The place to start – nice to meet youThe news – catch up on the latest stories, shows and projectsThe blog – indulge a few personal blatherings on various dead creative topicsThe press gubbins – grab the contact details, the bio and some goofy showbiz picsThe moving pictures – watch a selection of behind the scenes and music videosThe commissions – discover Momo's soundtrack workThe music – explore a little world of splendidly tuneful electro-beat tomfoolery
Obviously it affects work. Most especially if you’re an MP. But also if you’re a political coms person trying to get your facts straight about Proroguement. And how to spell it.
The outworking of democracy affects everything somewhere down the line, but most swiftly perhaps your feelings. Because Prime Minister Johnson’s populist leap away from Parliamentary room to defeat him on a potential No Deal Brexit will either sound like sweet music to your deadlocked ears, or like the sound of a death knell.
Is Johnson a national hero or a stoodge for mega business resenting democracy? Those engaging with the issue seem more polarised than ever by this move.
Here I share an impromptu Unsee The Future Tropey-Rangey Bit, leading to one Peachy question I think we should have been asking ourselves more honestly way before the last three and a half years.
Hot-damn. Well, I guess this is what the UK really voted for. And voting is what counts.
The passion with which some of us defend characters like Farage and hate perceptions like identity politics and mistrust inherantly lefty sounding concepts such as climate crisis – Boris is the antidote to all this. Amusingly British and disarming and says he knows what he stands for. And his cabinet is really what Brext implied – “no deal”. That’s Leaving. And, really, our whole economics implied this take-over of government. It’s a right-wing thing. It always was, when you stop the suffocating moderate language. No point in squirming at that label, we believe what we believe, right? Freedom. Democracy. Individualism. Not being dictated to. Markets auto-adjusting as the best tool we have to make sense of what we value – it’ll all come out in the wash, right? If people don’t buy it, it ain’t worth much. Sounds fair. Fair. Don’t impose on me. We don’t need to be imposed upon, we’re sensible. We’re British, and we can do anything we set our minds to. On our own. Standing as equals. Women and Asians in the cabinet without needing to preach about it. Get on with it, BJ!
This new government, and the clarity with which it will stand at the undoubtedly upcoming general election, is calling us out. What do we really believe? Who are we really? As Brits.
Sure, a handful of people comapratively voted for Boris as PM. Most of the millions of us didn’t get a chance in our current democractic set up. But we’ll get the chance to. And sure, he’s another Etonian but the class system is profoundly British, we feel safe with it. He’s been bred for this role, really. And he’ll make us laugh – what’s more sacred than that to Us Brits? And sure, more than half of us didn’t vote for Brexit and detest it’s toxicity with passion. But They’re just Intollerant Remoaners and don’t count, or They’re just too disaffected to bother voting. They don’t count either.
I guess we’ll have to let this group of people in government show us the fruit of their values. The fruit of what they think counts. To us. Who. See who will benefit from the real implications of a Conservative view of the world, which this cabinet arguably is. Let’s see how business picks up. Let’s see how many people move out of poverty. Let’s see how represented different communites of us are in the decision making; let’s see how much we think this matters. Let’s see how much good ol’ colonial Raj thinking is really a problem. Let’s see how much better off we all are as this more extremely right wing government gets what it wants. Let’s see how much President Trump praises Borris. Let’s see what happens to the NHS. Let’s see who really benefits. Maybe we’ll all be reclining in hot tubs as an independent island of entrepreneurs in the new roaring twenties.
Oh, and while we’re seeing all this, let’s see who of us feel horrified at the temperature in our political hot tub begining to get a lot hotter. Let’s see who of us decide to exercise the British right to be bloody minded and democratically free to challenge this right-wing view of the world. Let’s see how many of us can articulate an alternative view of the world and how much it catches on. Let’s see how many of us stand in front of motorcades not for ourselves but for generations of children unborn yet. Let’s see who of us fact-checks the voting records and interest links of people supposedly standing for us. Let’s see who roots out the connections and speaks up about the power dynamics. Let’s see how creative and bloody minded and witty and determined we really are, in challenging the status quo. Which this new government is. Just, with the mask slipping.
Let’s see how interesting we really are. How inspiring to the world. How important. Now we can finally Get On With It.
Let’s see. The fruit of who “we” really are. Let’s see who really counts. And what we really believe. Let’s see how much we care about a politician’s word or his values. Let’s see if we get the politicans we finally really deserve – the ones who reflect us. Let’s see how Britian really forges itself in the fires of a challenge.
And let’s see how long today’s hottest day on record stands.
I’m often saying that it is art that will save the world. And it sounds like a rather unqualified, ponsy, irrelevant, liberal statement, obviously. ..Hi. But I mean it as an act of walking through walls, breaching no-man’s land, creating new ways of seeing when there is, I believe, nothing we need more now. Not if we are to make our society resilient. I think part of cracking open the possibilities and the engagement is the empathic testimony and play and disruption of artistic expression. Seizing the courage of it.
And in the Hopey-Changey bit of #UnseeTheFuture‘s first episode of series 2, looking at Disruption, I mention Lorna Rees – and her glorious protest pants. Unsee is currently in the middle of a three-part look at Democracy and last night I made my first ever visit to a full council meeting. Because it was BCP Council’s first full council meeting, at which they were going to work out what the actual council looks like, after a local election board changer from voters. And Lorna had been there already. With this beautiful intervention. And having missed the beginning, and not seen these wonderful pictures, I can still say it just seemed to set the tone. It helped set a seal on breaking the mold of the past.
In an evening of slightly bewildered nervous excitement under the calm proceedings, we saw an impossible seeming unity – no, dammit, rainbow – alliance of people from a spectrum of political representations agree to work together. And thrillingly, I know many of the new faces there are advocates for environment, creative cultures and engagement.
I’ve never felt a sense of democracy in my home town before. But the hope for me here is that it isn’t a landslide for anyone – and breaking out of the empasse of polarised politics will take such coalition practice. I’ve already heard praise for new leader Vikki Slade for her apparent place in encouraging it.
It is all to do for the brave souls who’ve stepped up to help our civil servants together spread that sense of democracy and possibility. A tough tough gig. But Lorna’s words were read out by new Vice Chair, our new ward councillor in Sobo, George Farquhar, and they felt symbolic, mystified as some there might have been by some playful passion appearing in a council meeting:
“CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR ELECTION TO THE BCP COUNCIL!
You have the power to make Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole a better place for generations to come SO WE’VE MADE YOU A MEDAL!
You can be a hero!
You are already brilliant because you care enough to run for political office. We know that you can help save our planet too. We know that you know this is something so important that it transcends party politics. We are filled with great hope, but action MUST happen right now if we’re to save our species. Our future depends on you!!! This is a plea to you, our new, brilliant local politicians to put our environment as the NUMBER ONE Priority in your decision making process. We must quickly address man-made climate change by supporting renewable energy and rejecting and replacing fossil fuels. We’re living through the 6th Mass Extinction event in the history of our planet. We must address this catastrophe.
THIS MEDAL IS Made in solidarity with Extinction Rebellion – inspired by David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg.”
Huge congratulations to folk like Lisa Northover and Mark Howell and Fizz Bikes herself and so many others for taking a run up at a new way of seeing politics. And to Lorna for expressing the moment so beautifully.
Valise Noire Storytelling Theatre invoked the spirit of service in their Great War rememberence pieces, using people’s own words in letters and inventories to bring audiences together around some universally shared feelings. Contributing one last piece of sound design to their final performance of the last four years of the centenary, I found myself wondering about the rallying vibrations of today’s words – especially having been surrounded by them at my first ever proper political protest, two weeks earlier.
This yearʼs Armistice Day was, of course, the 100th. A big deal. One that seemed to draw world leaders to France to listen to Emanuel Macron preach about the brilliant French lifestyle, or something. But I wonder if this momentously round number may fearfully mark the official forgetting of Europeʼs blood-spilling modern history. And for me, it felt incongruous to be out of Britain for the date.
Four years ago, I was asked by Hazel and Michele, in their shared guise as Valise Noire Storytelling Theatre, to develop some sound design with them for a very special project – Poppy Fields. A performance piece commemorating the Great War. The two other projects that the three of us have worked on together, The Girl and The Shoes and Cargo have been beautiful experiences to help create, with the sort of imaginative humanity they weave in their writing and telling. Beautiful work. And Poppy Fields was touching on something vast in its historic effect – but they tackled it as perhaps the best storytelling can only do, with personal intimacy.
They researched letters and information about veterans from our part of the world, the Poole and Bournemouth area, and we found ourselves in my shed reading these documents and weaving them into impressions of the war in sound. And to listen to this simple flow of testimony was just moving. Something that hit you from their words; these historic people from my neighbourhood were ordinary and their extraordinary sounding experiences were, in the end, just stuff that they had to get on and cope with.
None of it simple fable, is it? It was just life. Common or garden complex living. Caught up in events.
On Armistice Day this year, Michele and Hazel performed one last piece of the project in Poole Park, and I couldnʼt be there to see just how the new sound worked around their movements. I hear it rained in the middle and everyone felt it together like tears.
Now, I’m no believer in sombriety for the sake of it. But I couldn’t attend this meaningful piece of art with my friends because I was doing something so contrasting it feels odd to contemplate – larking about as I found myself doing on a shoot with other creative partners trying to bring to life something with a very different tone to Poppy Fields. You have to be where you have to be. But tapping to some of the stills I saw on my phone after their performance, sitting in another time and climate and creative zone, I could still feel the effect of what they’d made on that November day in England; it caught in the throat a little as I scrolled through what Iʼd missed. Sensing how oddly unifying is the thing they were most invoking.
Grief. Unprecidented loss.
Timing can give you new perspectives, I guess. I wasnʼt in Europe for Remembrance Sunday but I was in Florida for the most significant midterm elections in decades. And staying with folk whoʼs political perspective is rather different to mine. Who spoke not once of their politics while we were there, but who left me quietly a fan of how they expressed their evident values. These friendly people whose vote on one particular issue was inexplicable to my own.
The first thing I did upon return was run a bath to soothe the CO2-chugging jetlag and watch Peter Jackson’s remarkable They shall not grow old, broadcast as part of the centenary Armistice rememberances. A painstaking edit of original footage of the first world war and sound archives of soldiers’ later testimonies that was also brought to more vivid life by colourisation. These were no longer black and white images of the war to end all wars. These were young Tommies getting on with it. An impossible situation to live through, which millions didn’t. And they did. With haunting ordinaryness.
You don’t need me to tell you that the war was complex and far reaching. But it was ended ultimately by revolution from within, rather than clear military strategy from without. Something talked about little by anyone, uncluding Jackson’s ground level documentary. What the film did do was show British soldiers’ impressions of the captured Germans – and they said what should be obvious: “They were just like us, really. Nice boys, doing their best.” Ordinary people, caught up in all the bullshit. Caked in the mud that stuck to absolutely everything. Many of whom actually went on to rise up against the bullshit of imperial folly and depose the mad Kaiser. Ordinary three-dimensional people on the other side of the fence in the imagination of millions of allies, doing momentous things that they never got to hear about in the middle of their own stories of the war.
Which does make you remember, doesn’t it? The binification of us today is bullshit. And obviously there is one word on British lips at the moment that embodies the idea of division.
It’s getting close now, isn’t it? The crunch. When the B-word in some form or other is enacted for real over the once supposedly United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And the only thing that seems to be truly certain in the middle of everyone’s brittly brutal certainties is… uncertainty.
About what this latest dramatic story will really do to my country. I’ve said it many times, what is the fruit of it so far? Most of it is toxic ooze. Coating everything we eat. And gulp down.
Now, I’m such a painfully balanced and probably indolent sort of chap that I am absolutely part of my generation’s problem. I’ve been asleep to many things I should have been fighting for, largely because I haven’t had to fight for much culturally and partly because the things deserving the fight are so big I don’t know where to start. How depressingly normal of me. But I also try to see both sides in a dispute. If I had the courage, such an outlook might one day make me a good writer. Once I’ve really counted the cost of losing a fight.
I hate Brexit. The word itself is so godawful it sums up just how crap the whole idea, framed as it was, has always been. How fake, and hubristically ill-thought through. Entirely a willful gamble on quieting the barky end of the Conservative party, which worked out not so much, eh Dave? And we are all left with a country more divided culturally than by any economic policy championed by generations of right-of-centre economics.
Why has it gotten to us so much? This fake debate?
Because, regardless of any possible intervention into our heads from sly front line assaults in our global culture wars, on the torn-up turf of our social media streams, I think we are wedded to the question deeply anyway. Deeply enough to inspire the biggest vote turn out for anything since the end of the second world war. And forgetting any potential influencers and their links to other global events, and the fact that the Leave campaign technically broke British democratic law in its spending, which all signals significance in Brexit’s whole existence to me still, the culture wars have polarised us all across the world, not just under the shadow of Brexit. We’ve allowed ourselves to be pushed apart, staring across a carcassed muddy soup of no man’s land, going nowhere. Lobbing shells. Only one side or the other to choose from, all across our headlines. Some weird Lord of the flies we’ve decended into on our little island as much as anywhere. Something Stephen Fry might say is part of the infantilising of us. Something creative director Dave Trott I believe called the binification of us.
Perhaps the putting of us in the bin. And the loss of much dignity.
Well, if we’re talking binary certainties, I do think there are arguably two things going on in our Brexit debates, whenever we personally join in. Two things that have driven our wranglings around it, that would have driven it even without any help from outside influences.
One is the politics of strategy. What do we think is in the UK’s best interests now? We look for facts, figures, projections. But I think we do so more often than not in the light of the second thing. The politics of identity. Ignoring all the ‘agendas’ we imagine out there, our own connection to the Brexit vote comes down to this question: How do we see the EU in our minds? Of those who could be bothered to vote, we seem to picture either an imposition on our sovereignty and a threat to our democracy, or we picture a peace-fostering culture of co-operation that looks to a future beyond borders.
There’s no room for much in between. Despite the fact that something as massive as a pan-national cultural platform like the Europe project is just going to be a complex thing to neatly judge.
For me, all this is obviously a false narrative. Like most internet discussions – because we tend to force-frame the question. I’m not sure many of us are interested in getting at the truth, in a more Pompous Ancient Greek Philosophy Club hope, we mostly just want to justify how we’re feeling, it seems. And something about the world has us feeling much deeply at the moment, like a pile of dry tinder under our message threads.
Right now, we act as though we want each other to conform to our view of that one subject, and when we can’t find us as allies to our predispositions, we see us as Them. And click a blizzard of Likes to online criticisms of Them. We collectively sound a lot less forgiving than the armed Tommies going over the top into actual bullet blizzards a century ago.
Now, in my own instinctive Them-ising, this is something I’ve obviously tended to imagine happens more on the Leavers’ ‘side’ of the arguing than the ‘side’ I more instinctively identify with – not least because I do feel the whole thing was a set-up in the first place, rendering shouts of “Project Fear!” as one big projection from the real Project Fear – Project Division.
So you might think that a rally of remainers would be a tonic to me as a weary Europhile and condescending liberal snowflake. To hear voices of pleasant reason joining in unison, reminding me I’m not in fact taking the crazy pills we all feel we’re taking. Proving my assumptions comfortingly right again.
Attending the biggest of its kind to date in London, my first proper protest march experience was certainly a very polite and friendly affair, a far cry from some band of Tommy Robinson fetishisers. But it didn’t have the effect on me you might imagine.
I came home feeling rather heavy about it.
Something made the lovely first lady of Momo and I actually go to this one. The People’s Vote March. And on a bright sunny day belying any autumn chills, we found ourselves surrounded by nice people. The nice brigade. It had finally turned out. Ordinary middle class folk. Possibly 600,000 of them turning the streets of the capital into a very safe feeling festival of witty placcards and surprisingly single-minded intent, rather than the usual rabble of different protests that get swept up in lefty parades, you might scoff.
But, even though I began to see past the immediate whiteness of the demographic and spot a more diverse mix of Brits in the ranks, and certainly a diverse age range of us, I did feel something slowly sink into me as the day trod on. The gnawing sensation that all these nice people were still not listening to those who voted out. And why.
I’ll have no truck with any whitewashing of the sickening racial side of the Leave campaign, levered even in the past fortnight as I write by the Prime Minister, hoping to “end free movement once and for all”. Like this is a good thing. Not a tragedy for progress. Or with her idea of European citizens ‘queue jumping’ immigration lines somehow, like the UK wasn’t always responsible for its own immigration policy, firmly outside the Shengen Agreement as well as the Eurozone, but a lead member of the EU and its values. I won’t forget that the papers and UKIP and various others played heavily on fears of tides of terrorists sweeping up to the front door. All that happened in front of our eyes and we all let it get to us.
But it is true, I think, that for most Leave voters the issue was really about a sense of sovereignty. A perceived injustice to Britain’s. And that we should be able to talk about openly. As openly as fears about anything, including racial swamping of towns. No one should be getting labeled for speaking up. Not if we’re truly inclusive, and confidently so.
After all, the fulcrum of that much spattered about Greek-seated word democracy is the debating chamber. It’s the very shape of the Commons, the seat of the UK parliament. We have it out. We profer and challenge, argue and counter-challenge. We beat out the truth, right?
Or, in the end, we just create an awful lot of heat and little light at the end of the tunnel. Because no one wants the actual truth any more, right? We project fake news everywhere.
The thing is, I don’t want my friends demonised by asking questions. And I don’t want to be. If we imagine the modern world has brought us anything good, that choice, that voice, that right to be wrong or just different was built in significant part out of the enlightenment. A flowering of impirical scientific testing. A lusting after truth. A certainty in it that produced plenty of hubris and arrogance and pompous silliness along the way as ever we produce it today, but which also opened up the world to a totally different future. A future beyond the fudal.
So I don’t want to be labeled a remoaner. Because it’s divisive, pejorative bullshit. Which means I definitely won’t call you a brexshiteer. We know each other’s names, after all.
Now, I’m not sure how easily I take offense. I’m a preachy hypocrit and a little bit of a lush and I make wantonly un-hip unsellable music, so pop away. But I don’t want to be insulted as any one thing in my attempt to respond to my times. I also don’t want my EU rights taken away. Which they will be if Brexit happens as democratically expected by Leave voters.
Whatever I do or don’t want, I desperately don’t want us to forget the true costs of war; of how insidiously divisive language can craft us apart, all in our own imaginations. Of how much we depend on culture to keep us together, much more than military might. We should take note of the reframing of historic stories across the world, as certain leaders want to infantilise our devotions to much simpler narratives of winners, losers, black and white.
I won’t ever be truly unpartisan. Who is? I am bent into a liberal sort of shape and there’s probably no saving me now, I should say, and I do feel that in a time of such testing, the only thing left when the fires of fighting pass will be our values. Something we are lots of us feeling perhaps – the need to assert who we are and what we believe. And I feel like my values are being tested alright. Do I know what they really are, and can I live up to them? How infantalised am I still? Are we, still?
The challenge to us all at the moment might be to consider: What are my values worth? But not just to me, to the world?
The very adult point facing us is surely this: Right now, someone is going to lose something significant feeling from all this. And in our binifying culture wars, we will begin to find peace I think only when we acknowledge that we are all losing by this two-dimensional division.
Then we might begin to accept something that could really bring us together after conflict. Help us begin to heal. See each other as human above everything.
We shouldn’t bury this shared experience in history. In fact, it is art that will be how we will best make sense of it, recovering from the conflict.
But for the sake of dignifying each other, it’s surely time to put the bullshit in the bin.
Now, as a post-script, I realise this is a swerve to the ‘left’ here. I’d be interested to know your own reaction to this speech by MP for Tottenham, David Lammy. To me it feels like waking up from a fantastical nightmare. To hear a speech for something, and ideals that drove the UK’s cultural prominence beyond its days of Empire. It feels to me like Brexit will surrender such hopes and squander such assets, giving it all to the least deserving of us and most culpable for the planet’s ills.
But here I am succumbing to another fable, right?
Well, all visions start with stories. Understanding is shown in how you apply them out in the real world.
What’s your guiding story?
“Total independence is a fantasy…Sovereignty is not an asset to be hoarded. It’s a resource which only has value when it is spent.”
It’s a culture war we’re caught in. If it’s everyone who loses in a retreat behind borders, our first line duty is to put Art back in the forge.
God knows, I love stories. So do you. And – don’t flinch, Captain Culture – storytelling is going to be a useful word for a while yet, in framing our views of the world, when all views are being challenged. Go on, I dare you to use it without a twitch in front of your colleagues who are so agile they smirk at the word agile. Do it. Say storytelling in a *creative strategy* meeting. Make them roll their eyes, it’s adoreable how leading edge they are.
But, I feel reminded by an event this week. The future won’t simply be told, it will be made. And if we’re going to save it for all of us, in some grand notional declaration in a time of ugly conflicts, then here is one: It’s not weapons we’ll need, it’s tools.
If you’re an activist-minded person who’s even half awake, you’re going to tell me we are above all at this point in human history in a culture war. And actual fascists are martialling actual funds to seize actual political power across the west – so when will anyone go out to actually meet them?
And you’re right.
But meet them with what?
Lastnight I took a train to the capital to attend a thing. Been to a couple of them in recent months, things. And at these things, lots of nice clever people turn up and want to listen to other clever and often nice but better known people talk about things. Especially now, when there’s rather a lot to talk about. Lastnight’s thing caught me with it’s title, which is why I went: “Here and Now: A Creative Vision for Europe”
Run by DiEM25, the progressive democracy in Europe movement, it brought together some jolly cultural sounding people indeed – art music god and Bowie chum Brian Eno, rockstar economist Yanis Varoufakis, actual rockstar from Primal Scream Bobby Gillespie, the artist Danae Stratou and the erudite Rosemary Bechler of Open Democracy, among others.
And they were all inspiring and well articulated in the discussion hosted in Central St Martins’ Platform Theatre.
It was an evening full of great quotes, good analysis, helpful ways of seeing some things around us in democratically challenging times, all lit at a cultural angle. “Yanis Varoufakis spoke of the importance of collective, creative intervention and highlighted @diem_25’s aim to create a collaborative agenda for cultural democratic policy” as St Martins tweeted, which he did and it was insightful. And at the end of the whole evening, I couldn’t help feeling the event still didn’t quite do what I think we are utterly compelled to do at the moment: Imagine actual ways to respond, creatively.
There were many wise take-homes – but no new story.
Which is a shame, because if there was one major take-home from the whole thing, it is the clarity that what we are living through right now is indeed a culture war. A war of ideas. Of outlooks. Of… go on: narratives.
What marks do we make on the Now around us? The Now of fearsome realities Really? We can say that today we are, in our greatest numbers, much more used to being only consumers of culture than makers, shapers. But creativity has never been more democratic – outside the old “systems”. Technologically and socially, kind of anyone can Have A Go at creative production. Making content.
Thing is, those old systems of creative training had so much to help ordinary people find time to play – space to do thinking coupled crucially with bodily trying. But also doing it in a context of teaching and learning. One that could be a bear pit of petulant tutors and demon ruthless crits – but an essential kind of basic training, perhaps. Now we all play in the badlands. We play in the traffic. Formal art training is out of financial reach for most. Which seems depressing.
But does this mean culture is sold or just more widely diseminated? Waiting to be more deeply activated.
In political mark making, those on the “left” may be used to worthy causing and deploying rich language about social openness, justice. And amen – I love a salon. But it can all be shrouded in techno gabble of its own, I think. NGO and activist speak. Someone even quoted Oscar Wilde at the event – that socialism hasn’t taken over the world because the meetings are too long and too boring. No kidding.
So I want to ask, aside from the meetings, the salons, the ideas bashing about – which is all potentially inspiring and empowering – where are the tools to make marks on tomorrow, not just pieces of paper, or screens? Where are the tools to build the culture of a more sustainable future? What tools are we actually fashioning to do the job?
I think the mark being made on human history on our watch is that we are being carved apart with the blade of Victimhood. Phantoms, wraiths, ghosts – conjoured characters and stories – that somehow cut deep between the marrow of our social mix. Because of injustices unaddressed, chaoses unresovled, demons not exorcised. Truths we feel… inside.
What cultural tools do we even need to combat that?
If our two “sides” are fighting with different weapons, speaking different languages, then never mind how we even engage the “enemy” – how do we engage our friends? What are the tools and the building materials of the bridge to the more radically inclusive future? Because that’s the only sustainable one. The one to which we’re all invited. The one in which we all lose less.
If we are to defeat a culture war that many believe is the assault of a small number of people trying to hold on to old power in the face of fundamental changes coming, I have been thinking for a while that it’s time we truly woke up to the culture we’re all caught in.
A culture of disconnection. Even our heads from our bodies. Our living from the living planet. Our ambitions from our wellness. Our fears from reality. Our current popular idea of what art is from what it really is: Everyone’s. It is the tool we need to reconnect ourselves with the truth inside us – the very job storytelling is supposed to do. Not simply distract us, but have us walk through scenarios. Demonstrate ideas to us. And emotional truth – the thing we’re all really working around.
I think any cultural strategy has to give us practices to encourage openness. In in all we do. Whomever we meet. To habitualise facing truths together – yours, mine, theirs, ours. And this is surely about encouraging an openness to play. To be curious. To make marks. To testify… and to so find the emotional self possession to listen.
To do this, we must put our very idea of “Art” back in the forge. Melt it down in our minds.
Because art isn’t just mine. The “creative’s”. It isn’t the professional or aspiring artist’s. It’s everyone’s – our tool for reconciling truths in us, for exploring who we are and how we express ourselves as social, empathic creatures – how we connect – to others.
Now, I love a good tee shirt print. Even though I dislike wearing tee shirts – shirt’s gotta have a collar for me. But what is a tee shirt print? It’s a bit of branded merch. Let’s not waste the culture war only selling tees at the concert, however fun and playful tees and concerts are. We’ve got to do way more than that as already practicing artists and creatives.
We need to lead the way in fashioning the tools – the projects, the practices, the inclusions, the hellos, the playings – to equip every human as fellow artist.
The first job might be to get over our twitch at how tossy this sounds. Because that’s where our culture of disconnection has gotten us – art sounds tossy. Getting over this bullshit as much as the bullshit jobs of global culture is how we might clear mental space to write genuinely new stories of us. It’s how we might turn the page.
We surely demonstrate by doing our own work. But art is really the truth of testimony – and testimony can be powerfully crucial inspiration. It’s only the beginning, I think. Inculcating the future means practicing it, habitualising it, not giving up through the pains and failures and disallusionments and criticisms of it. And what is this if not the whole life experience of the artist.
If the artist is a storyteller, she or he is surely more fully a teacher. Not meant to only work in isolation, but using their empathetic skills and their talents of articulation to help others make vital new connections. And learn how to keep doing so for themselves. Do more than just make more content to drown in, but make deeper, truer, more inspiring, more empowering human connections.
We live in a pandemic of mental unwellness. It is a symptom of what’s wrong in our culture, I firmly believe. A sign to us, if we can suddenly see it. A sign we must begin to reconnect our heads to our bodies and our living bodies to the living planet they’re made out of. Kit Hill’s striking circus movement piece at the top of the evening was surely symbolic even beyond it’s shapes and story. “All the language around circus is politically negative – the balancing acts, the clowns, the very theatre of the media – but it’s such a personally empowering art form” she said afterwards. Art that makes you practice connection to your body more than any, but typifying the very hand-eye, muscle and mind vitality of the practice of any art. Why should only St Martins students benefit from this?
I think we shouldn’t hope to be activists but encouragers – working to help activate the creativity in all of us. The connected flow we will need between everyone in our one big shared conflict of trying to properly sort through our shit.
This might be what love really is. A will to encourage truer human flows. Let’s be utterly compelled to express that. Inspire that. I feel like I’ve barely started such a new story or how to forge those practical tools to make it. But the future depends on us doing so.
Someone quoted what may have been Marx lastnight, which will surprise you not a bit. Most political moves draw their poetry from the past. The truly radical political interventions will have to draw its poetry from the future.
It’s time to pull art out of the fire and make it into a tool much better fit for our purpose. Because we’re all going to have to dig deep for victory.