Just before the opening of Josep Maynou's "Ninja From Marrakech" at GSL Projekt, the artist allowed us to sneak in behind the scenes, and showed his exhibition while still in the making.
At the time we arrived, Suvi Lehtinen (gallery owner) and Arielle Bier (curator of the show) were figuring out the exhibition setup. Josep was in a great mood all over the place, casually demonstrating his kung-fu skills. It must be the fresh Moroccan mountain air, we thought to ourselves. And the fact that, after leading a cut-off lifestyle in rural Morocco for quite a while, Josep is back in Berlin fully energized with new things to share and exciting projects constantly coming up. Knowing that his enthusiasm was just a teaser for what he is preparing and looking forward to perform on Saturday, we could only suggest coming to the opening, and checking out his live show which will involve [SPOILER ALERT] ninjas, flying carpets, DIY instruments and sheep bones!
Over the past two years, Josep has been living between two completely different worlds. In the small mountain villages outside of Marrakech, he developed an interest in the traditional hand-made Boucherouite carpets, and eventually, with the help from the locals and their special weaving techniques, got into production of his own pieces with a unique contemporary pop-culture twist. Traditional graphics were replaced with computer icons and graffitti scribbles, and this new-old kind of wall decoration for the young generation became a transcultural bond, and a wonderful story about engaging an entire local community of a remote village in North Africa into making art pieces that are now exhibited at a gallery in Berlin. For the artist himself, these pieces are actually a starting point for the other part of his art practice – his ever-evolving stories and storytelling performances.
Who is "Ninja From Marrakech"?
"Ninja From Marrakech" is the title of the show because it is the first story I came up with in Morocco. Apart from the carpets, there is a performative live part of the show. I do this kind of storytelling and the Ninja is a character from one of the stories.
What is your relation to Marrakech?
My relationship with Marrakech started through this project. First I went to Morocco on a surf trip, first flying into Marrakech and making my way to the coast. While traveling through Morocco I saw this amazing work with handcraft, and I was especially attracted to the hand-woven carpets. I had a big carpet in my room as a kid, and I loved the feeling being on it, drawing, reading, playing…While surfing, I started dreaming of producing something of my own in Morocco by using those skills. After this surf trip I went again, but this time to meet some people, do research, and try to learn their technique and work alongside them. I liked the style of rugs made in a certain mountain region, so I went there, met these women who had formed a small collective of weavers in a Middle Atlas village called Tazroute. From then on, it started becoming this kind of relationship with Morocco, and now I also have friends there. I spend a lot of time in the mountain village several hours away from Marrakech where living is basic and ‘back to the roots’, so it is nice to be able to take a break and go to Marrakech for the inspiration that the city life can bring.
Compared to Berlin, what is drastically better / worse / different there?
I have been in Berlin for so long. I was ready for a small break. It is always nice to travel to get out of the routine. There is so much contrast between Berlin and Morocco, and that is exciting and inspiring. The cool thing about going to Morocco is that you have certain freedom to do things when you are completely out of context, and of course you can do a lot for not so much money. For example, I bought myself a motorbike to be able to travel more independently. Something fascinating about Morocco is the way they still work with their hands. They kept the traditional ways of making things. There is a lot to learn, other ways of seeing and being. And also the sun and the nature! I spend most of my time there in the small mountain village, so my life is very different from Berlin life. I have plenty of time to read, to take walks, swim in the river, play soccer and pool, spend time with the kids because they are the ones who sometimes speak a bit of English or French.
Tell us more about the process of making these carpets.
Most of the manual work is done by the women of the village. I make the drawings and then there is a long process of translation and negotiation to get the final result. When I jump onto the loom myself, they always complain or laugh at me because I slow them down! Still I love to work side by side with them, watching, doing, learning, directing the process, and entertaining them a bit as they work! Lets say that I work more as a cinema director with an amazing team. I like to be right up in it and get dirty in the mud.
How did they react to you and your ideas?
At the beginning they did not understand at all. But slowly and after the first series of carpets I made with them, they got it and we all got more comfortable and excited about this cultural exchange that happens simultaneous to the fabrication process of the carpets. We spend so much time together because there is a communication/language divide, and it can be challenging, but at the same time there is something beautiful about what misunderstandings and mistranslations can create. Women in the village speak Berber and Arabic, so normally the children of the weavers help me with a little bit of English or French they have learned in school. During the working process I live with a beautiful family in Tazroute, and the woman in the house speaks good English, so she helps me a lot. We help each other, she helps me with the translations, and I help her with her three beautiful kids, bringing them to school, babysitting, and stuff like that.
What are these images, the pop references in the carpets about?
These carpets are basically a script or a sketch for the stories I tell. I actually do it that way because I would love to have an archive of all the stories that I do in my live shows. Each carpet represents one story. And carpets traditionally pass from generation to generation, so it is a way to keep the stories alive, flowing and changing. For instance, the one with tongues actually has to do with the Berlin nightlife. And the one with shark has to do with an imagined encounter between Justin Bieber and this shark. Scottie Pipe has to do with a Berber hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere. The stories and the carpets mix the elements and imagery of contemporary life with the traditional formats of storytelling and carpet weaving.
What are the carpets made from?
From old clothes and sheep wool actually. I collected some clothes here in Berlin. In the same way that a painter would put together a color pallete, I was collecting old clothes from friends, which was also based on people, because I thought it could be really nice to involve friends and people that inspire me, that are related to my life somehow. And my own old clothes, because I think it is nice to give them another life. And also clothes from there, from the locals or from local markets. I buy old clothes based on colors and textures in this big market in big piles. That was really interesting, I never bought clothes this way before. For this blue carpet I was just taking various shades of blue. People in the market did not understand what I was doing! I always prefer to buy the wool directly from the weavers who also spin their own yarn in the village if they want to sell it, because you know it comes from their own sheep, and you support them directly. But often they do not have enough to sell, so I have to go to local markets here and there. That is the reason carpets have different shades of natural wool, because the wool is from different sheeps and from different villages.
So, this is the first time you are doing this kind of artwork. Tell us about your previous work.
I studied painting originally. At some point I left painting aside, although it always interested me. I worked and still work with drawing. It is more direct than painting, and you can do it everywhere. Then I got interested in many other things, video and live shows, which I still do. Also, collage was very important in my previous work. I think all these things come back together somehow in different projects. Now I actually work in many different media.
What is your general approach to art making? How important is humor?
Humor can be a doorway to other complex ideas or feelings. It is a softer approach than a critical or theoretical one, and I think it can be more effective. I think humor is very important in life in general, and I do not really separate art and life. I like to do things that make me happy and make my life better and easier. Being able to joke about things is always good. Although, in my storytelling there is humor, but there are other kinds of feelings as well. But yeah, I try to laugh, about things, about myself.
Your schedule is quite busy these days. Last week a group show at Junefirst Gallery, now a solo show at GSL Projekt, and in less than two weeks Venice Biennale.
I spent the last two months in Morocco working and finishing things for GSL Projekt, and I was very excited about this solo show. Suddenly these two more offers came – from Junefirst Gallery; we had spoken before about working together and it happened to be with their most recent group show that the kind of work I do fit in very well. And then this Venice thing was also a surprise. It is an invitation from the gallery Supportico Lopez. They are doing this project in Venice during the opening of Biennale called PPP (paneperpoveri.org). I love doing live shows, and they want me there to do that, to perform as a part of their 72-hour event.
Besides Venice, what are your plans and projects for the near future?
Of course I am thinking about new carpets already, but also I am preparing a new format inside of my live show practice. It is a Spinning show. Using a spinning class in a gym as a format, I want to do this show where the audience and I sit and use spinning bikes. I will be the instructor and dj and conduct this spinning trip. I have been thinking about it for more than a year. I hope at the end of 2015 I will have something ready. I would love to tour and show in different gyms! That would be so much fun. Sport combined with storytelling and music. Fuck yeah!
Did you prepare something special for the opening?
Live show at 20:00! You should come!
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