A concept that was raised during the TEZA week on more than one occasion was that we should no longer be wasting resources on making things. As a printmaker, I have been mulling over this dilemma.
Certainly we should be reducing our footprint, being efficient with resources and looking for healthier alternatives. I would argue however, that the majority of people who have chosen to live the life of an artist have done this already. An arts career comes with its own sacrifices, mostly financial. The visual artists I know all live very modest lives, they re-use everything, have just a few tech things to get them by. They have already de-teched and downsized by getting by on less through the choices they have made.
The commodification of art is one of the few ways that the trickle down theory actually works. The few artists who manage to make a living from selling their work in NZ have been working consistently for a long time, have supportive patrons and/or may have tapped into something fashionably unique. Good for them. These guys should be respected for their resilience. They are helping to bring in extra money into an industry that is reliant on public funding. And more often than not that money gained gets invested back into the arts community, or spent on necessities like food and kids clothes.
We makers are treated a bit like cash cows with people constantly asking us to donate works for fundraisers. I don’t mind this as it’s a good way to connect with projects I like, and people get to see what I do. Art Beat curated and organised by Warren Feeney is an example of this with makers working along-side the doers, visual art sales helping to fund a project that will bring visual art and music, performance, interactive and thought-provoking work into the Christchurch central city.
We need more creativity not less. Also more beauty. I want my eyes to sing. Our house is cracked and falling apart and sinking – eventually it will get fixed, I have kids so we live in a space with clutter everywhere. I like things on the walls because I can look at those and not see how disorganised my daily life is. They are works from friends that have passed on, mementos of projects I’ve been involved in, works from art-school friends whose careers are still rising or from those who no longer make art, or just interesting works that I have purchased. It’s great having them around. I find my kids staring at them which is a wonderful thing. They make me think about process and context. And because they are well made pieces they will last for decades. I’ll have no need to redo the decor as I can just dust and re-arrange them saving resources in that way.
On Monday last week the Creative Quarter was a hive of activity with volunteers cleaning up the site and having a bbq. By Thursday it was deserted and Brighton was back to quiet streets and the usual few souls mostly not wanting to engage. On Sunday both Callum and Ren turned up to take their stretch class but they missed each other by 5 minutes and there were no other takers. The streets are quiet but the TEZA free wifi is still working. To keep the TEZA momentum going and the spirit of optimism alive a group of us have decided to get together to make things keep talking art and issues.
Te Urutahi said that when it comes down to it all, we are just stardust. So if you think of it like that we aren’t actually making more stuff, we are just re-arranging what is already there. Hopefully the kids will get into it too and get off their screens.
4 thoughts on “Life after TEZA and why we should still make things – Kim Lowe”
Dear Kim, it’s interesting how this theme has lingered. I know I suggested at TEZA that the role of the artist in an age of economic and ecological crisis might be less as an object maker and more as an ‘affective labourer.’ This is a term written recently on by Hardt & Negri that also dates back to 1970s feminism. Being in a hospital environment quite a bit at the moment and seeing the extraordinary work of the nurses who attend and mediate and relate to all types of needs – comparing this to the cooler authority of the doctors reminds me that recognition of this work is still a feminist issue or one at least that sits in the subterranean worlds of knowledge and power.
I see the ‘affective labourer’ as one who is employed to create positive emotional responses in others. That is, a grumpy, self-centred and clumsy nurse is unemployable. And what I sense strongly is that artists’ creative skills are needed at the sharper, more challenging edge of human development; in negotiating the murky territory of resource use, human roles, rights and obligations. With a world that has nearly mastered formal creation via 3d printers and robotic arts, it would be satisfying to see a swing – shall we say- rather than an entire shift – toward mastering the ‘affect’ that is created by human interaction, rather than the object perse.
Yes, this discussion is informed by the wider question: “Do we need more stuff created in the world?” I take what you say about stardust. Ultimately we are just rearranging the stardust into different piles. Yet we have options about how long we want to keep playing in the sandpit of stardust. The more energy we expend now the less we have for later. Given the finitude of the world’s resources is now measurable and tangible – I’m not prepared to accept that this awareness is simply a passing paradigmatic shift -it feels that we are all – artists and non-artists- offered the opportunity to detach from the physical stuff and focus on creating good experiences rather than spending energy on objects of beauty themselves.
But creating experiences -joy or pleasure or beauty through interactive processes doesn’t supplant for the communicative beauty of some objects and their effect. As you describe works on your walls from friends and others –they are sacred mementoes of our lives and vital ways to connect.
This week I’ve been shown the hugely moving meso-American Beehive project – a 10-year group creation of detailed pen murals based on research of the effect of globalisation in central and Latin America. This document is a solid, stuff-like connection and reminder of history that brings the discussion of our future to a human level. Watching the documentation of this reminds me that of course the very act of making is a form of connecting; it brings people together to focus on something other than their full human form; just as you suggest, Kim.
I admire your ability to create objects of beauty; to transform the stardust into rather more compelling arrangements of matter. Some are more skilled at this than others. I admire all ways of bringing people together to reduce separateness too. I am sorry Ren and Callum’s stretch class hasn’t fired immediately. Don’t let them give up.
Love to you and New Brighton.
Thankyou for the inspirational words Sophie. You have given me a lot to think about as has the entire TEZA project. It’s good to have a term (affective labour) to pin to the ideas that have been bubbling below the surface in my thoughts and practice as I’m not someone who can churn out a product just for the sake of it.
My next challenge will be in finding new ways to work away from the studio and share more with the community. This will most likely become a necessity next year when the last of the broken houses that are currently available as workspaces will be demolished.
You also bought up the idea of talent, some people are talented in connecting and others are not in the headspace to do that (but may be in the future). I just think that we need to use whatever resources and opportunities life throws at us to the best affect.
Arohanui from Te Karoro
Hi Kim, What a beautiful post! Its affect has moved me to reply.
As you know I love making objects, I think this idea that there are so many ‘things’ in the world so artists should stop being producers of objects is ridiculous. We (artists) simply have to make special products.
I agree with the comment that object making can be the perfect way to connect with people, and a much better way than conversation and discussions. We all form communities by what we make. This may have been lost a bit in recent times with the art world discussions on ‘relational’ and ‘social’ art.
I’m certainly carrying on with what I’ve always done which is loving making things with people! Still planning to come back to New Brighton to re-situate or re-build Te Ao Marama when necessary!
I’m struggling at the moment if to have the Wainuiomata Water Festival, I have some funding but am worried I don’t have the support to pull it off
Cheers Tim and all the best for the Water Festival I hope you get what you need. Sending you some aroha Te Karoro. We used Te Ao Marama on Thursday to meet and make. It provided us with shade and a bit of wind protection while John and I made pute pute to send to Sendai while Roger took photos and Jo drew. Some interesting discussion developed too about all of the layers of TEZA and some ideas for the future as well.