Saturday, 11 May 2013

Some thoughts on officialdom

I have been thinking a lot about my art. Things like what to prioritise on my very long to-do list, what formats are best for the messages I want to send and also where I want my work to sit in the wider world. These are questions that don't really involve anyone but me and require no real negotiation with other people's agendas.

Although my art has been part of exhibitions, they have been very much in my control and within community spaces. This is deliberate. I've never wanted anything to do with the 'art world' and I have absolutely no desire to earn a living through my creative labour. For the most part, my low expectations of myself as an 'artist' have been mirrored by a complete lack of interest from the official art world, with one exception.

The inclusion of my poster in the Occuprint portfolio has put me in contact with a range of official people and institutions. For anyone who doesn't know, the Occuprint website is a space to gather graphics from around the world inspired by the Occupy movement and make them freely available for anyone else to use. Each design is offered as a free digital download and all the artists provide as much detail about themselves as they want. The page with my graphic includes my name, my current location and a link to this blog. 

For the portfolio, a set of posters was chosen by a panel of activist community groups, screen printed and then sold to institutions like museums and university galleries. In many of these institutions, the level of detail publicly available about each artist does not conform to their requirements. I have received multiple emails demanding that I provide my date and place of birth. One even stated it was vital to ensure they credited the correct printmaker with my name. Nowhere have I ever described myself as a printmaker. I wasn't even the person who screen printed my poster.  

More recently, I received a request that I send a print quality version of my poster to a gallery because they might choose to include it in a book they are publishing. Just as a reminder, all the posters on Occuprint are available as free downloads to anyone. If someone wants the screen printed posters, they can purchase the portfolio. The assumption from this institution is that I will use my time and effort to provide them with something special (resize my work to fit their criteria) because it might be on a gallery wall and it might be included in a book. Also, the deadline was two days after they sent the email. 

So far, I have ignored all of these requests.
I can't remember exactly which of his books it comes from, but I was immediately struck when I read Sandor Katz describe himself as an "enthusiastic generalist" as a way of denying other people's need to position him as a fermentation "expert" or "specialist". His books take that ethos and completely run with it. You may be reading a book about wild fermentation but the breadth of topics, ideas and philosophies he waxes lyrical about is astounding and inspiring. He also randomly uses his other name, Sandorkraut, a name that embodies his longstanding love for fermentation.

This is punk. This is DIY culture. This is where I want to align myself. This is the answer to that question; where do I want my work to sit in the wider world?

Like Katz, I am an "enthusiastic generalist". I am not a printmaker, like that gallery wanted me to be. I'm also not a street artist, a visual artist or even an artist. My participation in these forms of creativity doesn't trump my participation in a community garden, in a samba band or in sustaining my relationships with the people I love. They are no more important in defining who I am than the creativity I use to cook, to knit, to garden, to (try to) fix my bike or to think and interrogate the world around me.

Like Sandorkraut, I'll continue to randomly attribute what I do to the Caged Bird Club or Pivo or Lindsay or Lindsay Draws. Sometimes I'll use the full name my parents gave me. Sometimes I'll use no name at all, like when I put my stuff up on the streets. I may even start to use my art blog just to write what I'm thinking.

Officialdom relies on parameters. It relies on consistency. It relies on specialists, experts and professionals. It exists by separating who is deemed valuable from who isn't. What really differentiates it from DIY culture is that it relies on those who have been accepted by it believing they are more important, more unique and more deserving than those who have not. 

Fuck that. I'll continue to ignore it.

No comments: