MAKING THINGS THAT MAKE THINGS HAPPENPosted: March 31, 2012 | |
“A fundamental aspect of this developing practice was exploring the possibility of making things happen rather than making things.” Mary-Lou Barratt (www.social-sculpture.org)
As a visual artist it has been my tendency and interest throughout my life to make things; things of beauty, provocative things – to explore the world through sensory tactile experience – to engage with the physical materials of the animate earth. Through such experience I have hopefully been able to communicate my relationship with that earth, my sense of wonder at its magic, mystery and power.
Yet as a political and social being, as part of the universal ecology and the responsibility it implies, it seems imperative at this time of ecological crisis that as artists we employ our power to make things happen– to question the behaviour that has brought our civilization to the brink of self-destruction, to challenge its ecocidal tendencies and to unearth and offer means to resolve the challenges to survival we are facing.
As much as I appreciate the political and performative confidence and artistry of such as Joseph Beuys, Shelley Sacks (www.universityofthetrees.org) and Mierle Laderman Ukeles, and the cross-disciplinary ecological applications and intelligence of Aviva Rahmani (www.ghostnets.com) and Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison (www.theharrisonstudio.net), my own tendency is to shy away from such confrontational and interactive engagement towards a more intimate and personable meditative practice, more akin to traditional than contemporary art practice.
So is it possible to satisfy both aspects, both intentional aspirations, of my communicative practice – to inspire and catalyze and embody action towards ecozoic[i] sensitivity, towards resilient, sustainable development, towards ecological reconciliationn – through the process of making? Is it possible to make things that make things happen?
Similar matters were recently covered in an article in Art MONTHLY Magazine by Morgan Quaintance[ii], drawing attention to how the prevalence of and recent preference for socially (community) engaged participatory practice has somewhat negated the individual and personal experience engendered by more traditional art forms, and highlighting the potential for imaginative, emotional and sensorial participation in such work. The article did not however engage with the purposeful or transformational intent or efficacy for which much socially and ecologically engaged practice is motivated, nor the means by which art objects may catalyse such functionality.
As easy as it is to blur the definition of a ‘thing’, alternatively becoming a guided participatory performance, a ritual or activist event, can an art object alone, in the more traditional sense, motivate action or perceptive and behavioural transformation? It is obviously impossible to remove such objects from the contextual conditions of an age but are such transformations and motivations triggered through the sphere of the imagination, through our sensorial and aesthetic responses? And if they are how might we encourage prolonged sensible engagement with these objects of our attention?[iii]
Such intentional and purposeful use of art brings propaganda to mind. For example, the posters of the early 20th Century, which blatantly incite people to rise up and act in defence of nation or state, often through a dismissal and undermining of intrinsic self-worth by a strategic deployment of idealized and idolatrous imagery. Another form being the overwhelming blanket of advertising which aims to promote material consumption for profit and individual gain, often in the name of ‘progress’. Such means merely serve the dominant political power of the time and are often further enforced through fear of violence and ultimately aims to disempower the people and their environment[iv]. However, despite its more negative associations, when we look how propaganda is defined[v] it is obvious that more often than not this is what we are appropriating in eco-art practice, albeit in the name of all our relations rather than just a few.
So how might we promote and embody ecozoic action through our art and its residual objects? What are the mechanics behind the ability to empower people, to incite action, through our art and and its practice without dictating an outcome or undermining the innate intelligence of our species? And how might we rise to and resolve such challenges through art?
Some might say that such purposeful intentionality, or hope of social or ecological transformation, is antithesis to our role as artists[vi] or else impossible within the cosmic perception of our realities. Whichever, as responsible communicators acting within and responding to the social, economic and ecological circumstances of our age it is maybe fundamental to our practice that we ask ourselves such questions before we continue…
(A version of his article was originally published @ www.aefalmouth.blogspot.co.uk)
[iii] These ideas are explored as part of the work towards ‘New organs of perception’ which is a phrase that stems from the scientific work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), and refers to a participatory, holistic mode of seeing. It offers an alternative to the onlooker consciousness of natural science – from www.universityofthetrees.org
[iv] Paulo Freire, PEDOGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED (London; PENGUIN; 1970)
[v] Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position.