Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Bedroom Tax and other Political art

CMR Redruth, 'Bedroom Tax and other political art' .

This was a pop up exhibition which I proposed and it took place over a weekend 17-19th April, 2015, just before the General Election.

I had hoped for several members to contribute from the cmr collective but only three did so, Alice Mahoney, Fred McVittie and David Axtell.

Also I tried to obtain contributions from contacts I had and via Krowji,a  studio complex nearby, whose ' Outhere 'opportunities are online , and via Axisweb opportunities.
Here again only five contributions, poems, photos, an email letter, a drawing and a one to one case history were received, but these each gave something of interest.
The case history was particularly valuable as it showed the stages by which a previously happily housed woman came to be a homeless sofa surfer because of the introduction of the Bedroom  Tax, brought in by the Tory/LibDem government, hopefully to be abolished by Labour if they form the next government.

David Axtell is an artist and illustrator from Wadebridge who exhibits in Cornwall. Working on this theme was an opportunity to experiment which he seized eagerly, throwing himself into it with a wealth of ideas and making two rooms of installation, elegantly arranged , using all sorts of objects.
part of the installation

David Axtell

Richard Third's re-burial

The Shard
He could explain all the diverse connections that lead to these results, comparisons of the expense of the Shard building in London, the cost of the re burial of King Richard third, with the existence of food banks, shown via his own apple food bank where one could take fruit to eat, some evocative poems, a metal bedstead part, a ring of red painted pennies etc. A visitor I felt could only get some of the references but because the rooms were intriguing and attractive could be lead into thinking about the subjects referenced, such as disability benefit problems, and helped by reading information that was displayed, not overloading the show with reading matter but providing a context. David Axtell was there to explain where this was invited.

Alice Mahoney had put up a row of low resolution photos of empty rooms which were not explained although their dimensions were given.

Upstairs Fred McVittie contributed a video of himself exclaiming angrily and at increasingly slower motion about the all pervasive coverage of the Royal Wedding, which went well next to my picture of a glamourous crown with words beneath, not at first noticeable, saying ,'but I would prefer a Republic' I added to this a  book about the wealth of the Windsors and a communication from the organisation 'Republic'.

My room about the bedroom tax  contained a lot of information which visitors could sit at a desk and examine. I also had three things to watch on a TV monitor, my own version of 'The Money Trick' based on Tressell's  'the ragged trousered philanthropists', a Glasgow anti Bedroom Tax protest song used in rallies, and as an incongruous contrast, a n amusing clip from 'Mr Blandings Dream House' where Mirna Loy tells a workman at length what colours she wants the painter to use in the rooms.

I had as the main focus three paintings contrasting Van Gogh, an immigrant who never held down a job and existed thanks to the financial support of his brother, selling only one painting in his lifetime and suffering from mental illness, with David Cameron, PM, who has a second home, a spare house. It was because Gauguin was going to stay in Vincent's spare room that he painted the Sunflower paintings which we all know and which have been sold so expensively since his death. I would argue Van Gogh's contribution to society was immense, but one our prime minister would have dismissed  as not that of a hard working achiever.

Added to this was Virginia Woolf's comments on the need for a woman to have a room of her own in which to write,with a picture of her study, a drawing of someone's ideal spare room, the bedroom tax case history with illustrations I added, my childhood bedroom, three sculptures to do with a nightmare of the difficulties of the bedroom tax, eviction and houses as a lottery. I added the other contributions and some images I had made in1980 about the government advice in the event of
Nuclear war to 'protect and survive' by making a shelter in the house.
V.Woolf's study

Nightmare about the Bedroom Tax

Housing Lottery

I wanted the result to be visually interesting and the information to be available rather than overwhelming.

Because other contributions were few, I had the opportunity to exhibit other political works I  had, about union leader Bob Crow, the presence of armed police on Paddington Station, the St.Paul's 'Occupy' protest,

the image of women in burkhas, and the annual slaughter of 104 women in 2012 in UK by their partners or ex partners, and a joke painting about Obama and Merkel talking, with an eavesdropper round the corner of the canvas, based on a news item, and also a joke about painters who paint round the corner of the canvas.

I put 'Neighbours' just outside the Bedroom room, a painting about my painful experience of hearing a neighbour abusing her children verbally and having to decide what to do about it.
I included work about Umanets who I considered unfairly imprisoned for scribbling on a Rothko and I included remarks made by those who signed my petition, which did not succeed, including one of Pussy Riot Russian protest artists, and an article in which Umanets says he was wrong to deface the Rothko.
Umanets imprisoned in Rothko

I had various quotations from people about rooms put in odd spaces and charts about housing, room sizes, the political parties' policies etc. I had a painted banner I did for the Labour Party to use about the nhs and a photo of me in our front room where I did it and a form for the artists Union membership.

So, there was quite a lot of painting upstairs and video which contrasted with the room installations on the floor below.

There were 31 visitors and many stayed over an hour and started discussions on politics and art.

I went into Redruth's main pedestrian street round the corner and invited twenty people to visit the show. Of these two came in. The woman returned saying I did not look like the sort of person to do that sort of work, I looked too sweet. However she approved of the show and its politics.
The man turned out to be a performance poet who gave us some oral poetry on the spot, and tragically my capturing of one on video failed as I pressed the button twice and only got the images from it swinging from my wrist and me exclaiming , 'wow,that was good' maybe Terry Clemo can be persuaded to perform again? but so far my email is sadly unanswered.

All this, the hanging of the show, the invigilation and the taking down was a lot to do for one weekend.
I found it exhausting and without my husband Pedyr  Prior's invaluable help and tremendous patience it would not have happened.

Those involved felt it was worthwhile and there were a lot of positive comments made. The audience was small but really looking, really interested.

A couple of artists told me they would have liked to contribute when they saw the show.

It was marvellous to be ble to show what I wanted and to give others space also, to be in a place where you can tack a drawing unframed on the wall.
Despite the local library not allowing me to collect interviews or leave my fliers, despite having to resist the watering down of the political title of the show suggested by a member of cmr and the removal of its advertising  from a group's website where I am a member because folk were nervous of being seen as political, I had good publicity in the local paper and got listed in the Guardian guide and interviewed on the local 'funkin art ' radio station.

Hopefully I can reach a further audience through this blog.

There are a lot of criticisms made of political art, that it's too strident, too obvious, too transient, too propagandist. It ranges from literal photos and reportage to surreal constructions, from party policy to personal reverie,
Some people want to do it because politics is important to them and I am one of them.
You can say that all art is political, the choice to only do pretty pictures that sell, shocking images that are reported widely, etc. is a choice, politics is people influencing others.
When I saw the mosaics and statues glorifying the workers in the Soviet Moscow underground their messages were clear, but on my return to London I realised the coca cola ads in Piccadilly were our own capitalist propaganda.

I feel that our era of art is decadent, artists are sensation seeking, often unwilling to take a stand, leaving everything open to interpretation as if nothing really matters, often with an aesthetic of emptiness, nothingness, vacuity.
I do not want my own art to acquiesce in this and I seek to communicate clearly and be heard as well as seen.