Sitting down at my first Thrash Out debate, I felt like a fraud. Hardly a public speaker and never one to comment on something without authority or thorough research it seemed unclear what I could contribute. I’d become somewhat passive to the recent uncertain political landscape after being deeply wounded by Brexit, and as a result, disinterested in the snap election. The artistic context for the debate made me uncomfortable furthermore, as my work doesn’t feel remotely political. As a background to my practice, I am a graphic artist interested in vernacular design, decoration and all things ethnography. This is supported with work delivering art projects focused on community and public engagement, as to not live an insular artist life in a studio.
The theme for the talk was Design, Culture and Communication. Having studied graphic design instead of fine art, I felt confident in my knowledge when it came to design and communication. However, the organic conversation meandered away from the safety of the questions about colours, fonts and campaign graphics. The host, Paul Collinson, lead me to account my experience on a recent commission I’d done for Hull City of Culture, two large scale murals on Hessle Road named Terrace Enders. It became clear that the large, public murals, which serve as lasting tributes to the area’s rich fishing heritage and strong sense of community, were more than just artworks. They were monuments for a community that had been repeatedly torn apart and an area that had declined alongside it’s fishing industry. Every day we painted, we were approached by locals who shared stories of loved ones who lost their lives at sea. The launch was an emotional day, with tears shed as the road finally had a visual homage to its past. Through accounting the project, the debate room challenged my original apathy towards engaging with political art, and rightly so.
Terrace Enders, mural by Kev Largey and Lydia Caprani. Photo Credit: Tom Arron
Murals are a form of communication intended to share opinions to the masses, and using such a public outlet to express an idea that is about society in some way, must surely be considered political. Historically, they are intended to be, with Belfast’s own tradition of murals taking on Ireland’s complicated political and religious divisions through art. Using murals as a medium, combined with publicly expressing ideas, will result in work that is inadvertently political, and considering this was liberating to my practice. ‘Political’ had always been a dirty word to me. Having a voice to your artwork isn’t self-indulgent, it’s the purpose. Artists are idea-makers and, subsequently, activists through sharing.
Going forward from the debates, I am continuing my research into my interests, but now embracing wider themes that I may have previously shied away from. Back in 2014, I received a grant to go to Europe and explore what lay behind my interest in decoration primarily found in folk art (something that contradicted my graphic designer self, where every element must communicate and contribute to the design.) Through this I was enlightened with the undercurrent theme of creativity as a tool of empowerment, personal and cultural expression and community cohesion. And whilst this put me on course for community engagement work, the introvert in me continued to create pitiful amounts of safe work, instead of digging deeper into the themes present. This will change now thanks to the self-reflection of my work in a wider context, enforced in the debates. There is more under the surface of my surface patterns.
Lydia Caprani is a Hull-based artist and designer, with a background in public engagement and community arts.
She is co-creator of Hull Print Fair and an associate artist of Hack & Host. Website: Lydiacaprani.com Instagram: @lydiacapri
Indifference Is Not an Option & Doorstep proposal (2017) Reflective pieces on the debates exhibited in the Hack & Host Campaign Shop. Photo Credit: Jenni Clunksey