Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Carrie Reichardt - Mad in England

Ok, so these are my thoughts on the keynote address for the MAANZ Symposium 2013. From the UK, Carrie Reichardt advised us she is "not a Royalist" and proceeded to share her thoughts on life, art and politics. Her paper was unsettling and overwhelming...but inspirational. Days later, her words are still resonating with me. "The Treatment Rooms" is her studio and her work definately has a message with murals, mosaic, ceramics and screen printed political works her forte. Sporting a "Mad in England" windcheater and a hat rather akin to that of a tram conductor Carrie was never going to be boring. Art college turned her off art. Her tutors didn't like political work or feminist work which translated that they didn't like her. So she finished with art college and did her own thing, which she has continued to do ever since. Her art is autobiographical as is her way of working and from what she told us her art is cathartic and brought her back from the edge. After suffering from mental illness, her art was her salvation. Becoming involved in community mosaic and work with schools enabled her to make a connection to people and she was able to work again, but as she so clearly stated, Council pays you to dumb down the message and take meaning out of the work so Carrie stopped working for Council through public art commissions, and again started to do her own thing. This is where the discussion deviated from mosaic, and for just reason, but her time talking to us was spent discussing issues that at times were confronting, but were very much from the heart. I for one appreciated this. Death row is a tough topic to address and Carrie did it with humility while at the same time making her stance on related issues pretty clear. 3 out of 4 people on death row in Texas are ex military. Thanks to a connection made through the Big Issue, Carrie began a process of writing to someone on death row, and continued to do so for over five 5 years, becoming friends with Louis and engaging in a lifelong relationship of learning and engagement. This process too reinforce the message that it is ok to do your own thing and as a result Carrie began the mammoth task of mosaicing her own house! Louis spent the last two days of his life with Carrie before his execution. His message to Carrie was that her writing to him restored his humanity. Louis died on 20.10.2005. The death row arguement is a tough one - people either agree with the argument or don't. As Carrie sees it, there is limited opportunity for dialogue - unless you make art out of it. The process of creativity for her, has ensured sanity. As such, there is much in the way of subtle, sometimes hidden messages, in much of her work. Through her friendship with Louis, Carrie's sense of justice and law and order was overthrown and overwhelmed. For Carrie, the words of Martin Luther King Jr ring true "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." People are seduced by ceramics and mosaic and as such it is often possible to tell a story that might otherwise not be heard. Her work for Elephant Parade is a good example of this. Commissions for this project were completed free of charge and as such Carrie has final say over what her work says and shows. Her elephant Phoolan is half gorgeous elephant resplendent in ceremonial robes, and half skeletal to show both aspects of elephant conservation. The irony of the private collector who purchased the works intent to "push the elephant against the wall" was not lost. Similarly Carrie's Trojan horse , commissioned by Cheltenham Art and Craft Museum makes a comment on the abuse of horses by man in war, horse racing and abattoirs. Current work is progressing along the lines of utilising ceramic collage, with the ever present opportunity for political comment. Carrie is working on an international mosaic project in Chile in January 2014. Other influences on her work include the Black Panthers, Fred Hampton's statement "You can kill a revolutionary but you can't kill the revolution" and the concept of "craftivism" as defined by Betsy Greer 27.8.2013

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