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iJade 2017 Art and Design as Agent for Change - The Open College of the Arts
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iJade 2017 Art and Design as Agent for Change

Continuing from my blog post 12 months ago on the International Journal of Art and Design (iJade) conference 2016 about Drawing; I have just returned from Dublin and can report back to you on my findings from this year’s two-day event. The idea of art and design as an agent for social change is vital if we relate it to contemporary debates and approaches that artists are adopting in these effervescent times. A key figure in this is Nicolas Bourriaud and his ideas surrounding ‘Relational Aesthetics’ (2002). Considering the way artists might form relationships with the world, using our powers to communicate our experience, and in turn question how we might change, if not the world, at least societies perception of the received norm, is a central question. I would encourage students to get hold of a copy of Bourriaud’s text, and even if you disagree with it, you will be engaging with a broader contemporary debate surrounding our relationship to both art and our audience.

‘The role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever the scale chosen by the artist.’ (Bourriaud, 2002)

Professor Sharon Todd’s keynote speech on day one expanded on Bourriaud’s text, presenting a view of what education and art could do together. The school of a sensuous society would examine how we relate to the world considering the role of environment, encounters, performance and activism within education. The Danish performance group ‘Sisters Hope’ developed this practical thesis, creating a school that applied their approach to education, called ‘Sisters Academy’ I found their approach to teaching and learning, beguiling . Do have a look at this video to see such an ambitious and relevant performance project take shape, and in response consider what might infinity feel like?

Sisters Academy – The Takeover #1 from Sisters Hope on Vimeo.
The theme of using distance to connect and transform specific groups in our society emerged from the presentations that I selected to attend. Lesley Millar of the International Textile Research Centre (University for the Creative Arts), presented a paper on ‘Transparent Boundaries’. Millar aimed to ‘increase the visibility of the elder’ in our society ‘through representation in the arts’ (Millar, 2017). Several projects were developed around Europe that beautifully touched on the accumulated knowledge of the elders, and through the art project, engaged with a wider audience, creating a truly cross-disciplinary and cross-generational project.
The applications of a ‘socially-engaged’ art were presented by Fiona Whelan, co-editor on ‘Trans-Actions’ publications series, a subject that was discussed in more depth by Dr Gregory Sholette in his keynote speech on day two, ‘Art as Social Action. What engaged me about their presentations was the way art could respond to deep political issues, using performance art, to activate a discussion or highlight an injustice, that needs to be given a voice. Do have a look at the following video that highlights the subjugation of workers who are building the Saadiyat (happiness) Island, in Abu Dhabi.

Precarious Workers Pageant from Setare S. Arashloo on Vimeo.
Sholette’s performance work responds to the plans that the Louvre and Guggenheim museums have with the developers, to build museum equivalents on this island, using the same construction workers who live and work in perilous conditions. What do you think of Sholette’s performance and where it was staged? It certainly resonated with me, and throws up questions about the complicity of museums and indeed brings an ethical dimension to where successful western artists choose to exhibit their work!
For my part, I was pleased to present my paper on the OCA and our approach to distance learning, looking at how the slow nature of our programme, widens accessibility and creates a positive learning experience. It was well received, and I believe tied into the overall conference theme of art acting as an agent for social change.
Bourriaud, N. (2002). Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les presses du reel
Hope, S. (2015). Sisters Academy – The Takeover #1. [Video] Available at: https://vimeo.com/153209624 [Accessed 30 Nov. 2017].
Millar, L. (2017). Transparent Boundaries – UCARO. [online] Research.uca.ac.uk. Available at: http://research.uca.ac.uk/3655/ [Accessed 30 Nov. 2017].
Saadiyat.ae. (2017). Saadiyat – Premier Island Destination in Abu Dhabi – Project by TDIC. [online] Available at: http://www.saadiyat.ae/ [Accessed 30 Nov. 2017].
Sisters Academy. (2017). Sisters Academy. [online] Available at: http://sistersacademy.dk/ [Accessed 30 Nov. 2017].
Sholette, G. (2017). Precarious Workers Pageant. [Video] Available at: https://vimeo.com/159525389 [Accessed 30 Nov. 2017].
Whelan, F., Carey, H., Murphy, A. (2017). Trans-Actions #2 Field and academy: Knowledge and counter knowledge in socially-engaged art. Dublin: Transactions publication
Images: Doug Burton, 2017

Posted by author: Doug Burton
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