Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Future is Now

"We must recognise the integrity of our opponents and include them in our embrace" 1.
  
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It's easier said than done isn't it? Recognising the integrity of our opponents and including them in our embrace. 

And it's even more difficult when there are times it seems that those with whom we disagree are significantly lacking in integrity; moral, social, political, personal. That is when we must, without a moments hesitation fall back on the default setting, the fundamental human right of respecting the dignity of that person.



Respecting their dignity is something we must do regardless of who they are or whether we personally feel they deserve it or not. It is not up for negotiation. And if we find we can't recognise much integrity in them, we must still treat them with at least the basics of dignity and work to include them in our embrace.



This has never been more urgent. You will be aware as you read this, that right-wing parties across the globe are gaining credibility, influence and power by restricting their countries borders based on dubious ethnic/religious criteria, clamping down on human rights and controlling cultural activities that do not conform to, or promote their agenda. We have entered an era where an international network of politicians, lobbyists and figureheads who have formerly been viewed by the demographic at large as extremists, now feel comfortable enough to reveal their connections across the continents.



It's not only coming from the political right-wing. There are many people from a range of political persuasions, and none, who are just as angry and aggressive.



Do I recognise the integrity of any of the aforementioned people? Difficult. Can I respect their basic dignity even if I don't think they deserve it? I have to. Because if I don't, the alternative and it's consequences do not even bear thinking about. These, then, are the people that we must continually seek to engage with respect, and work hard to include them in our embrace.





 Saffiyah Khan confronting the English Defense League...with a smile. I don't own the copyright on this photograph. If there is an issue please get in touch and I,ll remove it.





A bit about the new artworks on-line including:


If Angels Cast Shadows..., mezzotint




Echoes in the Street, mezzotint and etching




Fish on a Plate, etching




There is certainly something of what I have just written above in the new artwork.



I read recently that political videos with aggressive titles are cropping up with increasing frequency both here in the UK and abroad. Although not exclusive to politics, they are an example of growing international trends for videos with confrontational titles. "The trend for videos where someone "schools", "beats", "takes apart" or even "destroys" their opponent appears to come from America's polarised political culture" 2.



Although punchy headlines have long been one of the most important skills in journalism, on the internet this seems to translate directly into on-line success. If it makes people angry they will be more likely to click, like, share and therefore spread it's message. With aggressive, negative and destructive videos "we are pushing people to hate, attack and humiliate each other. That's good for watch time but bad for society...we have a natural tendency to pay attention to fights and this only encourages video makers to emphasis confrontation over collaboration" 3. Of course, all of this masquerades as freedom of speech while failing to accept our responsibilities that come with such freedom.



Each of the new artworks is permeated (visually) with words like "coexist" "peace/war" and "shalom/salaam". One includes the line "in a lawful, moral society it is the responsibility of the rich to make sure the poor do not starve, it is the responsibility of the strong to make sure the weak are not preyed upon".



Instead of destroying our opponents, can we engage them with dignity whilst aiming to include them in our embrace? Peace after all starts with a smile.




1. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. BBC Newsnight interview. 
2. Joey D'Urso, BBC News website. 
3. Guillame Chaslot, former YouTube engineer, BBC News website.


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Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Science vs religion - The Imaginary Divide

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Some of you may already know, or have guessed from previous posts, that I am a bit of a science enthusiast and I am also a (religious) believer. And that's why, several years ago I started to think about the twin themes of Reason and Revelation; "the world of reason or the world of revelation - the world of the philosopher or the world of the mystic". 

That’s a phrase I coined to help me understand our faiths and beliefs, where belief can lead to conflict but also where a lack of faith can leave us without foundations.



In the West, the conditions that allowed the scientific/social enlightenment of the 18thC started to develop ideas which claimed that an expansion of our knowledge would bring about a rational understanding of our old superstitions and beliefs. That God Himself would be explained away in the reasoning that followed.



And interestingly enough, the conflict between science and religion/faith is a conversation that has been popping up again and again for me over the last wee while. My neice Esther (O'Connor, singer/songwriter with Ashton Lane) recently introduced me to a sermon on line called "The Imaginary Divide". Of the many points that were made, one thing that did stay with me is that faith, not specifically the religious kind, can take us beyond reason and doesn't have to contradict it.



It was the French writer and philosopher Voltaire who said "Faith consists of believing when it is beyond the powers of reason to believe".  A theoretical scientist for example, has to imagine a place where they have never been before. It is so true of science that many of the greatest discoveries were, and continue to be made possible by an audacity of imagination: a leap of faith. I think therefore we can question the wisdom of an exclusively reasoned and rational world- or universal-view, by saying that intuition and faith are as essential as logic and reason. Perhaps Einstein was fairly close to the mark when he said "religion without science is lame, science without religion is blind".



Now, most of us accept that there is a balance to be found between science and religion. They are different ways of expressing different perspectives of the same universe and our place within it. "What is a scientist after all?" said Jacques Yves Cousteau. "It is a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what's going on." If that's the case then what is religion? I'd say it is when a curious man is looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of experience, trying to know what's going on.



And that leads me back to what the wonderful Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said in a BBC program here in the UK a few years ago. He said "Science takes things apart to see how they work, religion puts things together to see what they mean".  Dead on!



A bit about the new works...



"Like his earlier mezzotints and etchings, Duffin's newer work reflects his inner journey through philosophical and scientific matters...through form, symbol, colour and texture...the iconographic vocabulary of gargoyles, angels, doves, guns and bombs being intuitive to the Western viewer."



"Though pondering matters of war, hatred and disruption Duffin reiterates a phrase often integrated in his work: "Peace starts with a smile" reminding us that the most powerful weapon we hold as individuals is a smile. It seems however, that the power which Duffin himself holds as an artist is to raise the difficult subjects which permeate contemporary society and reflect them back to the viewer in a thought-inspiring way. What he seeks across cultural and religious divides is the humanity that connects us..." 

Isabelle Thul, ArtMag UK.




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Sunday, 12 August 2018

Fight Conflict

We can spend a lot of time debating what civilisation is or isn't. But when its opposite shows up in all its brutality and cruelty and intolerance and lust for destruction, we know what civilisation is. We know it from the shock of its imminent 
loss, as a mutilation on the body of our humanity.1


A friend of mine who is a Pastor gave a talk one Sunday morning where he began by saying "I could stand up here and deliver a sermon with, let's say, ten bullet points. Perhaps you agree with nine of those points and disagree with one. Guaranteed it'll be the one point you disagree with that you'll remember! Why!?”



What is it about the current condition of the human psyche that wants to seek out that one point to argue about yet apparently fails to celebrate and build on the ninety percent of stuff we agree on? As one negotiator's maxim puts it "there is probably more that unites us than divides us".



Can we think of a better starting point than that?!



Yet we continue to see the polarising of extreme views, even within our own neighbourhoods; views that refuse to tolerate anything other than their own narrow mindsets. The clash between the religious and secular spheres for example has to be seen as indicative of a wider, interconnected conflict of global ideologies, religions and geopolitical power struggles alongside the marginalisation and persecution of minority opinions or lifestyles.



However, if we look at the situation on a global scale we will in fact see that it isn't as hopeless as we perhaps assume or perceive it to be. For although it seems that democracy is on the back foot and that the age of the strongman is on the rise, history has shown us that human nature is not on the authoritarian’s side.



The BBC’s foreign news editor John Simpson recently pointed out that two hundred years ago there were only handful of democracies around the world. Even by the 1970’s there were still only 20 or so. “Today, despite the continuation of Chinese and Russian authoritarian regimes, there are well over a hundred….for every example of democracy fading out or finding itself under attack, there are countless examples of democracy and democratic activists moving forward and finding solutions” 2. Also it is surprising to learn that deaths from terrorism were statistically much higher in the 1970’s than now! Although on the increase, we are not yet back up to 70s level! 



Stephen Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now demonstrates at length many statistics that support a considerable rise in our level of well-being and security within a range of societies. And although not all-pervasive it is widespread, showing that any negative perception of humanity in a downward spiral is essentially inaccurate.



Despite our impatience for wanting speedy solutions in an age of rapid change where democracy by nature is slower to deliver, and when so-called strongmen such as Trump, Putin or Xi Jinping tout their ability for instant response, humanity at heart still abhors Authoritarianism.



Democracy is not perfect. It is subject (as is religion) to abuse and manipulation and was called by Churchill, the worst form of government, except for all the others. “Forgive its failings, and work to improve them as long as it’s core institutions further civil rights, guarantee rule of law and are subject to the will of the people” 3.



“Want to fight religious extremism? Then don’t push secularism. Marginalising religion, asserting that you can’t be part of mainstream society without being secular, pushes both alienated Muslims in Europe and Jews in Israel [and I would add Christians in the US and elsewhere] towards isolation and extremism”4.



Fight social and economic inequality, engage with the marginalised and disenfranchised and teach our children the critical thinking skills to separate truth from lies.

 
In short, although it may sound paradoxical, fight conflict!




Top Image: © Stuart Duffin 2018 "The Paradox of Prophecy" (detail)
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About the new work...



"On the Making of Errors" - mezzotint

Charlottesville lawyer Charles Weber who is fighting to retain the cities confederate statues said in their defense “it’s not in the US DNA to deny its history”. And with respect, that is a valid point. Those who forget history are bound to live through it again. The problem is not about denial, but essentially with the glorification of that history. Perhaps a considerate solution would be to allow statues of civil rights heroes such as Martin Luther King alongside those of Robert E Lee; this too is our history, let’s not forget it. The mezzotint “On the Making of Errors” relates (coincidentally) to this while also playing on title of one of the 19th century’s standard treatise on the art of etching called “On the making of Etchings” by Frank Short RE (published in 1888 and of which I own a first edition issue). It is in the lower panel that we read the giveaway subtitle “the long awaited return of history”.


TERMINVS” - collage on panel

In relation to what I wrote in the post above, I am also launching a new working of the “TERMINVS” collage. It includes the Latin phrase terminus post quod non licit; no going beyond this point. On the left there is an image of confrontation (here and no further). The right hand image speaks of the opposite (here is the starting point). Jerusalem, represented by both the fragmented graffito and the old city panorama taken from the roof of my studio is in the center. The work is of course “not about Jerusalem, but relates to it in it’s many forms” as Arik Kilemnik wrote of my work many years ago. This collage with its call for something beyond tolerance and resolution remains central to much of my new developing work.


“Bang goes the theory” - mezzotint

One of the significant images in “Bang goes the theory” has a dove sitting on the barrel of a gun. Believe it or not, this actually happened. While a television crew were following a squad of soldiers in the Middle East in Adam Curtiss’s documentary Bitter Lakes, a dove did indeed land on the barrel of one of the soldiers guns while lying in the undergrowth on patrol. The look of utter astonishment on the soldiers face on film is a wonder to behold. And it only goes to show that anything is possible.




NOTES:

1. Simon Schama on the destruction of Palmyra. Civilisations, BBC.

2. and 3. James Stavridis, 4-star Admiral and 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Time Magazine.

4. Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli journalist writing in Haaretz.

Top Image: © Stuart Duffin 2018 "The Paradox of Prophecy" (detail)




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Monday, 13 November 2017

Two Shades of Hope

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Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.    
Arthur C. Clarke 
(science fiction writer, inventor)


As kids growing up in the 60’s, we were led to believe that in the future as adults we would be taking our kids to the moon on holiday. Science was all the rage and much of what was still science fiction back then is now commonplace in our 21st century civilisation. Although many predictions have come to pass (not the moon one though) some that failed to materialise now seem totally mad and way off the mark. 

Arthur C. Clarke for example, can be seen on TV predicting that in the future we will be able to communicate (conduct our business is what I think he said) instantly with anyone anywhere in the world without even knowing where that person is. Dead on, and that was before global TV transmission, in the days of electric telephones connected by wires and when PC’s and even video had yet to be invented. He also predicted in the next sentence that our future labour problems would be alleviated by using genetically modified chimps as servants! It just shows that predicting the future, or prophesying as some would say, is a precarious business.

In our contemporary world we are still fairly addicted to science and like to quote “the science bit” to prove our point. We employ the science bit to back up so many arguments and have even used it to prove the non-existence of God. However, when the science bit uncovers or proposes something we don’t like, it’s so typically human to quietly ignore it hoping it’ll just shut up after a while. 

Take the whole “is there life out there” debate as an example. Is there life out there among the billions of stars with their many billions of habitable planets? Of course there is. Logic and sheer probability says there must be. BUT, the science bit has also said that it may only be simple single celled life forms. Why? Well, the “ fateful encounter hypothesis” states that mathematically, complex life, never mind intelligent life is likely to be much rarer than we have previously assumed. Because of the evolutionary bottleneck inherent in the development beyond simple life forms (it's all down to the very lucky formation of eukaryotic cells with mitochondria) complex life forms, therefore intelligent life could actually be considered a galactic or universal rarity. In fact it's considered so unlikely it may only have happened the once.

So what’s my point here (I don’t mean the point of my existence here in this studio typing my blog post)? Well, as a lover of all things scientific I totally relate to something that Professor Brian Cox said in a BBC TV program here in the UK on this topic a few years back. He said that in fact we may be alone in the universe after all. More important though was his response to this statement. In that case, he said, that makes us very precious indeed. And if we are unique, surely we have an extra responsibility to look after ourselves, our planet and all life on it.


A bit about the new work

Regular readers of this blog may by now realise that what I write here isn’t “about” the new work but is something that relates to it. The new mezzotint “as fools rush in” is based on the quote “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” by Alexander Pope in his 1711 poem An Essay on Criticism. The phrase alludes to inexperienced or rash people attempting things that more experienced people avoid. This mezzotint also suggests that there are consequences of rash decisions by our less mature political leaders. Interestingly and quite coincidentally, the angel looks like she is leaning forward and about to snuff out the burning fuse on the bomb, like someone has to take control and sort out the mess!

A compliment to this work might be the etching “two shades of hope” (many thanks again as always Foy). I said shades, not sides...well, Foy said it first but hope is so multifaceted in my experience. The lower text states that the abolition of order leads to the escalation of chaos. In this etching there is a dove on an olive branch facing another dove on the end of a gun barrel. Perhaps I was thinking about the idea of guilty silence in witnessing persecution/racism (the sleeping dove on the end of the gun?) and of speaking out for those who seem to have little or no voice of their own. As I've said before, freedom of speech is not absolute and comes with responsibilities (the theme in the two small mezzotints also launched here).

The collage JerusalemDove speaks for its self. 


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Monday, 24 July 2017

You learn something new every day

Despite evidence to the contrary I am a firm believer that there is no life after coffee. I try to wake myself up with a pot of strong coffee every morning and I still frequently go through the day like a sloth with a spliff.

I AM however, a firm believer that if something is not working and I'm not sure what's wrong with it (and therefore how to fix it) then I just take it to bits, carefully mark up those bits to go back in the right place, in the right order and then reassemble the whole thing and it will likely work fine.

How do I know this? Simple. I've done it a thousand times.

For the last three months my wonderful etching press has been out of commission as I was getting nothing but creased prints coming from of it! I tried everything I have ever learned and more, in my forty (almost) years worth of significant etching experience to fix the problem. Then David Rochat, the press maker finally came up from England, took it to bits and gave it a full maintenance overhaul. Once reassembled, we carefully reset everything and I was treated to witnessing (and practicing under expert guidance) the craft of some serious fine-tuning. Guess what? It works. I think digital techs got this from us, only they don't always have to take anything to bits...just switch it off, leave it for thirty seconds and switch it on again.

So the moral of this wee story is that as etching master at the Glasgow Print Studio, its good to know that there is always more to learn. Even better when I was able to learn it some of it.



About the new work...

So what has this to do with the new work launched on line?

Well, at first glance not a lot unless you count learning something new every day. The text in lower panel of the mezzotint "History repeating or counting out time?" (above) reads "philosophical approaches to the question of veracity equipped with the finest intellectual..." blah blah blah. In other words, it's drivel, designed to baffle us with seemingly rational opinions and arguments instead of presenting the facts as we currently know them. It's also a comment on the whole exposure of the fake news industry sweeping through the media. The main image of the doves on the exploding hourglass, along with the title maybe points to the consequences of this and of our willingness to believe so as to justify our own narrow-mindedness or prejudice.

It's hinted at again in the etching/mezzotint "An audacity of imagination". The text here seems to suggest more opinionated drivel, but it finally admits that the task of the so called heretic is to "tell the truth...and run". Often it is the heretics of the day that become history's prophets.

I started both of these prints in Jerusalem at JPW (Jerusalem Print Workshop) during last summers residency. They have taken ages to complete. But they are now on-line for you and can be seen here at stuartduffin.com, along with three much larger scale mezzotints and a new digital composition.



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Monday, 3 April 2017

Beyond Borders



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"No city is legitimate if it takes away the dignity of those who live there" 1.



A palimpsest, by definition entails the erasure of what was there before, of what was in the past and claiming the foundation (either a parchment or monumental brass plaque) for re-use. 



But as the American writer William Cuthbert Faulkner said "The past isn't dead and buried. It isn't even past". Right now it seems we are living with the global consequences of past decisions and are reaping the rewards in abundance.



In Jerusalem, we can go back centuries, millennia even, as each successive civilization puts down its roots in the land, laying the foundations for claim and counterclaim for generations to come. As soon as we untangle one part there is another layer of tangle underneath.



Fast forward to 2017 and it's not just in Jerusalem that we see the past catching up with us. From Iraq to Crimea, from Hong Kong, Africa, to the Americas. Across the globe "policy makers seem to be confused and at a loss...politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous" 2.



A few years ago, on a gable end wall in west Jerusalem I saw a work of graffiti art that said "just forgive". It’s easy to say but much more difficult to do. However, within a conflict, it can begin to happen when at least one side realises that it can, and must, let go of exclusive claims to persecution and discrimination; having the courage to recognise that others have suffered too.



Just recently I saw that the gable end wall has gone and with it the graffiti art. Let us help its message survive.




About the new work...


This is what I am hinting at in new works such as Terminus or Beyond Borders. Breaking out of an existing narrow mind-set is difficult, especially if we feel an injustice has been done against us. There are many who feel that they are being discriminated against; some with good reason. We should seek that everyone is treated not the same but with equality (there is a difference).



However, seen from a long-standing position of perceived superiority and privilege-by-right, being given equal treatment will of course seem like being discriminated against. When the pie starts to shrink, those holding such views will do everything possible to hang on to their (unequal) share, or even increase it. And the only way they can do that is to make sure everyone else gets less.



The new etching [L f.Gk nostos - return home] returns also to my opening sentiment. No city or society, no government, country or nation is legitimate if it takes away the dignity of those who live there.



As the character Soloman in James Swallow's Nomad said, "In a lawful, moral society, it is the responsibility of the rich man to see that the poor man does not starve. It is the responsibility of the strong man to see that the weak man is not preyed upon."



1. Garbiel Vallecillo Marques, Honduran film maker

2. Mikhail Gorbachev, Former Premier of the Soviet Union


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