Evelina Taunyte - "community art is the best peace keeping practice"
CAUCULT expert Evelina Taunyte / CandyCactus shares her thoughts and inspirations related to community art.
Evelina, thank you for finding time to answer the questions. Briefly, what is community art to your point of view?
I understand Community Art as a playful way of communication within communities between different actors - politicians vs. citizens, old generation vs. young generation, citizens vs. other citizens and so on. The objective of community art is not to create ingenious art pieces, but rather to include different ways of thinking and expressing oneself within the community thus giving space, credit and attention to different views that might not have this opportunity otherwise.
For example, if you ask people about who decide about their surroundings, often the answer would be that it is politicians. And often people are not happy with their performance because of corruption or other problems. The gap becomes too big. Through community art, where members of the community become active and shape their surroundings themselves, it can be expressed, communicated and existentially experienced that it is community itself that can and has to shape it's own space. Politicians are there to serve them and not the other way round, as it often tends to be. Side effects of community art are, for example, that the sense of responsibility arises for the place community lives in. Also, during community art activities neighbors might get to know each other from a different, rather creative side and thus get along better and co-operate in the future for the benefit of the community. Industrialization and fast progress always go with social disintegration processes. Community art can prevent some of these - bring people together from different generations, classes and nations and make them care not about the theoretical politics, but about the practical politics: surroundings they and their children live in. In that sense, community art is the best peace keeping practice!
Through community art some serious issues can be approached in a playful way and dissolve polarity that usually arises when positions pro and contra are taken in a controversial issue. Community art helps to deconstruct reality that seems to be unchangeable at first glance and provides different points of view. One phrase of the Loesje group in Netherlands, which is famous for pointing out at our reality from other points of view, expresses well this kind of deconstruction of reality and emphasizing subjective reality: "Under every pavement there is a beach". Pavement is not God - given and can be questioned as anything else in our surroundings, for example, wouldn't it be better to have a playground instead of a parking lot? Community art has inspired excellent improvements in cities and towns across the world, making them more fun to dwell in. There are small sand beaches in the city center Berlin, public hammocks in Vienna. These kind of ideas usually arise within the community and less so among politicians. Through community art the connection can be established between the two sides.
What are the most important things to keep in mind before organizing community art event?
I think first of all it is important to be aware of why we are doing community art event. Although reasons might be overlapping, it is useful to make it clear for oneself what is the primary goal. Is it to communicate something within then community? Is it to have fun? Is it to contribute to the esthetics of the surroundings? It is like making a sculpture - one has to discard everything that is not necessary in order to see the essence. Otherwise community art events might have the tendency to blend with anything else, like commercial festivals. I think that it is very important to formulate a goal in a participatory way. The goal should be shared among several people in the community, so that everybody in the active group is pulling in the same direction and nobody is manipulated.
What are the main difficulties people meet while using community art method. How you would suggest to overcome it?
I think the main difficulty is to get others exited about your idea. How do you get others participate with the same passion as you do? If you have an excellent idea, you might face this challenge. Seducing is the way! That is an art in itself and the beauty of it lies in the fact that there are no recipes, how to make other people like your idea. It just has to be damn sexy. How you do it - it is up to you. Can be frustrating and very rewarding, if you succeed!
Well, indeed there is one recipe to get started - participation from the very beginning. If people take part in developing the idea, they are more likely to like it and be passionate about it.
To your point of view, why community art is important and useful?
In Western societies, where the needs tend to be met in commercial ways (if I am bored I will go to the cinema; if I am lonely - I will sign in to a dating site; if I am hungry - I will go to the restaurant), community art events give an opportunity to see that we are free to meet our needs in so many different ways that do not necessarily require having money. It can have a very liberating effect. If we are happy or not, often does not depend on how much money we have, but if we feel that we can express ourselves, if we are accepted in our community, if our talents are being perceived (who needs musicians these days if everybody has a smartphone and can play anything on it?). According to Manfred Max-Neef, a sociologist from Chile, who developed a new way of looking at human needs (matrix of human needs), we should become aware of the variety of needs that we have in societies and the ways of meeting them. For example we might have a need not only to eat, but share food with the others, etc. Or we might have a need to express ourselves creatively. Industrial societies have the tendency to push us into the scheme "work-buy-die", in order to meet our needs commercially, consuming material goods and thus contributing to more ecological destruction of our planet. Instead of buying a new expensive camera and not having time to use it (because you have to earn all this money for it!), it can be more rewarding to actually create something and be able to show it to the others. And it does not necessarily need to be expensive! Fun is for free! We seem to forget it. Community art can provide opportunities to meet these less obvious needs - to share, to express, to be creative in the group, to participate in the shaping of our environments.
Blogs, forums, people who follow and what is inspiring you for community art activism?
A group from US called "Improv Everywhere" raise issues in a creative and experiential way. Instead of being angry that we actually do not have much of the say in many our societies, they would just put a microphone in a busy street. The passers-by would notice it and take initiative and amazing things would start to happen that one would not experience if this microphone would not be there.
Living in Berlin I witness how urban gardening brings people from different backgrounds together. Gardens become places of socializing beyond the commerce. It seems that people do appreciate the feeling, when you are having your coffee in the garden that you planted with others. It gives an opportunity for people to exchange their ideas and efforts, share their time in a setting that ignores your financial possibilities (which is not the case if you go to the restaurant to spend time), your age or appearance. What counts is how you come along with the rest of the community and how you are able to contribute constructively to the work that needs to be done in the garden. It also gives people the possibility to reconnect to the nature witnessing changes of the seasons through taking care of plants http://himmelbeet.com.
Googling "urban interventions" one can find infinite ideas of community art and urban activism. But the best are the ones that you invent yourself!