Monday 22nd July 2019

With For About: Art & Democracy – an illustrated round up!

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Last month (on European Parliament election day), artists, practitioners, educators, researchers and arts producers from across Europe and the USA, joined us at Ravenhead Social Club (the last Pilkington Social Club) in St Helens for our fourth annual With For About conference: Art & Democracy.

If you joined us, thank you for being part of a very special day. As one attendee reflected “It made me think about what we do and why”, while another told us “it felt like we were creating a vision for humanity”!

Here’s a short film (made by our partners and friends Axisweb) with interviews from some of our speakers and attendees. We were also very lucky to have Lancashire based illustrator Emmeline Pidgen live documenting the event. Here’s an illustrated round up of the sessions with thoughts from writer and attendee Natalie Hughes….

Session 1: Artist as Political Actor

Chair: Ailbhe Murphy

Contributors: Jonas Staal, Larry Achiampong, and Heather Peak Morison.

Jonas Staal stood before a hundred people to deliver a speech about the future of democracy. Explaining how he assisted in creating a model parliament for Rojava, part of the Kurdistani autonomous region of Syria, Staal said that within art were the mechanisms of emancipatory politics. Following on from Jonas, Larry Achiampong, delivered a powerful presentation that asked us to consider the effects of what we produce: ‘You don’t just get to make stuff and then walk away!’ he said. Achiampong explained that the artist has the privilege of being able to ‘move between spaces and situations without being labelled as ‘crazy’’.

Session 2: Art & Disability Justice

Chair: Dr Janet Price

Contributors: Gemma Nash and Lani Parker

“The disability rights activist Lani Parker called for us to dismantle power structures by building ‘real solidarity across hierarchies’ – and to actually mean it rather than spouting its rhetoric for performance only. Parker reminded us of art’s responsibility to recognise and give up power rather than create a system of consumption, and the importance of asking ‘who is the art for?’, ‘what is the political reaction you want?, ‘who gets the recognition?’.”

Session 3: Public Realm – Erosion of the Public Sphere

Chair: Susanne Bosch

Contributors: Prerana Reddy (A Blade of Grass), Brian Harnetty, Rick Lowe,  Jeanne van Heeswijk, Deidre Figuerido and Amy Twigger Holroyd.

“Splitting up into six groups we were led through activities in listening and discussion by either Rick Lowe, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Brian Harnetty, Prerana Reddy, Amy Twigger-Holroyd, or Deirdre Figueiredo. In these smaller gatherings we examined the erosion of our public sphere, the effects of this, and how to turn this around.”

 “I followed Jeanne van Heeswijk out onto the social club’s playing field to sit in the sunshine and discuss the question: ‘What does it mean to become a collective at the end of time?’. The answer: we must engage within the social practice of ‘Commoning’: i) act, ii) take care of one another, iii) recognise that we are together, iv) cultivate a shared understanding that fosters collective ownership.”