Posts Tagged ‘travel’

the project

Everyday we learn a little bit more about why we are here in Kazakhstan. What is really exciting is that what was initially presented to us as a chance for Daniel and James to come paint graffiti has actually turned into a mini-festival with musical performances, workshops and live painting. On Sunday Daniel and James will present their work in a city square along with the work of local Kazakh writers and be supported by local DJ’s and MC’s. Very, very cool. Thanks Vladimir!


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Daniel’s Diary -SEPTEMBER 25th

So we arrived in Almaty around 5 am in the morning and we are quickly met with this embassy liaison who is there waiting for us with a sign with my name on it. There is another name and I quickly learn there is another American on the flight besides myself and Davon. We are shown what to do and we are sent to the front of the line with the liaison. We quickly get our stamps and go and wait for our luggage. We meet the other American. He’s an embassy worker with a couple of cats in tow. Davon and I are a little surprised that this guy has cats with him. There’s a police officer looking at them and he’s doing all the proper paper work but I’m sure he’s just as surprised as I am about seeing some American guy with his cats in tow. We later find out he’s on his way to Bishkek to live and for some reason he can’t live there without these two cats. Davon says that there’s a lot of love in that. I think he meant it was a bit extreme for someone to take a couple of cats clear out to Central Asia.

We are led to a large White Chevy Suburban and we throw our luggage in the back. We are driven to the hotel. It’s pretty decent Soviet Style hotel with some modern amenities thrown in. It has a television with cable so I can watch old Soviet movies and then watch CNN.

I can hear James and Anna’s voice in the hallway soon as we arrive into our rooms. I can hear the twangy American voices through the door! I open the door and let them know we’re here. We all chat and it seems as if James and Anna are having a great time already. Davon notes that it seems like they’ve already been here for a while. It looks like it’s taken them a little longer. They missed their connector in Heathrow Airport (I hate that airport) after booking a flight that seems to be to far away from the connection to Almaty. Anna pulled some persuasive action and they got a free hotel in London and flight the next day. They told us they’ve been walking around Almaty for the last day. They got to meet Vladimir and Leila. They walked to the embassy saw a bit of Almaty and even found themselves in an Irish Pub drinking Guinness and having Shepherd’s Pie.

We had breakfast downstairs and then all went for a walk near our hotel. We went to the Arbat and looked around a bit. We talked a little about our work. Afterwards we walked back to our apartment. My stomach wasn’t feeling so well. This always happens when I eat that fucking airplane food. I always tell myself I will try not to eat it. My “refined Chez Panisse stomach” isn’t used to all of these preservatives in the food. It wants organic tomatoes and grass fed meat. Fortunately the food in Kazakhstan is great! I make some phone calls to friends. I’m surprised after one year away from Almaty many of my friends cell phone numbers are no longer working. I guess you can’t take your phone number with you to the next available service. I reach Saule and have a brief chat with her (It’s so nice to hear her voice!) and we arrange to meet on the following day. They want to arrange to pick me up right at that moment but I let them know I have a lot of work to do.

Around 1:30 pm we meet Leila the embassy official, and Vladimir along with a few other embassy people. We have a brief meeting with them and we discuss a bit about what we’ll do. We talk a bit about losing the wall for a mural. Vladimir shows us the large canvases that we’re painting. They’re huge! We’re happy about them. We also get a chance to meet some of the local graffiti writers. They’re a bit shy but that’s normal.

We go to dinner with Bota and we meet Malik. We have dinner at Destarkhan. It’s a pretty decent place but it costs around 25 dollars. I think it’s pretty expensive but it was good food and Davon, James and Anna liked it.

We go home and we find out on CNN that Washington Mutual went under. Things aren’t looking good in the financial world.

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The flight from San Francisco to Almaty was quite long but it was fine since it was a KLM flight direct to Amsterdam. I landed in Amsterdam and waited to meet Davon.

We both agreed to meet in the airport terminal where we’d take off from. I watched the news and after a couple of hours I saw Davon come from the opposite side of the terminal with 3 large cylinders on his back strung over like a bazooka. We greeted each other with hug and went to another part of the terminal that had a great bar shaped like a soccer ball. Inside we sat down to have some drinks and a chat about his trip thus far and also about our future project with the Tengri Umai gallery.

The bazooka that carried Davon's photo prints from LA to KAZ

The bazooka carrying Davon's photos.

On the flight to Almaty our last leg of the trip (a 6 hour flight) Davon mostly slept (dude I watched Iron Man! – DR) I watched the television. I got to see the new Indiana Jones flick. It was pretty bad. I’d says there wasn’t anything new added to the film. I listened to this great radio show about the history of Brazilian jazz music. It’s was on one of these in flight radio shows. It was nice to hear some good Brazilian music it really soothed my soul.

I get really anxious on the flight nowadays. I don’t know where it’s coming from I think I’m going through some sort of mental change of some sort. Before I used to love to fly now I just keep thinking of how long it will take to get back to Zhanara and that kitchen of ours in Oakland with our new table and a pot of dark coffee and some Acme Levan.

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My return to Almaty

Exactly one year later after my fifteen-month-stay in Kazakhstan (see my diaries), I am about to embark upon another trip there. This time, Vladimir Filatov of the Tengri-Umai gallery proposed a collaborative project involving graffiti. His vision has been to do something outside gallery, in public space.

The proposed mural space.

My origins are in the art of spray paint. I haven’t painted much with this media in the last 10 years but I worked almost every day for over 15 years prior to that point with the art of the spray can. The Tengri Umai project is a collaborative effort with an old friend and artist colleague James Reitano. I have worked with Mr. Reitano doing various murals, gallery projects, and publishing projects since we were teenagers. I anticipate this to be a very special project just for the experience of working with him.

When I contacted James on the grounds of this project, James at once suggested to invite along his colleague, video-maker Davon Ramos. As soon I had a conversation with Mr. Ramos on the telephone, I quickly felt we would get along well. We share a common angle looking at the world and cultures as something to respect and learn from as humble observers and interactive artists. This collaborative project will help to gain a more nuanced understanding of America, especially places like Oakland or Los Angeles, for people in Kazakhstan and, vice versa, aid Americans to learn about Kazakhstan.

The weather here in Oakland is around 75F degrees (23C) after a few days of fog and a little rain this week. I am busy packing and getting ready for the trip. I leave on the 23rd and will meet Davon in Amsterdam. We will meet James already in Kazakhstan.

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TEAM KAZAKHSTAN (L-R Anna Slotky, James Reitano, Daniel Gallegos)

TEAM KAZAKHSTAN met for the first time last weekend in Oakland, CA. I had been in email contact with Daniel for sometime but this was the first time we had met in person and the first time Daniel and James had seen each other in over 10 years. It was a festive occasion.

As always, it was nice to put a name to a face and in between beers and PLOV (a traditional Kazakh dish of lamb and rice pilaf) lovingly prepared by Daniel’s wife Zhanara, we talked about what we were hoping to achieve on this trip both personally and professionally.

Sketches for the mural

Sketches for the mural

James and Daniel worked on sketches for the GRAFFITTI MURAL that they have been commissioned to paint by the TENGRI-UMAI GALLERY in Almaty, Kazakhstan and it was pretty awesome to see so many months of planning and concepting come to fruition. I have no doubt that they are going to blow the minds of the Kazakh art world.

Daniel and James discuss the mural.

Daniel and James discuss the mural.

It’s really amazing the amount of trust and collaboration we all have in each other despite the relative lack of personal experience we have with each other but it’s almost like we are already family. Even if the trip to Kazakhstan wasn’t happening, it was a joy to meet Daniel and Zhanara and I can already tell I have much to learn from them. And will.

We leave tomorrow. Me and Daniel are taking seperate planes to Amersterdam (he from San Francisco and I from Los Angeles) and from there we will travel together to Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. There we will reconvene with James and his girlfriend Anna who left yesterday. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to travel to a place I never thought I’d get to go and am expecially honored to have the chance to show some of my work in a Kazakh gallery and have a chance to meet and engage with other artists from this beautiful country so steeped in tradition.

Onward to Almaty! Assuming, of course, that Daniel and I make it out of Amsterdam.

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If you’re not a fan of endless semi-arid steppe and decaying industrial cities, Kazakhstan (Kazakstan) may seem bleak, but those who enjoy remoteness, wide open spaces, lunar landscapes, long hypnotic train rides and horse sausage will definitely be in their element.


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