Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Still as Statues (or good guy? bad guy?)

We are lucky here in the British Isles. 

We take so much for granted. We have been born in a wealthy country.

But as comedian Frankie Boyle succinctly pointed out, we have not been born in a wealthy country, we have been born in a getaway car and the victims have been chasing us ever since.

Our conscience is finally catching up with the consequences of our colonialist history.

In facing up to it and trying to make amends, we will have to make decisions about retaining or removing our colonialist statues and street names among other things.

Some of us may not be too happy if a decision goes against what we had hoped for. Therefore we need to be prepared to work together to continue educating both ourselves and our children about racism regardless.

If we remove the statues for example, what would be the best way to prevent our children and our youth from forgetting our history and just repeating the same old mistakes later in life like we did?

If we retain them, can we erect statues of our black and ethnic leaders and activists right alongside those of Colston, Dundas, Robert E. Lee, Rhodes and the likes? Would this counteract the racist attitudes that many of those problematic historic statues represent; one root of the problem being glorification of that history, not recognition/denial of it?

Remember. This is our history and we forget it at our peril.

What I have seen in the Middle East is that it’s often within the younger generation that fundamentalism and racism on both sides is resurfacing. A friend of mine who has been living and working in Croatia since before the start of the 1990s Balkans war and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia has said much the same thing. It is among "those who are too young to remember what happened” that intolerance is taking hold.

I have a colleague whose teenage daughter had recently started an online petition to ensure racism awareness is taught in schools. She said that in all her high school years she had not one single lesson or lecture on racism. The UK media (BBC) reports that racism is still “alive and kicking” in our primary (junior) and secondary (high) schools.

“History is here for us to remember our faults and learn by them. We [historians] are not here to erase the nasty history and leave the good stuff to remember.” (Lenny Low, historian). It’s when we remember our history, no matter how painful it may be that we, and our children understand and learn from past mistakes.

The wheels are coming off our getaway car. Let’s make a good job of crashing it productively, with respect and understanding, a bit of dignity and with a smile.

New Work launched for Summer 2020.

Still as Statues - mixed media collage 37x30cm

Citizens of Peace - mixed media collage 36x30cm

Good Guy? Bad Guy? - digital composition 36x30cm


Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Business as NOT usual

How do artists and creators respond to something like (well...nothing like, really...) the Covid-19 pandemic? 

Many of us who are still managing to create under lockdown have responded in different ways to the life changing, even civilization changing Covid-19 event of the last few months. You may have seen Anthony Gormley's bleak clay figurines, Banksy's stencilled rats causing chaos in his bathroom ("my wife hates it when I works from home"), or David Hockney's sunny iPad drawings from his garden.

Some, like veteran indie musician Momus wrote an entire new album of songs about Covid-19 whilst suffering from the symptoms. Others like artist (and friend of mine from Jerusalem Print Workshop) Andi Arnovitz, finished a body of work called Epidemiology that was actually started last August. And I have just recently realised that the mezzotint I sent to the Royal Scottish Academy annual exhibition earlier this year has as part of the image, a bio-hazard symbol. Coincidence? Probably, but as someone said in Andi Arnovitz's case, "prophetic"?

Either way it does make me realise that what Momus said rings true. The pandemic "puts us all in the same state of existential anguish". Artiste, shopkeeper, delivery guy, health or emergency service worker, job seeker, politician, youngster, oldster or inbetween-ster, whoever. The virus SARS-CoV-2 respects no one.

Ultimately we are only as strong as our neighbour and in the face of so much disruption and suffering regardless of national or tribal boundaries, we could do well to also look out for our neighbours' well-being too.

I have noticed that in the communities where I live and work, many people are rising to the challenge. Whether that is just smiling at the person we see (from more than 2 metres away!) whilst out exercising, or being encouraged by friends and colleagues at Glasgow Print Studio who are volunteering their creative skills and facilities to make much needed PPE's on our laser cutter for front line health and emergency service workers.

Trying not to be too introspective, I wonder if my interest in science will be rekindled by all of this. Coincidentally, I was already thinking of it. As an artist it often takes me quite a while to distil experiences that influence my work. So, for me (and for you too), we'll just have to wait and see.

A bit about the new works including.............

"of Conflict and Resolution" 

"of Conflict and Resolution II"
Although these two versions of the same idea re-use some of my familiar images and themes, the line "peace starts with a smile" has perhaps once again become very poignant. The Covid 19 pandemic has shown the fragility of life, whether human or planetary, and that it can hang by a thread. 

The angel in the new work seems to be waiting for our collective response to the pandemic. We have the opportunity to review and renew our relationships with others and with the world in which we live. Ahead lies the post C-19 path of conflict, confrontation and business as usual.  But ahead also lies a path of resolution, of genuine progress, one that recognises that the world is not the same place it was and that business as usual may really not the smartest option after all.

Top image: detail from the mezzotint "Where Hope Still Burns"


Monday, 20 January 2020

Stop! Look! Listen!

I wonder if as a species, we human beings are losing our powers of observation along with our capability for information recall?

I ask this because recently a friend of mine had visited an interesting tourist spot and I asked him what he thought of it. "Here, I'll show you" he said, and whipped out his smart-phone. 

Me, being a smarty-pants said "I don't want you to show me, I want you to tell me what you though of it". For a minute or two all I got was a sort of blank look from him.

Perhaps we too have set up a photo opp in a second or two without really looking at the subject or content only to move on rapidly. In our instant and accessible world, that memory has been digitally recorded to be dealt with later.

Are we really happy enough with remembering the recorded version rather than living one grounded in observation and experience, interacting with the real-time event?

Although memory is highly personal, subjective and in fact very malleable (what we re-member may or may not have been what actually happened) I do think easy, personal digital storage of this sort has implications for the way in which we view the world around us. Our unwillingness, or growing inability to observe and appreciate events "in real-time" may wrongly colour our understanding of both the present and the past, whether that's our own memory of events or our perception of history and the lessons to be learned.

Furthermore, failing to realise that past cultures had, over millennia developed a significant capacity for profound powers of information recall and therefore memory, could lead us to judge their story telling traditions as mere folklore rather than dedicated transmission of important information; information which often had life or death consequences.

We judge other cultures outside of our experience to be somehow primitive and inferior to our own as viewed from our 21st century, first world perspective without understanding the circumstances around such traditions as story telling/information recall.

And here perhaps lies a very real and insidious danger. Relying on Internet algorithms for delivering information about the world around us increases the chances of our being fed through the filter bubble of selective news feeds and targeted influence, reinforcing what could already be our preconceived, misinformed or manipulated opinions. This will only serve to further diminish the breadth and depth of our understanding and appreciation of major political, moral or social issues that face us.

What can I do about this? Well, over the last few years I have been checking myself regarding my response to what I read and see on-line that might make me annoyed or angry. My first reaction now is to stop and ask the following simple, but effective question.

"Why is this making me angry or emotional?"

If I take my time over answering it, looking out for the subliminal use of suggestive words, terms and photographs, all to often the answer reveals that it is deliberately aimed at manipulating my emotions and anxieties on a subconscious level while potentially trying to bias my opinions. Knowing this, I am more prepared to take a step back, avoid the Internet equivalent of an instant road-rage response and do a little bit of rational thinking and research.

Try asking yourself the same question next time it happens to you. Take a few minutes to analyse the less obvious aspects of the content. You may well be surprised at how considerate your response is.

A few notes about the new work including .....

A Random Act of Hope - etching with mezzotint panel

In Memoriam - Homo Deus - computer graphic image

Hope in Shifting Shadows - mezzotint with etched panel

Some of what I have written above is definitely present in the new works. As always with my artworks that have the word hope in the title, in the one called "A Random Act of Hope" we read the words "The Reactionary's Palimpsest...contemporary trends for the waging of war on peace". It's a reference, on one hand to the (deliberate or otherwise) manipulation of our anxieties, fears and preconceptions through our own narrow-mindedness. On the other hand, the olive branch, the smile and the doves sitting on the logos War and Peace offer an alternative route to the well-being of our own humanity, individually and collectively.

In the digital triptych titled In Memoriam - Homo Deus, the center panel has text that proclaims "And Man said "Behold, let us make god in our own image, so that we can be sure that god hates all the same people we do"". Visually it has placed "self" at the very center of the work with all power leading to, and flowing from the self centered individual. But there is also the suggestion that doing so is ultimately self destructive as indicated in the left and right panels. Divided between them, they contain the phrase "In Memoriam, Homo Deus".

In the mezzotint, "Hope in Shifting Shadows", it is the raven that unexpectedly takes the initiative by offering the doves an olive branch. Yet this occurs in front of graffiti on the wall that states "It is forbidden to proceed beyond this point". The initiative therefore is rendered null and void. As  British street artist Banksy recently stencilled on the Palestine/Israel separation/security wall "PEACE on EARTH *terms and conditions apply" However negative this seems, there is always hope as the raven, who has cropped up in other works of mine just keeps trying.

"To wage war isn't [usually] a purpose, it's a [defensive, preconditioned and often unconscious] threat reflex. We should be trying to think our way out of this mess" 1.

See the full selection of six new works launched on my website at stuartduffin.com

1. From the novel "Salvation" by Peter F. Hamilton with  my own additions in parenthesis and italic emphasis