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"Humour resolves conflict, and it doesn't threaten" - Blindboy on mental health, society and Gasc**tism

We chatted to one half of the Rubberbandits ahead of the Lingo 2016 spoken word festival.

Blindboy Boatclub

Ahead of the 2016 Lingo spoken word festival in Dublin this weekend we spoke to Blindboy Boatclub about mental health in Ireland, socially engaged art, and what drinking cans and Gascuntism is all about. 

Q: What is your role in 2016’s Lingo Festival?

A: I’m the host for the night, I’ll be conducting interviews with the many fine guests – that and talking out of my mouth at the audience at certain points.

(Blindboy will be hosting an evening of talk on the topic of socially engaged art with guests including Panti Bliss, Tara Flynn and a number of spoken word poets)

Q: The tagline of the event has it as being about “socially engaged art” – what do you understand as socially engaged art?

A: Socially engaged art has its roots in the Dada and Fluxus movements of the 20th century. A lad called Marcel Duchamp put a toilet in a gallery and called it art, it was very radical at the time. He also encouraged people to participate with his art by smashing it up if they felt like it.

At its core, socially engaged art challenges the idea that art must hang on a wall or take place in a gallery. It also democratises art, away from the white cube and back into the hands of ordinary people. Socially engaged art tends to be collaborative, performative and participatory.

I’ve heard it being called community arts or social practice too. It uses society and conversations as it’s medium. By encouraging an audience to take part, socially engaged art can promote new emancipatory social relations, and potentially, political change.

For me, the internet in particular gives serious opportunity for that type of craic, owing to its participatory nature as a virtual space.

For instance, Panti is a guest for the night. I’d personally frame her as a socially engaged artist, in that her performance and her character was used during the marriage referendum to inspire or enrage, but most of all, to start conversations.

Will St Leger is a socially engaged artist. Mazer is a socially engaged artist.

Q: You’ve been prominent in speaking out about the need for more supports and awareness in Ireland for people suffering with mental health difficulties and the prevalence of suicide among young people:

What do you think are some of the most pressing issues affecting people in Ireland today?

A: Aside from mental health, the most obvious is the situation with rent, and careers and jobs disappearing. Job security is now a thing of the past.

Q: What do you think needs to be done to increase supports for people in the area of mental health/ social inclusion/ equality?

A: My opinion is that we need both a proactive and reactive approach. The reactive approach would deal with the current crisis of suicide, mental health, and mental illness in Ireland. We need properly accredited affordable counsellors and a rehaul of the HSE.

Which is a big ask.

The proactive approach is for us to educate ourselves autonomously around areas like emotional intelligence, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy. So that we can help ourselves and be in a position to help and understand our friends.

I’d like to see this shit being taught to children in school from the age of three, to bulletproof the next generation, this would help avoid a crisis like the one we are in.

Mental illness is a complex issue, but poor mental health is for the most part avoidable if a person possesses the right tools regarding how they view themselves, other people and the world around them.

Q: How can art help people in today’s world? How can it help to address some of the more prevalent social issues and how do you think it can add to a person’s life or understanding of life?

A: Art and any form of creativity is simply a different way of having a conversation about an issue. Traditional conversational dialogue can cause the listener to close off from an idea, because it may offend them, or hurt them.

At this point, the listener becomes personally invested in disagreeing with the argument for the sake of it, because it’s unconsciously interpreted as an attack. The comments section under a lot of TheJournal.ie articles is a good example of this.

Art, performance, satire, whatever, offers an opportunity for conversation that subverts the triggering of the defence mechanisms above. So that an actual dialogue about the issue at hand can occur, genuine debate, free from personalisation and hurt.

Q: On that note, do you think the arts are underfunded and under-supported in Ireland?

A: Yes they are, but I believe in socially engaged art. Redefining the boundaries of art, and taking advantage of social media and crowdfunding if needs be.

Q: The Rubberbandits use extreme humour and satire in their act to poke fun at aspects of society – how do you think you’ve evolved from the early days of the prank phone calls, through the success that came with Horse Outside, through to the space you occupy now – as an original source of humour and satire but also as social commentator around prominent issues?

Is this a space you thought you’d inhabit starting out? Has your MA in Social Practice and the Creative Environment contributed to a change of focus or is it just a natural progression from your early work?

A: We started the Rubberbandits when we were actual children, we’ve been doing this for 15 years, since our early teens. We’ve grown and changed throughout that journey.

The Master’s degree that I did was a bit of a breakthrough for me, because it gave me a huge amount of context and language for what we do, which I now call Gascuntism, which is a type of socially engaged art that also drinks cans and is thinking about emigrating.

Horse Outside brought us an audience that didn’t like 90% of our other work, so it was fairly restrictive for us to do what we wanted to do, and get any attention. So we fucked off to England and started afresh on the live circuit, then came back to Ireland when everyone had forgotten about us. It worked out brilliantly in the end. Social media is where we are most at home though, more so than the stage, or on a TV screen.

Q: You’re also very funny. How do you think humour in particular is used to deliver a message to a person that might stick with them?  Is socially engaged art or humour what Gascuntism is all about?

A: Humour is by its nature subversive. Humour resolves conflict, and it doesn’t threaten. Humour is the opposite of solemnity, by stripping solemnity from any situation, you lay bare its fundamental absurdity.

This absurdity tends to be hilarious. Life is absurd and chaotic, certainty and order are illusions. This us what Beckett, Flann (O’Brien) and Joyce did with Irish society and the Irish condition, they were gas c**ts.

Q: Looking at the world today would you say art or social awareness is more important in light of what the world is facing?

A: Yes it is, whether it changes anything, I don’t know, but it can enrich and improve how we cope with a harsh reality.

I mentioned Marcel Duchamp and the Dada Movement earlier, they read out their manifesto in 1916 at the height of WW1. There’s a lot of parallels in 2016 to 1916, in that nobody feels in control or has any certainty about what’s going on.

WW1 was when colonial empires fell. Now we potentially face the end of capitalism and finance. There’s a paradigm shift going on. World War 1 was the first time humanity had seen mass murder on an industrial scale. Before that, battles were fought with cannons and cavalry. But WW1 had machine guns and bombs. Millions of lives ended brutally by machines controlled by humans, society could not cope with the scale of that irrationality and absurdity.

So the artist Marcel Duchamp placed a toilet in a gallery and called it art. Because, how could we paint sunsets in this world of industrial murder? The irrational absurdity of a toilet in a gallery was the only appropriate artistic response.

The Dada manifesto was read out two months after the events of Easter 1916 in the GPO. There’s a part of me that frames the 1916 rebellion as an absurdist Dada performance piece, with the brutal militaristic idealism of Italian futurism.

The lads in 1916 knew they couldn’t win, they knew they would die, they knew they were walking into certain machinated death at the hands of an Empire.

In particular Michael O Rahilly who lead a fatal unarmed charge towards machine guns with lads on his rugby team. The same zeitgeist of international irrationality applied to Dada and Patrick Pearse. It was in the water.

Q: And finally – What’s your new gig with MTV about? Excited about going overseas?

A: It’s just us laughing at a load of yanks falling over on prime time American TV. It’s the televisual equivalent of a child’s drawing. It can’t be viewed as good or bad because it’s too silly.

Television is a dying medium. Our TV show is its death knell, it’s a medium struggling to compete with Snapchat. I say that with pride by the way.

Blindboy will be appearing at the 2016 Lingo spoken word festival in Dublin this weekend. A full programme of events and where to get tickets can be found here

Read: ‘A lot of young Irish people don’t see a future’: Blindboy gives powerful interview about suicide

Read: Blindboy from The Rubberbandits absolutely nailed it on the Late Late last night

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Blindboy Boatclub

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