Much of this strand of the project has been spent in my studio creating pieces which respond to my understanding of the news. I broadened my watch from BBC news which I found largely child like to include Al Jazeera and sometimes Russia Today. I watched a few documentaries on the BBC which went into things in a little more depth. The Middle East continued to pop up on BBC from time to time but as one might expect it is more extensively covered in Al jazeera. I was interested in seeing how this widening of my news channels affected my thoughts and consequently the work. The recommendation to try Al jazeera came from a white British parish councillor from a very cute Cheshire village. He said that it gave him a wider world view. I had avoided Al jazeera before. Probably fearing that it might just provide another kind of bias. I did a little research into its origins and possible motivations. To be fair more of an analysis than I've ever done of the BBC. Al Jazeera is broadcast from Qatar, some of whose recent and historic policies and affiliations are hard for me to stomach. I think I'd struggle most with floggings and stonings for adultery and their laws on homosexuality. I'd probably get along without alcohol or pork. The UN however class Qatar as a country of "high human development". This considers life expectancy, education and average income. Its a rich country with an influence disproportionate to its size.
Homophobia is illegal and subject to the death penalty in Qatar but Al jazerra has a whole section of its web stories dedicated to LBGT news from around the world. Maybe Al jazeera's claim to be independent is more true than false or maybe the Qatar state isn't as absolute on its laws as it seems. I have noted that more countries are covered in more depth and more tricky subjects are tackled on Al jazerra than the BBC. I'd heard of the issues in Venezuela from a mother whose son moved there to live a socialist life but I'd not heard anything of its current plight before a story on Al jazerra. I haven't watched it enough yet to understand what its bias might be yet.
I am still worried about how exposure to a certain kind of news alters my world view without my conscious knowledge. I'm still aware that blanket acceptance of what we watch, wherever we watch it is imperfect. I'm also suspect that even if you live in a place your view is by default partial. I noted that as I learnt more I often became more confused. All this might lead me to a reticence to express my thoughts.
I guess that the joy of LILIWAAC is that it is accumulative. A view on a certain piece of news may prove, over time, to be incorrect or overly influenced by a divesary narrative. As one crochets a piece one is influenced by the news we gain access to. As I choose another story and then another I am becoming more aware of common themes. The initial title "Like It. Lump It. We Are All Connected."becomes more portend of the final piece. I'm coming to suspect that the underlying negative connections might not be around things like religious affiliation or national allegiance but around a desire in the elite to develop, sustain and grow a certain programming. Programming from birth which stresses the importance of I over us and owned over common. If we all buy into (irony of that phrase not lost on me) a belief that we are owners of natural objects and processes as opposed to entities who co-exist in this world, alongside its natural objects, systems etc the current status quo can be preserved. Oil is a great example. It is the result of the natural process of organic matter dying and being crushed over millions of years. It is found more densely in certain places. Top three places where there are oil reserves are currently defined as, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Canada. This doesn't tally with biggest oil producers but that is probably another part of the same story. These states may claim that they own this oil. Like the Clampets in the old TV series they whoop at the discovery of the liquid goal on their previously un or semi productive land/sea. Good on them we might say. Good on us for we will be able to buy the oil to fuel our daily life. They own it and we buy it. I'm trying to take out all the complexity about conflict and regime change over oil, companies buying the rights to extract from a country, world debt forcing countries to give access to their reserves. I'm aiming to just consider this idea of ownership of natural objects and processes. I'm coming to think that this might be at the root of our perverted systems. I'm not sure if I can articulate it fully just yet. The creation of this work is helping me think it through and maybe as it goes on show it helps bring things to light which are beyond individual fact or situation.
Confusion in The Middle East
We are told that we need to view the Middle East through certain perspectives in order to understand it. Sometimes its a religious one. Sometimes its a national one. Sometimes its a civil liberties one. I think that most of these lead us to confusion and the sentiment "I don't know why they don't just knock their heads together. "
I've tried to understand it using each of these perspectives, I've got the charts to prove it. Lets have a go at religion first.
We are told that ISIS or IS or some other such fluidly named group are fuelled by religion to inflict an absolute rule of law on everybody. Whilst they might see themselves as righteous we are encouraged to see them as evil.
People who live in conflict zones defined along religious lines often talk of living amicably next to neighbours of a different religion before the conflict. There appears to be shock, horror and disappointment when neighbour turns on neighbour. If the conflict was really about bubbling unlivable religious difference surely most people would just shrug at the inevitable. I would be more inclined to say that religious differences, be they person, national or international, are more likely to be about equity or the lack of it. A religious mission just so happens to allow a group to take sole ownership of the resources in a place with the added bonus or righteousness. These assets include human resources (a horrible phrase but probably appropriate in this instance). The fighter on the ground may think they are fighting for Christ or Allah only to find that the change in state is more about a change in resources.
Instead of religion we may feel that we are fighting for nation. A threat from abroad which needs to be challenged. Looking at historic maps I have come to realise just how changeable the notion of abroad is. In the UK we could say that we have been lucky enough in recent years to be defined by our status as an Island. It is probably trickier to alter boarders when you have sea not land between you. The most profound manifestation of shifting boarders in The Middle East seems to me to be The State Of Israel. A piece of news came up about Israel bombing Syria from the Golan heights. I'd never heard of this place before. It was once part of Syria but since 1981 its been annexed by Israel. Another news story concentrated on the shooting of people on the disputed Gaza/Israeli border. Of course my knowledge and understanding of this is so partial but one image seemed to tell something about this place. The picture was posted on a Zionist site to illustrate how close Israeli's settlements were to the border and thus how in danger they are. There is the border. In this case a fence. On one side are lush green fields on the other, just metres away grey scratty earth and built up areas. The green fields are on the Israeli side. Shootings of children are justified, to not do so would lead to a breech of the fence. The idea of nation here sees those on one side of a thin line living with poor sanitation, joblessness, hungry, lacking growing land and the ability to trade. Fellow humans just a bus ride away living with so much less than their cross boarder neighbours. Whatever one might feel about this or similar conflicts I'm seeing the guise of nation state used as another means to covet and horde resources. The fact that these things are mine not yours could often be said to be largely a result of luck and sometimes force.
We come to perhaps the most difficult perspective to unpick. The fight for civil liberties. In fact so difficult to unpick that I might leave that one for another day.
colours of that countries buildings and land, Orange for Iranian buildings and the historic buildings in The Yemen, Green for the Israeli fields and grey for the impression of Gaza. Saudi Arabia white like their traditional clothes, Syria mainly dust. The colours used don't express the richness of the country they are only impressions gleaned from a sideways look. Then other details which express certain instances. Bodies dragged from a Syrian home leaving a smear of blood. A lasting impression from a two part documentary on Syria. Crosses to show the bombs shot from the Golan Heights. A thick black line around Yemen, its blockade. I'd been halted by a man on the news who held up a yellow bomb. Found on the streets of Yemen by children, channelled through Saudi Arabia from American origins. These bombs make an appearance in the piece. Dirty and used in Yemen and cleanly stock piled across the boarder in Saudi Arabia. All these pieces demoting a nation state each. Then it struck me. Rather than seeing things through the religious, nation state or civil rights perspective I could apply another lens. What if one saw all these conflicts as a battle by large corporations for resources, primarily oil but maybe water in the future. We are programmed to think of ourselves as British or Catholic, democratic, etc. When needed these identifiers can be used to make up go to war or justify a war. What if we start to see ourselves instead ruled by Exon Mobil or BP. I'm going to do a lot more thinking on this. I want to see if the conflicts I've been struggling to fathom on religious or nation grounds make more sense if looked at through the concerns of these companies. It might not be pretty. I too am hooked on oil in one way or another.
Why Continue Stitch After Stitch? 28th May 2018
It may be useful here to talk about what some artists are actually doing. There have been times when practice lacks something for me. Contrary to this are times when I know that what I am doing is important. How do I know? Firstly I enquire into it. I consider ideas and the best way to manifest that idea. I may consider it at length or it may come to me seemingly in a flash. I may set of into action only to discover that it is not the right solution. I may start again several times. But when I do happen upon an idea and the right way to do something I feel its importance. Note I say "I feel its importance". This isn't putting forward an idea that art is some kind of automatic writing and that I am just a funnel through which some mythical entity does their work. Rather it is that the actions I have enquired into and decided to commit myself to are important. At the start of these actions e.g. crocheting the news for two years or changing my body through food donation the feeling that it is important might be an inkling. It is however enough of an inkling to start me off. It gives me enough energy to begin. Often there and then with a matter of urgency. Then comes each stitch, brushstroke, cut etc etc. Hours and hours of life slip by in this pursuit. People may question your sanity. You sit in and stitch when you could go for a swim. You get up at 8am. Pick up your hook and stop at midnight. You become bored and tired and sometimes grumpy. All along the thing that keeps you going is that you know it to be important.
The work and the artists could be seen to be at once the same thing and completely separate. Just because the work is important doesn't mean that I am saying that I am important as a distinct individual. My importance is purely based on my willingness to engage in the decided action and get the work done. My importance is as the executor of the work, the person who cares enough about it to turn up each day or encourage others to turn up. I am also important in that the work comes about as a manifestation of hours of ponderances, research, lived life etc. The collection of and curating of this thinking may be unique to me. Unique in that they have never occurred in this place at this time, in this arrangement before. This of course is true of every entity. The molecules of a particular rock exist in this way and this place, at this time. Thus this rock is at once very important and at the same time no more important than the one next to it or at the other side of the universe, each being unique. It may be that the first rock holds up the statue of liberty. Whilst it does that it is seen as an important rock. It is important purely through the action it performs every day. We might presume that the rock has no idea of its current importance. It might not know what would happen if it gave up the ghost and decided to crumble. At some point in its life it may be seen as unfit for purpose and taken away. If it retains a symbolic meaning it may be put in a museum, if not a breakers yard. In the museum it becomes a thing to look at and we acknowledge its previous action as the support for the statue of liberty. Our esteem doesn't come from the fact that the rock is a thing of beauty or has a wonderful composition instead it comes from the fact that each day it turned up to do a job and it performed that function just right. Turning up and doing the actions is one of the most important and underrated tasks an artist does. Alan Bennett once said that he was only a writer when he was writing. This is at once simple and profound. I would narrow it down a bit and say that I am only an artist when I am making important artworks. There is something which drives one on to keep going through the boring bits. To understand that a work will take thousands of hours, probably never reap financial rewards or perhaps even acknowledgement. I think that something, and its the same something which keeps us all going through difficult things, is the growing feeling that this action and its result is important.
Of course there are many millions of people who could now or could have created this "Like It. Lump It. We Are All Connected" work. It takes limited crocheting skill. Its processes are easy to learn. It is made of readily available and fairly cheap materials.
Equivalent VIII (1966) or as many call it "Those bloody bricks". The criticism placed on it and him as an artist is "I could have done that.". Yes of course anybody could take some average bricks and place them in an average formation. They could have then got those bricks into a gallery (this would probably prove to be the trickiest bit). The fact is that they didn't think of doing and then do that action at that time. Once the initial exhibition was over and the work unsold Andre returned to bricks to the builders yard they came from. Later incarnations are not made from the original bricks. The work became important at a certain time because of a 1976 Sunday Times article. I'm guessing that Andre knew that he was creating an important piece of art or he wouldn't have bothered to get up and go to the builders yard. Spend time creating something which looks so replicable and perhaps inane. He wouldn't have continued to show the work time after time until it lit a spark and then a fire of debate. We don't normally carry on doing things if we don't feel they are important. It may be that we see an action as important as it pays the bills, we may see it as important because it makes people like us or grows our standing amongst our peers. We may think its important because our parents will see us as good and give us a treat. These reasons could be said to be external to the task and to me. We may however feel that some actions are important at a more intrinsic level. The action itself is important and it is important that it gets done. If we don't do the action it won't get done. I'm sure we have often been set tasks by others where the importance of getting the task done hasn't been articulated to us. Maybe the person delegating the task thought that it is clear why it is important, maybe they are just going through the motions themselves, perhaps they feel that their part in it is inconsequential, perhaps they think that the outcome will just be ignored. Given these circumstances we may make the task into an act, we might demonstrate doing the task but never get it done. We might disregard the call to action completely and let somebody else pick up the slack. We might do the task at its most basic level. We might do the bits which will reap the most external rewards and forget about the rest. If on the other hand you develop a task yourself with clear intrinsic importance or take on board just how important your part in a task is would you be more inclined to ensure the effectiveness of that action? If you are in a boat with a leak and the boat is fast taking on water you may be given a bucket to turf out the water. You might think "what's the point as fast as I pitch the water out it comes back in?". If its explained that you are pitching the water to get enough out so that a mender can see the hole enough to plug it you might pitch quickly enough to avoid sinking. The importance of the whole task is to avoid sinking. Your part is intrinsic to its success. I know that sitting in my studio each day is only a small part of changing the world but it can still feel important if it appears to be an intrinsic part of the overall success. Like the rock which is at once nothing special and unique my contribution is unimportant but essential.
There comes a point when I show the work. I leave a comments book or talk to people at the exhibition. People might say "this is an important piece of work.". Whilst this is nice to hear with works like "Like It. Lump It. We Are All Connected" it doesn't come as a big surprise. Without the feeling that it is important I would have struggled to get this far.
Thoughts from the hang at St Marys and All Saints 3rd June 2018
I was nervous before this hang. Its in a 14th C heritage building which also has a deep meaning for its congregation. The only way to hang was to use the exsisting hooks and grills. There are some hooks which were drilled in during the second world war for black out blinds. These now welcome additions were about 25 ft up. There are curved pillars which are pretty hostile to ladders and lights which hang in space. I'd looked at the space several times but was aware that it i'd only really be able to work it out during the action of the hang. I was all set to hang it on my own but luckily my son, George was free. The plan was to hang the work across one of the aisles using the hooks and pillars as anchors. The 25ft climb was needed to get the fishing wire to the hooks. There were false starts with scary ladders and then George found a stick and a bulldog clip. We could stand on the ground and hook the string around the posts and hooks. Relief to put the heavy ladder back in its home. As we started to string it up it became clear that hanging it above peoples heads gave them the opportunity to feel like they were inside it rather than just observing it. As you walk through the work it goes from light where the spaces between bodies are wider to dark as you get under the dense authority part. I call the denser part "the boil". Its made to look pustulant. Its stuffed with indiscernible material. It could bust. When I am under in it I feel like I am in the belly of the beast. You walk on into the Grenfell part of the work. This has always had a diagrammatic feel to it. In this setting, silhouetted against the window it looks like a spiders web. On the second day of the hang I put in three downward spills. Three strands of red from the knife and gun crime section, a strand of white waiting for more refugees and a strand of blue, grey and black from the Grenfell in 2018 piece. These and the canopies above give me the impression of walking through a forest. I realise that the columns of the church and the vaulted canopy of the roof give this impression too. Perhaps the architects had this in mind when they created churches.
Crocheting Oil 11th June 2018
|Taken from The BP statistical review|
I ended my blog on the Middle East confusion by proposing that the conflicts around the world might not be about nation states but rather be about large corporations, especially those concerned with oil. I admit to a bias in this view. I ride a push bike instead of owning a car, try to consume new stuff infrequently and constantly nag my family about turning the heating down. I get my energy from a 100% renewable source. I do all this for many reasons but one of the major driving forces behind my decisions is a realisation that I am hooked on oil and gas. Its in my clothes, makeup, sockets, taxi, packaging, food production etc etc. I can't get rid of it entirely but I can perhaps limit it. I look at the maps of conflicts and the maps of oil reserves and I note a correlation.I also note a correlation popping up in world news between crashes in a countries economy as oil is found. People in Venezuela for example struggling to afford overinflated food prices whilst its reserves of oil are high.
I've crocheted oil in black cheap yarn, probably plastic based. The irony is not lost nor is the thinking needed to justify its use. It drips down the wall of the church at a remote distance from the rest of the work and also marks places where I think its relevance is felt. It currently features in the Middle East, plastics in the oceans, Grenfell and will probably feature in other places too. The oil work is similar to the early days boil type piece I created to represent the powers that be and large corporations. The boil takes up a large place in the work and yet power structures are rarely spoken off in the news. Instead of talking about a system which pushes us down we talk immigration, waring factions, politicians inability to eat sandwiches, facebook. Whilst I know that the project set out to crochet those stories which make the news it has always led me to look behind the stories. Its been funny that soon after I've started crocheting a hidden subject it will often jump into the news. Maybe the news is no longer leading us but rather our group consciousness, collective inklings and conversations are leading it. That might be a nice change.
Is It Ok, Or Even possible, To Bury Your Head In The Sand?
Along this journey I've encountered all sorts of news consumers. Sometimes I'll hear a conversation about a news story as I travel about on the buses, sometimes I'll be in direct conversation with people. Several people have said that they don't watch or read any news. Sited as the most popular reason is that it depresses them. One person said that she will ask friends to retell news stories which peak her interest. Several said that they didn't like the formats of papers of TV news but later realised that news got through to them through friends sharing news stories on social media. I don't read papers any more. I find them too simplistic and frankly rather boring. I'd rather read a book about an issue I'm interested in or find articles online. I watch the BBC news and Al Jazeera. I watch documentaries sometimes. Before I started this project I might go months without hearing a news story from traditional sources. My motive wasn't to avoid the sadness in the world but a dissatisfaction with the modes of telling the news. I wonder about this common argument that one must seek personal happiness and equilibrium at all cost and that one way one can do this is to place on blinkers to others plight. To block out all news which contradicts your belief that all is well with every bodies world. I was prompted to these thoughts by a facebook post which talked about only being around happy people and getting rid of negativity in your life. Its a common mantra which pops up time and time again. All that matters is our individual personal happiness and well being. I worry that this kind of thinking leads to a cut. There are those who are happy and there are those who are ostracised because they are sad or unfortunate and bring the happy people down. Those who are sad might take themselves away from society or fain happiness. My own experience is that opening oneself up to all the things we are connected to in life doesn't bring personal sadness. Instead it brings a balance.I know that I am not always happy, not always sad. I'm not always good or always bad. So it is with the wider world. I'm interested in how the traditional news stories are normally focused on the negative. I met a reporter the other day and he commented on an incident "that was a good story". A good story to a national or world reporter probably includes some hardship and novelty. Social media however has a mix. The news you get will be more influenced by the friends you gather and the things you have shown an interest in. I've noted that more posts on my time line are positive than negative. There is a temptation here to block those who don't share our world view but I've resisted this so far. My need to know what lots of people think and feel is normally stronger than my need for a peaceful mind.
Another thing which has been shared is a fear that our empathy is so sensitive that seeing the reality of the world with all its good and bad will throw us into a downward spiral. People who don't watch the news as it makes them cry. I personally don't think there is anything wrong with crying. I can often be found sobbing over a documentary. To cry over anothers plight shows our best human trait, empathy. It also gives us an outlet for emotions which might otherwise be bottled. After a cry I might leap into action. The other outlet I have is making art. Its a privilege to be able to take all those emotions, be they negative or positive and articulate them through art. I say a privilege but its open to anybody and if you aren't using it as a way to show off a skill or get approval all that matters is your own expression.