Friday, 22 November 2019

a fragile art




At a low ebb, I went on a journey with a group of strangers, down a sprawling green misty morning valley. Like a band of medieval courtiers high on spirits, the sort of which I can not imagine. I’d read two books - no - drank them up in a reverie of my own, transporting me back to a different time - black death and ritual and language - so beguiling and ‘other’, it took time to let them both (different/similar), sink in. Slumped and inward looking, the Kiasma wasn’t doing it for me. I’d found a chair - the attendants chair in fact - and faced the screen of something large and contemporary, all the while looking backwards into myself - Bassackwards. Then an almost stranger, almost friend stopped, all smiles and full of life. “The fifth floor - you have to go to the fifth floor,” she told me with urgency. A smooth Finnish corridor carried me up and I wandered - stupefied - until it hit me and I sat for over an hour - like many others - trapped by a beguiling piece of work. That’s where my reverie became something communal and dissipated - turning into some foggy group trip. 



When an art thing - whatever that thing is - works for you, it transforms the atoms momentarily. A friend, not so very long ago, described taking ecstasy at a rave, and feeling all those other hundreds of people connected by a communal bliss. Zadie Smith described something similar as joy. A retentive man in many ways, I’ve never taken ecstasy, but here I was emotionally changed by small fragments of poetry by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir beautifully transformed aurally and cinematically in slow-time by Icelander Ragnar Kjartansson. A simple haiku-like line threaded through time over and over: Once again, I fall into my feminine ways. I can’t describe the artists’ tricks here, as it would do no justice. The piece is called The Visitors (2012). It lasts just over an hour - way longer than 280 ill-conceived characters. There is so much about this I shouldn't have liked - but it was completely intoxicating.

Those books: the unlikely titled Nobber and more prosaic To Calais in Ordinary Time by Oisín Fagan and James Meek respectively, are quite something - dark and hallucinogenic, both. But this reading is a solitary thing and the propensity to tears of a little bliss, in such a public space as a gallery is quite a powerful communal thing.

The sky remained a constant flat grey in Helsinki, a chill wind promising something harsh not too soon. Following the flurry of interest in the recent launch of the WHO synthesis on arts and health a couple of weeks ago, I followed in the echos of that great evidential fanfare as guest of Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike); someone to gently challenge the evidence we know we have in rubles and tonnes. My presentation was to celebrate the evolving real time work unfolding across Finland these last five years and more - all work enabled by Taike and I wanted to assert the voices of people in this great research frenzy. The artists and the people - whoever those wonderful, different and vital people are who lead and take part and create new things and thinking - those people who will define what value is beyond the new reductivists. 

There are too many people to thank, too many new friends and allies - but to my hosts Johanna M. Vuolasto and Kirsi Lajunen the warmest thanks for your generous hospitality and your remarkable vision. There are strong synergies between Greater Manchester and Helsinki and wider Finland and I look forward to nurturing these possibilities further. It was wonderful to see Dawn Prescott and her remarkable colleagues creating profound work with young women/girls experiencing the extremes of mental anguish and feel the recent echoes of Kat Taylor and further back in recent history, Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt in all this Manchester/Helsinki mix. In my presentation I'd mourned the loss of libraries and librarians in the UK - with around 500 libraries and 9,000 librarians having been 'lost' in the UK since 2010. In a taxi in Helsinki however, my taxi driver pointed to the extraordinary and giant beautiful library in the heart of the city, and said - "you see that, it is our library, but we call it Helsinki's living room". Perfect.


Just in time for a general election.
THE DIRTY WAR ON THE NHS
(2019)—Trailer
'John Pilger's new documentary, THE DIRTY WAR ON THE NHS, "goes to the heart of the struggle for democracy today", he says. Britain's National Health Service, the NHS, was the world's first universal public health service. Designed to give millions of people "freedom from fear", the NHS today is under threat of being sold off and converted to a free market model inspired by America's disastrous health insurance system, which results in the death every year of an estimated 45,000 people. Now President Trump says the NHS is "on the table" in any future trade deal with America. Filmed in Britain and the United States, this timely, compelling documentary touches us all and reveals what may be the last battle to preserve the most fundamental human right.'

I really do think it's time to vote...


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