VAN September/October 2012: Night School

ÁINE MACKEN, FOUNDER OF ART CLASH, DESCRIBES THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THIS ONGOING SERIES OF CREATIVE CLASSES.

Art Clash Class

 

Art Clash began as a creative experiment, where contemporary nightlife became a platform for utilising and incorporating creativity and talent in a visual art context.

After much experience in art making, I was left with the very real awareness of the difficulty in making money through traditional art practice. The idea of attempting to apply creativity to nightlife and the industrious world of clubbing became a slightly more exciting method of generating money than making sandwiches at a deli. Club nights such as Synth Eastwood openly encouraged an environment of creativity, art making and innovation. Pubs like The Bernard Shaw and U Bar in Christchurch, Dublin had a clear and apparent mission: to combine creativity with nightlife and to enter art making into a more accessible format. However, too frequently these events contained an obvious element of voyeurism rather than participation, where punters were permitted to gawp at an artist creating work as they supped a pint.

Club night, Partie Monster, had been engaging with a more performative and avant-garde agenda, taking its inspiration from 1990s New York club kids such as Michael Alig and James St James. It encouraged and welcomed creativity in an attempt to make club nights become more vibrant and exciting. This extended to the act of marketing: through a series of viral videos, extremely high quality artistic posters and ensuing photography, this became a creative act in itself. The costumes used were outlandish and created an other worldly persona that had its basis in horror films and gore. Furthermore, they adopted a shameless approach, ignoring the decorum of ‘appropriate dress’ with a casual attitude towards nudity and body painting. Their visual language was of shock, which could seem alarming and intimidating for some. What was most refreshing about Partie Monster, however, was the welcoming nature of these seemingly intimidating people. The organisers demonstrated an openness and encouraged participation through the clever implementation of various pop up, live art installations and make-up booths. I quickly became a regular participant – to the point that I painted my entire body blue and created a completely new body of work for their Halloween club night.

Over many years, people have tentatively yet constantly inquired both about my own practice, the experience of being someone who works creatively and Partie Monster itself. It was this constant line of enquiry that triggered the idea of Art Clash. By fusing workshops facilitated by Irish-based working artists with a clubby, social side, Art Clash’s fundamental aim is to sensually please. Starting in March of this year, these unconventional classes have provided enthusiastic participants with a multitude of disciplines such as film, performance art, art therapy, illustration, watercolour life painting, animation, fashion, make-up and street art. Classes have been conducted in various alternative venues (including the basements of pubs, gallery spaces, gay bars and even a disused convent). The music used was sourced through DJs and carefully selected playlists were created in keeping with the suggested environment encouraged by the art making. The social aspect has always been on a par with the focus on creativity, thus providing all the right elements to immerse the participants in an environment of contemporary art without trepidation.

Bringing together artists and creatives from a broad range of backgrounds was fundamental to the fresh quality of Art Clash and guest tutors were not necessarily familiar with teaching. These features also add to the social element and abandonment of formality that remains important to Art Clash as a concept. Illustrator Steve McCarthy spoke to me about the experience of becoming a tutor within the Art Clash format and how it fit with his own aversion to formal teaching methods and environments, particularly when it comes to addressing creativity as an experience:

Left: Art Clash poster. Right: Art Clash DJ

“When you’re being creative, you should feel comfortable. Every class I’ve ever been to happens in a classroom which to me is one of the most uncomfortable, boring and depressing places on earth. With Art Clash you have the most positive elements of the classroom: enthusiastic and diverse teachers, new experiences, materials and ideas. With the classes taking place in a pub, people are instantly more relaxed and their inhibitions are lowered.”

Steve’s class took place in the basement of U bar, with fast-paced drawing games and exercises deconstructing the idea of drawing, all based around Albrecht Durer’s Rhinoceros drawing, that became famous as an extremely accurate depiction of a Rhino based merely on a verbal description. Steve’s class was infused with excitement and exchange, with conversations being opened up through the medium of making. The experience of drawing was key to the exercise, with less emphasis on creating a perfect finished object. As the first ever Art Clash, the energy, excitement and enthusiasm from participants was overwhelming. Competitiveness and perfectionist anxieties was removed through simple exercises.

Peter Dunne, film enthusiast and creator of Morb (a much famed underground Shock cinema club) was not only a regular attendee of Art Clash, but also led one of the sessions under Morb’s guise. Here he discusses the experience of being involved not only with Art Clash as a tutor but also the experience of having attended many of the sessions:

Áine Macken: How do you think Art Clash differs from other art classes?

Peter Dunne: Even if you knew next to nothing about the particular subject of each class, which was definitely the case for me some of the time, you were never made to feel untalented, or an outsider. The fact that each tutor had such a passion for their particular subject really shone through and the little individual ways each person had of looking at and explaining their ideas made it unique.

ÁM: As someone who wouldn’t necessarily classify themselves as a teacher, how did you find the experience of being a guest tutor for Art Clash?

PD: At the outset, it was a little overwhelming, not the class itself but the idea of standing in front of a group of people and saying ‘this is what I know and want to impart’. I sometimes found myself thinking ‘who the hell am I to be giving a class?’ but during the run-up and preparation it really started to sink in how passionate I was about my subject and how little people probably knew about it and so I began to look at it as a sharing rather than a teaching.

Regular attendee of Art Clash, Niamh O’Hora, had a background in art making (she studied in NCAD 15 years ago) but had lost touch with her creativity and lost confidence in her own art skills. After having attended a number of art classes, she found Art Clash a rewarding experience.

“Many of the art classes I’ve attended focus solely on technique, but at the core of Art Clash is the premise that people are naturally creative and just need a space to try different things out and have fun at the same time. It’s more than acquiring new skills, but also developing or re-discovering the confidence to be visually creative.

Art Clash Class with Karl Martini

Art Clash has been such a personal inspiration for me, I do hope this resource continues and expands. Many people find the contemporary arts inaccessible and out of reach; a weekly meet-up where people come together in a social environment and learn new techniques from talented practitioners is invaluable. The broad range of media is unique – I had never imagined I would be producing my own street art for example – but now I feel that I can try anything and it doesn’t matter about the final result. It’s the process and participation that is more important.”

Art Clash is unique in that it is exciting, encouraging and relaxed. There is an element of secrecy and surprise to the classes, both in the mystery surrounding the locations and in how a particular tutor will choose to impart their expertise. It allows for exchange and opens up a dialogue through sociability. The first 10-week session culminated with an exhibition for all participants at The Copper House Gallery, where a curatorial workshop from Stag&Deer allowed participants not only to exhibit for the first time, but also, with their advice, to make crucial decisions in how to hang and show their work. This exercise demonstrated that, even in a sociable and relaxed environment, you can take yourself seriously as a creative through dedication and application of technique. The second season of Art Clash will begin in late September of this year.

Áine Macken is an artist and curator based in Dublin. She has exhibited widely at venues including Monstertruck Gallery & Studios, the Greenroom Gallery, Pallas Contemporary Projects, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, The Little Ghost Gallery and the Mac, Birmingham.

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