Grizedale Arts

The John Ruskin Memorial Blog

Monday 21 March '11
(from The John Ruskin Memorial Blog)

Locked in a room to get some perspective

The problem with working in the country is that it’s so easy to lose perspective. There is less resistance and the world around you becomes the world. Before you know it you’re showing all the signs: shuffling around in a dirty fleece, complaining a lot about how busy everywhere is and thinking what you do is really important, international, high quality, significant, great and all those other words that provincial arts organisations love to use.

I’ve been on the road for the last week, but on a trip that entailed me being locked in rooms with artlike people for days on end. Tuesday through to Wednesday was spent in London with the Plus Tate group of directors and Thursday to Saturday locked in to the disused terminal at Cork International Airport to speak at Terminal Convention. I didn’t see any of these cities (in that ill-conceived sense of place way) but it was certainly more rewarding than standard travel usually is, in terms of clarifying what we do and don’t do when back home and, well, getting some perspective.

Both events entailed full days and evenings of sitting in a room talking about or listening to people talking about the value of art.

At Plus Tate I disagreed with a curator from the Whitworth Art Gallery about this, quite fundamentally. My point was that what art missed greatly, particularly in this time of economic tailspin, was getting the point, or having a point; that it should be useful. She couldn’t disagree more, based principally on an outdated Kantian position – arguing that art’s greatest asset was that it is useless and that was its use – the Kantian Paradox. (Interestingly our Ruskin show for the Whitworth was cancelled, we suspect, for this very reason; that the curators  refuted this post-Romantic,  post-market, post-subjective, post-historical approach to art and its history.) We agreed to differ.

At times like this you do have self doubt, that maybe you are just a deluded country bumpkin going mad. John Ruskin probably had this thought at least twice, surely. Most people outside the 604 people who are The Art World would, I suggest, have the view that art is useless. From a non-Kantian perspective.

So I was grateful for the excellent Terminal Convention (see what they’re doing there?) organised by the sharp and spikey Static Gallery in the disused airport terminal at Cork. It’s a weird thing to land at an airport and not leave it – although we did change buildings to sleep at the Cork International Airport which is the most incredible frou-frou of postmodernity and indeed worth flying there just for the hotel. They could do with a better strapline though, like We make Terry Farrell look like John Pawson.

I arrived with powerpoint in pocket, slightly unsure to be honest, concerned that the idea of the use value of art would be received with equal dismissal. But as the symposium unfolded it became clear that that it had been orchestrated to make this very point, with each speaker progressively re-enforcing this very idea as the next paradigm shift in the venerable history of what we understand as art. Which is reassuring.

Rather than regurgitate the proceedings (you can go to the website and I do have other things to do) I shall merely point you in the direction of the key interlocutors, as they say at art symposia:

Team Van Abbe Museum – Annie Fletcher, Steven ten Thije and Charles Esche

Look out. We are witnessing the end of history and modernity in all its forms and we better come up with an art solution that can handle this and give the economies of money and truth and run for their money. Charles says that we don’t particularly need artists any more and they’ve stopped doing temporary artist shows and maybe don’t need a museum (Steven looks worried). This also however opens up new possibilities for a performative idea of the archive. Oh and sooner or later we gonna have to kill the super-rich.

George Yudice, University of Miami

In order to operate beyond the entrapment of the market art must look at the established mechanisms of distribution. His book the Expediency of Culture looks a must read.

Stephen Wright, European School of Visual Arts, Paris

Not the DJ, comedian or ex-Derby County defender but a very interesting academic promoting the usership of art, art as double ontology, art as non-discipline, art without artworks, new coefficients of visibility - this guy should be run the Arts Council for a day just for the hell of it. Might make the world a better place too.  His web project Plausible Artworlds is an access point to projects that actually do something. Note: Would like to make cheese too.

Aislinn O’Donnel, GRADcam

Making philosophy useful in society. Good Job (read in a US accent).

These and all the other speakers confirmed all my doubts over the Whitworthian position and was a good excuse the show the funny but wrong David Shrigley campaigning film for the Save the Arts campaign as an introduction to my talk on what and why we do it. What the film says is that we should support the arts because of their economic and, effectively, spiritual value. What it misses is that if people could use the arts rather than look at them or buy them, they might just have a future.

Now back to the farm.....

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