Tag Archives: art

C&C and Some Smoking Kids

AQ

I was adventuring, (non-literally,) through the great interw3bz and stumbled, (also non-literally,) onto a great, wonderful, marvelous piece of work.

I love art, I make art (I think!) and I feel that more than half of the deal is appreciating the art of others. There is no creation without consumption. In fact, I try to loosely follow this law, that I’ve created for myself: THE LAW OF CONSUMPTION & CREATION. It sounds awesome, I get 10+ brownie points in the ‘intellectual!’ category, and best of all, I think it’s hugely, honestly, wonderfully true. Consume to create, create to give others something to consume, but never do more consuming than creating, and creating doesn’t work out at all without consuming.

So onto the inspirational, “Oh hey, look what I consumed!” bit:

I came across “Smoking Kids” by photographer Frieke Janssens and was completely blown away.

At first, I was hyper enthusiastic about the imagery. All of the kids were brilliantly dressed, there was a feeling of antiquity that came through the pictures via the lighting, dress and font… But then I started to think about how wrong this was. I mean, kids smoking? DUDE, YOU’RE SICK, GET OFF THE INTERNET. WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY-

Then I was confused. I didn’t really understand what the works were trying to say.

I thought about it more and decided that this is probably precisely what Janssens wanted- some shock value. Over time, I learned to appreciate every single portrait. It was edgy. It had me feeling extremes of RAGE and WHAT THE HELL and OH GODS, I GET IT, I THINK, MAYBE, PERHAPS, KIND OF. That’s kind of the point!

After doing some research, I discovered a couple of things that helped clarify the artist’s purpose/methods:

  • Janssens was inspired to make this series of juvenile smokers after seeing a controversial YouTube video of an infant who smoked two packs a day. (Check my Indonesian homeboy here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4c_wI6kQyE)
  • The cigarettes and smoke in the photos are actually chalk, sticks of cheese, candles and incense

Janssens said that she used children to direct the message towards the act and effects of smoking itself, regardless of audience. Seeing an ad with an adult smoker doesn’t have much of an impact because it’s something we see in our everyday lives.

I also appreciate the duality of the beauty of the way each child is dressed and how each picture is staged, and the ugliness of smoking itself. It shows different types of people and how they are their “personalities” are hugely amplified or even defined by the way they smoke.

One of the reasons why I think people are drawn to art is because of all that it can be. Something like this proves to be just as beautiful, complex and confusing as the human mind often is, and I think there is comfort to be had in this fact. It was after seeing just this one piece of work by Janssens that I made a mental note to one day aspire to make people go from COOL to WAIT WHAT to OH OKAY THAT’S PRETTY SWEET with just one set of work.

What do you aspire to do as an artist? Do you follow something like my law of C&C as well?

♥ Jen (@jenmartine_)

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Refugee Shorts

AQ

The United Kingdom has just finished celebrating Refugee Week from June 16th to 22nd. Here in Bradford, there were a variety of events from a heated Question Time-style panel discussion to a walk highlighting the monthly journey that destitute refused asylum seekers make to sign on with the court. The University of Bradford Union’s Amnesty International and Student Action for Refugees societies collaborated to create a series of short films to contribute to the Week. As a member of both societies, I was lucky enough to play a part in making the project happen. We tried to make each film in a different tone and style to appeal to a different type of audience.

The first film in the series, Refugees 101, is a set of facts counteracting several major misconceptions which abound in the United Kingdom as well as outlining some of the major challenges facing asylum seekers here.

Street Talk has a more light-hearted feel, a quiz challenging the audience to question how much they really know about asylum seekers as they play along with the Bradford locals.

Out Into The Rain is my personal favourite because it was largely guided by the subject of the film. From when she sat down, it seemed clear that she knew exactly what she wanted to tell the world.

In Someone Else’s Skin was the film with which I had the least involvement, a situation that was probably for the better because the result was far more metaphorical than my literal mind could have created. It explores the labels and stigma stuck on asylum seekers and refugees.

“Refugee Shorts” premiered on Monday June 17th, and we hope that the films will continue to be viewed and affect people long into the future.

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What YOUth said: Insights from the Arts in Action Dialogue

Thank you for all of those who came out to the Arts in Action dialogue. It truly was a fun and inspiring day! Here are some of the highlights from the comments and insights gained through the World Cafe Discussion questions, which tackled the different angles of the relationship between art and discrimination, and how we may use art to create diverse and inclusive communities. Please share your comments and thoughts below!

As a lot of art sells for thousands of dollars at exclusive events and shows, how can public spaces in Vancouver be used to make art more accessible?

It just so happened that for this question we focused on visual art. This question allowed for some venting about how the high cost of art supplies and studio space makes it inaccessible to many students and youth. There was a consensus that we would like to see progressive policies from Government at different levels supporting the arts. The group soon delved deeper into the roots of this issue and asked the question: “what is the motive for creating art?” Is it fame or wealth? The money-centric, class-differenciated reality of our present day society has made art a luxury that can mostly be afforded by a rich elite. This often creates a dilemma for artists who rely on this exclusive culture to sell their work. Finally, there needs to be a balance between artists making a living while not being motivated by money in such a way that they would make their art inaccessible to those without the material means. The group then began to question whom are considered artists and decided that the production of art should not be exclusive to those who are professional artists. As one participant put it: “Art should be more like exercise – everyone should do it.” Finally, it was clear that appropriate public spaces need to be selected for sharing art in a way that will encourage connection and community, and that a general public education is needed in order to appreciate art in public spaces.

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Class, Taste, and British Student TV

The television in the student accommodation, which I shared with five other students in Bradford last year, was not often the source of particularly thought-provoking fare. However, when the two art students in the flat wanted to watch In the Best Possible Taste, we were provided with a rare exception. In each episode of this three-part series, Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry explored taste—“why people buy the things they do and wear the things they wear, and what they are trying to say about themselves when they make those choices”—among representatives of a different British class. He visited his subject’s homes and participated in their social activities in an inquisitive yet empathetic and perceptive manner. He would then create two massive tapestries, which symbolised what he felt he had learned about his model’s taste, aspirations, and difficulties. The subjects of the episode are then invited into his gallery to view the tapestries. Each episode spawned long-lasting discussions in my flat; we even missed a good chunk of the second episode because we started yakking during a commercial break and didn’t stop. I don’t know if my art student flatmates would agree with me—I should probably ask them—but in my opinion, good art creates those kinds of discussions.

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PeaceJam, Education, and Values

Last weekend the University of Bradford hosted the annual PeaceJam UK Conference, a conference in which a Nobel Peace Laureate joins students aged thirteen through nineteen for a weekend of talks, workshops, and community service. In addition, at every conference, youth make a commitment to advance the Global Call to Action, and at subsequent conferences, present the projects that they have worked on to fulfill this commitment. This year, the guest laureate was Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the human rights defender and sculptor, and the conference theme was “Breaking the cycle of violence.”

For the second year in a row, I was a conference mentor meaning that throughout the weekend, my mentor partner and I led sessions of discussion, reflection, and teambuilding with our “family group,” a group of ten youth. Our family group had challenging discussions about the justifiability of violence, which flowed into a dialogue about the death penalty; we also spent a session seeing who could make the tallest free-standing tower out of paper and tape. It was great watching the group bond, and hopefully, they learned something from each other’s perspectives.

One statement from Adolfo’s opening speech, which stuck with me is that we need to think deeply about what we want to achieve through education. We can train our children to become professionals, he said, to become great engineers and architects, but if that’s all we focus on, they run the risk of becoming robots—unthinking cogs in oppressive systems. He said that education should also be about thinking critically about values.

In my opinion, many problematic forms of thinking are reinforced in our education system. One major example is some people’s tendency of trying to place everything in fixed absolute categories. While we may need categories in order to understand the infinite complexity of our world, there is no reason why we should not apply them with an eye for nuance and an understanding of the fluidity of categorical borders. The more I look into any particular subject, the more seemingly fundamental boundaries blur. While I can laugh at my friends’ over-categorisation when it comes to, for example, which foods qualify as “breakfast food” and which ones qualify as “dinner food,” it becomes far more serious when categories are applied to be people, whether it be through race, gender, religion or preferred sports teams. This is why it’s troubling that—particularly at an early age—much of my schooling revolved around memorising categories and their apparently “absolute” characteristics. It’s funny the amount of times we learned “absolute” rules, when we were younger, which we had to unlearn as we get older because there was more nuance to them than we were originally taught.

Another example is the tendency to claim universality from one’s personal experience. Obviously we can only think and theorise from what we perceive, learn, and “know.” This isn’t a problem in itself; the problem comes when people assume that their inevitably subjective conclusions can automatically be applied to everyone else without taking the time to listen to them. With this in mind, I wonder why I remember teachers in the Humanities emphasising the “ability” to draw links between subject matter and our own lives. Why do we need to find relevance to our own lives in order to understand and empathise with others?

At PeaceJam, youth experienced a different form of education. One workshop that I attended focused on the relationships that connect us. Other activities, from the campaign for an Arms Trade Treaty with Amnesty International to planting potatoes with the Permaculture project, from the art with Umbrellas for Peace to the session with Peace FC [who in a completely unrelated note won the Tolstoy Cup 2-1 on Sunday], had a similar focus. I think that our education system could certainly benefit from more focus on thinking, discussing and listening about how we interact with each other and our world.

In reference to my previous post about art’s ability to communicate other people’s lives, this new photography book released by LSE (of Saif Gaddafi fame) provides a hugely insightful peak into another time and place.

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Art, Empathy, and Kony

Before I was brought on board, some of my fellow ArtQuake bloggers wrote about what draws them to art. These posts sparked self-reflection on my own relationship with art. I’ve come to the conclusion that what  draws me most to art is its ability to communicate other people’s lives, perspectives and emotions. A photograph can capture a moment, a sculpture can symbolize strength and defiance, and a poem can grant entrance to the vulnerable thoughts of a mourning grandson. Thus, I was particularly drawn to displays in the National Media Museum’s recent exhibition of the work of Daniel Meadows, who describes himself not as a photographer but as a documentarist and a storyteller. Powerful art evokes empathy and human connection.

* A sample of Daniel Meadow’s storytelling through photographs.

This reflection on art and empathy was recently brought back to my mind with the meteoric spread of the KONY 2012 film. I have never seen anything spread across Facebook like this has, and I’ve been astounded by how this has resonated across ALL demographics of my Facebook friends (age, interests, gender, race, geographic location etc.)—which I believe has a relatively wide scope. If nothing else, that’s an impressive accomplishment.

I was even more baffled, when I actually watched the film and felt none of the emotional attachment that I expected. Perhaps it’s because my internet connection’s been shaky and so I had to watch it in five minute intervals (leaving plenty of time to digest what was actually being said) or maybe it’s because the video’s many flaws are apparent in many of the other issues that I think about both in my studies and in my own time or maybe I’ve just turned into a cold-hearted cynic, but I could not understand why this video was spreading like wildfire, while so many other advocacy videos—including, if my memory isn’t misleading me, previous Invisible Children productions—have not.

Now this is not going to turn into another critique of the campaign because that has been done quite well already by people who are far more educated about Kony and the LRA than I am. Instead, I am interested in why this 30-minute video, despite its many flaws,  defied the rule that only short videos go viral, and resonated enough with millions of people that they were inclined to share it with others.

                                                                                        * Co-Founder of Invisible Children, and film-maker of Kony 2012 uses his son’s perspective on “what a bad man looks like to convey the message of his power to the world*

In his blogpost about the phenomenon, Ethan Zuckerman attributes the video’s spread to the oversimplification of narratives:

“This narrative is so powerful because ‘certain stories resonate more, and thus are more effective at influencing action, when they assign the cause of the problems to ‘the deliberate actions of identifiable individuals’, when they include ‘bodily harm to vulnerable individuals, especially when there is a short and clear causal chain assigning responsibility’; when they suggest a simple solution; and when they can latch on to pre-existing narratives.’

Sound familiar? The Kony story resonates because it’s the story of an identifiable individual doing bodily harm to children. It’s a story with a simple solution, and it plays into existing narratives about the ungovernability of Africa, the power of US military and the need to bring hidden conflict to light.”

Upon re-watching the film, a couple more elements stood out to me: the inflated sense of power attributed to social media particularly through imagery from the Arab Awakening, the immediate sense of urgency created by a big flashing deadline, and the sense of integrated intellectual and moral authority conveyed through Luis Moreno Ocampo and the filmmaker’s son respectively.

My mother forwarded me this other perspective from Kevin Allocca, Youtube’s trends manager. Allocca identifies three main elements that make videos go viral: tastemakers, participation and unexpectedness. KONY 2012 brilliantly uses one element, an appeal to participation, to go after the second element, the tastemakers. As for unexpectedness,  from what I seem to glean from reading articles and comments on the internet, it certainly seems that those who are pushing KONY 2012 the hardest are those who didn’t know who the LRA was before watching the film.

This feeds back to Zuckerman’s argument. Both Zuckerman’s observations and my own identified elements would seem to convey that widespread support can only be gained through engaging otherwise uninterested people with an oversimplified and misleading message. But is that all there is to it? It seems to me like KONY 12 is adhering to my ideal of what art should be—a source of human empathy—by twisting itself to appeal to the flawed mindsets of many of its viewers. Could a more nuanced film ever have the same impact?  Rather than adjusting to appeal to viewers, can a film gain the same widespread circulation by forcing viewers to adjust to it? I’d like to think so; however, despite considerable reflection, this blogpost is more about questions than answers. I don’t know the answers. This is why I would like to open it up to you. What made KONY 2012 spread quicker and more widespread than any previous video campaign? And can this be harnessed in a more constructive manner?

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