Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Arts Cuts #'6 - Democracy and Art

My previous blog post has me thinking about the cultural impact of art. This is a hot topic at the moment, given the focus on the Prime Minister's Chinese visit. In a leading article over the weekend, Nicholas Kenyon reported on his own experience of the meeting of traditional Chinese culture and imports, saying:
It would be a huge irony if, in trying to become more prosperous, democratic and open... China shirked the challenge of reinvigorating a new cultural renaissance by harnessing the potential of the new media.
China significantly censors the traffic on the internet within its borders and censorship extends beyond the internet as well (one of the imported performances to which Kenyon refers was reportedly subjected to a bit of state-sponsored nip and tuck). Kenyon notes that "[the internet] was seen by some Chinese as a distraction to the young, representing pop culture, games and trivia" although having the TV equivalent watched by 60M people suggest there may be more to such censorship than seems at first the case.

Cameron's visit has seen the house arrest in Beijing of Ai Weiwei. Weiwei is now seen as an artist of global significance, principally due to his involvement in the design of the 'bird's nest' Olympic Stadium in Beijing and the current Tate Modern turbine hall exhibition, which opened* a fortnight before Cameron's visit. But as The Guardian's Jonathan Jones points out, China's properity and the links that Cameron is looking to develop with the Chinese depend entirely on the likes of Weiwei and the market (represented by the likes of District 798, inset) that his creativity encourages. That creativity doesn't come in a vacuum though - art is not generated by an unquestioning automaton. Yet it's for this pragmatic curiosity that Weiwei was detained.

Clearly when a country finds itself in a significant period of flux, be it explosive productivity and prosperity like that in China, or significant financial collapse, such as the deficit crisis in this country, then it views its creativity as a dangerously volatile presence to be frozen out: either a drain on money or a potentially dangerous misuse of it.

The greatest irony is probably that one of the institutions threatened by the DCMS 'reviews' is The People's History Museum in Manchester, which deals in documenting the rise of democracy in this country.

*further irony, of course, is that it also closed soon after opening. In fact there's no irony. The slightly arcane reason given (dust generated) was because Tate staff were worried about how to police the manner in which people would interact with it.

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