Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Black Lab Week Six

Present: Mick Welbourn, Martha Jurksaitis, Lucy Bannister, Dan Robinson, Michael Burkitt, Yvonne Carmichael, Liz Murphy, Steve Allbutt, Phill Harding, James Hill, Andy Abbott.

We began with a recap on the previous night’s ‘Morse event’ where we watched an episode of Inspector Morse about the murder of an artist and then had a conversation about stereotypes and clichés of artists (in the media) and how they impact upon our individual and collective practices as well as our willingness to embrace or distance ourselves from the title ‘artist’ or ‘art’.

Liz talked about the motivation and interests behind the event: a parallel she saw between the role of the artist and the detective (both in Morse, other fiction and in life) based on their ‘distance’ or ‘outsider’ position to society which leads to depression, cynicism, boozing and (in the artists case more than the detective’s) reckless behaviour. Those of us that attended the event collectively tried to revisit some of the conversation from the previous night about whether we call what we do art or ‘admit’ or announce ourselves to the world as artists. Phil mentioned that he considers himself an artist but not (all) his work to be art. Lucy and Steve both brought up the complexity in describing what we do as art and how it can be a long or difficult conversation not always worth having. Michael Burkitt suggested the term ‘arter’ as preferable to ‘artist’ reasoning that it places it in a bracket with decorator, actor, runner, and so on rather than sexist, facist, racist or narcissist.

An interesting point for us had been that although the clichéd romantic figure of the artist still exists and is something many of us would like to distance ourselves from that ‘running away’ from identifying ourselves as artists or what we do as art only perpetuates the stereotype as there is no reform. Can we contribute towards a change in the stereotype of artist and art through our actions and by announcing it is art and that we are artists? Steve suggested that it would be a difficult task in the face of the media and commodity-producing artists that rely on a ‘personal brand’ to progress their careers.

This led to a conversation about the ‘outward facing’ potential of the Black Lab. James asked the group how we were thinking about disseminating what happens in the Lab outside of the group. We agreed that the fanzine/publication idea was still the best way of gathering/documenting activity in the Lab. The blog too is acting as an archive and a window into the activities there (Lucy brought up the fact that it has been twittered /tweeted/twatted/ ) and that perhaps we’d consider documenting after the three month period is over and to not let it stall activity in the Lab by becoming an overriding concern. Phill asked if the events that we organise can be open to the public to which the answer was yes, by invitation as we don’t want it to be perceived that we are running a gallery/event space/venue. Dan put forward that sometimes it can be unhelpful to make a too-hard distinction between ‘talking about things’ and ‘doing’. The Lab is for conversation as much as events. Andy suggested that a common project to help anchor the conversations seems to be useful and forming organically. If the ‘experiment’ of the lab is to ‘open up the forms that critical discussion about art can take and who can contribute‘ (or something like that) then the talking is the doing and, in turn, the documenting.

Yvonne showed segments of a DVD documenting the mutlipleCITIES public art festival in Panama 2003 curated by Adrienne Samos and Gerardo Mosquera. The motive behind the festival was to place art in the city (that has an absence of art/cultural history) so that ‘the city could return the ball’. We watched short documentaries of some of the works that all aimed to intervene into public space or provoke response from the audience in various ways including: placing a ton of ice in the street that people then skied down; a billboard project ‘semantically recharging’ an everyday phrase used by Panamanians; a minute of silence (dubiously) carved in public space via a radio show (by Francis Alys); simulating a fire in the city’s museum and finally a work where the artists spent a year ‘as an anthropologist’ working with two rival teenage gangs that resulted in a two-screen projection uniting the gangs in a rap-music video that was projected as a public event onto mid-rise flats in the gang’s neighbourhood.

Yvonne uses the DVD (along with other texts including Dave Beech’s ‘Include me Out!’) to prompt discussion about what constitutes a collaborative practice between students on a module she runs at Leeds College of Art. She said that most students agree that the last example (the gang piece) is the most collaborative. We talked about how on paper it would read as very problematic (almost colonial and patronising as it tries to unite rival gangs in ‘sameness’ and through dazzling technology) but, it seems on the DVD at least, that it was very well received and was genuine. Steve suggested this is because of the commitment shown by the artist and the trust developed.

We talked about how multipleCITIES as a model is less well known than other art biennials or festivals and whether there was anything to be learned from it in relation to Leeds’ events like Situation Leeds or Light Night. It appears that the coherence of the curatorial direction and the addition of artists from outside the area contributed to it being an interesting festival. Michael brought up that we have seen from things like Art Sheffield that this tactic does not guarantee interesting or provocative work. James openly asked what Light Night might look like if it were to include more of the poorer areas of Leeds or move out of the city centre. Lucy commented that the Glasgow International festival seems to be well received by both public and artists in the city.

This led to Steve talking about some research he has been doing on the current state of Detroit. Following a film that was shown on TV and an article in the Guardian Steve attended a seminar at the London School of economics where it was revealed that in the wake of the devastating economic collapse of the original Fordist city (and such the birthplace of a specific form of accelerated capitalism) houses and land are almost worthless. Communities have been drawn to Detroit due to is being perceived as a clean slate and are working with poorer (mostly black) community that have been left behind in the mass exodus from Detroit. Currently there appears to be a ‘rebuilding’ of the city using urban farming methods and radical education. Steve suggested that he will take a trip over in the next 12 months to learn more as it presents a very interesting opportunity to both document and contribute to this process. Andy brought up the fact that the ‘conditioning’ of capitalism and Fordist production methods (those of specialisation) seems to be present in some of the current recovery plans (different areas of Detroit making specialist products like honey, hay or animal produce which they trade with one another) despite their agricultural appearance. Could this just lead to a repeat of the previous disaster scenario or will there be genuine change? Would this require a more critical distance or even education about the inherent failings of capitalism?

Actions for next week

All to book in activity and event in the Lab via Calendar. Liz’s event proved that interesting conversations can arise from the humblest of starting points.

There is also a pot of money for travel for speakers/artists. Don’t wait for permission/approval to book someone in. Just do it!

All to continue to contribute material to the potential publication. Thusfar we have bits of writing and images from Andy Abbott, Amelia Crouch, Martha Jurksaitis and Michael Burkitt.

Next meeting Tues 30th March 6pm. Activity booked in before then includes Andy Abbott’s ‘An evening with(out) Alain Badiou’ on Thursday 25th March and Martha’s all night film night on Saturday 27th March (see blog for details).

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