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Art and tyranny?

August 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Are tyrants good for art? It’s an interesting if counter-intuitive question and one that’s recently been discussed on the BBC.

The essential argument is that culture – art and literature and music, for example – thrive in conditions where there is social conflict, though also require some level of freedom for artists. In the past that’s come about because authoritarian regimes haven’t necessarily tried that hard to control art, and when they did, the fact that art or books or music were labelled ‘subversive’ in itself created an underground demand for them.

It’s a complicated argument because the extent and type of control wielded by tyrants doesn’t just come from punitive measures. They often control resources that make them major patrons of at least some arts, with the ability to direct the works they commission. And it’s further shaded by distinctions between regimes that are merely authoritarian, those that are totalitarian, and those where some of the impetus for control comes from neoliberal politics and commercial interests.

So there’s a lot to take into account in trying to make any general arguments, including the treatment of deliberately provocative and protest-based art (yes, I’m thinking about Pussy Riot here). I guess the main point is that a lot of interesting and worthwhile cultural products are subversive in some way, and gain their significance because of the friction they create.

Vampire update, plus trash fashion

June 26, 2012 4 comments

A couple of quick things.

Remember the ‘vampire kit’ I mentioned in the previous post, that was up for auction? Sold for £7,500 – a bit over 9,000 euros, a bit under $12,000. The upside is that the purchaser was the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds (UK) and it will be on display there.

Also, today my eye caught another BBC report on a subject that interests me – trash fashion. No, not trashy fashion (well ok that can be entertaining sometimes) but the repurposing of found objects into fashion designs.

It’s a bit like something I played with for my own amusement a couple of years back, taking discarded car hubcaps and using a combination of paint and found items to turn them into masks. They were a little like tribal masks, except I don’t belong to a tribe (maybe I’m ‘untribeable’?) and don’t know any ‘tribe’ that uses such materials.

No, wait, you can see stuff like that around the place – music festivals, for example, where people like the Mutoid Waste Company show off their designs, and locations such as the Abode of Chaos in France.

And no, I don’t have the masks since we moved house though I might possibly make another one sometime if I get to a point where I have that much time on my hands.

It’s also a bit like the dada movement in art, using found objects and re-purposing, tweaking or juxtaposing them to create new effects. But in this case we’re talking about  fashion designers using old plastic bottles, bits of toys and other ‘trash’ and incorporating them into one-off designs. I like the whole re-use/re-cycle ethic and this kind of ‘up-cycling’ of trash into high-value objects via the application of imagination and design certainly appeals. Maybe because it parallels what fiction writers like me try to do – up-cycle words into attractive, interesting, attention-grabbing narratives?

The story, anyway, is on the BBC website as ‘The fashion for turning junk into art‘ (26 June 2012).

Artscanner

February 16, 2012 1 comment

I was going to put up an intemperate post about economic policies, but that can wait for another day – not least because I haven’t worked out all the details yet.

In the meantime, this seems interesting and worthwhile. I went back to Fabrika a couple of days ago and discovered they have an interactive exhibition. There’s some neat stuff there including a harp with lasers instead of strings, a sound tree, a video installation that gives ghostly images of people who’ve walked past it (probably mine is one of the faces on it now) and an art scanner installation.

It works like this: artists upload images of their work to a website, artscanner.org; the images are of course available online there directly, but uploading work allows you to download a link in the form of a QR code. You can print off the QR code and stick it on the wall in the gallery, or indeed anywhere else that takes your fancy. There’s a scanner next to the installation so in the gallery it’s easy to scan the codes and the images come up on a screen – outside the gallery, many mobile phones and pad-style computers have cameras so you can take a picture of the code, and they have software that reads the code as well, which will resolve into a clickable web address for the image.

QR codes aren’t new. They started off as security features on tickets, etc. and then became more widely used on all sorts of products. A lot of nightclubs now embed QR codes into their posters and such, so savvy punters can find their way to the place and find out more about events etc. So this isn’t new technology but it’s a new application of the technology that I think would have a much wider application than just one exhibition in one gallery. It could enable people to encounter artwork, stories and a whole bunch of other stuff on their travels – see a code, check it out, find out what that place means or has meant to other people. That kind of thing. It’s not so much a way of bringing the virtual and real worlds together (though it could do that, I guess) but allowing interaction with others based on a very fine-grained sense of space and place.

A day of running around

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment

This is more a diary entry than anything else. It’s been a day of dealing with practical stuff – almost an hour to de-ice the campervan (inside and out) before we could drive to Leicester and do various chores, which themselves took a fair bit of time. Hence I’m just sitting down at 7 in the evening to start what I think of as my ‘day’s work’. That’s the nice side of being freelance – when you have to, you can rearrange your schedule in that kind of a way.

I was struck by the thick frost on the trees – pretty as a Christmas card, and unusually considering towns are a degree or two warmer than the surrounding countryside, the trees in town are frost-white as well. Strange abstract shapes against the the rather modernist buildings. Sorry, no pics though.

I did however manage to drop into Fabrika, where Chris Cafferkey’s photos are still hanging. The exhibition they were in is over and a new one is there, some extraordinary paintings of demons by Ruth Joyce that look very cool. Meanwhile, a lot of what was in the exhibition is now in the cafe area including Chris’s pics – look up, they’re hung high on the wall near the door. Excuse the picture quality, it was done on my mobile phone. Her originals are, of course, in focus and technically accomplished…

Chris Cafferkey @ Fabrika

Chris Cafferkey @ Fabrika

They’ll be there until mid-January, they tell me, unless someone decides to buy them in the meantime.

So now I need to see if I can write sensible things about social housing policy and the like. If there’s time later I’ll  go back to revise a couple of stories that have been hanging fire for a while as well. And that’s it for now. I’ll try to do a more erudite post about VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking about art and money

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been looking at the headline details of arts funding in the government’s Spending Review. Unsurprisingly, government spending on arts generally is to drop 24% in current spending terms and 32% in capital spending. Currently, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has an annual budget of £2 billion – just about the smallest ministerial budget, though interesting it’s not a whole lot less than, say, the Foreign Office (£2.2 billion). And unlike the monster departments like Work and Pensions, Defence, Health or Education they’re not in the position of having to fund major capital expenditure or meet benefit entitlements.

Mainly what’s being cut is the CMS core administration budget, though funding to the BBC is being rejigged – the BBC will take over funding for the World Service, which as an independent source of news worldwide is probably where the funding should come from anyway. A bunch of other cuts are being made as well – to the school arts creative partnership programme, support for the British Film Institute, etc. Funding for Arts Council England is cut by almost 30%.

The impact is likely to be felt most in areas such as opera and theatre, classical music and museums which often cannot function – and certainly not take risks on new, innovative work – without some level of subsidy. In terms of the BBC, it may have unfortunate effects in terms of reductions for programming – though one hopes the BBC will continue to do what it does best, news, documentary, cultural programmes and cutting-edge drama, without feeling the need to start competing against the chat shows and reality programmes that grace most of the other channels. However, the Arts Council cuts will probably impact mainly on smaller regional and minority arts organisations, which will be a pity for reasons I’ll explain below.

So the cuts are coming. And I have five ‘first thoughts’ on them.

Firstly, as an author in relatively uneconomic genres, you might think none of this affects me. I write, I sell stuff (sometimes) to magazines that are commercial operations (sort of) and receive no state funding anyway, and make most of my income from writing educational materials. But the cuts do concern me.

They concern me because in the wider scheme of things, I’m a member of a network of small ventures that do receive Arts Council funding – events for reading fiction, websites for regional writers and so forth – and to the extent that they have to scale back or close, I will lose my connections to certain ways of publicising myself. As a white, middle-aged hetero male I’m not going to be directly affected by cuts that involve loss of support for minority groups but those groups are there for a reason and however small a niche they serve, they have a wider social and community importance. Even if I’m not involved in any of them directly their loss is, to a small extent, my loss because they are part of an interlocking network of creative people that I interact with. And I wouldn’t want to minimise their importance – literally in some cases the lifeline they offer – to some creative people from a range of minority populations.

My other thoughts are perhaps more optimistic.

Secondly, one of the things that creatives are good at is treating problems as opportunities. If need be, a literature group can function out of the upstairs room of a bar, got for free because the bar wants the bodies in there and the bar takings. That won’t pay for an organiser or publicity, sure, but there will be ways around that.

Thirdly, a huge amount happens in a purely commercial environment. Magazines, publishers, science fiction conventions and music festivals don’t get public funding anyway. There are plenty of examples of how to do ‘unpopular’, ‘minority’ or ‘niche’ arts that don’t rely on funding. For the kinds of things I’m involved in, the cuts will be a major inconvenience but not, I hope, a disaster.

Fourthly and finally, there’s a certain irony that hard times themselves often furnish the material for art. In the long view, that was true of the Thatcher years of the 1980s, when cuts of all sorts generated an explosion of art, music and writing that took the hard times – of the artists and of people generally – as their subject matter.

Fifthly and finally, the cuts are likely to mean some regional theatres closing, orchestras downsized, and so forth. And this is regrettable. But it may have some interesting implications, as those who have previously had some level of comfort from state funding are pushed towards ‘marginal’ or ‘niche’ ways of doing things and perhaps into collaboration with those of us who have had – apart from the small amount of money facilitating our social networking – no slice of the budget to start with.

Culture and the arts are and will remain important. They define who we are and reflect on aspects of our human existence and identity. They won’t stop being important, and despite the cuts creative work will continue to be done. In different ways, no doubt, and for many, less comfortable ways. But there’s one thing about creative people – they don’t ever stop being creative about their art and how they get it out to the public.

 

 

 

 

 

Fabrika exhibition, Leicester

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

While I’m thinking about it, I should mention my friend Chris Cafferkey (also see Chriscaff on WordPress) has three photos in the open exhibition at Fabrika/The Art Organisation in Leicester.

This runs until 16 May – I was down there yesterday when stuff was being hung, and even half-done it looked a pretty damn fine exhibition. They already had some good oils, acrylics, and a couple of intriguing mixed-media pieces. Then there’s Chris’s photos (which I’d gone down to deliver for her), plus they were telling me at least half a dozen other artists had supplied work that should be up by now.

In other news: the electricity supply company has been wanting to change my meter for a couple of months and the meter-changing guy arrived today. Only thing was, it’s an outside meter. And halfway through the job, it started to rain heavily. Hmm… electric and water… I ended up standing over him with an umbrella, and reassuring him that I do have a current first aid certificate in case of need!

Everything’s normal…

April 20, 2010 6 comments

It just struck me I haven’t posted here for over a week. Nothing momentous to report, no flashes of insight into the meaning of life, just solid nose-to-the-grindstone work.
Well, sort of. I’ve been marking distance learning scripts and musing about how we can motivate students. I’ve had conversations with others involved in the marking, to discover that ideas I put forward at the back end of last year are actually under active development. I just didn’t know about it because the person doing the development work is one of my colleagues who has more computer skills (the developments I suggested involved setting up various forums and website add-ons that are his expertise, not mine).
I’ve finished off and dusted down a short story, sent it off to its uncertain and fragile future. It’s a strange one for me in that it’s not horror or scifi or fantasy, but based on a conversation I had with a very depressed person and some of the more or less standard self-help advice that’s on offer. The advice, generally speaking, is very good: it revolves around realising that the world isn’t perfect, there isn’t a binary ‘everything’s perfect/everything’s shit’ scenario, and if you don’t succeed that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. There may be room for improvement but you can also take credit for what you have achieved. The ‘USP’ of the story is someone for whom the advice brings unanticipated results. Not having written anything quite like it before, I had to do quite a bit of poking about on Duotrope.com to find a possible market, and we’ll see. If the place I sent it to don’t like it, I haven’t failed, just not succeeded yet. But I probably won’t find out for months.
In the in-between times I caught a programme on BBC about young and struggling artists, and another one on fashion photography in the 60s.
The first tried to open up the question of ‘what is art’. One of the lessons aspiring artists are taught, apparently, is that they need to be able to network, talk about their work and explain what their art is about – what it ‘means’. And it struck me that if you could do this and the explanation was sufficient, what would be the point of the art? On the one hand, there’s a qualitative difference between, say, being told that an artwork is ‘about’ some issue or concept, and seeing the actual product, the real object, with your own eyes. Art often does ‘make a statement’ but it’s not necessarily one that can be easily encapsulated in language. Surely that’s the point?
The second programme wasn’t ‘about’ the point I took from it. There was a segment of maybe ten seconds in which someone contracted Allen Jones with Brian Duffy – the former an artist who made strange, fetishistic artworks but was generally regarded as extremely sensible and normal in his private life, and the latter a photographer whose work was widely seen as exciting but in many ways ‘straight’ though whose mental processes and social relationships were (apparently, but I haven’t read up on this so I’m relying on what was said) very strange. The point was that it’s not possible to make an assumption that strange work is made by strange people. Zen-like poise can be the product of chaotic turmoil and vice versa.
Quite what I want to do with this insight I don’t know. But it already sounds like the starting proposition for a story. I’ll add it to the list – I’m slowly plodding through ‘to do’ list of things I’ve been meaning to write, some of them for months now.

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