ART AS GIFTPosted: October 5, 2011
an artful case for altruistic embodiment within the ecozoic era
In an age of ecological insecurity many believe we should be exploring what art has to offer as a means for positive societal change rather than personal discovery. If seen from a certain perspective art is an intrinsic function of any human society and a gift to the world. So with this understanding how might we utilize the diversity of disciplines and practices art has to offer to catalyse changes in our perception, relationships and behaviour? How might we work with the world, with other sectors of society and other elements of the natural world to achieve an evolutionary transformation based not on destruction and overconsumption, but in mutual respect and emergent understanding?
Our actions may be large and wilful or small and gentle, but the subtle ramifications of any intentional intervention within the global ecology will surely, by its very nature, be felt by all. We cannot avoid our implicit responsibility within this interconnected web of our existential experience, whereby all our actions affect the whole, so how might we judge the deep resonance that any of our actions might presume? If we do nothing, the powers that are steadily leading us to eventual mass extinction, will have their misguided and unbelievable way. So how might we act, both in response to this ‘progress’ and as integral and symbiotic agents in an exquisitely animate world? We maybe cannot realistically expect to be materially reimbursed for such radically orientated, authority-questioning work that ultimately seeks to undermine and deconstruct a whole societal paradigm whose chief motivation and tendency has been to maintain order and itself; a status quo based entirely in the disembodying proliferation of violence, ignorance and fear for personal gain.
So, how might we further maintain and perform such work without the support of institutions that brazenly perpetuate and disregard this ‘march’ toward self-destruction? And how might we offer and embody our holistic services within a society that has systematically undermined our powers to determine our own destinies and means to personal sustenance? Maybe we must first transform our own perception and behaviour toward the means of our own payment, our tendencies for material reward, for financial gain, and start to seek and employ some way to exist in the world without such automatic recompense? Any attempt will, without doubt, encourage degrees of scrupulous intelligence and adept versatility that have not been required within the relative comfort and security of our conditional paradigm, but that will lead us to experience an order in the universe founded more in reciprocal energetic exchange, in humility and sharing, in acts of altruism and a sense of belonging in nature, and of faith in the symbiotic support provided by our immanent potential in this world.
Within the context of contemporary art, such principles are presently being explored by Sam Bower and associates of greenmuseum.org who have begun pioneering a new approach to sustainability as an organization by adopting a gift economy model, and so the entire organization is now run by volunteers and focuses on service with no fundraising. By comparison, in the majority of our long-existing indigenous cultures very little is owned, it is simply shared as part of the universal abundance, of which we are also an integral part. Phenomenologically, there is no separation. What belongs to one belongs to all. All our reasonable and necessary resources are available and close to hand, and we are all responsible for our well being and proliferation. Likewise under such circumstances nature has a tendency to look after its own. This world may not be one of eternal happiness or one without suffering, nor may it offer eternal abundance and wealth but exists within a dynamic response to the universal emergent reality of which we are an integral but not essential part. It is maybe time to begin to really know our place.
Obviously such extreme leaps in consciousness might not occur overnight and may fill our minds with a multitude of fears and excuses, exceptions and arguments based on our conditioned response to the dysfunctional society in which we presently reside. But if we allow ourselves to step aside slightly and calmly observe the patterns and consequences of our actions, from a perspective based on need rather than perpetual material insecurity and an obsessively deluded desire for power and control, we will most likely determine a dynamic of provision and exchange in line with a mutually supportive universe, rather than one of commercially inspired competition and greed.
So as artists how might we best communicate this underlying reality, this shift away from animosity, mistrust and self-perpetuating destructiveness? And how might we embody such belief? How may we offer opportunity for consequential transformation and empowerment without the financial or material backing of our esteemed and established institution; an institution based in the perpetuation of fear to maintain its fictitiously fuelled power over all? What actions might we instinctively employ to gently, subtly and mindfully reinforce that which lies just beneath our feet, in the air that we breathe, and so tantalisingly beyond our reach? And how might we entice others to step outside such contemporary postmodern illusion, to experience a world not struggling for survival or fighting over property and wealth, but one that has always been, that exists with or without our involvement or observation, that breathes in the reality of continuous symbiosis, beyond self – not an ethereal world of disembodied spirit but one of practical and mutual belonging, of which we are becoming? How might we ‘become the change we wish to see in the world’?
I offer you a gift.
This gift is my art.
My aim is to simply intrigue.
To beguile our mutual senses;
To entice such thoughts to wonder,
‘To scratch imagination’;
To create a space to walk right into, in body and in mind;
To sensually engage and thus embody another place entirely
(Although really there is only one);
To spend time,
To play a little,
To unpack and repack
And go gently on our way.
I expect nothing from this participation,
It is simply another step upon a journey
In time but not in linear progress.
May we share such lithe abundance,
And embrace this animate belonging
In respect of all our relations
Of soil and clay and sky,
Of bird and beast mutating.
I do not mean to change you
Nor change myself before you;
But maybe broaden our horizons,
To look around a corner,
Transforming brief perception
In this age of our becoming,
Or to sweep aside the spurious veil of disempowerment,
Jogging our memory to do what comes so naturally
We are enough already.
We have enough already.
We must now simply find the most fitting way.
I offer you a gift.
This gift is my art.
i) Giftism & Generosity – Sam Bower, www.greenmuseum.org, ii) ‘Scratching the imagination’ – Joseph Beuys, iii) ‘Becoming Animal’ – David Abrams, iv) ‘The Re-enchantment of Art’ – Suzi Gablik, v) Artists of the Invisible – Allan Kaplan, vi) ‘Gentle Actions’ – F David Peat, vii) ‘Phenomenology of Perception’ – Maurice Merleau-Ponty, viii) Ecozoic era – Thomas Berry, ix) ‘…become the change we wish to see in the world’ – Mahatma K Ghandhi