On Thursday night I’ll be launching my first Next Wave Festival. We had a ‘soft’ launch last week for supporters and media, which quelled nerves and gave me time to refine what I’m going to say to introduce this most incredible piece of focused energy, extraordinary commitment and partyparty. I have an amazing shirt-dress-fairyskirt combo via the wonderful girls at Above. And our superstar graphic designers Kin are working around-the-clock with our team towards Dear Patti Smith being an absolutely beautiful space for a bang-up party. Which is all a nice cushy set-up for some much more explicit political passion that’s been stirring within myself and my collaborators as we have made the Festival.
This passion is articulated with greatest force in the works the artists’ have made. One of the things I love most about our program is its manifest generosity. The countless new collaborations that have formed with communities not normally considered part of an artistic discussion. The robust interrogations into artistic form that mean our artists are using the best possible tool to articulate their idea. The way these works combine rigour and depth with radical process, resulting in questions that are urgent.
Over the past few weeks I have come across a number of strong pieces of writing that evoke themes pertinent to our Festival. Mostly for my purposes, but also because my ongoing interest is in polyphony, here are they up against each other. I might add a few more to this post as I re-excavate the internet wormhole.
“What about the international scene? In some places, just making art — even a beautiful painting — is a political act.
Yes, if you talk about Beirut, for example, even carving out a space for free expression is a political act. Life there is so politicized already that having space for freethinking is hugely powerful. In China, it is radically different, and in Latin America — particularly after the “Bolivarian revolution,” with a lot of leftist governments coming to power — the relationship to cultural power is very different. So, of course, these things are geopolitically specific.
At the same time, what is increasingly universal is the fact that culture is a thing that is made by people. When Joseph Beuys said that everyone is an artist, everyone was like, yeah, sure. But today you look around and everyone is a photographer, everyone is a videomaker. People routinely make culture. And they don’t even think, I’m an artist. It’s just how they make their life. Look at the Arab Spring, the European protests, Occupy Wall Street. I hate to go on and on about social networking, but it is a vehicle for people to produce their own culture collectively, and that is hugely powerful.”
“Participatory art under state socialism in the 1960s and 1970s provides an important counter-model to contemporaneous examples from Europe and North America. Rather than aspiring to create a participatory public sphere as the counterpoint to a privatized world of individual affect and consumption, artists working collaboratively under socialism sought to provide a space for nurturing individualism (of behavior, actions, interpretations) against an oppressively monolithic cultural sphere in which artistic judgments were reduced to a question of their position within Marxist-Leninist dogma. This led to a situation in which most artists wanted nothing to do with politics—and indeed even rejected the dissident position—by choosing to operate, instead, on an existential plane: making assertions of individual freedom, even in the slightest or most silent of forms.”
“My generation tries to create lives that seem to match our values, but beyond that it’s hard to locate a place to put our outrage. We aren’t satisfied with point-and-click activism, as Friedman suggests, but we don’t see other options. Many of us have protested, but we — by and large — felt like we were imitating an earlier generation, playing dress-up in our parents’ old hippie clothes. I marched against the war and my president called it a focus group. The worst part was that I did feel inert while doing it. In the 21st century, a bunch of people marching down the street, complimenting one another on their original slogans and pretty protest signs, feels like self-flagellation, not real and true social change.
When Friedman was young and people were taking to the streets, there were a handful of issues to focus on and a few solid sources of news to pay attention to. Now there is a staggering amount of both. If I read the news today with my heart wide open and my mind engaged, I will be crushed. Do I address the injustices in Sudan, Iraq, Burma, Pakistan, the Bronx? Do I call an official, write a letter, respond to a MoveOn.org request? None of it promises to be effective, and it certainly won’t pacify my outrage.”
“We live in a world of increasingly networked knowledge. And it’s a world that allows us to appreciate what has always been true: that new ideas are never sprung, fully formed, from the heads of the inventors who articulate them, but are always — always — the result of discourse and interaction and, in the broadest sense, conversation. The author-ized idea, claimed and owned and bought and sold, has been, it’s worth remembering, an accident of technology. Before print came along, ideas were conversational and free-wheeling and collective and, in a very real sense, “spreadable.” It wasn’t until Gutenberg that ideas could be both contained and mass-produced — and then converted, through that paradox, into commodities. TED’s notion of “ideas worth spreading” — the implication being that spreading is itself a work of hierarchy and curation — has its origins in a print-based world of bylines and copyrights. It insists that ideas are, in the digital world, what they have been in the analog: packagable and ownable and claimable.”