TRADE 2011

This project itself comes from a residency programme I am currently taking part in, TRADE 2011, which is run jointly by the Leitrim and Roscommon County Councils Arts Offices. There are four artists taking part and this year it is being led by the artist David Michalek.

David Michalek provided the following text in order that applicant artists for TRADE 2011 could assess the suitability of this residential programme to their practice and as starting points for a discussion on how the residency would develop.
REFRAMING THE NOTION OF ART – When I use the word “Art,” I refer to that actionable force within us that can form or transform things (thoughts, events, objects, actions) into something very special. Art is a verb, not a noun. Some paintings, or gardens, or actions have been executed in such a manner that we may be inclined to say that they were performed with Art and are, therefore, works of Art. A painting is not art simply because it is painting – it is just painting and may not have been painted with Art. How might this simple re-framing of art have an impact on our practice, but also on things outside of practice? What might it take to realize that if the verb “Art” is cultivated within us, it might also impact every aspect of our lives?
ART AND SOCIAL AWARENESS – One of thing that I take very seriously is the notion that artists in the 21st century should seek to create works that are not merely entertaining, but that also enhance social awareness and bring people together. Issues such as reconciliation and developing an appreciation for ‘the other” are not ideological, they are human. And here we are talking about the function of art and the humanities in building a society where there might actually be safety, and where greater security is based upon greater understanding. Where, rather than being based on the height of your fence or the size of your army, security is based on the ability to talk, to share and be honest across very painful, controversial and ugly questions. One of the most important art events is the one that helps us profoundly imagine what it’s like to live in another person’s shoes. How can we use art to expand our imaginative capabilities and to enhance and engage our sympathy in the contemplation of lives different from ours?
PORTRAITURE AND EMPATHY – I am primarily a portrait artist. That means that I spend most of my time looking at people and trying to figure out ways to represent them in ways that seem loving. The biggest challenge, of course, is the question of how to look at (and represent) people who are not easily loveable, people who we know who have done harm, people living with affliction, people who have very different ideas as to what constitutes right, people who, in short, are not like us. Art can , in this sense, function as a kind of biological survival mechanism: just as athletic training can create a better body, art can strengthen and improve our minds and the hearts.
AN END TO IRONY – Irony and “art about art” has left common people with a bad taste and distrust for contemporary art. A lot of what I have tried to do is discover ways to offer works of art to a more widely conceived public and to rehabilitate the idea of art as an instrument for the common viewer. After a century that created doubt about the notion of art, we can only, as artists, begin to re-instil trust in the viewer if we can begin to trust ourselves again. What steps can we take to overcome the alienation and the powerlessness that a culture of critique has generated? What must we change in our own minds and hearts that will allow us to begin creating works of art that can have an integrative and empowering effect on the public? How seriously can we take this and not be tempted to throw all to the wind as utopian idealism?
BEAUTY AND PLEASURE – I take the issue of pleasure in my work very seriously – I want it to be engaging, delicious and sensual. I am not satisfied if there isn’t something that is viscerally thrilling and that activates the senses (which then can activate the rest of us). Aesthetic experience is of the skin you love to touch, or the image that you love looking at – disinterested aesthetic contemplation is a contradiction in terms. I also care deeply about beauty. It informs every step I take as an artist. Beauty in a work of art is not an issue of physical attraction; true beauty has to do with knowledge and goodness, of which it is precisely the attractive aspect. We cannot arrange true beauties in a hierarchy: if we are inclined to call a barn beautiful, we cannot rightly say it is “more beautiful” than a cathedral, or that a rose is “more beautiful” than a skunk cabbage – each is beautiful in its own right.
ART AND MORALITY – In a period where traditional religious practice is not engaged in across the society the question is: what are the moral yardsticks? How do we say to each other this would be right, that would be wrong? Sophocles made a play about how you treated the prisoners in war, about teenagers killing their parents, and it’s not an exploitation issue for tabloid journalism, it’s about the deepest human question that could be asked. It’s about how deeply we want to look at the things happening around us, or do we want to look away. Sometimes human beings need permission to look deeply, and usually that is metaphor.
A NEW CULTURE OF FOCUS AND SLOWNESS – We are in a period of what we could be called ‘distraction culture’, where most things most people engage with are to let the time go by and to not have to focus. I’m now proposing the new period is the culture of focus — let’s focus on what requires our attention. Focusing requires slowing down. What can we as artists do to get people to slow down and focus, and to look and think a little more deeply – even just for a few minutes or hours? Our strategies have to be powerful or they don’t stand a chance.

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