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Saturday, 26 January 2008

Marlon Griffith, Jaime Lee Loy, and Nikolai Noel: La Fantasie

43 norfolk street

From the pavement outside, 43 Norfolk Street looks like many other modest houses in the east Port of Spain neighbourhood of Belmont. It is a simple single-storey structure with a galvanize roof, decorative fretwork along the eaves, potted palms on either side of the front door. Only the fresh coat of white paint gives away the house's newness. Two weeks ago, this was an empty lot of land, overgrown with razor grass. The little white house has sprung up not quite overnight, but almost. And for three days--or, rather three nights, from 25 to 27 February--it is home not to a respectable working-class family, but to La Fantasie, an ambitious project by three young artists, Marlon Griffith, Jaime Lee Loy, and Nikolai Noel.

The title plays off the name of the posh neighbourhood, just north of here, where the prime minister lives. For most Trinidadians, giving the name "La Fantasie" to a house is a bitter joke, rousing memories of the hundreds of millions spent to construct the new prime ministerial palace, which opened in late 2007. It also pokes sardonic fun at the fantasy of social and economic progress peddled by the current Trinidad and Tobago government. The country is wealthier than ever in its history, and vast sums are spent on public works projects of dubious value, while the crime rate soars and basic infrastructure--for education, health, transport--crumbles.

The windows of the little house at 43 Norfolk Street are tightly shuttered. Just inside the door is a heavy black curtain, which the visitor must grope past. You find yourself in a room crowded with old furniture, its walls, floor, and ceiling painted black, the only light coming from a pair of eerie video projections. Using one of the flashlights hanging from a nail beside the door, you explore the nooks and corners. A trail of blood leading to the fridge, more puddling on the top of the stove. The flashlight has an ultraviolet lamp built in. Flick the switch: drawings appear on the walls and furniture, done in flourescent ink. Evidence of violence, betrayal, despair. A house of horrors. A haunted house. A haunted nation, trapped between a fantasy and a hard place, with a trail of blood leading to...?

la fantasie interior 3

la fantasie interior 2

la fantasie interior 1

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Virtual Yardies

You may recall, dear readers, that in the August 2007 CRB I interviewed writer and lit-blogger Geoffrey Philp. Our conversation ranged over various issues confronting Caribbean writers who explore online media, and it ended with Geoffrey's description of his most recently completed work:

NL: You recently announced that you’ve completed the manuscript of a new novel, “Virtual Yardies”, in which the story is told “entirely as blogs, IMs, and e-mails”--with a mystery plot, no less, in which a group of Jamaican bloggers are stalked by a religious zealot. What inspired this, apart from your own blog?

GP: The idea was a spin-off from another recently completed novel, “Zone of Uncertainty”, which is being shopped around. I realised that the “lost daughter” character lived in the world of blogs, so I wanted to carry that idea a bit further. I also asked myself, what would an epistolary novel look like in 2007? The plot needed something to propel it forward, and given the duplicity and anonymity of the web, it seemed a natural fit for the creation of my Jamaican “Cotton Mather” character who will take God’s law into his own hands and kill the unrighteous: “fornicators, adulterers, men who lie with men”.

One important note. Because it’s also a love story, the characters alternate between IMs and emails, depending on their level of intimacy.

Geoffrey's twenty-first-century "epistolary" novel has now gone live, via a series of blogs he's set up, each belonging to one of his fictional characters. Virtual Yardies starts here, and the plot will unfold in the coming days and weeks....