Whose political agenda says artists have to be at the end of the sentence?
I have been thinking about the context of this post for a while now but decided to leave its destination up to recent travels and encounters. New contexts as it were. So, here I sit on my Virgin Train journey returning from Somerset back to Scotland; on Facebook I chat to an old friend and avid art writer. She sends me a link to the following text:
“Has it ever occurred to you that most contemporary art galleries are asking us to rewind? “Look back”, they seem to say, “take a look at all the art that shook the world during the twentieth century! Look at its political agendas, its dense conceptualisation, its experimentalism, its radicalism, its craziness, and its out-of-this-worldliness! Can any of you struggling artists create anything better, potent, or more profound? We think not!””
On Saturday the 23rd of October I was asked to accompany my friends on a sight seeing tour of Bristol with, “many a photographic opportunity” – little did I know this was to be a protest march through the city reacting to the spending review. I chose not to go. Why? Let me explain:
A recent push from AIR: Artists Interaction and Representation introduces, on a national scale, a growing list of ‘AIR Activists’ exposing artists who are also activists within their artist communities. The list is growing but where do these people function – where do they hold their meetings and where do they rally? Just as I decided not to march with the rest of Bristol, other artists may decide their own purpose would be just as diluted by such an amass of reaction – so in what context do they campaign?
In my mind, as new rotations around the cultural sphere begin, we are about to hit an important wave of creativity gestured by shifting times. Funding will come by way of decisions made and new definitions accrued – individual artists must still have a voice though and we’re not all accustomed to activist marches. So how can local “open source” institutions respond and advocate these forms of regional and national artistic engagement?
Do we have to rewind now to realise that we’re possibly facing government cuts as harsh as ones experienced post-war? And does this mean we need to get all down and dirty with historical context once again in forecasting the definition of an artist in our contemporary era?
“…let us ‘rewind’ to Duchamp, to whom, granted, we do owe something. In 1957, he spoke of the artist as a medium…. a part of the sentence rather than the full-stop. He said that the meaning of a work of art would accrue in the course of its existence. This implies that an artwork is not determined by the initial creative gesture as much as in the realm of the spectator, and ultimately in the work’s historical reception. Surely the task of all these retrospectives at contemporary art museums is to help us look forward by looking back; to provoke new ways of perceiving political situations and so highlighting what’s going on in our own dreadful present? Obliquely it might be possible for us to study our own ‘realm’ by focussing on realms of the past…”
Important figures can be quoted as often as anyone attends a library, and theory may rule (as well as be ignored considerably) until the ‘theorists’ then reach office. So now theory really is reality let us study our own realm and realise how we can act to save the arts, not react or indeed re-enact.
Excerpts from Sophie Frost’s blog, ‘The Plight of the British Arts Post-grad’
Find AIR: Artist Interaction and Representation on Facebook and join in with the tide of activity: www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=373432691345&v=wall