Ayesha Naveed

The site I chose is a boat that floated on the shore of Sea View a couple of months back. It is a site that has already been used by an artist before me. Hence My work deals with questions of ownership which is a complex discourse in the art world? Does that site become my work or am I simply adding to the work done by the previous artists or are we now sharing a space and contributing to each other work?cn1

This was the idea I started my work with. However it kept evolving at every step. One of the first ideas that came to me was to write a political slogan against the current government that seems to be found everywhere. ‘Go Nawaz Go’. Since the PTI protests are held on the road right in front of the boat, I wanted to use this site to echo there slogans.

I wanted to paint the boat at a time where the most amount of people visit that area. Whatever I did was supposed to be in front of the people, in front of the police and other authorities adding another concept to my work which is vandalism of private property in broad day light.20141111_084038

When I started painting the boat I heard a few criticisms but no one stopped me from painting. It was surprising to see how most people were actually encouraging. On popular demand by the people (who include those visiting Sea View, the people who work there, the security guards) I wrote the slogan ‘Go Nawaz Go’.  My work turned into a political statement and no one stopped me or criticized me for doing it. The scale of my work was a lot bigger than I had imagined since many people were talking about it.10754947_786134981449485_1668024095_n

The next day someone tried to erase the ‘N’ making the statement ‘Go Awaz Go’. It made the work into a paradoxical statement. Where I am trying to voice my opinion, someone responded by telling me that the freedom of speech is not really an option that we should be given.

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First Draft

In the art world the idea of ownership and possession is a topic of much discourse. A general definition of art is anything which the artist claims to be art. This raises a lot of complex questions as to what art really is, who makes it, who owns it. The site I chose was a boat that was stuck on shore of Sea View when the tide was high and the tide never became high enough to carry it back to the sea. Even though it is an object that fits with its surrounding, due to the lack of such objects in that area, the boat somehow stands out. It is a visual I see every morning when going to school and something about it always fascinated me. The boat was one day painted golden and soon I figured out it was an art intervention done by an artist. I chose this particular site because it allowed me to deal with the concept I wanted to work on which was about ownership. By painting over the boat am I the owner of that site or am I simply adding to the work done by the other artist? Are we now sharing a space and contributing to each other’s work? Is it possible to separate our work or does it become one collective artwork?

Another topic I wanted to deal with while making this intervention was that of vandalism. Vandalism done in broad day light at a time where the most amount of people visit the particular site and in front of the authorities. I wanted to see how the audience would react or whether I will be stopped.  I was also concerned with how important my gender will be in the act emphasizing the intervention as something to be condemned or something that could be ignored.

This was the idea I started my work with. However it kept evolving at every step. One of the first ideas that came to me was to write a political slogan against the current government that seems to be found everywhere. ‘Go Nawaz Go’. Since the PTI protests are held on the road right in front of the boat, I wanted to use this site to echo there slogans.

I reached the site on a Saturday afternoon at 3 PM. Much to my disappointment the curfew had been removed and the area seemed to be crowded more than usual. I was forced to take my guard with me by my parents and he escorted me and five other people to the boat.  There were not many people around the boat and I was eventually glad I agreed to bring the guard along. Whenever we had an audience watching us he would get rid of them. I asked a man who seemed like a photographer who worked there who the boat belongs to. He told me it was private property and the owner plans to take it when the tide became high. He encouraged me to paint the boat saying ‘your art will go wherever this boat goes, that’s a great thing.’ We started painting the boat red and decided to write something on it. A few people criticized while passing saying that we should not ‘vandalize public property’. There were many others who watched us with curiosity including the care taker of that area who stood with us and supported us instead of telling us to go away. After we painted the boat red, he asked for some paint because he wanted to write ‘Go Nawaz Go’ on it. Since this was my initial idea I expressed my concerns as to how a political slogan against the current government could get me into a lot of trouble. He assured me of my safety and a few other people insisted I write that. In that moment I lost my agency to those people but if that had not happened, I would have never written that. After writing ‘Go Nawaz Go’ we left fearing the reaction of the people. When I stepped back I realized it was visible to anyone passing by that road. I had not intended my audience to be that large or the scale of my work to be that huge. At that moment I realized how my gender had a completely opposite effect on the entire situation. Because I was a girl no one stopped me. Not the even the authorities. Because I seemed to be educated the people felt I had the right to do whatever I did. The concepts of class difference also come into play.

The artists I was inspired by for this intervention were Banksy who is a graffiti artist and a political activist. John Frenker stirred the idea of wanting to use words in my work. Another artist who inspired me to make my work political was COMBO. Combo hits his target at heart and takes it back to the unfairness that makes our world – whether cultural, financial or identity-related.

 


 

Site Intervention

Final Essay

Ayesha Naveed

‘What is Art?’ It is a question that everyone directly or indirectly associated with the art world at some point reflects over. If not a definite answer, they must have a sort of perception, an idea. The definition of art is subjected to various answers depending on personal opinion and interpretation. For Tolstoy (Tolstoy), art is an intercourse between man and man. For Duchamp art is whatever is displayed in a museum or gallery (Duchamp). The answer to ‘what is art?’ is dependent on factors that have a straight or subsidiary relation with the dynamics of a particular age in time. Art; a source of self-expression, a political ground, a means to communicate feelings or a hidden truth, an addiction or something aesthetically pleasing are all opinions that have evolved and continue to advance through the passing of time.

In the domain of art the idea of ownership and possession is a topic of much discourse. A commonly accepted definition of art is anything which the artist claims to be art. This concept branches into a series of complex questions such as what art really is. Who makes it? Who owns it?  The idea with which I started my site intervention focused on the principle of authorization. This idea becomes particularly important when dealing with public site projects that are influenced by factors beyond the control of the artist. In most cases, the reaction of the public is what makes the artwork. Sometimes the site has already been the focus of an intervention. The idea of possession becomes a focal point in such circumstances. The site I chose was a boat that was jammed on shore of Sea View when the tide was high. Its owner was waiting for the high tide season so that he could take it back to sea. Although it is an object that fits with its surrounding, it somehow always stands out; a visual that makes you stop and look. I see every morning when going to school and something about it always fascinated me. The boat was painted golden by an artist who by doing so wanted to own the process of what the boat would eventually go through during the time it was on shore. This process would then become her artwork.  I chose this particular site because it had the characteristics that allowed me to deal with the concept I wanted to work on. By painting over the boat am I the owner of that site or am I simply adding to the work done by the other artist? Are we now sharing a space and contributing to each other’s work? Is it possible to separate our work or does it become one collective artwork?

Although ownership and authorization was the idea I was focusing on, I realized that any artwork, particularly those done in public spaces, has a backbone that is made of concepts and ideas that go beyond the initial idea the artist plans to work with.  These ideas and concepts form a framework that allows the intervention to deal with and highlight subjects other than the basic concept.

I reached the site on a Saturday afternoon at 3 PM, a time where the most amounts of visitors come to the site. The selection of that particular time and day was intentional. The artist who painted the boat before me did it at four in the morning in order to avoid interruption by the authorities or the public. I on the other hand wanted to contest the role of the authorities.  As Foucault states that authority is not something that is solely contained in government and the State. Rather, power is implemented throughout the public frame (O’Farrell). By painting on the boat which is a private property in front of the local authorities I was testing the boundaries in which an individual is directed to stay.

I was forced to take my guard with me by my parents and he escorted me and five other people to the boat.  There were not many people near the boat but soon we managed to attract unwanted attention.  I was eventually glad I agreed to bring the guard along. Whenever we had an audience watching us he would get rid of them. The guard acted as a boundary of class division and created a binary separation between me and the people at the beach. Foucault believed that the creation of binary systems led to divisions in a society and allowed individuals to exercise power. Due to the apparent contrasts in the class of the general population on the site and me, I was able to effectively exercise power in a way that seemed legitimate and unquestionable. Another relevant concept was the sense of belonging. Due to my ability to exercise power based on the obvious categorization of me and the public, I was able to own the site for the two hours I was there. It became mine. That space belonged to me. When people were asked to move along, no one questioned my authority because of the status qua directed them to act in that particular way.

I asked a man who seemed like a photographer who worked there who the boat belongs to. He told me it was private property and the owner plans to take it when the tide became high. He encouraged me to paint the boat saying ‘your art will go wherever this boat goes, that’s a great thing.’ We started painting the boat red and decided to write something on it. A few people criticized while passing saying that we should not ‘vandalize public property’. There were many others who watched us with curiosity including the care taker of that area who stood with us and supported us instead of telling us to go away. My identity became an important factor in this situation. Foucault sees identity as a form of subjugation and a way of exercising power over people. He believes that identity prevents people from moving outside static confines (Foucault). My identity in terms of the class of society I belong to and my gender had an impact on the ability of the intervention to take form.

After we painted the boat red, a man who worked on the beach asked for some paint because he wanted to write ‘Go Nawaz Go’ (a famous political slogan against the current government). This was my initial idea stirred by John Frenker who uses words in his work. Since the PTI protests are held on the road right in front of the boat, I wanted to use this site to echo their slogans. But I felt it would be pushing the authorities a little too much. Vandalism could be ignored by the police but condemning the government on a large scale was a completely different matter. I did not intend to make my work into a political expression.  I expressed my concerns as to how such a move could lead to the attraction of some obvious attention. He assured me of my safety and a few other people insisted I write the slogan with great enthusiasm. This reinforced the idea of getting away from authorities in plain sight due to factors that create binary divisions and reinforce the principles of power. In that moment I lost my agency to those people. The work came about due to the ideas of the people present at the site. I do not believe that just by painting it, I become the sole owner of that project. Ownership in my opinion comes from the possession of agency. Agency at that moment was with the people other than me. This again leads to the questions of what makes art and who owns it.

After writing ‘Go Nawaz Go’ we left fearing the reaction of the people. On stepping back I realized the scale of my work was larger than I had intended. Not a single person or the police stopped me or questioned my actions. My sex seemed to have a complete opposite reaction. Judith butler stated that gender is performative. In a public space where the majority of people come from a conservative mind set, painting a boat by a girl is considering to be inappropriate. It does not comply with my gender. However in this situation my sex played an important role in the act emphasizing the intervention as something to be ignored by the authorities rather than condemned.

The next morning someone erased the ‘N’ making it ‘Go Awaz Go’ which means a prohibition of freedom of speech. This reaction juxtaposed the content of my work. It also increased the political context of the intervention. The focus abstracted from ownership into the political framework. A month after the name of a third political party, ‘MQM’ was sprayed on the boat. The site became a political ground where public reaction became an important factor that directed the course of the progression of the intervention. The boat was the medium of a discourse between me and an anonymous public, each with a different political affiliation. As Foucault suggests that there are a number of ways in which the exercise of power can be resisted. It is not a question of an ‘ontological opposition’ between power and resistance, but a matter of quite precise and altering struggles in space and time. There is always the possibility of resistance no matter how oppressive the system. Hence the reaction of the public is a form of resistance of the power I tried to impose. The public reaction causes the intervention to fall under the category of a relational aesthetic work since it is the experience of the public that now makes the work. (Foucualt)

The artists I was inspired by for this intervention were Banksy who is a graffiti artist and a political activist (Elswoth-Jones). Another artist who inspired me to make my work political was COMBO (COMBO). Combo hits his target at heart and takes it back to the unfairness that makes our world – whether cultural, financial or identity-related.  My work is similar to his in the sense that I tried to highlight a political problem that makes our country what it is today by condemning it openly on a large scale and using a site that has a huge audience. It may not have a direct impact but it enhances the injustices and inefficiencies of the prevailing government and highlights the fact that this is a fact that needs to be spoken against.

My project evolved over time and continues to do so today since the reaction of the public and the beginning of a political discourse on the site is what really forms the work now and keeps adding to its content. The collectivity of the intervention is highlighted by the fact that people still continue to add a political content to the work. My initial idea stays the constant but when working in public sites, there are a number of factors that an artist can be expected to prepare for as they are influenced by dynamics that are well beyond the control of the artist. In terms of ownership, I concluded that it is impossible to own a site when working in a public sphere. I added to the work done by the artist before me. Every change that is made on the site that adds to my work equally adds to hers as well. This leads back to the argument I started this intervention with. What is art? Who makes it? Who owns it?

 

Bibliography

COMBO. n.d. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COMBO&gt;.

Duchamp, Marcel. “2nd Issue.” The Blind Man (1917).

Elswoth-Jones, Will. “The Story Behind Banksy.” Smithsonian Magazine (2013).

Foucault, Micheal. History of Sexuality. New York, 1978.

Foucualt. A history of sexuality: the will to knowledge. London, 1997.

O’Farrell, Clare. Micheal Foucault. 2007. <http://www.michel-foucault.com/concepts/&gt;.

Tolstoy, Leo. “Art and Sincerety.” n.d. Dennisdutton.com. 5 12 2014 <http://denisdutton.com/tolstoy.htm&gt;.

 

 

 

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