WRITER'S NOTE

Have you ever wondered what makes love so frightening? Why is it that every time we begin feeling something that melts our hearts or excites our soul, be it for a person or a new life journey of any sort, a tiny chaos greets us with a Joker smile?

-Oh hello, so we meet again. Are you on top of this situation or shall I proceed with my ingenious guerrilla campaign?

-Well, as a matter of…

-Shhh, of course you are not, buddy, you don’t fool me. I know you since the beginning of times. Let me make it easier for you: you are going to give all your heart to this new ‘love project’ of yours and you-are-going-to-suffer for it. It is not going to work, you are going to lose yourself in it again. Bah, it’s a loss of time, if anything else. Aren’t you scared? Yes you are, good.

Humans have been exploring these inner game of thrones since our very first steps in this dimension we call life. Love Vs. Fear. Artists and storytellers probably know better than anyone else that this scenario cannot but be present, one way or another, in all human creation.

 ‘There are only two kinds of stories and messages that we ever engage with, really: those that propagate love and those that propagate fear. The former is my preferred brand’, Jovanny told me during our interview, and for anyone who is a reader of The Artidote or berlin-artparasites, the focus of Jovanny’s curations on these intrapersonal explorations is obvious. He fights fire with fire, it seems, reminding us that we are in this together.

So no offence, Joker, but even if you win some battles, you will never win the war.

 

Maria Louvari

 

 

JOVANNY VARELA-FERREYRA

 

Where did you grow up, Jovanny, and how did your childhood stories inspire and form your artistic flair and temperament? Its name, in the indigenous tongue of the first inhabitants, means ‘at the foot of the mountain’. It is the small rural town of Casacuarán, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.

I remember the dusky summer evenings with vanilla-pink skies that descended over the faint turquoise profiles of the mountains at the distance. It is common knowledge that gold coins continue to be buried in bundles all over this mountain range, hidden by rightfully cautious peasants during the chaos of the Mexican Revolution. Of course people continue to clandestinely climb the mountains and look for this gold, but few have found it (and those who have are better off not telling).

The locals believe that the ghosts of the original peasant owners still move the money around, cautious in whose hands it might end up. There are stories about people who have climbed and dug in search for gold, only to come down the mountain cursed and untimely dying soon afterwards.

These ghost-like turquoise mountains and their colourful tales are but one example where that magic realism, a genre prevalent in the Mexican collective psyche, was fused, early on, into my artistic DNA. It was a way of experiencing reality, but with an imaginative layer of myth, magic and the beyond. I was surrounded by it on a daily basis, through the extra-ordinary stories and beliefs shared by the locals. It had a profound effect both on my eyes and perception.

When my dad would take me to the rodeo (an extremely popular activity in rural Mexico), for example, I would not see a man trying to remain strapped to a bull’s back for the sake of the audience’s entertainment. Instead, I saw a ritual: it was the witnessing of a brawl between reason (represented by a man) and instinct (represented by a bull), where every attendee prays to God that reason walks away victorious and does not fall victim to the brute force and chaos of instinct. Because, after all, it is reason that separates us from other species--and civilizations have been built upon it. At that age, of course, I was not able to articulate that experience in such a way. I simply felt it. This way of experiencing reality through the lens of myth would never leave me. Not even after I left Casacuarán for Chicago at the age of ten.

Will you walk us through your life path, your studies and career? Arriving at the strange new world that was Chicago, my personal myth-making intensified. Not having the necessary tools of the English language and cultural knowledge to understand my new surroundings, I began to make up stories in my head about why things were the way they were. Unable to tell anyone my stories with my voice, I turned to the paper and pencil in order to express myself. This would give birth to my passion for art and my understanding of such an important tool for healing, communication and empathy. Without this event of drastically changing worlds, I would not have gone on to university to study Painting. I would not have then wanted to drastically change worlds again and move to Germany. Berlin-artparasites, the project I co-managed until last May, would not exist as you know it, and I wouldn’t be answering your wonderful questions.

Which are the thoughts that usually prevail in your mind when you hit the ‘post’ button to publish a new story for The Artidote--your new project, and, in the past, for berlin-artparasites?

“Will they feel the same thing I’m feeling right now with this post?”

“I’m hoping this makes someone’s day.”

“Time is running out and somebody needs to read this ASAP.”

“This young, talented artist deserves exposure.”

“This old, talented artist deserves to be remembered.”

“A conversation about this topic is necessary.”

“I wonder how they’ll react to this one...”

“Hot damn, this one’s going to be a hit!”

Where do you seek inspiration when you need some? That’s always been a weird question to me. It presupposes that a) Inspiration--whatever that is or looks like, is somewhere else, outside of me, and b) I need this ‘something’ in order to create something worthwhile.

There’s this wonderful story that comes to mind when someone brings up inspiration:

This one time, poet Rainer Maria Rilke, spent some of his days at sculptor Auguste Rodin's studio. Before meeting Rodin, Rilke was the type of artist who waited for the muses of inspiration to strike him in order to work on a poem. I guess he felt more righteous, so to speak, when he worked under the spell or blessing of inspiration. But Rodin... Oh God, Rodin had the discipline and hustle of the sun. He would always wake up early and hit the studio until late. It was clockwork. It was putting in the time and sweat. There was no time to wait for whenever inspiration decided to show up.

“Knock Knock”

“Who’s there?”

“Inspiration”

“Oh right, take a seat or come back another day, I’m busy working.”

Know what I mean? Needless to say, Rilke was never the same since meeting Rodin.

Somewhat ironically, I find this to be such an inspiring story! Let us talk about elements and subjects for a bit then. Which elements give your stories character and 'power'? Honesty. It may sound simple, but it’s one of the toughest things to transmit in art.

Empathy, the human conditioning, love, mental illness, passion and fear, are some of the subjects that prevail in your selection of stories… Does this happen by policy? It is, of course, a very broad spectrum of subjects, which could not help but appear by default in any Art project but, still, they prevail over others such us politics, social conflicts, human rights, the environment. It certainly doesn’t happen by policy, yet I am aware of my preference for intrapersonal subjects, which is to say the things that happen within all of us, but we’re often afraid to share or admit. This has to do with the context of these kind of projects: in social media, and particularly Facebook, you have tons of stories being shared that deal with politics, social conflicts, human rights, the environment, etc. Tons. Notice that all of these topics deal with the external conditions: that which is outside of ourselves. And what I’d like to contribute to your already overwhelming feed of important news, unimportant news, listicles, cat photos and what Johnny had for lunch, is the things hidden within us that we rarely dare talk about; the things that make us human, the gems amongst all the dirt, the gold coins hidden deep within the mountain. I believe that the better we understand our internal world, the better we’ll understand our external one, and the better prepared we’ll be to handle and take care of it.

Which are your observations regarding the stories, concepts, and subjects your readers find more appealing? The ones that offer the simple yet potent relief that people are not alone in thinking and feeling the way they do.

What kind of stories and messages do you usually choose to convey through your work? There are only two kinds of stories and messages that we ever engage with, really: those that propagate love and those that propagate fear. The former is my preferred brand.

How is living and working in Berlin forming your personality and your own work? I came to Berlin for a very silly reason, I must admit: Its recent history with having a divisive wall being torn down. That’s it. You see, I grew up with an internal, divisive wall for most of my life. Being uprooted from Mexico and planted in U.S. soil was a traumatic experience for the then-10-year-old me. Aside from the identity crisis, the inability to speak and relate to my surroundings developed into a painful introversion I had to endure. All my fellow introverts out there will not let me lie when I say that it hurts not feeling able to express properly everything that’s going on inside your head and heart and, instead, coming off as awkward and/or weird — you know, that invisible wall between oneself and the outside world. Needing to tear down this wall, I decided that I would uproot myself from U.S. soil and plant my thoughts elsewhere, where I didn’t know neither the language, nor the culture; that it would be a symbolic return to the conditions that built that wall in the first place. Except, this time, it would be my own choice to confront this fear and, this time, I would tear it down to dust. And, well, I’m happy to say that the wall has been coming down nicely.

How would you convince a potential sponsor that art and stories can change the world? By changing their world first through art and stories. I want them to sincerely believe in it, not simply to agree with it.

Your favourite artists? My nine-year-old niece, Alondra (really, she’s a natural) and Picasso.

Which painting/artefact would you acquire to have in your house, if possible? Francisco Goya, during his Black Painting days, left on a wall the faint image of a dog’s head emerging from what could be a mountain or a wave. That one. There’s something about that lil’ pup climbing the mountain or swimming up the wave that gets me.

What would you create if resources or timing were not a problem? An institute. We would treat mental illnesses, depression, heart ache, life ache and other internal pains with art. Painting, drawing, sculpting, mixed-media workshops, as well as poetry (creative writing workshops and open mic events), would be used with the purpose of releasing out into the world internally-healthy individuals. Individuals with a strong sense of self and purpose for the betterment of society. If I cannot change the world, I would like to create a space where we engender individuals who will.

Which image and quote would you use if you were to attach it to your own personal ‘hero’s journey’? This will be the only question I do not answer. One, because I find it limiting (and I despise limits), and secondly because what I find true today might change with my experiences tomorrow.

What is it that drives you to keep on doing whatever you do, when the going gets tough? A thought that is very, very difficult to grasp, but when I do is all the fuel I need: the thought that everyone I have ever loved and everyone who’s ever loved me, everyone I have ever hated or everyone who has ever hated me, and everyone I have ever met, will one day die — unless I leave them first. Grasping the end tends to invigorate my passion for beginnings.

If you had the chance to convey a message in a bottle to the world, what would that be, Jovanny?

‘’We’re in this together.’’ #TodaysMantra

 

*You can see more from Jovanny at http://twitter.com/theartidote and http://facebook.com/the.artidote