While sitting in the lounge the other day, sipping a double-bagged cup of peppermint tea and cautiously nibbling on a clearly expired slice of pizza, I witnessed a rather peculiar and frightening conversational exchange. My flatmate (a musician) had graciously invited her friend over (also a musician) for a home-cooked meal that appeared to smell better than it looked. During their heart-to-heart, which gravitated between current favourite songs and eating habits, the topics of climate change and global warming weaved their way into the conversation. Upon hearing my flatmate rant about our impact on the earth and the consequence of global warming as a result of this interference, her friend asked the unthinkable: “What’s that?”
At first I assumed that maybe he had just misheard a certain word, or even been put off by the food that he had been presented with. My concern turned swiftly to shock as I soon realised he had just asked what global warming was. A 25 year old man. In 2019. After ‘#globalclimatestrike’ recently blew up on social media. I sat there, dazed and dumfounded, as my flatmate proceeded to explain climate change and all its nuances as if informing a 5 year old about the earth’s state for the first time. How the fuck is something like this possible? Surely someone of such elusory talents deserves a medal for evading such a prolific topic over the course of their life. Then I remembered: drums go boom boom! In his capacity to dedicate himself to becoming as proficient as he is behind a drum kit, a passion for music had driven him to seek isolated personal development at the expense of expanded, real-world problems and knowledge about these pertinent issues.
I never really considered it a problem, but the danger of being so engrossed in something that you would develop tunnel vision most definitely exists. This is one of the salient reasons behind my decision to ‘transition’ from a purely musical based practice (that seemed so concerned with the ‘thing itself’) to an expanded artistic practice (concerned with the relationships that ‘thing’ shares with the ever-changing contexts in which it is presented in). This inability to see outside the comfortable confines of one’s expertise, or mastery over a particular craft, is perplexing to me and could develop into something much more sinister or plague-like. In today’s era of technological development favouring instant gratification, where information is more abundant than water, ignorance is not a virtue or an excuse. I’m not suggesting that one is expected to reside in a state of constant acute awareness, questioning everything and never resting until the uncertain is certain, the unknown is known. The hunger for knowledge can never be sated. But it would be nice if people challenged themselves every once in a while.
I recently had the privilege of collaborating with one of my closest friends in bringing together a show for Massey’s Engine Room gallery. This was my first ‘real’ public exhibition in an art context and I was even more nervous than when I have to perform live. At least when I perform music I am in control of my output in the moment and able to adapt to an audience or the atmosphere of a room. Creating work that is separate from myself and permanent within the viewing setting of a gallery, unable to be ‘edited’, illuminates a sense of vulnerability that I have not yet experienced. All I could do was sit back and gauge people’s reactions while pretending not to give a shit about the opinions of others. My fear gradually turned to anger as I witnessed a similar inability to question or think independently, a lack of willingness to understand even, manifest among my friends who came to view the show. This anger gave way to sadness as I began to understand the cold hard truth. Most people don’t know how to interact with art. Most people legitimately seem scared of it.
The majority of my circle of friends are musicians and to see them in a gallery setting was interesting to say the least. I lost count of how many times I was asked “so what’s the backstory, man?” or “can you just tell me what I should be feeling?” They all seemed to be searching for a key that would unlock the ‘magic of the art’; a key they thought I would freely give. As if by knowing the hidden secret they would suddenly ‘get it’ and could move on with their lives without a sense of FOMO. It felt like teaching pre-schoolers how to read. I struggled to answer their questions without just brutally spoiling any kind of interpretation on their behalf. They didn’t want to think for themselves and it fucking pained me beyond relief. Were they so used to ‘art’ coming to them in the form of a dominating audio and visual culture that traits of lethargy had developed?
The two most recurring words of the show happened to also be my least two favourite arrangements of letters: beautiful and vibes. Any semblance of actual conversation was cut off at the mention of these absolute phonetic bangers. As soon as I pressed for a more honest response people would recoil and take on a defensive stance, as if me questioning them was somehow suggesting that they didn’t ‘get it’. To be honest, I don’t believe anyone who says that they ‘get it’; these people will usually go on to grace you with their obviously superior intellect in explaining what it is exactly that they ‘get’ and you don’t. I believe the term is con artist? But what I don’t get is why people can’t at least try to appreciate something out of their comfort zone, to challenge themselves and the ways in which they think about the world they inhabit. If not out of respect then out of humility. How do you teach someone how to ‘read’ and engage with art without sounding like a pretentious wanker? That was a rhetorical question, I have no fucking idea.