Imagination Feeds on Disobedience

7 Nov 2009 jane

Together with other PLATFORM collaborators I have been spending time in the gallery, talking with visitors about their responses to the C Words exhibition. Today, one such conversation elicited a comment which has stayed with me all day: “It’s interesting – but its not art is it.” “Why do you say that?” James responded. “Because it’s trying to make me believe something.” I took this thought to today’s C Words critical tea party where a lively discussion ensued.

One of the most memorable art galleries I have ever visited is the museum of ecclesiastical art in Esztergom, Hungary. The museum is filled with religious paintings which were painted or commissioned explicitly to reinforce belief.

Social practice arts draw on pedagogical as well as fine art and other creative traditions. PLATFORM explicitly draws on the work of Joseph Beuys in the notion of pedagogy as “a third of our practice”.

Since the 1960s notions of education have been transformed by social movements and civil rights activists who have pushed for a focus on learning rather than teaching. The resulting transition might be seen as coming down from the pulpit, the difference from shaking people until they believe to shaking people awake in order to ask them what they believe. At its best, creative practice can be a tool in this later approach, it can be the beginning of these conversations. I was reminded of an interview with the Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa:

“In [Britain] …writers write to entertain. They raise questions of individual existence – the angst of the individual. But for a Nigerian writer in my position you can’t go into this. My literature has to be combative… You cannot have ‘art for art’s sake’, this art must do something.What is of interest to me is that my art should be able to alter the lives of a large number of people, a whole community, of the entire country. So the stories that I tell must have a different sort of purpose from the artist in the Western world.

It’s not an ego trip, it’s serious, it’s politics, it’s economics, it’s everything. And art in that instance becomes so meaningful, both to the artist and to the consumers of that art.”

Ken Saro-Wiwa, 1994 interview in Channel 4 documentary “Nigeria’s Shame, The Hanged Man”

At the tea party Ian responded to this quote with the idea that our best moments through struggle, not just in art but in life. At those moments we really come alive. I believe that imagination feeds on struggle and on disobedience whether that is the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King or the artistic disobedience of the dadaists. These ideas are vital to thelaboratory of insurrectionary imagination (the lab) who launch their experiment Operation Bike Block as part of C Words – from Sunday 15th November.

Peter Sellers once proposed that “Artists must be at the centre of society, keeping alive a utopian vision, because society will not improve whilst those envisioning a better society are politicians.” This utopian imagination will be vital as the lab and other disobedients move from Bristol to Copenhagen to take part in mass demonstrations outside the UN’s COP 15 climate change summit.

C Words Co-Realizer.

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