MAtt DOughty: Performance Chelsea MAFA International Festival
MAFA International Festival
Over the last two weeks, our class was tasked to create an exhibition celebrating our culture. This task did make me feel slightly uncomfortable. However, I do feel it was useful as it allowed me to bring to light certain issues I have when it comes to my culture.
My first difficulty was the initial word of culture this has multiple meanings relating to more positive connations such as art and music, to the negative connations such as cultural identity and background.
Within my practice, I have always played with cultural tropes and have attempted to challenge these. My first main piece many years ago was discussing the culture of paranoia created through mass media and transmitted through to the public psyche. This culture of fear I feel plays a significant role in the creation of the ‘fear of the other’, which I feel has certainly reached a level within a global stage not saw for many years since the Cold War.
Moving from this my work has typically questioned the roles of institutions, mass media and the effects of unmanaged capitalism, which I would argue is ingrained within our culture.
Another issue I had and probably more on my mind as I had recently been quite moved by a painting by Gordon Bennet called ‘Possession Island ‘ was my countries colonial past. While to some this may indeed be seen as a part of history that should not disrupt or negate any feeling of national pride. I found it incredibly hard to ignore when considering even my typical English hobbies such as drinking tea and going for a curry are all historically linked to Britain’s colonial past.
Another key issue was indeed the pending Brexit vote, While I am aware that there were many reasons for the vote. It can not be ignored that a proportion of these votes were due to the rise of xenophobia and a longing desire for English identity and patriotism. While I am firmly against Brexit myself, I do feel that, due to the term, ‘white working class’ and its usage within the political spectrum, those of us considered to be belonging to the group ‘white working class’ are all somewhat labeled or treated with suspicion of sharing the same views as portrayed in the media.
Thus when it came to creating an art piece I decided to create a performance piece, using Grayson Perry’s ‘A Touch of Class’ as inspiration and as something to criticise. I wanted to discuss cultural stereotypes and to promote a more abstract way of thinking when discussing these groups. I felt this was important as I feel cultural stereotyping is a key issue when it comes to hate crimes such as racism and Islamophobia.
In the Grayson Perry documentary, the working class was typically identified as having a love for doing up cars, football, cage fighting, and tattoos. In society and through talk show platforms we are also portrayed as somewhat dimwitted, uneducated and in some cases somewhat lesser beings. While I must admit I do actually have a love of tattoos and have had involvement in the sport of cage fighting through friendship circles, and have at one point been considered uneducated. This dehumanisation of a group of people should be tackled and confronted as we are all human and we all have fears, joys, hopes, and dreams.
So for the performance, I decided to dress as what I can only describe as a stereotypical football fan, armed with a pack of K Cider I presented myself a foul-mouthed Brummie lad, who was going to call up his cage fighter friend for a conversation about art and cage fighting.
While I was uncomfortable with this particular sub-culture, That I feel have no relation or connection with. I felt it was important as I wanted this piece to resonate with the viewer of this particular group in the hopes that perhaps in the absurdity of in which they see how themselves are grouped and labeled together, they may indeed see the absurdity and negative effects in which they label and group others.
Working in Collaboration with a semi-retired pro-boxer and Cage fighter Shane Dragonslayer we had devised a script in which Shane would discuss how the theatrics within cage fighting relates to French surrealist Antonin Artaud writings on ‘the Theatre of Cruelty’. The script was written to be somewhat academic and formal and was intended to juxtapose the character in which I was playing. I also feel the academic setting was important as this help challenge tropes that are disseminated through the media that cage fighters are somewhat cavemen-like or uneducated. When in theory many are devout hard workers and have a range of jobs from teachers to business owners.
At the end of the piece, I removed my bald cap and had also intended to remove the face paint signifying and symbolising that I did not belong to this subculture usually associated with my cultural background. I had intended to be slightly more poetic in this delivery, however, I was quite nervous and did slightly flunk the delivery of this.
However, this distancing of this subculture I feel has placed a hypocritical edge to the piece. I felt uncomfortable assuming this role due to its associations with racism and xenophobia and felt it was importantly vital to make the audience aware that I had no standing within this subculture, but in my urge to distance myself, am I myself guilty of assuming that all members within the subculture hold the same negative views usually presented in the media. Thus the end of the performance really ends with me going full circle as to why I found it difficult to impossible to celebrate my culture, due to past and current events there are just too many negative connations that I feel outweigh any desire for patriotism I may have.
While I am not truly happy with the outcome of the piece, it has provided me with room for thought I think it is more than crucial to not only address progressive ideas to not only fans of the arts or those with more liberal views but also to communities with more undesirable views/ issues. The art world can appear somewhat elitist or divisionary, I am interested in how art can present these new ideas and thoughts that can be somewhat challenging or confrontational to these communities without becoming too oppositional that it only further pushes these certain members of these communities further right on the political spectrum.