Art, an object and a powerful tool in everyday life.

College Essay – Due Tomorrow. I thought I’d give all you bloggers a view first.

 

Art, an object and a powerful tool in everyday life.

  1. Introduction
  2. Questions

2.1    How does a Western artist working in a vulnerable region keep integrity when representing other people in their work?

2.2    Can/should artists produce politically neutral work?

2.3    What effect does being in a place over time have on the work an artist produces there?

  1. Conclusion

Art, an object and a powerful tool in everyday life.

richard mosse congo - for essay

Figure 1‘Taking Tiger Mountain, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011­’

Introduction

This essay was influenced by a lecture that Richard Mosse had given in The National college of Art and Design (NCAD). The lecture was about his work that was in the Venice Biennale: The Enclave. He has also published a book called Infra, A collection of photographs taken in 2010/11 by artist, Richard Mosse. He captured the images using Kodak aerochrome, a discontinued recognisance infrared film. The images published in the book “Infra” where taken in The Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo). The Kodak aerochrome registerschlorophyll in live vegetation resulting in a very surreal landscape that appears in lush pinks and reds. Currently in Congo, war between rebel factions and the Congolese national army is ongoing. Sexual violence and child recruitment being two the big issues. In this essay, I will be asking the following questions:

How does a Western artist working in a vulnerable region keep integrity when representing other people in his or her work?

Can/should artists produce politically neutral work?

What effect does being in a place over time have on the work an artist produces there?

In this part of the essay I will pose the questions to myself and try and answer the questions or at least offer opinion and examples on them.

How does a Western artist working in a vulnerable region keep integrity when representing other people in their work?

Infra and The Enclave try to represent a place of huge divide, murder, mass rape and the recruitment of child soldiers with a unique type of film called ‘Kodak Aerochrome’. It is not easy for a western artist to produce such work, especially when he is personally disconnected from the place or problems. The photographs that Mosse has produced, are so unique in colour that they capture the eye of the viewer and inform them, to a degree of The Congo and its problems (See Figure 1 above). The uniqueness of the picture above may also distract and become a self-contained image and rather than see context all you will see is the strong pink and red colours.

During his address to the first year students in NCAD, I noted what Richard Mosse had to say about colour:

“The colour reveals the unseen” (Mosse R, 2014).

When I heard Mosse say this, I started to look at the images and wonder, without the context was the image as powerful and did it hide the atrocities that were occurring in the Congo? Such an image doesn’t show the gruesome that is the Congo. In my opinion, the colour was rather a distraction. When I looked at this image, I didn’t see the Congo as it is but rather as Mosse would like me to see it. What was happening and what has happened in the Congo was beyond new representations and especially those representations that prioritised medium over subject, the medium being the Aerochrome film and the subject being the Congo. This work has received a rather overwhelming approval from the art world and this makes you really think whether the whole project was driven by the feeling to make more people aware of The Congo and its problems or was it driven by pressure to produce something unique for a show? I simply do not know.

Can/should artists produce politically neutral work?

I put this questions to an artist and a friend of mine, Fiona Whelan. Fiona Whelan is an artist with a durational practice based in Rialto, working in collaboration with Rialto Youth Project over ten years. She is also Joint Course Coordinator of the MA Socially Engaged Art at NCAD.

Jonathan Myers:  Can an artist produce neutral work?

Fiona Whelan: I’m not neutral and I don’t claim to be so where I have chosen to position my practice and the work I make as an artist is born of my own beliefs, passions and opinions. I am motivated by a range of things and interests and by my own background, position in society, relationships, views etc. So I must accept that they all have an influence on how I see things and more than that, be willing to stand over them. I think this is the way most artists operate, it becomes personal and your work is your response and a reflection of your thought process and position on something. I’m not sure why anyone would want to make what you describe as ‘politically neutral work’. 9I’m interested in hearing if such people exist and their motivation for being neutral.

For a stand point without any subjectivity, is a standpoint with no point of view – which is to say, no standpoint at all (Levinson, JL, 1998)

I do think, as an artist, there can be times where we question what we are doing, especially when doing things like, ‘socially conscious art’ ‘political art’ and ‘personal representations’. In the case of the above image (Taking Tiger Mountain, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011, figure 1­) it seems that this image is just an image and it doesn’t say much but rather express the qualities of Aerochrome film. You could consider it to be politically neutral, if such a term does exist. During our lecture, Mosse had spoken, he mentioned the fact that he had left the subtitles of a lullaby out of a video piece in his installation work as part of ‘The Enclave’. If I remember correctly the lullaby mentions a sentence like this “look in the bushes and you’ll find bones”. I believe including subtitles will inform the viewer of the horrors that exist in The Congo and thus allows the Artist to inform the viewer more without the work becoming depoliticised. This was a choice and I believe a risk lost.

This also comes back to what Mosse had said during his interview with Anthony Hobbs in St. Catherine’s Church on the 27th of January 2014, the quote is as follows,

“A political view in art becomes propaganda” (Mosse R, 2014).

This quote then made me question whether his images had any true integrity or risk in them.

In my opinion, it should have taken a political view. As quoted by Mosse and stated by the International Rescue Committee in a report (Rescue, 2007), that over 5million people have died from 1998 – 2007 from war related causes. Not taking a side can be considered a said in itself.

The trouble with a lot of politically motivated art is a failure of nerve. Artists who produce work that they know is not favoured by our established regime are not necessarily taking risks, since they can forecast the results. Truly taking a risk means not knowing what’s going to happen in the end by Joe Lewis. (Kester 1995)

I do agree however, as an artist one must find an alternative way to document and produce work as compared to a photojournalist who just documents things the way they are. That being said, it does not mean we cannot take a stance or a view point in our work. If one was to represent the Congo, you could not easily do so. With the death toll said to be around 5.4million (rescue, 2007), mass rape, child soldiers and so on, it seems you are either for it, against it or simply doing what a photojournalist does and documents it. I always thought an artist is supposed to bring the viewer on a deeper, more meaningful journey with their work. Is it not too easy to take a photo and display it with video and lights? When an artist starts to become selective about their audience and their interests, they will, in my opinion, begin to lose a certain quality. The quality that allows us to takes risks, produce work based on our interest, based on the things we care about and that mean a lot to us. When we become too selective, our work becomes narrow. This is because of the ‘Reputation Economy’ that is the art world. I still acknowledge that there are artists out there that operate on their terms and not the terms of the economy.

 

One could take the view that by taking photographs, Mosse, through his art, brought a particular attention to the Congo. He focused the outside world upon its brutalities through the medium of his distinctive photography. In this way Mosse sets himself apart from the journalist who want to tell a story, even though it is questionable whether journalist can work without taking a position on the subjects of their stories.

What effect does being in a place over time have on the work that an artist produces there?

This question can only be answered by artists who have spent time in a place different to the one they grew up in or have come accustomed to. In that case, I put the question again to Fiona Whelan.

Jonathan Myers (Me):  What effect does being in a place over time have on the work that you as an artist produce there?

Fiona Whelan: Most artist funding for project based work is limited to periods of less than a year. For collaborative practice, developing relationships becomes a core part of the work which takes time, particularly when working across sector, discipline and knowledge, time is needed to generate understandings of where others are coming from, their motivations, intentions etc. I have been fortunate that I have been in a position to develop an ideas led practice in Rialto that has not been funding driven and can respond to the context, to the relationships and to my own ideas having listened and learned over time. So often artists are brought in to work on a project but there is limited funding afterwards to collectively explore learning and to critique and evaluate and built upon a common experience. For me, I have sustained a decade in one context which means work has developed over many years and can have many layers to it that have meaning for all those involved. I have been able to be present for the aftermath of a project which is not often afforded to the artist which has offered potential to keep building on previous work and to influence new directions. My presence has also had an impact on creating sustainable structures in the context to allow practices to continue beyond a specific artist led project. 

Conclusion

To question whether work holds integrity, how we as westerners produce work influenced by conflict in Africa or anywhere else in the wold is something we must. Just like this essay, we need to questions things. Even the things that are favoured by the large majority. Art shouldn’t be something that just sits on a pedestal. It needs to take a side because it always has something powerful to say and it can evoke great change around the world. Being neutral is a political position. The Enclave and Infra tried something different. It was very unique in look but conflict art itself is not. The use of an old medium was a really good idea and it paid off in terms of uniqueness in the Photographs published in Infra but I don’t believe it was risky enough to challenge the situation in the Congo and how we as westerners view it. Of course I understand it is hard to assess if art challenges or changes perspectives is this will always remain an issue. We cannot fear marginalisation from main stream art when producing work. Integrity holds merit and art hold power.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Mosse, RM, 2012. Infra: Photographs by Richard Mosse. 1st ed. USA: Aperture/Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Mosse, RM, (2014). Richard Mosse ‘Enclave’. In Interview with Richard Mosse. St. Catherine’s Church, 27/01/2014. NCAD: Jonathan Myers. 106/7.

Mosse, RM, (2014). Richard Mosse ‘Enclave’. In Interview with Richard Mosse. St. Catherine’s Church, 27/01/2014. NCAD: Jonathan Myers. 106/7.

Rescue. 2007. IRC Study Shows Congo’s Neglected Crisis Leaves 5.4 Million Dead; Peace Deal in N. Kivu, Increased Aid Critical to Reducing Death Toll. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.rescue.org/news/irc-study-shows-congos-neglected-crisis-leaves-54-million-dead-peace-deal-n-kivu-increased-aid–4331. [Accessed 19 March 14].

Kester, GH, 1995. Aesthetic Evangelists: Conversion and Empowerment in Contemporary Community Art. 1st ed. United States: Grant Kester.

Levinson, JL, 1998. Aesthetics and Ethics. 1st ed. United States of America: Cambridge University Press.

That’s living ? Oh please!!!!

I’ve been reading up on Aaron Swartz and what he stood for and aimed to change or keep the same.

One thing that has stayed with me, that I agree with and have been asking myself for a long time. The opinion of what a deep thought is compared to what we should be thinking and what most actually think about and do.

I go out on weekends and I have fun, I like to have a drink and I like to sit around every now and again and actually do nothing. That said, The questions I’ve been asking are; what is the purpose of living ? what is education ? Have I got a purpose already given to me at birth ? can the world be changed ? and many more.

The idea of ‘life’, what is it? when you look at it this way it sounds terrible.  from the age of 0-25 we get educated

25-65 we use that education to work and ‘earn’ money. for what purpose? well to live surely! well in my opinion it’s so that the wheel keeps on turning. earn money, buy a house and pay for it for 25+ years. Buy a car to update every year or every few years. To get loans to buy the expensive things like the previously mentioned ‘house’ and ‘car’ also Vacations abroad and other stuff, so we work to buy all of that to only work more to own it and maintain it, then we die!

65+ for most, these are the tough years. for some, they have very little and struggle, for others, they will have a pension, they will have enough to get by and maintain the life they had leading up to those years or something similar to that. Then there are those who are ill and use most money to cover the cost of maintaining what little life they have left, no fault of their own of course.

When you look at this you really should ask yourself, what’s it all about? seriously!!

I don’t want to work to live, nor do i want to live for the sake of living. My aim is to live life in a way that makes it fulfilling. like questing the wrong doing around the world in a way that makes me feel like i have a purpose. I am currently an art student and my art at this moment is conceptual work. I feel this is what my purpose could be. Art is my tool to address, bring attention to and represent current events around the world, at present, it has been events which hugely affect the lives of people around for example – The Syrian Conflict and world hunger.

That brings me onto something else, how many are aware of the number of people who die form hunger or hunger related causes ? How many people are aware of the death toll in the Syrian Conflict? how many young people know about the Rwandan Genocide and that over 800,000 people died? they have the world at their finger tips and yet all they are interested in is updating their Facebook status, or tweeting and snapchatting.

These issues and many more like them should bombard people everyday! if we make people aware of these problems then maybe in the not too distant future, we as a global community can respond to them. With the main aim to stop war, stop world hunger and other major global issues.

I know this is a dream ‘for now’ but i will keep asking these questions, trying to make people aware and keep on going.

It’ll remain a dream and I have one reason for it; how can we stop global hunger if we can’t even stop the hunger our neighbors feel all the time? Bono tries to solve world hunger along with a fellow Irish man (Bob Geldof) and yet I don’t see them here trying to solve it here in Ireland where in 2009 (over 4 years ago) nearly 100,000 children lived in consistent poverty. Based on today’s conditions those numbers can only go up.

How can we think and act big when we cannot think and act locally? until this is solved I’m afraid those in worst off places will suffer even longer.

American soldiers open letter

I came across this and found it to be one of the best descriptions of America in Iraq.

An open letter from an American soldier to his dad.

We are trying to empower [the Iraqis]
to walk post instead of Marines but the graft has not yet taken. There is something culturally childish
in their understanding of basic Western governance and management that
will require immeasurable education and probably several generations to
overcome if they find it of any interest. That education is, of course,
a choice that they have to make on their own. They are not our people.
Our understanding of their tribal governance and its relationship to
formal civic management is equally naive and charges our frustration.
The problem now is that their every inconvenience has become our
responsibility. They act as if they can not comprehend our sacrifices
and are thus ungrateful for them. The reality is that they can not,
culturally, comprehend our altruism or believe our stated intentions.
Even though it is not their desire to offend, we are insulted and it
bleeds us of affection and tolerance. Liberation will compete with
invasion as our legacy but locally we are ideologically irrelevant. Our
presence is, mostly, only of interest to those who seek to benefit from
our contracts and donations. It is a region of people making alliances,
business deals, friendships and enemies one day at a time without a
real concept of sustainable services, resources, or trust. No future.
Just daily survival as they know it. Family and tribe. Our
contributions may be counted long after we have withdrawn but they will
not recount the names of the fallen. So many now. Each wound will be
absorbed into the quiet sadness that we allow to pass beneath us as a
people and a country. Our loss will have never even occurred to most
people here.

So what news about the new government you may ask. Well the Provisional
Military Governor was replaced by the Transitional Governor who
resigned under threat and was replaced with another Transitional
Governor. He was then replaced by the Emergency Appointed Governor who
was just replaced by the selected Governor chosen by the elected
Provincial Council. He never made a speech or publicized his views,
never debated the other candidates and was not present during the
selection, never making an acceptance speech. He was promptly kidnapped
by a rival tribe while his tribe fought another tribe on the Syrian
border. The recently displaced Emergency Appointed Governor returned in
hopes of regaining the position however, the Deputy Governor is now
serving as the Acting Governor while the actual Selected Governor is in
captivity. But there was an election so democracy is in full bloom I am
to understand.
We are now trying to force the power of decision onto

the elected Provincial Council and the city officials. It is a
difficult thing to keep myself inactive in matters of governance here.
The instinct to impose order and command the requisite discipline in
the Iraqi leadership must be quelled in order to allow sovereign
stewardship to develop at its native pace and in a native form. I fight
myself to remain insignificant in the process. I haven’t the nature for
passive observation. I share the American fascination with action and
it has consistently betrayed us in our foreign policy. Our continued
involvement will continue the state of dependency and our eventual
departure will leave nothing but cosmetic structure here. Iraq will
return to what it is. Our common sense is not common to this people and
that understanding must be given proper respect. I do my best but I
twitch with an urge for the folly of intrusion.

 

Death Toll in Syria.

Below are sketches and write ups of how I would represent the Syrian death toll.

this is a college art project, I understand how sensitive this is and this is why I want to bring attention to it.

Even if only to the college I attend.

The death toll has surpassed 100,000, including over 4000 women and over 6000 children.

Images may be hard to see.

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Israel and Iran lock horns.

News headlines read ‘Israel taking steps to prepare for war with Iran’. If the middle east is to head to war it could mark the beginning of a devastating period for the region. After the Invasion of Iraq from the US and NATO forces the middle east has struggled to find its footing towards stability. Will the destruction of Israel or Iran bring this much-needed stability? I believe not. I do believe it will lead to a bigger conflict with more nations. It could very well be the westernization of the middle east (again) or a third global conflict that will affect all not just those nations locked in battle.

I will admit that Israel has acted and will continue to act unlawfully around the world whilst Iran does the same just more publicly. If the UN wants to do something it should prevent such a war otherwise its existence should come into question. I believe if further steps are taking by either nation that would provoke war both nations should be subject to sanctions not just one nation(IRAN).

We have had too many wars, too many deaths, too many bombs and too many bullets too fill the history books of future generations to come. I want my children and their children to read about times of peace, times of good will and nation building.

“Let us now set a course towards a new beginning of peace war holds no merits and those who seek it hold no office” by J.Myers