Stephen Gray (Seminar 1 Q&A)

Are artists agents of cultural resistance or critical practitioners?

Stephen Gray, Aberdeenshire Council

Steven Gray: You seem to have come full circle.  When you started off you were telling us about the rise of neoliberalism and artists as agents of cultural resistance. Then you moved into the sphere of artists as being judge/jury of their own work and other people’s or other artists’ work.  Is that the direction you are following at the moment?  Are there two camps or is there a permeable membrane between the two sides?

Grant Kester: Yes, that’s a good question. I suppose what is rewarding about the work I’m writing about is that there is such a range of practices. I’m looking at some projects in Latin America currently, including Grupo Etcetera, who are active in Argentina. They are closely connected with activists who have attempted to overcome the historical amnesia there regarding the junta and the disappearances. They began by creating fake street signs around the homes of the complicit doctors and military people who were still living anonymously in Buenos Aires. Instead of ‘stop’ or ‘left turn’, their signs would say ‘Here a torturer lives, 100 feet on the right’. Eventually they were forced to remove those. Then they started these diversionary street performances because the police would come and try and drive them away from the houses. It led to a fascinating kind of back-and-forth performative exchange between the street protesters and the police, and their attempts to name and mark these buildings.

At the same time, there are other projects that are not nearly as connected to activism in that more direct, political sense.  They define the political differently. What is interesting is the range of that practice. It is important to attend to it as a continuum and to understand that there are certain methodologies that link them, but that there are also certain differences.  That’s why, in the book, I’m trying to contextualize each practice, to say, ‘In this context, this group has situated itself in this way’, ‘This orientation produces these effects,’ etc. So, some of the projects are much more connected to political protest than others.  But for me, that’s fine.  I’m comfortable with that diversity, yes.

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