The State of the Arts
So for this panel we’ve been asked to try and predict what new forms of art might emerge in the next decade and where they will take place.
But I’ve really got to be honest right at the start and say I definitely, definitely have no idea.
But then, I don’t think I’d want it any other way. I wouldn’t want to try and predict what’s coming next because fundamentally I’d never want art to be that predictable. I wouldn’t want things to slide in and out of fashion like heels or shoulder pads or French windows. I wouldn’t want art to inevitably follow advancements in technology, in the internet, in iphone applications, in video games and social networking sites. I don’t want art to evolve elegantly, sensibly, with neat, traceable legacies. I don’t want to be able to walk smugly back in here in a decade’s time and say ‘I told you so’.
Instead, I want to be amazed.
I want to be shocked.
I want to be confused.
I want art to be messy.
I want it to be unpredictable.
I want it to be all over the place.
I want some group of people who’ve been working away in obscurity for the last ten years to finally make it.
I want the National Theatre to go bankrupt and be squatted by people who really don’t know what their doing.
I want all the GPS satellites to fall gently out of orbit, ushering in a renaissance in old fashioned mapmaking.
I want someone to invent something as good as the internet.
I want us to be shaken roughly into acknowledgement of our own crushing decadence.
I want all the artists to sit down on our new seafront just outside Peterborough and wonder what the fuck we’re going to do about all of this.
From out of nowhere I want someone to discover something completely new.
I want someone to rediscover something really old.
I want ideas to be borrowed, pillaged, repurposed, re-imagined.
So what about where they will take place:
A dusty church hall in Edinburgh.
On a train between London and Birmingham.
Or an aeroplane over the Atlantic.
On a boat in international waters.
In a flooded village hall.
In the rented corridors of royal palaces.
In the abandoned skyscrapers of the docklands.
Illegally, in prison cells.
Peep show booths.
In your own home.
Or in a movement in a window
Or in an unseen touch, lingering on the back of your hand.
Or in a phone call.
Or in the way someone asks you to look at someone.
Or what they whisper to you as you walk along.
Or what they simply ask you to imagine.
Who knows? All these places and more maybe.
The less we try and predict the better. The more exciting the spaces will be and the more exciting the art will be.
Spaces are never empty, despite what Peter Brook says. They are never a blank canvas. They are always already full. Full of conventions and prohibitions. Choked with history. Noisy with politics. Give an artist into a space and you are giving them a way of working, a way of being. Often I feel people should try harder to let the artist decide where they go, rather than encouraging them to use the spaces we keep designing without really asking them.
Let’s stop building new theatres and new galleries. We need less cathedrals and more homes. Let’s just wait and see what’s needed. Let’s think harder about how we can make use of what we’ve got – how that can be shaped to the needs of the artist.
So that’s what the work will be and where it will take place sorted out pretty quickly, leaving me enough time to talk a bit about what I think is missing from that question – not the what or the where but the how.
How will this new art be made?
How can you make a new form of art, a really new form of art, when so many of the institutions that are there to support it limit themselves through narrow categorisations and proscriptive paths of development?
Specialisms quickly become suffocating. Institutions rightly celebrate their area of expertise but in doing so they also ring fence it, inhibiting people from experimenting with new ways of working. Where do you go if you fall between the cracks? Where do you go if you know what you want to do but you can’t find anywhere to do it? In theatre for example where do you go if you need space for developing and showing your work, but it doesn’t fit a script or a scratch night?
Where to find the elusive combination of creative freedom with vital constructive support?
I genuinely believe answer may increasingly be that artists find it in each other, forging new artist-led communities and organisations.
Look for example at Residence in Bristol. A community of artists working somewhere between theatre and live art, sharing space and resources. Encouraging each other and collectively engendering new opportunities for creating and presenting their work. Out of this miniature ecosystem is coming some of the most exciting performance work to be seen anywhere in the country. Companies like Action Hero and Tinned Fingers, creating work that is distinctive, thoughtful, daring and utterly original.
Or look at Showflat. A group of artists based in London supporting each other to work outside of the constraints of the gallery system by using their own flats to curate a year-long series of exhibitions, events and happenings.
Or the SHUNT Lounge – a theatre come gallery come bar come club come music venue come chaotic subterranean universe where the performance collective SHUNT managed to create one of the most dynamic spaces anywhere in the country for artists to experiment with new ideas. A space unlike any other, constantly re-imagining itself each week as a new member of the company became its lead curator.
I hope to see more and more of these artist-led collective projects. A brilliant network of artist-led communities emerging across the length and breadth of the country.
I hope to see a giddily diverse range of artists working together, making new spaces for themselves determined only by their fascinations and desires. Artists supporting each other to make new work, encouraging each other. New forms emerging unexpectedly from shared space and shared ideas.
And once these artists have established themselves, once they have built that space and forged those new forms, I hope to hear them speaking in unison to champion these new ways of making the new things that are being made.
Thank you very much.