Image: Adrian Street and his father at Brynmawr Colliery Wales, 1973 © Dennis Hutchinson, from Jeremy Deller’s exhibition
My recent orgy of visual arts, which included visiting Izolyatsia in Donetsk (subject of an earlier blog), saw me visit the Modern Art Research Institute part of Ukraine’s National Academy of Arts, for their latest exhibition: “Industrial Eden” is the 6th project under the Ukrainian platform “New Directions”, in which more than 30 artists present their vision of utopia built on boundless faith in the scientific and technical progress. The exhibition included large-scale installations, newsreel and documentary video, photography, and painting, and there are panel discussions with artists and curators. http://www.artcult.org.ua/en/project/12
Meanwhile on my desk here sits the picture above, from Jeremy Deller’s exhibition which opened back home in Manchester the week I left, and which explores the impact of the Industrial Revolution (reviewed here: Creative Tourist reviews Jeremy Deller at Manchester City Art Gallery.
Both came to mind when I was listening to Grayson Perry’s recent BBC Reith Lectures (3. Nice Rebellion, Welcome In) – in which he argues that art has lost its ability to be revolutionary and truly innovative (if indeed that’s what we want our art to be)…artists no longer drive innovation and change, it’s technology that is radically altering the way we see and interact with the world.
Perry warns his audience in Derry/Londonderry, currently basking in the positive impact of its year as UK Capital of Culture, that artists are now “the shock troops of gentrification” – and he urges Derry, and other cities that have invested in culture, to ensure that they maintain affordable spaces for creative people to live and work even as the “dead hand of the property developer moves in” to once bohemian areas which have become cool because artists have occupied previously undesirable or derelict space.
Grayson Perry was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003 and is the first contemporary artist to deliver the BBC’s Reith Lectures -still available to download via BBC I-player for radio, which I can get (but TV isn’t available to those outside of UK). He is best known for his ceramic works, print making, drawing, sculpture and tapestries as well as being a flamboyant cross-dresser. (I think he’d love the glam rock cross dressing of Adrian Street!)
Nominated for this year’s Turner Prize is Lynette Yiadom-Boakye who I met at the Pinchuk Art Centre in Kyiv on Friday, where her first solo exhibition in eastern Europe opened, on the back of her winning the Future Generation Art Prize. (The competition is open to all artists up to the age of 35, and applications are invited via www.futuregenerationartprize.org).
Lynette’s painting practice involves creating one canvas per day, and if not completed by the end of the day, the painting is discarded. Coincidentally, her work is also currently being displayed in Derry as part of the Turner Prize exhibition there. Listen to this account from yesterday’s Pure Culture show if you want to understand more about her work and can’t get to either Kyiv or Derry: BBC Radio Foyle: Pure Culture review of Turner Prize nominee, L Y-B.
Crucial to a healthy arts scene is critical debate, and support for artist development. And there’s not much state support for either here in Ukraine.
I met the dedicated team at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CSM) who run Korydor the only independent magazine in Ukraine encouraging critical discourse around contemporary culture; and when money allows, they do projects in the public realm, including one earlier this year at the location of the former Yunist factory in Podil, where I live. Which explains why I had come across a temporary cinema, sculpture, music and a little coffee stall in a derelict space just behind my flat, on one of my evening wanderings. CSA organised SPACES: Architecture of Common [Ground] in May, after working with local people who were opposing plans for a new shopping centre being built there.
During the past few years, Kyiv has seen aggressive property development and, with that, the all too familiar destruction of both historical sites and public space, so CSA’s project aimed to develop strategies of revitalization of urban spaces through art practice, and thus to create better dialogue between big business interests and local citizens.
“Ukrainians just start to learn to invest in new knowledge, new experiences, in art, literature, film as with current political situation it becomes more and more clear that big politics and big businesses are caught in a vicious cycle of power games, and funding culture is too big of a luxury for them. In such conditions (self)education, mutual support and desire to change the surrounding reality become one of a few ways out of the fatal Ukrainian circle, where all great ideas and initiatives disappear.
For three years Korydor has followed these principles by touching upon the most critical and burning social and political issues through culture: we write about the quality of life, censorship, human rights and rights to creativity, public dialogue and cultural policies, nationalism and social consensus. We have educational projects: we post videos and transcripts of lectures and discussions, organized by CSM and partners, publish translations of important articles from foreign magazines and online publications, work with young journalists and critics.” Korydor
As this statement makes clear, the conditions here for small independent organisations are very tough, so it felt very good to connect with 3 Ukrainian women so committed to supporting socially engaged arts practice that aims to stimulate people to actively work together to change their city, and safeguard public spaces.
And I hope to do some work with this team – we are planning a presentation for journalists and cultural commentators and artists about the experience of British cities in the North of England, so that they might learn from our mistakes and our successes.
I will be pointing them towards the work of artists and curators like Michael Trainor, one of the artists who kickstarted the redevelopment of Manchester’s Northern Quarter – Northern Quarter stories; and Kerenza Maclarnan, whose work with Buddleia or http://buddleiacommissions.wordpress.com/ in North Manchester may offer inspiration.
And towards the story of Urban Splash, an unusual property developer from the North of England committed to high standards of architectural design (and community engagement) in its regeneration projects – and in Tom Bloxham, a chairman who understands the value of the arts in the public realm and was Chair of Arts Council England: North West. Check out his story via Transformation http://www.urbansplash.co.uk/about-us/our-story/our-book. Perhaps the government and some of Ukraine’s oligarchs could learn from this story before too much of Kyiv’s old city disappears.