Monday, December 03, 2012

Art is political!

Hermes Pittakos at the screening of his film
By Anton Johnson

IN THE RUN-UP to the TUC demonstration last month, OUT Against Austerity paired up with the London Underground Film Festival to provide an opportunity for those attending the Speak OUT Against Austerity event at Unite House to see the screening of Hollow Bone by emerging Queer artist Hermes Pittakos. This striking film showcasing Hermes’ talents as a make-up artist impacted on the viewers, who could not help but reflect on the film’s sights as they made their way home on the bus.
Why did the organisers of Speak OUT Against Austerity arrange for people to be able to see Hermes’ film?
The Bolsheviks after 1917 realised the importance of communicating the message of the revolution to the population, of whom the majority, following the Czar’s rule, were illiterate. So the Bolsheviks used art – performance art, film and graphics to communicate to the masses. The Agitprop train travelled the country from town to town organising processions and ad hoc performance art to explain the revolution to people and that they could throw off the shackles of medieaval government and the Orthodox Church.
The Bolsheviks challenged bourgeois values that had been instilled by the Church for the Imperial State, as part of the revolutionary process of change. Artists were given freedom in order to challenge these old values and create a new world. For this reason artists from all over Europe and North America flocked to the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s to take advantage of the revolutionary culture there.
This importance given to art and experimentation carried into the new government to set up facilities to encourage artists, also to allow all people to have access and experience all mediums.
Challenging avant-garde art was a tool for the Bolsheviks to encourage people to be free and take forward the ideals of the revolution to create a new world, an alternative to the capitalist one.
The images in Hermes Pittakos’ film would challenge and add to the awareness of any event.  And this experience was repeated at a concert held in London last week by the composer Othon Mataragas and acclaimed singer Ernesto Tomasini. The experience was augmented by the talents of Hermes Pittakos adding visual impact. Othon and Ernesto had performed at a Sertuc event to mark LGBT History Month in 2008; both they and the visuals of artist Fabio Boxikus left the audience moved and talking it about for years after.
The audience was exposed to something new and striking. Interestingly some members of the Sertuc LGBT Network on the right of the labour movement argued against the work of Othon and Fabio, stating that it was not for ordinary people.
 This as communists we must challenge. Under the Bolsheviks workers, ordinary people were encouraged to access and enjoy all art from the Kino reels to ballet, which had been previously the preserve of the rich.
 We see this today in the fact that tickets to Convent Garden are out of the reach of those on benefits and ordinary wages. The Tories have been altering the syllabus for state education since 1979, reducing the arts and bringing in rote learning so that working class children can fit into where capitalism wants them as opposed to developing enquiring minds. The working class should have access to all forms of art from classical music to performance art.
 The rich have a vested interest in feeding the working class with pulp on television to keep people “dosed” up and anxious. Look at the films of today – pessimistic, nihilistic and stacked with violence and destruction.
 The art of Othon and Hermes encourages the audience to think; to question and look at an alternative world people need to be encouraged to think.
Queer artists have led the way in encouraging people to question and think through seeing their art. New York based artist Gio Black Peter challenges bourgeois standards through his music and visuals often being censored.
Next month he and other Queers are bringing out a magazine that will showcase other artists who challenge and do not accept the norms of the capitalist society. These artists are not confined merely to Europe and North America. In Mexico you have radical political performance art by the group Patitos Punk and Felipe Osorino who take extreme performance art, using their naked bodies onto the streets, just as those on the Agitprop train or the group Down with Bourgeois Shame did in1920s Russia. 
The work of these artists is important in challenging and giving pleasure to all people, not just the wealthy elite. In a civilised society those artists would be supported by the state, given freedom to experiment and encouraged. We as progressives should encourage people to access the work of these pioneers and promote their work as Left Front Art does in the LGBTQ communities and our Movement.

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