The culmination of the Magistrate’s 100 Years of Justice anniversary exhibition took place with the launch of the online exhibition on September 8th. A physical exhibition will be mounted in 2021. to the celebrate the opening of the exhibition the exhibitors met with curators . We met online and shared our experiences and ambitions for our participation. For more detail and the art by 20 contributing artists go to website: www.ma100yearsofjustice.com and follow on instagram: # ma100years
My contribution is two portraits on the theme of Race and future criminal justice. Two sitting Magistrates agreed to sit for a portrait just days before UK Lockdown. Both adopted a pose looking directly out with their hands before them, which I reflected in the drawings and subsequent prints.
I have downloaded the NHS Covid App. It works. It tells me that I am in a ‘High Risk’ Area and that it is active and scanning. I’ll let you know when I use it to enter venue and it tells me anything of import.
I am writing this post as we enter week 24. Last week seemed difficult to concentrate in a focussed way. Lots of issues to be addressed/resolved/put aside. I had thought last night might have been an opportunity to write but living in Birmingham we were informed that all households were not to meet with others inside houses or private gardens from today.
Friends from another house were invited over for a socially distanced meet before the clamp down and before one of them flew out to their home country Spain. We talked and ate the night away as the Autumn sunshine dropped away and the night drew in. An urban fox appeared from the bushes and the birds in the cedar trees talked to each other.
The new term of research study is about to begin. Planning a term while in lockdown is my next task. Focus! It’s not as bad as it is for many Arts and cultural workers who are facing the end of the government’s furlough programme and in many cases unemployment as their places of work cannot sustain wage bills. Lockdown makes it impossible for arts venues that rely on audiences standing or, God forbid, sitting next to each other to operate their programmes of dance, drama, cinema, music, arts, learning and enjoying creative environments. It’s tough for arts and artists in Covid restricted times.
‘Furlough’ is word I had not come across before covid. Suddenly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer announcing sweeping support for workers prevented from working by social distancing impositions ‘Furlough’ was on the tip of everyone’s tongue and at the top of news agendas. I came across it again while reading the biography of Walker Evans. There is a chapter on his work for the Resettlement Administration, which was part of FD Roosevelt’s New Deal to address the ravages of the US Depression. I always understood Evans, and Dorothea Lange’s photography to be for the Farm Security Administration, but the FSA was preceded by the RA. Furlough was the term used then to describe the Government’s actions to apply leave of absence for civil servants or the military, but in the depression it was applied to many more employees. It seems Chancellor Sunak adopted the word and added to the action by paying 9 million UK workers direct from HMRC. An unprecedented programme for a conservative government. Some might say Britain became a socialist state overnight.
For arts organisations he issued in a cultural support and recovery scheme that offered work for arts organisations, venues and workers, but not so much for artists. In contrast Eleanor Roosevelt ensured artists were paid to produce art through the depression. One of those was Walker Evans who was hired to document the effects of the Depression on workers:
“People wanted to witness the real lives of their fellow Americans, to know better the common ground not only of their crisis but of their culture. Photography seemed the most natural medium for communicating this message, but it was not at all obvious how to use it, for a while the effects of the crisis were felt across the country, they were not easily seen. The Depression was, in the words of one historian, “an oddly invisible phenomenon.” It consisted of things not happening, of a subtle slowing of the pace on the street that was more easily described in words and statistics than in pictures. P89
Evans wanted not only to capture and visualize the poverty wreaking havoc to Americans, but the developing ‘Poverty of Spirit’. The description of the perception of the Depression chimes with our Covid Crisis: invisible, things not happening, subtle slowing of the pace on the street.
DO NOT MIX WITH OTHER HOUSEHOLDS. Moseley High Street Birmingham UK 2020
But Then BANG. As I write, where I live is told in no uncertain terms NOT TO MIX WITH OTHER HOUSEHOLDS. I am all in favour of #Keepbrumsafe, but this street messaging is Shocking. This is not slow and subtle, but in your face directives by the authorities to the citizens of a major city.
Walker Evans Biography by Belinda Rathbone is a wonderful in depth and detailed piece of writing about the American photographer that established his working process during the 1930’s depression. Alongwith a number of artists and writers he participated and benefited from the Roosevelt New Deal plan to get the economy growing. Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor particularly promoted the involvement of artists in the new deal. Evans was hired on the Resetlement Administration programme, later renamed the Farm Security Administration. The description of the needs of the 30’s that established the FDR programmes has echoes of what we are enduring in the 2020’s. However they were envisaged to be in place for the duration of the financial depression.
In the UK the Covid government has invested in keeping arts organisations, businesses and individuals going through to 2021. Unlike Roosevelt’s programmes there is not a mainstream UK programme to encourage the making of art during the pandemic. Artistic interpretation and documentation of the experience of Covid could be a valuable focus to bring some light to the darkness experienced by so many. It may also establish a legacy of Covid experiences as undergone by so many.
The Evans biography captures many detailed insights into Evan’s motivation to achieve unposed photographs of Americans. He had a number of collaborative relationships with writers. In particular with his foil James Agee resulted in ‘In praise of famous Men’ that described and visualised three sharecropper families in the depression Southern American States. The photographs were ground breaking and effective in creating documentary human evidence of the effects of deprivation to working families during the depression. They have created a legacy. Following the FSA work he went on to use 90 degree cameras and hidden cameras to surreptitiously photograph unposed revolutionary portraits. He made many of these portraits in the NYC subway trains where he travelled with his companion photographer Helen Levitt.
As his character is revealed throughout the biography it becomes clear he was self-centred/motivated/driven to the detriment of long term relationships with women. This is perceived through the eyes of the 21st Century where feminism has to some degree liberated women and men to escape misogynistic attitudes of past generations. We are not at total gender equality by any means. I will now read the biography of Dorothea Lange who was engaged on the FSA programme making many of the iconic images of the time.
As I am reading off site as it were, I have reverted to pencil underlining, which I do not approve of, but needs must. I will go through and transfer important references to ipad and cloud research folder, an erase the pencil marks.
When we could meet, share and que together
Len Sissay making an instagram image at his book signing following his sold out reading from his memoir, My Name Is Why. The audience in 2019 sat next to each other in the MAC Theatre, Birmingham to be moved by his stories of adoption and being a young black kid. Following a Q&A it was announced that a book signing session would take place in the foyer. The queue was round the block! No restrictive social distancing back then. People held their books close and chatted while waiting their turn to have a few words with the man and thank him personally for sharing his experiences and signing their book.
Michael Donkor review: ‘The great triumph of this work comes from its author’s determination to rail against what he rightly diagnoses as this institutionally endorsed disremembering of black and marginalised experience. It is a searing and unforgettable re-creation of the most brutal of beginnings’.
For more about Sissay’s books, plays and poetry visit his website.
100 Years of Justice
100 years. of Justice is an collection of 20 artist’s work reflecting on 100 years of justice delivered by the UK magistrates system. Many themes have been responded to from the past present and future. I contributed two portraits of Magistrates from diverse backgrounds to the Future: Race and Criminal Justice theme.
Due to Covid the exhibition of work is online at the moment but with plans to go live in the coming months.https://www.ma100yearsofjustice.com More next time.
Last week I reflected on the thoughts of a health anthropologist and this week Dr donald.macaskill from Scottish Care drew attention to the potential and limitations of technology in covid times and in particular Care Homes: The Technology of Trust. He says: “For me technology at its best is explicitly an art or a craft (indeed that’s what the word tekne means in its Greek root). Its potential is immense in that it can deepen and enrich human encounter and experience, can foster connection and enhance relationships. However, too often, I feel, we get so caught up in the mechanics and the technicalities of new technology, that we lose sight of the art, the creativity and the humanity.” Such important insights into the gains and losses tech can bring are made by Dr Macaskill. He elaborates on the rapid application and implementation of tech solutions in the covid times. Zoom and video conferencing is but the popular tip of the iceberg with many other data driven apps to country wide track and trace systems being introduced and accepted by consumers, at unusually fast speed. All of which may bring untold benefits in the gathering of data and information in the long term subjugation of viruses. However what is missing from these processes is the replacement of human contact. Looking through perspex shields and over face masks at each other while adhering to the keep your distance messages doesn’t quite cut the human contact mustard, we need as we develop future tech and seek to find each other again.
Tech and Touchhttps://scottishcare.org/the-technology-of-touch-potential-and-limitation-in-the-digital-care-age/
Lockdown in west Wales.
Seeing and comparing these three drawings of the same subject delivers not only a colour differentiation, but a spacial perception of the elements. Colour and texture or lack of both was expected to be the issue to be assessed, but the spacial difference was surprising. The spacial difference between the empty background and the two with colour is perhaps expected but there is also difference between the colour backgrounds with the full background bringing the framed fig drawing right to the fore, whereas the textured graduated background locates the fig drawing in a literal mid distance space. I am due to revisit West Wales and the Lockdown Fig window and will consider how to progress.
I went to a pub! Not intentionally, but the cafe was being refurbed, it was raining and there was a pub across the road. We were welcomed by a masked waitress and ushered to a table for two with good distance from any other customers encouraged to order via the pub app. After a while we became relaxed along with the full social distanced house.
I also went to the city centre! A performance by a troupe of dramatists lead by Talking Birds Theatre were to engage with people in the Bullring Shopping Centre. It was pretty busy. Not the usual full on Thursday evening hustle and bustle, but multi diverse Birmingham was in evidence and the troupe in orange with 2 meter hula hoops got a lot of attention. It was good to witness street art after many months of lockdown and very little cultural engagement.
Thanks to Josie and the Ort Gallery team for taking the initiative and creating an online outing for the Gallery Members. It was a opportunity to exhibit 3 works that have been made over the last 12 months including M-Migration, Ian Sergeant Passion portrait and the second portrait of Yuchen Yang seen below.
Its instructive to seek impressions from other disciplines and experienced and knowledgeable specialists from those fields. In Lockdown I read posts from Somatosphere a website ‘covering the intersections of medical anthropology, science and technology studies, cultural psychiatry, psychology and bioethics’. An article titled Room with a View, by the anthropologist and health expert Linda M. Whiteford drew me in. Her description of the ‘Leitmotif’ and ‘novel’ nature of the virus caught my interest. ‘Leitmotif’ describes a recurring experience in musical compositions and although there is nothing musical in the virus’ steady advance across the globe there are depressingly recurring themes. Novel is a description for a new or original contribution. Usually to knowledge. The virus is a new strain, but it does not feel at all positive. Linda Whiteford qualifies: ‘this COVID-19 is the ‘novel corona virus’ because understandings of its properties and behaviours are still unfolding. What is shared between my disease experience and this ‘novel’ current one is that their control hinges on a most difficult, intractable and recalcitrant variable, human behaviour’.
Human behaviour is very difficult to change. As we come to terms with self isolation behaviours are changing and becoming normalised. We understand why we have to act differently, but it is not easy and its is potentially beginning to have long term effects. Are we going to live in semi isolation for years to come? Masks are making us wary of each other and are we no longer, spontaneously, going to hug our friends, or even caringly pat them on the back as we realise we might be catching or passing on the virus and pull back. It used to be natural to smile and engage at each other as we shared experiences from shopping to eating, movie going or can you imagine . . . dancing.
The longer we adjust our behaviour to address human distancing by acting unnaturally, the greater our loss of regular sharing behaviours and ‘natural’ exchanges. While the scientists, health professionals, politicians and ourselves, encourage us to Keep Apart to protect society from the spread of the novel virus, we are learning to accept and live in atomised and isolationist manners.
Looking and listening as the August winds with rain blow outside.
An elderly, but spritely gentleman I met this week expressed his concern, that although he ‘has had a good innings, the virus is cheating him by taking away the final denouement’.