The two day pop-up exhibition LOCAL, combines a curious mix of visual documentation from voluntary activists and unworldly contemporary art from both Fine Art graduates and the untutored.
The concept is simple, to produce a show that is as uncurated as it is possible to achieve within the template laid down by current formal expectations of how to deliver an ‘art event’. A reasonable aim, -yet this honest endeavour was almost aborted in the final week of preparations as tensions surrounding current ‘art show’ protocol forced a newspaper to be asked by an event sponsor to remove an online article about the exhibition’s purpose.
Not exactly a new methodology, TATE summarises Nicholas Bourriaud’s approach to Relational Aesthetics’ modus operandii thus:
‘A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.
He saw artists as facilitators rather than makers and regarded art as information exchanged between the artist and the viewers. The artist, in this sense, gives audiences access to power and the means to change the world.’
Working for two decades as a Community/Outsider Artist before taking a degree in Fine Art, I was always bemused by how these seemingly related genres appeared poles apart practically, with wildly different approaches and sensibilities, and divided in many cases along class lines. Yes, the Fine Art world is a microculture, an evolved cult that survives with help from a network of funding bodies that ultimately doffs it’s cap to politicians and big business.
Community and Public Art gets what it’s given, – basically scraps since austerity measures were introduced.
Researching grass-roots, organic phenomena such as Liberate Tate, and encouraged by a Patrick Brill (Bob and Roberta Smith) lecture ‘Galleries Should Be More Like Newspapers’ at the Liverpool Biennial and an Art Fair discussion in Manchester featuring Kwong Lee and Pavel Buchler on new potentials for the local artist in a global art world, the integrity of a show like LOCAL became theoretically justified as an art experiment.
The disconnect between corporate and public needs, I feel, has seen the erosion of trust between the public and the powerful, leading to a growing sense of hopelessness and exclusion. The ‘metropolitan elite’ being blind-sided by Brexit and the tragedy of the wilfully ignored residents of Grenfell are the most obvious recent examples.
With the temporary use of a Bolton town centre shop, the LOCAL team enable direct engagement between pro-active volunteers and the non-gallery-going public in an informal atmosphere to discuss local country, urban and town, environmental and social development.
Controversially described by The Guardian last month as ‘a nothing of a town’ and with the 7th highest shop vacancy rate in the country, it could be argued that Bolton needs all the offers of free help it can get from its concerned residents
Although LOCAL almost becomes a Situationist prank in its naive and almost unfiltered content, the objective is platform accessibility, not critical acclaim.
LOCAL deliberately set out to create a kind of art laboratory in which these conflicts can be released and addressed, and for many reasons, artists and other ‘free radicals’ are suitably qualified for this role.
In the 2015 general election, Brill stood as a parliamentary candidate on a pro-arts platform, in a high profile campaign that regularly achieved mainstream media coverage. But the problem with engaging in contests manufactured by the establishment is that they support the charade of democracy by validating a corrupt system with an apparent ‘wild card’.
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
In that same election however, the artist Picturesmash, entering as an Independent candidate under his real name and whose manifesto was a wordless semi-abstract painting, gained a greater tally of votes with a zero advertising budget and using only social media to communicate with the electorate.
You will be excused for not knowing this because it was not reported anywhere. Mr Smash simply did not play by the media’s rules of engagement.
The evidence is clear.
Unless ‘news’ is processed by a feeder from a PR source, it can go unreported.
Unless we begin to acknowledge grass root voices in some kind of public arena that encourages the disengaged to participate, the corporate machine will only increase its size and power.
‘Nothing’ towns country-wide need a new vision to address this imbalance and the raw materials of empty shops, artists and activists needed to rebuild the broken model are lying all around us.
Should the master provide the tools ?