Sunday 28 January 2018

TS Elliot, a terrible hip-hop artist

A photo of the project Contratempos in the This is PARTIS programme.

The Guardian recently wrote about a critique by poet Rebecca Watts, entitled “The cult of the noble amateur”, where she attacks the work of a cohort of young female poets considering it “the open denigration of intellectual engagement and rejection of craft”. The text resulted in a very interesting, and welcome, debate regarding the value of “high” and “popular” poetry. The answer of Scottish poet Don Patterson (winner of the TS Elliot award and publisher of two of the young poets in question) was captivating: " You don’t have to like what people do, but I think you measure it against its own ambitions. Otherwise it’s like saying TS Eliot was a terrible hip-hop artist. True, but so what.”

The following day, I participated in a workshop with François Matarasso (author of the blog A Restless Art), entitled "Ethical and artistic dilemmas of participatory art" (organised by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation within the event This is PARTIS). I hope to soon be able to write in detail about this workshop, but for now I would like to refer to two points that I think are relevant to this post: Matarasso's definition of "participatory art" (the creation of a work of art by professional and non-professional artists) and the definition of "artist" (a person becomes an artist in the act of creating art - good or bad). According to Matarasso, a professional artist is someone who creates art all the time, so he/she is recognized by all of us as an "artist". However, an artist is also someone who creates art from time to time, occasionally, in other contexts, within the framework of a project.

Workshop with François Matarasso at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

The Art and City debate, organised by the bookshop Tigre de Papel in Lisbon, on January 26, had as its starting point an article by Miguel Lobo Antunes, entitled State support for the Arts. In his text, Miguel Lobo Antunes points to a series of flaws in the current regulation of State support for the arts, problems of which we became aware of, in the last two months, through those who prepared an application. At the same time, these are also old issues that the new regulation was not able to solve, and may have even made more complex.

The three guests of the debate were former cultural manager Miguel Lobo Antunes, dancer João Fiadeiro and myself. We talked about the usefulness/uselessness of the art and why the State should support it. Miguel Lobo Antunes stated that few people are interested in art, that we should not seek to find a "utility" in it and that it should not be supported or evaluated on the basis of factors that are not intrinsic to it (some of the objectives defined by the Law of Financing the Arts , referred in the article mentioned above: "to value artistic enjoyment as an instrument for correcting territorial asymmetries and for human, social, economic and financial development", "social and territorial cohesion", "citizens' qualification", "sectorial transversality").

Briefly, the opinion I shared in the debate was that even when there is no intention to "save the world," art has "side effects" and it is interesting to know them. There are many people who claim not to be interested because they have not had the opportunity to have access due to various types of physical, social or intellectual barriers. More than a need to "create audiences" (an expression I have not used for a long time), there is a need to create relationships; relationships that can form outside of a certain cultural space, in the space inhabited by those people who are available to and interested in thinking their world through art. Art does not only happen in the spaces where we work and only with the professional artists that we choose. Other people are also creators or co-creators of art.

One day later, I attended the Contratempo concert, again presented within the Gulbenkian Foundation event This is PARTIS. It is a project that brings together people with mental illness and members of the university music group (tuna) of the Faculty of Technology and Health in Porto, as well as partners such as ESMAE - School of Music and Performing Arts and Casa da Música. The concert was followed by a debate, where we had the opportunity to hear the people who participate in the project talk about what this experience has brought them and where we also talked about financial support - such as that from the Gulbenkian Foundation or from Social Security.

The debate after the concert of Contratempo (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

When Bernardino Aranda, one of the owners of the bookshop Tigre de Papel, asked the first question in the debate (Why should the State support the arts?), I responded by putting myself in the spectator’s shoes. I am afraid I answered using all possible clichés: as a citizen, I expect that the State supports the arts for the comfort and, above all, the discomfort they bring me; for bringing me the beautiful and the ugly; for challenging my convictions; for allowing me to dream and imagine the future. However, if we had asked the refugee girl in the Refugiacto project, she would probably have answered that she expected the State to support the arts because the theatre gave her the courage to speak Portuguese and to speak in public. If we had asked the schizophrenic gentleman in the Contratempo project, he would have answered that he expects the State to support the arts because being part of the group (singing or playing an instrument) gave him the self-confidence he needed to go to a job interview and get it. If we had asked the gentleman who participated in the MEXE festival, he would have answered that he expects the State to support the arts because a festival like MEXE "is another way to make culture, to say we're here, we're alive, it's another city we want" (watch the trailer). If we had asked the lady who lives in the parishes of Freixal and Juncal do Campo and participated in the project Há Festa no Campo | Artistic Villages (watch the trailer), she would have answered that she expects the State to support the arts because it is necessary to "drag people, get them to think and do something (other testimonies here).

All these projects have been supported by the programme PARTIS - Artistic Practices for Social Inclusion of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. These are projects that bring together professional and non-professional artists. These are, in Matarasso's definition, participatory art projects. This is art. It seems to me that, with the exception of the Association PELE, which organises the MEXE festival, the remaining projects mentioned here, and others still, were not supported by the Directorate General for the Arts. Perhaps because these are not considered artistic projects in the light of the Law of Financing the Arts? Perhaps because they consider themselves to be social projects and not artistic too? Perhaps because they are conditioned by the opinion of others at to what “art” is? “I don’t know how many people in Portugal consider a tuna to be ‘art’”, said one of the elements of the project Contratempos in the debate.
At the end of three very intense days, the questions that come to me are:

- It is fair that the Law for Financing the Arts requires all artists that their creations "value artistic enjoyment as an instrument for correcting territorial asymmetries and for human, social, economic and financial development", promote "social cohesion and territorial", contribute to "citizens’ qualification" and the "valorization of the territory" and get developed in a context of "sectorial transversality"? And even if a work has one of these “collateral effects”, is it up the artist to prove it? Isn’t this the work of evaluation specialists?

- Is it legitimate for some artists to define as the objectives of their art precisely the above factors, decide to meet them through participatory art projects and expect to be supported by the State through the Directorate General for the Arts? And the people who participate, amateur artists, can they have the same expectations or demands in relation to State support for the arts?

- Isn’t it time for the State to go beyond the intention to "democratise access to culture" (several times referred to in the programme of the current government - read my post) and embrace the challenges of a more democratic culture? Instead of continuing to focus on "creating audiences" for our spaces and projects, could we not also invest in developing projects and creating art with people who already exist and whom we don’t really need to “create”?

No comments: