Art is an important means of communication and expression of any experience, or of any aspect of the human condition. It is capable of communicating the basic insight that human beings should respect each other, and should try to understand each other. For many, the nature of making art today is to be engaged – to express a position, to connect audiences and to share ideas, thoughts or feelings that can be experienced by every human being.
Consequently, the idea to create ACTIVATE grew out of the desire to create a space in which the focus would be on the intersection between art and the lived experience. In order to do that, we have set out with the goal of presenting projects on pertinent topics created out of meaningful disciplinary cross-overs, but also to connect broad-minded people who possess an essentially humanistic approach in their lives and intent within their work experiences; individuals who address real situations and take action on issues in the world, both large or small, with constructive energy and with mindfulness.
The state of things
As people living in a time of unprecedented global turmoil, in a world that keeps waking up to a new emerging crisis - economic catastrophe, social upheaval, environmental calamities, political corruption and abuse of power, betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions, the growing cycles of identity-based aggression and violence, displacement of peoples, the confrontation between ideologies, physical destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage, and inhuman acts against innocent people - it has become increasingly apparent that the only way forward is to use our collective intelligence to work together and try and make sense out of the unnaturally shifting global pulse that we are experiencing today, this erratically flawed phase of history.
For those not living in immediate danger or in a state of fear in this world, there is an equal number of people who live in a virtual state of exhaustion, rattled by the fissures that exist in their lives, work, within our societies, compounded furthermore by oppressive energies such as the intolerance and extremist violence growing within and between countries which immobilize our moral compass. The reality is, despite the many available options with which to reach one another around the world and achieve complete connection as a positive force, there seems to be an equal amount of insecurity, division, societal instability, dispiritedness and emotional disengagement within our global dynamics. If one is concerned, troubled or affected by any one of life’s problematical issues, it can be hard to remain positive within all this chaos, hard to want to learn more about anyone else’s issues, and even harder to find the energy to do anything about it.
At the same time, however, there is a remarkable and steadily-growing positive filament connecting us all that carries hope, the desire to learn more, to recover a sense of wonder in life’s potentials, and people who seek to find ways to innovate and productively use the new energy made possible by our interaction across continents. In other words, there is an active seeking out by many to connect to the emancipatory and regenerative energy of doing something positive, of giving back; and there is an urge for the transformative feeling - and results - of collective contribution. If one wants to join such a current, it is not hard to find.
For us to connect to this impulse, we must try and pay more attention to those things that inspire in all of us a vitalistic way of thinking and living, and seek out those individuals who give energy by their presence alone. How does our spirit progress in the midst of a busy routine and negative news daily? What will make us see that divisions between us on the small scale, as on the larger scale, prevent us all from being our best selves, societies, cultures and so forth? What new paths do we need to create?
Art’s new paths
The role of artistic practice in this discussion is ever-growing in importance - to help close gaps in understanding, and in times of uncertainty and instability to find the little things that connect us during the momentous events - and also to find the magnificent things that connect us on the quieter days of history. It is in the sphere of cultural creators and creative producers to find these moments, our interlocking issues, moments and our common concerns. A perspective of the world through the arts can indeed connect and communicate ideas and concepts, but even more importantly, this realm gives us a space in which we can all go off-script in words and actions, and find the things that personally bind us and keep us attached and aware.
Current discussions about contemporary artistic practices within the real world show us just how much art can educate or inspire. Art can offer an intimate narrative of a story and show its corresponding optics; it can be linked to everyday life or even become an organic part of unfolding current events. It can speak up for an injustice in order to overturn its seeds; confront those in power - essentially, it can be part of the struggle for a better life everywhere in the world. The artistic perspective is a powerful connector that enables everyone to share ideas with more people - as it can enter, affect, move and shape minds that are far away and think in other languages. What are the things that truly connect us? The instinct to feel compassion and empathy, to offer kindness and tolerance? Are we connected by the human capacity to feel intense grief? By our increasing ecological conscience? Or our daily need for water?
The insight and awareness that action has more value than just accumulated knowledge is an idea central to our time. Unquestionably, just as what is called the ‘social turn’ did in the art movement, the ‘artistic turn’ in activism has given us an even more extensive view of the range of possible connections between our priority issues, creativity, and activist ethics and aspirations. When paired together, contemporary art and activism can address issues and ideas through investigation and exchange, and seek answers and solutions with the flexibility of artistic production and the speed of aesthetic action. To put it simply, the work of artists can reflect their individual positions on issues as humans and members of society - and personal interpretation is unbending only in the commitment not to just represent things but to disclose, acknowledge, convey the inward significance and outward implications of an issue.
What is the source of this ever-growing movement to take on the responsibility that art is not doing its job unless it has loud and clear social concerns, and is doing something about it? Very likely, this increased activity of ‘actionable’ work shows us the current need for us to truly appreciate the globality of our dilemmas, and to talk about the universal and interconnected nature of our crises. Just as art has expanded from its US and euro-centric viewpoint, its tackling of issues beyond its range of view - on the South American and African Continents, in the Middle East, in Asia and Oceania - illustrate the appreciation that our issues are increasingly interconnected on many levels and that remediation is needed everywhere.
Indeed, activist culture is growing, it is being continuously redefined, and creating new spaces in which it can embrace the learning process and strength-giving possibilities of each new effort from any individual who has a story and a genuine experience to share from within the real world itself. The artist can inhabit the role of change-maker or simply with no labels, just be working in a specific circumstance to make something happen, to make something adjust, transform or amend just by the shedding of light on something that needs to be seen by others as well.
Working with others
The tradition of cultural diplomacy is an age-old means of respectfully exchanging cultural paradigms, ideas and values between peoples. A step beyond this is that of working across boundaries, where an act of collaboration and contribution to an issue, a shared concern for certain subjects, the sharing of an experience, or idea, helps us to shift our compass and revise our presuppositions, assumptions and responses to the lives of others.
In the arts and in our contemporary dialogues, it is not just about exploring the links among aesthetics, the media, society or the power forces of the world, and it is not just viewing art practice in relation to other modes of creative engagement and innovation. Although we might not share similar narratives, we do share similar energies behind our beliefs, commitments and values - and that is what makes us human. Hence, perhaps the greatest potential of working with others is an encounter with another person that not only strengthens us, but also makes us flourish. Is this not how we leave a lasting imprint on each other throughout life?
We imagine ACTIVATE as a space where artists and others might express their motivations and purposes, and the connections that underpin their lives and their work - and where the two become one. Or even as a nascent watering-hole in such way that like-minded people who worry about things broader than their immediacy can engage. The truth is, people are remarkably similar, and we must be hopeful and also have high ambitions for our future - as people we are stronger as a louder voice, with more energy and more grey matter.
Over time we will personalize this space more, add the voices that fit, other issues that need to be explored, and maybe even revisit current discussions. We can all participate in the sharing of knowledge, and each project we host or initiate will use the same approach, and be mined for its message with breadth and depth. What will bring a feeling of human indivisibility? A shared planetary responsibility? Through elements as tangible as water, and concepts as intangible as empathy?
Ideas, practices, attitudes, aesthetics and ethics are all in a constant erratic flux in today’s world. Truly everywhere. At a time where the consequences of rapid changes create this unpredictable state in the world, cultural partnerships might offer new paths to take within our lived experience of daily life. In a moment where clear ideological demarcations are obscure, we are in greater need of more accurate cultural ‘translation’. Our hope is to contribute to finding new ways of going forward in these disbalanced times of ours, to help us all see beyond only that which is useful or comfortable to us - and to make us also look more sharply at what is actually happening. So let’s occupy our minds, and really activate all of our affirmative intentions.
Melina Nicolaides, Founder of ACTIVATE →