WANTED: More Public Art

September 15, 2008

“I’d like to be driving down Hanover Street one day,” said Chen, “and just happen to see some performance art, or a video projection on the side of some abandoned building.”

These words came out of the mouth of SuperPlus don Wayne Chen at the recent awards ceremony of the Under-40 Exhibition which SuperPlus sponsors.  No problem, Wayne!  A proposal and a budget soon reach yuh office.

(People!?!!  Beg unnu put unnu ‘ead togedda an’ do someting nuh? Maybe something in time for the next KOTE? After having being in Rhode Island and Chicago this year and seen the ways that art can completely saturate public space, and after seeing all the stuff that people are doing and selling on the sidewalk that should be up on a wall, a ceiling, somewhere else, I don’t think we have a shortage of talent, content or skill.)

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21 Responses to “WANTED: More Public Art”

  1. ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID Says:

    Yes, indeed, art in public spaces does have a humanizing,civilizing and enlightening quality. Way to go Mr.Chen ! Hopefully,individuals will take advantage of this opportunity/offer.

  2. Jamaican Dawta Says:

    Maybe the folks at Edna Manley Visual Arts could catch this vision, if not already, and get something started. Collaborate with the relevant agencies. As you said, put their heads together.

  3. Long Bench Says:

    Public art is not the purview of institutions, at all, or only. Public art generally comes from the initiative of artists or art-conscious persons who have a vision about how art can transform a particular space, and people’s experience of that space. Sometimes institutions with deep pockets will sponsor public art; after all, there is the matter of installation as well as upkeep; that Wayne Chen seems willing to voice such a need suggests that he might be willing to consider supporting such work. That remains to be seen.

    To put the responsibility for public art on Edna Manley is really a way for the rest of us to sit back and ask rather than do. Certainly, individuals who are schooled there could take advantage of their institutional affiliation to organize a collective of sorts. But that’s not the school’s job to do the work; I wonder if any of their courses focus on the role of public art in society (besides the tired monument debate), or their students are trained to think of themselves as artists in society. I think KOTE was a great example of how artists can simply do their art and make useful contributions to public life, without waiting for permission.

  4. Jamaican Dawta Says:

    Okay, I understand more fully now. Thanks for the clarification.

  5. Annie Paul Says:

    LB,

    i think one SHOULD expects students at Edna Manley to be at the forefront of the kind of artmaking that Wayne C is advocating. i think he was expressing regret tht Ja hasn’t seen more of these kind of artistic interventions which is increasing where art is going elsewhere. but over here we’re still operating by and large with antiquated artistic conventions. students at Edna M are taught more about ‘representing’ their race (!) than about more plugged into their society kind of art. there’s a disturbing myopia there which is echoed by the virtual blindness of our business classes who only want to buy the art of dead old Jamaicans and put it down in a warehouse rather than funding new kinds of artistic vision.

    Having said all that in hte last few years a new generation of young artists has come to the fore against all odds that promises to deliver something more exciting and meaningful using new media, not paint and canvas and sculpture.

    we are so out of touch with the rest of the world where art is concerned its not funny. Yet we pat ourselves on the back and constantly pump up what is essentially a vacuous art scene…no one else is impressed but us…

  6. Annie Paul Says:

    i mean “which is increasingLY where art is going elsewhere.”

  7. longbench Says:

    Annie – you are right in that we should expect the very folks at an institution that we collectively invest in to be offering some return on the investment. Instead, they are busy forwarding their own careers in the narrowest way possible!!

    With the issues you raise – the obsessive navel-gazing about representing racial and national identity in the “right” way, to the exclusion of anything else – I really don’t think we should be waiting or depending on them to wake up and smell the resin anytime soon.

    I say let the un-schooled ones take the lead and show these oversocialized artists how to create art that is grounded in values and ideals that we can all learn from. Backwards is how we do things. You know that already Annie. Maybe somebody ought to light a fire under those students’ backsides, but the institution’s conservatism is quite formidable. I’ll provide the matches, if that will help.

    I posted this article because I think its important for all of us to take some responsibility for making these things happen. Grassroots efforts may be small, but they are also incremental.

  8. diatribalist Says:

    I have an idea. Basically I’d cordon off the entrance to Gordon House with police tape, draw body outlines on the sidewalk and arrange for a copious amount of red, thick blood-like liquid to flow down Duke St, all the way to Parade.

    Do you think I could get funding for that public art?

    Or better yet, performance art: Why not interrupt the next beginning session of parliament with a crew of about 30 ppl laying in the middle of Duke St and playing dead while wearing tattered green and orange t-shirts that appear stained with blood. Where can I apply for a grant?

  9. Annie Paul Says:

    hey DD,

    didn’t know you were a budding artist! your ideas put you right in the forefront of contemporary art, apply to the Andy Warhol Foundation for a grant or locally to the Chase Fund–i suspect the latter would simply chase you away tho’– seriously either one of those proposals is right on the mark, can you imagine the impact it would have?

    LB: this is why i’ve been drawing attention to people like Peter Dean Rickards of the Afflicted Yard or Ricky Culture–they’re pretty much self-taught and doing far more interesting stuff than the ‘chosen’ overtrained ones.

    Trini artists are much more creative. a couple of years ago Marlon Griffith did a project that involved a team of young people donning the kind of vests police wear–written across the chest was the word POLITE–and they spent the day being polite to everyone, helping children and old people cross roads etc it was a surprisingly effective intervention. when at the end of a good day’s work they went to a pub and started having a few drinks a little old lady came and berated them for setting such a poor example! needless to say she thought they were real police–

  10. longbench Says:

    DD – I am on board with that. Yuh nuh need no grant fi do dat eeda. Just gyadda yuh peeps and tell me wha’ yuh want mi fi do. Done. I have been generating MANY of these ideas for a while; everytime one more set o’ fuckery come up, I put one more thing on the list. Too bad I haven’t met anyone bold (and reliable) enough to do them with. I wanted to do the body outline thing in front of the houses of every one of the members of parliament.

    I’m working on a couple ideas right now: one is propaganda graffitti that is removable – there one minute, gone the next – what mind fuck, I am thinking; one to do with “documenting” rape, and the other has to do with creating “public documents” and mailing them to Gordon House.

    Annie — LOVE the “Polite” performance!!!

    Wouldn’t it be great if we came up with an idea that interested people could do without having met each other?


  11. Yes, I think we need to get together and give Mr. Chen a proposal today!! Art we are not short of in this country!

  12. ART:Jamaica Says:

    At the risk of putting my foot in my mouth as one of the sadly overly-trained artists from Edna Manley College, I will try to add to this passionate discussion. I do think that Edna Manley can’t be blamed for the state of the artists, nor the artists, nor collectors etc. In the 70’s and 80’s the art school was quite cutting edge but as is the case with most movements and happenings, they become institutions. Look back at all the exciting happenings in the arts internationally. An idea takes hold, it inspires for a moment and then in order for this idea to have longevity it must establish itself. The college of once avant-garde thought has now simply become an institution. It is hard to get away from this as many of those active in those exciting times are now near retirement or retired senior lecturers and administrators or have also sadly passed away. This left space I suppose for a new generation of distractedness to seep in.

    Having worked at Edna Manley, I have first hand experience of the kinds of students the institution is forced to take in to remain running. The idea of ‘art’ has disappeared in Jamaica. No longer do eager high school students yearn to do something edgy, creative, interesting and provoking and think of Edna Manley as the place for that. Many of my students were at the institution because they could did not fit in with our academic university system, due to poor grades or lack of interest or simply felt they could make money by doing the commercial art which surrounds them everywhere. This is not to say that interesting young artists are not moulded and a few potential individuals are not discovered and encouraged. The institution has however in many ways tried to keep this spirit of activism alive as evident in a crop of new artists as mentioned above e.g. Christopher Irons, Keishs Costello, Ebony Patterson, Khepera Oluyia. etc. On the other hand many of these are accused of seeking self discovery through their work rather than true political engagement. Perhaps this is true that there is a level of apathy for politcal interests and more concern with art industry activity. These artists seek what it is seen as felt to be natural for New York, Asian and London art scene artists to do: travel, study and exposure all for the pursuit of aristic growth and fame.

    I have asked myself this question quite often however in trying to understand my role as artist in Jamaica. Why am I defined by certain standards that are separate from my culture. In Western culture embracing technology, the body, social intervention through performance purely as a medium is a natural extension of a history belonging to them. It happened organically. Perhaps these things then should not be the requirement of a socially and politically involved artist in Jamaica. Our response to society and commentary on it will not be the same.

    Having said a mouthful, I just want to mention that change takes time and happens one pebble after the other as we all acknowledged. Several of us are engaged in activities which we view as the small axe to fell the big tree. There is an underground and the wave is coming.

  13. Annie Paul Says:

    Well, there’s the problem right there…thinking that things like performance are Western culture, not indigenous and all this as the Bajans would say shiite.

    “In Western culture embracing technology, the body, social intervention through performance purely as a medium is a natural extension of a history belonging to them. It happened organically. Perhaps these things then should not be the requirement of a socially and politically involved artist in Jamaica. Our response to society and commentary on it will not be the same.”

    Art itself is a Western concept, so we’re already dealing with something that is non-indigenous. so are physics, chemistry, sociology and many other subjects we all study and do. not that countries like India and Nigeria didn’t have their own forms of physics or mathematics but that is not what we teach or study at university, the subjects taught are profoundly Western. Let’s not agonize too much over this.

    this angst about doing something truly and exclusivly ‘indigenous’ is a trap that has paralyzed a lot of people here. like anything else whatever your chosen field, art is a language being spoken by artists all over the world.there are many different conversations being held and performance, site-specific work etc just happen to be the conversations with the most currency right now just as track and field is the Olympic sport with the most glamour and worldwide interest.

    When Marlon Griffith comes up with the ‘Polite’ idea he is contributing to this conversation from Trinidad. i just wonder why our precious artists find it so difficult to participate in any conversation outside of upper st andrew?? They end up really contributing nothing to anything…and nor are they creating some ground-breaking new paradigm of art that is truer to Jamaica/the Caribbean than performance and all the other genres of art…

    fortunately Jamaica’s fabled musicians didnt’ waste time thinking that “embracing technology, the body, social intervention through performance purely as a medium is a natural extension of a history belonging to THEM”–that is Western culture. they readily embraced not only the technology, they borrowed tunes to begin with, covered songs, stole lyrics, but in 40 years they had transformed all this into a musical powerhouse that is actually trendsetting worldwide. Jamaican visual artists have a lot to learn from their example. again something Wayne Chen has been saying for some time…

  14. diatribalist Says:

    @ ART:Jamaica:If the inputs of the institutions in Jamaica are students with poor grades; it is no wonder the output is anemic and lacking innovation.

    I have a theory that I am convinced is true; it’s this: — if you’re a Jamaican who wants recognition for something novel and avante gard (call it indigenous innovation) then you can’t get it from Jamaicans until you get it from Americans or Britons or Europeans! And too often you can insert {{black people}} for {{Jamaicans}} and {{white people}} where it says {{Americans et al.}} Perfect example is patwa, or should I say patois. If white people were coming to Jamaica to learn it we’d embrace it as a language. Instead, as it is African, in original the PM chastises us to learn German; which is apparently a global language! Second perfect example is Bob Marley.

    If these artists really want recognition I would advise them to do avante-gard stuff geared at an international audience. Find international competitions and exhibition opportunities and then wait for Jamaican acclaim to follow.

    @ Longbench: I think the trick is to find some small scale projects to do to gain a foothold. As you mention it I now have a wild idea that is too late. What if someone had dressed up as a mummy swaddled in bandages spray-painted orange, and worn a cardboard placard saying “Duppy Delegate” then tried to enter the national arena to vote in the PNP elections. If media cameras were available it would be quite a spectacle. Imagine the interview:-
    Media: Are you a part of Team PNP or Arise and Renew?
    Duppy Delegate: Well I am certainly arisen, but my vote depends who let off more money.


  15. […] was only last week that Long Bench provoked thought in her post on public art. This invitation couldn’t be more […]

  16. longbench Says:

    DD – you are a mess! 🙂 Put “Duppy Candidate” in comic form, please!! You know, such ideas take on a life of their own only when in conversation with other like-minded folks. So jus’ try nuh wait too long fi come back come lap shift wid di res o we.

    Art:Jamaica – I don’t even know whe fi begin fi ansa yuh. When I hear you blaming the “quality” of students, depicting the notion of artists’ engaging in conversations with their home environment as a “foreign” ting and not a part of your “culture”, me really haffi stop fi a minute.

    Do you HEAR the elitism and sheer disdain for your fellow citizens in your response? I most certainly do.

    I don’t know for whom Edna Manley College was an avant-garde institution or what spirit of activism it is cultivating, but that entire framing is very problematic.

    Art does not belong to institutions, nor to particular groups of people in Jamaica. To the extent that this institution has been implicated in creating a hierarchy among artists, that is a serious problem (I did notice the “lightness” of those doing doing sculpture, glasswork, and metalsmithing, but I have kept my mouth shut till now.) I suspect that the folks who are teaching at that institution, including those whose passing you lament, may well be part of the stifling of creativity even among those who did not intend to become artists. I’m now wondering what would have happened to me if I had gone there.

    How artists engage is related to their perspectives on the world, and what they think is important to say. Artists relay their message through their art for the rest of us to interact with. If you don’t have anything to say, or can’t figure out what to say, then you won’t be able to define your individual role.

    It seems to me that too many artist folks like yourself far are just too caught up in defining “the role of the Artist” within the narrowest possible parameters (ie. “national identity”, “indigenous art”, “activism”) that only imprisons any and everyone contaminated by that kind of thinking. The few that are trying to escape the clutches of these narrowly defined terms will be branded as dissidents but they will continue to do their thing. What distinguishes all the folks you mention: they have a clear critique. You don’t have to agree with them, but they are SAYING something that taps into conversations that are so so rare in Jamaica these days. They remind us that although this place is small (in size and so many other ways), we can still talk about big ideas. When I view their work, I am moved to speak, to respond and to dialogue, even if in disagreement.

    Annie is right: if the art world is to grow and thrive in Jamaica, young artists like yourself might want to start taking the home space seriously and engaging with the place, rather than focus so much on “representing” the place and determining who is a REAL “Jamaican” artist. Enough of that already! And for god’s sake, engage with artists outside of Jamaica!

    Skinnin’ up one’s nose at the “riff-raff” might be perfectly ok among the elites and those who aspire to such status in Ja, but here and in the rest of the world, its the riff-raff that are doing the most exciting things. Yes indeed, sample how working-class men have turned up their noses at the Music establishment and created a form that has taken on a life of its own. Is the job of Jamaican artists to create another “sensation” like dancehall? No, it is to create art that nourishes, challenges and affirms us, all at once. That’s all I ask.

  17. Ian Ward Says:

    Was ich nicht ganz verstehe ist das einige Kommentatoren westlich und indigen gegeneinander ausspielen. Gerade in der Karibik ist dies doch offensichtlich ahistorisch. Was mir ebenso befremdlich vorkommt ist die leidige patwa Debatte. Wenn man nicht lesen und schreiben kann ist es doch wohl scheissegal in welcher Sprache, zumal die finanziellen Mittel Jamaikas ja noch nicht einmal fuer eine Sprache reiche.
    Wenn Diatribalist nun Deutsch gelernt haette koennte er die auch lesen.

  18. Ian Ward Says:

    Okay Longbench wants me to translate:

    What I don´t quite understand is why some commentators try to pit western and indigenous against each other. It seems quite ahistorical the caribbean context.
    Another point is the patois/patwa debate. If you`re not literate it does not matter in which language, besides Jamaica´s resources do not sem to be enough for one language.
    If D. had learned German he would be able to read this post.

    Better?

    Ian

  19. longbench Says:

    IW — Now that we are speaking a common language :-&

    I don’t even want to say much about the patwa debate, because ah just get vex all over again. I am completely stymied that anybody would take some of the naysayers seriously. I mean, come on, how the hell can calling/treating patwa a language be a problem? Perception (based on all kinds of prejudices and misinformation) is not the same as reality, and we ought not to concede that just because a vocal few think that patwa is the downfall of Jamaica (whe’ crime an’ corruption gawn?) that it is, in fact, true. Fluency in a language is also a method for accessing and interpreting information. The argument dat really piss me off is when dem come chat bout how if is only we one chat patwa, den nobady else nah go able fi understand we. What me want to know is if anybody ever ask that question ’bout German, Italian or Portuguese? PM only want we fi chat German so we can get more money from di German tourist dem. Di rent-a-dred dem a gwa’an wid dat a’ready. Yes, I see you have made much progress on that [language] front. So what did you mean by the phrase “besides Jamaica’s resources do not sem [sic] to be enough for one language?”

    On the false dichotomy b/w “western” and “indigenous”: You are right; I am noticing that foregrounding this dichotomy has become a popular strategy for defining and defending certain boundaries, as well as to preclude certain conversations or ideas from entering the discussion.

    To me, just because there has been lots of energy put into valorizing Africa/blackness thru promoting specific themes/practices in Jamaican culture doesn’t mean that’s the only place we should remain. There is much much more to be done, thought, said, even on that topic. The problem is, we have learned to be quite defensive of “Jamaicanness”. Its hard to be open and willing to entertain complexity when we’re trying to keep the zinc fence standing against imagined winds. Is America we trying to keep out? Well, the fence may be up, but there’s no roof. We, especially those who are artists of all stripes, really have to work on not being so one-dimensional in our thinking and practice. And we also have to work harder at encouraging more openness and cultivating diversity in our thinking and approach to life. Otherwise, this is going to be one boring asylum.

  20. Ian Ward Says:

    I simply mean the energy and research put into elevating patwa to language status could be used for literacy campaign or any other worthwhile cause. I do not look down on anyone using patwa ,nation language or whatever you want to call it and know that no one else should either.
    Speaking German comes in handy when you need to read the manual of your Benz, Audi or BMW, that would be for uptown,whereas the rent-a-dread would do well expanding their language skills beyond “alles klar”

    Oh and I just forgot the extra E

  21. longbench Says:

    IW – you are absolutely right about where our energies SHOULD be spent. Indeed, art is a brilliant vehicle to encourage and facilitate literacy, but the ministry of ed folks who have taken charge of the literacy issue don’t seem know that they don’t need to pay for that idea. It’s right here, free on this blog!

    Well, since I don’t plan to own one o’ dem machines anytime soon, the chances of me learning that language just declined significantly.

    As fi de rent-a-dread dem, acquisition of language is purely utilitarian. If dem can get some pumpum, that might be become a ticket to Germany and a chance to own/drive that Beemer. Not much different attitude from the naysayers re: patwa.


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