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BLOG POST V

Tuesday 21st February, Evening

I’m behind the bar tonight. And it’s a good place to be. From here I can observe a small microcosm of the human universe. And from here time speeds up… In the second room Slab Balls an experimental music collective based in Newcastle are making a cacophony with anyone and everyone who chooses to join in… Occasionally the thundering, screeching noise becomes quieter, more contained and a discernible rhythm manifests whilst at other times it erupts into utter chaos as ten or more individuals hammer at whatever respective instruments/objects they can acquire and with as much ferocity as they can invoke.

At the bar friends mingle with friends and meet others for the first time... artists, teachers, robotics engineers, administrators, writers all sharing and occupying the same space. People tell stories, anecdotes and jokes whilst others laugh, argue and watch quietly. I overhear the robotics engineer telling someone that “if you took data into everything…everything would be fine. Politics just confuses everything!” just as Slab Balls meet a delicate balance of whispering cymbals and vaporous vocals. I wonder to myself whether there could be a way to capture all the ideas and fantastical stories created by this context? How does one harness the energy of the pub as a social force and channel it back into everyday life? Is it possible? Or even, for that matter, desirable? Is it something essential and innate about this context (away from the drudgery of work, lubricated by alcohol or fizzy drinks) which cannot be transposed elsewhere? Besides, some people become tyrants when they drink. Some people turn from polite and gentile to rude and lascivious, many others become nonsensical or else uncommonly honest. The loosening of social norms and undoing of the status quo in the pub can be both beneficial but also disastrous; I also watched as yolked couples held restrained arguments in corners, as people stormed out into the cold or else fled in response to some other distant beckoning.

Almost as quickly as it had begun the party, the dancing, the conversations ended and we were all dispersed into the night, with only breakfast tomorrow to look forward to…

 

BLOG POST IV

Tuesday 21st February, Afternoon 

Lunchtime Disco

“There is a little bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good”

Edwin Denby

It must be said: I am not a natural dancer. So it takes me some time at the Lunchtime Disco to shake off my paralysing self consciousness and force my arms and legs to move in some gestures and formations, generally resembling (though not an entirely convincing rendition of) dancing. Doing that awkward shuffle, trying not to engage anyone’s eye contact for too long, thinking of all the writing I have to do elsewhere; the work I ought to be making on my residency, the tax demands I haven’t replied to, the friends I haven’t contacted, the emails I’ve seen but haven’t actually read yet, I try to defer my guilt for long enough that I can pull off a sequence of passable moves. But then something strange happens… somewhere between the hours of one and two in the afternoon as the February sun plunges behind the empty office blocks, as people in the surrounding streets hurry back to their desks from lunchtime shopping trips and the small crowd I’m amongst laugh, jump and turn around the faded rug, I loose myself. I slide out of time and I am four years old again, dancing like mad to my Mum’s Gypsy Kings cd or immersed in the intoxicating rhythms of a live African band. All there is is this moment, and this moment is illuminated.

The fervour and excitement of the morning is tempered somewhat when I return later; There’s an unmistakeably sombre silence upon entering the gallery space. Andrew Wilson tells me, with uncharacteristic gloominess, that a camera and phone have been stolen from two of the volunteers. I feel the vulnerability of our position and the cold, pessimistic breeze of reality enter this ambitious, utopian project. Whilst the group shrug and smile it feels as though we’ve been wounded, rendered immobile, until a neon police van bumps up the pavement outside and I can’t help but inwardly smile at the memory this jolts – of the ice cream van which used to rumble up to the end of our terrace every Sunday afternoon…

BLOG POST III

Tuesday 21st February, Morning

Peanut Butter, the great divider.

Strawberry Jam, the safe bet.

Marmalade…

Yesterday’s newsless newspaper has been transformed overnight into an elegant six petalled flower that hangs behind the bar. The notice board, usually reserved for reminders, personal adverts and miscellaneous public notices, has become a site for a shared, collaborative drawing. Outside the bus stop audience – who yesterday stole tentative glimpses over their shoulders and from behind raised mobile phones or lowered ipads – today gaze in with open-eyed curiosity. Between conversation and extra helpings of toast, some of us beckon to the moving throng outside who wave hesitantly or else turn their eyes away. Some of the volunteers go to the gallery door and stand out in the cold, chatting to anyone who stops long enough. I can’t hear what they’re saying but I see faces peer in, heads shake, smiles. Even this open invitation of warmth, tea and toast, doesn’t seem enough to draw them out of their daily routines and familiar spaces. I’m reminded of the recent State of the Arts conference in Salford where, in an afternoon session called ‘Art and Audience’, the panel debated the value of putting the audience at the heart of the discussion and greater art project as opposed to the artist… I became increasin

gly incensed… Surely it’s wrong to talk in terms of such divisionism, of The Artist or The Audience? Everyone is an artist and everyone is an audience member. We all reflect, react, create. I think it is art itself which should be at the heart of our conversation – art as a locus, as a means for enabling cultural democracy, connections, cohesion and conversation. Right here, right now, The Praxis Bar is that locus. The question is, how does it become something a public with little or no experience of contemporary art can engage with, how can our ideals of inclusive hospitality, reciprocity and social dialogue envelop everyone irrespective of background or experience of art, not just those with the confidence to spend their lunch breaks disco dancing with strangers?

Scattered amongst the breakfast debris and throughout the bar (propped against teapots, pinned to cardig

ans and stuck to shelves) a flutter of dayglo pink screen printed postcards have appeared, declaring (in the star burst of a comic book) “WOW”… “WOW” like a smooth stone in your mouth. “WOW” the same open-mouthed expression which we once made as children and which we make now when faced with the the beautiful or exquisite, with the ineffable or incomprehensible. “WOW” is the sound we make in the moment when words aren’t adequate to describe the thing, the effect, our response. It’s just… “WOW”. Perhaps it’s my morning state of mind (where everything is still soft round the edges, not quite defined, where the potency of dreams is still warm and corporeal) but once I start to think in a state of “WOW” then everything becomes WOWing… I’m bowled over by the sight of new faces, by the Juke Box and its wonderful array of known and unknown tracks. I’m bewitched by the buttery 

spots which dapple this corner of the bar and then by the miraculous tidy-up that has happens when I’m looking elsewhere. I’m wowed by the improbability of this moment – of all the instances and chance encounters which have collided to mean that this is here right now and so am I. I’m overwhelmed by the atmosphere of energy and by this effervescent group of individuals who have come together with the unified purpose of making something happen…

As preparations for the lunchtime disco begin the pace steps up and an orange space hopper is transformed (by the canny use of tinfoil and recycled cardboard) into a giant, DIY disco ball, the clean, white gallery space becomes animated with an assortment of rotating, flickering and oscillating coloured lights and scenes from Saturday Night Fever leap onto the far wall. I feel like it might be about time for some serious fun…

BLOG POST II

Monday 20th February, Afternoon

Video//Performance

&

Workshop

Upon an opulent rug of faded tendrils and Rose blooms sits a miniature house of glowing white. It’s like a pared-down dolls house made of white muslin (more like a symbol for a house, a dream-like motif for a home). It’s size is evocative of those tiny, imaginary worlds of our childhood where play and fantastical drama were projected and played out. On the back wall of the house (the wall facing into the room) a strange, mysterious sequence of images and incomprehensible actions are unfolding. A circle, like a giant peep hole or the pupil of a giant’s eye, has dilated and through it we see domestic scenes; a close up of a tiger lilly in a vase, a child’s toy assembled and dismantled, a woman sat at a round kitchen table punching the air above her frantically. This last scene lingers and we are drawn to notice that there are two vases of flowers on the table and a bowl of oranges which she meticulously arranges and re-arranges. In one of these compositions the oranges and flowers are laid out along the table’s edge and the woman begins to rotate the table round and round. These strange, jarring rituals all take place within a constantly evolving drawing. This is Sabina Sallis’s video work which she tells me “is just in process” but which she wanted to bring to the show because of what she regards as the importance of “talking about work, having a discussion and getting feedback” and “not just working on your own”.

The conversation with Sabina has magically and astutely cast the fortune for the rest of the afternoon in the gallery. The state of ‘work in progress’, the essential, living activity of raw, unfinished creation and collaboration comes to the fore as a group work on a collaborative, performative drawing using electri

cal tape and D.I.Y Workshops spontaneously erupt through the energy of the day; Liam Jedaburg Witter guides a small group of diligent and focused individuals on how to make your own rucksack out of hose pipe, wire, electrical tape and bubble wrap. They follow his instructions carefully but mutably, occasionally glancing at his illustrated instructions, more often being carried away by the creative potential of all these materials put together… They all leave with their own full transparent, but fully waterproof D.I.Y rucksack/party bag. Meanwhile Charlie Snow (a third year Fine Art student at Northumbria University) invites people to delve into an impossible rainbow of coloured felt and dreaming; tapping in to the traditional, communal activity of quilt making she asks participants to transcribe their untold dreams into a patchwork of cut, stitched and appliquéd panels. Each of these – along with other panels she is making in collaboration with friends, colleagues and ladies knitting circles – will be integrated into the whole piece; a giant, collaborative quilt of imagination and dreaming.

In the warm, dark of the gallery’s back projection room Andrew Wilson’s Film Let’s Forget Everything and Get Drunk underscores the false dichotomy of Work Vs Idleness, proposing that time out of arbitrary and everyday life and work is essential for connecting us to our latent creative potential. Presented as a slide show of images which run in parallel to the narration – occasionally illustrating it but predominantly offering a simultaneous dialogue – it covers the scope of a thesis only presented in a familiar, jovial and straight forward manner. It is an appealing, gently anarchic declaration of the value of the pub as a place for spontaneous, ad hoc creation and creativity “the rules of Soccer were written in a pub” the narrator tells us and suggests that had all the heads of state been in the pub in 1914 that perhaps the course of Western history in the early 20th Century would have been a much gentler one. The ethos of this work and the idea of the pub as a creative hub for conversation and collaboration – where people feel free to express themselves, their ideas, their dreams and their ambitions more fully than in the constraints of everyday life – is at the heart of this project. It’s for the next couple of days to tell how and whether this comes about through Lunch time Discos, Conversations and Jamborees… 

Iris Aspinall Priest

BLOG POST I
Monday 20th February, Morning
Tea and Toast
There’s no news today… But a complimentary mint in the donations box. A man with a Shaman on his sweater casts a shadow backwards and forwards. I’m leaning on the carmine bar of The Praxis Pub, it’s 8am. Spilt Milk (there’s no use crying over)… A crowd of warm faced breakfast goers brush crumbs on to the floor and chat with a vivacity that shakes off the early morning haze and any lingering cold, solitude and lethargy. Tea from the communal pot laps and splashes over the curved walls of my mug and onto the bar. The rings of Saturn echoed in sticky sugar-bowl prints.

The strangeness of this moment (which has, until now, been eclipsed by the warmth and loveliness) suddenly swells. Stood at a bar, drinking tea, eating toast, chatting, thinking. It’s 8.05am, I’m not usually standing at a bar at this time. I’m not usually talking, functioning or even, really, thinking. Pub. Public House. What’s the etymology of that most familiar of establishments

Pub

1859, slang shortening of public house, which originally meant”any building open to the public” (1574), then “inn that provides food and is licensed to sell ale, wine, and spirits” (1669),and finally “tavern” (1768). Pub crawl first attested 1910 in British slang.

(from the Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper)

I’m reminded, as my brain whirls and oscillates unevenly into motion, of how the various intellectual revolutions have been fuelled by communal activity… and by caffeine. Social evolution happened from the individual survival of the caveman, to the collective action of the pack (groups and families, hunting larger animals together), eventually evolving into the mutually beneficial community (developing those connections into infrastructures and sustainable systems of support).

A woman in a red coat strides past the gallery window, Costa coffee cup in hand. She blanches slightly as she passes but keeps her eyes fixed on the crowd of smiling faces inside. The atomism of the capitalist coffee experience… “Time is Money” Henry Ford said, that’s why we created the drive by, the take away coffee cup and all those dirty skies caressed by amber street lights, exciting “feverish sleeplesness” (Marinetti). Talk of polaroids, potassium, bread streams, blood streams, Berlin. Bananas in pyjamas are solicited by a fruit thief. Then just as quickly as it appeared, it disperses. The mugs are washed, the crowd disperses, off to work, to university, to wander, to find (or to make) meaning.

Iris Priest

6 thoughts on “Blog

  1. Thanks for this Iris!

    The photos are beautiful and I enjoyed your impressionistic, drifting account of the various happenings very much.

    Several things stuck in my mind, as points for further consideration.

    1) Your group (?) definition of praxis: “Practice, as distinguished from theory; application or use of knowledge and skills.”

    I approve of the emphasis on praxis, but what distinguishes the concept of ‘praxis’ from that of ‘practice’ and ‘theory’, and specifically from the simple and all-encompassing definition of praxis as the ‘application or use fo knowledge and skills’?

    For me praxis is defined by a radical tradition that understands ‘praxis’ as a concept denoting the dialectical unity of theory and practice. Praxis indicates several things, including: 1) the inseparability of thought from the economic, social and political situation in which it exists; 2) an understanding of social change that is based not on what we think and choose, but on the complex development of existing (and contradictory) social relations, in specific historical situations, and in relation to the natural world.

    In terms of art, praxis should not be understood simply a ‘do-it-yourself’ punk aesthetic, or a breaking down of hierarchies of artist and audience. Nor simply as the application or use of knowledge and skills as distinguished from theory. For the application of aquired knowledge and learnt skills does not distinguish itself from nor critique the modes by which ‘knowledge’ and ‘learning’ are developed and disseminated in a society marked by class antagonism. Put more simply, the application or use of knowledge maintains the hierarchy of knower and user (particularly where it also implies a division of labour), and the separation of apriori knowledge from practical action.

    Finally, then, the question that emerges is: how do artistic practices situate themselves in relation to existing social relations. This, as you will remember, is the question asked by Walter Benjamin in ‘The Author as Producer’ and ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’; these essays provide a starting point for a more radical formulation of praxis.

    2) “Everyone is an artist and everyone is an audience member. We all reflect, react, create. I think it is art itself which should be at the heart of our conversation – art as a locus, as a means for enabling cultural democracy, connections, cohesion and conversation. Right here, right now, The Praxis Bar is that locus. The question is, how does it become something a public with little or no experience of contemporary art can engage with, how can our ideals of inclusive hospitality, reciprocity and social dialogue envelop everyone irrespective of background or experience of art, not just those with the confidence to spend their lunch breaks disco dancing with strangers?”

    In some subtle ways my thoughts on this paragraph relate to my arguments above. What are the forces that create formations of group belonging, community, cohesion, dialogue? Or, to state the problem differently, what forces create social groups, lend them group consciousness, and political direction? Put this way, I wonder: do you think that art really is or could become the “means” for enabling the cohesion of social groups?

    One problem you seemed to encounter was the atomisation of people (from say, “the masses” into, say mass, into public composed of ‘individuals’) and the destruction of public space in contemporary capitalist society (with its sole imperatives: shop, circulate, smile for the cameras). This was there in the people hiding behind phones, the thievery of the camera, and the persistence of that boundary between those “in the know” (the volunteers) and those who were merely baffled (the public), which could also be understood as the displaced (if slightly expanded) boundary between artist(s) and audience. The question that arises from this observation (which you yourself make, repeatedly), is can art really act as the means for reversing these trends of capitalist society? And, even if it could momentarily bring people together to have a good time, could it change those fundamental social relations which have produced this alienating situation?

    3) “How does one harness the energy of the pub as a social force and channel it back into everyday life? Is it possible?”

    I thought this was such a great question. It reminded me of something I’ve been thinking. As part of the left anticuts movement in Lancaster, I’ve got to know a lot of people. And there have been moments when it seems that these people (my people; our people; our group) have utterly taken over spaces in the city – appropriating and refunctioning them. I don’t necessarily mean Occupy, which took over a green space in the centre of town, right under Queen Victoria’s bronze nose. I don’t necessarily mean the union mobilisations, during which thousands of people stood and marched together, transgressing the order of things, trampling the priorities of automobiles, the authority of the authorities, the codes of politeness, propriety and ownership. I mean, more specifically, those punk nights and drum and bass nights and feminist film nights when local pubs became explicitly left-wing spaces – spaces of the movement and for the movement. Everyone was there; everyone was welcome. When we skanked our skanking was a rebellion, and when we talked and made new friends, the movement grew and strenghtened. When we left, boozed up and happy, the places remained our places: the Yorkie, the Gregson, Scyence, Single Step & Whale Tail, the Collegian and the Borough. For me, the pub is not the social force, but the place where that social force – the political movement – consolidates and reproduces itself on the plane of everyday life (eating, drinking, dancing, talking and friendship).

    Once again, thanks for sharing your thoughts, hope mine are of some interest – especially since I couldn’t make the events.

    Chris Witter

  2. Dear Chris,

    Thank you so much for this eloquent and challenging response to the project and my dreamy reminiscences about it.

    I will try and reply as well as I can but I really think you’ve hit on a number of potent points and some things – particularly in regards to Praxis as a form of epistemology and social action – which I am probably not intelligent or informed enough to respond to adequately (as an aside, ‘Praxis’ has been Toby’s ongoing project and I think he could offer a much more sophisticated commentary on it and retort to your thoughts, particularly in relation to Benjamin). But you have set me down an immersive line of enquiry as well as interrogation of my own previous thoughts, expressions and ideas about the role and importance of the project so perhaps I will be better equipped to talk at greater length on the subject once I’ve read some more books and absorbed some more theory?…

    “For me praxis is defined by a radical tradition that understands ‘praxis’ as a concept denoting the dialectical unity of theory and practice.”
    That is quite a wonderfully Hegelian way of defining it! I’ve reread your definition a few times now. I don’t want to try and fake an understanding of the “radical tradition” and etymology of Praxis which I don’t yet have (and which I don’t think a tertiary search of the interweb will equip me with), but you’ve highlighted something essential about a word, a concept, a practice and a history which I used frivolously. I think it’s important, from this point on, to keep this definition in mind when thinking about the project as a whole…

    “Praxis indicates several things, including: 1) the inseparability of thought from the economic, social and political situation in which it exists. 2) an understanding of social change that is based not on what we think and choose, but on the complex development of existing (and contradictory) social relations, in specific historical situations, and in relation to the natural world.”

    1).Yes! Thank you for this… I can’t say I’d considered this before in relation to Praxis but of course all thought is part of a greater interrelated system, one which often goes unchallenged and unquestioned – as if thought is always a neutral commentary to the way things are. We ourselves and our thoughts are certainly not this but absolutely affected by our context and biology. Perhaps even without those factors, thought would have its own inherent properties? But if this is the case can anything ever really be a departure? An incision into the sociocultural context maybe but can we unlock our thinking and reflect on it?… 2) In these posts I’ve only been thinking in terms of the here and now, to be honest Chris… and that is epitomised by my commentary on the project which has been very ‘subjective’ and ‘reactive’ rather than ‘objective’ and ‘critical’ . Though for me I find it is important to have both – a “soft thinking” presentness and gentle mindfulness in the present and a “hard thinking” analytical reflection in retrospect. But your commentary has definitely shifted the thinking and critiquing gears from low to high and the tenses from present to past. It has also been important in forcing me to look at this project through a different (wide angle) lense (as opposed to my narrow-field range finder)…. I would like to know what you think the “complex development of existing (and contradictory) social relations” of the present context might be? In regards to this project I’ve already been thinking a bit about the (obvious) shift from hierarchy to network, and from reductionist and atomistic ways of thinking about society to the holistic and interconnected (I’m not sure if that is the appropriate term but it will have to suffice as I can’t find a word quite for what I’m trying to say)…again, my knowledge is lacking here…
    “…the application or use of knowledge maintains the hierarchy of knower and user (particularly where it also implies a division of labour), and the separation of apriori knowledge from practical action.”

    Yes, and though my awareness is pitiful, I guess marxism and feminism have been advancing this point for a long time. I’m not sure I know how to reply to this but I have a feeling my response in this context and instance may lie somewhere in, well, art. Whilst I will come on to your (doubtful?) questions about art as a means for enabling social change, I just wanted, in true chronological order, to address your idea cited above first. I am an artist so of course I am biased but I think that the ineffable, the immaterial and the (often but not always) contradictory potential and qualities of art make it a vital lever into entrenched and invisible or paradigmatic and institutionalised ways of thinking and being (and particularly language and the transmission of knowledge).
    Whilst I absolutely do not want to simplify the idea of ‘Praxis’ in this project as merely “…‘do-it-yourself’ punk aesthetic, or a breaking down of hierarchies of artist and audience” I do think art has a vital role to play in conversations about those systems, in offering alternatives or starting points for new, organic, ecological ways of relating both to the larger social strata and to one another. (Of course there’s a problem here in that I’m jumping between the micro and macro of social relations but I’m afraid it will have to do as an inelegant broad stroke for the time being)…When I say art I am not necessarily thinking of the art on the walls of galleries and museums or even as performance or collaboration or new media … but rather, as Joseph Beuys put it “art as social sculpture”. I suppose when I’m thinking of art a lot of the time I’m not thinking of the thing made and ideas generated but of the inarticulable stuff of the every day. The invisible semiotic fluid in which we all exit. The term “Art” is a weird, divisional, concept in and of itself and not something which has always existed. The word “Art” arrived during the industrial revolution (and has been applied in retrospect to a whole history) which I think has put it at a disadvantage in these conversations. Humans have a natural instinct to create (and the health and social benefits of art making have been well documented)* so by isolating that impulse and rarefying it into the word, the idea and the concept of “Art” creates all kinds of problems and false dialectics (some of which I’m wrangling with in trying to find a reply to your post).

    I must confess, in advance of this next part, that I have until now never read ‘The Author as Producer’ but it will perhaps have to usurp ‘Lanark’ on my current reading pile temporarily… (though I’ve nearly finished so perhaps Benjamin and my understanding of Radical Praxis will just have to wait a few days)…
    “…how do artistic practices situate themselves in relation to existing social relations”
    I would probably argue, following these previous lines of ambling thought I’ve been tracing here, that art already is a social relation (in keeping with my point that we are all artists)… And it occupies many positions, as many positions as there are artists. But what we’re talking about here is groups and collective action, isn’t it? Specifically, we’re talking in relation to A NewBridge Enquiry. I don’t know whether you meant to suggest this but if you did then I agree that – in terms of people engaging with this project – the artists and volunteers came from a similar community or background and with shared interests, it is easier to form a group out of such commonalities. Even though many people had never met before (volunteers signed up after receiving an email call out distributed through the universities) they were, as you said “in the know” and there was a very real and palpable gap between “us” (on the inside, trying out this radical activity) and “them” (on the outside, unaccustomed to such week day mayhem, without a prior key to access what we were doing). BUT I still believe in the project of art as a means for developing greater social cohesion and for connecting separate groups of people. Admittedly I have to believe this or else my purpose here is futile but I’m not stupid and it’s not simply blind faith… There are a multitude of examples where art has been the means or platform for emancipation and for very real and lasting break down of social alienation, (just think of the free and open festivals around the country from the Greenwich and Docklands Festivals in London to the West End Festival in Glasgow colliding people from different backgrounds, experiences and inclinations) . There has to be a way to break down entrenched divisions and I think that the manifold, mutable and subtle (or dramatic) ways that art can operate is ideal for approaching problems which are, essentially, human in nature.
    Art projects which have led to real and lasting social change and greater cohesion…

    1. Seeds to Soil (S2S) a grass roots initiative which began in Harlem, NY as a way of responding to the problems of access to fresh food and green spaces. http://seedstosoil.org/ People were invited to engage with the project directly as Lien Tran the artist/researcher who initiated the project (along with her neighbour, not an artist, with no interest in art but an interest in food and the need for a greater local community) knocked on doors, distributed flyers, set up a notice board beside the reclaimed patch of ground (as it is an area with very low access to the internet and direct communication and word of mouth was the most appropriate way to connect with people directly). The project is still going and has become self sustaining, run by people from the neighbourhood of all ethnicities and ages but who had little or no previous interaction.

    2. There were a plethora of Creative Partnerships projects partnering artists/ writers/ poets/ performers/ creative practitioners with schools in the UK. These partnerships were usually developed in accordance with a need in the school and of the pupils, whether in terms of their confidence, under performance or limited prior access to creative means/ facilities etc. Many of these projects including their legacies are recorded here http://www.ninedots.org.uk/projects (Creative Partnerships lost its funding with the ToryLibdem cuts). Often these projects served to connect schools with their communities as in Creating Connections facilitated by Invisible Flock http://www.ninedots.org.uk/projects/creating-connections .

    But it’s the early days and we’re just starting out… I also think that education has a lot to do with enabling people to connect along the lines of art and unfortunately in the current economic situation radical changes in creative approaches to teaching and learning are unlikely when teachers and lecturers are being made to work more, for longer and less pay and pensions when they retire and when the rising costs of Further Education are forcing many people out of choosing paths according to creative potential but rather money-making/ job-earning prospects at the end (or forcing them out of Further Education prospects all together)…
    So I suppose, in answer to your question “…do you think that art really is or could become the “means” for enabling the cohesion of social groups?” Yes, I do.
    I don’t think we got it on this occasion (though there were many great conversations had, ideas cross-pollinated and tenuous starts initiated). But it’s early days and we’re all still learning. I also think that, in order to facilitate real, lasting social dialogue and change you need both consistency, a long term view/ project and to meet people in their own contexts. We were still very much operating from an art gallery/ unconventional occupied empty shop space. It can’t happen in 2 days. But then we have the rest of however long we are here to keep trying…
    I’m sorry I haven’t managed to reply to everything you’ve written but I hope this is an adequate start. Thank you so much for your response and thoughts, they have been and will continue to be, invaluable in the next steps and reflections…

    Iris

    P.S. Please send me a reading list

  3. Hi Iris and all at Newbridge,

    Thanks for your reply – I know you must be very busy! It’s great (for me at least) to hear your thoughts and to engage with working artists on the question of what art is, how art and culture relate to society and social change, and how the role of the artist should be understood – all questions that ‘A Newbridge Enquiry’ succeeded in opening up for examination.

    For now, I will just try to respond to some of your questions.

    1) ‘I would like to know what you think the “complex development of existing (and contradictory) social relations” of the present context might be?’

    Here I am using ‘social relations’ in a specifically Marxist sense: the (antagonistic) relations between different classes. This is the most fundamental Marxist concept – for ‘the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’. My original point was that social change is not determined by the thoughts, choices and moral decisions of autonomous individuals, but by class struggle. In the current conjuncture, for example, we can see austerity as an attempt by the capitalist class to maintain and reproduce itself through an attack on workers (austerity is a systematic attack on workers and the historic achievements of working class struggle, e.g. the welfare state). It is not simply the battle of ideas, but of the dominant class attempting to reproducing itself and existing social relations.

    2) ‘Whilst I will come on to your (doubtful?) questions about art as a means for enabling social change, I just wanted, in true chronological order, to address your idea cited above first. I am an artist so of course I am biased but I think that the ineffable, the immaterial and the (often but not always) contradictory potential and qualities of art make it a vital lever into entrenched and invisible or paradigmatic and institutionalised ways of thinking and being (and particularly language and the transmission of knowledge).’

    Because I see social change as a product of class struggle, I do not think art is a ‘means for enabling social change’. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think art has an active role in class struggle. I think of art as an expression of contradictory social relations (e.g. at the level of ideology). But, that doesn’t mean that I see art as a passive ‘mirror’ of these relations. Rather, it is an active and organic part of class struggle: a means of reproducing and articulating class consciousness; a means of giving a movement and/or a social group coherence, and of articulating its ways of ‘thinking and being’, as you put it. Often (especially in working-class culture) it is a way of exploring this at the level of the everyday: the micro-dynamics and politics of a social group (which may be defined by the modalities of ethnicity, race, gender and so on, as well as class), which escape easy articulation in more formal (e.g. academic, sociological, political) discourses. I do not, however, see art as a means of bringing about social change by challenging entrenched, paradigmatic and institutionalised ways of thinking, because I do not hold to the view that social change is brought about through changes at the level of (disembodied) thought (morality, theory, etc.). Thought and art are an expression of social forces (e.g. people, a class); but thought and art should not be mistaken as themselves being social forces.

    3) ‘I suppose when I’m thinking of art a lot of the time I’m not thinking of the thing made and ideas generated but of the inarticulable stuff of the every day. The invisible semiotic fluid in which we all exit.’

    I like the idea that art need not be reduced to the fetish object. But, I don’t agree with the simple inversion of this – i.e. ‘everything is art’. Nor do I agree that art is an invisible semiotic fluid. The first displaces the fetish of the art object onto the ‘artist’, who, Midas-like, turns everything s/he touches into art – including other people (who are turned into participant artists). The second is simply a metaphor that is running away with us: art is no more semiotic fluid than it is amniotic fluid, or seminal fluid. Art is a practice, I think; not a thing, nor a stuff, but a socially, politically and economically determined practice. As such, its social function cannot be changed through sheer will, theoretical convolutions, or formal innovations, but only through a reconfiguration of those forces that determine its social role.

    4) ‘BUT I still believe in the project of art as a means for developing greater social cohesion and for connecting separate groups of people’

    I believe that art can create connections between separate groups of people. But, an interesting thing to address here is: what is the purpose of bringing people together? A commercial cinema brings people together: to buy tickets, popcorn and pop, and laugh together at the sexist stereotypes of the latest ‘comedy’. An alternative cinema brings people together: to buy tickets, red wine and weep together at a re-showing of some ‘beautiful, tragic and underappreciated gem’. Both scenarios only confirm existent social groups in their conceptions of ‘taste’ and ‘culture’. Afterwards, one group is laughing in the Gents over some gag, and the other is affirming the profundity of the spectacle just witnessed. This constitutes genuine dialogue, surely, and culture was certainly the catalyst! But, to what end? Both groups feel their lives affirmed, both feel they have taken part in some communal rite, both take home some half-gleaned ‘truths’. For the stereotyped gender relations of the first were greeted with ‘that is so true’, whilst the subversion of stereotypes in the second were greeted with ‘yes, life is complex, profound, moving.’ Indeed, avant-garde film that it was, the audience was required ‘to take part in the production of filmic meaning, filling in the gaps and ellipses, appropriating and reconfiguring the role of… blah’. At least half-of the audience understood that (the half with degrees in art, literature and media studies); the rest feigned understanding as they glazed over at the bar, under the unrelenting weight of the ‘critique’ offered up by their companion… Meanwhile, nothing changes.

    The decisive point, for me, then, is not a question of formal choices. Instead it is the question of whether or not art practices have an established connection to progressive forces in existing class struggles. I.e. the question we have to ask is: what is the social function of art with respect to existing social movements. Only in this way do we overcome the fetishisation of art as a thing with inherent properties, and instead see it with respect to a function that is produced and determined by class struggle.

    I hope that makes some sense… I’m thinking off the cuff…

    Best wishes

    Chris

  4. Put another way, if you take Emma Cummins’ argument in ‘Art, antagonism and relational aesthetics: A forced kind of frivolity’, in Canned #1, and totally invert it, then you will arrive at my argument.

    To invert it, you begin with a correct interpretation of ‘social relations’, you move through this to a clear understanding of ‘antagonism’, and then begin to see how Nicolas Bourriard is an apologist, and how a ‘forced kind of frivolity’ is not ‘utopia spiced with difference’ but a totalitarian hell: i.e. the aestheticisation of the politics of capitalist democracy.

    For the full weight of ‘aestheticisation of politics’, see Walter Benjamin’s ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, and whilst there, Herbert Marcuse has some very relevant things to say about ‘Affirmative Culture’.

    C

  5. Pingback: CANNED Magazine

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