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Daniel Notes - Work in Progress

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Moving and Traveling…


We’re going to Astana for a week. The First International Symposium of Artists in Astana. This should be interesting. We have to take the train for around a day and a half from Almaty to get there.

We’ve moved from our place and now we’re staying in our friends house while they’re out of town. I took their dog down to a little trail near a river. It sort of reminded me of being a kid and walking my dog. I would really like to have a dog if I could. Maybe when we go back to the Bay Area

Today, we’re going to meet some the artists to discuss our project. This has to be done quickly because we leave tomorrow.

The tomatoes are getting really good here in Almaty. Some of the best I’ve ever tasted outside of Mexico. I made a little stir fry for Aminatou and Zhanara. I think they really liked it. It feels good to make them happy through food. Maybe it’s the Chez Panisse in me.

As for art I’m working on some ideas for the project. I’m still not sure what will come out of this. I will know more when I return from Astana. I plan to think about it during the train ride. I also have to figure out my artwork in Astana. I’m supposed to do something outside and probably with spray paint!?

Oh, today we met Eve Sussman. She’s an artists who does installation work with video. She is visiting Kazakhstan with two of her friends Claudia and Jeff. They may work on a project here. We took them out for Shashlyk at our favorite restaurant in town.


Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

Speaking of cities in transition


I am in Astana at the 1st International Symposium of Artists.

It took us a day and a half by train from Almaty to reach the capital of Kazakhstan. Along the way I saw some remarkable sights. My favorite part of the train ride was when we passed Lake Balkash. I saw gulls flying around the lake and they made me miss the Pacific Ocean. Something interesting about the north is how a lot of this area is marshland.

When you`re in the city of Astana, you can see pockets of water and water plants. Lilly pads and dragonflies are abundant in these marshes as well as many species of water birds.

We`ve been meeting all sorts of different artists during this symposium. We`ve met a great deal of locals as well. I wasn`t really expecting to meet many people from Astana. I imagined all of them being pushed out. I`ve met many locals who live in the city and are first hand witnesses of one of the largest building projects in the world..

Many of these large open spaces that everyone talks about when Astana is mentioned are amazingly filled with the locals. Often you see families and couples strolling along the newly built plazas and promenades. I?m sure if this was the U.S.A. many of these places would be empty.

So, many of my expectations about this city have been changed. I imagined this city to be a cold dreary landscape. I have found Astana to be quite interesting for a new city. I couldn`t help but compare it to a typical city in America. My best comparison is very modern Salt Lake City. One of the things this city has going for it is the constant building for urban entertainment. You can really get a good lesson here about how cities can be built at a massive scale.

Astana is still a very small city. It?s surprising because the city itself looks massive with the eclectic rooftops on the buildings that give an illusion of a large skyline. Within 10 minutes drive you can be in the middle of the step in those marshy wetlands.



Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Moving and moving


After getting kicked out of our apartment we scrambled around to find a place to stay. Well for the last two weeks we’ve been able to stay in our friends house while they’re away. They’ve just returned and now we’ve made our move to our new temporary home. Zhanara and I spent the day cleaning the floors and getting it organized. We listened to Bjork’s Drawing Restraint album while we cleaned. The Will Oldham track is my favorite.

It started to rain this afternoon. It has been quite hot the last two days so it is a welcome relief.

A nice thing is that we(Gaisha, Zhanara, Aminatou, and myself) had a talk about some of our ideas with the gallery space. We agreed on some ideas that we will keep in mind as we work towards the show.



Friday, July 13th, 2007

Hanging Out with Saule and Kuanish


Gaisha and I went to see Saule Suliemenova and Kuanish Bazagaliev These two artists are part of the middle generation of artists who were the youngest of the Perestroika art groups from the 1990’s here in Kazakhstan. These two have made pretty big names for themselves here and abroad. Most of their work is painting (Saule uses acrylic over wax on paper, Kuanish uses acrylic on canvas). By the way if you ever have a chance to drink a bottle of vodka with Kuanish and he’s willing to break out the guitar, he will sing you a great punk song from his past.

Today, Gaisha and I sat and talked about their art studio. It is located next to their apartment. They are working at all hours of the day so it is convenient for them to have such a place. They were very lucky to have the money to buy the small apartment next door when the price of apartments weren’t so inflated as they are today.

As the four of us talked about their studio, Gaisha and I took photos and then we sat down to look at their own photo collection. Many of the photos were of different impromptu parties that had happened over the years in their apartment and studio. You can see the changes that the studio has gone through over years. Kuanish is very handy with tools and he’s transformed the space into a more convenient space for the two of them. Saule told me that when he did the major renovations on the apartment, it was during the time she was having her second child around 6 years ago. She said that he took out the kitchen to make more room to paint and he ruined her favorite kitchen knife in the process.

As we continued looking through the boxes of photos we started to find the oldest of the collection. Suddenly you see a change in the way the photos are processed. Gaisha says that many of the older Soviet photos seem like scenes from movies. I agreed. Many of the photos became black and white. Many of them look like photos from the 1950’s or 1960’s by U.S. standards. But, Kuanish and Saule are in their 30’s, they would not be alive until the late 1960’s and they would be babies! Many of the photos depict them in the style of beatniks or hippies. Tight fitting sweaters, messy hair and horn-rimmed glasses seemed to be the fashion for many of these young artists. In Kuanish’s photos you often see his friend and fellow artist Marat Bekeyev along with him. These photos are golden. I remind myself that things have changed a lot around here over the last 15 years. Most particularly the material conditions like photo development had not changed much until the 90’s. Kuanish says most people did their own development with home dark rooms being quite common in those days. If you look at people’s photo collections you can see a drastic change not only in the way people dress but in the development and printing of photographs. Today almost everyone in Almaty has their photos developed in a digital photo studio. This put a lot of photographers out of work because up until a few years ago it wasn’t really convenient to take photos unless you knew how to develop them as well. Often you see old photographers around town taking pictures of people in the parks and plazas around Almaty. These are the guys who would take all those wonderful old looking photos. Now they barely have any work.

spacer.jpgFor the rest of the afternoon Kuanish, Saule, Gaisha, and I spent our time looking through photos enjoying the feeling of jumping back and forth through time and learning a little about being an artist in Almaty. Along with our little journey of looking at the photos we were treated to many stories that went along with them.



Saturday, July 14th, 2007



Leila at New posted some stats on the cost of living in Almaty recently. She compares the cost of living to Los Angeles in this article.

Mercer Human Resources Consulting released its 2007 Cost of Living Survey:

Mercer’s annual Cost of Living Survey covers 143 cities across six continents and measures the comparative cost of over 200 items in each location, including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment. It is the world’s most comprehensive cost of living survey and is used to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees.

Moscow tops the list second year in a row, and is followed by four other most expensive cities: London, Seoul, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Apart from Moscow and Kiev, another city in post-Soviet area that is in the list is Almaty. It made its surprising jump to the top, from 52nd place in 2006 to 30th place in 2007.

So, Almaty turns out to be more expensive than Istanbul (38), Frankfurt (40), Los Angeles (42), Luxembourg (43), Brussels (44), Berlin (45) and Prague (49).



Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Cities and the Wealth of Nations-Jane Jacobs


Jane Jacobs died last year but her love for cities gave many people around the world a better understanding about how they are born, live and often times die.

Jane was an activist that almost single handedly started the urban preservationist movement in America.

She favored neighborhoods and opposed expressways and freeways. She was opposed to large scale urban renewal projects that often harm urban communities, by bulldozing houses in favor of large freeways and expressways that make cars have easy access into suburban sprawl.

If you love your city and you often wonder why and how they work, please read a book by Jane Jacobs.

Click on the Wiki links above to find out more about her.



Saturday, August 4th, 2007

coffee and granola.


Zhanara woke me up this morning to coffee and granola. Afterwards, she says we have ten days till the opening. This comment really woke me up.

For the last few weeks I’ve been busy trying to put together this show non-stop. I’ve hardly left the house for the last 3 weeks! I wake up in the morning and have coffee and breakfast and I start work on my paintings and drawings. Zhanara is running around doing her fieldwork for the project among various things. Aminatou has been trying to spend as much time as she can with her subjects to find the footage that will make her installations work just right. Gaisha is busy taking photos and finding the right ones for her installation as well. We’ve all been trying to take the time out to talk to each other at least once a day. We are now a collective living together and practicing our combined effort of art and anthropology.

A lot has been happening for me in the realm of art this last year. But, my work has been developing at a faster pace now that I’ve been working with the Artpologist project. I’m really enjoying my work but I’m stressing out a little that it won’t be strong enough. There’s a balance between doing art for yourself and art for a project.

It’s morning here just before 9 a.m. and it’s time for me to start working.



Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Work In Progress


My work is moving along. It’s all so strange sometimes how you are able to do artwork. It’s not really something mechanical although it can be when you really want to work that way. When I don’t feel like working on a painting it’s best for me to stay away from it, because I will more than likely ruin it.

For the last week I’ve been working on five oil paintings about Georgii Tryakin-Bukharov’s studio. It’s been really interesting and a great learning experience. I’m working with stills from Aminatou’s video and finding things in her work that seem to be very similar to the work that I am doing.

It’s so interesting to me to think that much of my work is based on “new media” such as video, electronic devices and video games. I’m old enough to remember playing on the first Atari Pong game. So it’s interesting to me to see that many influences in my paintings are based on the way you see things through a certain lens. In my case a lens configured through electronic devices and video screens growing up in California. It’s fascinating to think really that growing up during the 80’s I really got a chance to see the early days of video games, computers and hand held electronic devices and not to mention all those really cool illustration works on the sides of the games(The Bally pinball and video game company had some of the greatest illustration work. Who could forget the Centipede illustrations! At the local video arcade.

Before I go too far off track let me return to Central Asia (more specifically Almaty) and talk a little bit about my work thus far. I’m working off these video stills from Aminatou’s work and things are developing along more interesting than I would have imagined. I’m working on images I would have normally stayed away from. I’m surprised about the direction of my work. That’s the thrilling thing about doing art for me. I never really know what things will look like in the end. When I start to paint or draw I start with a photo and then progress along until it becomes some sort of meditative work that goes along with feeling the surface, media and image to make something that comes out of me. Working with the images I have of the artists studios I’ve been finding some new things about my art that I find that may take me in directions I wouldn’t have imagined. I suppose that’s one of the good things about working on art projects. It gives you a structure and framework to push yourself to do things that I perhaps wouldn’t have bothered to do. So, I’m grateful for being part of this project in many ways.

I have to say Zhanara is really doing a lot of work for the “collective”. She’s been doing a lot of running around helping with various things related to the project. She’s doing a lot of the shopping too so we can eat. I on the other hand have rarely left the house during these last 3 weeks. So, I have to thank her for being so dedicated.



Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Young Pioneers and Their Palaces


Has anyone been to the Palace of Pioneers on Lenina St.? This was the place where the Young Pioneers organization operated during the end of the Soviet Union here in Almaty.

The Young Pioneers are the Soviet equivalent to Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations in the west. For many people who grew up during the Soviet Union, this was the organization and the place to learn arts, crafts, trade skills, or to aid in career development and to become a junior member of the communist party.

Today these places are merely empty palaces that serve various functions like expositions and parties. But during former times these places were for the development of a model Soviet citizen.

During the October 17th Revolution many of the scouts sided with the White army. The scouts were eventually killed off or they left the Soviet Union.

Vladamir Lenin’s wife Nadezhda Krupskaya headed the opening of the communist pioneer organizations to further the aid of the development of children in the new Soviet State.

If you enter the palace on Lenina St. today it is more than likely empty. But if you ask the doorman you can walk around the large halls that were built in Mayor Kunaev’s grand scale. Judging from all of the attention to detail in the construction of the palace, you can see that this was a celebration of the young communist youth. It seems as if no dime was spared to provide a place for children to go and learn a little more about themselves and the society they lived in. It’s all so sad now to walk where very few children go to today. But you can almost hear the echoes of all of the kids who must have been in awe over the grand scale of this palace. The palaces are sort of a take on churches and they have a cathedral quality to them.

The Palace of Pioneers have an interesting origin. Many of the Tsarist palaces in Russia were taken over by the state and eventually handed over to the Young Pioneers to become palaces for the children.

Although they no longer operate in the same capacity in most former Soviet Republics, Pioneer Palaces still operate in countries like Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam.

I am calling attention to this cultural landmark in the city because there have been rumors that this building will be knocked down. It would be such a shame to lose an interesting piece of architecture and a piece of cultural history to our lovely city. One of these Pioneer Palaces has already been torn down here. So many pieces of Almaty’s architectural history is disappearing daily.

You often see this building in images of Almaty. This building is an architectural icon that represents a unique period of time and I would imagine it has given many fond memories of childhood for the people who live and grew up here during more simple times.



Saturday, August 11th, 2007

Bota, and working on the gallery.


I have finished my work (I prefer to keep working until the very last minute so I can decide what I want to use and not use for the exhibit) a few days back. We all started to clean up the gallery to make it better for us to install the works. This is the final stage for us. We have to make sure that the space is a cohesive whole so this takes a little time. We have to “feel” the space in order to understand how to best place out works in the gallery. It’s very important for the viewers to understand what we are doing. So we want to maximize the impact of our work by working with the space and installing the work with this thought in mind.

The weather has been nice as ever here. Almaty’s dry hot heat is something distinct really. So far this summer, when it does get too hot the rains come to cool off the city. You can see the mountains gain a fresh dusting of snow!

Today I gave a painting to Zhanara’s friend and helper Bota Yergaliyeva as a thank you gift for all of the work she’s done for the Artpologist collective. She is the hidden hero in our project. I let her choose one out of two of my first paintings. She chose a painting of the building Zhanara lived in. I told her that this would be a good choice because the building is of her neighborhood and it is something sentimental because we have a connection through this image. We still owe so much to her and I can’t imagine how we would have ever been able to do this project without her.



Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

The Day After the Opening


I am sitting on a mattress in the ground floor gallery of the the Soros Center for Contemporary Art

I was thinking about how we conclude the artpologist project. There are some things, many things really that can always be done better if you had more time. What I most regret is that we didn’t have enough time to do all that you wish to do on an exhibit or project. But this is always the case when it comes to doing creative projects with a deadline. There are many processes that go into making such a collaborative effort, when it comes to the time to show your work in the exhibit, you have to learn to let go of your work and assess what you’ve done and decide where and how you will present the art in a gallery setting. There were many pieces that I had intended on showing in the exhibit but when it came time to decide where these would go in the gallery, I felt that they would not belong well in this space. There’s something about the space really that you always have to think about when you’re doing your site specific art. When you do installations in galleries it’s always something you have to consider. How will it look in the light, or on the wall, or perhaps next to other art objects in the exhibit? So, when I was ready to hang my work in the space, I talked with Gaisha, Zhanara, and Aminatou to ask them what they thought of the works and how and where I should hang them. This in turn made the installation stronger since it was a group effort.

The day of the opening we woke up in the gallery and had our breakfast and we talked about all of the last things we needed to do. We raced around the gallery trying to complete the finishing touches on the space. This is the time you start to let go of your creation. It has become our “baby” for the last two months and now you let it grow up.

When the opening happened, many people came to visit including the Ambassador from India. Many of my heroes here in the art world came too like Rustam Khalfin. Also the artists/subjects, that we studied came and it was like a great gathering of many different artists and minds in one place to celebrate for a moment the achievements of our art and the city of Almaty in the backyard of the new Soros Center here in Luxor.

There were many questions from the media and I realized from the questions asked that I have been completely immersed in the culture of Almaty for the last year. I had my opinions and answers of many things asked by reporters but it’s always important to tell the story in the best possible way in interviews because they almost always become contorted and perhaps even go against what I work so hard for.

Many of the people who came where happy and gave us compliments about our work. Since the work was so conceptual, and currating a show was our first time as a collective, we hoped to get our point across as best as we could. I think most people understand what we do, and with all of the work we’ve done I think many people appreciate that lots of effort went into best describing how art and anthropology fits best for the project for the greater understanding of the city of Almaty.

When completing such projects, you often feel not a sense of relief but a sense of sadness because you feel you’ve put so much effort into this. You put so much of your love, and heart into sharing your art that you can’t help but feel vulnerable and then you understand that it’s what artists do and what makes it so satisfying to be an artists in the contemporary world despite the fact that we don’t make very much money and we are often misunderstood by many. But for myself I appreciate that at least one person in the world has been touched or learns something from what we’ve done for this exhibit of The Transformation of Space in Almaty.



Monday, September 24th, 2007

Sensuality of Space


Sensuality of Space 1&2- details and explanation of paintings

This is a series of two pieces that accompany the video installation project by Aminatou Echard. The paintings are oil on canvas. and they are each 120cmx80cm in size. The pieces aren’t really a diptych but match in size and color. They are individual pieces that are meant to respond to each other and the projected video by Aminatou. My idea was to create a response to video. I worked in close dialogue with Aminatou as she was developing her video. We both found a moment in her film we both agreed that could be stopped and perhaps savored for a moment and reconfigured through painting. The work isn’t an exact reproduction of the video. I expanded on the idea of the video and found something new in the image. Aminatou and I both tried to find something that really felt like an element to his home and life. Trying to convey Georgii’s space and his spirit was the challenge for me.

Sensuality of Space 1 is actually two pieces on one canvas. The image is the echo or stutter of how we perceive video or perhaps a way to understand how we remember things. The work harkens back to abstract expressionist paintings. There are some new elements here. The work is processual, sometimes you see parts that seem to fragment or distort. A hand comes from behind a fragmented part of red. This is Georgii’s hand. When viewing Aminatou’s video we agreed that his hands really say a lot about who he is. An interesting physical trait that I wanted to somehow convey.

Sensuality of Space 2 is a different painting than the first one. The work feels more complete or less processual. It was here where I focus on the image sitting alone in space. There is a different feeling about it. I find the metal pots as a metaphor of Georgii’s spirit. The metal objects sit in space amongst other objects that you can not quite identify. There are more fragmentation’s of space in red and the space is somehow flattened to remind one that they are not looking into space but are looking at a painting. I find that the red images are like pixels fragmenting.


Monday, September 24th, 2007

Moving Through Time and Space


Moving Through Time and Space(Saule & Kuanish)1&2 Oil on Canvas each 120cmx80c each-details and explanation of paintings

This diptych painting is done for the first floor of the Soros Center for Contemporary Art. The work is about the two artists Saule Suleimenova and Kyanish Bazargaliev inside their apartment and studio. If you look from left to right you actually see the image of Saule moving through the canvas. Sitting on the chair holding a book is Kyanish. Things are melting and dripping here. Sometimes you see the space and sometimes the space disappears. I am working on the feeling of art being a process. You can see pencil marks over paint and paint over pencil marks. There are little elements of life here. Some examples are a tea kettle, some wine glasses and pialas (Kazakh tea cups). Things seem to float in and out of the space as memory.

There is a building near the middle of the painting. It’s an apartment that is down the street from Saule and Kyanish’s place. I love the architecture of Almaty. It’s hard for me to avoid painting pictures of them. During the Soviet Union they were called Social Condensers and I love that name. I did a whole series of paintings about them and this part of the piece harks back to these earlier works.

The challenge to understand interior spaces was something that took a lot of thinking to figure out how to best convey them. I want something fresh and new here. I want the paintings to feel like you are in a dream.

I noticed something after installing this that I found really interesting. The piece captures a lot of light by the mere fact that it is mainly white. This creates an illusion of light traveling through space. I quite enjoyed having these paintings face Gaisha Madanova’s work. I felt her photos conveyed the light in a similar way.

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