A couple of weeks ago I participated a small event organised by the artist Mikhail Karikis alongside an exhibition of his recent work ‘Ain’t Got No Fear’. A film created with a group of 11 to 13-year-old boys who are growing up in the militarised industrial marshland of the Isle of Grain in South East England.
The event was intended as an informal sharing between practitioners working in socially engaged and participatory fields. We shared an amazing brunch provided generously by Mikhail and talked about collaboration, funding, copyright and copyleft, when art becomes political and how museums can reshape their identity to better serve their constituents.
I shared some responses to Mikhail’s work that related to my own past. The rural setting of ‘Ain’t Got No Fear’ brought back strong memories of my own childhood and adolescence in Somerset in the 1980’s and 1990’s- free parties in barns and woods; people taking drugs in cars in laybys and nature reserves; gatherings of youth in derelict buildings; low-paid jobs in dairy factories and fruit farms. Somerset is a strange mixture of hippies and pastoral countryside and poverty, Lord of the Rings and drug taking, factories and wild forgotten woods. I briefly reflected on these memories and on the Reclaim the Streets movement, and Swampy, the environmental protestor who became a household name.
I wanted to talk about the professionalisation of the arts that has accelerated since then, the role of the artist as a lifestyle choice, and the domination of aesthetics and the market over a committed and dangerous practice.
A phrase that came up a few times was the idea of ‘a life practice’. One of the group spoke about their experiences working with Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, and how it had challenged and transformed their own lives. For many people Reclaim the Streets was a true life practice: living through alternative social practices, aesthetic practices, political practices.
This phrase resonated with many of the things that I have been thinking about over the past year. My original conception of fear and risk began as an exploration of my own work- which areas of my practice have I been afraid of exploring. But increasingly I have come to think of my practice within its wider social context. What might constitute a dangerous practice socially? A life practice that offers the potential to reimagine how we live together. A practice that exposes the danger and violence hidden within contemporary life, but from an embodied position. A practice that refuses commodification, resists dominant ideologies and flows of power, a practice that comes from and through who I am.