What if you could save lives, as art?
Humanitarian Interventions as art? I’m inspired by several heroes, Jesus is one, Oscar Schindler another. Oscar created something extraordinary. A company that was, on the face of it, an armaments factory waging war against humanity, but was in truth a system dedicated to extracting men women and children out of the very jaws of death. Jesus did the same, but bigger. Brilliant work.
Back in 2008 I was a street artist, living in London, street art was the movement of the times and I was well versed. Sometimes I played a character called AU, who just painted everything gold, and wrote street haiku using AU as the opening two letters.
Other times I played a persona called DICY, tagging the symbol of a dice with one on every side. And on one occasion I wrote next to it: Look At The Wall. Save A Life. See the Big Picture.
Save a life. As art. For the next 11 years I thought about how to do it, if it were possible, and the idea never went away. I went to art school, in Sheffield, and studied fine art. I wrote about humanitarian intervention art, and did 100 documented good deeds, each one sponsored by a business, as an art project. I also developed a system for creating beautiful abstract paintings, which I call Conceptual Aesthetics, and painted the first in the system, titled Beautiful Painting Number One.
I graduated, and moved back to London, where in 2015 I co-founded a media company, publishing a magazine on the emerging tech startup scene which had replaced street art as the Shoreditch culture vibe. Curious how that area has been the hub of a number of creative movements.
We published a magazine and then diversified into producing a newspaper, relating to the emerging financial technology, Fintech sector. It was an exciting time, building a startup media company in the middle of the UK tech scene. Very difficult though, at times incredibly stressful, and whilst it fulfilled part of me, it left much else undernourished.
After a couple of years I resigned, and a year later, sold my shareholding, giving me space and time to reconsider my life and what I really wanted to do and who I really was. I co-founded another media company, as an experiment as much as anything, how to create a hyper ethical media platform, a reinvention of the business model. It works, as it happens, you can see it here, EthicalMuch.com. I’m still allowing it to develop, the business model is viable, more so than my last company! I’ll let it scale in its own good time. Even so, I was recreating the past rather than moving into the future. I increasingly began to feel the time was right to test this long standing idea. Saving a life as art. I figured, if it was possible, if I could do it, it would somehow make my entire life worthwhile, justified. And if it were not possible, then I would know. And at least I would have tried. To try, and to fail, that is acceptable. To dare not try, that is not.
It was now or never. In the summer I began to plan it, and in October 2019 I attempted what no artist had done before, as far as I’m aware. Setting out on a mission to save a life, without knowing whose, or how, or where. Not even sure why, other than that I needed to do it. I needed to know, to try. I decided Cambodia might provide opportunity, and doors opened for me to go there.
2019. Delivering Compassions to women and children in Phnom Penh Correctional Facility Two, Cambodia. Creating a humanitarian intervention art system.
There was two intentions for the journey to Phnom Penh in October 2019. The first was to establish an individualised aid pipeline into the Cambodian prison system. This enables myself, as an artist, to visit the prisons, and personally deliver interventions and aid parcels to the children and adults living there. This means for every painting I sell, I can action a humanitarian intervention in a Cambodian prison. I call these interventions Compassions.
The other purpose was to explore the possibility of taking art to its ultimate goal. The idea from all those years ago. See The Wall. Save A Life. See The Big Picture.
Is saving a life a choice, or an opportunity? Is it possible to travel to a foreign land and place ones self at the service of this calling? Is it possible to save a life, by offering ones self to that cause, and allowing Life itself to provide the opportunity? What does it mean to save a life, and who is responsible for that endeavour? What are the ethics of deliberately intervening in the life and future of another human being? Stepping in, changing everything, and stepping back out again?
Hard questions, real questions, profound questions. Art is a good platform for exploring such challenging issues. Art allows for experimentation and freedom and failure if required.
The journey, extraordinary to the point of miraculous as it turned out, was an absolute success. And everything was documented and is now published in the book Compassions; which serves as the story of the origins of a new type of art practice, humanitarian intervention art, as I define it, spanning more than a decade.
Now it’s 2020 and I’m a full time artist.
I’m also the founder director of a social media company, a new one, EthicalMuch.com. It’s unique, for every post made on the platform, £1 is donated to charity.
It’s a good combination.