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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

From One Extreme to the Other at Idea Generation Gallery

As the Nat Finkelstein retrospective enters its final week, Amy Hughes discovers the photographer’s true role in US cultural and political exposé

Written by Amy Hughes

Michael filming_01
Mikey filming in the beautiful Huancabamba valley.  All photos courtsey of Mikey Watts.

I’d first heard about Mikey’s film back in October. Perusing The Guardian, thumb I noticed a video and article about alleged torture in the province of Piura, erectile northern Peru, linked to a mining company called Monterrico Metals. It was a British company, and yet there was barely a whisper of news about it in the UK. In 2003 Monterrico had pressed ahead with a copper mine project that the local population had not agreed to. The mine was going to occupy vital agricultural land and would pollute the valley’s water sources. Monterrico had a legal requirement to obtain the consent of at least two thirds of the population. They didn’t, but were supported by the government nonetheless and so went ahead with the mine. In 2005, locals, including children and the elderly, made their way to the mining site in a last attempt to have their objections recognised. They were tear gassed, arrested and tortured by police and the mine’s security guards.

It was a photographer from Peru, a friend and old flatmate from Barcelona, who sent me the link to Mikey’s video on vimeo.   Laguna Negra is a 20-minute study of how mining has affected people in the Huancabamba valley, northern Peru. The film follows two people, Servando and Cleofé, as they describe their lives, land, protest, how they are perceived, and question the purpose of environmentally and socially destructive ‘development’.   The film will be screened at an event tomorrow (Thursday), along with a Q&A with the director.  Mikey is only recently out a Documentary Film MA, but his film has already won two awards: Best International Documentary (Festival Internacional de Cine de Lebu 2010), and the Rights in Action International Award (Bang! Short Film Festival 2009) and he has some great projects coming up. I caught up with Mikey last week to discuss how it all started, his stay in Huancabamba, the impact of and inspiration behind the film, and the projects he’s working on now.

Cleofe and family

You started filming in the region in 2004, following research for a dissertation. What first inspired you to focus on opposition to mining in Huancabamba?

I started off studying Latin American studies at Liverpool and in my third year (2004), I went to do research for my dissertation in Peru. While I was in Lima, I started hearing about the anti-mining movement that was going on in Tambogrande. The mine got cancelled in the end, so it was big news over there. It was then that I decided to research the effect of mining on traditional farming societies. A journalist, Nelson Penaherrera, helped me a lot in planning who to interview and where to go. It was when I went up to meet him for the first time that Remberto Racho, one of the farmers opposed to the mine in Huancabamba, was killed by police (my first film ‘Rio Blanco: the story of the farmer and the mine’ was about this) so I decided to include the Rio Blanco conflict in my dissertation. My friend, David McNulty, came to visit me in June 2004, and since he had a camera with him we gathered footage for what eventually became that first documentary, Rio Blanco.

Your film centres on the experiences of two farmers, Servando and Cleofé. You break away from standard documentary style, forgoing a voiceover and talking heads, and devote the film to your protagonists’ accounts. What was the thinking behind that?

I wanted as much as possible to tell the story through the words and experiences of the people directly affected by the mining project. Although through the editing I, as the storyteller, choose what to include and what not to include (and so Servando and Cleofé’s words become the narration) I still feel that by removing myself almost entirely from the action the audience feels more directly involved with the place and its people. A voice-over narrative I think would take the story away from the people it is about. Also, in a practical sense, Servando and Cleofe sum the issues up in a far truer and personal way than I ever could – after all, they are the people who live day to day the problems the mine has brought – I was only there for three weeks.

Cleber _preferred choice_

The film opens with the scene of a boy sitting with a radio, with a broadcast about how selfish and ignorant the farmers are in not wanting the mine. The scene is a powerful contrast to what we hear later, yet also so simple and clear, and the boy is a true natural on camera! How did you come up with the idea?

The use of the boy with the radio happened through a chance encounter – I met him as we were walking the countryside around Huancabamba one day, he followed us for the day and we became friends. At the end of the day I asked him if he would mind being filmed with his radio and he did the rest! The reason I wanted to use the boy with the radio was to put across the mining company’s opinions through the local population’s experience of them. I could have tried to get an interview with Monterrico Metals, but really this would only have served to get the company’s PR responses to a Western student’s questions. By showing the day in day out propaganda machine the mining company uses to grind down any opposition to the project, the film can start to allow its audience to understand how the community experiences the mine. I was lucky to find the boy with the radio and his disinterested but commanding expression.

Tambogrande seemed like a real success story. Is there any similar hope for Huancabamba?

Tambogrande was a success story in the end, but the reasons for the cancellation of the mine really point towards what the Peruvian government’s plans for Piura are. It wasn’t officially cancelled because of the opposition to the project; it was cancelled because Monterrico lacked the necessary funds for the government to approve it. I am sure the huge protests and international campaign helped a lot, but officially this wasn’t why the mine was cancelled. So really this means that the Peruvian government isn’t conceding it was wrong over the project, and it continues to push on all fronts to make Piura into a mining department (like it’s done with nearby Cajamarca). I wish I could believe that the community in Huancabamba will be able to stop the Rio Blanco mine, but deep down I don’t have much hope. The mine is now owned by a Chinese company and the Peruvian government has just signed a whole load of trade agreements with China. The only real hope I think is for Tierra y Libertad, a new political party led by Marco Arana, to do well in the next elections. Marco Arana has been heavily involved with the anti-mining movement in the north of Peru and seems dedicated to the cause and the people who are having their lives destroyed by these mining projects.

Huancabamba landscape_01

So what specifically has changed around Huancabamba since you made the film?

Well, the government is still pushing the project forward, and is now militarising their presence in the region because of an attack in November on the mine site, which ended with the deaths of 2 security guys. The next month the police killed 2 farmers in a village near Huancabamba. The police had gone down to the village to arrest villagers they said were connected with the November deaths, the villagers formed a barricade to stop the police entering, and the police attacked them, killing two villagers – post mortem reports show that they were shot in the back as they were running away. So there’s still a lot of tension, the government is still refusing to re-engage through dialogue and simply insist the mining project is of national necessity and will not be abandoned.  

Were you involved in any way in the court hearing that went on in London recently?

I’ve carried on filming here in the UK so went to the court hearing, but I wasn’t involved in any way, just documenting it really. The court hearing at the end of the day won’t stop the mining project though – it will mean the victims of torture that took place in 2005 will get compensation, but the new Chinese owners of the mine (Zijin) will just say it took place when they weren’t owners so it isn’t their responsibility.

So there’s no hope the mine will be dropped?

In all honesty I don’t have much faith the government will see reason, Zijin will push ahead with the project, cause huge friction and destruction to the rural communities of the area, and possibly destroy the agricultural potential of the region as a whole. The really sad thing is that the government has now sold off nearly 30% of the land area of Piura to mining interests – they are all waiting for Rio Blanco to start operations and will then do the same themselves. The mind boggles really, just doesn’t seem to make any sense, but then again the draw to short term financial gain seems to always win against smaller interests such as the small scale farming practised around Huancabamba.

No to mining

How strong is the stereotype of the ignorant or violent campesino in Peru, and to what extent is it used to undermine the importance of agriculture?

The stereotype is definitely a prevalent view in the cities and mainstream media. Campesinos are often portrayed as backward and as not knowing what is best for them. Development is always in the context of growth rates, GDP, money – small scale farming practised by campesinos is not really given the appreciation it deserves considering it provides city dwellers with their food. Rhetoric of backwards looking violent terrorist campesinos is often used in the media to give justification to mining.

And how unified is the opposition to mining among the rural population?

What interested me was that most of the campesinos I talked to didn’t lambast mining in the way the government accuse them of doing. They understand the potential of mining to create jobs, and funds – they just are asking the government to think about where these mines are being built. If they are high up in the mountains, away from important water sources, and not in areas of agriculture then they can have a positive impact for the country.

Was the mainstream national media broadly for or against the farmers?

Broadly speaking the national media and the government give huge support to the mining industry – mainly because the mining lobby in Peru has huge power. There is however a large part of the Peruvian population who are campaigning for a different Peru which prioritises its people over its resources.

Servando and Dorila

How do you see the role of the documentary filmmaker and what do you hope to achieve?

Yes, I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot.  Sometimes I wonder what good it does, whether it goes any way to actually changing the situation.  I guess it is a hard one to gauge but all you can do is try to document what is happening in a creative and original way.  I think film is a great medium to tell the story of what is happening in these communities as images often speak louder than words.  I would be very happy if the films I make help to inform Peru’s urban population of the abuses suffered by the rural population.  I guess documentaries are one part of the general campaign to make things better and fairer for these communities. 

I guess on the role of the filmmaker I think it is important to go into a project with an open mind, a good deal of background research and the humility to listen to and give people a platform to speak about the issues that affect them.  I also think it is important to make a film that stands on its own as a good story, and as a beautiful film.  Campaiging films sometimes lose sight of this need and just focus on the issues.  I think the danger here is that the films will only preach to the converted – a film that keeps the attention of someone who doesn’t know about the issues, or actively supports what the campaign is against, is what I think the goal should be. 

Any plans to carry on documenting this issue?

Yes, definitely – this is kind of turning into a niche issue for me, and I definitely want to carry on making films about it. I really now want to make a feature documentary that connects the experiences of different communities around Latin America that are seeing their communities torn apart and their environment destroyed by large scale mining. These communities suffer very similar abuses at the hands of both their governments and the mining companies – I want to make a film that reveals this trend; that multinational companies based in countries like our own go to developing nations and do not respect the same laws they would have to here. So that is what I’m trying to do at the moment with my friend and co-director David McNulty. We are going to Guatemala and El Salvador to firstly document a conference that the Latin American Mining Monitoring Program is organising entitled, “WOMEN, MINING AND HUMAN RIGHTS: Beyond the Challenge.” We will then be going on to film research footage for our feature idea as well as producing two short documentaries about two communities affected by mining in Guatemala and El Salvador.

I think it’s a really interesting and important issue to focus on as it in many ways reflects the question of our time – do we continue taking all the resources we can from the earth or do we start thinking and acting in a more sustainable way to ensure our future generations have a decent earth to live from?

Neoliberal economics I think only prioritizes monetary growth, and doesn’t take into account other considerations such as environment, culture and worldview. I think the social conflict and environmental problems caused by mining really reflect the general question of how humanity chooses to act in the years to come – do we continue exploiting the earth without thought to the consequences, or do we start living more within our means?
Michael filming_01
Mikey filming in the beautiful Huancabamba valley.  All photos courtsey of Mikey Watts.

I’d first heard about Mikey’s film back in October. Perusing The Guardian, health I noticed a video and article about alleged torture in the province of Piura, northern Peru, linked to a mining company called Monterrico Metals. It was a British company, and yet there was barely a whisper of news about it in the UK. In 2003 Monterrico had pressed ahead with a copper mine project that the local population had not agreed to. The mine was going to occupy vital agricultural land and would pollute the valley’s water sources. Monterrico had a legal requirement to obtain the consent of at least two thirds of the population. They didn’t, but were supported by the government nonetheless and so went ahead with the mine. In 2005, locals, including children and the elderly, made their way to the mining site in a last attempt to have their objections recognised. They were tear gassed, arrested and tortured by police and the mine’s security guards.

It was a photographer from Peru, a friend and old flatmate from Barcelona, who sent me the link to Mikey’s video on vimeo.   Laguna Negra is a 20-minute study of how mining has affected people in the Huancabamba valley, northern Peru. The film follows two people, Servando and Cleofé, as they describe their lives, land, protest, how they are perceived, and question the purpose of environmentally and socially destructive ‘development’.   The film will be screened at an event tomorrow (Thursday), along with a Q&A with the director.  Mikey is only recently out a Documentary Film MA, but his film has already won two awards: Best International Documentary (Festival Internacional de Cine de Lebu 2010), and the Rights in Action International Award (Bang! Short Film Festival 2009) and he has some great projects coming up. I caught up with Mikey last week to discuss how it all started, his stay in Huancabamba, the impact of and inspiration behind the film, and the projects he’s working on now.

Cleofe and family

You started filming in the region in 2004, following research for a dissertation. What first inspired you to focus on opposition to mining in Huancabamba?

I started off studying Latin American studies at Liverpool and in my third year (2004), I went to do research for my dissertation in Peru. While I was in Lima, I started hearing about the anti-mining movement that was going on in Tambogrande. The mine got cancelled in the end, so it was big news over there. It was then that I decided to research the effect of mining on traditional farming societies. A journalist, Nelson Penaherrera, helped me a lot in planning who to interview and where to go. It was when I went up to meet him for the first time that Remberto Racho, one of the farmers opposed to the mine in Huancabamba, was killed by police (my first film ‘Rio Blanco: the story of the farmer and the mine’ was about this) so I decided to include the Rio Blanco conflict in my dissertation. My friend, David McNulty, came to visit me in June 2004, and since he had a camera with him we gathered footage for what eventually became that first documentary, Rio Blanco.

Your film centres on the experiences of two farmers, Servando and Cleofé. You break away from standard documentary style, forgoing a voiceover and talking heads, and devote the film to your protagonists’ accounts. What was the thinking behind that?

I wanted as much as possible to tell the story through the words and experiences of the people directly affected by the mining project. Although through the editing I, as the storyteller, choose what to include and what not to include (and so Servando and Cleofé’s words become the narration) I still feel that by removing myself almost entirely from the action the audience feels more directly involved with the place and its people. A voice-over narrative I think would take the story away from the people it is about. Also, in a practical sense, Servando and Cleofe sum the issues up in a far truer and personal way than I ever could – after all, they are the people who live day to day the problems the mine has brought – I was only there for three weeks.

Cleber _preferred choice_

The film opens with the scene of a boy sitting with a radio, with a broadcast about how selfish and ignorant the farmers are in not wanting the mine. The scene is a powerful contrast to what we hear later, yet also so simple and clear, and the boy is a true natural on camera! How did you come up with the idea?

The use of the boy with the radio happened through a chance encounter – I met him as we were walking the countryside around Huancabamba one day, he followed us for the day and we became friends. At the end of the day I asked him if he would mind being filmed with his radio and he did the rest! The reason I wanted to use the boy with the radio was to put across the mining company’s opinions through the local population’s experience of them. I could have tried to get an interview with Monterrico Metals, but really this would only have served to get the company’s PR responses to a Western student’s questions. By showing the day in day out propaganda machine the mining company uses to grind down any opposition to the project, the film can start to allow its audience to understand how the community experiences the mine. I was lucky to find the boy with the radio and his disinterested but commanding expression.

Tambogrande seemed like a real success story. Is there any similar hope for Huancabamba?

Tambogrande was a success story in the end, but the reasons for the cancellation of the mine really point towards what the Peruvian government’s plans for Piura are. It wasn’t officially cancelled because of the opposition to the project; it was cancelled because Monterrico lacked the necessary funds for the government to approve it. I am sure the huge protests and international campaign helped a lot, but officially this wasn’t why the mine was cancelled. So really this means that the Peruvian government isn’t conceding it was wrong over the project, and it continues to push on all fronts to make Piura into a mining department (like it’s done with nearby Cajamarca). I wish I could believe that the community in Huancabamba will be able to stop the Rio Blanco mine, but deep down I don’t have much hope. The mine is now owned by a Chinese company and the Peruvian government has just signed a whole load of trade agreements with China. The only real hope I think is for Tierra y Libertad, a new political party led by Marco Arana, to do well in the next elections. Marco Arana has been heavily involved with the anti-mining movement in the north of Peru and seems dedicated to the cause and the people who are having their lives destroyed by these mining projects.

Huancabamba landscape_01

So what specifically has changed around Huancabamba since you made the film?

Well, the government is still pushing the project forward, and is now militarising their presence in the region because of an attack in November on the mine site, which ended with the deaths of 2 security guys. The next month the police killed 2 farmers in a village near Huancabamba. The police had gone down to the village to arrest villagers they said were connected with the November deaths, the villagers formed a barricade to stop the police entering, and the police attacked them, killing two villagers – post mortem reports show that they were shot in the back as they were running away. So there’s still a lot of tension, the government is still refusing to re-engage through dialogue and simply insist the mining project is of national necessity and will not be abandoned.  

Were you involved in any way in the court hearing that went on in London recently?

I’ve carried on filming here in the UK so went to the court hearing, but I wasn’t involved in any way, just documenting it really. The court hearing at the end of the day won’t stop the mining project though – it will mean the victims of torture that took place in 2005 will get compensation, but the new Chinese owners of the mine (Zijin) will just say it took place when they weren’t owners so it isn’t their responsibility.

So there’s no hope the mine will be dropped?

In all honesty I don’t have much faith the government will see reason, Zijin will push ahead with the project, cause huge friction and destruction to the rural communities of the area, and possibly destroy the agricultural potential of the region as a whole. The really sad thing is that the government has now sold off nearly 30% of the land area of Piura to mining interests – they are all waiting for Rio Blanco to start operations and will then do the same themselves. The mind boggles really, just doesn’t seem to make any sense, but then again the draw to short term financial gain seems to always win against smaller interests such as the small scale farming practised around Huancabamba.

No to mining

How strong is the stereotype of the ignorant or violent campesino in Peru, and to what extent is it used to undermine the importance of agriculture?

The stereotype is definitely a prevalent view in the cities and mainstream media. Campesinos are often portrayed as backward and as not knowing what is best for them. Development is always in the context of growth rates, GDP, money – small scale farming practised by campesinos is not really given the appreciation it deserves considering it provides city dwellers with their food. Rhetoric of backwards looking violent terrorist campesinos is often used in the media to give justification to mining.

And how unified is the opposition to mining among the rural population?

What interested me was that most of the campesinos I talked to didn’t lambast mining in the way the government accuse them of doing. They understand the potential of mining to create jobs, and funds – they just are asking the government to think about where these mines are being built. If they are high up in the mountains, away from important water sources, and not in areas of agriculture then they can have a positive impact for the country.

Was the mainstream national media broadly for or against the farmers?

Broadly speaking the national media and the government give huge support to the mining industry – mainly because the mining lobby in Peru has huge power. There is however a large part of the Peruvian population who are campaigning for a different Peru which prioritises its people over its resources.

Servando and Dorila

How do you see the role of the documentary filmmaker and what do you hope to achieve?

Yes, I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot.  Sometimes I wonder what good it does, whether it goes any way to actually changing the situation.  I guess it is a hard one to gauge but all you can do is try to document what is happening in a creative and original way.  I think film is a great medium to tell the story of what is happening in these communities as images often speak louder than words.  I would be very happy if the films I make help to inform Peru’s urban population of the abuses suffered by the rural population.  I guess documentaries are one part of the general campaign to make things better and fairer for these communities. 

I guess on the role of the filmmaker I think it is important to go into a project with an open mind, a good deal of background research and the humility to listen to and give people a platform to speak about the issues that affect them.  I also think it is important to make a film that stands on its own as a good story, and as a beautiful film.  Campaiging films sometimes lose sight of this need and just focus on the issues.  I think the danger here is that the films will only preach to the converted – a film that keeps the attention of someone who doesn’t know about the issues, or actively supports what the campaign is against, is what I think the goal should be. 

Any plans to carry on documenting this issue?

Yes, definitely – this is kind of turning into a niche issue for me, and I definitely want to carry on making films about it. I really now want to make a feature documentary that connects the experiences of different communities around Latin America that are seeing their communities torn apart and their environment destroyed by large scale mining. These communities suffer very similar abuses at the hands of both their governments and the mining companies – I want to make a film that reveals this trend; that multinational companies based in countries like our own go to developing nations and do not respect the same laws they would have to here. So that is what I’m trying to do at the moment with my friend and co-director David McNulty. We are going to Guatemala and El Salvador to firstly document a conference that the Latin American Mining Monitoring Program is organising entitled, “WOMEN, MINING AND HUMAN RIGHTS: Beyond the Challenge.” We will then be going on to film research footage for our feature idea as well as producing two short documentaries about two communities affected by mining in Guatemala and El Salvador.

I think it’s a really interesting and important issue to focus on as it in many ways reflects the question of our time – do we continue taking all the resources we can from the earth or do we start thinking and acting in a more sustainable way to ensure our future generations have a decent earth to live from?

Neoliberal economics I think only prioritizes monetary growth, and doesn’t take into account other considerations such as environment, culture and worldview. I think the social conflict and environmental problems caused by mining really reflect the general question of how humanity chooses to act in the years to come – do we continue exploiting the earth without thought to the consequences, or do we start living more within our means?
MEN-promo-pic.aspx1

We’re completely entranced by the art/performance band that is MEN. How can you not go weak at the knees for a diverse musical stew that fuses dance and electro beats with rock music and combines this with a dose of political and social activism that takes in complex subject matters such as gender roles, sickness wartime economies and sexual politics? Oh, ed and their live shows are pretty wild too.

For the uninitiated, a little backround info: MEN are made up of JD Samson, best known for her involvement with Le Tigre and a 2006/2007 playmate of Peaches in her backing band The Herms, Michael O’Neill (Ladybug Transistor) and Ginger Brooks Takahashi (LTTR) as well as fellow Le Tigre member Johanna Fateman who remains in the backround alongside artist Emily Roysdon and contributes as writers, consultants, and producers; as you can see, MEN have a pretty stellar pedigree.

silence

A short while back, we managed to catch them in their fly by night visit to the UK, where they briefly rocked up in Brighton, Soho’s legendary Madam Jo-Jo’s and the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen (where Amelia’s Magazine squeezed our way to the front of the room). The crowd were made up of a mix of music label A&Rs (MEN are very much the hot ones to watch for 2010, don’t you know) and devoted fans of JD from her Le Tigre days.

JD, the charismatic little devil that she is, had the crowd wrapped around her little finger and calling out for more, as witnessed in the rapturous reception she received as she bodypopped her way through ‘Simultaneously‘. As MEN’s guitar riffs joined forces with a deep electro beat, friends of the band stood at the back of the stage holding banners high, as you can see from the photos.

fuck youred shot

A couple of days later, we had an email chat with JD and asked her to tell us a little more about what makes MEN tick……

We loved your live show, it was electric! Combining the elements of art and performance seems like an integral part of a MEN gig, can you share with us why this is important to you?

Being on stage is an opportunity to explore that space of performer, musician, and artist with an audience and bringing together elements of agit-prop theater, dance music, and the live rock band is a project we’re totally invested in.

What messages do you want your audience to leave a MEN gig with?

Questions about who we are in the world, where our money comes from, and how powerful it can be for people to gather together and share our space and time.

MEN don’t shy away from including hard hitting subjects such as sexual politics and war-time economics in the lyrics, unlike many other bands and singers. Is it safe to say that there isn’t enough activism in music right now?

I don’t want to judge other artists about what they want to talk about in their own art. We make music that talks about our lives and what we think about and where we exist as humans on this planet. Not many people talk about war time economies and gender fluidity but we do. and we are happy to be a queer activist band.
JD, Is your involvement with MEN different from your part in Le Tigre and if so, how?

Of course this experience is different for me. I am working with two new musicians whose collaborative efforts bring totally new elements to my music. I am still me, so a lot of my music and aesthetics are similar, but I have grown since writing with Le Tigre and I think its clear that we are doing something different and have new discussions with a new audience.

Celeste-Dupuy-Spencer.aspxIllustration by Celeste Dupuy-Spencer

What are the plans for MEN in the next year? And what subject matters would you like to tackle next in your songs?

In 2010 we will be working on our album, finishing our album and then sharing it with the world on tour. We’re excited to be making a new performance in Mexico City this summer with live hand drummers and our painter friend Celeste Dupuy-Spencer. We’ll also be performing at the 35th Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival!

MEN-promo-pic.aspx1

We’re completely entranced by the art/performance band that is MEN. How can you not go weak at the knees for a diverse musical stew that fuses dance and electro beats with rock music and combines this with a dose of political and social activism that takes in complex subject matters such as gender roles, buy wartime economies and sexual politics? Oh, cheap and their live shows are pretty wild too.

For the uninitiated, this site a little backround info: MEN are made up of JD Samson, best known for her involvement with Le Tigre and a 2006/2007 playmate of Peaches in her backing band The Herms, Michael O’Neill (Ladybug Transistor) and Ginger Brooks Takahashi (LTTR) as well as fellow Le Tigre member Johanna Fateman who remains in the backround alongside artist Emily Roysdon and contributes as writers, consultants, and producers; as you can see, MEN have a pretty stellar pedigree.

silence

A short while back, we managed to catch them in their fly by night visit to the UK, where they briefly rocked up in Brighton, Soho’s legendary Madam Jo-Jo’s and the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen (where Amelia’s Magazine squeezed our way to the front of the room). The crowd were made up of a mix of music label A&Rs (MEN are very much the hot ones to watch for 2010, don’t you know) and devoted fans of JD from her Le Tigre days.

JD, the charismatic little devil that she is, had the crowd wrapped around her little finger and calling out for more, as witnessed in the rapturous reception she received as she bodypopped her way through ‘Simultaneously‘. As MEN’s guitar riffs joined forces with a deep electro beat, friends of the band stood at the back of the stage holding banners high, as you can see from the photos.

fuck youred shot

A couple of days later, we had an email chat with JD and asked her to tell us a little more about what makes MEN tick……

We loved your live show, it was electric! Combining the elements of art and performance seems like an integral part of a MEN gig, can you share with us why this is important to you?

Being on stage is an opportunity to explore that space of performer, musician, and artist with an audience and bringing together elements of agit-prop theater, dance music, and the live rock band is a project we’re totally invested in.

What messages do you want your audience to leave a MEN gig with?

Questions about who we are in the world, where our money comes from, and how powerful it can be for people to gather together and share our space and time.

MEN don’t shy away from including hard hitting subjects such as sexual politics and war-time economics in the lyrics, unlike many other bands and singers. Is it safe to say that there isn’t enough activism in music right now?

I don’t want to judge other artists about what they want to talk about in their own art. We make music that talks about our lives and what we think about and where we exist as humans on this planet. Not many people talk about war time economies and gender fluidity but we do. and we are happy to be a queer activist band.
JD, Is your involvement with MEN different from your part in Le Tigre and if so, how?

Of course this experience is different for me. I am working with two new musicians whose collaborative efforts bring totally new elements to my music. I am still me, so a lot of my music and aesthetics are similar, but I have grown since writing with Le Tigre and I think its clear that we are doing something different and have new discussions with a new audience.

Celeste-Dupuy-Spencer.aspxIllustration by Celeste Dupuy-Spencer

What are the plans for MEN in the next year? And what subject matters would you like to tackle next in your songs?

In 2010 we will be working on our album, finishing our album and then sharing it with the world on tour. We’re excited to be making a new performance in Mexico City this summer with live hand drummers and our painter friend Celeste Dupuy-Spencer. We’ll also be performing at the 35th Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival!

dyWarhol-and-Edi-with-scarfAll photographs courtesy of Idea Generation

The Warhol connection is a looming one, ambulance overshadowing many of the artistic talents tied to it, viagra their skills and achievements gobbled up by all that The Factory and the surrounding pop culture of 1960s New York has come to represent. But had it all been down to a single blonde-bobbed man – brutally brilliant as he may have been – it’s doubtful that the events of those days would continue to resonate so deeply through modern-day music, film and fashion. While aided by their associates, ultimately these individuals made themselves, be that via their romantic trials and intoxicated tribulations – or their undeniable creative talents.

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Photojournalist Nat Finkelstein was ‘there’ – that is, perched on the couch in the Velvet Underground practice room watching Nico catch up on the headlines mid rehearsal; trailing Bob Dylan as Andy Warhol led him on a guided tour around The Factory; snapping a dreaming Edie Sedgwick absentmindedly sucking on her necklace chain, all oil-slick eyes and innocence. But he was also under the tutelage of the legendary Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch; a star member of the PIX and Black Star photo agencies’ teams; in the thick of the civil rights movement as a documentary photographer and activist; and, as a result of these provocative actions, traveling the Silk Road through the Middle East from 1969 after a warrant was issued for his arrest in the United States.

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The ‘From One Extreme to the Other’ exhibition – now in its final week – that celebrates the work of Finkelstein is a broad and deep retrospective of a photojournalist whose visual documentation provided rare unguarded insights into the US subcultures and political movements of the latter 20th century. ‘From One Extreme to the Other’ spans Finkelstein’s life works, five decades of photographs through which he brought not just The Factory’s wild innards but the searing political heat of America’s mid-‘60s anti-war protests and the heady thrills and debauched spills of the New York rave scene of the ‘90s to his viewers.

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‘From One Extreme to the Other’ runs until 14th February and is an essential date for anybody interested in the power of the camera to capture more than its subjects consciously choose to expose. The exhibition, which took over the Idea Generation Gallery just weeks after Finkelstein’s death in October of last year, is a fitting tribute to the man whose shutter clicks drew the world’s attention to US unrest and underground tribes. Here – as the likes of Warhol knew – was a maker of icons; a man who had the ability to propel their image around the world.

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