Jeremy Deller

Emma Ridgway on Gustav Metzger


Gustav Metzger with Jeremy Deller: June 5 2009, UN World Environment Day, Whitechapel Gallery, London

Does the fact that an artist like Gustav Metzger, who has been creating politically agressiveaggressive works for 60 years, is so much in the spotlight at this late point in his career say anything about what we want of our artists now?

Tomorrow, RSA curator Emma Ridgway talks about the work of Gustav Metzger as part ofGustav Metzger Decades 1959 – 2009, currently at London’s Serpentine Gallery. It’s at 3pm Saturday 7 November at the Serpentine.

If you want a flavour of the talk,  Ridgway’s recent interview with Metzger about his appeals to artists over the years, is a vivid demonstration of how passionate he is about art’s need to involve itself in the political sphere:

You were an activist before you were an artist. Was there a particular moment, or was it through Bomberg, that you decided that contemporary politics was going to be a core part of your work?

Yes, my interest in politics was there from the age of around 17. That was in wartime, around 1942 – 43, when I was living in Leeds and there I almost completely converted to the idea of becoming some sort of revolutionary figure –art at that point had no place in my conception of the future. It was only in the late summer of 1944, when I felt I would move away from the ideal of becoming a political activist to becoming an artist. So moving into art was a way of moving forward without giving up the political interest; because I thought one could fuse the political ideal of social change with art. For example, the writing of Eric Gill who was both an artist and a craftsman and politically involved was a kind of inspiration to me. I could see this possibility of using the ideas of social change within art, with art and not simply through political, economic activity.

Sometimes we visit exhibitions together and discuss the work. On a number of occasions you have been disinterested in the work because it lacked any political bite or ethical aspect. Is this something you feel artists work must contain?

Yes, I think that is inescapable and the more the world changes, is changing, in the direction of more speed and more activities. And the more that happens the more necessary it is for people to stand back and, not merely in the art sphere but in every sphere of intellectual activity, to stand back and distance oneself and come up with alternative ways of dealing with reality than going along with a direction that is essentially catastrophic and consuming itself and turning itself into a numbers game. Where the technology, especially the technology of the mobile phones and this endless sound machinery that people force into their biological mechanism, seems to be unstoppable; and the more it goes on, the more we need to stand aside and distance ourselves from this rush towards destruction.

Read the complete interview.

Photograph by Benedict Johnson

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Who’s in the house? Well, on the house, really. Bat House update

Bat on bat house 09.09.SN150293

Just had an excited email from the WWT London Wetlands Centre. A bat came and checked out the Bat House. [Background: the Berkeley Bat House is a project envisaged by artist Jeremy Deller and put into action by a partnership of organisations that included the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre].

Yes, that’s it… that dark splodge at the top left. Didn’t actually go inside, but think of it as that first drive-by before it calls the estate agents. It appears to have wee-ed down the wall, which has to be a good sign, don’t you think?

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Jeremy Deller: how art “digs into public life”

We have had my brother-in-law staying Jeremy Deller’s latest project, It is What It Is. We have been working with Jeremy on the Bat House Project. Both works provide a mechanism, a vehicle (literally in the case of ‘It is What It Is’) to encourage debate and engagement with particular issues.

Dragging a wrecked car from Iraq across the States is simply not art, said my brother-in-law very firmly, fixing his attentions solely on the object rather than the discourse generated.

An alternative to the car being in the States, it could have been on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square instead of Antony Gormley’s forthcoming project. But both works pull us members of the public into art that ultimately is process not product.

Why is it that many people just won’t have it that the purpose of art is to elicit participation from us, to open up thinking, to encourage us to review the human condition and to nudge or provoke a response? Why can’t they relax and just accept that artists can use whatever materials they damn well choose – be that the human body, a urinal, oil paint or bronze or a cork screw to actify that purpose.

The site is still up of the road diary by Nato Thompson that is part of It is What It Is, although the trip ended on 17 April 09. I urge you to read it and see what, as Thompson says, “digging into public life”, has revealed.

Meanwhile off line It is What It Is has provoked more conversation in our house than any more conventional piece of art over the past two weeks. This is far more important to me than convincing my brother-in-law that it is art. I did get a rueful smile from David when I noted that having argued for half an hour the night before, he came down to breakfast the next morning wanting to begin all over again. And then seemingly tangentially, we started talking about war.

After all the second part of the work’s title is ‘Conversations about Iraq’.

www.conversationsaboutiraq.com

EDIT. William Shaw adds: Here’s one interesting example of the conversation started by the Deller artwork, nicely reported by The Artblog.

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Artists digging for victory part 2

This is from an article I have in this morning’s Observer magazine:

Flicking through a history of community gardening in America, Amy Franceschini discovered that between 1941 and 1943, 20 million Americans took part in the Victory Gardens programme, an initiative created to feed the nation during wartime.

“I was thinking, when have 20 million Americans ever participated on that scale besides sports – or shopping?” says Amy, nursing a cup of green tea in her studio, an expansive floor of a former warehouse. “And San Francisco was the most successful place for Victory Gardens. They took it on massively here.”

In a local newspaper she found a photo dated 18 April 1943. There, in front of the august neo-classical pillars and dome of the San Francisco City Hall, were row upon row of vegetables. “And I thought, ‘We have to have a garden in front of city hall again.’”[…]

“What artists do is seed things. They plant ideas,” says Michaela Crimmin, head of the RSA Arts and Ecology Centre. Which maybe explains why these cheap, relatively small-scale projects like Franceschini’s can have such an influence.

Harvesting food as art is growing in the UK, too. Patrick Brill – otherwise known as the artist Bob and Roberta Smith – currently features as one of the new generation of “Altermodern” artists at Tate Britain. In 2007, he created a work called The Really Super Market in Middlesbrough. Encouraging local gardeners, schoolchildren and farmers to grow vegetables, they turned the town centre into a giant farmer’s market for a day, an event that culminated in a community cook-in.

The idea took root. This summer, in east London’s Gunpowder Park, artists Amy Plant and Ella Gibbs are running a ramshackle Energy Café, using only renewable resources to cook organic food foraged locally, or supplied from within a six-mile radius.

Turner prize-winner Jeremy Deller initiated a 10-year project in Munster, in Germany, in 2007, giving all the gardeners on a community plot a large leather-bound diary in which to record their notes – whatever they wanted to write. In exchange for their participation, Deller handed each an envelope containing seeds of the dove tree. When planted, the trees should flower for the first time at around the point the project comes to fruition, at which time Deller will collect the diaries and put them in a library. “The gardens are a vernacular art work in their own right,” says Deller. “They’re homemade and made up as they go along. The people that tend them are thinking about colour and form.”

Meanwhile, for the past nine years, the artists Heather and Ivan Morison have been working on a garden and woodland in Wales – originally a community garden plot developed as a conscious echo of Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness. (Jarman, of course, was another artist who helped change the way we think about gardens.)

The rest is here.

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