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Transition

June 24, 2013

Though it has been mentioned occasionally here, I’ve been wanting to talk more about the ‘place’ I’ve been in on and off for about 2 years now.  Until recently the only way I could frame it was as a light burn out or some kind of long incubation period before the next creative cycle.

But it seems to go deeper than that this time. I have no energy or desire to promote myself or my work within an art world context, and my interests seem to be veering steadily away from the prevailing ones in this society. When I realized that there was no shared language to talk to even my online artists support group about my aversion to current contexts and marketing techniques for art, I realised that I am in a transition period comparable to the one I experienced when I was in my late 20s.

At that time, I had had 6 years of professional success as a calligrapher, artist and graphic designer in Pittsburgh, and I was facing the fact that internally I had no idea of a direction for the future other than more of the same. That started me a long internal search which ended up leading me to an international spiritual community, now an ecovillage, in Scotland.  It was a radical move to leave my family, boyfriend, cats and career to jump into the unknowns of communal life.  I’d expected to stay 2 years but ended up living there for the period between my 27th and 33rd year.  6 intense and beautiful years which formed my values and consciousness profoundly.

Now I am in my early 60s with the feeling that my best work is still in front of me. But the issues I care deeply about – the ones that I have always cared about most- are pushing to the surface and asking to be acknowledged and honoured.

I feel a new urgency to align with the healing, rebuilding, and transformative forces emerging in society, and not just through the arts. One recent trigger for this was the book ‘Walk Out, Walk On’, by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. The two take a magical journey around the world visiting 7 different communities. These communities are almost all located in poor, dangerous areas with few resources or opportunities to build a safe, comfortable life. Yet through initiatives of  impassioned individuals coupled with the strength of community, these communities have found ways to be positive, resilient and healthy by drawing on their own resources, traditions and culture. And most significantly, without outside aid.

Always in these stories, one person takes a risk with a new idea. This one small step sometimes ends up spreading until it gathers momentum to become a major transformation which radically improves conditions for many people. One example of this kind of viral idea (I think they call it a meme)  is microcredit started by Muhammad Yunus.

So even though I live out here in the rich, Western world,  I, too, feel to be in a transition which many others are also facing. How to use my energy to help transition to the new society wanting to emerge in the midst of our broken dysfunctional systems. It is a healthier, more resilient society built on trust, community, collaboration, creativity, caring. That is my work as a person and an artist, and in a sense always has been.  I just don’t yet have an idea of what it is going to look like here in the north of Holland.

For right now it is just about taking the next step here- cleaning our home, tending the garden and my relationship, going deeper with my painting because that is where I draw my inspiration.

And holding still. Not grabbing at the first opportunity to be useful just to alleviate the discomfort of seemingly doing and achieving nothing. These periods of unclarity and sometimes darkness are necessary in transformative processes.They are rarely documented because one feels so uncertain and confused whilst in them. But things are a bit clearer now, and it is an important place to communicate from.

Of course I am also active, writing as guest author a chapter for a new book on care; reaching out for new connections in the circles which are involved with transformative societal work; planning my courses for next season; keeping up my blog and important new connections with other bloggers in transition(more on some of these great people in another post); and perhaps even starting a new blog just to track this journey, which I am sure will be ongoing.

Coming along for the ride? Would love to have you. I’ve started a new blog on this subject, you can see it here, www.tendingtime.wordpress.com

 

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This is the second article in the Artists Who Care series.

Milenko             Photo by Hannah Hess

The first and second parts of this article introduce Milenko and his current work, based on material found on his site and a number of online interviews. (Sources given at the end of the article.)
The third and fourth parts are an interview.

Sarah’s introduction to this series of articles

I believe that art is so much more than a commodity to hang on walls, and that the artist’s function in this society goes beyond making products to sell. Rather it is vital and transformative, and added to initiatives in other disciplines, can contribute to healing our broken society.  An increasing number of creative people are working as activists in bringing societal change through community building, consciousness raising, and other activities which directly and positively impact individuals and their communities.

I want to highlight some of them here because a lot of this activity is ‘below the radar’, ie not picked up by the media. And all these initiatives together form a surge that is growing, powerful and important.

So I’m happy to be able to devote several posts to the work of Milenko Matanovic. He has been gracious with his time and cooperation for this article and I feel what he has achieved is so worthwhile and important, I’d like to share it as widely as possible. So please feel free to tweet and Facebook copiously!!! There is enormous potential in us as artists and anyone working with creative processes to really make a positive difference. We just need alternative models, and they are out there for sure.

Milenko Matanovic    Building community through art

Recently completed 10 day project, a gathering place in Tuscaloosa, Alabama- built in part with debris from a tornado which did a lot of damage to the city last year. Photo by Hannah Hess

Showing walkway with tiles made by volunteers from the community. Photo by Hannah Hess

I first met Milenko Matanovic

during a conference at Findhorn Community where I was living at the time. He was an all-round artist: singing, performing, and lecturing on art as a transformative force in the society.

His book, Lightworks, Explorations in Art, Culture, and Creativity, was published in 1985, and is still highly relevant. It is a collection of interviews with creative people of stature from a number of different backgrounds, including Suzi Gablik, John Todd, Madeleine L ‘Engle, Matthew Fox, Ellen Burstyn, Philip Glass and others.
What this diverse group of philosophers, historians, educators, and artists has in common is the conviction that the arts are crucial to cultural change and can provide solutions to the many complex problems facing our world.

I came across Milenko’s work again recently on YouTube in a video where he was speaking about art as a mode of community building, and that led to this article.

Milenko began as a conceptual artist in his home in Slovenia (formerly a republic of Yugoslavia) as a member of the celebrated OHO group. Even as his success as an artist grew, he became increasingly disillusioned with the separation of modern art from everyday concerns.

Walking out of a museum one day where an installation of his work was featured, Milenko experienced a crucial tipping point. He was so struck with the dissonance between the interior of the museum and the world outside that he literally walked away from his career as an artist.

This launched a period of re-evaluation that took him out of the conventional art world for 15 years. At the end of that period, he emerged dedicated to exploring ways to practice his art that would positively impact the world.

In 1986, he started a non-profit organization called Pomegranate Center.

Milenko:

I founded Pomegranate Center to connect community participation with art, education, and the environment because I felt that separating them into exclusive compartments was no longer productive.

By integrating art into the fabric of the community, Pomegranate Center gets people involved in creating gathering places in their neighborhoods.

To get an idea of how Milenko’s projects work and what they look like, see the video mentioned above and the Pomegranate site.

The projects themselves are inspiring and worth devoting an entire article to. But I’ve chosen here to highlight another area of his work, without which none of those projects would have even got off the ground.

This area concerns the question that inevitably comes up in any project involving the creative process, ‘How do you balance the vision with the practical side?’ And more importantly, ‘How do you manage a diverse group in such a way that the strongest idealists and realists don’t get stuck in conflicts and end up sabotaging the whole project?’

Milenko calls this, ‘Managing tensions,’ and agrees that is usually the most challenging part of any project.

continued in Part 2