Rolex Arts Initiative: You have made a big change in your life, choosing to leave São Paulo for Taipei for the entire mentoring year.
Eduardo Fukushima: I have been there for two months. I thought a lot about this, but I decided I should go. In the first days it was a bit hard because it’s the opposite culture in relation to my own: to Brazil, the food, the people, the way they behave. And, in São Paulo, I live downtown, close to the centre, while in Taipei I live almost in the countryside, so much calmer. I live behind Mr Lin’s house. He is in one flat and I’m in another.
How does the mentoring work with Lin Hwai-min?
I see him every week – some weeks, two, three or four times, other weeks just once. He has a very busy schedule. Usually, I dance and he watches, and after I’ve danced we talk a lot about my dance. Because now I am beginning my new work and he is helping me with that. He talks a lot, he is a real workaholic.
Does he praise or criticise your dancing?
He doesn’t say if my dance is good or bad, but he talks a lot in terms of structural choreography. He says I should find more diversity of movement, different rhythms. He told me: ‘You are free now, you don’t need to be closed when you dance for me.’
I’m happy working with him because I realize that we have different ways of thinking about movement and dance, completely different. This is opening my mind and my body to other ways. He pushes me a lot.
2012-2013 Dance protégé Eduardo Fukushima. Click here to view the full gallery.
You also work with the dancers of Lin Hwai-min’s company, Cloud Gate.
I take classes with his dance company, such as ballet, yoga, tai chi dao yin [a Chinese breathing technique] and martial arts.
When you began the mentorship, you said you were eager to explore your Asian side, as your father is of Japanese descent.
Yes, I am very happy to be with Cloud Gate as I wanted to study oriental movement. I’m in the right place as I’m learning the principles behind these practices. It’s amazing for me. And at Cloud Gate they have such good teachers and masters of tai chi.
Has your dance style already changed because of the work with your mentor?
My style hasn’t changed yet, because the body is slow to change. But at the same time, I feel that I will change, my inner self is beginning to change because martial arts is about inner ways of movement. This is what I needed. I have time to concentrate on this, as I’m away from all my friends in Brazil. I only have one year in Taiwan, so I want to make the most of it.
2012-2013 Dance mentor Lin Hwai-min and protégé Eduardo Fukushima. Click here to view the full gallery.
Have you been able to get to know other people in Taipei?
People who live near Cloud Gate know me as the Brazilian guy because there are no foreigners living there. It’s interesting for me because I now use my body to communicate with people with whom I don’t have a common language as I don’t speak Mandarin. I’ve found other ways to communicate with people, it’s really funny.
What is your principal goal for the year?
I don’t want to just dance, I want to transform my body. I’m trying to create dances that I’ve never made before. My focus is to understand more about Oriental body practices, also to become more fluent in English. I’m in a strange situation, I’m in Taiwan and I’m studying English with a teacher, two classes a week. It’s all a bit unusual.
How would you sum up your experiences so far?
I’m very happy with my mentorship because everything is new for me. It’s the first time that I live outside Brazil and the first time that I’m learning another language. And it was my dream to get to know Asia and now it’s happening.
Rolex Arts Initiative: You’ve recently spent a week with your mentor in New York. What happened during that week?
Sara Fgaier: Walter Murch was working on a documentary about CERN, [the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, famous for its Large Hadron Collider] here in Geneva. The film, Particle Fever, directed by Mark Levinson, describes the life and discoveries of physicists at CERN over the past five years. During the time spent with Walter Murch I’ve mostly observed his way of working and followed group discussions about the film between the director, Mr Murch and one of the protagonists and producer, David Kapland. Then in our spare time, he was so kind as he helped me to discover some special and extraordinary places in New York.
Does Walter Murch edit in a way similar to you?
I found there were a lot of similarities. However, I believe that everyone has his own way of exercising, expressing his personality and his own way of acting. However, these differences do not indicate the capability and skills of an editor, I think that everyone has his own style of working.
How would you describe the interaction with Walter Murch?
I mainly observe Walter Murch working. I don’t want to talk a lot with him, as I respect his work and do not want to “defocus” him. At the same time, I know how important it is to work in solitude. It’s very rare to have the opportunity to watch closely other people at work. I feel totally lucky especially with someone like Walter Murch.
2012-2013 Film protégée Sara Fgaier. Click here to view the full gallery.
Is there any particular aspect of editing that you are eager to learn about?
During the time I’ve already spent with Walter Murch, I was really impressed by his use of sound. I hope that, thanks to him, I’m going to improve my sound editing skills and learn some tips. I also hope that I will have the opportunity to observe the editing of a fiction film. In fact, by chance, the project that I am following is his first documentary editing.
What did you talk about in your free time with Walter Murch?
We talked in our spare time about many things, not only about cinema. Mr Murch has so many interests. We started to get to know each other a little more.
Film editors are generally not famous, with a few exceptions like Walter Murch himself. Does that annoy film editors? Do people know what you actually do?
I believe that film editors don’t expect to be in the public eye. It is a job done in the shadows, behind the scenes. But directors know well how important can be the role of an editor. Generally, I think the most common mistake is to think that it is a technical job.
What qualities does a good film editor need?
I think it is important to know the mechanisms of the story: you have to be able to melt the story elements with the sense of time and narration and to find forms and harmonies both in the surface and in the deepest levels. It is essential to possess synthesis and analytical skills, critical thinking, a good visual memory, perseverance, tenacity, patience, listening and comprehension skills. Then it depends on your own sensibility – from the same material different editors can create completely different films.
2012-2013 Film protégée Sara Fgaier and mentor Walter Murch. Click here to view the full gallery.
Are there many female film editors?
Certainly women have always had a place in this field much more than in other fields. I believe that women have often been on the margins of power hierarchies in the mainstream industry, and they have often found a space in the editing room. Perhaps because they tend to be more collaborative and handle well the alternation between sensitivity and synthesis.
Have you already begun to learn from Walter Murch?
I’m still processing a whole series of teachings, practices, passionate stories and suggested techniques that I have seen. I want to start working standing up like him, he has already convinced me. This was the first time in my life that I had a teacher or a mentor, so this mentorship is particularly important for me.
You also teach film editing.
This year I will go to ZeLIG [School for Documentary, Television and New Media] in Bolzano, Italy, to supervise a film class. I will, of course, be able to use what I have learned with Walter Murch. But this is not something new for me. In fact, the courses that I’ve already given so far are mainly built around his texts In the Blink of an Eye and The Conversation. I have taken both theory and practical techniques and I made different summaries organizing them for the themes introduced by film pieces and examples.
When will you next meet your mentor?
Very soon I will be in New York, I will follow the final phase of the editing that Walter Murch is currently doing. Later, we will meet in Copenhagen where he will hold a master class for a few days.
Rolex Arts Initiative: What is happening in your mentorship with Margaret Atwood?
Naomi Alderman: We’re working together on a collaborative on-line novella about zombies for a Canadian site called Wattpad. It’s a huge community of readers and writers online. Margaret and I are both very interested in the future of writing and what’s going to happen in the on-line world. I had produced a smartphone game about zombies, so this inspired us to embark on a zombies story. We’ve written coming up for 15,000 words. It’s an epic overland journey during a zombie apocalypse. There are two voices and we’re writing one each.
You’ve both already written so much of it?
Margaret is an amazingly fast writer. I always feared that being a fast writer meant that I wouldn’t be such a good writer. But seeing how she works – I send her a chapter and she sends me back a new chapter the next day – makes me feel very confident that it’s okay to write fast and that it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means you get to a stage where you can do that.
What about your own separate fiction?
I’ve been sending her some of my work on my fourth novel and short stories that I’m working on. I’m going to be writing her into my [smartphone] game Zombies, Run! – she’s going to have a guest-starring role, which I hope she will enjoy.
Also, she has launched a funding drive for her online product fanado [fanado.com]. One of the prizes, if you help fund the product, is to have an online conversation with me and Adrian Hon, the co-creator of the zombies game. So we’re supporting each other’s on-line endeavours.
2012-2013 Literature protégée Naomi Alderman. Click here to view the full gallery.
So the mentoring year had a very busy start?
I am a terrible perfectionist or at least terribly driven. So I’m constantly thinking: ‘Oh, it’s already been a few months and we’ve only done this. We should have done so much more.’ But maybe I should just get over myself.
How does Margaret Atwood respond when she receives your manuscripts?
She’s incredibly positive. Vastly encouraging with occasional thoughts about different elements which might work better if I did them a different way. I cannot tell you the feeling of sending your writing to Margaret Atwood! I don’t know how you can communicate that in print. And then Margaret Atwood sends it back and says: ‘This is great.’ It’s a benediction, it’s like a fairy godmother with a wand going: ‘Yes, carry on, carry on.’ Apparently I’m okay at this writing thing.
How often do you communicate?
Probably a couple of times a week. We go through flurries. We have a flurry of communicating every day and then go quiet for a while. We don’t talk on the phone, we email a lot.
You’re getting on well with your mentor.
Yes, I feel a lot of love for her.
From the first time you met, your friendship developed quickly?
We clicked. We made each other laugh. I thought that was a very good sign. Obviously I was meeting her for the very first time and thinking to myself: ‘Do you know what, it’s a great privilege to meet Margaret Atwood and spend an hour with her. I decided to present myself as exactly who I am. If I had presented a false self and she didn’t choose me, then I would have thought: ‘Oh, she didn’t pick that false thing.’
I did not want to be someone who was going to nod and say: ‘Yes, tell me more,’ but wanted to be able to show her some interesting things and have a conversation, rather than just be receiving. So we really had fun the first time we met, a big laugh. We talked about weird things in the Bible and strange sexual practices. We talked a little bit about the problems of the new novel, but also about religious cults. We’re very interested in weirdness, strange things that one’s not supposed to talk about.
I came away thinking it was a good sign I had told her about a book she had never read.
2012-2013 Literature mentor Margaret Atwood and protégée Naomi Alderman. Click here to view the full gallery.
Can you predict what will be the most important benefit of the mentoring year for you?
I would not like to predict because I think, as with writing a novel and probably all artistic work, the reason it’s worth doing is because you don’t know what the outcome will be. And if you knew what the outcome would be, you could do it now. If I said to you: ‘Well, I think I’m going to gain in confidence over the year,’ well I could say to myself: ‘Naomi, why don’t you just be more confident now?’ Though that will probably happen. I’m looking forward to the unexpected and the strange conversational turn that will give me a clue in the right direction.
Did Margaret Atwood have a chance to look at your new book, The Liars’ Gospel, a novel about the life of Christ?
She did, she enjoyed it a lot. But she made a criticism, she said a very interesting thing. She said that she thought I had portrayed some elements of the religious practice a bit too kindly. I was making them seem a bit too nice. I like this thought, that I can challenge myself to be even less nice, a little more clear-eyed than I have been. That seems like a good trajectory. I think that book is everything I could have made it, I’m really proud of it. But I think she’s right, I could go further. It’s true, I still have a little bit of a people-pleaser inside me, and you can’t afford that as a novelist. It’s not a nice feeling when you upset people. Some people might like it, but I don’t. But, at the same time, when you approach the truth, if the truth is upsetting, then you have to take it.
If Margaret Atwood makes a constructive criticism of your writing, how do you react?
I welcome it. What would be the point of having a mentor-protégé relationship where they just told you that you were brilliant all the time? I suppose there are some people for whom that would be really valuable. At a particular point in a work or a career you might need that unqualified support. But I’m not at that stage, I would like to be pushed further. I hope that I have better writing in me still.
* The Liars’ Gospel was published in the U.K. by Viking on 30 August 2012.
Rolex Arts Initiative: You travelled to London to sing with Gilberto Gil at the Back2Black festival and then you watched him rehearse at the Montreux Jazz festival. Has this helped you with your own music?
Dina El Wedidi: I’m really trying to make the most of this year and believe in the concept of “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”. The opportunities I’ve been given are fantastic and obviously I’m following everything my mentor does with great interest. Having said that, I don’t want to be another Gilberto Gil! I’m my own person and musician, but undoubtedly there’ve been many ways the experience has already helped me.
In what ways?
Only when I returned to Egypt did I realize how all this experience was beginning to influence my own way of working. For example, when I observed Mr Gil, whether it was joining him in his recordings or in rehearsal, I saw the calm way he dealt with the other musicians. I must have picked up on this, as back home when I now work with my musicians, I’m less tense and I don’t rush around as much as I used to. My band has noticed this too – everything is more relaxed! This has helped the creative process: if things aren’t too forced or pressurized, the ideas for music tend to flow more easily.
2012-2013 Music protégée Dina El-Wedidi. Click here to view the full gallery.
Are you and Gilberto Gil working on a specific project?
Everything I’m working on right now is fluid. I hope Mr Gil will help me when I work on my album, whether that’s with writing songs or working in the studio. But it’s all an open book. Just recently I was working on a project with young children from a very poor area of Cairo. In the morning these children work as cleaners, and then in the afternoon they could be selling tissues in the street. They make ends meet any way they can. I worked with them singing and composing.
What do you and your mentor talk about?
I’ve had long conversations with Mr Gil about all sorts of subjects. What I’ve observed is that, despite his wealth of experience, he’s still very open to new experiences. I believe that’s partly why he chose me as a protégée. He said: “I know a lot about Brazilian music, I know a lot about African music, but I know nothing about Arab music. This will be a good opportunity to discover it.” This has taught me to be open to all musical influences.
2012-2013 Music protégée Dina El-Wedidi and mentor Gilberto Gil. Click here to view the full gallery.
Are you still keeping a political message in all your music?
You can’t deny that a lot of my music has a political message. I simply have to express what I’m experiencing in my country at the time in my songs. I couldn’t do otherwise. But that’s not what all my music is about: some of the music talks about Egyptian society, romance or relationships. But, after being exposed to new audiences, with more travelling around and chatting to other musicians due to Rolex, I wonder if my generation – particularly in Egypt – wants more than the kind of folk music they’re accustomed to hearing me sing. My generation is one of T-shirts and jeans, and there are revolutions and uprisings all over the world. So perhaps I feel I should offer and look at music that is more powerful, something that more adequately reflects the current situation. I’m now experimenting with electronic music and this could be a new direction for me.
What are you looking forward to in the next few months?
This mentoring year is such an intense learning period. I’m like a sponge absorbing all the new information, which is why I’ve put the actual recording of my first album on hold. I want to wait until the year is over, before starting work on it again. I feel it will only be later, when I’ve had time to reflect on all I’ve learned, before I can take it forward. But yet again it’s all fluid. What I do know is that all this experience is bound to change me as a musician, and all for the better.
Rolex Arts Initiative: You said at the start of this mentorship that you thought being taken out of your own cultural environment would stimulate new experiments in your work. Has this happened?
Michał Borczuch: I’m already looking at my own work, the world of theatre, and even my own country, through fresh eyes. As I’ve been able to travel and to meet Mr Chéreau in different cities, it’s meant I’ve been able to put some sort of distance between myself and Poland.
What have you found interesting during your travels?
I’ve been struck by the difference in theatre-going society across Europe. For example, in Germany and France I’ve noticed there’s a real history and tradition of going to the theatre for much of the public, but it’s not the same in Poland. Theatre-goers in Poland tend to be from the academic world and it’s a relatively small, closed group. So, if I produce a play in Poland, reviews come from people in the same narrow circle, and the critics have fixed opinions on how things should be done.
2012-2013 Theatre protégé Michał Borczuch. Click here to view the full gallery.
How do you feel about critics?
I used to take heed of such criticism, but now I’m beginning to question that. Whether I’m observing audiences in other countries, watching Chéreau perform in La Nuit Juste Avant les Forêts in Barcelona, or simply being given the opportunity to talk about theatre while wandering around Paris with him – all this has meant I can now come to my own conclusion about a piece of theatre without worrying if it’s the right one. My confidence has already increased because of it.
Earlier you indicated you would welcome not only a mentor who could give you tips, but also one with whom you could argue about your work.
In Poland I produced a play called Brand. The City. The Chosen Ones, based on an Ibsen work. It didn’t receive very good reviews. It had been a very difficult play to produce, so I asked Mr Chéreau if he could come over to see it. I wanted him to observe something I’d worked on that wasn’t perfect. I thought this would be the best way of learning from him. He came and gave good, constructive criticism, but he was very careful not to force his opinion on me. He told me what he understood in the play and what he didn’t, but he avoided giving definitive advice. Having said that, there were some structural elements to the play he was able to help with. I’d used a sort of patchwork, story-telling device and Mr Chéreau explained that in this play’s context, he felt it needed a traditional narrative structure to help the audience’s understanding. I had lived and breathed this play for a long time and already had some idea of why it wasn’t working, so when Mr Chéreau told me what he thought, it helped me figure out what needed to be done should I ever direct the play again.
This is where I feel the mentor/protégé relationship is really helping me. I once worked with a teacher in a drama school in Poland, and, because we were so close both in language and outlook and we were always working within the same restricted confines, it created a pressurized, intense time between us. Here I’m in a situation where I’m outside my usual working world, so I can listen carefully to what Mr Chéreau says and calmly reflect on it.
2012-2013 Theatre protégé Michał Borczuch and mentor Patrice Chéreau. Click here to view the full gallery.
What are you working on right now?
One of my original plans was to put on a production in a theatre in Poland in 2013, but that had to be put on hold due to a change in theatre management. So I decided to return to an old project of mine that had been on the back burner. I resurrected it because it was a project involving the texts of playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès [who died in 1989]. Patrice Chéreau was a friend of Koltès and has worked with many of his plays. I talked to Chéreau and he was able to give me a lot of background information. It’s an ideal opportunity to benefit from all Chéreau’s inside knowledge of Koltès the man and Koltès the dramatist.
What are you are looking forward to in the next few months?
Many things. I recently talked with Mr Chéreau about the film script he’s currently working on. It was fascinating to hear about the whole creative process. He told me about his plans, and the ideas he has for the actors and how he tends to work with his film producers. As I’ve also had an idea for a film and have a rough outline for it all, I’ve discussed this with him. So I’m going to use the next 10 months to focus on this, and work on my script. One unexpected bonus is that I’ve met the other protégés. There’s already talk of me collaborating on a joint project with another protégé, so it’s all turning out to be very interesting indeed.
Rolex Arts Initiative: You once said you aim for a narration in your work, a process of creation that connects one process with another. Can you see a storyline in this mentoring process?
Mateo López: Absolutely. The beginning of this story is when I was working as an artist on my own. Then there’s the middle of the tale with the mentorship in which I discover and learn many new things. And, finally, although this particular story is due to finish in 2013, I’m sure it won’t end there. It’s rather like a journey of happenstance where you meet someone on the road who introduces you to someone else, and they in turn introduce you to another individual. Then a world of opportunities opens up. This narrative is taking me in many directions.
Are you sketching this narrative?
Not exactly sketching, but certainly taking notes and picking up souvenirs from travelling around. I’m collecting samples of the different places and situations and impressions of the people I’ve met, such as: a piece of notepaper from a Rolex meeting, a paper coaster from under a drink in a bar, airline tickets. I’m documenting the experience. It’s a narration through objects and images. There’s been a wealth of inspiration. I can already see that some of these objects will play a part in some way in a future work of art.
2012-2013 Visual Arts protégé Mateo López. Click here to view the full gallery.
What have you learned from the mentoring process so far?
Many opportunities have already opened up to me. And so much new information has come my way that it’s not measurable. I feel it will be only after the event, many years down the line perhaps, that I’ll look back, reflect and be able to absorb it all. Only then will I be able to describe in concrete terms: “I learned this then, or I learned that here.” But I am gaining more confidence in my own work.
What has impressed you about your mentor’s way of working?
During a rehearsal for one of Mr Kentridge’s performances [of a multi-media work, Refuse The Hour] in Amsterdam, I observed intently the way he worked with a team of nearly 20 people on the project. Everything was perfectly synchronized and planned. So I started seeing how it was possible to create collaborations with people – an important experience for me. I was accustomed to working alone in my studio, concentrating and obsessively working on my drawings. Then, after watching Mr Kentridge at work, I realized I could open up to working with others. This has already manifested itself in a recent work of mine in Bogotá with a bookbinder, a carpenter and a sound producer.
How does the experience differ from learning elsewhere?
It’s good to get out and see art being practised outside an academic institution. There are many fine art teachers and professors in Colombia, but much of the teaching is theoretic and conceptual. This mentoring is not unlike the kind of apprenticeship the Old Masters used to offer, and it’s very valuable. Perhaps this is something more art institutions could think about. For example, pairing up working artists with students, rather than them being in the classroom all the time.
2012-2013 Visual Arts protégé Mateo López and mentor William Kentridge. Click here to view the full gallery.
You recently went to Boston with William Kentridge.
Going to hear Mr Kentridge speak at the Norton lectures in Boston was a real privilege. These lectures are of an extremely high calibre. Away from the lecture hall, we simply wandered around the campus and discussed many things. Although I can maintain a conversation in English, sometimes, when the conversation goes deeper, it’s harder for me to express what I’m trying to say. But I feel with Mr Kentridge, it doesn’t matter, because we can communicate visually. I recently sent him some images from my recent exhibition in Bogotá, and he replied by email with some really poetic, insightful thoughts. He’d looked at my work with a keen eye and his comments were very helpful.
He also took me to see the Glass Flowers exhibition at Harvard. It’s a huge reproduction of flowers from around the world, created in glass. Mr Kentridge had seen it before, and he thought I would like it. I certainly did, as it was intriguing. We also went to see a vast collection of stones and minerals at the Mineralogical Museum. We marvelled at the incredible colours of some of the stones and talked about them together.
What are you looking forward to in the next few months?
There’s no specific goal or project. But I’ve already been inspired to try working with other forms of art, such as when I worked with sound in my recent exhibition. Mr Kentridge was then able to comment on it and offer his opinion. I’m also thinking about working with animation or experimenting with the formats of books. I can see there’s going to be lots of new and different work on the horizon.