I had organized a group get together to see these guys perform and to take part in a training workshop on the following Friday. I was unfortunately unable to attend due to illness, however Chapter Art center honored my ticket and let me come along on the following Wednesday. I also brought a friend. Smash It Up are a group of Activist Artists.
“This was a brilliant piece, well worth checking out!”
“ A Symbol of Equality, Justice and Freedom had been destroyed. What do you do? If you are Mr and Mrs Clark you Fight Back.”
“In collaboration with the Newport art activists Bosch and with the guidance of the artist Andre Stitt, Mr and Mrs Clark developed a timeline of performances in public spaces that now make up a theatre show. They call it Smash It Up.
Short-listed for the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Smash It Up is a destructive plea for some cultural conservationism. It is a challenging demand for equality, for hope and for greater creative freedom and beyond all for an understanding and nurturing of the creative imagination.” – Chapter Art Centre 2016
The performance was engaging and enthralling. Through dance, movement, spoken word (often angry and loud), documentary, you were taken through the process of their street activities. The intent was to highlight the loss of art and public space. You were also presented with some difficult personal stories from the artist’s own lives. That, I feel made the whole experience somehow more personal.
After the performance you were invited to create a piece of art yourself from the remnants on the floor. I picked up the teddy bear carcas, its head had been removed earlier. I inserted some loose pages inside to give it a new head, full of literature.
I was particularly interested in the Artist statements that were shouted out throughout the performance. A lot of them had resonance within my own work and my belief as an artist. Sayings such as:
Mark Ravenhill said: “Artist should tell the truth – the dirty, dangerous, hilarious, upsetting, disruptive, noisy, beautiful truth.”
The Situationists said: “The society that abolishes every adventure makes its own abolition the only adventure.”
Ray Bardbury said: “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
I was so moved by the performance I decided to email Gareth Clark when I got home. I had already been in correspondence with him when organising the group event so I hoped he would respond.
Just back from your SIU performance, I was meant to go last Wednesday with the group I organised from the MFA Cardiff Met but was sick in the end. They are all on the workshop on Friday with you. (And really looking forward to it)
Anyway, I loved the show, it was brilliant. Really hit home with me. I enjoyed making the art with the decapitated teddys’s body at the end.
I have been engaged with socially engaged art as part of my study on the MFA, it is something that I am very interest in. However I am struggling with the question of what makes what I am doing art? I have been reading all the theorists, Nicolas Bourriaud, Claire Bishop, Grant Kester….etc.
I come from a background of community engaged programs in a prescribed sense….but I am more interested in art for art sake and the allowing for an interstice that people can grow within. Probably not making sense here because I’ve had more than a few lovely wines tonight. I guess I am just trying to define where the magic is…..my question is: do I define what I am doing is art or just another altruistic/political art endeavor. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.
Gareth’s Response: (With his permission of course)
“Hello Deirdre and thank you for your response and thinking. I have no hard and fast answers to your final question. I have to say it took me a long time to accept or even express that I am an artist. The word seemed unyielding and too prescriptive to me and what I was creating was performance. However in a creative sense our creations are an extension of self or consciousness and ideals.
I find words like artist and words in general inhibiting. I hate labels… they seem to close off rather than open up. However I got tired of trying to explain to people what I do as I am a theatre maker but not an actor, I am a deviser but not a director as such …. I am a maker but there is no physical material evidence. I am an artist and I needed to take that on board for the sake of others as much myself.
There is a frippery or a flimsiness that some people attach to artists or creative practice. It is to many non-essential, self indulgent practice and unworthy of any real investment. I’ve witnessed community art projects that both bring people together but seem to stifle any real creativity. I like the idea of art by fucking great artists being out there in the community… in buildings that are not museums or galleries. Real places and I love the way art in it’s broadest sense best affects people when they least expect it or do not even consider it art. The High Street is a mighty playground… urban space offer something other than the elitist mausoleums we seem to establish and give unnecessary divinity to.
Anyway… keeping thinking and speaking and writing and searching for the meaning of it all. The answers may be elusive but the journey is the true enlightening experience.
Gareth” – SMASH IT UP!
I was moved and thankful by the amount of thought that Gareth had put into his reply. It highlights for me the frustrations that artists feel when presenting their work to the public. I also find it frustrating when people joke about the uselessness of art and artists. I think patience is the key here. Open your practice and process to the world. It also highlights the importance of allowing yourself to be labeled in a manner of speaking, as long as it is on your own terms. People need labels sometimes, particularly when applying for funding from organisations that have tick boxes to be ticked and forms to be filled in. The line I gravitate towards the most is the last one:
“The answers may be elusive but the journey is the true enlightening experience.”
Thank you Gareth Clark and all the crew from Smash It Up!
Find out more at: http://www.chapter.org/mr-and-mrs-clark-smash-it