“The Arts Council criteria for funding is to conform
So if they pay the revolution the revolution will perform
And if you can write along this dotted line your role in this society
Then you can play allegiance to the great race robbery
And with a knowing glint they’ll say you can apply
Then they’ll stuff your open mouths with a piece of American Pie
The arts council criteria for funding is to conform
And as we are paying the revolution, the revolution will perform
And like puppets on barbed wire
We dance in this fire”
It’s an excerpt from “The Show Goes On” in my first book Tender Fingers in a Clenched Fist published by Bogle L’ouverture in 1988 and funded by yes The Arts Council. Such are the seemingly stark declamations within The Art of Defining Me (left pic) shown at Rich Mix last night. Kamala Devam and Seeta patel join film maker Maria Åkesson to create a three part film using dance, physical theatre and original script and sound design. Dance clearly needs film more than film needs dance or so it would have us believe, so it’s important that the camera was seduced by dance into becoming a dancer itself.
The flower created on the table in the first piece in which Devam is interviewed and the trick of the eye (Is the glass a mirror?) of Patel’s (pic on left) piece enitirely performed in a box of four doors clearly displays what was important about the art of defining me. The art. The art The art. The question of whether or not artists are complicit with the criteria of their funders is brilliantly executed (killed) in Kamala’s section of the film – The Interview. The question is… is it any good. And it really is.
The panel and audience discussion that followed was taken up with an idea of identity that threatened to undermine the film’s main point. Identity is as complex and beautiful and big and undefinable as our Galaxy. The arts council struggles with its own identity at least as much as the artist. And isn’t all art driven by identity whether Damien Hirst or Satyajit ray. It is arts council’s responsibility to fund and respect tax payers money. It is the artists responsibility to create. These are not conflicting currency.
So let’s talk about the art of The Art of Defining Me: the entire dance in a box not big enough to swing a samosa, the revealing head stand in the middle of the interview, the bindi mirror window piece. I look forward to more from this unique team to brighten the predictability, the mediocrity which yes fulfills criteria and yes ticks boxes. The responsibility to create is the artist’s alone. And the answer to the dichotomy outlined in my poem and this wonderful screen dance is inside the work. The work should always be outside and beyond the structures set up to define and/or fund it. And that is exactly what The Art That Defines Me is. Zoom in on the detail and let the story unfold and unfold and unfold to make with great effort something effortlessly beautiful and complex: political, personal, artistic, classically informed modernity performed and uncompromisingly aware. Bravo Seeta, Kamala and Maria. And bravo Arts Council.