How not to do it and how to do it well (but not tell anyone!)

Back in August I posted about one aspect of the lost-o project in Ashford.  I wanted to start a debate about the quality of a piece of graffiti that had appeared on the edge of the town centre, not because it was graffiti, but because it was a bad example of the form that had gained public prominence.  Overall, i think the lost-o project had the potential to be really exciting and to make a fantastic contribution to the development of the town, but although some parts of it were great, the execution of the project as a whole seems to have let it down.  Have a look at the pictures below:


The first image is part of the ‘ring road revolutionaries’ project, where 70s pop album cover-style posters were made, showing individuals who had contributed to the redevelopment of the Ashford ring road. I liked these posters, but not the way in which they were used – Firstly they went up before the work was finished, portraying these people as ‘heroes’ of a project that was receiving almost universal condemnation at the time and secondly, there appears to have been no commitment to maintain them, or take them down when their time had passed.  This has meant that they have become weather worn and vandalised and are producing a feeling of neglect and indifference around the unfinished redevelopment project – the exact opposite of their intention.

The second image shows a flock of flying birds that were painted on the road.  I watched this being painted and the end result was arresting and beautiful, an organic re-interpretation of the most man-made of structures.  As soon as they were finished however, a series of cones were placed over them and have remained there ever since. It is now impossible to gain a good impression of the work as a whole, leading to many people describing them as ‘spilt paint’ or complaining that they confuse traffic.

Unfortunately this project has been conceived and managed by individuals and organisations from outside of Ashford.   The local council however, have been organising Ashford’s second ‘visual arts and architecture festival’ – a series of events that are much more locally grounded.  I was involved in a short film night that took place on Thursday and on Saturday I went to the town centre with Abi and Lyra to have a look at an affordable art fair, an environmental art workshop and to see Flora, the lovely Singleton Giant.


In the first picture Lyra is making a ‘bug hotel’, to be placed in the flowerbeds of a new local environment centre.  In the second picture, she is being introduced to Flora.  Both of these things, and the affordable art fair featuring Ashford Visual Artists, were public in the best sense of the word, being on the high street on a Saturday.  The day’s events were participatory, inclusive and still engaged with the development of the town and its communities.  The only problem was the lack of publicity, although things still seemed quite busy!  The whole festival could do with with a vastly increased marketing spend and much more support from the local press, who continue to run reports on bad traffic lights and the project overruns on the local leisure centre when they could have been promoting something so much more positive.

So, here are my rules from this for public art:

  1. It must have a local base, or at least local oversight
  2. If it is meant to stay, it must be maintained
  3. If it is temporary, it must have a date for removal
  4. You have to tell people about it!

Short film night – tonight!

I’m hosting an evening of short films tonight at St Mary’s Church in Ashford, Kent, as part of the town’s second ‘Visual Arts and Architecture Festival’.   The films include work by Simon Burrill, Emily Richardson, David Hillman, Colin Baggott and Gregory Marsh, as well as a piece about Strange Cargo’s ‘Singleton Giant’ project and images from the ‘lost-o’ project.

Picture taken at last year's event

It all starts at 7.30pm….. 

Grunts for the arts

In protest against cuts in funding for the arts that are taking place as a direct result of the 2012 Olympics, Grunts for the Arts are staging a day of ironic and entertaining sporting events on this saturday (15th September) in Burgess Park in south London. 

They promise: “Celebrity Sack Racing, Handbag Hurling and Gymnastics Corner, a second attempt at previously rained off wonders the Fifteen Legged Race and Triball, [and] a whole host of brand new events – the 20 x 2m relay, the Conceptual Leap, the Tour de Park Cocktail Race and the Olympic Ring Doughnut Eating Contest.”

For my money, that’s got to be worth seeing.  For more infrormation about the serious issue of arts funding cuts have a look here.

Want to be ‘tagged’ by your employer?

“Tackling a dilemma right out of a science fiction novel, the state Senate passed legislation Thursday that would bar employers from requiring workers to have identification devices implanted under their skin.”


[image by Amal Graafsta, – many thanks!]

Have a look at the article here.

Thanks to Wesley for the link.

Another theoretical twist?

Still digesting George Yudice’s ‘The expediency of culture’, I’ve had something of a breakthrough with my own research.  I’m working at the moment on the idea that cultural capital is the structural process through which performative force constructs cultural subjects.  I think that this opens up the space for a critical (political) position on performativity.    Although the performative field of society is always made up of multiple fields itself, I wonder whether the cultural capital angle (after Bourdieu) might provide a way of analysing the formation of cultural subjects? 

Cultural capital is an essentially public form of capital, where you demonstrate your ‘wealth’ through the public appreciation of culture.  For example, appluading in the right sections at a concert, behaving properly in a gallery and watching (and discussing) the ‘correct’ TV programmes.  It would seem that cultural capital is ‘performed’ in a way that demostrates a ‘cutural identity’. If identity is primarily cultural, and culture is being used instrumentally in the public sphere, then could the logic of performativity also be the logic behind the strategic deployment of cultural capital in social policy? 

Is this something interesting, or does it just amount to accepting that performativity is our dominant logic and that the consideration of cultural capital is not exempt from this?  I think the key issue is that the cultural capital concept is a political one and one this is concerned with issues of power and justice.  Bringing this together with performativity to look at how the strategic deployment of cultural capital works to consitute cultural subjects with a specific (cultural?) relationship to power would help to politicize performativity above the individual level, where most discussion of performativity takes place.