Some thoughts around change and “The Art of Changemaking” (the course, 2014) which may or may not be useful or interesting.
I think we should stop calling this stuff Art. Poor Art. And how must Everyday Life feel having Art take the credit for everything?
Change can come from anywhere, the prospect and potential of it can be deeply terrifying, and the absence of it is where we often find our security and reassurance as well as a being source of frustration or worse.
I was doing “paperwork” last week* and I came across notes from a short course I attended last year. We had been sent ouside to observe and to notice what we’d noticed. Here’s an extract:
“Lampost, Cloud, Sky, Trees- one ivy clad crooked across the road- Ash? Straight neat younger trees here in the carpark. Forestry behind roofs, mountains behind that. Strange building too distant to decipher. Sky and trees [growth]- What I’m drawn to in general- Chaos and gradual predictable change. People. The stuff that looks odd/is unusual/unfamiliar. Windmills. Goose in the water. The weather…”
I went to Amsterdam to see how I might more effectively and interestingly intervene in the world to try to “make it better” according to my vision and experiences, to communicate about and consider change, and to meet some fellow changemakers and their motivations.
What a privilge.
I felt it weird being in a group of that sort for the first time in many years. Ah groups, so exclusive by definition.
There were a lot of questions brought up, many of them unaswerable, with capital Q’s and several sentences and uncommunicatable nuances that can throw the whole Q off kilter, and I was bloody glad the course was in English, and grateful to everyone who put aside another language for it. Hard enough to follow your own language, to speak alone, to nobody in particular, in a circle of peers.
Is anyone interested in Science?
I love Mathematics. Came to love mathematics through research into creativity- neural networks, ideas catching fire, patterns and systems and irregularities. I fell for the definitiveness of it’s statements, the vision and stories of its practitioners (give me Erdos over Eros), and its quest for irrefutable simply presented truth and reason.
Mathematic’s conversion of actualities into glyphy formulae bewitches me now even though my ability to use them stayed sitting reluctantly in the back of a teenage classroom in Sligo. Could I possibly have understood then? I feel empowered and reassured like a religous convert by even my paltry awareness of cluster networks, chaos, dynamic systems. Maybe I shouldn’t have needed it but it gave me a sense of how I’m embedded in the world, or a structure to map the vague intuitions I had onto.
Also on the list of loves is printmaking. In printmaking, with the exception of monoprints and chosen singularities, what you are dealing with is repetition. Printmaking, the actual action of producing prints, I came to thinking “Take care of the edges and the middle will take care of itself”. Felt this to be true of individual prints in plate development, and in careful editioning, and in a wider sense of realising projects, life, even, society.
Research into print nearly terrified me with the weight of previous prints before me- bibles, money, propoganda. What do I have to say? What is it that I want to repeat? And if I have something to say, that I want to repeat or disseminate, what is the best way for me to do it?
Clustered “small world” networks (you know these from the flawed 6 degrees of seperation experiment) work so efficiently at spreading information because a few long “weak” links join clusters of highly connected points. So, a piece of information jumps to the weak link in its cluster, then jumps across to another cluster, and in a few short hops can be at any particular point in that highly connected cluster. This saves trawling through piles of potential information points along the linear way and is resilient because there’s no hierarchy in the structure and even if one of the weak links is taken out information can easily detour via another cluster. We see networks like this at work in the brain, the internet, society. I’m not saying it’s the only way.
I love people. Theoretically and usually in actuality. I get a buzz out of people, and more. I get my news, my sense of self. My opinions are formed within an ever changing web of the information I receive and the way in which I receive it.
Where do you get the information you trust? The information you act on and spread?
Frustrated with questions one of the days in Amsterdam I ran away and ended up chatting with a young guy at a counter over coffee. In truth he was talking more than me and we went through life and death and life decicions and injustices in society and he told me one of the things that pissed him off was that he’d learned how to skateboard a couple of years ago, having always been jealous of other kids being able to do it when he was a kid, and he loved it now, but that his feet got sore from it, and a friend told him to get nike runners with bubbles in the soles and he did and his feet stopped hurting but now when he skated he couldn’t help thinking about children in factories in some distant part of the world making shoes so he could skateboard down his street and smile about it. And I said “ you could probably get some ethically produced runners with air in the soles” and after a brief incredulous exchange with the guy working behind the counter he said to me, satisfied “ He says these shoes probably exist and that I could get them on the internet”, and he was delighted, and he said “ You changed my life today” or “You changed the world today”, I cant even remember which, but it’s one and the same here. I hadn’t told him I was in Amsterdam to learn about making change and I suppose my point is that no matter what we do, whether we consider ourselves changemakers or not, the potential for change is there in our everyday life, and, to repeat myself, change can come from anywhere, and I’ve felt my world changed by potentially insignificant episodes, events, comments.
So, if we do consider ourselves changemakers, as well as outlining action plans for specific projects, what do we do to provoke or protect ourselves from these unpredictable seismic changes?
We can try have “good” opinions/attitudes and try pass them on.
We can be outspoken where we feel wrong is done.
We can try leave a positive impact on earth – be responsible for and try offset the mess we as individuals make and take part in creating.
We can feel ourselves to be role models for all, and allow ourselves be open and influenced by others, for the better, from the top down, bottom up, in ripples, clusters, and chaotic jumpings.
We can remember that our “good” emerged from a particular, family, society, geographical area or set of personal beliefs and might not suit everyone, that we might completely change our opinions anyway over time, and we can try not to be pig-headed and pushy.
There are of course many other things.
While we individuals are obviously of key importance, talk of inside the individual being the starting point for change is very pressurising.
Also, regardless of yourself, something from the outside world can whack you in the face inescapably until you try do something about it whether you want to try make a change or not.
One of the most important functions of developing yourself is that that self is what you put into the world and what you put into the world is there for everyone and if you’re full of shit they’ll have to deal with it. The fact that you feeling better or more complete also happens is a bonus.
Externalise your thoughts at some stage.
In reflecting we run the risk of going too far from the original input and sending something back into the world at a completely different angle and sometimes just being responsive is better than thinking. Oh but we need to think as well of course.
And we need to try keep track of thought in some way that allows you develop the thoughts that recur to you, sometimes you have to trust your head to remember and send thoughts back to you and sometimes you have to furiously scribble while the big bang expands in your mind and grasp what you can.
Sometimes looking back for patterns recurrances/direction markers is the only way to see forward, and sometimes we can go back and pick up stitches, and regret is an imagination in the past that can be as useful and as dangerous to dwell on as imagination into the future.
Back to the paperwork* at the beginning.
I was vaguely shocked by Shelly’s notebook keeping guidelines. The neat margin at the side for thoughts. I’m sure this works for some people but it was dead as a ledger to me- Where am I going to fit in those scrawly drawings of imagined constructions, spread out black ink all over the page just to cut a little peephole into another page revealing segments of phrases, what about what I want to erase afterwards? Leaving a gaping entry in 2/3 of a neatly annotated page.
I kept notebooks in a dedicated way for years, went back and picked out thoughts and images for development, reworked texts with pencil and eraser within those covers, stuck in slips of paper and glued pages together with acrylics.
The last notebook I kept I had for over a year and it was the first notebook I lost. On transit from Dublin to Paris I left it I think on a phone box, making a last minute call to a fellow artist in I was visiting, the phone number and address there in the notebook on a page with a sketch of the friend and notes from drunken conversation about joyfull obsessions. Losing that notebook gutted me. So much thought and work gone, along with my plans for seeing my friend in Paris.
So now I keep loose leaf ideas and sketches and keep a few folders on the go. I keep a “current affairs file” that might contain anything from a project outline, to a recipt from the hardware shop, or a sheet with a starting point of a song on it. I work initially in pencil nearly always, for image or text and go back and rework or copy or draw in pen or erase. Every now and then I sort work out into other folders- I have a few- “Pure thought”, “Drawings for development”, “Poetry and creative writing scraps” “Songs/Music”, “Print-Work”…
I’ve been using this system for a few years and I think it works for me. I don’t have to carry irrelevant bits of paper around with me bound between covers and when a drawing is resolved I can stick it on a wall or in a frame without having to rip it from it’s spine. When I give up on something I can chuck it in the bin. I can separate out processes so when I’m trying to find a series of sketches for screenprinting seperations I don’t have to go through archived notebooks of various bits and bobs to find it.
Trouble is, this is an A4 system (with the exception of “drawings for development” which is A3) and I have yet to figure out a good way of organising larger paperwork, and though I have use of a plan chest it’s bloody difficult to pull out a single A1 print from underneath a stack of others without someone to help and manys the print I’ve damaged beyond sale in impatient riflings.
There will be error. All cannot grow. At times feeling bleak with society and it’s structures I get great solace from natural permutations and growth, trees, seasonal changes and recurrances, the slow shift of earth down the sides of mountains.
Fear now that Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) nearby will rob me of that solace. Know this to have already happened to millions of people in various terrible ways all around the world.
Am I allowed to complain when my life is so good?
Am I going to prioritise, say, trying to make the social welfare system in Ireland easier to negotiate, over doing something to help homeless or isolated people, or over fighting against Fracking, or trying to save my own business?
Do we just keep trying to make it better for us and ours, take care of the edges of what and who we come into contact with, believe that in doing so we can somehow improve the whole? Weaving ourselves in to the fabric of society. Help others by helping yourself. Help yourself by helping others. Support. Just being a part of it.
And how do I protect and cultivate the time I need to myself? Am I being selfish?
There were big questions raised at “The Art of Changemaking” and I suppose I feel that there are answers out there for some of them and that some of them have been around for thousands of years and will never be definitively answered and it can only be interesting or useful talking about them to a certain extent before it starts feeling masterbatory, self serving insights and understanding we hope will reconcile us with the world we percieve without us actually having to involve other people.
We are changing the world no matter what we do, the decision is in what way and to what extent – The future is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t that what was said?