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Dirty laundry in public ...and why I like contemporary art

Sunday, October 9, 2016
Resting on our Laurels, Version 1, Richard Mark Rawlins. OUT OF PLACE, ACTION #5

Guest writer Dave Williams, a founder of CoCo Dance Festival, ruminates on recent work by artist Richard Mark Rawlins

Like Trinidad Carnival itself, contemporary artists are taking to the wide unbound spaces of our streets and backyards. 

Very much like our Carnival where no other spaces fit for spectacle or performance existed/exists there is just one road out. As with your garden-variety homeless, under-appreciated, streetwalking crack whore mom, necessity and invention continue to conspire to get highs in T&T.

Contemporary visual artist and graphic designer, Richard Mark Rawlins is a street worn proponent and cheerleader of the Alice Yard art space on Roberts Street, itself a back yard that takes the inquisitive into explorations and conversations that share, follow and propagate a big chunk of the T&T arts “contemporaneousphere”.

A properly pickled mas player, Rawlins also spent most of his childhood and adolescence here in Woodbrook, exactly where the ad man works today. He is familiar with the streets, avenues, sewer tracks and increasing number of empty lots creeping between the suburban bars, businesses and dwellings of this minor metropolis. This portion of Port-of-Spain real estate can be considered Rawlins’ private gallery and exhibition space.

Resting on our Laurels, Out of Place, Action 5 is Rawlins latest—and hopefully still hanging—tag on the city artscape. It is Number 5 in a sequence of informal collaborations between various artists to mark Alice Yard’s tenth anniversary titled Project X.

Project X asks the questions that seek to alter the public’s relationship to artistic investigation and experimentation. What would happen if we dislodged the artwork from traditional forms of display/encounter and locations, dismantled mythologies of sole authorship and propose the status of the art object or action as an instigative “event”? OUT OF PLACE is co-curated by Alice Yard yearX artist in residence, Blue Curry and Alice Yard’s co-director, artist Christopher Cozier.

Resting on our Laurels: a clothesline airing a limited wardrobe of elastic-waist khaki shorts—each just like the other, one size fits all—each bearing a stencilled laurel on its backside.

Simple. But yet still, so much of a muchness.

Laurels are worn on heads, mostly the heads of the highly placed and accomplished. Shorts are worn on bottoms. In the politics of our post-colonial inheritance, khaki short pants are particularly compatible with schoolboys: keeps them in their junior, servile places, long after graduation. They also hide dirt pretty well.

What is Rawlins saying? 

Are our heads up our own immature permanently prepubescent bottoms? 

Are we stuck with a legacy of brown-nosing, redundancy, repetition and pedantism that revels in self-absorption?

Or is it just pointing to our heads—our leaders, our politics? Or is it a just treaty on languishing real estate and ketch arse in the current era? Or is it a commentary on local fashion—hanging out to dry?

The work went up without pomp or ceremony, without a guest list and invite to the appropriate Minister of Government, or without a wine-soaked opening night and media launch. Is this public invisibleness part and parcel of this work now hanging in that empty lot between a mango and a breadfruit tree at the bottom of Ana Street. Is the un-harvested fruitfulness significant? Does the piece even suggest who is doing this dirty laundry?

Not having spoken to Rawlins about this piece specifically, I enjoy my cluelessness and my untrained and clumsy mental gymnastics.

This simple piece is enjoyable for its pregnancy of possibilities and suggestiveness whether intentional or “un”.

Do a drive by. Hurry before these well made shorts go missing. 

Dave Williams is a writer, dancer and choreographer.


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