Sunday, 9 September 2012

Graduate/Graddedig 2012

I went along to the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff last night to the opening of a survey show curated from Wales' graduate courses by Carmarthenshire artist and educator, Peter Finnemore. The show was displayed within the main body of the Centre on three floors and, as Peter Finnemore outlined in his Curators Notes, the architecture of the venue was influential on the choices as well as the quality of the works. It is not an easy space at all in which to show artworks, and with that taken into account it was a good show; it is heartening to see the quality of new work being produced here.

I particularly liked Peter's insightful comments in the introduction of the exhibition catalogue, a clear statement of the political dangers inherent in an environment of austerity and financial anxiety where the arts are a soft target for swingeing cuts.

"...It is well documented that the creative arts (in its many forms) is one of the biggest industries within the UK. It is a tool for regeneration, it drives wealth and it enriches individual well-being, communities and culture. It can also be utilized as a soft power to increase national standing and promotion upon the international stage. A career within the arts is a useful and productive life. The arts and humanities are not a luxury but a necessity. Creative thinking and the acquirement and mastery of artistic skills in traditional and new technological forms are essential to new economies, which themselves are driven by innovation, invention and imaginative problem solving. Creativity is capital.

An investment in art and education is an investment for the future. George Orwell’s laments on the failings of the UK were likened to the wrong family members being in charge; this is true in 2012 as it was in 1941. A political climate of austerity and anxiety, the rise in tuition fees, the arts and humanities being a soft target for cuts, bodes to the fostering of a new dark age upon culture and innovation. Fine Art courses are the creative emblem for any arts based universities; the closing down of an arts course with strong historical traditions, such as the fine art course at the University of Newport, is folly. However this model of thinking is not for everyone, there is room for expansion of the arts; for example, Trinity St David’s in Carmarthen will be starting a new BA (hons) course in Fine Art and Design (Celf a Dylunio) mediated through the Welsh language and a bilingual MA beginning this September.

Set amongst this background there is a continuing personal, social and cultural need for expression, creativity and innovation. Current graduates have a professional outlook upon art making activities and a career within the arts; this exhibition gives evidence to this and the quality and diverse creativity of the arts produced in colleges throughout Wales..." 
from Peter Finnemore, Curator's Notes

I also enjoyed being a passive 'performer' in Tiff Oben's MA piece, VIP Area. It was initiated with a formal RSVP invitation sent out through Tiff's mailing list to attend an exclusive VIP event at the opening with complimentary Möet and Chandon champagne. We were required to attend in formal wear and told that the door staff would be refusing entry to informally dressed guests.

"Tiff Oben’s participatory installation, VIP Area, is activated and extended through the viewer’s unknowing participation as they act as central protagonists within the works’ narratives. Blurring the boundaries between reality and performance art, the elitist opening event wilfully aims to create an antagonizing sense of difference within the viewing- audience. The strict and prejudicial entrance requirements upheld by doormen divide friends and acquaintances, segregating and generating a sense of otherness between those on the inside and those on the out. The viewer on the outside focuses, often surreptitiously, on the revelry on the inside. Their exclusion is integral to the work which visualizes and makes an exhibition of exclusivity. Negative responses, confusion, anger, bafflement and division are deliberately and unethically fostered so that it becomes truly inclusive (despite exclusions) and truly participatory (even with those who feel that they could not, or are not allowed to, participate). Thus the politics of viewing are inverted as the viewer becomes
the subject of the work of grotesque, excitement, repression, beauty, fun, and the mundane."
From Graduate/Graddedig 2012 catalogue.

I liked the insider-outsider tensions that were set up, and the clever layers of looking that were at play. I don't really own much in the way of formal wear, so that was a challenge before I even got to the venue - I felt suitably discomfited.  It was smart to set this up within the opening of an art exhibition, an event seemingly run-through with exclusive and excluding protocol.

In a similar vein, I've thought a lot recently about the 'Private View' as a phenomena and an accepted term within the art world, it is curiously misleading. For any arts organisation in receipt of public funding, the evaluated focus of pretty much all and every activity is inclusivity and reach into the community, it is only within the purely commercial sector that the term has any true meaning - an event to court the wealthy collector/buyer to part with their cash in advance of the onslaught of the hoi-polloi. I'm all for an opening celebration, but the persistence of 'Private View' as a term means something; something rather dubious perhaps about the institutions of art. The democracy espoused within a lot of art practice and insisted upon through arts funding maintains a revealing dissonance with the protocols and language of the industry.

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