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Culture, Politics, Cultural Politics

What Is to Be Done? Arts, Civil Society and Crisis

A Symposium about the role of the Arts in times of Crisis calls for a trip from one PIIGS country to another, on a rather eventful day.

I feel rather conflicted about not being in Athens today, in what looks already like one of the biggest demonstrations in recent years. I did, however, in the end believe that speaking about what we are going through in Greece is useful, particularly if it is done in other places that might have sympathy, but not a whole lot of information, as it were, from the “ground”. Moreover, it seemed to me, since I received the invitation to participate in the “Arts, Civil Society and Crisis” Symposium in Cork, Ireland, that the organizers’ intention was to challenge the insular way with which arts professionals are accustomed to treating social upheaval, even though all the while contemporary art is deemed to be politically poignant and socially relevant.

My thoughts are with the people down in Athens, and my friends of course. All the best and take care these days. Here is a legal guide for demonstrators (in Greek), with what to do if you get in trouble with the Police. And right below is the Symposium programme.

Create and Voluntary Arts Ireland are hosting a symposium, on 20 and 21 October 2011, in Christchurch, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork Cityto discuss the current and future relationship of arts and civil society.

How might we rethink the relationship of arts and civil society in a time of crisis?

What might constitute new modes of cultural resistance?

How is art embedded in the everyday?

The symposium is a great opportunity to participate in a discussion with a national and an international cohort of artists, thinkers, community activists and civil society leaders.

Over the two days, speakers will address how and if art in the context of civil society fits with a market led art/cultural tourism model – and whether it should – and how arts and culture can be reaffirmed at the heart of civic engagement.

Create and Voluntary Arts Ireland have confirmed the participation of Dr Anthony Downey as keynote speaker and speakers from Italy, Ireland, England, Greece and Portugal who will take part in the Carnegie Challenge Debate – Arts and Civil Society in Crisis.

Here are the Full programme and biographies of the speakers.

Police Violence, Ideology and the Myth of Representation

The protesters must widen the discussion and attack the fundamentals, not the symptoms – with an eye not only to Greece, but to the world.

Most people are familiar with Jan Vermeer, one of the most famous painters in history. What is perhaps less known is that up to a point in his career, so the legend goes, Vermeer was hardly an outstanding artist. It is assumed that he developed his unrivalled mastery of light and colour through the use of a camera obscura, a device that projected images on a surface through a lens. Now, what is even more interesting is that Delft, the city where Vermeer lived and worked, was home to yet another 17th century innovator, the lens-maker Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. Reclusive and secretive to the point of paranoia, Leeuwenhoek never allowed much information to leak out about how precisely he achieved such staggering results in optics – serious stuff for a century that was taking an increasing interest in the observation of the natural world. As for art historians, they will probably never know how much of Vermeer’s success in art is owed to Leeuwenhoek’s technology. We know that Leeuwenhoek was listed as an executor of Vermeer’s estate, after the latter’s demise, but no optical device has been found among the painter’s belongings. So, we can assume, but we do not know…

The point of this apparently unrelated introduction is to illustrate that history and experience teems with associations and arguments that produce convenient and attractive analyses – if only we could be sure they are true. These analyses may well point to actual events, then again they may not. We should take the lesson into the present.

The Greek Police attacked protesters in Athens, who have been demonstrating peacefully on Syntagma Square for 27 days now, with unspeakable violence and mostly without provocation on Wednesday, June 15th. I say “mostly” without provocation, because there were riots. These riots, however, were relatively isolated and did not include the main body of protesters at Syntagma, who for the most part were singing and dancing, as tear gas started exploding in their midst.

Was this a preplanned turn of events, a targeted effort by the Greek Government to suppress the protests? There are reasons to believe so. Many are aware – this writer being an eye-witness – that there are secret Police among the demonstrators, disguised as rioters, often carrying petrol bombs and other material. (One of them was actually found out by demonstrators on the 15th, carrying, rather stupidly, police identification.) Did the Police, then, provoke the riots?

Read more at The Press Project (beta) English language version…

Curators should commit suicide

In times like these, many things may seem pointless. Art and creativity per se might not be among them, but the way contemporary artworks are produced, distributed and defended by curators and arts administrators certainly is. 

Curators, art administrators and cultural managers, we should douse ourselves in petrol and light a match.  It is our only hope of doing anything politically meaningful. Everything else is just avoiding the issue, and abating the guilt of those that still feel some, including artists.

This is the first of what will obviously be a series of texts. I have been a curator and an administrator for a while now, and it will take rather a lot to explain where I come from and where this is going.

Let me repeat something I have often written – it is even part of the “about” page of this blog: art does not always reflect the sociopolitical conditions of its time. But there are times where some art does. Some art must. I feel this is one of those times.

Let’s call this an introduction – a teaser even. We’ll pick it up soon enough.