4th Provocation June 2011

October 28, 2011

On The Art Of Disappearing

The idea of disappearing has long since been a fascination for salamanda tandem. In the early days of ‘Eye Contact’ (a company of blind and sighted performers),  Duncan, Lewis and I had witnessed how an experienced blind performer could be ‘rubbed out’ in a moment, by the presence of a less experienced but more confident sighted one. This troubled me deeply and in 1992, I gave a presentation to the board of East Midlands Arts in Loughborough, where I suggested that I’d found a solution: via ‘advocating vanishing’ from the finished work so that others could be more present; where eventually the mark of my success was the emergence of another person as artist and my own redundancy.  Afterwards in conversation with Francois Matarrasso who was also speaking at the event, he disagreed with me and said that the artist had value and that we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of making ourselves redundant.  I was young, and knew intuitively that he was right but couldn’t see how I could bring this together in tandem with my politics. I think this question still drives salamanda tandem.

The following Provocation was posted up for salamanda tandem on the EMPAF website by Kevin Hodgetts in June 2011 following  a trip we made to Rotterdam to the International Community Arts Festival there. If you read to the end you will find a wonderful response from Julie Hood who without realising has answered so many of my long and soul searching questions

What is it about the role of the artist working in participatory settings that excites so much passionate debate and strong feeling?

As part of the recent EMPAF delegation at the International Community Arts Festival in Rotterdam I witnessed an arts event that sparked no little controversy and animated discussion. A composer by the name of Merlijn Twaalfhoven previewed a new piece of music called ‘The Air We Breathe’. The performance was billed as an interactive concert featuring professional singers, amateur choirs and audience participation. Sure enough, the composer, aided by a number of rehearsed vocalists and choirists ‘planted’ in the theatre crowd, led the rest of us through his score encouraging co-ordinated vocal contributions from the assembled ranks. The result was very impressive and left many with the feeling they had really been part of something bigger than themselves.

The question that dominated conversation afterwards was this: could such an event be classified and accepted as community art? As accomplished as it was, what right did the work have to claim a platform at a festival meant to be celebrating community art?

The problem for many delegates was around the role of the professional artist(s) who undoubtedly played a very visible and substantive part in the proceedings. Conversely, the public participation was seen as insubstantial and limited to the performance of pre-figured vocal parts. The role of the non-professionals in this process could be characterised as colouring-in a picture already drawn by someone higher up the artistic hierarchy. The event annoyed many delegates because it seemed to do nothing to dispel the idea that some of us are more expert than others. It reinforced notions of hierarchy, it reminded us that distinctions between performers (and the skills they bring) are inevitable. As a community art event it was seen by some as close to heresy.

I was reminded that the function of community arts is to reinforce a sense of togetherness and solidarity. To emphasis equality and unity over difference. So if the nature of the artist’s role in community settings shouldn’t be a determining one, what should it be? There is a body of opinion which believes the role of the community artist is to bring to the surface, and make visible, the talents and capacities ‘found’ in community settings. This is the community artist as benign archeologist, an explorer with a remit and duty to report back only that which is already present.

I am left wondering, is it possible to conceive of a role for the artist working in community settings that is less passive, less concerned about disappearing themselves from the production of work, or is this a betrayal of what community arts has always been about? And where does this anxiety of influence leave us as politically committed individuals wanting to make a difference through the work we do?

These are 2 interesting responses that came via the EMPAF web site from Julie Hood and Kevin Ryan


 Julie Hood Posted: Thu 30th June, 2011 @ 9:29pm

i feel sad for all artists here. people who try to sense and bring creativity. to be bound both by the perceived rules of community art, and the hierarchy of professional artistic expression. there is no freedom to move here. boxed in by the boundaries surrounding these seemingly different ideas. are artists not part of community? is a community not allowed to express the differences that make it? this distinction between non-professional and professional is a dangerous tool. being used (consciously or unconsciously) by people to justify the action of keeping others separate within a creative environment. how can we move through these boundaries if we continue to refer to each other as non being or being. there are only two shapes here. why is it so impossible for us to honor our instincts and sense a recognition that equally. a person with lots of artistic experience will bring creative elements that we may not have experienced before. at the same time a person who comes to an art form for the first time may reveal creative ideas of their own. both have the possibility to inform and enrich the other. for me it is not a question of whether the artist should or should not disappear, the artist is part of community and also has the right to creative expression. the question for me is how the artist meets the creativity of others. the air we breath is common to each of us and i believe the capacity for creativity is also common to each of us.

Kev Ryan: Posted: Wed 20th July, 2011 @ 7:24pm

Moving with the immovable….from the bone..the ossified centre of this or that theory brings structure….maintains form…yet the bones have joints which articulate….vary…..what is immovable has means to make itself move…within a range in different ways…..shaping itself and creating shapes in the space around it……combining with others in a million different combinations….

…and then the muscles…..the strength and power of the movement …..

…the fluids which give the movement life and energy….

moving from these is different than moving from the bones….power and flow…not opposities but infinite possibilities…..

…and the organs…the larger structures which maintain a focus on sustainability of the whole organism, which beat with a pulse, which give us the ability to meet with and build with other organisms over time through continuing to exist…..moving from the organs shapes the world in different ways too….

….and the nervous system…..sensing…feeling…..finding a way which is out there and now….responsive,,,, fresh….tingling with what a billion possibilities and approaches and experiences might bring……

We don’t deny our bodies flexibility, adaptability, possibility or the process of doing one thing that seems at odds with what we need to do to achieve another that we do…..to ossify…to structure…to question the limits to which the muscles drive the bones…yes why not? To sense and draw those bones somewhere new…yes why not? The body is always learning adapting, moving.

The body of work we call community arts called (calls) itself a ‘movement’……movements in the social sphere interweave in complex ways…..simplifying our approaches to the bare bones, important as it is can only ever be part of the story of something as dynamic as a movement……a movement which requires many things, over time, to work together……

We can influence the movements of other bodies….but we cannot make all of their movements for them…..

……and we haven’t even begun to think about other processes like breathing, digestion, elimination, thinking and feeling…..

My body, my heart, my mind, my soul does not require a parent to tell me where the limits of my practice are, or how I should be engaging in this process and how i should not be doing this. My body, mind, heart and soul requires an openness, friendship and shared dialogue with others committed to this work to help me explore and understand how it all fits together from time to time……

To re-member….put back the bits that have become dominant….or lazy….or lost….and celebrate the remarkable achievements when it all works and comes together……to work to understand, as fully as I can what is beyond my knowledge and experience……..

………whoops….wake up!!!

just lost in the flow there for a moment!!

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