Last February we officially launched - within the collective INaudible - the proposal to dedicate our annual festival on improvisation Sons Libérés 2015 (hereafter SL 2015) to the Artivism.
Artivism is a portmanteau word combining ‘art’ and ‘activism’. Artivism developed in recent years while the antiwar and anti-globalization protests emerged and proliferated. In many cases, artivists attemp to push politica agenda by the means of art, but a focus on raising social, environmental and technical awareness is also common. Besides using traditional mediums like film and music to raise awareness or push for change, an artivist can also be involved in culture jamming, subvertising, street art, spoken word, protesting and activism… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artivism
In fact, the issue was already in the air for some time, not only among us and not just here in Brussels, but a little bit everywhere. The reasons are many and articulate, but you need just having a quick look to the media to intuit why: we live in an increasingly complex and uneven world and it is difficult (and, in our opinion, also wrong) consider each artistic practice and its aesthetics as something extraneous, separated and / or NOT interconnected with the political and social context.
Artivism deals with the embrace and exploitation of art as the catalyst in trying to reach an activist objective. The role of creative process, as opposed to the role of the finished piece, can serve different purposes in artivist projects. The process brings about a dynamic activity that elicits community expression and builds relationships.
As you know, the history of the arts - including that of improvised music - is studded with experiences of artists 'engagées' or 'committed', as they call them. And fortunately, I say...
A short list of artists whose musical practices and political spirits inform recent interdisciplinary scholarship on improvisation includes: The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and the Black Artists Group (BAG), African American artist collectives dedicated to advancing opportunities for black musicians in a white-dominated cultural field; the Feminist Improvising Group (FIG), a London-based group of women improvisers that challenged the male-dominated improvised music scene in England; AMM, a London-based improvising ensemble that includes percussionist Eddie Prévost, who has written extensively on democratic modes of music making; and Le Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec, who used free jazz as a way to participate in the sovereignty debates during the Québécois Quiet Revolution in the late 1960s.
Eddie Prévost summarizes the ethos represented in these examples with the assertion that historically, musicians who have made “improvisation the aesthetic priority of their creative lives” have done so as a response to a “political and social system not of their making or liking”*.
(*) Prévost, Edwin. Minute Particulars: Meanings in Music-Making in the Wake of Hierarchical Realignments and other Essays. Matching Tye, England: Copula, 2004. Print.) www.criticalimprov.com/article/view/1823/2973
Our case: INaudible is a collective of improvisers that has existed for over 30 years during which welcomed artists as diverse in origin, aesthetic approach, and political convictions. Launching the Artivism theme for our festival Sons Libérés 2015, corresponds to the need for some of us (not all, it must be said) to reflect on what we are doing and, above all, about the possible social and political consequences of our artistic action.
On the one hand, the socio-political context in which we operate makes it rather unlikely (or impractical) the approach 'l'art pour l'art'. The economic crisis that has invested the Old Continent for almost a decade, among other things, has seen almost everywhere heavy budget cuts for culture. Moreover, conflicts, violence and poverty in large areas south and east of the continent are pushing hundreds of thousands of desperate people towards us, looking for a better future. Or even a future. Last but not least, the planet is presenting the bill to the havoc inflicted on destroying forests, polluting, consuming its resources without restraint... The climate change may already have reached its point of no return, and we will soon see in Paris if the governments will put a patch or not.
On the other hand, the expansion of social networks, digitization of the means of reproduction and documentation of our work, the new funding tools through the internet is changing strongly the framework in which the improvisation scene has developed in the second half of Twentieth Century (here in Europe and elsewhere). These changes require careful consideration about our 'infrastructures' (if we can name them like that). And this even if some people believe, often wrongly, that improvisation, unlike the productions 'mainstream', does not require specific infrastructure.
As always, crisis also constitutes an occasion of great opportunities. Inequity and inequalities are increasing, but are also blooming many initiatives to resist to all that. And as it should be, often (not always) artists are on the front line. Launching the Artivism theme for the festival Sons Libérés 2015, we intend to lay the foundations for a European network of improvisers who believe in music and art as tools of creative resistance.