Margaret Legum – It Doe$n’t Have to Be £ike This.

I have been writing an essay about new forms of imperialism, which took me back to a book I read a few years ago by Margaret Legum.  I was lucky enough to meet Margaret on Iona a few months before she died..and was hugely impressed with what she had to say.  I saw a mention of this book in her obituary and ordered it. Many moons ago I studied economics at LSE, at the time when Monetary Economics was taking over, Keynesian Theory having been discredited by the rampant inflation of the 70’s.   The obsession with the market at all costs seemed WRONG,WRONG, WRONG, and always has done: it resulted in a complete a change in social values and the promotion of selfishness above all else.  This weekend in the Observer there was a report that the gap between the rich and the poor in the UK is back at levels last seen in 1918, and growing.  I put this down to our obsession with the market driven economic policy espoused by Thatcherism, but although my intuition knew it could not be right I didn’t have the economic understanding to know why or what alternatives there could be.  Margaret Legums book explains this in terms simple enough for anyone to understand.  It is excellent.

Here is the lady herself, and a link to information about her in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Legum

An awareness of gratitude and surprise.

After much thrashing about I have finally come to a realisation of what this term’s  ‘everyday’ project is about. Several times this term I have found myself standing amongst the school buildings, or in my studio space, in an attitude of surprised and grateful bewilderment that I am a full time student at Glasgow School of Art.  Seems unbelievable.. but is certainly true, and this underlined by the fact the Everyday project is due for completion in the next couple of days, and the first essay deadline is next week!  Help! Deadlines flashing up before I am ready for them.

Who knows what will happen next, maybe the clock will strike midnight and my  golden chariot will turn back into a rotting pumpkin.

Recognising that the current motivation is in response to the notion of gratitude makes a lot of sense.  In the photo I am standing outside the Mackintosh building, which is stunning!

I can’t stay in this hyped up state of surprise and gratitude for the next three years, I need to get grounded again,  but it has definitely been a factor this term.

Those people familiar with the programs of AA and its partner organisation Al-Anon will be familiar with their standard introductions.  In AA a person will say ‘Hi, my name is N and I’m an alcoholic’.  In Al-Anon the introduction is as follows ‘Hi, my name is N, and I am a grateful member of Al-Anon’.  As the only requirement for membership of Al-Anon is ‘that there be a problem of alcoholism in a relative or friend’, the fact there is so much gratitude around can seem a little surprising. 

Stillness and reflection

As part of thinking about my experience of the everyday, I have listed all the ‘doing’ activities and the ‘being’ activities.  I tend to do the ‘doing’s first, the ones that require action and are easiest to crack on with.  The consequence is that I am very distracted and scatttered and cannot remember stuff..the worst example being earlier this week: I was driving to work when I realised I was not wearing a vital piece of underwear, due to getting dressed in the dark and in a rush whilst  half asleep.

Time just ‘being’ is vital.  Time for resting the mind and allowing room for spontaneous thought.

On Mull for a few days I tried to capture the essence of some of this contrast.  I was watching a tiny burn, the water is always rushing past, but by capturing some of that water in an empty jam jar, it stayed still within the melee.  An unexpected consequence was that I could see through the jam jar to the bottom of the stream, whereas through the moving water I could not.

The Gift – a book by Lewis Hyde

Lewis Hyde is a poet, author of a book called the Gift which I was recommended to read.  I have found it very thought provoking and has led me into other interesting conversations.

In the introduction, on page xiv, he spells out the premise behind the book.. so I am going to type it out here, so I still have it after I have returned the book to the library.

“It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity.  Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two ‘economies’, a market economy and a gift economy.  Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.

There are several distinct senses of ‘gift’ that lie behind these ideas, but common to each of them is the notion that a gift is a thing we do not get by our own efforts.  We cannot buy it; we cannot acquire it through an act of will.  It is bestowed upon us.  Thus we rightly speak of ‘talent’ as a ‘gift’, for although talent can be perfected through an effort of will, no effort in the world can cause its initial appearance.  Mozart, composing on the harpsichord at the age of four, had a gift.

We also rightly speak of intuition or inspiration as a gift.  As the artist works, some portion of his creation is bestowed upon him.  An idea pops into his head, a tune begins to play, a phrase comes to mind, a colour falls in place on a canvas.  Usually, in fact, the artist dows not find himself engaged or exhilerated by the work , nor does it seem authentic, until this gratuitous element has appeared, so that along with andy true creation comes the uncanny sense that ‘I’ the artist did not make the work. “Not I, not I but the wind that blows through me” says D H Lawrence.  Not all artists emphasise the ‘gift’ phase of their creations to the degree Lawrence does, but all artists feel it.

These two senses of gift refer only to the creation of the work – what we might call the inner life of art; but it is my assumption that we should extend this way of speaking to it outer life as well, to the work after it has left its maker’s hands.  The art that matters to us – which moves the heart or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience – that work is received by us as a gift is received.  Even if we have paid a price at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a piece of work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the price.  I went to see a landscape painters works, and that evening, walking among pine trees near my home, I could see shapes and colours I had not seen the day before.  The spirit of the artist’s gifts can wake our own.”

So, inspired by these words, I have been thinking about my own experience.  I have often noticed that something happens during a project.. I can just be trying out various ideas none of which seem to be working very well, when something will take off, and make absolute sense and grow beautifully.  I asked Julie Brook ( see my entry on Skye) if she always knew why she was doing a particular piece of work, and she rerplied that she definitely often did not know, but would find the answers came later.

Charlotte Macnee Bell and Peter Bell are artists living in Kyle of Lochalsh.  Charlotte is nearly 80 and Peter is over 90 and both have been working artists most of their lives.. so I asked them what they thought of these words by Lewis Hyde.  They both absolutely agreed.  Once I can overcome my tech troubles I will post my video of our conversation.

David Sherry – at Laughter in the Dark

I have just completed a four week course on humour in art videos called LAUGHTER IN THE DARK, but there weren’t many laughs!.  However the last night was the best, particularly as we looked at several pieces of work by Dave Sherry.

We saw a series of short video works by Dave Sherry nearly all of which I found funny and a bit edgy in one way or another.  Most of the ones we saw are not in the clips included below..I particularly liked one where he set himself up behind a table with a clipboard, paper and pens and a big sign saying COMPLAINTS and members of the public would come and tell him their complaint, totally random!.

The picture below is from his website, but captures his deadpan humour.  It is titled:

Living the dream after death. Performance, 2010 GAK Bremen

Sonia Boyce- Leap into Uncertainty

Sonia Boyce gave a lecture this morning at Glasgow School of Art, titled as above and showed us a few of her recent video works, all very different but hugely moving.  At one point she made a generalised comment about the orientation of her work being “where art and community cross over”.

The first piece was titled Crop Over,  funded by the Harewood House Trust and the National Art Gallery Barbados.   Cropover is an annual carnival that occurs in Bridgetown Barbados; it started during the seventeenth century, the colonial period when the island was full of sugar cane plantations and still reliant on slave labour.  The carnival was orignally a variant of harvest festival, and occurred at the end of the sugar cane harvest, signifying wealth for landowners and the start of a period of no work and therefore poverty for estate workers.  The wealth of the Lascelles family who built Harewood House derived from the West Indies, slave trading and lending money to planters.  This 2 screen video starts showing a carnival stilt walker wandering through the empty but luxuriously wealthy grounds of Harewood House, past sculptures, topiary, grand staircases and beautiful fountains.  It then moves to a plantation house of similar grandeur,  in Barbados again carnival performers looking quietly around, and finally transitions into the wildness exuberance of the carnival itself.  At one point a group of Bajan performers are recorded doing a maypole dance, as I have seen done in the English home counties.  You can see a tiny clip of the film at this link: http://www.atomictv.com/cropover.html but really it doesn’t give an indication of the power of the piece which was very moving.

Sonia Boyce described her work as being collaborative, and the opportunities this manner of work provides determine the outcome.  She was offered an opportunity to work with David Skinner at the University of Oxford.  For this she brought together Renaissance Music and Greek sound artist Mikhail Karikis.  Karikis took apart a a piece of chamber music and reconstructed it, with the purpose of developing a dialogue between the voice of an old master and a contemporary troubled voice.  The piece was performed by Karikis and chamber music choir Alamire and I found it very moving.  Boyce described her feelings towards the piece as follows: it is quite utopian, about the stranger and the hosts, and how at the start there is no communication, but this gradually changes and blends, and towards the end the hosts start incorporating some of the sounds of the stranger.   A powerful artwork of huge contemporary relevance.

Below is a clip of the piece I found on you tube:

Chamber Choir Alamire and Mikhail Karikis perform For You Only You, a new work written by Mikhail under the direction of David Skinner at Madgalen Chapel, Oxford (April 2007). The project is by British artist Sonia Boyce and the film by David Bickerstaff.

There is a video of the work under construction at this web address : http://www.atomictv.com/fyoy.html

Video sketch – Helen and the hens

My sister keeps hens.  They have a very different life to those in the large barns I used to see on my way to work.  Hugely appreciated and loved, the four birds individual characters are known to their family.  The eggs produced by these birds seem to me part of a cycle of giving that occurs with their family. A relationship between humans and the world from which we take our sustenance.   

With thanks to Mrs Pepperpot, Mrs Pankhurst, Joey and Sunday Roast and Helen.  And Toffee for woofing.