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Something akin to Punk: And the Apathetic Generation: An Afterthought – pt. 2

 

I have sited Hegel’s master–slave dialectic as a critical source in this research, as I feel some of the theoretical implications which are contained within this text suitably act as a basis for an awareness concerning – setting out an approach for action which is aimed at bringing about substantial change in the arts and arts focused higher educational practices. The Hegelian notion of, being-for-self contained within the referenced essay and the realisation of this psychosomatic process by the Slave (or as described by Hegel, “the bondsman”); by considering this account I sense a basic, relevant understanding can be established for this case. He describes this revelation of a new empowerment for the Slave through self-determination, in this way:

In the lord, the being-for-self is an ‘other’ for the bondsman, or is only for him [i.e. is not his own]; in fear, the being-for-self is present in the bondsman himself; in fashioning the thing, he becomes aware that being-for-self belongs to him, that he himself exists essentially and actually in his own right. The shape does not become something other than himself through being made external to him; for it is precisely this shape that is his pure being-for-self, which in this externality is seen by him to be the truth. Through this rediscovery of himself by himself, the bondsman realises that it is precisely in his work wherein he seemed to have only an alienated existence that he acquires a mind of his own. [1]

If one is to consider today’s young artists as a group which very much require such a moment of realisation, in order to allow themselves an opportunity to operate and be educated in a way that suits them, then the idea of a collective being-for-self seems a fitting allegory to me. A specific thought process that encourages a deeper scrutiny of the system itself and how a shared body might challenge these structures, is at present completely absent. An established and endorsed underlining individualism or self-seeking state of mind, as has been encouraged in our society generally and its presence reinforced further within the contemporary structures of our cultural practices, have consequently enabled the idea that one should only consider ‘bettering’ their own position in the hierarchical structures, as an ever prevalent deliberation. Such structures have become the absolute formation and configuration of our recently globalised, capitalist system. In a purely ideological sense, this all encompassing approach is proving to be a detrimental one in my view, and the arts are no different in this regard. Indeed, as the large scale disintegration of our communities take place, much in the way Edgar Davies describes, what we find is that in a time when real resistance is required and the moment(s) for action present themselves, the divided nature of our social and cultural groupings are preventing this from occurring. This is why – particularly when recommending a restructuring for the arts and higher education, and how best this can begin to serve those predominately young folks who are so crucial to its evolution but whom are currently not benefitting from it as an economic agency of ‘opportunity’ or in many instances, even from the work they put in themselves – as a result of this, it is even more imperative that a solidarity is formed and some much needed ideas for action are recommended.

The subject I have intended to engage with, as I and Edgar Davies previously, have been at lengths to focus on, is concerned with the arts generally. However, I can see no substantial reason why these ideas would not be transferable to other sections of society, where young people and those currently being marginalised by similar economic and social problems, are also acutely being felt – much in the same way as those being inflicted on young people within the ‘creative industries’. Nevertheless, I do feel that in this moment we (Pipe & Mr E. Davies) must focus on what is close to one’s own real lived experiences and suitably expand from this point of departure, when and if such opportunities were to arise.

Allied to my initial idea, adapted from Hegel, that we must form a strong bond with one another and reject this much heralded social concept of ‘the individual’ and the divisions this creates, in order to realise the true potential of ‘the majority’ and what transformative power this collective sense of unification could achieve. In this moment, we should then create a bond of realisation, which recognises that there are no definite ‘rules’ or social restrictions preventing a wide scale rejection of the current state controlled operational models which exist in the arts. If any such section of the state could and should hold the established forces to account, then surely the arts and tertiary educational systems, with their traditions and histories, should be it? I evidently believe this to be so. Therefore, from this ideological stance and in direct reference to Davies’s essays – and as there is no reason which I can discern to prevent this from occurring – a simple message should be communicated by today’s new entrances to the arts and those who want to commence some real changes within the industry, that pronounces:

We will now be working our own way and in our own interests.

In order for us to be able to do this and realise it as a fully formed ideological approach, some initial actions must be taken. The subsequent list of steps that I now present, I deem would begin to build a new cohesion around a set of reformative ideas for the arts and how young people are positioned and regarded by the established structures which configure it as an industry.

 

1.) The first and most important step, because of its wider social implications and contemporary relevance, is the matter of ‘the intern’. Davies devises that “from this point onwards no one works for free”. This is a collective response that could and I deem it should form the basis for our opposition to the current operational model in the arts and arts education. There are absolutely much greater issues for us to attempt to address, however I think this is something that, because of its social and symbolic relevance can and would create a bond between those confronting this system and those whom would likely support and feel a sense of solidarity for the cause and be disgusted by the awful matter of ‘the intern’ generally. In doing this though, as Davies has also explained, it is imperative that it is understood in the industrial sense. This has to be a persuasive argument and that everyone affected by it understands the full implications of this action. As a result, the notion of ‘the Scab’ must be left available to us as part of this cause, in order that everyone truly realises how serious this matter is. In a time when fellow citizens are being forced to work for nothing by our government; while directors, CEO’s and other senior members of financial companies are seeing their salaries rise to obscene levels, it is totally irresponsible and even ignorant to work for a company for free - satisfying a much needed role within that organisation, when you should be getting paid (at the very least, the minimum level) for your work - and doing this just because, economically you can. For these reasons, and many others beside, which I don’t have the time to address here, the first step is to end the culture of unpaid labour within the arts.

 

Sometimes, doing nothing is the most violent thing to do. [2]

2.) Another key factor in this struggle, which I suspect will begin to draw the intended furthest reaching attention to these significant social issues, is a type of, I would describe as – an organised non-participation. A lot has been made recently of the self-defeating nature or irresponsibility of simply not taking part in the present democratic system and its customary rituals. Nonetheless, this much overdue act, if structured and organised in the right manner, I pronounce is precisely what must be done by us in the arts. The lack of proper representation by our elective constitution, particularly for young people today (as Davies has already explained) is imposing this system on us with no crucial action being taken to address our ever intensifying plight. As a consequence, it appears to me that continued participation in this habitual democratic charade is actually the most detrimental of all present options available to us – The Un-represented. This participatory act results in ‘propping up’ an all powerful, yet totally damaging and hugely inadequate ideological system; which is in actuality, continually increasing the type of economic and social disparity young people are now faced with. The arts and present higher educational models are too, essentially part of this worrying trend. And at the same time, much of the issues new entrances to the world of employment, the arts ‘industries’ and higher education have to deal with, were imposed on them by their governments and their generational forces - yet these are not concerns which they themselves had to contend with during their first steps into real ‘adulthood’ decades earlier, but are now simply accepted as a necessary socio-economic requirement. No, these are almost all new social factors that have either been introduced because of the bad decisions made by their administrations/governmental figures or are in support of a system which benefits them, primarily at the expense of the vast majority of its other, far less advantaged citizens. Thus, I judge that an organised and adequately prepared non-participation in the established, state supported arts institutional structures is vital at this time. These governing bodies and legislative hierarchical arrangements are those very same organisations which must be held accountable for the social injustices being felt in our society and this move within the arts will also play a small part in highlighting this. Another key aspect to such a planned action is that of exclusion. In order for this to be truly effective, those established cultural, social and political organisations, that we deem to be working against us as a group or whose actions and rhetoric is seen to be ignorant to our cause or suitably damaging, then the resulting measures are, that they must be excluded and held in contempt. Arts organisations whose reputations are damaged in the eyes of organised young people will, I believe, find it very difficult to succeed in their own economic and business affairs generally.

 

3.) The utilisation of new forms of digital apparatuses, computerised ‘tools’ and modes of production, and the phenomena which is our current communicative networks and platforms that enable such ideas to be articulated, will understandably, all be integral to building new forms of engagement with these ideas of reform. This new technological phenomena, that we have at our disposal makes what is being planned more realistically achievable than would ever have been the case ‘pre’ digital age and ‘pre’ the internet. This equipment and modes of communication must be exploited and the vast nature of its possibilities adapted, when possible. As has been touched upon by Will Self and Edgar Davies, today’s young generation are the first to have grown up totally immersed, and having generally taken for granted, the type of digital technology we now have such wide scaled access to. When considering the implementation of this digital ‘age’, one could almost suggest that the youth of today, given their nurturing took place during its emergence; it is them who should really hold the majority of control over its operational mechanisms and networks. Now that these unheralded forms of communication have become fundamental to all areas of our society and its development, why is it then that those who largely control the way it is run and whom benefits the most from it, are still from our previous generations; those principally born, at a push, roughly before 1970? I will let those, like Self, attempt to answer this question; I do have my inclinations though. However, as this is unquestionably the case, I deem that what must be done in the coming years, in aid of this task is to put an emphasis on adapting new ways of using this technology for the arts, in a way that is designed to serve us properly. We must not continue to participate in those structures and systems which are already there and are simply further evidence of the sham which is the arts establishment - sponsored by their state controlled educational institutions. These arrangements, as we know, operate in the name of: arts opportunities for young and emerging practitioners, but are just a way of dividing individuals while making good business sense for these schemes and in support of their harmful doctrines, which benefit only a minute number of people - but always those whom hold power.

 

4.) As I have suggested here, a new approach for young people within the arts must be devised, and one which sits outside the arts establishment, its groupings and their conventions. Therefore in order to do this, the matter of finances (more specifically a lack of, and all the implications that this brings) does become an evident issue. For that reason, what must be done, and as history has often taught us, a process of ‘negotiation’ ought to be formulated in someway. My plan here, is to use all the spaces available to us for exhibiting, shows, ‘happenings’, performances and all available methods of showing work and creations. This also connects with the notion of exclusion and could suitably create a defining position – this will reveal those who do and those do not support this action. As we all know space is expensive and the established institutes within the arts are closed to those who don’t subscribe to their state funded, money driven agenda and operate through their ‘proper’ channels. As a consequence, such agents subscribing to these principles must be rejected by us first and then excluded altogether from having any influence or dialogue with this new generation of artists. In turn, we will use all available spaces, of which there are far more available to us than we would likely consider given our circumstances. New ways of showing work both within living space, rented space, free space, online ‘space’ (an emphasis on the adaptability of this new virtual space must be exploited as much as possible), ‘borrowed’ space, unused space, portable space, adaptable space… – the list is far longer than one would expect and the list should and will I suspect, continue to grow. This will empower the cause as one which is doing things alone and unsupported. As previous generations have shown us, the type of identification, brought about by such actions, and the importance this brings, can be immeasurable to a counter cultural movement. Through this process of identification, I envision we will gain both creative and organisational authority over our work and begin to establish new productive systems of exchange for it.

 

5.) Contrary to how work is chosen by the establishment currently within the arts, operating around scenes and certain thematic trends which then shape and plot a very specific direction for the industry, such considerations will now not knowingly be made by those involved in this cause. The only absolute necessity of work being shown through these channels is that they depict a certain reality. That they are authentic to those who created them and do not simply exist in some vein attempt at ‘relevance’. It is important in fact not to say too much here as an articulation may lead to a design or a suggestion and persuasion of the types of works which might fit into this new vision for the arts. This would be at odds with what should be encouraged, which is that of an absolute openness to themes, approaches, techniques, aesthetic and stylistic characteristics etc. In this new realm of creative expression and arts focused resistance, diversity will be absolutely embraced in all areas of practice; with works being judged only around themes of genuine authentic legitimacy, notions of an inherent truth and social relevance. The notion of being ‘out of step’ is currently regarded within the arts and cultural practices generally, as something that is a grave position to be in as an artist. I think not just being part of a ‘scene’, is actually not only a positive feature of an artist’s work, but should be seen as an obligation to the vital development of their practice. I firmly believe that this needs to be addressed and would be if this new direction for young people in the arts is to be effective. ‘Fads and trends’ rarely play a part in true artistic expression and the creation of genuinely important works. In my view, there must be more meaningful origins or source materials to one’s practice than simply trying to equate your work with someone else’s.

[The four terms which I believe will tackle this problem and give us the best chance of making these five steps a success, are: Solidarity; Organisation; Implementation and Restructuring.]

 

These steps, I hope if structured in a coherent way and then put into some sort of action will assist in creating a network of solidarity around a common cause. Although there will undoubtedly be a diverse range of voices and opinions; approaches, techniques and ways of working, in all areas of both practice and within the structural ideological nature of the cause – this however, should be embraced and allowed to flourish. What will bind the group together is this idea of questioning the way things operate, being ‘difficult’ if you like – especially given our current predicament – this is our right, and in order to make some adequate changes, is also our responsibility. Therefore, as I have tried to propose here, a type of exclusion, although on the face of it seems an extreme act and some may even deem it self-defeating; I feel strongly that a wide reaching rejection of the current model must begin to take hold. If a large enough network can be constructed (and I think this idea of a system of arrangements is at the core of what this resistance needs to be and should be built on), then this group will grow and become its own section of, a relevant facilitating system for the arts.

“No one is in a hurry to say goodbye”, to use the Self comment from Pity the Young. So we as a group must say “goodbye” to them, or risk never being given the opportunity for an introduction. We have to realise that ‘help’ from this system is not forth coming; it will never arrive and as a result, exclusion in all its semblances is the most valuable course of action we have available to us. I feel we are led to believe we need their assistance. The reality is we require this far less than we imagine, and there is an even stronger argument to suggest that we as a group are in fact crucial to their system and an exclusion from it could be hugely harmful to their well ‘trotted out’ concept of, ‘a vibrant arts scene’. Therefore, my final retort to this ‘arts establishment’ is: “thank you but we will now do things without you”.

 

Ex nihilo

 

.P


[1] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in ‘From Phenomenology of Spirit [The Master-Slave Dialectic]’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, General Editor Vincent B. Leitch and others , (USA: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001), p. 635.

[2] Slavoj Zizek, ‘Adagio’, in Violence: Six Sideways Reflections, (London: Profile Books ltd., 2009), p. 183.

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