Art is the Creator’s Extravagance

The Group Letter – October 2014.

Mentoring for word, image and performance arts.
It was great to see the Tree House packed-out earlier this month for Sally Kidall’s talk and our intimate meal together. Sally spoke to me afterwards and said how great it must be to have such amazing people around me (not that I’ve been collecting you!), because for Sally there are few people near  to help and encourage her, as she works on those wonderful installations.
So, I consider myself blessed indeed. As we watched those wonderful images projected on the screen, I struggled at first for a language to describe what I was seeing. Yes, sallyenvironmental installations, (nice label) but what adjectives would you use to delve a little deeper into their meaning? Sally spoke in these terms:

“The focus of my practice is the concept of transition, including notions of unpredictability, vulnerability, deterioration and ephemerality. It is informed by issues relating to human ecology, cultural displacement, consumption and materialism.”
For such are the times we live in.
With this in mind, it seemed that the wondrous nature of these things and her question as to why we should be making such them, was summed up in terms of God’s extravagance. When we look at the wonders of Creation, we are not left with feelings of mere utility but of abundance, yes of extravagance. We are surrounded by it. At night we can see it stretched out across a black canvas; of spiral galaxies, blazing suns, rapid transit comets from far flung places. We can peruse life under a microscope and see the infinitely glorious levels of detail and amazing imagination; of atoms and quarks. We can catch the scent of a rose as we walk past someone’s garden. Things don’t just look wonderful they smell wonderful too.
We see the potential of Creation, a thousand different possibilities for what we can grow in our gardens. And then of course there’s us, infinitely different, mysterious, unfathomable in our complexity.
But what if on Day One, God created the conveyor belt and Day Two the Dymo Embossed Label-making Machine, so that everything coming off the conveyor belt could be identified and labelled. Flower, grass (with optional ‘keep off’ sign), rock, tree, fruit (again with optional ‘keep off’ sign), man, woman (nope I shall not follow the logic of the joke) etc, etc. On Day Six, moulds were created to develop lots of men and the women. A Black human mould, then White, Asian, African, Filipino etc. Not so much Adam and Eve, but Ken and Barbie. Every man would have firm pecs and every woman gravity-defying breasts; perfectly formed people, but sadly soulless. Life would be a pre-packaged utility, a lifeless void full of Disneyland smiles and sparkles in our dull-glass eyes.
And then if art were at all possible in an environment like this, what would it be like? Plastic? Straight out of ‘The Mould’? Processed?
Sally’s art reminded me that we are a sign of God’s extravagance and so too is our work. It allows us to connect with people beyond talk of the weather, the price of eggs or the latest style of unisex bicycle clips. We speak allusively – in metaphorical terms – for our work is not about putting labels on things, but to entice and provoke, to engage with a world being squeezed into various moulds of the ‘good life’; of conformity or infamy. Our work involves creating mould-breaking, label-defying ‘stuff’.
Now is the time to revel in your gifts and not apologise for who you are and what you do. After all, it’s the bland who lead the blind into the ditch!
Ken xxx