MEET OUR LATEST CREATIVE: DEAN ARLEN
What are your main sources of inspiration? Tell us 3 top references for your work.
Inspirations comes from many aspects of my living experiences, for one, the human being as an aesthetic form inhabiting their urban, rural spaces. Intrigues me as a visual artist working within an installation boldness (sculptural), canvass, proposing art-design projects for communities… people ! understanding people, develops a tolerance for my being, observing people allows a deeper interrogation of who I am, as a political, spiritual, economic, cultural being.
When a proposal is rejected by the state, for no real justification, it opens the door just a little in understanding the “post-colonial state of mind”. I can do this till time comes home, one reason why I appreciate traveling, listening, conversating, socializing, with activists, academics, artists from around the world….every city contains a rhythm, an expression…that can only come from its people.
The Urban and Rural Space is another aspect that intrigues me, not only as a physical spatial notion, but as a philosophical, political and economic extension of how we conceptualise ourselves, these explorations allow me to reconceptualise, decolonise philosophically; aesthetics, urban planning, design, the visual arts, as a living cosmological forms, extensions of the body.
Urban Texture, or the crafting of my urban space is encouraging, my experience with craft comes from an early age, my Great-Uncle, we called him Uncle! (on my Father’s side, was the grandfather I never had, he was a great influence in my life) he was a joiner, I grew with craft, my art career started within the collage, found objects. Looking into the urban space I see the craft that put’s it together, the lines, form, balance, content. Historically in Trinidad and Tobago there what we call Squatter Communities informal community , one community circa 70-80’s was developed from box containers, Datsun Cars came in, popularly known as Datsun Ville. The Collage has pivotal position in forming Trinidad and Tobago’s urban and rural space, there is a kinda-offness, an unalignment of many materials that has inspired a textured political, economic, cultural schizophrenic resilience, that is humorous, inventive, violent, irrepressible. It is somewhere in the crafting 2 of space an adventure in decolonial praxis can occur, forming an empowered movement within materiality, a wearisome craft creates an audacious texture.
Do you have a routine or ritual to enable creativity? Share with us!
Creativity is an intellectual exercise, engaging in a progressive intellectual pursuit, means approaching many platforms, my colleagues at The University of West Indies, UWI, listening to their research places my observations of the world into perspective. I have this ritual of “watching”; visiting galleries, keeping up to date on what my peers are doing, reading! also keeps me intellectually and innovatively inspired, I/We have an eclectic, provocative library, the internet allows me to devour the globe; living on an island makes looking out easier. There are my journals, I have a slew of them, black, bounded, wire spines, small, medium, large, they contain observations, notes, drawings, painting, design concepts, journaling is a strong anchor to the studio, my sanity, tracking my intellectual property, through their pages. All the above rituals coalesce into a practice as studio-life, at the end of the day practicing the work is imperative part of the creativity process, exploring 3 materiality, pushing the paint, drawing, building…taking risks…the studio allows the systematic, logistical interrogation of the work, from a philosophical political, activist perception, to one of actualisation.
Do you use your fashion style as a way to express your personality/creativity? And has fashion ever been a source of inspiration for you and if yes can you give us a concrete example?
Yes, yes and yes!, fashion has always been part of my awareness, if not fashion, I will say style…I remember, going to Fatima College as a young teenager circa 80’s, my mother styled my school uniform, she pleated my pants, rolled up its leg bottoms, there were creases running down both centre leg length, my shirt arms were also rolled. 4 I was one of the few students with that swag at school, for my college graduation I made my own outfit with the help of a tailor, not even aware that I was delving into design at that time, today I have made tapestry vest, designed a Bush Suit (below) for working in agriculture, designed a Conference Handbag for academics. Yes, fashion/style has been very visible in my experience, maybe because, my culture is one of style, swagger and verb, as mentioned I am of many peoples, Amerindian, Hindu, Spiritual Baptist, Orisha, Muslims, Rastafaria, all sporting their fashion, style, swagger in community.
In retrospect; I can see their influences in my installation proposal, particularly The Tacarigua Sculptural PlaySpace+Vending Proposal, fig. 1, the entrance Totems, are an amalgamation of iconography from all the “people’s” aesthetics, which I have explored in some way In my fashion.
In my paintings, I have used fashion to highlight the content around the fluidmasculine in challenging toxic masculinity, Panties, stockings, skirts, shoes have been used to represent this fluidity.
What is your favourite work and what it represents within your line of work?
WOW, loaded question, OK, let’s see; as I work in an interdisciplinary manner, from industrial design, urban installation proposal, social/cooperative art-design community interventions, visual arts, sculpture, video….all my work have specific importance to how I come to a righteous understanding of people/myself, the I/We that make systems, the state, corporate, craft, community.
Industrial Design allows me to explore the world of design, the specificity of design, the measuring, cutting to line, building, working with machines to build a kind of sculpture that can inhabit the functional world of the proletariat. Design contains specific essence which may not be visibly present in other practices. I get the opportunity to work alongside craft peoples, listen to their stories, understand the history of craft, it’s strengths, it’s weakness. Industrial design, allows me to work in an anthropological methodology, building a language that I can use to challenge toxic thinking around craft, the middleclass bourgeois, political, and elite class have a corrupted, misguided awareness of how craft should/can work in pursuing innovation.
Developing Urban Installation Proposals, is a dynamic practice, many moving parts, requiring a set of skills, from writing up strong conceptual papers, collaborating with colleagues from different professional backgrounds, negotiating with the state agencies, developing relationship with funding agencies (United Nations, Corporate), most importantly community…I fondly refer to this as “Performing the State”. Working in the studio on my visual art practice, is peaceful, one on one with my thoughts, it’s not a singular thought, all the above coalesces, making this practice empowered, I respect this part of it, its fortuitous, deliberate, fragile, To answer that question, I do not have a favourite, they are all amazing, each practice informing, empowering me both as an individual, and artist.
Do you use your art to convey any social or political issues? If yes, what are the current movements you relate to the most?
I have always had an interest in social justice since as a young teenager, at 13ish, went into my father’s library to explore books, looking at the titles, I was drawn to In the Fist of the Revolution – Life in a Cuban Country, by Jose Yglesias, how was I to know that the book was an analyst of Cuba after the Revolution, and not an action pack shootem-up paper back thriller. Reading that book gave me a taste for factual information based reading, rather than fiction, my early library was stocked by Amnesty International, Bob Marley, Clash, literature of counter culture movements.
Remember at 13ish, that would be ’79, I grew up experiencing the developing world fighting for their independence, there was liberation movement going on in South America, Africa, Asia, Europe….Trinidad and Tobago, had it fear share of social upheavals, with the Rastafaria Movement, The Earth People (a counter culture movement led by a woman, who renounced civilization values, went into the hills to live off the land, they usually walked the streets naked), we also had the Black Power Movement, that protested for social justice.
All these experience as a young man stayed with me still to this day, questioning patriarchy by challenging my Father’s and his generation’s authority, quiring the Catholic Church, priest and Religious Instructions while I attended, Fatima College, I was eventually thrown out of Religious Instruction classes.
Finally, my contemporary practice is constantly creating a discourse around issues that are personal to the society. Work in the studio explores masculinity, particularly around the “The Urban Block”, a space where men socialise in the open spaces, usually in specific communal spaces, in working class community they’re in the open, middle class, elite communities they are sport clubs, country clubs – generally men build spaces to “lime”. The work explores a trans-identity evolution, freeing masculinity of its toxic qualities. The urban Cooperative Artdesign Community Proposals interrogates how social/cooperative artdesign methodologies can develop social justice within communities… defining these methodologies needs sustainable practice, cross-examination, support.
Do you think it's important to be part of a creative group? Are you part of any in particular? Do you have a role model you relate to?
Creative groups, are a double edge sword, having been part of many groups as a young artists, I found them to be fraught with internal politics, stunting the progressive ethical, political, philosophical growth of aesthetics in Trinidad and Tobago. At the same time, Creative Groups, done well allow for healthy activism, project development, discussions to evolve, so, I do belong to cultural organisations when I can I attend meetings, to MACO THE SCENCE, (to MACO is to consciously seek out other people business) of the politics, economics of the creative landscape. I have been a member of the Circle of Poets Trinidad and Tobago, The Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago, support organisations like The Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago, Alice Yard.
Recently I/we formed an Ngo, Da.Da&Projects, which we hope will champion social/cooperative urban, rural artdesign proposal, this Ngo, came about during The conceptual and implementation stage of The Tacarigua Sculptural PlaySpace+Vending Project Proposal. It’s a young group of creative peoples, willing to take on the righteous position of the creative discourse.
Recently I/We have been developing another project proposal, HARCC - The Heights of Aripo RC School and Community Collaboration Project Proposal, with community members and colleagues, from The University of West Indies, UWI and The University of Pennsylvania, UPENN, The Height of Aripo St. Jude RC School, these explore, interrogate social/cooperative artdesign methodologies, with the intention of finding the illusive data around creative, aesthetic development methodology. It’s weird, as much as I am aware, weary of “the group” as an example of petty bourgeois emotional angst, enacting privilege, I have taken active role in group activities, as well as forming groups. I will be aware not to fall in the trap of petty bourgeois privilege.
What are the key elements that would make you want to collaborate with a brand?
Brands are basically representations of organizations, people/s moral, intellectual, philosophical, and economical goals….social media has proven how the ordinary can become branded into the consciousness of the people. The rise of toxic information, has also shown how off rail this can end. I feel one element in developing healthy relationships is trust, honest discourse, on the kind of relationship both brands wish to get out their collaboration.
Do you identify with Unreal Fields? How?
As much as I work on within the visual arts, I started my creative studies in jewellery and ended in Installation arts, where I studied mould making, foundry, welding, plastic, joinery, video, critical theory, I mention this to show I have a strong impulse to crafting, constructing, physical making, jewellery is 10 closely connected to fashion installation art is attached to the activation of space…meeting Unreal Fields, realising you all are into craft development, designing a unique functional sculptural product, I was immediately intrigued!
I have designed clothes, bags, furniture, playspaces. I love exploring design particularly for the enjoyment of the human form. HARCC's first impulse is to develop modular furniture, for The Room, where we will engage in a conceptual/Needs Assessment for The School and Height of Aripo. I love the concept of functional sculpture, crafting a concept into a fine form, empowering everyone in the chain of development, the designer, craft people, craft skills, the clientele, it’s an interesting eco system, healthier the ecology, expression of form become persuasive, sophisticated, righteous.
If you could make a photoshoot with a pair of Unreal Fields shoes together with one of your works, which work would that be?
I have one piece I have in mind, well it is not a piece, but a process, I have been doing these build-up pieces of paper, layered up to 2 inches thick, the paper gives an interesting texture, that I find will fit well into Unreal Fields unique designs. I will love developing a concept piece for a photoshoot or developing a concept shoe.
What's your favourite UF shoe model?
I love “ALL EYES ON ADELAIDE” (taken form Unreal Fields Instagram) how the counterfort meets the soul of the shoe, (check the cobbler lingo), the soul jutting out like a jetty, with the heel tucked back a solid foundation anchoring the shoe to the floor, creating a visual and structural tension, the choice and shaping of the colour palette are both clever and humorous, both playing on the contour of the shaft and heel. The solid deep black hue of the soul creates a wonderful division between upper and lower boot, the upper resting on the soul without any effort at the seams, the lower prism-like heel pushes through exploding an alternate dynamism as you experience the boot from different angles. I am drawn to design that has a playfulness, while acknowledging the classic structural nuance of shoe crafting. Everything coming together, creating an ambiance of movement, stimulation, tension, texture, comfort. So while there is hegemony, there is a willingness to burst that bubble, the wearer still takes a bold step forward…..the shoe does not go silently into the night…