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Streets as Brushes; Brush of the Camera

….the Constructivists managed to alter the artistic means of production in fundamental ways which the capitalist ‘avant-garde’ has yet to come to terms with. In Russia of the Revolution amazing things were possible. Mayakovsky meant it when he pronounced, The streets are our brushes, the squares our palettes’. Tallin was quite serious when he demanded the movement ‘into real space and real materials’.

Dave Widgery. The Streets are Our Palettes – A Tribute to Vladimir Mayakovsky (July 1972)

But what are the streets and squares nowadays? The brushes and palettes of urban planners and architects. The occasional protest march leaves a broad brush stroke on the city. But is cleaned up as soon as the march is over. This past summer I attended the Gay Pride parade in Manchester, a well established and important fixture on the City calendar. But I couldn’t help but feel a frustration – the corral of the parade, the (friendly) police presence, the sense of it being glamorous and glittery and yet at the same time somewhat held back. And the minute the last float had gone by – the street cleaners were straight in. An odd appendix to the camp bustle and hustle. I wanted the parade to break out into the side streets, to become a riot, to explode into a glitter-ball of chaos. Nevertheless it was a colourful palette and the Pride marches around the world are probably some of the most vibrant urban street palettes that there are.

gay pride1 gay pride2

The camera as a brush

Through the increasing availability of digital cameras, observation and a creative eye, street photography has become popular. The digital camera is an ideal tool for the Integral Drifter. About a year ago I participated in a useful workshop with photographer Mimi Mollica. Revisiting the images I shot on that day reminded me that the eye can sharpen and the familiar can become unusual. The camera becomes a way of re-visioning the street. In this way the process of the drift becomes a method of perceptual transformation.

To use the camera in this way is to look and to look again. Both our perception of the world and the world we perceive is in a constant flux. The habitual mind wants to normalise, to stabilise. This is presumably an evolutionary safety valve – we need some solid ground to gain bearings. But when does solid ground become a drag on process and progress? Creative ideas can soon become dogmas. Maybe it is too soon to say that a Gay Pride March has become a dogma. But in principle it could. I’m not gay but I would propose a Gay Derive. A Gay party in the Edgelands. Colour in the Brownfields.

Note on Mayakovsky:

Vladimir Mayakovsky, the poetic loudspeaker of the Russian Revolution, came to socialist ideas with the enthusiasm of youth. He began to read Engels and illegal pamphlets under his desk-lid when he was 12. When later the same year his school was closed by Military Edict because of the 1905 uprising, he became chief school leaflet distributor. When he made his first contact with the illegal Bolshevik Party, he immediately presented them with his forester father’s shotgun. Aged 15, he was arrested in Moscow for helping to organise the escape of political prisoners from jail and was himself held in Novimsky Prison where he began to write poems. For the following 20 years he served the Revolution as a poet-agitator with the same audacity and passion. And when he shot himself in Moscow in 1930, he died a Bolshevik, brandishing his poems…

Dave Widgery. The Streets are Our Palettes – A Tribute to Vladimir Mayakovsky (July 1972)

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