Charrette Discussion Paper – Re-Visioning Utopia II – From Yokohama with Love…

The “We need Creative…Er… Things!”… phenomena is alive and well in seats of power across the world, it seems, but do they really know what they are asking for?

The next stage in human evolution (if there is to be one) is, I believe, not about finding creative ways to maintain the status quo. It is about making creativity ubiquitous, powerful, purposeful and ultimately influential in that it should change the why and way we live.

I ask myself a question –

How tough has it got to be out there in the seats of power for ‘them’ to be asking ‘artists’ to help them out?
And – in the absence of any genuine feeling on my part that there is a ‘we’ another question

“Who are the powerful ones in this situation – them or us?”

Should artists allow their creativity to be put to work in facilitating the aims of a society seemingly hell bent on self destruction? Should we allow ourselves to be employed in pacifying the masses with meaningless ‘street entertainments’ or by furnishing their apartments and pavements with appropriated and hence essentially impotent art objects in order that ‘they’ can feel ok about getting on with business as usual?

Should, indeed can, high quality art and thought be commercially appropriated or even something which supports traditional commercially driven capitalist activity in the face of the current global crisis? Are we in danger of forgetting what Art is?

I have a nagging feeling that something really important is being missed here? It’s something I only have a sense of like a partially forgotten moment of joy – I can sense it but can’t remember the context.

Artists are set to become the wind turbines in the Tesco car park of regeneration.

Green washing – has become ubiquitous -Tesco’s are fond of planting wind turbines in their car parks – sometimes they provide enough power to keep at least some of their tills going but the image benefits are inestimable. Even MacDonald’s have seamlessly reaped the easy image rewards of changing their blood red signage to green but that’s is the least of it.

Now someone has sold them on creativity and Er… creative things and they’re “coming to get you.” This new brand of ‘art washing’ reaps the benefits of superficially shoulder rubbing creativity -This is nothing new artists and art have often been appropriated in times of need. The Catholic Church was a leading exponent during the renaissance, 1950’s America used abstract expressionism to help counter the communist threat even Tony Blair invited celebrity pop stars and actors to No.10 on his election but the stakes have never been higher.

Artists are the new must have accessory. The Christmas 2009 stocking filler for every little boy and girl in business and politics who thought they had everything then realised they were going to lose it.

I believe that exceptional ‘creative’ thinking is needed to readdress and redefine the fabric and cultural structure of a yet to be acheived global society (not to be confused with a global economy) but perhaps a more essential ingredient is the will to engage with the task at hand – If we are to entertain the idea that ‘we’ (those refered to as ‘artists’ or worse ‘creatives’) are actually the powerful ones in the current situation surely ‘we’ should have a say in the structure, purposes and ultimate outcomes to which our creativity is employed.

All artists are vain – yes they are! – our personalities crave compliments and approval – we are therefore perhaps especially susceptible to coercion. We are on the fringes but part of us wants to be included, recognised and haled…loved…immortalised Art’s for sale but perhaps more than ever before we don’t really seem to care who’s buying and why.

As I write this, from a ‘business-man’ hotel in Yokohama, whilst attending the ‘Artists Initiative’ and ‘Creative City’ conferences in Yokohama, at the invitation of BankArt 1929, there are apparently 50 days left to halt irreversible climate change.

We can discuss the ‘huge’ developments in cultural liberalism (in Japan or the UK) over the past 20 or 40 years and talk of how “we can now get into restaurants without a tie” We can talk of the value of bohemianism without being prepared to acknowledge, embody or act upon its real value… but we really do not have the luxury of time for that discussion or for that process to evolve ‘naturally’.

There is now, I learn, such a thing as a ‘Bohemian Index’ – is there really no limit to the obsession with quantitative assessment: if you are on a list your probably not a bohemian…

It seems to me that the impetus for rapid a radical change is staring us in the face but we choose to ignore it. There is an elephant in the room… or was that a frog in the toilet?

As Al Gore has illustrated in his famous lecture:
If you place a frog in a pan of hot water it will immediately jump out…
but place the same frog in a pan of cold water on a stove the frog will sit there not noticing the water getting hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter – until (with a brilliant twist he says) You have to get him out!

Even our own former deputy prime minister (the minister formerly known as ‘two Jags’) John Prescott has become an agent for change.

No Pain No Gain?

It now seems very clear that if we are to survive the present global crisis we must quickly embrace radical change. For us in ‘the west’ that will almost certainly be painful – Its the hang-over which pays for the night on the tiles we’ve been having.

‘Rich’ and ‘Poor’ countries alike will have to embrace shifted attitudes and aspirations and learn how to learn from each other in order to achieve a sustainable global equilibrium. We will have to down-size our activities, live more simply and also invest heavily in affordable sustainable technologies sharing them freely with developing countries. Its not such a bad thing Western values are largely unsatisfying – you can never be too thin, too rich, too ‘successful’

‘Understated’ is the new ‘Power’ – hang on, maybe real power was always like that?

As artists and occasionally ‘creative thinkers’ should n’t we resist the temptation to collaborate in destruction? A creative population must evolve around the ability to embrace risk and critically in taking responsibility for our choices. I believe the role of the artist has always been to demonstrate that courage to society albeit from the fringes – to offer an alternative viewpoint or a fresh perspective. It seems to me that we must now fight for a place at the top table in order to effect change through example.

We’ve had cathedrals and castles, palaces for monarchs and to industry, skyscrapers and the recent art-power structures which mimic the aspirations of religious leaders, industrialists and financiers. Buildings which dominate and marginalise the art which they are ‘intended’ to celebrate driven by public and private finance and a desire to meet the ‘needs’ and reap the rewards of the essentially passive consumer. These Disneyland entertainment buildings driven by coffee shops and glossy book sales authenticate themselves and skip over and lessen any probable integrity possessed or reflected within the artwork.

‘soft and unnecessarily expensive’, As someone once said… (the Andrex League? – apparently all the white Andrex for Europe is made in Barrow)

You judge a society by how it treats its poorest – or was that the state of its public toilets?, as someone else once said…

A creative population must evolve around the ability to embrace risk and critically in taking responsibility for our choices. I believe the role of the artist has always been to demonstrate that courage to society albeit from the fringes – to offer an alternative viewpoint or a fresh perspective. It seems to me that we must now fight for a place at the top table to effect change through example.

Artists have traditionally been seen as outside of the ‘system’ (even society) looking in and commenting on. It seems to me that not only are the arts changing but that we are in the death throws of an economic-growth driven society established in the industrial revolution. This most often finds its manifestation in the ever increasing obsession with short term quantitative assessment of the arts and pretty-much everything else.

This is set to change – there will be a move away from economic growth in the coming years as we attempt to come to terms with the effects of global warming. This may be an opportune moment to try to understand the real value of the arts and the contribution of those deemed ‘socially excluded’ and ‘culturally deprived’ both here and around the world.

Less is more now than it has ever been…

For me understated art and architecture is the new power building for the 21st century. The tower block and art power building are 20th century conceptions and as such have no sustainable place in the 21st century. In some sense, like our manufacturing industry – the industrial revolution – ‘it was not designed’ – it just happened and functions through exploitation and the production of massive amounts of waste by-products.

“The first industrial revolution was an aggregation of a lot of individual acts, based on specific opportunity – it wasn’t designed as a whole system”
William McDonough

The traditional regeneration models of the late 20th century have been economic regeneration models. Indeed the mainstream ‘high end’ contemporary art world has also been increasingly defined by a similar obsession with the cash value of art.

I began by thinking I was interested in becoming involved in regeneration but have realised through working ever-more closely within it that regeneration is not so much an aspirational or visionary process as a numbing bureaucratic model-based formula for re-establishing monetary wealth.

For some years now working in a place which is geographically and culturally outside of ‘the art world’ I have recognised that it is not really artists work which is important in a wider conception of society or humanity but rather their differentness or otherness – a refusal or inability to ‘fit in’.

The best ‘art’ is, I suggest, merely the most allowable manifestation of our true value – the by-product of lives lived on the fringes of societies:… we have failed to be comfortable – to different degrees. I contend therefore that in some very important sense the best artists are the least ‘successful’ ones – those most challenged and challenging.

“A machine for passing time pointlessly – something to do while you’re waiting for something to happen”

It seems to me that society has ‘charged’ (albeit unknowingly) artists (amongst others) with carrying humanities survival mechanism. We are an essentially untapped ‘antibody’ which has been lying substantially dormant within society – This has I feel been felt variously as a slight irritation – a thorn in the side, our collective conscience – that niggling feeling that won’t go away – but we are also seen as the embodiment of freedom -? albeit mostly misunderstood.

Freedom like power comes in a package with responsibility…

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