....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

people running things - the import of fools

The idea that we have a linear system of consent that feeds up a chain to a decision-making body which then affects our lives from afar- is clearly under question. 

Today saw new proposals for local people to take over the running of local services - this is in step with the momentum behind ideas of greater ‘participation’, ‘bottom-up not top-down’, ‘local people leading’……these are precious and brilliant aims. Aims often fostered by people who have a passion for community, place and identity – people motivated by something more than personal greed or political ambition.
( NB of course there is a HUGE risk that these ideas are hijacked by politicians with entirely other agendas....but I am not a politician and am not talking about this risk - rather I am interested in the 'mechanics' of useful participation)

 “There are a very few lunatic entrepreneurs who will understand 
that culture and design are not about fatter wallets, but about creating a future. 
They will understand that wealth is means, not an end. 
Under other circumstances they may have turned out to be like you, creative lunatics. 
Believe me, they’re there and when you find them, 
treat them well and use their money to change the world.’
Tibor Kalman, New York, June 1998

The challenge we all face is how to create a genuinely participative situation (and to understand its aim – more later). The context we experience is one where people are constantly under siege from all sides to ‘participate’ – be that from a top-down democracy or from commercial marketing (just how many websites will we all register with in a lifetime?). What I mean is how do you phrase the invitation to participate in a world where everyone is constantly on their guard against  a) consenting to something they will regret, b) being made to look foolish or c) paying for something they don’t want or need.
‘Yarnbomb’ (detail) -Sundogs. Inverness 2009
Part of an answer came from one of the street artists on a project I was curating recently- Richie said he thought it was vital that his work was ‘ambiguous’ – he identified that pretty much everything in the visual field of a street is ‘instrumental’ in some form ie it is either telling you to do (or not do) something or enticing you to buy something. There is an inherent question mark in ambiguity.
A question genuinely asked has the potential to encourage a space of creativity and opportunity (ie ‘participation’)
But here is the other issue…who is asking the question and why? Here is where the Fool enters the arena. We are afraid of ‘being fooled’ or ‘looking foolish’ – but if the question is proposed by a fool, then the danger is averted. With the fool already clearly established in a situation there is a breathing space for others to take advantage of that space afforded by the ambiguous question.

We are back in the realms of the mediaeval court jester and the Shakespearean fool – the realms of a more myth based (as opposed to commercial or instrumental) understanding of our relationship to environment. This is the way to create the context of trust in which our skilled and well-intentioned champions of place can operate.
 'Cabot Circus Cantata' - Neville Gabie

We need Fools to work alongside the kings who can make changes in places.
  NB - by 'fools' I mean artists in the widest sense of the term


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