Tag Archives: art

Say something nice

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Data breach is probably this year’s new phrase like fake news was last year. Facebook’s role in the latest iteration of campaign meddling and user- info-loot-bag-free-for-all has people making declarations all over various platforms regarding whether they will deactivate their account or keep their account but delete all extraneous apps etc. or that they are outraged that a free marketing online business used their data. Really? I think I’ve had maybe a hundred conversations online regarding the fact that no, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t your friend, he’s a rich technocrat who is using your activity on Facebook to boost its stock price and create ad money – and I’ve had these conversations now for five or six years. Being shocked by such revelations I am not.

My only thought or reaction to this data breach is what my brother Matthew said this past fall when he was showing me the dozen six hundred-page tomes he was reading, that nature is ordered, has systems, and humans are chaotic and consistently cause chaos. Raised Catholic and taught that man had dominion over everything, I always thought the opposite. That humans brought order and systems to the chaos of the natural world. But now that I think about it  the opposite is far truer and far more helpful. What the f*%k are we doing exactly?

The thing about spending most of one’s time contemplating and creating art is that you can open yourself to the idea that everything is absurd and trying to find sense in anything people do is a waste of time. Some people are helpful, others are not. It can actually be this simple. The older one gets the easier it is to believe this too.

Facebook users have now exposed this ‘people are chaos’ theory to be pretty accurate. While many people on Facebook just want to see their grandchildren or show off their pets/cooking/travel/renos/work/popularity, there are a large amount of users who are on an outrage campaign, believing everything they hear, open to all sorts of conspiracy theories and generally ruining it for the rest of us. I said to someone this morning, it’s like what we used to say in theatre, a show is only as good as its weakest link. This current chaos is sewn by people who are using the platform to extol their own uncertainty and fear – it’s a digital Lord of the Flies if you will.

Ridiculousness abounds on the internet because the people who share it are not thinking, they are in a state of confused chaos, they don’t stop and reflect. It is all about reaction and then the exponential impact of reaction. Auto correct and the fact that people can’t spell or sometimes write exacerbates an already heated melee. I’m lucky, I’ve had very little trolling and many of the discussions I’ve participated in since the early days on Facebook have been friendly albeit not always in agreement but friendly nonetheless. I don’t hate Facebook for turning the other way while Cambridge Analytics went to town on mining user info; I feel oddly complicit. I’m there to begin with so what the f*%k am I doing?

This group of Peterborough artists and arts supporters have used social media to create a bonafide cultural movement. A good example of how to use Facebook.

I think instead of freaking out over the data breach it may be time people started thinking about every post they make. I actually do this. I manage social media accounts for an environmental advocacy group; I have to comply with their mandate and protect their brand. I am careful about what I post. This has bled into my personal postings as well. Everyone I know that does this kind of work is very careful online. It is a form of digital literacy; we’ve learned how to use the platforms and how to protect ourselves on them. Everyone should do this.

But I have spoken in this blog about digital literacy before and I continue to do so into what seems is a void. People hate social media for it’s negativity, trolls and general sense that the world is a vacuous place full of miscreants. But people love social media for how it projects how they think they are perceived and in my feed some people are constantly fabulous, brilliant, brainy, gorgeous, hilarious, popular, in the know, fit, successful, do yoga all the time, travel and treat their dogs like humans.  Or they like to tell me what I don’t know or how I have things wrong. It’s like people are normal and then become Ayn Rand online. I gravitate toward those who think that life is less than perfect which I realize says more about me….

The best use of social media and the best way to calm the ills of our world is to be helpful and share helpfulness. This has always been the case with humans and it always will be – because humans create chaos regardless of them being online or not. Chaos is what we do so why not help each other drag ourselves out of darkness with usefulness. Or at the very least if you can’t say something nice….

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the precarity epoch

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Recently I visited the House of Commons, the seat of our federal government. As a guest I was invited to sit in on question period. But while I was in line the Minister of Heritage, Melanie Joly came up right beside me and began a long conversation in French with a monsignor of the Catholic Church. It was a pretty chaotic moment and I desperately tried to scan my brain for something I could say to her that was both intelligent and had enough of an activist inclination as to make an impression. I also thought of giving her my “Has the artist been paid?” button from CARFAC (security made me take it off and it got passed around and then okay’d – I take this as quite the honour. If a CARFAC button gets a second look by security on Parliament Hill we are all doing some thing right.). But of course, being the intellectual turtle that I am and that I completely do not agree with ambushing people, once I thought of something she was already walking down the hall escorting the monsignor to whatever place they were meeting.

The thing is I wasn’t there as an artist, I was there representing CARC, the NGO I now work for. So… it did occur to me that perhaps I might jeopardize my associations with an unseemly introduction that the minister was not ready for. Opportunity lost perhaps, or perhaps opportunity understood; oddly the entire experience was a confidence booster. It’s like ‘I get it’ now. I also realized that politics will never be my thing however policy and how it helps and hurts society always will.

Being in our nation’s capital just before xmas with all its trim and bustle (it is crazy busy there these days as rockstar PM has made it a tourist destination as well) made me think about how people do have a natural urge to gather. It’s for an anthropologist to say but we seem to want to get together for all sorts of things, rituals, politics, protests, commemorations, revolutions, and of course art. Yet art continues to moan about its lack of interest from the public. I can’t think of another time in history more people experienced art – if you’ve ever gone to a major gallery in Europe and waited forever in line you know what I mean. And yet, contemporary art makers continue to have a numbers problem. People line up for a recognized work but stay away from the new. See this very interesting article from Canadian Arts Presenting Association .  People don’t want to attend art events out of lack of interest. It’s a fairly simple but kinda’ heart breaking conclusion.

Usually at this point I would go on endlessly about how contemporary art should shoulder a lot of the blame for this as most of the work shown in galleries speaks only to the MFA class and its tiny community, and with tons of money being auctioned on so-so works from the masters people are being turned off art as much as they are turned on by it. But I would rather consider that art was always a marginal pursuit with a reputation and fixture as the touchstone to our culture that has become outsized. And that art’s value is bounced around throughout our society as a volleyball for politics and economics, used and abused by everyone to artwash their event or stance or campaign. And now art’s meaning isn’t just a profound moment one has with an object of great significance, beauty and meaning but that it is now a conduit for all sorts of displays of activism, good and bad as well as crass means of making people feel belonging. To this there are many who feel it’s a reality whose time has come. Art now being the most targeted form of patriarchal oppression – all those museums with stuff by white guys, yeuch.

One of the many cheeky posters of the Precarious Festival

Art has become its own monster and is now devouring its children. This is the world I am an artist in. This is the reality, like it or not. Like many in my generation, we never got to that brass ring or made a fortune, most of us have just kept our heads down and made adaptation and survival our guides. We had to learn metric, French, video, the internet and devices in our lifetime as well as deal with the devolving of post war socialist ideals. We were given the gift of globalization just as we became adults and have made the realization in the last decade many of us will never own a home or a car for that matter. We are environmentally sophisticated and active, politically charged by listening to The Clash in high school and we legitimized science fiction, graphic novels, independent publishing, Queer and women’s studies and made irony a thing. We are also the inheritors of precarious work and have adapted in ways that should astonish any low tax neo-liberal.

This past month in Peterborough an extraordinary thing happened, a festival took place devoted to ideas of precarious work including art, art making, theatre, publishing, poetry, music, politics, discussions and articles. The Precarious Festival was the brain child of several people (too many to name really) but it was directed mainly by Kate Story and Ryan Kerr who run and operate The Theatre on King. Manifesting a critical economic conversation into art is not an easy thing to do. But Kate and Ryan and many others in Peterborough are part of my nimble and able generation so the festival was a raucous success in many ways, pivoting notions of art into activism.  A lot of the events were remarkable for their artistry as well as activism. The festival eschewed the numbers game and reached out to all sorts of ideas regarding art thereby vastly improving its interest for the general public – although that wasn’t the reason for the festival, the point was to gather people around an epoch; precarity is the new normal, a new adaptation, so now what? Now there’s an opening for a conversation with our Minister of Heritage. Dang.

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