Art and International Conflict: Building Networks, Discourse and Understanding

Lead Research Organisation: Royal College of Art
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

At a time of serious conflict across the world, the purpose of this application to the AHRC Research Networking scheme is to create a forum for experts with diverse perspectives and experiences to reflect critically on the diverse roles, quality and purpose of visual art produced during and after conflict. Participants will include academics, artists, and representatives of arts commissioning bodies, charities and government. 30 members of the network will meet 4 times in workshops over 12 months across Britain. These events - organised by theme rather than by geography - will feature international participants with considerable experience of making and commissioning art in this context.
Visual art has played an active and diverse part in recent and current conflicts. Artists in Syria, Belarus and other countries have been imprisoned, abused or bullied into exile. This is in stark contrast to the historic practice of commissioning a 'war artist' to record and witness events. This can again be contrasted with the role of artists employed by charities and development agencies to work at the site of conflict in more instrumental ways to help alleviate trauma or to bridge ethnic differences. These various practices raise significant questions about artistic autonomy, the responsibilities which accompany representation and the politics of memory. These issues are heightened by shifts within contemporary art itself. Increasingly produced and consumed outside the gallery, art often takes the form of interventions into public space that are designed to produce immediate and unpredictable public responses and participation, as well as the attention of the mass and social media. There is much interest in producing 'social engagement' through art. The workshops will ask what effects can and do such schemes produce? Are there examples of art levering real and sustainable change?
This is not only a topical proposal: it is one which aspires to shape future practice. The global context presents an unprecedented set of challenges beyond the sadly familiar ones of compromised human rights and the effects of inequality and inequity. Population growth is highly likely to become one of the greatest threats to peace in the future. Developing nations are becoming consumer societies, adding hugely to the strain on diminishing natural resources. It is widely predicted that wars over these resources will increase and intensify unless we act constructively. As these different challenges impact on each other, we urgently need new perspectives and a diversity of means in response. What is the potential of the visual arts in this unstable future?
The UK context for this network is important. The country is implicated in a number of conflicts by its history and by its present activities, most recently and actively in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. Journalists and politicians, NGOs and other activists - and the armed services - have also been engaged in various ventures in Egypt, Lebanon, the Balkans, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Syria, Israel and Palestine and elsewhere. What are the responsibilities of UK-based artists and NGOs when they operate outside the UK? How critical can art be of the operations of the State?
The objectives of this scheme are to improve the quality of exchange between people working in the arts sector and development agencies and, in particular, to improve and guide the process of commissioning art. The workshops will be paralleled by the activities of a steering group which will develop a major application to develop an international research project into culture and conflict which will, perhaps, embrace other areas of the arts and have full international partners. To provide important resources and perspectives for the wider academic community and the public - who are keenly interested in the issues raised here - material presented at the workshops will be published on-line and in print.

Planned Impact

As a research network, the immediate non-academic beneficiaries of the project will be the participants in the workshops - artists, curators, representatives of NGOs, charities and government. Invitations to participate will be extended to trusts and foundations (Prince Claus Fund, for example); governmental organisations (including the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict). Active in key aspects of making, commissioning or critiquing art produced in the aftermath of conflict, commissioners will have opportunities to examine current practices across the sector and potentially to improve practices in the field. Those NGOs and charitable bodies which, for instance, have had relatively little experience of commissioning art will have a serious opportunity to evaluate and improve their own practices and develop 'tools' for evaluating the impact of art in the context of conflict. This may well result in better commissioning practices.

Visual artists will also form another order of beneficiaries. Whether directly participating in the workshops or accessing the related materials on-line, they will have opportunities to better understand the interests and activities of agencies working in conflict resolution.

Curators and educators outside the university sector will also be addressed by this network. Representatives of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums will be invited to participate. This body represents museums which deal with sensitive and controversial subjects such as the Holocaust and human rights and has a remit to share new thinking and initiatives in the field. Participating educators - whether those teaching the children of those who came to Britain as refugees or curating public exhibitions - will have opportunities to better understand the ways in which traumatic memories of conflict can be given form in the visual arts. The longer term benefit of these insights will be novel and perhaps more sophisticated approaches to education and exhibitions.

As a research network with relatively modest range of activities, there are limits to the claims that can be reasonably made for it. Nevertheless, the social potential of the visual arts in the context of violent conflict is truly considerable. They have a part to play in how conflicts are given visual expression, how traumatic memories are voiced and, perhaps, how they can be resolved.

Publications

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Crimmin M (2016) The Art of Power and the Power of Art in The RUSI Journal

 
Title Quicksand 
Description Sound installation by Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, entitled 'Quicksand', premiered at the 'Promised Land' conference at Central Saint Martins on 3 December 2016. To be shown as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Shown to a small audience of 100, can in part be experienced online, and will have a far bigger reach through being shown in Hull and with plans thereafter. 
URL https://www.nbsl.info
 
Description 1) The principal aim of the work was to establish whether there would be significant interest in the role of art with respect to the subject of conflict, not just within the arts sector but from other disciplines and sectors. This proved undoubtedly to be the case. The feedback we received throughout is testimony to this, referenced in an independent evaluation (available on request) and described in my introduction to the online publication. We had waiting lists for the two events at the ICA and the RCA and ongoing requests for sustained activities.
The generosity of artists and academics alike was extraordinary, with scarce financial incentive, if any. People gave so freely of their knowledge and were so open to working collaboratively to address the imperative to focus, across disciplines, on the challenges faced. The stretch of geographical, political, and social contexts that was covered kept the discourse relevant across what was a very broad constituency. Focus came through individual presentations. Throughout, it was marked how little people knew of each other's work, despite shared agendas and this points to a need for a significant amount of further interchange, across theory and practice.
2) We came to the conclusion that the research warranted more than an article, and hence the production of an illustrated, 88-page, online publication, with 7 commissioned essays by curators, artists and academics. The reach of the Royal College of Art, Index on Censorship, Culture+Conflict, Goldsmiths', SOAS and other networks where the publication is or will shortly be available, provides a diversity of platforms for debate across Higher Education, NGOs and the arts sector. The content of the publication displays a scope of methodologies, suggestions, provocations, questions, and possibilities, and judging by comments received so far, feels a real achievement.
3) We are delighted that the discourse, the research, and the building of the network is directly leading to plans currently being developed by working closely with colleagues in a number of institutes including SOAS, Goldsmiths', the Imperial War Museum, the British Council and international arts organisations.
4) I wildly underestimated the amount of time the organisation of the workshops would involve; nor did I anticipate the difficulty of obtaining visas for invited speakers, which became a real problem, but among many useful lessons learned for future activities.
Exploitation Route Our ambitions come directly from the Network's discussions of the past year, and we are currently working with a number of organisations (named above) to realise three main activities.
Firstly, ongoing research into the role of art in the context of conflict including regular gatherings grouped around particular questions and contexts, leading to a major, international conference and related publication.
Secondly, we aim to relate theory to practice in the form of artists' 'residencies' to encourage conversations between people from conflicted communities, and UK based artists, curators and others wishing to explore the many exigencies that war generates, but who are distanced from the realities. For example, an artist from Afghanistan invited to the UK to explore the conflict archives and collections held by the Imperial War Museum, King's College and the National Army Museum, bringing fresh and alternative insights to our own understanding.
Thirdly, the building of new databases that we know are much needed resources: profiles of artists for NGOs and others to access; and information on HE courses that address the intersection between art and conflict for prospective national and international students and academics.
We very much hope that the AHRC will be interested in considering further support.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.rca.ac.uk/art&conflict
 
Description Research and activities addressing the role and value of art in the context of international context that started with the AHRC Networks award continue. Currently with the support of EC funding, exhibitions, workshops, films and other activities - all public facing - are aimed at rethinking Europe as a site of greater hospitality. One of the core objectives is to develop new audiences, and new capabilities, in order to advance intercultural dialogue and the promotion of responsible citizenship in Europe.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description From Conflict to Conviviality through Creativity and Culture
Amount € 3,696,238 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 07/2017 
End 07/2021
 
Description Support to the Performing and Visual Arts
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 4794 
Organisation Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Switzerland
Start 04/2015 
End 04/2017
 
Title Art and Conflict database 
Description We are steadily adding to the multi disciplinary database of individuals and organisations registering interest in the intersection between art and conflict. This has been greatly enhanced by the AHRC supported activities, with a reach well beyond our original ambitions. We are building a database of artists working in the context of conflict, or whose work intersects with conflict as a subject, as a future resource for NGOs and others seeking artists' engagement - this is contingent on future funding for which we have applied. An additional ambition is to build on what is the beginning of a database of HE courses in this subject area. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The database of people interested in art and conflict, now on Mailchimp, makes it very easy to communicate new activities. For example all have now received the AHRC supported, free, 88-page illustrated online publication, which contains essays by academics, artists and curators. Knowledge exchange was one of our main objectives and the assumption is that the contribution of artists will be enhanced and better understood as a result of these different perspectives and insights. 
URL http://www.rca.ac.uk/art&conflict
 
Description Artists residencies 
Organisation King's College London
Department Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Initiating and setting up a residency programme for an artist of a non-UK heritage to research material in the archives, with the potential to develop artwork from this, together with discourse. Bisan Abu-Eisheh completed his residency in 2017.
Collaborator Contribution Supplying the Weston Room at no cost for an event; with the archivists providing extensive support.
Impact N/a
Start Year 2016
 
Description Event partners and supporters 
Organisation British Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I brought identified speakers, agendas and briefing papers, and new participants to each of the events.
Collaborator Contribution The British Council made it possible to host curators and artists we had invited to participate in the activities from outside the UK; to commission a professional photographer to document the final one-day event; to pay a fee to a chair (Julian Stallabrass); and cover incidental expenses that were not budgeted. Manchester, Goldsmiths' and the ICA each provided a venue free of charge, IT support, their own expertise, and in the case of Goldsmiths and Manchester a chair for the respective workshops (Professor James Thompson and Dr Bernadette Buckley).
Impact The collaboration with the department of politics at Goldsmiths' tested the value of literally being in each others' academic departments and venues, and proved afresh that the arts have significant relevance to politics, and vice versa, with borders more porous than many had imagined. The closer relationships that have developed as a result are leading to future possibilities, as described in the final section of the form. The resulting publication is listed under 'Publications', ISBN 978-1-910642-01-6
Start Year 2013
 
Description Event partners and supporters 
Organisation Goldsmiths, University of London
Department Department of Politics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I brought identified speakers, agendas and briefing papers, and new participants to each of the events.
Collaborator Contribution The British Council made it possible to host curators and artists we had invited to participate in the activities from outside the UK; to commission a professional photographer to document the final one-day event; to pay a fee to a chair (Julian Stallabrass); and cover incidental expenses that were not budgeted. Manchester, Goldsmiths' and the ICA each provided a venue free of charge, IT support, their own expertise, and in the case of Goldsmiths and Manchester a chair for the respective workshops (Professor James Thompson and Dr Bernadette Buckley).
Impact The collaboration with the department of politics at Goldsmiths' tested the value of literally being in each others' academic departments and venues, and proved afresh that the arts have significant relevance to politics, and vice versa, with borders more porous than many had imagined. The closer relationships that have developed as a result are leading to future possibilities, as described in the final section of the form. The resulting publication is listed under 'Publications', ISBN 978-1-910642-01-6
Start Year 2013
 
Description Event partners and supporters 
Organisation Institute of Contemporary Arts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I brought identified speakers, agendas and briefing papers, and new participants to each of the events.
Collaborator Contribution The British Council made it possible to host curators and artists we had invited to participate in the activities from outside the UK; to commission a professional photographer to document the final one-day event; to pay a fee to a chair (Julian Stallabrass); and cover incidental expenses that were not budgeted. Manchester, Goldsmiths' and the ICA each provided a venue free of charge, IT support, their own expertise, and in the case of Goldsmiths and Manchester a chair for the respective workshops (Professor James Thompson and Dr Bernadette Buckley).
Impact The collaboration with the department of politics at Goldsmiths' tested the value of literally being in each others' academic departments and venues, and proved afresh that the arts have significant relevance to politics, and vice versa, with borders more porous than many had imagined. The closer relationships that have developed as a result are leading to future possibilities, as described in the final section of the form. The resulting publication is listed under 'Publications', ISBN 978-1-910642-01-6
Start Year 2013
 
Description Event partners and supporters 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I brought identified speakers, agendas and briefing papers, and new participants to each of the events.
Collaborator Contribution The British Council made it possible to host curators and artists we had invited to participate in the activities from outside the UK; to commission a professional photographer to document the final one-day event; to pay a fee to a chair (Julian Stallabrass); and cover incidental expenses that were not budgeted. Manchester, Goldsmiths' and the ICA each provided a venue free of charge, IT support, their own expertise, and in the case of Goldsmiths and Manchester a chair for the respective workshops (Professor James Thompson and Dr Bernadette Buckley).
Impact The collaboration with the department of politics at Goldsmiths' tested the value of literally being in each others' academic departments and venues, and proved afresh that the arts have significant relevance to politics, and vice versa, with borders more porous than many had imagined. The closer relationships that have developed as a result are leading to future possibilities, as described in the final section of the form. The resulting publication is listed under 'Publications', ISBN 978-1-910642-01-6
Start Year 2013
 
Description Promised Land 
Organisation Goethe-Institut London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The AHRC Network award led to the programming and managing of 2 events, one at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, one at Central Saint Martins, with artists, academics and writers addressing the subject of the future of Europe. This with respect especially to the subject of borders and the relation with international conflict. Commissioned an artwork by Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen focused on reverse migration.
Collaborator Contribution Financial and working with us on the programming of the events and the selection of the artist.
Impact An artwork by Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen
Start Year 2016
 
Description Culture+Conflict 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Culture+Conflict is an ongoing programme of research, discourse, commissions, residencies, a scholarship, and a website focusing on the role and value of visual art in the context of international conflict. It is a registered community interest company, working in partnership with a range of organisations. We work as a hub, disseminating our own activities as well as others through our website, Facebook (a reach of 1.3k) and twitter (1k and rising). We put on events, as well as participating in those of others nationally and internationally. Wherever possible we provide support and advice to artists and also to NGOs and others wishing to involve artists in their conflict related work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018
URL http://www.cultureandconflict.org.uk
 
Description Event at Goldsmiths', University of London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 3 invited speakers (a philosopher, an artist from Cairo, and a theatre director from Belarus) sparked an animated discussion, with the event over running until we were turned out of the room. Having insights from people with such different experiences and knowledge sparked new ways of discussing conflict - we were delighted by this - with everyone who attended saying they found the conversation relevant to their own research and activities.

This session led directly on to the next workshop, which we programmed according to the questions and suggestions raised.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description One day symposium: Who Cares? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A one-day symposium delivered as a partnership between the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), the Royal College of Art and Culture+Conflict entitled: 'Who Cares? Cultural Intelligence: Value, Veneration and Criticality'. What are the ethical tensions for the contemporary artist and critic when art becomes a global currency at a time of extreme inequality and instability? How does the contemporary artist and critic reconcile and respond to today's realities? How can critical integrity be reclaimed and what is the potential for critics to contribute to a wider cultural intelligence?
7 speakers responded to these questions, with a short film produced that is shown on the AICA and other websites. We are currently collecting transcripts for potential publication There was lively debate, involving the delegates, and a demonstrable interest in continuing the debate at future events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.cultureandconflict.org.uk/projects/who-cares-cultural-intelligence-value-veneration-and-c...
 
Description Public event (Institute of Contemporary Arts) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Approximately 90 people attended from a range of sectors - under and postgraduates from different universities and art schools, NGOs, unidentified public, academics, artists and curators. The event was chaired by Dr Julian Stallabrass and featured artist and academic Coco Fusco, who was participating in the Network. She raised questions particularly with respect to gender in the context or war and how art enables new recognitions and insights, which were taken up at a later workshop.

Many of the people who attended asked to be part of the Art and Conflict network, a steadily growing database of now over 1k. They have all received a link to the free online publication, and are signed up for future newsletters. I have followed up with one-to-one conversations with a number of people, with ongoing lines of enquiry and possibility.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/art-and-satire-context-conflict
 
Description Workshop and one-day conference at the Royal College of Art 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We (the Network administrator and myself) programmed both events, and I chaired them. Approximately 40 people attended the first workshop, with presentations by invited speakers Hrair Sarkassian, a Syrian artist from Jordan, and Adela Jusic, an artist from Bosnia & Herzegovina. The main content was a reflection on the role and purpose of art addressing conflict, or made in the context of conflict.
75 people attended a second event, a full one day series of 8 lectures and presentations by Art and Conflict Network members and invited international speakers - curator and writer Sarah Rifky from Cairo, and curator Nat Muller, based in the Netherlands. The audience at this event was made up of academics from a range of disciplines and universities, funders, NGOs, artists and curators and undergraduate and postgraduate students. We set up a live link to Gaza with two theatre practitioners, which brought the realities of living amidst the Israel/Palestine conflict into the room. There was lively discussion at the workshop; audience participation was more limited at the second event because of such a full roster of speakers, but we invited and recorded feedback which was enthusiastic: principally people wanting more events, with various suggestions with respect to issues and questions, and potential possibilities as referenced in other parts of this report.

The direct impact of the work is the interest generated, as described above, and we are therefore pursuing particular lines of enquiry and possibility, talking to potential partners (for example the Imperial War Museum, Vivarta, Tate, Goldsmiths and SOAS) with respect to future activities, and writing new funding applications.
I have been invited to speak at symposia organised by other institutes and approached by a number of organisations with respect to exploring potential joint ventures.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.rca.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/artists-responses-conflict/
 
Description Workshop at the University of Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Writer and Syria expert Malu Halasa, Cuban/American artist Coco Fusco, and Larissa Sansour, Palestinian artist, fuelled a discussion on the many challenges of working across sensitive issues, in places where there are clashes of belief systems. Coco Fusco particularly felt that we had only just begun to touch on difficult subjects and that the discussion warranted very much more time together.

This event led to further discourse, further research and further possibilities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013