“An army without culture is a dull-witted army, and a dull-witted army cannot defeat the enemy”
~The United Front in Cultural Work" (October 30, 1944), Selected Works, Vol. III, p. 235.
Art is culture, and for artists; it is a journey, a path to walk towards self-fulfilment, and personal development. Can such an abstract, complex concept be defined? Richard Wagner- a German composer and polemicist- published an essay in 1849 where he extensively explored the role of art in society: “The question must be therefore put to Art itself and its true essence; nor must we in this matter concern ourselves with mere abstract definitions; for our object will naturally be, to discover the meaning of Art as a factor in the life of the State, and to make ourselves acquainted with it as a social product.”
Nowadays art has become a multidisciplinary practice, that is, a method through which multiple academic epistemologies can be merged and presented to illustrate the bigger picture of society. The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) published a report in 2009, stating: “The question must be therefore put to Art itself and its true essence; nor must we in this matter concern ourselves with mere abstract definitions; for our object will naturally be, to discover the meaning of Art as a factor in the life of the State, and to make ourselves acquainted with it as a social product.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabi Marcellus-Temple, the managing director of the Flameworks Creative Arts Facility in Plymouth. Her perspective sheds light on the spectrum that composes inspiration, language and social interaction.
Betshy X0: How did you begin your artistic journey?
Gabi Marcellus-Temple: I’ve always drawn. I did arts at school around the age of seventeen, but then I kind of dropped it for a while. I was mainly studying language and politics. I also had children.
I began doing installations based around drawings about five or six years ago. And integrated occasional bits of performance.
– What are the most interesting reactions you’ve encountered when presenting your art?
– Two things come to mind. A painting I did when I was a teenager at school. A little child saw it and burst into tears. It was a very graphic representation of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ with a sense of violence.
Another instance was an installation performance I did around two years ago about being separated from my father. It was called “Separation Anxiety”. His family from the north… their culture is very different. I grew up in the south, so when I go back to my birth town, they do not believe I am from there because my accent is different.
I was thinking of “The Artist is Present” by Marina Abramovic when I performed that evening. I was sitting at a table drinking Bitter, an ale; and smoking the cigarettes my grandmother used to smoke. The idea was me just sitting there simply doing that. But people kept coming and talking to me. Some were getting emotional. Others were simply having a chat.
It was quite an emotional experience because my paternal grandmother had died a few months earlier. The design of the scene was connected to her. The props were representations of what I remembered from my childhood. Moreover, I had separated from my husband a week prior to that. To my surprise, he came and sat opposite me during the performance, as he was also presenting his artwork at the exhibition. I hadn’t expected when I was planning the installation that I would be sitting opposite people, let alone my (ex)husband. I can’t actually remember what we said to each other.
– What is the most life-changing artwork you have ever created?
– I don’t know if artworks change my life, as they are more reflective of what I am going through at the time. Or perhaps things about myself that I want to explore.
– How does your academic career connect to your artistic career?
– I graduated from my masters degree in Translation Studies in 2007 after my degree in Modern Languages and European Studies. And I’d say that there were sort of two ways in which my academic background connects to my art. Studying different cultures, different political systems and different contexts; and also having qualifications as a linguist, I see these are all forms of communication which to me are not actually that different.
Language, arts… enable a form of communicating with others, and people will have different responses to different artworks depending on individual backgrounds. Something can mean different things to different individuals. Art is always eliciting a response.
– What brings you hope for the future of Plymouth and UK?
– That’s a great question. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ll always stay here in Plymouth, but certainly over the years it has changed a lot. The communities living here are becoming more diverse, and there are more people making progress and pushing more transgressive art.
Regarding the UK as a whole, I don’t feel very positive at the moment; especially when it comes to Brexit. I find it upsetting, the whole sense of breaking away from Europe and other cultures. The increasing rates of racism, zenophobia, and of the manipulation of people’s fear. As well as the isolation of minority groups, such as the muslim community.
I find the idea of Scotland wanting to become independent from the UK difficult. I have family in Scotland, so it would be weird trying to define my nationality between Scottish or English. It would be strange as I see myself as both.
– What is the story behind your artwork titled: Spring-hill Jack?
– He was a semi-mythical character reported in the sensationalist press in Victorian London. Reported as a demonic figure who leaped over buildings, breathed fire, and carried a lantern. There were reports that he would attack women in particular. He would do things like suddenly appear and shred their clothings.
There is a game called Assassin Creed: Syndicate, which my son was very keen on. I always read a lot about Victorian times, and the game allowed you to explore and travel through the Victorian city of London. We were very excited that this character reported in the Victorian era was in the game. But it was disappointing.
So we sort of redesigned the character together. How we wanted him to look. And we placed churches in the background similar to the ones I could see from school. And it is also based on an artist called Gustav Dore. He made engravings of Victorian London.
It’s not a piece of art that I would sell or exhibit. It is a piece of art I made for my son, and he wants to keep it here at home.
- Wikipedia: Art and Revolution
- Gabi Marcellus-Temple: Artist page
- Wagner, Richard, 1949: Art and Revolution
- IFACCA D’ART REPORT #38: Multidisciplinary Arts
- Marxists: 32. Culture and Art
- Flameworks Creative Arts Facility
- Wikipedia: Richard Wagner
- Marina Film Project: The Artist is Present