Wednesday 14 January 2009

'don't watch so much tv'

Last night's debate at the RSA on Chico Mendes, activism and environmental art wasn't really a debate at all (there was no exchange of competing views). But it was enjoyable and informative, and even, at times, inspiring.

The chair, theatre director Paul Heritage, explained the background to the Amazonia project. It was clear that the process of this year-long project, which had involved large-scale work with communities in Brazil and Lambeth, had been as much the point of the project as the Christmas production that had resulted at the Young Vic.

Elenira Mendes (pic) described her father's life and the circumstances of his assassination and explained how the Institute she has set up in his name is carrying his work forward.

The composer Jonathan Dove talked about his experience writing community operas. 'Whatever the story is, the message they're telling is: "If we work together we can achieve wonders".' He said, 'Protest songs can be turned round quickly. An opera takes several years to put on. It feels like time is running out and doing opera is a luxury.'

Greenpeace's Charlie Kronick said Chico Mendes had realised something that had taken 20 years for many environmentalists to understand. 'You can't separate environmental and social justice.' Kronick asked, 'What is the role of the arts?' His answer was: 'It's about transformation. What we do doesn't depend on what we know, but what we feel. That's what art does. It's transforming.'

The fashion designer Vivienne Westwood spoke about her campaign Active Resistance to Propaganda. 'Every time you look a word up in the dictionary, you're fighting for freedom. When you become an art lover, you stop being a consumer and start being a thinker.' Her motto was: You get out of life what you put into it. 'Popular culture is a contradiction in terms,' she said, 'It's very passive. Don't watch so much TV.'

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