Video 1 – part 1 of Glenn’s story, slightly edited

Video 2 –

part 2 of Glenn’s story slightly edited.

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Art, an object and a powerful tool in everyday life.

College Essay – Due Tomorrow. I thought I’d give all you bloggers a view first.

 

Art, an object and a powerful tool in everyday life.

  1. Introduction
  2. Questions

2.1    How does a Western artist working in a vulnerable region keep integrity when representing other people in their work?

2.2    Can/should artists produce politically neutral work?

2.3    What effect does being in a place over time have on the work an artist produces there?

  1. Conclusion

Art, an object and a powerful tool in everyday life.

richard mosse congo - for essay

Figure 1‘Taking Tiger Mountain, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011­’

Introduction

This essay was influenced by a lecture that Richard Mosse had given in The National college of Art and Design (NCAD). The lecture was about his work that was in the Venice Biennale: The Enclave. He has also published a book called Infra, A collection of photographs taken in 2010/11 by artist, Richard Mosse. He captured the images using Kodak aerochrome, a discontinued recognisance infrared film. The images published in the book “Infra” where taken in The Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo). The Kodak aerochrome registerschlorophyll in live vegetation resulting in a very surreal landscape that appears in lush pinks and reds. Currently in Congo, war between rebel factions and the Congolese national army is ongoing. Sexual violence and child recruitment being two the big issues. In this essay, I will be asking the following questions:

How does a Western artist working in a vulnerable region keep integrity when representing other people in his or her work?

Can/should artists produce politically neutral work?

What effect does being in a place over time have on the work an artist produces there?

In this part of the essay I will pose the questions to myself and try and answer the questions or at least offer opinion and examples on them.

How does a Western artist working in a vulnerable region keep integrity when representing other people in their work?

Infra and The Enclave try to represent a place of huge divide, murder, mass rape and the recruitment of child soldiers with a unique type of film called ‘Kodak Aerochrome’. It is not easy for a western artist to produce such work, especially when he is personally disconnected from the place or problems. The photographs that Mosse has produced, are so unique in colour that they capture the eye of the viewer and inform them, to a degree of The Congo and its problems (See Figure 1 above). The uniqueness of the picture above may also distract and become a self-contained image and rather than see context all you will see is the strong pink and red colours.

During his address to the first year students in NCAD, I noted what Richard Mosse had to say about colour:

“The colour reveals the unseen” (Mosse R, 2014).

When I heard Mosse say this, I started to look at the images and wonder, without the context was the image as powerful and did it hide the atrocities that were occurring in the Congo? Such an image doesn’t show the gruesome that is the Congo. In my opinion, the colour was rather a distraction. When I looked at this image, I didn’t see the Congo as it is but rather as Mosse would like me to see it. What was happening and what has happened in the Congo was beyond new representations and especially those representations that prioritised medium over subject, the medium being the Aerochrome film and the subject being the Congo. This work has received a rather overwhelming approval from the art world and this makes you really think whether the whole project was driven by the feeling to make more people aware of The Congo and its problems or was it driven by pressure to produce something unique for a show? I simply do not know.

Can/should artists produce politically neutral work?

I put this questions to an artist and a friend of mine, Fiona Whelan. Fiona Whelan is an artist with a durational practice based in Rialto, working in collaboration with Rialto Youth Project over ten years. She is also Joint Course Coordinator of the MA Socially Engaged Art at NCAD.

Jonathan Myers:  Can an artist produce neutral work?

Fiona Whelan: I’m not neutral and I don’t claim to be so where I have chosen to position my practice and the work I make as an artist is born of my own beliefs, passions and opinions. I am motivated by a range of things and interests and by my own background, position in society, relationships, views etc. So I must accept that they all have an influence on how I see things and more than that, be willing to stand over them. I think this is the way most artists operate, it becomes personal and your work is your response and a reflection of your thought process and position on something. I’m not sure why anyone would want to make what you describe as ‘politically neutral work’. 9I’m interested in hearing if such people exist and their motivation for being neutral.

For a stand point without any subjectivity, is a standpoint with no point of view – which is to say, no standpoint at all (Levinson, JL, 1998)

I do think, as an artist, there can be times where we question what we are doing, especially when doing things like, ‘socially conscious art’ ‘political art’ and ‘personal representations’. In the case of the above image (Taking Tiger Mountain, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011, figure 1­) it seems that this image is just an image and it doesn’t say much but rather express the qualities of Aerochrome film. You could consider it to be politically neutral, if such a term does exist. During our lecture, Mosse had spoken, he mentioned the fact that he had left the subtitles of a lullaby out of a video piece in his installation work as part of ‘The Enclave’. If I remember correctly the lullaby mentions a sentence like this “look in the bushes and you’ll find bones”. I believe including subtitles will inform the viewer of the horrors that exist in The Congo and thus allows the Artist to inform the viewer more without the work becoming depoliticised. This was a choice and I believe a risk lost.

This also comes back to what Mosse had said during his interview with Anthony Hobbs in St. Catherine’s Church on the 27th of January 2014, the quote is as follows,

“A political view in art becomes propaganda” (Mosse R, 2014).

This quote then made me question whether his images had any true integrity or risk in them.

In my opinion, it should have taken a political view. As quoted by Mosse and stated by the International Rescue Committee in a report (Rescue, 2007), that over 5million people have died from 1998 – 2007 from war related causes. Not taking a side can be considered a said in itself.

The trouble with a lot of politically motivated art is a failure of nerve. Artists who produce work that they know is not favoured by our established regime are not necessarily taking risks, since they can forecast the results. Truly taking a risk means not knowing what’s going to happen in the end by Joe Lewis. (Kester 1995)

I do agree however, as an artist one must find an alternative way to document and produce work as compared to a photojournalist who just documents things the way they are. That being said, it does not mean we cannot take a stance or a view point in our work. If one was to represent the Congo, you could not easily do so. With the death toll said to be around 5.4million (rescue, 2007), mass rape, child soldiers and so on, it seems you are either for it, against it or simply doing what a photojournalist does and documents it. I always thought an artist is supposed to bring the viewer on a deeper, more meaningful journey with their work. Is it not too easy to take a photo and display it with video and lights? When an artist starts to become selective about their audience and their interests, they will, in my opinion, begin to lose a certain quality. The quality that allows us to takes risks, produce work based on our interest, based on the things we care about and that mean a lot to us. When we become too selective, our work becomes narrow. This is because of the ‘Reputation Economy’ that is the art world. I still acknowledge that there are artists out there that operate on their terms and not the terms of the economy.

 

One could take the view that by taking photographs, Mosse, through his art, brought a particular attention to the Congo. He focused the outside world upon its brutalities through the medium of his distinctive photography. In this way Mosse sets himself apart from the journalist who want to tell a story, even though it is questionable whether journalist can work without taking a position on the subjects of their stories.

What effect does being in a place over time have on the work that an artist produces there?

This question can only be answered by artists who have spent time in a place different to the one they grew up in or have come accustomed to. In that case, I put the question again to Fiona Whelan.

Jonathan Myers (Me):  What effect does being in a place over time have on the work that you as an artist produce there?

Fiona Whelan: Most artist funding for project based work is limited to periods of less than a year. For collaborative practice, developing relationships becomes a core part of the work which takes time, particularly when working across sector, discipline and knowledge, time is needed to generate understandings of where others are coming from, their motivations, intentions etc. I have been fortunate that I have been in a position to develop an ideas led practice in Rialto that has not been funding driven and can respond to the context, to the relationships and to my own ideas having listened and learned over time. So often artists are brought in to work on a project but there is limited funding afterwards to collectively explore learning and to critique and evaluate and built upon a common experience. For me, I have sustained a decade in one context which means work has developed over many years and can have many layers to it that have meaning for all those involved. I have been able to be present for the aftermath of a project which is not often afforded to the artist which has offered potential to keep building on previous work and to influence new directions. My presence has also had an impact on creating sustainable structures in the context to allow practices to continue beyond a specific artist led project. 

Conclusion

To question whether work holds integrity, how we as westerners produce work influenced by conflict in Africa or anywhere else in the wold is something we must. Just like this essay, we need to questions things. Even the things that are favoured by the large majority. Art shouldn’t be something that just sits on a pedestal. It needs to take a side because it always has something powerful to say and it can evoke great change around the world. Being neutral is a political position. The Enclave and Infra tried something different. It was very unique in look but conflict art itself is not. The use of an old medium was a really good idea and it paid off in terms of uniqueness in the Photographs published in Infra but I don’t believe it was risky enough to challenge the situation in the Congo and how we as westerners view it. Of course I understand it is hard to assess if art challenges or changes perspectives is this will always remain an issue. We cannot fear marginalisation from main stream art when producing work. Integrity holds merit and art hold power.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Mosse, RM, 2012. Infra: Photographs by Richard Mosse. 1st ed. USA: Aperture/Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Mosse, RM, (2014). Richard Mosse ‘Enclave’. In Interview with Richard Mosse. St. Catherine’s Church, 27/01/2014. NCAD: Jonathan Myers. 106/7.

Mosse, RM, (2014). Richard Mosse ‘Enclave’. In Interview with Richard Mosse. St. Catherine’s Church, 27/01/2014. NCAD: Jonathan Myers. 106/7.

Rescue. 2007. IRC Study Shows Congo’s Neglected Crisis Leaves 5.4 Million Dead; Peace Deal in N. Kivu, Increased Aid Critical to Reducing Death Toll. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.rescue.org/news/irc-study-shows-congos-neglected-crisis-leaves-54-million-dead-peace-deal-n-kivu-increased-aid–4331. [Accessed 19 March 14].

Kester, GH, 1995. Aesthetic Evangelists: Conversion and Empowerment in Contemporary Community Art. 1st ed. United States: Grant Kester.

Levinson, JL, 1998. Aesthetics and Ethics. 1st ed. United States of America: Cambridge University Press.

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Dublin at night.

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Digital skills into painting

I started back doing these for people.
I use Photoshop, an overhead projector, 5 shades from white to black and on canvas to create this.

This is what happens when your digital skills out way your ability to paint free hand. I learned this way of working when I had done murals back in 2007-2008 in Dublin and in Philadelphia.

20140318-165711.jpg

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Richard Mosse Interview and My Thoughts.

On Monday the 27th, Richard Mosse was interviewed at an NCAD lecture. The interview was centered on his recent work from the Venice Biennial ‘The Enclave’. The project was done in The Congo (DRC) with the use of aerochrome film  (infrared film used in WWII).

Richard Mosse website - http://www.richardmosse.com/works/the-enclave/

 

During the interview Mosse said a few things which I wasn’t too happy with. A student asked ‘what came first, the medium (aerochrome film) or the issue (The Congo) ? He said the aerochrome came first.

I don’t usually have an issue with that but this time I did. I think, as an artist, actually, as a person, when dealing with or trying to represent The Congo or similar places and issues in an art piece I believe we have a certain responsibility to approach it with a certain level of sensitivity and responsibility to represent the issues that are present. Based on the interview and based on his answer I felt the care was not there for The Congo or for the Issues.

Another thing he said was; The use of aerochrome reveals the unseen.

In my opinion, I believe it does everything else but that. I think it depoliticizes and desensitizes the issues in The Congo. With the use of the film, the landscape is turned into a very vibrant pink and for me, becomes a distraction from everything else.

A report by the IRC said that over 5 million people had died from conflict or issues associated to conflict between 1998 and 2007. Although this is said to be a questionable death toll by some and the actual number is hard to calculate. These are the issues that should be addressed.

Another quote was; Political view in art becomes propaganda.

When i heard this, I was infuriated. To think, if an artist is to represent an opposition to an enormous death toll, rape, crime, corruption and so on is propaganda is just an outrageous statement. That is not propaganda, it is a view and a representation of what is actually happening, just like a photo journalist will photograph and publish what is there (or so we like to hope).

If Richard Mosse was stronger on the side of the Issues and not on the side of showcasing aerochrome, would it have been in the Venice Biennial? would he have given an interview at NCAD?

It comes back to the notion of valuable art or ‘useful art’ which is a live issue in the international field of socially engaged art practice. ‘Usedul art’ a term coined by artist Tanja Brugera.

Art that asks questions, that reveals whats going on, be it a personal representation or just as is. Art that can evoke emotion is so important to me, if it doesn’t hit a human chord then either I’ve failed somewhere or the viewer has already become desensitized.

I can appreciate art that sits on a pedestal but I value art that does a lot more and not as a monetary value.

I think all artist should be questioned and I believe they should question their own work even more.

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That’s living ? Oh please!!!!

I’ve been reading up on Aaron Swartz and what he stood for and aimed to change or keep the same.

One thing that has stayed with me, that I agree with and have been asking myself for a long time. The opinion of what a deep thought is compared to what we should be thinking and what most actually think about and do.

I go out on weekends and I have fun, I like to have a drink and I like to sit around every now and again and actually do nothing. That said, The questions I’ve been asking are; what is the purpose of living ? what is education ? Have I got a purpose already given to me at birth ? can the world be changed ? and many more.

The idea of ‘life’, what is it? when you look at it this way it sounds terrible.  from the age of 0-25 we get educated

25-65 we use that education to work and ‘earn’ money. for what purpose? well to live surely! well in my opinion it’s so that the wheel keeps on turning. earn money, buy a house and pay for it for 25+ years. Buy a car to update every year or every few years. To get loans to buy the expensive things like the previously mentioned ‘house’ and ‘car’ also Vacations abroad and other stuff, so we work to buy all of that to only work more to own it and maintain it, then we die!

65+ for most, these are the tough years. for some, they have very little and struggle, for others, they will have a pension, they will have enough to get by and maintain the life they had leading up to those years or something similar to that. Then there are those who are ill and use most money to cover the cost of maintaining what little life they have left, no fault of their own of course.

When you look at this you really should ask yourself, what’s it all about? seriously!!

I don’t want to work to live, nor do i want to live for the sake of living. My aim is to live life in a way that makes it fulfilling. like questing the wrong doing around the world in a way that makes me feel like i have a purpose. I am currently an art student and my art at this moment is conceptual work. I feel this is what my purpose could be. Art is my tool to address, bring attention to and represent current events around the world, at present, it has been events which hugely affect the lives of people around for example – The Syrian Conflict and world hunger.

That brings me onto something else, how many are aware of the number of people who die form hunger or hunger related causes ? How many people are aware of the death toll in the Syrian Conflict? how many young people know about the Rwandan Genocide and that over 800,000 people died? they have the world at their finger tips and yet all they are interested in is updating their Facebook status, or tweeting and snapchatting.

These issues and many more like them should bombard people everyday! if we make people aware of these problems then maybe in the not too distant future, we as a global community can respond to them. With the main aim to stop war, stop world hunger and other major global issues.

I know this is a dream ‘for now’ but i will keep asking these questions, trying to make people aware and keep on going.

It’ll remain a dream and I have one reason for it; how can we stop global hunger if we can’t even stop the hunger our neighbors feel all the time? Bono tries to solve world hunger along with a fellow Irish man (Bob Geldof) and yet I don’t see them here trying to solve it here in Ireland where in 2009 (over 4 years ago) nearly 100,000 children lived in consistent poverty. Based on today’s conditions those numbers can only go up.

How can we think and act big when we cannot think and act locally? until this is solved I’m afraid those in worst off places will suffer even longer.

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An after Thought

Below are my thoughts after watching the film ‘Elysium’.

I just finished watching the film ‘Elysium’. As a movie I enjoyed it but what I enjoyed most is that it picked up on issues that face us today. Immigration, health, class, Ecology, earths resources, developed and underdeveloped regions. I thought the movie portrayed the issue of immigration very well. How, many people are not allowed to cross a border even if it is for medical reasons. How many are not allowed to cross because they cannot afford it. We live in a world today, were borders are more than just lines on a map or a wall in the desert. They are physical and they are political and they hurt many. I understand that borders are old and they separate or rather help distinguish one nation-state from another but in today’s society, it is only a matter of time before we must choose to allow borders to separate our Peoples or help bring them together in a larger, more accepted and more equal society.

I believe people should have the right to seek out a better life, even if that life is across the border or on a different continent. That right should be for all citizens of the world and not just for a few. I’m sure that one day, just like in Europe and other parts of the world, people can travel freely and choose where is best suited for their needs, their wants and their desires.

I shed a tear watching this movie because when I watch movies or TV programs like this, I know too well that it’s not all imaginary but rather it’s all too real, too well known and not enough is done. I’m talking about combating poverty, being able to access free health care and free education. Things that are easily accessible to millions and yet so rare and hugely expensive to millions more. You’d think everyone would want each other to live life as fair and as equal as one another, you’d think that but there are people out there that think of ideas and reasons to counter that thought, to corrupt thinking and alter our education.

What is ‘right’ and what is ‘morally right’ are too different things. While we think in many different ways ‘politically’, ‘financially’, ‘militarily’, ‘in the interest of’ people will always suffer until we find a way to think with our hearths.

By J Myers

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