Thoughts arising from Art of The (Im) Possible
Unconference, Melbourne, Thurs 31 Oct & Fri 1 Nov
Deakin Arts Participation Incubator with Doing Something Good
Brief Notes and Reflections by Genevieve Roberts, prompted by the Discussion with Bianca Tainsh and participants.
Bianca is a Melbourne Artist involved in saving Lake Weyba, Queensland.
“Art for Art’s Sake” – does it exist?
Should Art focus on Aesthetics or Outcome?
Is Activist Art – a Comment on society? Or – Designed to intervene?
Example – Bianca Tainsh organised a Curated Art Show near Lake Weyba to raise awareness. Outlets for publicity included Local news – TV, Radio, Papers. Bianca asks, Can you make a difference through Art?
In Australia, the Lake Weyba Art Show was a celebration of the beauty of the place. However, Bianca says those who attended did not necessarily feel compelled to take that connection to place, and turn it into political activism to protect the place.
In Germany, Bianca more explicitly linked the work to saving the Lake Campaign. The response in Germany was different – there was an acceptance of actually having a petition embedded in the Art work. There was no question “is this art?” in the German context.
Lake Weyba German Support http://thenoosaindependent.com/2013/10/lake-weybas-german-support/
Lake Weyba Top of ‘Species’ List http://www.noosanews.com.au/news/weyba-top-of-species-list/2018227/
Is High Art linked to notions of Art for Art’s sake? and Low Art linked to Activism?
Art is about Attention and Passion
There is a need to reclaim the word “Activism”
From an Arts funding point of view, activism can be a dirty word.
In a recent interview I heard on radio, David Williamson said that, in his experience of 4 decades working as a playwright, the actual amount of funding going to the Arts does not vary whether it is a progressive or a conservative government in power. He said a conservative government would not be so foolhardy as to cut core funding to be flagship companies which are the ‘cultural diet’ of their voters. What does vary when there is a conservative government in power, is who gets funded. Conservative governments will fund established Artists and Art forms: Mainstream Theatre, Ballet, Opera. Since it is the job of the passionate young artist to respond to life and hold a mirror of critique up to the system, conservative governments will not tend to fund them. Conservative governments do not like voices of dissent and change. Yet dissent and change is exactly the job of the artist.
In reclaiming the word, “Activism”, which these days can be seen as a dirty word apparently, other words considered are:
- Social Changemaker
“Activism” can imply being ‘against’ something, in opposition or conflict.
Environmental Activist Julia Butterfly Hill, does not particularly like the word “Activist” for this reason. She identifies as a “Holistic Health Practitioner” – an interesting name for an Environmental and Political Activist.
Similarly, I myself identify as a “Wellness Practitioner” – someone who creates social change by promoting holism, connection to self, others and earth, through Play and Art.
The difficulty with Julia’s nomenclature, and mine, is the implication of Alternative Medicine Practitioners. Sometimes I deliberately exploit this association: I do believe that ceremony creates wellness, and play is an alternative medicine practice. I do believe there is power in the etymological connection between the words ‘health’, holism and holiness as well as ‘wholeness’ and ‘wellness’.
I do, however, have a fondness for the power of the word “Activism”.
My Father, Bill Roberts, proudly identified as an Activist. He had foundational involvement in Action for World Development, Australia – East Timor Association and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health. Dad believed that social change can be served by:
Anger, Angst, Activism
Peace, Resistance, Stillness
Think of the diversity of the work of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and right here at home: Denis Walker and Gary Foley.
Activism is about action, about being pro-active. I also love that it is connected to Actor. I cannot separate my Art as Actor from my participatory citizenship as Activist. As I often say: I like to occupy ‘the space-in-between’ – the intersection of Art, Activism and Academia – is that Spirit / Body / Mind?
I am reminded that years ago I had the joy of meeting NY Artist, Dread Scott. His work, “What is the proper way to display a US flag?” is a powerful example of Art as Participatory Citizenship. Interacting with this Art is an act of Activism – regardless of your ‘stance’ on the issue of the US flag. To answer the question proposed by the Art work, you are invited to write in a book. In order to write your answer, you must step on a US Flag. Check out this work at:
Action is the antidote to despair – Joan Baez
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter -Martin Luther King, Jr.