BLOG Amy McCauley

NWR Issue 110

Smash It Up

“If the creative mind is lost then everything is lost.” Gareth Clark: Statements on Smash It Up by Mr and Mrs Clark

Smash It Up is a theatre performance drawing on activism, documentary, short film and multi-media. It explores the systematic destruction of public art – notably the smashing of the Newport Chartist mural in 2013 – and considers the persistent attack on creativity and public space. Mr and Mrs Clark are: Gareth Clark, Steven George Jones, Marega Palser and Andrew Rock.

On the Public Ownership of Space

Space and its use seems to dictate the way a city wishes to communicate with its residents and visitors. In cities, space is a commodity which has a value more often attached to finance through a real estate index or retail opportunity. These taxonomies do not consider the societal benefits or the opportunity for different levels of public engagement. Hence, everything develops a monetary value, and with that comes a new dogma, often involving restrictions and the erosion of freedom. The loss of public space is almost invisible.

Local authorities are relinquishing responsibility for large areas and giving that responsibility to private corporations across the UK. This undermines some fundamental rights of access. What we see here in Newport is a new shopping centre that is clean and accessible, provided you are not selling the Big Issue, begging for money, busking, engaging in protest (or anything that is perceived as protest, for example handing out leaflets or public speaking.) The owners have the right to remove you and enforce a ban restricting access. I feel this infringes a public right of way and denies space for legitimate protest or gathering of people.

On Public Performances

The campaign of public performances was carefully planned and experimental at the same time. We agreed to remain silent and considered we were offering the viewer an image to be deciphered in some way. I felt compelled from the outset to create non-didactic performance pieces. We would simply make images that looked intriguing in the context of the High Street, prompting questions and conversations among those passing by or watching.

We often overheard discussions and were enthused by the response of the public. The physical articulation, uniform and identity of those events gave us clear indications as to how we wanted the theatre show to look. The rituals, purpose and focus feeds through to the people you see on stage. They are connected and focused, clear and concise. Following this they enter a more frenetic and physical discourse. The street performances were the absolute key to the project and we have continued to develop and deliver street actions since the inception of the idea.

On Creativity, Education and Truth

We had an idea for a chapter on how art and creativity are suppressed by people (e.g. well-meaning parents or teachers) wanting you to have a ‘better’ future. Marega started remembering her first audition, and this took us into the realms of dance training. From the outset there seemed to be a determination from those charged with creating dancers to destroy any instinctive creativity. This felt central, and also in line with some of Sir Ken Robinsons’ theories of education killing creativity. We urgently wanted to address the idea that if the creative mind is suppressed or lost then everything is lost. Although our education or political system is not overtly oppressive towards the arts, there is a sense of censorship creeping into education and this felt important to acknowledge in a show about destruction.

For some time we have been interested in truth in our creative practice. As such, we have been asking how we as artists use our stories to communicate and connect with people. This is something I ask myself endlessly with theatre or performance... Do I believe you? Is this real? Much of the work we’ve been developing comes from truth, and this was essential in exploring our pasts. We wanted to highlight different levels of destruction and connect with the audience. There have been a number of people who approach Marega at the end of the show and say “I was there, that happened to me and it was brutal.” There is something about this section which resonates with those who have been through dance training.

Picasso: “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

This Picasso quote seemed to give us permission... it felt as if it was some kind of direct correspondence. We stumbled upon it really and embraced it. Picasso is an artist almost everyone knows, and his own journey from figurative to abstract surrealism disgruntled the art world. Yet here was a man prepared to risk his reputation to explore the parameters of art, and in the context of Smash It Up we wanted to create a performance that wouldn’t be shackled in any way; that is, a performance people might not expect to see in a theatre.

In itself this quote suggests that everything is destructive that nothing is permanent. That makes it all the more precious.

Smash It Up by Mr and Mrs Clark is currently touring: 10th March, Aberystwyth Arts Centre; 23rd and 24th March, The Riverfront, Newport; 1st April, Borough Theatre, Abergavenny; 15th April, Small World Theatre, Cardigan; 20th May, Battersea Arts Centre, London

Amy McCauley is poetry editor for New Welsh Review.


previous blog: Miss Hokusai
next blog: Efforts and Ideals: Prints of the First World War


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