Thursday, 21 March 2013

Arika Episode 4 (Reflections 1)

When I am not watching Jeremy Kyle on YouTube, and amazing at the misogynistic comments beneath, I ponder the history of Marxism. The twentieth century has seen Marxism evolve from a revolutionary collection of ideas and groups into the most influential political philosophy (capitalism notwithstanding) of the past hundred years.

I am attracted by Marxism - the clarity of its analysis is stunning, and its influence on the social goods of the twentieth century is impressive. I reject it in so far as it is dogmatic and possesses a jargon that would impress an art critic: and in the twenty-first century, it can get confused between fashionable causes and dogged authoritarianism. Still, Amiri Barka's conversion to Marxism in 1974 revealed how this political tradition can be the culmination of a journey that included the wild freedom of the beats and the harsh conflicts of black nationalism. Getting him over for a chat with bassist Henry Grimes (or as the press release charmlessly puts it, a 'dialogical conversation') is a win for Arika: this is a man who has lived through some of the most brutal struggles of the American century.

Sentimentality aside - Baraka hung with the beats, responded to Malcolm X's clarion call and still wrote poetry that hummed with the spirit of joy and hope - Baraka is one of the most crucial figures of the era that saw the USA begin its hard path to racial equality. Any discussion of "freedom" in English speaking countries has to consider the black American experience. Even for other oppressed groups, the successes of the civil rights movement provides a template in the struggle for freedom.

Arika's Episode 4 is asking an intriguing question: how far can radical art be traced back to the environment that created it, and is there a connection between the art and radical political organisation? I am not quite sure what is meant by radical here (the common use, meaning either extreme or left wing - neither of which are necessarily anything to do with the word, which suggests working from source ideas) might be given the additional meaning (as usually in art) of experimental. But fortunately, Arika elaborate.

What is the link between radical Black art forms (Free Jazz, Improvisation, Poetry) and the fugitive spaces that produced them (the AACM, the Black Arts Movement).  Taken together, are they an attempt to create an alternate sociality: an ensemblic, collective, non-individualistic performance of blackness?  Is this the performance of freedom - as encounter, rupture, collision, and passionate response; as a necessarily political, necessarily aesthetic, necessarily erotic black social life?  And how can we relate, artistically and socially to those art forms and politics today, here in Glasgow?
Episode 4: Freedom is a Constant Struggle is our attempt to think about that through performances and discussions with of some of the great American jazz artists and writers, critics and poets, their European counterparts, and with people in Glasgow who might have something to say in return.

Having given up in the attempt to discover a definition of "ensemblic," I flicked through the histories of the AACM and the Black Arts Movement. Both were formed in the 1960s, closely connected to the rise of The Black Panthers and the Black Power movements: but while the AACM was all about the music, the BAM inspired writers, theatre-makers and, of course, poets (Baraka was the founder member).

There are a few cheeky contradictions running through this approach. Getting Baraka to visit is a bit of a coup: but in a genuinely collective model, would the presence of the great man still be necessary. He talks about "killing the self," even while Arika's  curation recognises how important this particular self is.

Then there is the question of whether the organisations were created by artists to get their work out - and whether their politics emerged from necessity-  or whether they were created as political bodies in order to make political art.

Consider me intrigued, furthermore...

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