learn more about the history and nutritious qualities of this food and plant source.
  • Construct and engineer structures from recycled materials inspired by the Nopal’s form.
  • Use the placard pads as a 2 and 3D surface and platform to voice our collective, human voice on the key value of nature ,resilience and honesty in society.
  • Learn about how Nopal is utilised today in the world and the endless potentials of it for the future.

M a t e r i a l s :

  • Cardboard
  • Toothpicks
  • Paint
  • Sticks / structural elements
  • Fine and large brushes
  • Markers
  • Paper / card / tissue paper
  • Pots- base structures / plasticine/ loo rolls
  • Stamps
  • Visual and Text references
  • Tape
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Recycled materials , plastic bottles caps etc.

 

P o t e n t i a l   w o r k i n g   g r o u p s :

 

  • Youths – 13-21

 

  • Children – 5-12

 

  • Families –

 

  • Adults –

 

 

  • Groups working around themes of good health.
  • Mental health
  • Recycling / Eco friendly initiatives.