C&M – Electric Picnic 2009

*This post is still missing details of “the road to EP2009” that I am just not sure are very important. For now I will say a lot of what was planned had to change at some point, primarily because the weather did not allow for a tank-like truck to house the exhibit, and a yurt, cushions and material to act as floor was graciously provided by the EarDrumBuzz and La Catedral Studios people, as this project of C&M Think Tank was part of their joint Electric Picnic (EP) 2009 production.

All the branding and design credits are to go to my good friend Natali Bleich who volunteered her sharp eye and mouse action for the good of the project.

The pieces (as they appear in the C&M website)

Participating performers:
Cormac Browne
Declan McGauran
And La Cat’s own Brigit McCone

Interactive artwork:
Andy Deck

Video artwork:
Amanda Dunsmore
Tamar Lederberg
Ian Clothworthy

Irish artists interviews, shot by cinematographer Evan Flynn.

Israeli artists panel from the original C&M conference.

Special screening of Local Angel: Theological Political Fragments A film By Udi Aloni.

Once the yurt was set up the task at hand was to successfully organise it as the Think Tank was intended. The folks at La Catedral supplied (besides the yurt itself) a tarp and a lot of rugs to act as the floor, and quite a few cushions and bean bags. Since C&M is an Israeli initiative that was run by an Israeli person in Dublin, I decided that primarily, the artwork included will be Irish and Israeli, so that the kind of dialogue that will be available in the immediate future will be clear through the content and the atmosphere in the Think Tank. The emphasis, however was on Irish content, and showing political artwork that was created by locals and represents what they were dealing with as artists. As this was the launch of the project in Ireland, I wanted to showcase the work of the local artists in the context they were intended and with their original texts. The Israeli and American pieces were mixed in to clarify the core of the project, non nationality-specific, dealing with a topic and the various instances it has around the world.

I wanted to show that politics isn’t as one dimensional as it sometimes seem through mass media. The two Irish artists whose moving image work was shown deal each with another conflicted element Irish society is facing. Amanda Dunsmore’s Keeper Project  (which will be mentioned several times in this blog, and in my research) is a series of projects focused on The Troubles. Amanda was great and edited a shortened version of one of the pieces, a documentary called Billy’s Museum, which is an intense personal story of one of the wardens at the Maze Prison, a well known prison in the context of the Northern Ireland conflict. The layers of documentation in this project are fascinating, as the protagonist’s own practice (beyond being a warden) was archiving and maintaining documentation of the political events at the prison.

Ian Clothworthy’s Nearer My God To Thee belonged alongside The Keeper, as both pieces offer an intensity and a sensitivity. Ian’s piece caught my eye at the NCAD graduate show the summer before the festival with its rare, perceptive comment on the declining economy. The piece was shot outside the Thomas Street Social Welfare office, and shows a string trio busking outside the office, as well as the passers-by and goers-in. The string trio is playing calming music and the entire scene is (stating the obvious, sorry) very Titanic-esque.

The Israeli moving image work was also to bring specificity to the question of political work that is done in Israel. I did not want to solely focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and at the same time did not thing ignoring it was the right (or possible) choice to make. I will write about this subject later on, outside the context of this specific choice. I chose to play Tamar Lederberg’s Homeland Song (2009) as part of the constantly running programme of the Think Tank, and devote a “special event” spot for an Irish premiere of Udi Aloni’s film Local Angel (2002). The film was screened inside the yurt, which allowed a more intimate atmosphere, and keeping the space “open” a little later that evening to allow for some conversations and reflections by those who watched. Homeland Song is a short art film presenting foreign and Palestinian workers who live in Israel, performing a song from their homeland in front of the camera. This piece, filled with longing, allows the viewer to reflect on the situation of labourers and care workers who live away from their homeland and who make up, quite internationally, an economic class.

Aloni’s film, the screening of which Premshay is responsible for and was the one to receive the artist’s special permission, brings a thoughtful study of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict through meetings the artist had with cultural and political figures, as well as poets and thinkers from both Palestine and Israel. The films seemed like a suitable fit for the content of this little exhibit as it brings a cultural conflict that includes the difficulty in nationality definitions, and in conflicting views of the world for people who are sharing the same space whether they like it or not. I thought this would be a good fit for an Irish audience, and those who were watching this screening seemed to really need a moment of pause from the festival happening around them to allow reflection.

As this was the launch, I planned in offering the Dublin crowd a *somewhat* similar structure to the original conference. Since this was a completely different type of event and I couldn’t really do an artists or actors panel, I decided to interview a few (a fairly random collection, to be honest) local artists about their views on art and politics, and about how they see themselves within all this. The four videos are available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeMpz0cFpf8&list=PL575643BFF6237DE4.

The series of interview was a casual visit of me and cinematographer Evan Flynn with several artists, performers and musicians who were active around Dublin at the time, asking them some questions about their work, and whether they believe it is political and should it at all be political. This was meant to be an ongoing project, but somehow it was dropped due to lack of time, and perhaps lack of interest. Before EP, we managed to shoot and edit four interviews, three of which with musicians, and one with a recent NCAD graduate at the time, Niamh Ferris, who was meant to show a piece at the Think Tank, and ended up showing it at the gallery exhibit later on in 2009. I think besides hands-on experience interacting with Irish artists, this little project was the first time I actually encountered the slight aversion many Irish artists have from being openly and “officially” political. This is not to say that there are no artists who confidently declare themselves political, it mostly points out, once again, to my foreignness, since I come from a society where everyone is political, and shying away from the topic of politics is almost impossible. The gap between the two cultures is so large, it took me a long time to learn how to conduct professionally to successfully include political content or content about politics in cultural practices. None of my projects included in this post is considered a successful attempt, but the have certainly taught me a lot towards more effective projects. Alongside these interviews the video documentation of the Israeli artists’ discussion from the original conference was also displayed. By the way, it only occurred to me now that we never interviewed the actors portraying the dead artists as living artists.

As for the dead artists, two performers created segments of portrayal of artists (one not dead, but would hardly be available to be a part of this), which were scheduled and advertised for people to come and interact with. Brigit McCone chose Frida Kahlo, and Declan McGauran picked Bob Dylan, despite his not-dead current situation. Frida was picked due to her relationship with communist propaganda and her views on personal and social responsibilities. Brigit constructed a performance that acted as a one-on-one experience with the portrayal of the artist, offering the one-person audience a portrait a-la-Frida, while discussing the artists own views on her practice and the symbolism in her work. I think this was quite a brilliant idea considering the setting of a festival, and the fact that in the end, Frida was sitting at a desk outside a yurt, amongst the tentish shops offering tibetian clothes, a variety of teas, and scented candles. It worked almost as if she was an artist – fortune teller at a fair. The conversations about Frida’s life story, her view on her role as an artist in terms of political messages, and the way her painting reflected these ideas were very well received by those who chose to interact with her, as they all shared their opinions when they came to collect their portraits from the yurt on the Sunday. I love my “portrait by Brigit’s Frida” and it is posted next to my desk. Dylan was a more traditional performance, Declan chose to organise his living artist as a busker in the festival, with a small amp, a microphone and a lot of attitude, he performed songs and monologues extracted from Dylan’s own chronicles. “Bob” was talking of the political responsibilities he saw for himself as an artist, and later on sat down to “interview” with interested members of the audience. This too was fairly popular and the scheduled performance’s audience was bigger every time it was re-performed.

The third performance was not part of the dead/living artists project, and attracted quite a large crowd in all times the artist, Cormac Browne, performed it. As part of the artist’s own research interests, the exploration of humour as a breach of one’s everyday, Cormac chose to use as subject matter “live” feeds of breaking news and performing the text in a manner that evolves from a news cast reader to a narrator of a pornographic novel. If I remember correctly this was transformed to a newscast-like live performance replacing the breaking news with soft-porn like content. Despite the wind, the rain and the outdoorness, Cormac engaged the audience successfully, I think this was a successfully critical piece about mass media reportage of current affair.

Finally, Andy Deck‘s Surge Cycle, a normally web-based project, was presented as an interactive, offline, screen-based piece. Andy, who was one of my teachers in my MFA course at School of Visual Arts in NY, is a web-based artist who often demonstrated through interactive independent media projects how openly-available online art allows for “new patterns of participation and control that distinguish online presence… from previous artistic practices.” (from the artist’s bio) Surge Cycle includes layered images of war-related illustrations animated into a chaotic animation, mixed with statements about war, US foreign policy and military activities. When the user clicks anywhere on the screen a digitised voice joins in with war-related affirmations, jumbled to create an audio cacophony to be taken in with the visual chaos, and make it difficult to get a clear view of what is being said. The precision I see in this piece really arrives from the interactive element in it. The click on the screen, similar in my eyes to the use in the television’s remote control, to perhaps progress to a better understanding of the situation, also has similar results: same mess, different channel.

To sum up the Electric Picnic 2009, I would have to admit that on the personal-professional level, it feels most of all like it was a payment of dues I had to go through to understand the place I am in and the work I am interested in doing. Through the scope of Cannons & Muses it was not a great success, but is a memorable piece of evidence of what can be done to evoke thought through driving forwards projects that are most of all curiosity-based.

Some pictures from the EP2009 Think Tank :

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