Assignment 1 – Reflections on feedback

I waited to write these notes till now that I have nearly completed my study of Part 2 on Creative Reading  because I wanted to put some distance in between not only of time but also of discoveries made and inputs received, books read and so on coming along my way during the course. I have kept an eye on myself and noticed that my perspective has been shifting all along and that in this second part I have perhaps developed a more relaxed attitude: after all there may be no final or certain answers in creation and art but only a challenging voyage of discovery and unveiling tentative and provisional meanings layer after layer.

The first suggestion by my tutor Mr Michael Belshaw to consider that art might be difficult or impossible to define in terms of innovation and/or of quality – ‘we would happily say that something is pretty good, excellent or poor on a given scale, but one would not say such and such is nearly art, completely art or not quite art’ – has been really illuminating and a spur to check Arthur Danto’s position on this subject, according to another useful suggestion by my tutor.

What makes Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box an artwork setting it apart from the Brillo boxes in supermarkets, the ‘mere real things’? (Danto, 1981). Danto suggests criteria that are not based on intrinsic aesthetic qualities (they look identical), but rather historical ones (what can and what cannot be considered art in a given period of time), the fact of being about something and having a meaningful content (expressing an artistic vision), and the fact of being identified and so interpreted as art (‘transfigured’ into an artwork by an interpreter). And here I’m beginning to see the point made in my feedback: art as such is not easily definable as a measure of quality or pleasingness to the eye – there may be good and bad art and pleasant and unpleasant art –  and  before speaking about its aesthetics or value we must first identify it as an artwork since we judge art according to different criteria – as Mr Belshaw pointed out to me in commenting my close reading of Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave.

Another important question arising from my feedback is how we can come to terms with an eternal paradox in the arts – ‘that we are taught to see art according to certain principles, methods and contexts that don’t simply give access to the work but compete with it’ or otherwise ‘the widening gap’ between ‘seeing and reflecting on seeing’. In this respect Mr Belshaw suggested also to look up the term ‘performative’ in the context of the speech act theory.

I mulled it over in these months and as I progressed through Part 2, I gradually started to think that perhaps one way to tackle this paradox might be a different approach altogether. If we can’t really have an ‘innocent gaze’ anymore, this doesn’t mean that when we make or look at art or when we write or read a text we are to be necessarily intimidated and paralyzed by what we know in terms of methods and theories and get locked in a prison of self awareness and overthinking. A way out might be to concentrate oneself as creators or viewers/readers/listeners on the task at hand, leave the room and get out in search of some creative fresh air, be aware of methods and theories and then ‘forget’ them while we focus on a artwork or a text. As Picasso is quoted to have said: ‘It takes a very long time to become young’. I am not sure what he really meant by this, but my version is that it takes a very long time to learn and then to unlearn, a very long time and effort to develop an educated spontaneity in making and evaluating art.

In this regard I also think that the ideas born from both the speech act and the reader-response theories can offer invigorating and powerful tools.The notion that a visual artist or a writer can truly and effectively act on the public or the readers through their works, and so ‘perform’ in the world and establish an active and vital communication with it, and that in turn the public or the readers can actively respond to these works and creatively react to them, may be a wonderful way to generate new meanings every time this coming together happens in a sort of never-ending creative chain reaction. This open, ever-changing evolution of texts/artworks and the bidirectional relationship it creates between artists and public is perhaps a typically postmodernist attitude and so intimately linked with a contemporary vision, but I think also that it establishes a renewed and invigorating connection with the ancient oral tradition of storytelling in which the audience was directly involved and texts, poems, songs developed as they were performed.

Bibliography

Maes, H. and Puolakka, K. (2012) Arthur Danto: The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. In: 50 Key Texts in Art History (online) At: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/56975 (Accessed 2.01.2017)

Danto, A. C. (2013) What Art Is [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.it (Accessed 2.01.2017)

Loxley, J. (2007) Performativity [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.it (Accessed 18.12.2016)

Assignment One, Part B – Interpretation of Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave

In this essay I shall interpret The Battle of Orgreave, a 2001 re-enactment by Jeremy Deller of the violent fighting which occurred at Orgreave in South Yorkshire in 1984 between the striking miners and the police as a conclusion of more than an year-long confrontation, and consider the form and context of the piece, and its relation to time and place.

The video excerpts make for an emotionally strong experience: the rapidly alternating points of view from the streetside to the advancing then fleeing miners, from behind the policemen screens to the horseback charging, and to the men brutally hit to the ground – the jerky movements of the camera – the rhythmic obsessive sounds –  all these elements produce a poignant feeling of physical involvement. But while reliving those events as if they were just happening it is of course impossible to ignore that that very day the battle was lost forever, that mistakes cannot be repaired and that there is no playback in history (The Battle 1, 2).

It is a constant time shift perception,  a continuous moving back and forward from 1984 to 2001 and vice versa, combined with a sense of displacement: Orgreave is a real place, where events are restaged and relived and contemporarily  a place remembered and changed forever, as shown by the black and white still frames of the 1984 clashes punctuating the film. The effect is that of a compelling seesaw in time and place which I believe well translates Deller’s original idea of ‘confronting something and not being afraid of looking at it again’ (The Battle, 3):  we stay where we are and from here reassess the past and  ‘relive one of the greatest symbolic moments of modern industrial struggle’ (Wainwright, 2001). This combination of proximity and detachment, closeness and distance is a powerful tool to gain a refreshed perspective.

The re-enactment was at the core of Deller’s project (Deller, 2002), and this choice made it part of the glorious popular tradition of historical re-enactments and gave to that fight the symbolic status of a crucial historical event – the term chosen, ‘battle’, is very significant in this respect. Furthermore the historical film as a medium is a well-known form that most people can easily connect to and get involved with. So it seems a perfectly suited vehicle for an ambitious community art project like this.

It is interesting how the artist, in a very contemporary way, freely chooses the media that he thinks most suitable to serve his purposes, without discriminating between high or low. The re-enactment is also a form of participatory art or live performance of Futurist and Dada descent, which directly engages the public into its making. During the re-enactement of The Battle of Orgreave the participants and the viewers alike may have relived feelings of anger and pride, of belonging and awareness, and possibly found a new sense of personal and local identity.

I noticed as I was viewing the film (The Battle, 3) that the players’ reactions were mixed, at times the veterans seemed flooded with vivid emotions and turned almost aggressively  – as if in a flashback – against the re-enacters. At other times they remained in the present and joked and made games as in a festive gathering. It looks as if the players were experiencing the time shift perception and displacement I mentioned before. Interestingly some old miners played the policemen and the policemen the miners, exchanging roles and perhaps liberating past negative emotions as a result, according to the cathartic theory of Aristotle in the Poetics.

The site- and time-specific re-enactment of 2001, which required two years of research and preparation (Artangel, 2001), was the pivotal event around which all the project of The Battle of Orgreave was born, but it also included other significant elements – the film and the installation – that allow it to live beyond that place and day and reach a greater audience without which that intense collective experience would have been short-lived and limited in action. The film effectively combines dramatic shootings of the re-enactement, original images from 1984, interviews with the people involved, while the installation at The Tate adds additional social and political context in the form of documents and texts of the time, videos, objects, notes and research materials (The Tate, 2001).

The combination of several elements and media creates a complex experience that being site- and time-specific is a form of ephemeral art, but also relivable and reproducible.  Art and life are interwoven in uninhibited ways and the message is unequivocally social and political as reads the subtitle of the exhibition at The Tate: ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. Orgreave is made a place of collective defeat, and ‘place is always political’ (Dean and Millar, p. 105).’But is it art?’ asks Jones in The Guardian answering that ‘the Battle of Orgreave  is art of a surprisingly traditional kind … is a history painting’ (Jones, 2001). Though if it’s true that like all historical paintings it depicts an event of the past that cannot be changed and so to say puts it at rest forever, Deller’s intention however was the opposite: ‘I’ve always described it as digging up a corpse and giving it a proper post-mortem …’ (The Battle, 1) and I believe that his intention was successfully realized.

This far-reaching project is not an unicum in Deller’s work.  He has often cooperated with groups of people in artpieces which make a combined use of videos, images, texts, music and sounds in installations dealing with political and social issues as collective memories, folk art, pop culture, community identity particularly within the British society but relevant also to the contemporary themes of globalization. After treating popular British culture in Folk Archive (2005), at the Venice Biennale in 2013 he refocused on past and present British society in English Magic, and again in All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (2014) he explored the influence of the Industrial Revolution, while in Do Touch (2015)  the artist disseminated historical objects in contemporary public spaces.

In an interview (Artreview, 2013), Deller declares his deep interest for people, cultures and history and I think that with his art he successfully raises public awareness on these issues.

(1012 words)

Bibliography

1 – The Battle of Orgreave (2001) Directed by Jeremy Deller, footage by Mike Figgis At: http://www.jeremydeller.org/TheBattleOfOrgreave/TheBattleOfOrgreave.php (Accessed 10/10/16)

2 – The Battle of Orgreave (2001) Directed by Jeremy Deller, footage by Mike Figgis At: https://www.artangel.org.uk/project/the-battle-of-orgreave/ (Accessed 10/10/16)

3 – The Battle of Orgreave (2001) Directed by Jeremy Deller, footage by Mike Figgis [documentary film] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ncrWxnxLjg (Accessed 11/10/16)

Wainwright, Martin (2001) Strikers relive battle of Orgreave [online] in The Guardian At: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2001/jun/19/artsfeatures (Accessed 11/10/16)

Deller, Jeremy (2002) The English Civil War: Part II [online] At: https://www.artangel.org.uk/project/the-battle-of-orgreave/ (Accessed 12/10/16)

Artangel, The Battle of Artangel project, 2001 At: https://www.artangel.org.uk/project/the-battle-of-orgreave/ (Accessed 15/10/16)

The Tate, Deller, Jeremy The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All) At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/deller-the-battle-of-orgreave-archive-an-injury-to-one-is-an-injury-to-all-t12185 (Accessed 18/10/16)

Rappolt, Mark (2013) Interview with Jeremy Deller [online] in ArtReview At: https://artreview.com/features/feature_jeremy_deller_venice_interview/ (Accessed 19/10/16)

Assignment One, Part A – What is art revisited

I still think that art, to be named so, must bring forward new ideas, show things under an innovative light, offer an original approach to old solutions and activate the mind and/or the soul of the viewers. But I now see that this is too general a definition as it can be true also of other human activities, like science, technology or even religion, and that does not fully account for the pieces examined so far. Looking back at the artists I have studied I see that all of them, as diverse as they are, do have important points in common: a clear concept in mind,  a choice of appropriate media to express it, a willingness and competence to communicate their vision to the viewers in intelligible ways and the capacity and determination to develop their work consistently throughout their careers. And I think that these criteria might be used also to evaluate art in the past.

These first months of study have been challenging and required time, patience and a lot of hard work. The most difficult task has been to get into the habit of accurately referencing all sources, something that I was not used to. A skill that I need to improve is to organize my study priorities more efficiently as I do have a tendency to get sidetracked and lose precious time. This clashes with my desire to deepen my knowledge of art movements and artists but I shall have to find a better balance.

I decided early on in the course to keep a learning blog instead of a physical log and I don’t regret this decision but I see there are differences. What I miss is the spontaneity linked with a physical log, since it seems almost unavoidable to be more self-conscious when posting on a blog that is open to the public, and I do wish to keep it public as I would see it as pointless to keep a blog private, being the very nature of blogs communicative.

Also in my blog I tend to include less images and ephemera like exhibition tickets, short notes taken on the go etcetera than I would in a log, partly because I am afraid to infringe copyright laws and partly because being public a blog feels less intimate and more formal. And I do set myself the goal to let my hair down more in the future!

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