Paul Collier is my hero.

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This blog is finally taking me where I wanted to go – towards committed action and away from aimless wandering.

Paul Collier’s book – The Bottom Billion – is not only a page turner but an education and a shocker. Page 24 of my edtion just explodes. He’s talking about the causality of conflict. Nothing is ever black and white and what Collier encourages us to do is temper knee-jerk outrage with some considered assessment of the facts.

In 1999 Fiji elected an Indian prime minister following many years of Indian immigration which resulted in a better educated, richer Indian population outnumbering the indigenous one. The point Collier is making, before I go on, is that not all rebel movements have genuine grievances, although from a PR point of view, making the world at large believe they represent ‘A Cause’ can atone, have overlooked and even provide justification many, many crimes.

So what of Fiji? Mahendra Chaudry decided to put the state mahogany plantations out to International management. Two companies tendered for the contract, one a well known not-for-profit organization the other a well known private US company. The not-for-profit company won the business.

One month later, ‘rebel leader’ George Speight began an armed struggle against the new government using ‘Fiji for the Fijians’ as his emotive rallying cry. He was clearly outraged by the supplanting of native Fijians by the Indians in government. Or was he?

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George Speight was also the was the local businessman who had represented the unsuccessful US bid for the mahogany contract. Clearly, “Fiji for the Fijians,” sounds better than “Give the mahongany contract to the Americans”. Speight’s intentions were at best clouded by a conflict of interest.

Sierra Leone is a poor miserable country at the bottom of the Human Development Index, a place where the inhabitants have genuine grievances. When rebel leader Foday Sankoh was offered a settlement that included making him vice president, he turned it down. Why? Because the number two position had no control over the lucrative diamond concessions. Morally, Sankoh was firing blanks and his favoured recruits were teenage drug addicts not averse to hacking the hands and feet from children’s limbs during a campaign of terror.

The population of Sierra Leone needed better living conditions and Sankoh rode piggy-back on that idea to get closer to what he was interested in personally: huge wealth at any cost. It is hard to imagine a more brutal and ruthless pursuit of wealth than his was.

Collier concedes the Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi and Rwanda and the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Iraq led to massive bloody conflict but he is not afraid to point out that, inversely, in Somalia, a place that is completely ethnically pure a bloody civil war was followed by persistent governmental breakdown. Therefore ethnic strife can not always be cited as a cause for conflict.

You have to read Paul Collier’s book!

ART? What can I say about art today? My bug bear is that art made with financial gain as a primary or sole objective is not art. What about the artist? Surely they have to eat? And what about the markets? If your work doesn’t sell then you will not be able to survive and there will be no work at all. I know, I know, there are so many contradictions. I don’t know where I came to the idea that art should exist outside the expediencies of the market place. Is it that art should come from the subconscious which in turn comes from God? Maybe.

I like painting because it exists on canvas and there is no side to it. What you see is what you get. Conceptual art is the externalization of a subliminal impulse but for me the problem is always poor execution. The work is either badly made or portentous beyond the sum of its parts. Just having an idea and writing it on the back of a cigarette packet and making millions from it may smack of glamour but it is not art but rather a new direction for that the art establishment can use to seduce art collectors in to hand over their wallets. In other words: its a con.

I haven’t read Boris Groys but I’m ordering him in. Clearly, when it comes to conceptual art and even on the subject of what art is, I am a weak commentator but I do know the difference between good and bad art and I exist outside the safety of repeating what the right magazines have to say. I don’t trust them and it is that freedom that I wish everybody would grasp. The homogenization of culture is a bad thing.

Art should not be social glue. Art should be revolution.

If art is revolution and revolution usually has something to do with self-interest then the artist is very much like Foday Sankoh. On the one  hand the artist is saying ‘I represent your cultural freedom’ and on the other they are muttering ‘I want a house in Trinidad by the end of this show’.

Can art change the world? What good can revolution do? And where is the middle ground? All I can offer is questions and more questions.

Check this out on contemporary painters:

http://www.complex.com/art-design/2012/05/25-young-painters-you-need-to-know/antony-micallef

Conflict Traps.

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All societies have conflict; it is inherent to politics.

Paul Collier

As an isolated, half-mad artist, with a probable personality disorder, it is hard to write compellingly about the suffering of others. Our notions of wrong and right come from how we live and what we aspire to. Well, I live like an animal in a zoo and aspire to huge wealth and privilege. Hardly a reassuring combination for those seeking a voice of reason in these troubled times.

Assuming you live in a comfortable, loving environment, what is happening in Egypt right now must seem unimaginable, even unbelievable. If you look on the BBC website, the story (that’s all it is after, some journalists story) is second to the start of the Premiership football season tomorrow. Every season I tell myself I won’t get sucked in and every season that’s exactly what happens.

This blog is about Art and Poverty. The two seem at loggerheads and as an artist I wanted to explore the tenuous relationship between the two phenomena. Civil wars and coup d’etats trap some countries in poverty. Egypt is not a very good example here because while it may have a low GDP it does not feature appear in the bottom billion.

73% of people in the bottom billion have recently been through a civil war or are still in one (just to be clear, I do paraphrase Paul Collier from his book “The Bottom Billion” a great deal in this blog – it is my key source material).

America, Russia and Britain all had their own civil wars but they were over fairly quickly and not repeated. War, Collier states, impedes growth. Collier attempts to divine the causes of civil war by looking at possible social, political, geographic and economic causes.

The University of Michigan defines a civil war as an internal conflict that involves at least 1,000 combat related deaths. Collier gathered socioeconomic data in order to determine the likelihood of civil war in any given country within the next five years of his research. Collier attracted criticism by suggesting not all rebels were altruist but just as greedy as their ‘oppressors’.

Collier pulled short of offering a ‘civil-war forecast’ for fear of predictions becoming self-fulfilling prophesies.

Halve the starting income of the country and you double the risk of civil war. Egypt has had a wealth divide problem for well over 20 years. The lower classes have become more and more disillusioned by their prospects. Perhaps that’s what initially sparked the ongoing uprising there. Rain can cause civil war according to Collier, because it stunts growth and that directly correlates to the likelihood of internal conflict. Simple stuff on the face of it. When people have good lives they are less likely to make a fuss. That is why it is so hard for the residents of first world countries to give a damn about anybody else. Rather them than us!

When you take away hope from young men, full of energy and capability, joining any force for change seems natural and even right. Their circumstances may even change quite quickly in the case of a country like Sierra Leone where conflict diamonds were used as a carrot (my interpretation and I as read on – wrong).

I sometimes wonder if that is what I am doing as a penniless artist, betting on the chance of massive wealth to offset the reality of my station.

Dependence on primary commodity exports increases the risk of civil war. Rebel leaders like Laurent Kabila stood to make millions from international companies keen to receive juicy resource concessions in the event of a rebel victory. Its a jungle out there and when animals are hungry they’ll their own mothers.

Collier intelligently points out that every academic sees the problem from the back of their own hobbyhorse. Social justice is a great justification for any rebel. It sounds better than: “I want to be rich.”

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The Dark Empire.

You can’t beat One Direction. Their film One Direction: This Is Us, by documentary maker Morgan Spurlock comes out at the end of the month. Morgan claims they are beautiful people and that he learned a lot from being around them.

The trouble is:

  1. One Direction are a shit band.
  2. Simon Cowell is a clever bastard.
  3. Packaging sells not quality.
  4. This is all wrong.

The monopoly exerted by bands like One Direction is surprising given the Internet’s promise of a more democratic less corporate music scene. It failed to deliver.

The promise of riches is ruining the Arts. Anything that can’t be converted into massive short term gain isn’t attempted. Back in 2010 Philip Sherwell and Colin Freeman did a piece in the Telegraph about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Basically, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard were rewarded with multi-billion dollar business contracts as a reward for suppressing mass protests that convulsed across the country in 2009. What that means is that Iran’s reformist challengers were (and still are) opposed by a 120,000 strong paramilitary outfit with a huge vested interest in maintaining the status quo and keeping President Mahmoud Ahmahdinejad (or his replacement Hassan Rouhani) in power. Ironically, the Revolutionary Guard later accused Ahmahdinejad of corruption towards the end of his second (and final term) as president. So what has this got to do with Art or One Direction for that matter?

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Well, Simon Cowell is President Mahmoud Ahmahdinejad. One Direction are the Revolutionary Guard. And all the World’s fine, worthy, revolutionary artists and musicians are Iran’s reformist challengers. And they don’t stand a chance because Simon has payed One Direction to kill them off (by hook or crook) and they’re doing a pretty good job.

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Don’t be deceived by their cute appearance. One Direction are crack paramilitary mercenaries, paid (very well) by Simon Cowell to suppress reform in the Arts. All in the name of Money, Power and Tyranny.

All One Direction prove is that Might Is Right.

They seem so harmless but they are the highly paid stooges of a Dark Empire. And both they and the Dark Empire they protect must be brought down and destroyed.

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Extremes.

You can not go where the Artist goes. If you did you would lose everything. Your family, your home, even your mind. The Artist is driven into the wilderness by a hunger for truth as a vampire is driven into the night by a hunger for human blood.

The Artist is alone. Like the tiger, the Artist values freedom of movement above all else. The Artist is only tolerated by society as a plaything for The Rich – for The Rich must be entertained.

The views of an Artist are by turns reviled and despised then revered and heralded as the manifestation of genius. We live in an age where the Artist, like the tiger, is an endangered species. Soon there will be none left and the world will be poorer for it. Truth will be entirely replaced by financial expediency and the corporations will destroy everything from offices decorated with Art.

The Artist is all gut. There can be be no explanations. Anarchy can be seen everywhere. There are no boundaries of taste, technical or financial restriction. Charlatans have infiltrated the establishment and opportunists have flooded the market with an Art that satisfies the new requirements of those who will pay for kudos. Arts mandate is solely to provide a shimmer of glamour to the otherwise dull walls of the market place. Smoke and mirrors abound and the audience can not be shocked. All that is left to the Artist, who after all must be a damaged, even mentally deranged casualty, is the scorn of the world. And that must be the fate of the brave new modern Artist Image

In the entire history of humankind tuberculosis has killed more people than any other disease (AIDS and Black Death have killed more in shorter periods).

Today, over 1 million people die every year from tuberculosis. Since 1995 the World Health organisation has successfully treated over 41 million tuberculosis sufferers. More money is needed.

This artist is drawn to death and suffering as sources of truth and sees them as an antidote to the bad art being spread by television and film. Perhaps that is because the Artist is concerned Society has lost touch or is losing touch with what is really important. And what is that? An interesting question!

Well-known and influential photojournalist James Nachtwey won the TED Prize last year, and as part of his award, he made a wish for help - help in bringing a story to light that he felt was important and underreported. The subject of this story is a new, dangerous type of tuberculosis called Extreme Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis, or XDR-TB. Tuberculosis is both preventable and curable, but inadequate treatment has been driving the emergence of XDR-TB, especially in developing nations. Tuberculosis is not a disease of the past - in 2007 alone, 1.7 million people died from TB - it is the leading killer of people infected with HIV. Nachtwey's wish was that he could break this story, and demonstrate proof of the power of news photography in the digital age.

Well-known and influential photojournalist James Nachtwey won the TED Prize last year, and as part of his award, he made a wish for help – help in bringing a story to light that he felt was important and underreported. The subject of this story is a new, dangerous type of tuberculosis called Extreme Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis, or XDR-TB. Tuberculosis is both preventable and curable, but inadequate treatment has been driving the emergence of XDR-TB, especially in developing nations. Tuberculosis is not a disease of the past – in 2007 alone, 1.7 million people died from TB – it is the leading killer of people infected with HIV. Nachtwey’s wish was that he could break this story, and demonstrate proof of the power of news photography in the digital age.James Nachtwey TB

 

Fracking marvellous.

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This morning I woke up in my car (a 1996 diesel VW Golf) and photographed the Cuadrilla test-drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex, UK. The morning was fresh and it felt good to be alive. It occurred to me that I could have slept in my bed last night and woken up late, taken a coffee and read a book very comfortably, but being up and about at 530am was much more fun. Being uncomfortable seems to bring spiritual benefits. Just look at St John in that bespoke camel hair shirt. However, the idea that suffering is good for the soul is no longer in vogue. Sure, people work long hours, but there is a certain amount of brainwashing that keeps them in the office that long and that  paranoia that keeps them there is well within their comfort zone. Happiness and awareness can only exist outside the comfort zone. That is true in Art and Politics. The fact that both are now carried out with such risk averse parameters is an indicator of the cowardice and philistinism that have replaced the noble institutes of political leadership and art made for arts sake.

One person dies every three and a half seconds from hunger or hunger related causes according to http://www.poverty.com/ – the site quotes the United Nations as saying that for $195 billion all the deaths caused by hunger and disease could be stopped. You may not be aware of this, but 22 countries have already pledge to raise this money by donating 0.7% of their national income to international aid. In 2011 Sweden were the biggest givers, with 1.2%, closely followed by Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands. The United States were near the bottom of the list with only 0.2% pledged and the United Kingdom was only a bit better at 0.56%. But it’s a start. 

The point of today’s blog is ask why we waste our time obsessing with the frippery of television, fashion and keeping up with Jones’s when there is so much that needs to be done that is really important. Art, and by that I mean Art that comes from the earnest desire to pay homage to beauty and truth, however they manifest themselves to the artist, with no thought of how the work will be received and whether it will make money or find wall space, should make us more human. That is its purpose. The idea that art can be made to suit a market is as much a nonsense as a choice between ending world poverty and owning a Porsche 911. Now there’s a hypothetical moral dilemma to wrestle with. The visceral pleasure of fine German engineering or the moral high ground of knowing you gave life to millions of people you’ll never meet or receive a proper thank you from. Mmm.

Fracking is a great example of corporations wrecking the planet with the blessing of irresponsible governments who have can’t see beyond the next election. How can we even start to discuss sustainability under such conditions? Mmm.

Feature Film.

Just shot 3/4 of a feature film. I’m exhausted. Second unit was in Ireland. The Nazi re-enactors had a military coup. We hired a Qashquai and drove from Belfast to New Ross. The first world only exists because the third world is starving and we plough on, cutting each other up in traffic and slagging each other off at work. Here’s to a fairer, more subtle world that only Art can engender. They starve so we can feast. We kill them so we can wash our cars. That is the bottom line. Ignore it if you want to.

Art Should Be Like a Car

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Today I’m not near Paul Collier’s excellent book so my mixture of art cogitation and poverty statistics will be art heavy. And motoring heavy. Yes, this morning I have been on the motorway. I was on my way to film a school sports-day for a friend. I owed him a favour after he put a story out to the papers about the feature film we are making. The story was about Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King. ImageWe wrote to Merv the Swerve asking for advice on who to approach for equity investors in film and he graciously declined to help citing conflict of interest. It was a slight story. Chris Evans blasting on Radio Two (annoying but I can’t listen to Radio 4 health features, too depressing) and traffic all around. Then it hit me. Cars are better than Art. In order to be relevant again, Art should be like a car.

Now I have written elsewhere that I did become a bit obsessed with the Chrysler 300C. OK, OK, I want one, I admit it. I first became aware of the car’s inverted and perverse aura of unreconstructed cool (a vision of cool that has not changed at all, in spite of new circumstances i.e. global warming, too many cars,etc) in the deserts beyond Al Ain in Abu Dhabi where I was photographing a camel beauty contest for a TV production company (I kid you not). The National staff photographer wheel-spinned away, rushing so as not to miss a saluki dog race and I was smitten. Image

It’s stupid isn’t it, but the car sums up where I am in life. Unreconstructed. Conflicted. Aspirational. A bit of a show-off. Cynical. Yet not so cynical as to ignore a huge that offers 42.8 mpg extra-urban yet can get you out of trouble with 0 – 62 mph in just 7.6 seconds for under five grand second hand. Like I said, pathetic. Or is it?

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Groys talks about Art being today made as a series of tiny lies that curators construct into exhibitions that insinuate underlying truths about how we live today. These exhibitions (La Biennale di Venezia for example) are in turn hi-jacked for their cultural capital and come to symbolise the cultural and by association, military might of a nation. This is why figurative painting, with the artist as an emissary of God is now irrelevant. God is dead. Does this sound far fetched?

Ai Weiwei, Bang - bring a seat.

Ai Weiwei, Bang – bring a seat.

It’s very unfashionable to call Ai Weiwei’s work rubbish but that’s just what it is. He is a political propagandist and would be working in advertising if he wasn’t so pissed off with the Chinese political system. He is the only living example of The Artist as a Hero. But his work is shit. But we forgive him because he is a hero and you can’t say anything bad against a hero. And that in itself is mind-control i.e. an anodyne, Art-light, politicized consumable, cleverly neutered by social media and that renders Art incapable of shocking anybody. What can’t it? Because the Establishment wont allow it. Art is a monetized, politicized consumable and the Artists sell out before they even start. Art is Revolution. You can’t be on the payroll if you are a Revolutionary. That is why Edward Snowden is my hero.

But why should Art be like a car? Well, the car is an unreconstructed consumable that competes on performance alone. Caution is thrown to the wind in the pursuit of sales. Whatever the market demands the manufacturers deliver, swiftly and with elan. If only the Artist served his or her muse so well – how magnificent our cultural life would be! Instead all we have are whores selling their backsides to the highest bidder or Heroes  like Ai Wei whose message is diluted and neutered. We need a Revolution but who is brave enough to lead the way? Was the Arab Spring organised by the CIA? What is true? Can we ever wrestle power back from the corporations? The future of our planet depends on how we answer those and many other questions and Art should lead the way with some kind of Truth, any Truth at all.

No One Likes Art.

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The drones in Afghanistan kill scores, even hundreds of children every week today. The papers give it a line and the public, including me of course, are blase about it. And just now, I was just reading that apocryphal tale about a bomb being dropped on Laos every 8 minutes 24 hours a day for nine years by America on the Legacies of War website. ImageThis happened from 1964 to 1973. Apparently, the idea of Laos as a nation didn’t really exist and the ‘country’s’ only significant cash crop was opium. Most of the people being bombed had no allegiance to any party or cause other than keeping their families alive. No one really talks about that either. If the preceding fail to register then it’s hardly surprising nobody really talks about or cares about art. 

What Groys said about the artist no longer being the emissary of God since God died really stuck with me. To that extent, secular life is bad for business. It makes artists open to the accusation that they are selling snake oil. There is a great market for what Science can produce. It doesn’t really matter if any of it is useful so long as it sells. A bit like Art then? Well, no. Art grabs the beholder with an experiential quality of shared refinement and exquisite execution. At best Art can be called an analogue recording of the will of God. At worst Art today is a desultory emptying of the subconscious that values ideas above experience.

The Conflict Trap effects most people living in the Bottom Billion. 73% of them have recently been through a civil war (Paul Collier wrote the edition I am reading well before the Arab Spring). Paul was inspired to investigate whether proneness to civil war was related to differences in growth (war stunts growth obviously).

It’s lighting tests for Backtrack, the feature film I am producing, so I’m going to have to leave it there tonight. Nice little session though. I enjoyed it.

Goodnight.

Art Is Irrelevant.

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I always read The Sun newspaper although this seems to upset some people. I don’t know why though. Liberal newspapers like the Guardian have effectively given the Government carte-blanche to rewrite the rule-book on civil liberties in the wake of Leveson. What do we need more? Protection from stories about the sleazy activities of Slebs or idiot liberals surrendering our basic human rights because a few people are upsetting Daniella Westbrook (who?).

Bigotry is despicable in all its forms but lets not forget it is a despicable world and we are all in it together. How do you think we pay for our luxurious Western lifestyles? It certainly isn’t by sharing what we have with the less fortunate.

Do any of you know Boris Groys? He wrote a great book in 2009 called Art Power. Great title too don’t you agree? His stuff is tricky to understand to the non-academic. He talks about art being pluralistic and of “the prestigious international art exhibition as the image of the perfect balance of power”. This idea of art being curated to serve a political end serves Groys’s earlier assumption that “the notion of art is today almost synonymous with the notion of the art market”.

Why did I jump from Leveson to art as a political tool? I think its because the way we are controlled today has an insidious, New Labour way of dressing lies up to look like the truth that is maddening. Everything is multi-faceted. We are deceived to be deceived. Picasso said it like this: “We all know art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”  I see parallels there with what went on in Leveson but its so complicated I gets discursive when explaining why.

Art does make me despair. Opinion about what is good is so divided and the art establishment so self-interested and so bogged down in theory that the cleverest and most arrogant do well whilst less clever and quieter (although often truer) artists are destroyed (metaphorically).

So is art just something for governments to use as a show of strength? Is art on a on a par a volley of pistol fire from a UDA unit wearing Balaclavers on the Shankill Road? Or a procession of missile carriers through Pyongyang?

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The imagination and the subconscious are hidden from sight. Art can show the world what is going on inside us in a way no other media can. That is its power. A good artist is simply one who works hard with total integrity. My first beef is that many artists are producing work to please the curators. Groys would argue that the production takes this into account and that all modern art is a paradox. The death of God and subsequent secularization of art means the concept of the masterpiece i.e. a manifestation of God’s greatness is no longer relevant. The curator has replaced the geniuses as the leaders the art world. The rich guys are only interested in the cultural capital attached to cool work. And that is also political.

Coming back to The Bottom Billion and Paul Collier, Paul’s work deals with the tangle of stats and variance hiding the truth about the complicated plight of the Bottom Billion and why they are trapped. Paul talks about a developing world suffused with hope following dramatic growth that started in the 1970s to the present day. Average growth rose from 2.5% in 1970 to 4.5 by the noughties. The Bottom Billion missed out. The actually started going backwards in terms of growth during the 1980s.

The first four years of the new millennium saw growth rise to 1.7% in the BB. That is because of natural resources and big companies barging in harvesting. Equatorial Guinea did best, where offshore oil dominates income though that is hard to believe after reading the 2012 Human Rights Watch report.

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Now I do not fully understand the stats, but Paul says that by 2050 the development gulf will no longer be between a rich billion and six billion in developing countries but between a trapped billion and the rest of humankind. Paul see’s development being about giving hope to people that their children will live in a society that has caught up with the rest of world. Looking at the above picture clearly illustrates what he means.

Take away hope and people will try to escape as 1 million Cubans have. It happens in the mind too, when people try to escape reality with alcohol and drugs (my observation).

Paul says the G8 is the best place to discuss the Bottom Billion but this time around all people want to talk about is Syria and Putin swimming in Loch Erne!

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You can see that the need for growth is being addressed but last time I read Galbraith, I came away thinking growth didn’t have all the answers because it is not sustainable because the bedrock is fossil fuel. Paul Collier is keen on it and implies maybe that it is key to releasing the Bottom Billion from the trap.

Art has a role. For me it is to be truthful, well informed and socially responsible. It should have something to do with beauty and what you understand to be God. Humour is for illustration and the image below did raise a chuckle. I don’t see it as Art though. Groys may disagree as may the curators!

Devil v Jesus

I’m tired now but I’ve enjoyed this little ramble. Hope you did too!

Art is a lie

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I’m starting my career as a photographer, film-maker and artist over. There have been many false starts but have always come back to the same themes. Cut the bullshit. Know your limitations and work within them. Work bloody hard.

Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency and their Big Brother scheme to eavesdrop on all of us 24/7 365 surprised me. If surveillance really is being installed on the scale Snowden suggests it begs the question: where are we going and who is leading the way? The average conspiracy theorist will point towards the 150 members of the elite Bilderberg Group, a syndicate of shape-changing alien lizards with an evil plan to take over the world. The Bilderberg Group recently met in Watford, which, no offence to Watford did seem like a PR blunder, in terms of image. It’s true though: we do seem to be ruled by an elite few more concerned with living well than solving any of the world’s more serious problems like poverty or climate change.

So, Edward Snowden is my new hero. He chose to enter a world of pain that will be administered by the 1917 Espionage Act. Because Snowden has already admitted to leaking classified information the public interest can not be used as mitigation. They could probably send him to the chair if they wanted to. Yet he fell on his sword for something he believed to be more important: the certainty that his story will make him very wealthy if he avoids execution.  Alternatively, maybe he just wanted to tell the truth. It’s hard to imagine that wanting to feel important wasn’t a factor, but we all want that don’t we?

The point is he crossed the line and sacrificed everything to stop being part of the problem in order to be part of the solution. How many people do that? Maybe he’s completely nuts. It wouldn’t matter to me if he was to be honest. It’s enough to know that someone out there wants to tell the truth.

Truth is literally what is true. We should all take interest in the truth for without it we are left with falsehood: untrue things. As an artist, my worry is that if our cultural life is ‘untrue’ our ability to tell right from wrong is weakened. We become exponentially more susceptible to various forms of mind control i.e. marketing, PR, etc. Therefore, the artist absolutely must know what he or she is doing. They must know what important truth they want to put out there, even if that is how they feel about the breeze in the leaves. If they cannot get their message out in a format the masses can understand only marketing and PR will save them, reducing their work to a commodity like any other. Picasso is thought to have defined Art as the Lie that points to the Truth. Perhaps that’s all we can hope for but it still beats cynical deception.

Is Edward Snowden an artist? Well, of course he isn’t.  But he may become something just as powerful: that rare individual or event capable of breaking the paradigm and forcing the conventional wisdom to be reassessed and calibrated. These tiny acts of bravery are all that stands between us and the shape-changing lizards and I thank Edward for that if nothing else.

My quest for truth starts with a review of Paul Collier’s “The Bottom Billion”. This incredible book focuses on those at those people living on living on less than a dollar a day. There are seven billion people living in the world. It might appear perverse, but in order to reassess what I sort of work I want to produce, it is vital for me to understand how first world countries manage to ignore the fact that one in seven people are dying from the effects of poverty.

The first world is obsessed with pleasure seeking. The Lamborghini is a potent symbol of that obsession and I am susceptible to its powerful allure. In fact I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and coveting certain cars and the status ownership affords. After seeing a Chrysler 300C storming across a rough desert road while working in Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago I’ve developed a ludicrous obsession with the lumpy beast. There’s a 3.0 litre example for sale at £8k just five miles from where I’m sitting, 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds. Pathetic isn’t it? That’s the powerful gravitational pull of unimportant stuff for you.

My interest in the bottom billion comes from working in Africa and subsequently reading Martin Meredith’s “State of Africa” and John Reader’s “Africa: A Biography of the Continent”. Those guys love to search for the lies Picasso was talking about as does Paul Collier.

Paul’s book starts with a bit about how the bottom billion are falling inexorably farther away from us. He also mentions that only about a billion of us are living well. Five billion are on the up.

The countries at the bottom are effectively living in the 14thC: “civil war, plague, ignorance”.

What I love about Paul Collier is his quest for answers as opposed to “simple moralizing”. The political right deny poverty traps exist whilst the lefties blame global capitalism (I’ve always agreed).

Then there is some crazy and horrible stiff about how malaria keeps countries poor because the potential market for a cure won’t pay for its development. Sick stuff. Paul identifies his own top four traps as being: conflict, natural resources, landlocked with bad neighbours and bad governance in a small country. The trouble is that even if countries escape the traps the global market is far more hostile to new entrants, e.g. Mauritius vs Madagascar.

One thing Paul doesn’t mention early on is sustainable growth. Maybe it comes later but the idea we can have continue to have a fossil fuel driven economy just seems both nutty and dreadfully self-destructive to me. Then again, 70% of the bottom-billion live in Africa and frankly anything is better than dying of poverty including global warming. Paul then uses the word “coterminous” referring to Africa and the third world. They are not apparently, e.g. South Africa. The other desperate places are Haiti, Bolivia, Laos, Camobodia, Yemen, Burma and North Korea. Camobodia seemed alright to me but then I didn’t see the farmers when the paddies flooded and harvest was wrecked. My other friend called Paul told me it can be grim beyond belief.

In all Paul identifies 58 countries that constitute the bottom-billion. I wouldn’t be able to name that many. It seems incredible but then ignorance always is!

Stigmatizing a country becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is a universal truth for all stigmas surely?

The bottom billion average life expectancy is fifty years whereas in other developing countries it is sixty-seven years. Who knew? 14% of children die before their fifth birthday in the bottom billion compared to 4% in other developing countries. 36% of kids have long-term malnutrition. Shocking. Or is it? Why don’t we all know this stuff? Is that more shocking? Giving to charity obviates the need to care doesn’t it?

That’s the end of my blog for today. I’ll continue to chat through this book and at the end I’ll suggest a project that I’ll work towards on the basis of what I’ll have learnt. I’m wondering if I would get an Arts Council grant to examine the results if any of Tony Blair’s commission on development in Africa.

NB: Lindsay Mills, Ed Snowden’s gorgeous ex-girlfriend, is shown half-naked and heartbroken in Hawaii in today’s Sun newspaper. Ed, where did it all go wrong?

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