Scottish artiste Neil Butler who was behind the success of the international cultural programmes: Street Biz, Shine On Glasgow, Big in Falkirk and Merchant City Festival is presently visiting Sri Lanka. He is a Curator of this year’s Colombo Art Biennale (CAB) which is currently happening around Colombo. The CAB is one of the biggest cultural festivals and events taking place in Sri Lanka. Neil Butler also founded the Sura Medura International Artist Residency Centre in Sri Lanka which runs workshops in theatre, music and dance. Apart from his art, he is also known for creating festivals. Daily Mirror met Neil Butler and following are excerpts of the interview.
Q: What is the role that you are playing in the 2014 Colombo Art Biennale (CAB)?
I work as the International Director and a curator of this event. I work internationally as an artiste while creating cultural programmes and festivals. I work with teams of people and gather people together while finding artistes and funds for festivals. In this year’s CAB six artistes from Scotland and four artistes from Europe will be visiting Sri Lanka: artistes who work with sound, video, performance, drawing, land art. These cultural festivals provide artistes with opportunities to meet other artistes and to share their experiences while also attracting a lot of international attention and businesses to the country. The CAB 2014 is a very interesting place for people to discover what is happening in contemporary art in Sri Lanka, in the region and internationally. CAB is also a good way to promote Sri Lanka to the world, while it is also a good way of celebrating being Sri Lankan.
Q: You are an artiste yourself. What do you feel is the uniqueness of your art?
I’m interested in work that connects people together, where the public (audience) is invited to participate in the creation. So I guess in a way I’m trying to connect peoples histories together. This is a collaborative work since the audience will be adding his/her meaning of that work of art, along side the meaning that I have given to the creation.
Q: You are engaged in creating cultural festivals. Is there any particular reason behind this?
I think that is because I enjoy creating situations where artistes can come together and find audiences that focus their attention on contemporary visual art. Cultural festivals are important to support artistes and the culture of a country while adding economic benefits to that nation through tourism.
" These cultural festivals provide artists with opportunities to meet other artists and to share their experiences while also attracting a lot of international attention and businesses to the country. The CAB 2014 is a very interesting place for people to discover what is happening in contemporary art in Sri Lanka, in the region and internationally "
Q: You are known for exploring the ‘line between art and entertainment’. Can you comment on this a bit? And what have you discovered from these explorations?
I create programmes which have entertainers, comedians, and performers and mix it up with avant-garde artistes and theater makers. Entertainers will make you want to laugh, cry and sometimes take you away from yourself. They tell a little bit about the world. At the same time artists will go in search of beauty, truth while trying to understand the human condition. So both entertainment and art is equally important while sometime there is art which is entertaining, and entrainment that comes in the form of art.
Q: Can you tell me something about the tension that exists between ‘instrumental use of art’ and ‘art for art sake’?
What has happened today is that artistes can’t help what they do. They make art because they have to. And when a person sees great art that enriches your life. Today people have started to appreciate art for its commercial, economic and social benefits instead of appreciating art for art sake. I think we must never forget that art exists for the sake of art.
Q: What is art to you? In other words what is art from your point of view?
Art is everywhere. One of my favorite French artistes Marcel Duchamp once said that ‘any object can be turned into art’ while German artists Joseph Beuys who is also one of my favorite artistes said that ‘anyone can become an artist’. So for me being an artiste is a state of mind, while I believe that any object has the potential to become a work of art or a part of the work of art.
Q: What do you think makes a true artiste?
State of mind.
Q: What do you think makes an ideal artiste?
I’m afraid I can’t answer that question, since I believe that anyone can become an artiste and because there are so many artistes that I admire who are very different from each other.
Q: Do you try to convey some message through your creations?
Yes, but each and every creation of mine is different from one another, so I believe they convey different things. Nevertheless most often I try to dwell on the present moment, while making my audience think about where they are in their lives at that moment. So most of my creations are about ‘exploring that moment for myself and for my audience’. So the creation consists of what meaning you as the audience brings to it, and what meaning I add to the creation about reality or about the understanding of reality.
Q: As an artiste what usually inspires you?
People and the actual world.
Q: What are your views concerning contemporary Sri Lankan art?
Contemporary Sri Lankan art is incredibly rich and exciting. There are a lot of talented artistes in Sri Lanka who exhibit their culture through their creations. The CAB is an opportunity to place these artists in an international context where they can shine equally alongside international artistes.
Q: Can you name a few of these Sri Lankan artistes that you admire?
There are too many that I can’t mention names, because it won’t be fair if I just list a few names.
Q: You created the UZ project and the Brighton Zap Club. What is special about these programmes?
The Zap Club was an underground club that I wanted to go to but didn’t exist in reality. So with my friends I created this place where you can go and see art, experience entertainment, eat, drink, talk, argue, and dance all in the same night. That is the Zap Club while UZ was a project that the Scottish government wanted me to do to promote Scotland in America and Canada. For that we created a programme which included theatre, music, comedy, fashion and other forms of art and had a small festival in New York. It made the people of Toronto and New York think about Scotland and its culture while making them wanting to visit Scotland.
Pic by Waruna Wanniarachchi
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