Over the last few weeks I have been reflecting on my practice. Looking back to the blog post from 2014 entitled ‘Searching for the grit’ I realise that this examination is a cyclical process. Here I am again, trying to work out why I make art, who it is for, and what I want to say. I came across a poor quality photo of this acrostic manifesto I made in my first year on the BA Fine Art course at Winchester, in which I grappled with the same questions. With a big nod to Claes Oldenburg’s ‘Ode to Possibilities’ (1961), I came up with this:
Despite the manifesto’s brevity and apparent naivety, it covers all the bases. Looking back, it pretty-well characterises my work for the last nine years. The March (and prints) for Optimism and the psychogeographic walking practice, are all seeded in this manifesto. The attention to birds and words, the generosity of freely-distributed woodcuts and zines – these are all in line with the sentiments I articulated back in 2011. I want my work to ‘make a difference’ – a little contribution to changing the world, maybe one person at a time. I shared this old photo on Instagram, explaining I was revisiting the basis of my practice. A good friend from my studio said ‘hang on to those’. I mean to.
But it’s all well and good stopping for a chat when I buy the Big Issue. Isn’t it more urgent to address the societal conditions that enable homelessness and poverty to persist, both here in the UK and beyond, which look set to worsen over the coming years? Well yes, and that’s covered by the manifesto too. I have long been convinced that all artwork is political, because being an artist is to take a political position. It stakes a claim on our time and resources and puts them to use for a mainly non-commercial end. Artists are either complicit with the current systems of power and distribution of resources, both within the art-world and the ‘real’ world, globally and locally, or they are agitating for change. As we are learning from the Black Lives Matter movement, silence is violence.
The status quo is not working. Society is set up with an unsustainable dependency on growth, which enriches a tiny number while oppressing and exploiting huge numbers of people and trashing, negligently, the biosphere that keeps us all alive. Inequalities of wealth and opportunity, corruption and greed blight our societies. Fear and hatred of ‘the other’ are manipulated by power-seeking people to keep the population feeling divided and powerless. In my experience of the UK, we are a more divided society now than ever before in my lifetime. I take a position against ignorance, against exploitation, and for the human. I don’t subscribe to misanthropic, malthusian tropes about humans being the virus infecting the planet. I believe a better, fairer, sustainable world is possible, that the global population of humans is stabilising, and that there are sufficient resources for everyone if we use them fairly. Life is a constant shifting of the balance between species and habitats and nothing we do will bring about the global harmony we might imagine, if we’re hoping for stasis. Change is one of the constant factors of the natural world. So let my artwork express life and change in all its ridiculous complexity. Let it confront prejudice and abuse of power. Let it present love and generosity, in opposition to fear and mean-spiritedness. Let it appear foolish and mischievous as it punches you, gently, on the nose. Let it dive into the world as a journeying pilgrim, discovering its overlooked corners and bringing you along for the journey.