Colonial Surfer - STNC is a project about the contemporary globalized world and power structures within the surf industry and its realm. Surfing is not just a sport but also culture, producer and distributor. In current discussions you hear about the post-colonial but the situation today is better described as neo-colonial. Surfers do travel a lot and sometimes to places unknown to other tourists. The way surfers behave and represent themselves in the adventures search of perfect waves has a lot in common with ancient colonizers and their roles. To surf maintain and conserve already existing structures. History.

Editor: Kristoffer Svenberg

Thursday, August 29, 2019

SECULAR SURFACE - Surfing The Nations / TEXT



In 1936, Walter Benjamin wrote the classic and often referenced text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Boris Groys has more recent written Religion in the age of digital reproduction (2009).
The philosopher and the artist Groys writes, among other things, that religion and conspiracy theories are two things that really benefit from the Internet and the network community. He believes that the spread and rise of these have increased significantly with our digitized era. Religion is facing a renaissance through digital social media. New forms of religion and religiosity are being developed.

The Internet in its structure benefits private, unconditional and sovereign freedom before scientific, conditional, institutional freedom, or sharing of legitimized viewpoints and perspectives. It is the unconditional and not proven information that can more easily and without resistance spread through the Internet. I also want to point out that this goes on in the market-liberal economy. It is information that in a superficial way fits easier within different situations, this is because it’s not regulated and therefore becomes more fast-formulated. It becomes competitive in spite of its major shortcomings, and Groys’ declares it as survival of the fittest in accordance with a Darwinist perspective. It finds favorable positions, diversity of positions, precisely through how it is not anchored and thus can move unlimitedly. 

(…)


During the prayer meeting, I placed a camera next to me and pressed the record button. It captures sound while standing and filming sneakily. Some minutes later, we do a prayer in which we pray for getting blessed with photographs and video material that will spread our message.

(…)

The reason for my work as a missionary for Surfing The Nations is that I see it as a performance work part of my art practice. There is nobody in place who knows about my intentions. My role could possibly be described in other ways than an artist. I'm there as a surfer. I'm there as a missionary. I'm there as an anthropologist. I'm there as a tourist. I'm there as a journalist. At the same time, none of these roles are true.

(…)

When I’m leaving the church and the area I feel a bit bestial. I write bestial (a beast) here with a link to how artists work with a context in real life, and then symbolically cannibalize on it to talk about something else. It’s a consumption of meaning, consumption of the environment and the people in order to be used as a representation. A violence that is close to hand within photographic and recording techniques. During our fairly personal conversation, I had placed a sound recorder switched on in a textile bag. Did I lie to this priest, I ask myself then? The priest who even may have baptized me at exactly on this spot in Onsala.

Honesty is honored within Christianity. You shall be true to yourself and you must be true to God. Within surf culture, it is important to be genuine and authentic. You are supposed to do things for real. Otherwise, you're just a poser.




(…)



Renovation



We get to hear from Niklas and Kristin that we are about to paint and renovate the village's hairdressing salon. The salon is very small but centrally located in Arugam Bay. What we are about to do is explained as extensive aid work. After an internal meeting in our compounds, we go to the barber to tell him about our plans. 
Niklas talks to the hairdresser in an educating manner and tone. We listen behind him almost like supervision in the small room. The discussion is mostly, or almost extensively a monologue. The words get outspoken from Niklas in a slightly superior jargon. But he is also adapting the words to a kind of made-up slang English for someone who isn’t so good at the language. Niklas is seeking for approval while explaining in sweeping gestures about what he, or we, are about to do in the barbershop.
It goes on in a way that resembles how a seller tries to convince a potential customer. The technique is based on excluding other possible alternatives.

- Just think about it, you know, cause what we wanna do, we wanna paint inside and fix.
Paint outside, paint the door, paint everything. Says Niklas and continues.

(…)

- You know in America they sell shampoo and wax and
I know here different I know.
But we make shelves.
The stereo we put in the back so you can’t see.
Everything very nice looking, clean. And we wanna paint everything new, new curtains.
Paint this, paint everything really, really nice.

It´s ok for you or?



Since it´s not the hairdresser himself who owns the place, the decision requires the involvement of more people. But we are determined and have already decided. Within the group, we are told by Niklas and Kristin that we are going to do something very good, a good deed, and something that will affect the community in the right way. We are going to spread a positive message in the village.

Niklas to the hairdresser again:

- We wanna help to fix, but, we need to know.
We need to, we look in the shelves see how much money.
How much money cost.
We will see, cause we have very little money.
Not much money this year, so not much money.
But we wanna start with the painting.

It’s going to be obvious for everyone who passes that we are working in the room. At first, there is a curtain in the large window towards the street but we take it down. The hairdresser is someone that many from the village visit regularly. The plan is that the hairdresser's customers will see how the place has been painted and redone, and then stories will be told about our group. And people will see us working from the street.

One of Surfing the Nations many taglines, for example, used in their videos: Be the change you want to see in the world. This is explained as a Mahatma Gandhi quotation. It's an incorrect quote that has become viral on the internet. I don’t know exactly where it originates and how it began to spread. What Ghandi really said that gave rise to this is: We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.
Gandhi expressed something that is somewhat more complex, humble, listening to the environment and self-reflective criticism. It is about thinking about your own role and changing yourself, rather than focusing on changing the world through your deeds and your role. How we act in Sri Lanka and Arugam Bay, our way of thinking and our roles is supposed to change the surrounding place.

In proportion to the size of the hairdressing salon, we are way too many on-site working. The small room is full of our bodies in action. We begin our work by emptying the salon on things. For example, there is a large amount and variety of posters on the walls in organic patterns. 

- Is it ok to tear these down? Is Kristin asking Niklas.

- Yes. Do Niklas answer frankly.

We tear down the posters from the walls, an act that makes them crumpled and torn apart. What these pictures mean or are of value to the hairdresser is nothing we really take into account. He might have collected these for years. Posters that soon lie in a pile on the floor.

At a rather late stage of the process, when we have already have decided the color, Kristin asks while the hairdresser is in the room if Niklas knows how the hairdresser actually wants it.

- Ask him. Niklas reply very card.

At this point, I think I've got some understanding of how Niklas thinks. As prejudice and pretext from me I think that Niklas doesn’t expect the hairdresser to answer something clearly. That is an argument from his side about why we should control and decide the design.

- What colors do you want in here? - Do you like green? Kristin says to the hairdresser. The barber doesn´t know this, but green is the color we’ve already chosen. The hairdresser shakes his head and expresses something far out with his eyes. 

- Do you like orange?

He does not answer and Kristin continues.

- Black? Black everywhere?

- Black? No! Says the hairdresser.

When Kristin then asks about the hairdresser's favorite color, he points up at one of the walls and says blue. The cerise cold blue color in which the room is already painted in is the hairdresser's favorite color. It’s a pleasant tone in a place with a sunny, warm and hot climate.

Like I mentioned before, the argument raised about why we should paint in a different color, according to Niklas and Kristin, is because the hairdresser doesn’t have a strong opinion. He doesn’t know what he wants. We know the good taste and that is part of what we bring as our positive message. With scrapers, we slowly scratch away the blue color from the walls. There is no air conditioning in the room and we are not used to working in this heat. Sweat pours down our bodies while we work and many of the men in our group are dressed in surf-shorts and no top. 

After a while, I'm told to stop scraping the paint off the walls. We are going to skip this step and paint directly on top of the old surface. This is an approach that every painter knows will lead to bad quality. A way of cheating that doesn’t get the paint to attach very well to the wall and will make it likely to fall off in the near future. At first, during the process of scraping, I protest and want to continue the work until it’s done. But I give up when Niklas explains that we won’t have enough time to complete our work. We don’t have time because we have other things to do here in Arugam Bay during our stay. In a few days, a surf contest will begin as part of the international surfing tour. We are aiming to attend the beach and spread the word about Surfing The Nations. In the barbershop, we fill up the worst holes in the room with putty knives before we start painting with a clear strong lime green color. The green is a bit similar to the color that usually appears on green screens.

We are then standing in a green room. A green-room within wave surfing is when you are in a good surf position inside a barreling wave. A reference in movie making is green rooms or green screens that are used to film things, or people so that the motive can be edited into any other visual context and background. A green room is also what you find backstage at a theater.

We also build a very simple wall in the room and put up simple self-made shelves on it. Once the room is painted completely green, we also add straight horizontal brown-orange and white stripes. We paint these across all the walls of the room. We make the brown-orange stripes wide and the white ones more narrow. If you compare with the free organic style from earlier with a lot of colorful posters on the walls, it is now possible to resemble the room more as a normative Ikea interior. But the room is quite a bit more exaggerated than the ones appearing in the IKEA catalogs. The stripes that go through all the walls of the room define the room and make it very definite. It is like an already set room and becomes a very closed body. 

The stripes that are in the room now can be linked to sports culture. They look like typical sportswear patterns that for example appear on t-shirts, polo shirts or sport pants, etc. And a reference through us in the room is that it looks like something connected to wave surf culture. Such as minimalist painted landscapes, sea horizons, and sunsets. But the stripes and the contrast in colors also resemble borders in a sports playing field, such as a field for soccer, tennis, basketball and so on.

It is also noticeable how the pattern on the walls resembles the style of modernism painting, and then a lot of modernist abstract paintings in especially the late modernism era after World War II. In the 1930s radical modernist art provoked the Nazis. 

And the Nazis adapted art they did not like, the modernism, as degenerated art and they persecuted designated artists. Artists had to flee from the Nazis.

After World War II, in late modernism, a lot of paintings were done with monochrome paint fields. Painting would then, within the dominant discourse that was pronounced through art criticism and theory, preferably only be surface and paint. Artists who were abstract expressionists and formalists were busy searching for the essence of the medium. At the same time, the artists often had magnificent existential or spiritual motives for their works. Those for the time radical but aesthetically rather simple works of color fields became very popular within the art scene in the 40s and 50s. It has been read historically, among other things, as a search for clean projection surfaces of a bright future after a devastating horrible and traumatizing world war. Today, it’s possible to see similar abstract aesthetics as something very common in commercial contexts, and as a pattern in modern contemporary architecture.

How those abstract color fields as an aesthetic expression in the contemporary are read as something apolitical is part of what makes them very popular nowadays I think. But monochrome painting and abstract expressionism in the 50s and 60s had a role in the Cold War. The CIA funded abstract expressionism and marketed American art to place the United States as a culturally free country. This was done without the artist’s active participation or knowledge and they became part of a propaganda machine. What matters for the CIA's choice of art genre to support economically were that the content of the abstract expressionism paintings themselves were insignificant political narratives.

Regardless of where the aesthetic originates from or how it is charged with meaning, it is now placed in this room to make a difference, it is said within our group that this aesthetic will lead to a change. Through my actions, it is being connected with a socially embedded art project. It becomes something to read as a representation, to be interpreted and examined symbolically. It is us who bring up stories and say our meanings. We are directing. What is then almost bluntly clear is that the pattern of the walls is the same color scheme as for Surfing The Nations headquarters in Hawaii. And the same goes for a large hand-painted Surfing The Nations sign at the organization's enclosed area here in Arugam Bay.

On the glass window, which is the wall facing the street, the name of the hairdressing salon is written, as well as other information, in colorful ornamental letters. It is written both in the Latin letters and with letters from the Sinhala alphabet. We are scraping away each part of those letters and words, carefully, as we renovate.

The village's artist and designer, who most probably has painted these letters as well, is saying that he wants to do the job with a new design and also a new sign. But Niklas and Kristin have decided that a girl from France will do the job. I never meet her, but the intended girl apparently works as an illustrator and a designer in her home country. The job here is probably something Surfing The Nations won't pay anything for. They will explain the contribution as a kind of voluntary aid work.

The village local artist doesn´t give up and he keep on trying to get the assignment. Then Niklas asks him to bring along a portfolio of what he´s done before. In this situation is a portfolio not something to take for granted and the question is a bit rude. The works he has done are placed around in the village of Arugam Bay. Niklas sound is snobbish like a blasé person in the art industry when an unknown artist wants to show his works. The artist then tries to show examples of his creativity without showing any traditional portfolio. A bit later he brings with him an old satellite dish which he explains that he can make a spectacular sign of putting on the ridge of the building. The weeks and even months while Surfing The Nations are in Arugam Bay, the letters we erased from the window aren´t getting replaced in any way. The surface remains clean.

When I arrive in Sri Lanka and for the first time meet the group from Surfing The Nations at the Airport in Colombo, I wear a silver crucifix in a thin silver chain around my neck. It´s a crucifix I received as a gift from my classmates at Konstfack when I turned 30 years old. That I would work with this project was a reason for giving me the crucifix. They wanted me to remember them and that I would rather think of art than of God and religion. However, they were worried that I would disappear into Surfing The Nations organization when I took a break from the studies at Konstfack for this.

Later on-site in Sri Lanka, I was told, by others in Surfing The Nations, to remove the crucifix from my neck. It was because a crucifix could make it more difficult to meet the locals and be seen friendly in Arugam Bay.

From the beginning, before we changed anything in the room, it was very organic in the aesthetics with posters hanging here and there is a variation on the walls. When we considered ourselves finished with the hairdressing salon a few days later, the room looks a bit like a more extreme IKEA interior. When I later show a video from our work in the hairdressing salon, it is a common response from the audience that they get a bad feeling in their gut and stomach. And what was done there in Sri Lanka can be seen and understood as a kind of abuse by design as a medium. 

In the book Don´t waste your life, that I found in the organization's little Christian library in Arugam Bay, I read a criticism of postmodernism. It was a book that was popular to read in our group.  John Piper, who wrote the book, quotes the author C.S Lewis in a part where he is trying to explain why he thinks postmodernism is the wrong way to go:

You can ́t go on ”seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ”see through” first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ”see through” all things is the same as not to see. 

Ideas about taste as true values ​​are common in our group. Our group is convinced that, objectively, it looks much better in the hairdressing salon after we repainted. Something that people who have been an audience for my video rarely agreed with. I have never heard anyone say: Wow! The Barbershop became really nice! Instead, I have heard expressions of uneasiness and unpleasant feelings. To understand the uneasy feeling and see why I think a deconstruction of the context is required here. I read the C.S. Lewis quote in this context as a simplification. A logic that is not at all transferable to the criticism of postmodernism and its way of deconstructing truths and values. Deconstructing something doesn´t mean that it ceases to exist or stops being meaningful. Instead, theoretical deconstructions help to make understandable what you see and why you understand it in a certain way. The world is out there and it is opaque in a lot of senses.



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