Dennis Oppenheim. DEVICE TO ROOT OUT EVIL. Harbour Green Park in Vancouver. 2005 - 2007 exhibition. Photo by Dan Fairchild Photography. 12--Art that glows

Guest blog by Hector Bremner, member of the Vancouver Biennale Board of Directors.

 

“It’s a hell of a time to be alive” is something I find myself saying a lot these days.  The reason?  It’s as though something is slipping away from us.

I work in politics and public policy.  Anyone who does this work does so – or at least should do so – with a strong belief in humanity and its forward potential, and with a clear understanding of how we got here today.

That is to say, our history is a guide to our future.  Mark Twain perhaps said it best: “History never repeats itself . . . but it rhymes.” So, there is a tune that we can hum while listening to the current cultural narrative that will always be a bit familiar – if we are listening.

I have been listening.  I don’t like what I hear.

Whereas in centuries past, art was the true vehicle of human expression, the voice of the oppressed, and the bastion of human progress that could only be temporarily stifled by an oppressor, it seems now we have chosen the one true censor . . . ourselves.

Art has become a commodity at the best of times, and an ornament for the rest.

On college campuses, our streets, award shows, or wherever art and the expression of new ideas could break through, it seems the mob is always at the ready to shout it down.  Make it conform.

And this becomes the tune so reminiscent of the past.  A culture shutting down ideas, suppressing expression for conformity and valuing censorship of learning.

Our job is to rage at the dying of the light.  Our job is to shout down those who say art has no value unless it’s valuable. Our job is to demand that our communities celebrate the idea of what could be rather than just the idea of what is.

And we do this with public policy.  We do this by demanding that education and learning be lifelong pursuits. That our public investments not just be in systems, but in people and places. We do this by saying “YES,” even though we don’t understand.

It’s a hell of a time to be alive, but we can choose to make it better, as we have in the past.  Art — free, accessible and celebrated — is something we can reclaim.  If we don’t, we let something slip away that defines our very soul.

“Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.”       – Dylan Thomas