10th May 2014
I'll continue where I left off yesterday. It helps to understand that my texts are documents to what I'm thinking about in a given hour for every day in May 2014, as opposed to these being like, you know, thought-out essays.
Basically, I'm thinking about why do art. It's a bizarre conversation in many ways: I can first of all afford to have that conversation. I’ve been given time and space and resources to think about what to do with my life.
There's a lie embedded in that idea: it's not like Finland can support me forever, who knows if the country as we know it will be around in 20 years. But instead of listening to me talk about artists' economic realities & possible future scenarios, you can read something better:
I was reading this very interesting, long, fragmented post about being an artist. I can't remember who sent it to me or how I got my hands on it, or even who did it. Well, you'll find it here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Abhc4nJwkdtru1pEkISWuVYQvKbiob_13Ij9TwW1uIE/pub?embedded=true
So how does one be an artist? By entering spaces where there are other artists and art workers? I'm going a to finissage at Kumu museum here in Tallinn today, in just a few hours. This closing party will take the form of a picnic. Tomorrow, you might find me saying it was good to go there because of the people I met. That's a big part of being an artist, obviously. And with meeting people I mean colleagues, humans who can advance my career and vice versa. I've met people in galleries, art fairs, receptions, Christmas parties, afterparties, dinners, workshops, talks, seminars, Skype sessions, portfolio speed dates, brunches, cocktail parties, premieres, festivals, whatnot.
I've met people who have hooked me up with job opportunities or other people. I've made people meet people because I've either thought it would be useful for both parties, or because either one, or a third party, like an institution hounding me to make the connection, was hoping me to do so.
Here, I'm only addressing the clearly work-related, functional meetings. It means that memorable, deeply meaningful moments of dialogue with colleagues are excluded from these ruminations. I'm talking about work here, and I think work should have results. God, that sounds old-fashioned. It's like I can't figure out anything without realizing that either my take on things is way too black-and-white (see my post from yesterday about the fundamentals of theatre), or that I'm just cementing old-fashioned beliefs and conventions, which I might even oppose myself.
(What is work then?)
(I once made an event about it with Jenna Sutela)
I'll carry on regardless.
When you meet people who do more or less the same thing that you do, the views and stories don't always differ that much. That's why the collegial discourse might seem like a code. By bringing up certain names, places, concepts etc, I make sure we share an understanding.
Sometimes it feels somewhat forced and aggressive, dogs sniffing each other. But when you really click with someone, it's all done in ease. There's genuine interest. Or maybe you don't even talk about your work. Then again, what do you count as a topic related to work? Isn't everything related? Can two artists talk about death without a thread connecting the discussion back to the practice of art? Simply, does the nature of these meetings force all topics as work-related?
Most of my performances are just talking, not listening. Or do I first listen (ie. try to understand the situation I'm performing in) and then talk (react)?
I have a feeling I'm not tackling this issue that well here. I do think about these things when I meet people, but I also don't. Since what would be the point? People do what they want to do, or at least you should make sure they can do just that.
It seems like this isn't helping me at all, honestly. I just felt that since meeting people plays a considerable role in what I do, I should be able to draw out its relation to artistic work.
So back to to beginning, again. How do I be an artist? The job title itself is not protected, so I can just tell people I'm an artist. It will be socially validated by, for example, receiving artist grants, getting chances to show your works in spaces meant for art, being interviewed as an artist, getting invitations to art events, etc.
This question has been a starting point for numerous artists. Think of Bruce Nauman walking around in his studio, asking us if what he's doing is 1. a suitable use of an artist's studio, or 2. the labor of art, or 3. an art work in itself. It's not an issue that has been sorted and sealed. No one still knows how to really define art and what artists should actually do. Anything goes, we say. But of course it's not true, either. I would lose my artist status in the (an) art world if I would not produce something, create some sort of signs of my artistic practice. I think that's absolutely fair. As a friend told me recently, to be an artist means not being an artist. You're re-inventing your practice again and again.
So should I be held accountable from what I'm doing, for example here in Tallinn? I'm writing this and I'm recording some short diary entries. I'm meeting some people. I’m inviting some people over from Helsinki. That's all. Kulturkontakt Nord is paying both me and Ptarmigan residency for this. Well, not this precisely, they're supporting Ptarmigan because someone there thought that would be a good thing to do, regardless of the individual things that take place here. I'm part of a stream of people coming here and doing things. Together with the participants/audience showing up to events here, these actions form a thing called Ptarmigan. Someone working at KK Nord looks at all this activity and thinks, let's keep that going. And so it goes.
This is a very blatant way of looking at it. I'm bypassing ideologies, philosophies, and bigger contexts.
For example, there's the idea of a welfare society, where art is valued as such. The society wants art in it. So someone needs to support art, because the society does not want to rely solely on art market to invest in artists. KK Nord is very much part of such societal projects in the Nordic countries.
At the same time, all of these funding bodies usually have a subtext: they support the artist via residencies (places for work), working grants (money to concentrate only on art-making), travel grants (so the artist would network and advance their career), and so on, in the hope that the artist would either produce something meaningful, or build a successful career. And when you need to prove that, say, supporting media art is important, you tend to point to a successful media artist (in Finland it could be Eija-Liisa Ahtila). The other way is to talk about more general values, claiming that artists working locally are good for the local people. Or that the workforce stays inspired and healthy if they can go see some theatre or participate in street art workshops.
But why wouldn't you say such things? What's wrong with producing things, being successful, or energizing people around you? Why can't we ask for artists to be useful? Is it really important that I do whatever and then have a platform to present this? I mean, of course, we are or should be free to do what we want. If I want to spend my time writing a blog like this, then so be it, if I can just support myself somehow or if I can get a grant.
I admit this conversation seems like a dead-end to me. I simply shouldn't start from the question of "what's enough". It would make more sense to think of it more as my own moral responsibility to create stuff that I believe in.
If I really believe in not doing anything when given the perfect means and chances for artistic output, then that's what I need to run with, 100%. And, really, I have absolutely everything I need to express myself, to do art. Maybe this blog is bringing me back from the dead, back to productivity and the world of meanings. Maybe I needed to start from these very basic things, to look at them and realize, damn, I don't want to spend any more time passively thinking (is this passive?), let's do some eligible works instead.
But here's the thing: I still find it extremely weird to just devote myself to writing a play, as I've said I would do (and have been doing already). So, working very hard on that, regardless of its topic etc, would make it meaningful; I can’t understand why that is.
This way of thinking makes me connect art to sports. You just pick a thing, repeat it endlessly, and get insanely good at it. Throwing a javelin & creating a staggeringly expensive structure around javelin-throwing makes of course very little sense (why?), if sense is what you're looking for. The olympics are about what, exactly: celebration of human body and its capabilites? If that's the case, why do we regard the human body in such a simplistic way, as this instrument that does measurable performances? How is that, I don’t know, advancing humanity? Isn't it just stagnating our understanding of ourselves, of humans, especially with the normative idea of body we virtually always see in mainstream sports?
I didn't want to sound that angry towards sports, I really should understand it better in order to carry out such hostility. I guess what I'm after here is that my current understanding of art is almost the opposite of sports (in terms of technical proveness), but at the same time very close to it (in terms of meaningless, almost comical yet extremely moving (sic) actions). Oh that was one hour cool cu 2moro i’ll write about statistics maybe then plus there’s a concert here at ptarmigan 2pm
monologue from 3.30am this morning: