There isn’t any a situation that is needier in our contemporary society than our relationship with the other species on this planet. Our intolerance and maltreatment of ‘others’ be they human ‘others’ or animal ‘others’ is the single most important question to engage with. I feel that we are entering the age of responsibility, towards animals, other humans and the environment. Artists are well placed to lead on this. We are able to set out a field of interest within our practice and start a dialogue. When we divorce ourselves from a political agenda and initiate a space in which we can discuss and debate the future, then we can change the status quo.
We must divorce ourselves from an unhealthy obsession with the dystopian viewpoint.
I grew up eating meat and not questioning it, it was only when I attended polytechnic in London in the 80s, that I met a vegetarian. Addressed with the question ‘Could you kill an animal to eat it?’ I realised that I could not, so I changed my behaviour accordingly.
Was the question part of an artwork? No, but it was the result of an experiment in alternative living, in part, grown out of art schools. I met and befriended older people, two of whom lived in what I will call ‘hippie’ communes. Amongst their number were vegetarians, gay men and women, animal lovers and recreational drug users. I could tell you that theirs was an art movement, but it was more than that, it was a way of living propelled by the art schools of the 50s and 60s, because most of the commune inhabitants had attended art school or had lived with art students and discussed the idea of sustainable living, the planets future, gay and animal rights.
I could have reacted in many ways to this question. I had come from a right of center small c conservative home counties background. My pier group were capitalist by birth and my parents certainly voted Tory all their lives. I had no term of reference as to my responsibilities as a member of an inter connected multiracial society. I was looking after number one both economically and morally.
But now I have to go back to a time before I left home, when art (although I didn’t know what it was) first impacted on me. I started to read the NME, I had found a copy at the newsagents where my brother worked, I started to get interested in music and youth culture I didn’t understand a lot of the references in the articles about the ‘new wave’, but I knew that the music was exciting, John Peel’s show was an amazing discovery and then the Sex Pistols bought out ‘Never mind the bollocks’ and I sent off for it through the small ads in the back of the NME. Once I had played that record I was never quite the same, and now I know it was the situationalist Malcom McLaren’s strange plane to disrupt the plastic and mediocre slush of the music business, that called to me. That feeling that what I did could change things was now inside me, although I took many years to realise it.
Strange that in the end when I went as a mature student I attended Chelsea college of art and design, just as McLaren had in the early 60s, I learnt to throw everything up in the air and question once more what I considered to be Fine Art, and the rest of my life.
The lifelong subject matter for my practice was forged at Chelsea, but those early experiences of compassion for animals and the ‘others’ in society was firmly in place already.
So I can see now how art schools and their ex-students have bought questions to my door and exacted a response from me. This is so important, at this time we are able to see so much more evidence of animal abuse, human abuse and degradation of the environment, that no longer can we say, hand on heart, that we can’t make a difference by changing our behavior.
I will concentrate on animals, which is my area of interest. The proliferation of animal based video clips on Facebook, and their huge popularity is a sign that we are all motivated strongly by animals, their plight and their behaviour. I predict that more people will be at least exposed to the idea that changing your diet has an effect on animals and the environment, even if they don’t change their habits. The internet although not an art movement is a space similar to the noncommercial art world, where people make and show and discuss ideas and strategies without censorship or quality control. This can lead to inaccuracy, but more importantly, anyone can think, write, express themselves, rant, like, share, comment. All of this is a good first step on the road to finding a new and positive future.