Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Since the 60’s, artists have been developing methods on how to work, engage or collaborate with people, companies or institutions. Art groups such as ‘Artist’s Placement Group’ (APG) and ‘Group Material’ (GM) both worked with people and interpersonal exchange or experience – art became immaterial.
One of the first to write about this shift from material to immaterial in the Arts was art critic, activist and curator Lucy Lippard, who very insightfully wrote in her book ‘Six Years: the Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966-1972’:
‘The more open, or ambiguous the experience offered, the more the viewer is forced to depend upon his/her own perceptions’.
Meaning that if you give a person a very open assignment or poorly instructed task, they often feel the need to “help” or take engagement by filling out the gaps with their own imaginations and ideas. How this “gap” is designed, reveals a lot more than we think – it shows the (sometimes unaware) intention of the designer, their notion of democracy and hierarchy.
APG placed artists in the “real world”, because they wanted to connect art with people and society. One of the artists in APG was John Latham, who came up with a theory called “the incidental person” – a person who avoids thinking in terms of “you vs. me” and “for or against” in order to find a solution or idea in the content or situation already present in order to find answers to questions yet to be asked. The way APG researched and communicated with people is valuable knowledge to peace builders today. They made contracts and observed for long periods before engaging.
Group Material also left the role of the artist-as-maker behind and became ‘cultural workers’, producers, consultants, organisers and interpreters of art. In 1981 they made an exhibition in their gallery, which was located in a gentrified area in New York USA, called ‘The People’s Choice’. In this exhibition project, they invited local Latino neighbours to exhibit ‘valuable ‘ things from their private shelves and walls. The show displayed private photographs, collectibles, a mural by local kids, posters, ‘folk art’, kitsch, religious icons and all the objects were labelled and identified by the owners and some even included personal stories about the object.
We connect with open minds in indirect and metaphorical stories or images, because the needed translation expands our sensitivity and we see ourselves more clearly as translators of very complex messages.
A friend once told me during a conversation, that he metaphorically thought my art practice is like this: “You leave the windows to your house open when you go on holiday, so that strangers can water your plants when you’re not home”. In Chapter 16 in the book ‘Contemporary Conflict Resolution’ by Ramsbotham, Miall, Woodhouse, it says that up to 93% of all communicated meaning is non-verbal. I hope nobody will read this and prioritise images over language or vice versa, but instead seek to combine the two in an expanded field – such as metaphors!
An image is not a mirror of reality, it is an expression defined by practical, cultural and technical contexts. Incorporating image-making and -description into peace building is crucial for future innovation of conflict resolution. The body speaks another language and we can expand language (and interpersonal understanding) by working on image descriptions – and metaphors. Why? Because the translation of the metaphors calibrates and unites our “inner dictionaries”.
Metaphorical peace talk is a way to innovate how conflict resolution. In ‘The People’s Choice’, many conversations about what ‘value’ is, was made possible that generated important uniting discussions about value in a neighbourhood endangered by gentrification. What would be a fitting metaphor or indirect approach/question for your conflict?
Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rotary for giving me the chance to study peace and conflict resolution at Chulalongkorn. This will open my door as well.
Stine Marie Jacobsen – Denmark
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 21
The two drawings I made with a woman in Minuto de Dios, Bogotá, who lost her son, husband and farm to FARC in the armed conflict in Colombia.
Last image “How the owl became a cat – a visual rumor” is from the book The Psychology of Rumor, Allport & Postman (1947).