As part of the Peninsula Arts summer exhibition we are working with Effervescent, a vibrant new cultural organisation in Plymouth that works with young people outside of education and employment to help raise aspirations, boost confidence and to find pathways into Higher Education. Working in a University environment, Peninsula Arts has a particular commitment to providing valuable learning experiences for all ages, ensuring everyone can access and experience high quality culture. With this in mind we are delighted to have partnered with Effervescent, who working with the School of Art & Media, Plymouth University, will be delivering ‘Incubate’, a two year engagement project that provides a framework and pathway for young people into Arts Education.
Effervescent is not your average run-of-the-mill arts engagement centre. They do things differently, with real creativity and flair; underpinned by research and most importantly transforming the lives of the young people involved. The young protégées become activators of their learning as opposed to passive participants – the ideas come from them, kicking off the debates and discussions led by Effervescent. Of course this is what art education is about – challenging and expressing new ideas, and engaging with wider debates about the world in which we live, however for many of these young people this is often the first time they have been provided with this opportunity. And the results are startling.
We gave the group of protégés two weeks to come up with a response to George Grosz: The Big No that sought to engage visitors to the gallery with the issues arising from Grosz’ work. We provided an introduction to Grosz’s work, emphasising his ability to puncture the status quo through his hard hitting and acutely observed drawings. We discussed the role of artists today, who use many different ways to question and criticize everyday assumptions – the 2001 Turner prize winner Martin Creed was cited as an example of an artist, whose works test the boundaries of art practice whilst providing an insight into contemporary life.
Hot housed and supported by Effervescent the protégés came back with a wonderful engagement and interpretation activity, that sought to illustrate the importance of dissent and protest in art as a way of exposing the hypocrisy and contradictions of society. The activity invited audience members to make a protest poster of an issue that concerns them today, then to dress up (optional) as one of the four key characters depicted by George Grosz: the bourgeoisie, the canon fodder, the bourgeois woman and the loose woman, take a photo of the poster and tweet to the world using the hashtag #TheBigNo. The results have exceeded all expectations with an entire wall of the Peninsula Arts Gallery covered in posters that decry a number of contemporary issues concerning the lack of political ideas, issues of low pay, expensive childcare and the various military interventions happening currently across the world.
Of course behind this lies a much bigger debate that we hope to unravel over the next period as to whether artists really are offering a critique of society or are reinforcing what has now become part of the status quo and expected image of the artist as a laid down by Grosz and others some 100 years ago. This debate also highlights how art and culture absorbs and reflects the period of the time. The early part of the 20th century went through massive social and technological transformation creating a zeitgeist of change and possibility, as seen so aptly by a number of artists working during that period. Compare this to today and whilst it may seem that the pace of change is one of high speed, with the ever-advancing methods of digital communication, in reality perhaps, when we look at the structures Grosz was railing and protesting about, how much has really changed? Is this a good thing or ultimately detrimental to society—where there is no space left for real dissent or serious contestation?
The debate is up for discussion….
Dr Sarah Chapman (August 2014)
Director of Peninsula Arts