Sunday, 13 November 2011

The I and We

Recently I came across an article about a recent publication titled Soon all your neighbours will be artists, which sound's like a really interesting publication (a collaboration between Aid & Abet, Extra Special People, Spike Associates and Wales Artist Resource). Having said that, the title itself made me question how people talk about art.

I often find people writing about art, or talking about art purely in terms of it's social significance or impact. This is obviously an element of what art is, it does not exist in a vacuum, it does not have an ivory tower, etc - it exists in society. But there is another side to art, and that is the actual artwork itself. What does it do? What are it's devises? What are it's predecessors? Where is it's literature? What is it an analogy of?

I am not saying we should ignore an artwork's social significance. There is, and always will be, a place for this kind of social critique. But what about the personal and individual aspects of these art works? What about the aspects that make it different from any other? I'm not even sure I agree with what I'm writing, but I often feel there might be too much attention paid to art's social impact, as if it were a tool for manicuring the social landscape, as if it weren't allowed to be completely pointless and selfish. I often hear about art projects designed to be of benefit to communities, but some of the art most beneficial to communities have no consideration for communities at all.

Some of the most important art is not about building communities, but about tearing them down. Love him or hate him, who can deny the impact of Banksy? Is he about building communities, or is he more about tearing them down so that they can be reinvented? I am not denying the importance that community or socially attentive art can have.

I have had first hand experience of 'community art' being a lifeline to individuals, and as far as I am concerned it needs no further justification. But in amongst all the community building and society building there has to be a little of the other, a little destruction, a little re-invention, and this is where the individual, selfish, unsocially agenda-ed art comes in. I'm starting to feel that this individualism needs to be celebrated more, and that art criticism needs to spend more time stepping out bravely from underneath the umbrella of social impact analysis, and really get to grips with the individual mechanisms and interests of works of art.

But then again, perhaps this is the most hypocritical art critique ever written.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A while ago I went to see Woyzeck on the Highveld (based on Georg Buchner's working class tradgedy Woyzeck but set in the South African mines of Apartheid) directed by William Kentridge, and performed by the Handspring Puppet Company at the Silk Street Theatre, in London.

The performance was a combination of actors, puppets, and video animation. To be honest, as a piece of theatre it didn't seem to hang together. A narrator (actor) in the foreground gives everything a political tilt, despite doing his best to be a salesman of culture, and his brusque bombastic manner jarred with the subtle movements of the puppetry. The puppetry its self often seemed out of kilter with video sceneries and backgrounds.

The funny thing is this didn't matter. I never expected there to be harmony between the different mediums, and the more remarkable thing is that sometimes there was; A puppet staring up at a night sky watching animated video images appear to him amongst the stars; A puppet walking away from the audience through an video animated shanty town of drawn shacks, rushing past on either side; the narrator demonstrating how the rhinoceros (a puppet) can be re-educated to be of use in modern society, despite being a cumbersome beast.

Nothing about the play was to do with perfection, but there truly were some perfect moments that a more perfect staging might never have achieved. There is a sense that some intricate moments were lost amongst these various elements struggling to exist side by side on stage. Even the narrative seems disrupted. But the playfulness of the piece makes otherwise difficult subjects approachable and debatable. That's not to say that it is unemotional - just that you don't necessarily have to cry or laugh with the characters. Perhaps it creates a question of whether great theatre has to 'move' us - perhaps disrupting the way we think is just as good. As I walked out of the theatre I heard a member of the audience say 'interesting, I don't really know what to think'. Is there any better praise.