Postmodernism a rejection of modernism?

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As a reaction postmodernism is mostly readily understood by a rejection of modernism. Many critics still recognise that forms of late modernism still remain even now, although the main ideas have been increasingly challenged and rejected. There are many artists associated with postmodernism. Marcel Duchamp is most interesting to me, because he could be considered both a modernist and postmodernist. He was associated with the Dada movement, a prominent postmodern art movement that was really born out of a reaction to the First World War, its art focused on throwing away the established preconceptions.  Duchamp’s famous urinal with the pseudo name “R. Mutt” written on it, broke all the modernist rules.  In light of this work, there is a sense of what challenge is left in art? “His greatest contribution to the history of art lies in his ability to question, admonish, critique, and playfully ridicule existing norms in order to transcend the status quo—he effectively sanctioned the role of the artist to do just that.” (Rosenthal, 2004). The tension comes in realising that in embracing the modernist view of historical progression and engaging with modern life and its ideas brought Duchamp to the point of rejecting modernism itself.


The seeds for the cultural shift towards postmodernism were sown in the aftermath of the Second World War and accelerated by the war in Vietnam.  The artists began to feel that art had to be more than the modernist view, a purely aesthetic, rational or documentary experience, it needed to comment on the world to show people the truth and engage them emotionally.  My own art feels most aligned with this stance and most of my own research and practice is fundamentally focused on art as intervention and how creativity can have a positive impact on the world.  Postmodernism can also be characterised by its rejection of science and government.  This can largely be attributed to the world events such as the world wars, and the spectre of nuclear holocaust.  People and artists started asking whether there was more to life than what we can prove.  The idea of ownership became less important, the rules and clear definitions in art started to become blurred. It argued that nothing is fixed and this in turn led to declaring there is no such thing as absolute truth. This self defeating statement is one of the main reasons I do not identify with postmodernism. 

Redeming society project proposal

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As part of my on going investigation into using art to bring about positive change, I have submitted a project proposal and once refined I will seek funding.  Here is some of the core elements below:



The idea for the Luton Community Photography project was inspired by the street artist JR, who won the 2011 TED prize. Through the Inside Out Project, JR is focusing “on the power of art and ideas to change perceptions, attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world”......


Executive Summary


To reflect the diverse range of communities across Luton through a photographic project and traveling exhibition. A selection of the final images will be used to participate in the international project: Inside Out. by the artist JR.  It will aim to train people from different communities to become ‘community photographers’ to explore the lives of people around them and people from different backgrounds from themselves through the medium of photography. Their experiences of getting to know another community through the medium of photography will be explored as part of the travelling exhibition. The dialogue between communities and their photographers will be recorded as part of the exhibition and will form the basis of the themes which are explored behind the photographs. In this way the exhibition will have depth and explore contemporary issues which are important to different communities, and therefore go further than merely reflecting the visual diversity of Luton’s communities.  Alongside the workshops at least one or more events will be aimed at taking great portraits of people who cannot afford high quality photos of themselves (eg. homeless, single Mum’s with low incomes etc.)  The project will aim to provide digital/printed copies of the images for the individuals to enjoy the self confidense these images will bring.  This could be done in partnership with stylist’s/make up artists as well?


  •  To celebrate and reflect the different heritage and cultures of Luton’s communities from multiple       perspectives.
  •  To connect communities’ heritages to people’s current sense of identity and views about living in Luton.
  •  To create a unique training opportunity for people to learn digital photography skills and spot new talent.
  •  To display photography from the project in public spaces (Town centre, LHWG, Airport etc.)
  •  To give a national and international voice to the people of Luton.
  •  To create a mechanism for people to come together to share experiences and stories about the town that they live in and for this dialogue to be rooted in people’s sense of heritage. 
  •  To ensure that a range of communities are able to get involved in the project and that the approaches that are used are inclusive and do not create barriers to involvement.
  •  To give people access to high quality photography and portraits, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. (Single Mum’s, homeless etc.)
  •  To focus on universal issues and themes that can unite people in a common understanding of the world around them rather than focus on issues which create tensions and conflict.

Proposal Overview

The project will be run by Ben Hodson and Ian Rowlands on behalf of the artists collective, A Thin Place.  They will manage the project, any other people involved and oversee the delivery of the training sessions.  The training will be based around both presentational and practical workshops.  This will be  supplemented by a number of photo-walks and group activities. The project will reflect the incredible  cohesion which is already evident in Luton.  The project will demonstrate more then just the diversity of Luton, it will show how this community lives, works and plays together.  Through this project we will seek to dissolve negative perceptions and encourage people to unite under common themes of humanity.  It will tell the long overdue “good story” of this town and its people.



The project will be based around a number of bespoke workshops – that we would want to cover: a brief history of photography, types of cameras, photographic techniques and processes, brainstorming     creative ideas, taking photographs of other cultures and how to edit, select material and prepare for an exhibition.  A number of photographic styles will be demonstrated with an emphasis on documentary, portrait, contemporary fine art and journalistic styles.  The workshops will take place at either spaces provided by LCST or by the community groups themselves.  This way members will not have to commit to every single session to be part of and enjoy the project.  Those who manage to come to all of them will benefit the most.  Each workshop will have demonstrations, hands on practical tasks and feedback   sessions.  These   feedback discussions will not be overly critical, rather they will give everyone an opportunity to develop their ideas and gain the motivation needed to succeed in their own work.  The emphasis of the workshops will be on encouraging each individual to improve their photography skills in the context of community.  Each person from the community groups will be equipped with the technical know-how, ethical code of conduct and practical and legal limitations. The environment should promote the flow of creative ideas and encourage the collaborative move towards better image creation.  The workshops will be aimed at relevant digital techniques, however, the project will not exclude individuals who wish to use film cameras. After an initial assessment of the current level of photographic understanding, the workshops will be geared to meet the individuals at the stage they currently are.  One of the benefits of having more than one community artist leading the workshops is that people of varying  abilities can be easily aided in the same workshops.  The workshops will be accessible for complete   beginners and will also add value to members who already have photographic understanding and  experience.


The project will be based around different community groups working together to document the chosen aspects of the different communities.  The project will look to build strong relationships and partnerships between the different community groups.  Traditionally pursuits such as photography can be               individualistic and isolating, we strongly believe creativity is better in community.  This project will reflect this ethos and, as far as is possible, aim to ensure every possible part of the process will be done together, either in groups, small teams, partnerships or collaborations.



If the funding was available, it would be ideal to be able to purchase some photographic equipment for the community members to use.  However, this would possibly become financially restrictive for the    project.  If there is funding available we could recommend the best way to equip the community groups.  This proposal is based on the assumption that this is not the case.  We would therefore ask the individuals to bring their own photographic equipment.  The project would then be geared to teach the individuals to excel with what they already have, even if this is only a basic camera or camera phone.  In addition to this we could make some of our own equipment available for the community members to learn additional skills and have enjoyment with.    We would supply our own laptops to demonstrate, edit and transfer the images to external storage devices.  In order to make sure the data is both protected and easily available to the project managers the project would need to have at least two external hard drives to store all the images collected two external hard drives to store all the images collected.  Having more then one is an important step to ensure the the data is not lost or corrupted.  Having the use of a digital projector would be an essential tool and we would require using one that belongs to the LHWG or having one purchased for the project.  


The main digital retouching will be carried out by the project managers, however, it will be with close   involvement, guidance and permission of the creator of the image.  The skills needed to edit the images will be demonstrated in the workshops, however, these skills generally take years of practice to refine them to exhibition standard.  Given the March deadline, we will need to do the majority of this work to ensure the project is successfully completed in time.  The final selection of the images will be done together, however, each participating photographer will be represented in the final exhibition.  We will  provide encouraging feedback and constructive tips to help them create, select and present the best they possibly can. 


The legacy left by this project will reap benefits for many years to come.  Hopefully, the friendships, contacts and cooperation between the various individuals and community groups will be one of these lasting legacies. The exhibition itself is also a very real way of helping bring the communities together as well as physically demonstrating and documenting this positive side of life in Luton for as long as it is exhibited.  It will be a fascinating look at the current lives of people in our communities and will be an invaluable historic resource in the future. Another part of the legacy should be that every individual and community group involved will gain skills, confidence and enjoyment from their camera that will enable them to continue to document the lives of their family and life in Luton.  Also the skills gained and perceptions changed will benefit these people for the rest of their lives.  The project should add to the developing arts scene, enrich the wider town and continue to grow Luton’s reputation for initiating engaging cross-cultural programmes.  We would suggest allowing the community members to retain digital copies of all the work they create.  As the project comes to a close we would propose creating a basic catalogue/book which demonstrates the best of the work which isn’t demonstrated.  With self publishing websites becoming so accessible, we could then allow anyone who wants to purchase it to order a copy straight off the website.  One of the ways that the project could maintain a presence and legacy would be to film the project, this could be through ATP Media or someone like Suitecase media etc.


  • The project managers will quickly develop logos and branding to give the project a clear identity and help the community groups to associate with it.  One of the artists, Ben Hodson has good experience creating logos and marketing material and would happily do this as part of the initial set up of the project.
  • The project managers have experience with web design and are fully prepared to create, update and facilitate a project website.  The information could just be added to the LHWG sites, however, the   benefits of having a project specific website would be; 
      • The ability to quickly update the current progress of the community groups and project as a whole.  Ensuring everyone involved, including stakeholders can clearly see progress.
      • It could list all the dates and information for the workshops, photo-walks and exhibitions for the LHWG and project members.
      • A blog could show the stories developing behind the final outcomes, including photos, video snippets, comments and examples of the created work.
      • All content could be created and maintained with clear advice and guidelines from the LHWG.
      • The site could briefly profile all the community groups/individuals involved.
      • This site would link back to any LHWG websites and associated partners.
  • The exhibition opening event and subsequent exhibitions could be advertised through the project   website, through the community groups themselves and any other available outlets through the LHWG marketing strategies.
  • We are fully prepared to develop posters/flyers/digital invites as required to support the project.
  • As previously mentioned a catalogue or small book would be a great way for people to both promote and ultimately remember the project and associated exhibitions.



The initial exhibition will be co-curated by the project managers with close consultation and involvement from all the exhibitors and any relevant LHWG staff however, the final decisions would be made by the project organisers.  The exhibition will be aimed at being as inclusive as possible, with the interpretation being aimed at a broad range of viewers.  The exhibition will be designed to travel easily and will be put together with high quality and lasting materials and fixings.  

As part of the final exhibition at least one large digital photomosaic will be created by the project managers.  This image will include all the photos created through the project and will form either a Luton specific object, the project/town logo or recognisable landmark. This photomosaic will be a fascinating centre piece for both the exhibitors and people who come to view the exhibition.  A high quality version of this could also be uploaded to the website and possibly be used as part of the marketing strategy for the exhibition. Example of a Vauxhall 10 car on following page.  The printing, mounting/framing will be done by professionals with whom we already have already worked in partnerships with, such as The Print Space in Shoreditch, London.  This way we can guarantee quality, good customer service and the best available prices.  The final layout and installation of the exhibition will be primarily carried out by the project managers, community members and LHWG staff and volunteers, with as much involvement by the community groups as is both wise and possible to ensure a quality show is put together.   

All aspects of this project are flexible and we look forward to having an opportunity to talk through any parts of this proposal.  We hope that through this project both the reputation and very fabric of this town will be improved.

Reflection on art and society

Posted on by Ben Hodson

To measure just the effect art has had on the world, there is a need to remove the surrounding forces, events, political, social and religious contexts.  Once all these variables have been removed, what is left is purely theory.  It is becoming apparent that it is impossible to separate art from its context.  It forces you to no longer look at art as a separate entity, but rather the herald, signaling the need for change.  Or perhaps the cheer leader supporting and even leading the movement of the social and political spheres.  An example of this would be the group of activist students and artists who took up residence in Ecole de Beux Arts in Paris 1968.  The Atelier Populaire (Popular Workshop) was formed and became famous for producing numerous posters which were intended as “weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it.” (Atelier Populaire, 1968) Their mandate was to support the large ground swell of social change in France.   Their free posters became “the battle standard” for the masses. Their art did not cause the civil unrest, although they did help to rally support.  

High Town Art For All

Posted on by Ben Hodson

As part of my on going investigation into these ideas, I have been working on some practice led research.  One of the projects was called, High town art for all, which was a series of community arts “pop-up” galleries and events.  The purpose of the project was three fold; Firstly, to help promote artists that were  mainly local and included some people from further a field. Secondly, to help bring more cultural benefit to the town (Luton) and help develop the growing arts scene.  Finally, to directly help in the social regeneration of a run down area (High Town Road).  The project appears to have succeeded at all of these levels. It has received direct positive feedback from the council, landlords, letting agents, the public and the artists themselves.  Over 40 artists were involved, with around 20 events, workshops and private views being held.  Two out of the three shops that were used have now been let out as a direct result of the project.  The third shop is currently in discussion with buyers.  The project shows a direct and tangible positive change in the lives the local residents and shop keepers who felt that the area was being ‘improved’ and highlighted. The artists involved gained exposure for their work, found others to collaborate with and some even sold some of their work. Whereas the landlords and local council saw a direct commercial benefit as a result of their involvement in the project.  It may not be as dramatic as a change in human history such as bringing peace to a region, but it certainly started to have a redemptive affect on that part of town.

Malcolm Miles

Posted on by Ben Hodson

In Malcolm Miles’ PHD thesis Art & Social transformation he argues that art practice should work within the crevices of the dominant society “...insert[ing] its realisations and images like the strains of a virus into the wider society, allowing them to grow as they will. In this incremental approach power becomes de-centred” (Miles, Malcolm. 2000).  This idea of infecting society like a virus appears to be one of the conclusions he draws from his research as one of the ways art practice and theory can change society for the better.  Miles who is the professor of Cultural Theory at the University of Plymouth, writes books and papers linking society to contemporary art and urban change. Miles suggests that “artists, like all citizens, have three choices: to be complicit in the dominant society (as artists serving the art market's needs for commodities, or providing embellishment for urban development); to resist, as through direct action; or to work within the crevices of the dominant society” (Miles, Malcolm. 2000)  His research deconstructed a number of non-gallery based arts initiatives which directly tried to have positive influence on social and environmental issues.  The conclusions he drew from these examples showed how art (in its widest context) has given way to direct positive influence on society even in the last three decades.