‘A blog of things i make, do, see and photograph’
a project by M D Ainsworth
Since my first year studying at Leeds University a lot of my work has been politically and socially driven/orientated. My university began in 2010, so right when the Conservatives were talking of raising tuition fees and also right at the beginning of a very active time, where I became part of a student movement. I got very involved with activism at that time, lots of protesting and some art actions, and maybe I was quite susceptible to it at the time. I hadn’t been exactly politically active until this point, but I think being suddenly exposed to a very politically engaged situation – tuition fee rised and the public sector was cut – is probably a catalyst for what has lead and developed my practice.
At that time, I would have certainly said I was an activist I think, since I was making work that was very obviously political, it was directed to someone, and it was very easy to direct it to someone, because there was an obvious idea of an enemy, an us and a them – us the people and them the state. But I think after a while I certainly ended up feeling a certain disenchantment with what I was involved with and what we were doing – you march on London with another 500,000 people and the Government turn around and say “it makes no difference we are still going to do what we were going to do”. It was kind of hard not seeing any results from what we were doing! I stopped making political work or stopped being politically and socially engaged. After I think the messages perhaps became less obvious, I began trying to be a little more subtle with my work. Instead of shouting with the work, I began moving away from such a specific area as student struggle and instead was trying to look at a bigger picture at that time.
My practice was heavily affected by my time studying in Budapest, Hungary, where I was exposed to extreme right wing politics and a very different system to the one we have here. I did make some very obviously critical works particularly concerning right wing groups and the presence of conservative Christian values at the cores of political and cultural ideology, but I also made some quite subtle works. Take my “Sleepers” series as an example: I simply took pictures of people a sleep in public and in private, that project changed in my mind dramatically during my time in Budapest. What started as a quite humorous series changed after the Hungarian Governments outlawing of homelessness, making sleeping on the streets illegal. Suddenly the images I had taken of homeless people, which was something I knew I would inevitably encounter and of course has certain moral or ethical questions, suddenly became politicized if you were aware of this new legislation.
When I returned to the UK and Leeds, I struggled to get back to what it was that interested me in England, I knew what interested me in Hungary but couldn’t quite get back into it here. I resorted to making very obviously, sound-bite, propaganda style prints again, which was seen as a safe action, being so brash meant you either agreed and understood instantly or you disagreed and it didn’t encourage or offer the opportunity to change someone’s mind.
This is when I returned to a more social documentation and methodical cataloguing and collecting of things I was seeing in Sheffield (my hometown) and in Leeds. I was really more interested in getting back to representing the social state of things that perhaps go unnoticed by many during the everyday. So you don’t really notice, or it doesn’t really affect you if you walk past one closed down shop in the street, but if I go and document every closed down shop on one road as I did in the “Attercliffe to Sheffield City Centre” series it makes abit more of a statement and leaves it up to the viewer to see the problems and place the politics into the situation.
This is the same with the “Demolition of Royal Park School” series I’m currently working on, hopefully by the end of it I will have a visual record/documentation of the destruction of a building many people wanted to save and turn into a community centre. I’m making no overt comment how I feel about the situation, I am simply observing and cataloguing what is happening as I see it.
So if you were to ask me if I consider myself as an activist, I would struggle to answer, maybe I’m more of a critical observer or documenter. I believe in the need for critical discourse in art and that there are certain social responsibilities for artists, particularly if we are aware of a problem or can highlight and bring to attention a certain aspect of society. If we can, we must. But there is also of course a need for cross-disciplinary connections and actions also which hopefully will lead and develop these next stages of social engaged and critical discourse both in art and in other areas of society.
Mike Ainsworth is currently studying the BA Fine Art (International Hons) at the University of Leeds. As an artist he works with all manner of content across a range of mediums. Besides, he runs a small gallery space within the University of Leeds called “The Debut Series”. Please view his blog for further information at www.mdainsworth.blogspot.com.
Images are part of the series ‘Attercliffe to Sheffield City Center’.
The work was submitted by Mike Ainsworth on 8 March 2014.