My little installation above was in Drogheda Railway Station some years ago. It was part of an exhibition organised by an artists’ collective called: Tondo.
The Tondo artists used to meet regularly to discuss their work and to explore current issues in contemporary art. But I like to think that we were also a bit like the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions, an artists’ collective in Russia in the 1870s.
This group, locally known as the Peredvizhniki or “Wanderers”, came together in protest at the academic restrictions of the St Petersburg Academy of Arts. Rather than continue to paint in the Classical style, the Peredvizhniki set out to depict life as it really was in Russia at the time. Their subjects would include the struggles of the common people, paintings of the countryside and everyday life in Russia. And they brought their paintings out to remote parts of the country to exhibit – bringing Art to the People.
Nowadays, these ideas mightn’t seem very radical but at that time, freedom of expression was severely curtailed in Russia. The Wanderers believed that they had a special responsibility to effect change in the country. These guys were fired up, filled with enthusiasm and hope. I can’t help thinking that artists today are maybe missing something…
Ideas come and go. When I was in art college, it was considered naive or arrogant to think that art could change the world. I don’t know – perhaps things have changed? There’s certainly more “socially engaged art” around these days.
And wouldn’t you say that these days, freedom of expression is again being “severely curtailed” around the world.