Interviews with Working Class Autodidacts Practicing in the Field of Media Art, and Activist Art Culture

For my PhD, I am writing a chapter dedicated to its methodology, which is autoethnographic – called From Autodidact to Autoethnographer.

My research explores a whole range of histories, subjects, artists, platforms, software, networks, critiques, and ideas, going back over twenty years, in relation to Furtherfield. However, two important themes have demanded attention throughout the study, and they both need to be part of a larger debate, requiring attention and deeper research. They are both about being working class and an autodidact. Not only is there a lack of knowledge of this about the working classes in the art world, but also across the (New) Media Art sectors.

Since the rise of the alt-right and the decision by 52% of UK to vote Brexit. There has been much discussion regarding the working classes who voted for Brexit, that they were seeking revenge and new alternatives to get their voices heard at whatever cost.

What is interesting among the many conversations on this subject is that the working class voice for pro EU, anti-racist and anti-fascist, is not as visible as today’s thriving identity politics, who tend to sit on the left side of social activism.

I think we need fresh thinking on this issue, and by connecting up with others, and seeing where they are coming from, it will add crucial evidence and new knowledge, with new narratives, to what has been for over 20 years or so, at best: murky, confusing, and ambiguous territory, usually hidden from public discourse (unless as entertainment) on the sidelines of culture, whether this be in the arts, media or in politics.

I’m aim to construct an empowering narrative that proves how our radical imaginations are flourishing, and have found ways around the static systems of elitism and hegemonic domination over the working classes, and outsiders. Once gathered, this is a story worth sharing so we can cut through, infiltrate, and hack, these complacent media streams, and locked in zones, so we, ourselves with others, can rediscover and new routes for emancipation.

Stewart Home

Stewart Home, is an English artist, filmmaker, writer, pamphleteer, art historian, and activist. He is best known for his novels such as the non-narrative 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess (2002), his re-imagining of the 1960s in Tainted Love (2005), and earlier parodistic pulp fictions Pure Mania, Red London, No Pity, Cunt, and Defiant Pose that pastiche the work of 1970s British skinhead pulp novel writer Richard Allen and combine it with pornography, political agit-prop, and historical references to punk rock and avant-garde art.

1. How does it feel to be working class in your practice?

It feels like I’m constantly discriminated against for how I talk, write, think… because the gatekeepers for the institution of art want to treat the white, male, bourgeois culture as being universal. Therefore when you do not adhere to the norms of a falsely universalised non-universal culture you are generally are not welcome.

2. How has class and being an autodidact informed your practice and decisions?

Since I view the institution of art and the academic system as defective and only interested in an over specialised and narrow approach to specifically culture but more generally the entire world, and essentially one that is commoditised and in which everything is approached from the backwards perspective of cultural objects being more important than the communities they emerge from, it has led to me taking an oppositional stance to this. On the one hand I want to reflect and buttress the experience of growing up in and still living in a multicultural community; on the other I don’t want to reproduce the classist, racist and sexist culture that is dominant within the institution of art and academia. I also want to avoid fetishising the making objects or furthering absurd romantic ideologies about so called ‘genius’ – I am however willing to engage with them in order to rebut them. These problems are not issues restricted to culture since they can be found in science and elsewhere too.

3. How do you think class might be better understood in the cultural sector you work in?

The only way it will be understood is to massively increase the number of working class participants at the same time as massively decreasing the number of bourgeois participants. Since those who were privately educated and went to ‘elite’ universities are either blind to – or pretend to be blind to – their privileges, removing those privileges is the only way to address class within the cultural and other sectors, such as politics. When someone in the culture industry with a private education and an ‘elite’ university background claims they struggled to get where they are, this should be challenged and contrasted with how much more difficult it is for someone who went to a state school and who didn’t attend an ‘elite’ university to get where they are.

4. What circumstances led you realise you was an autodidact?

Initially it may have been reading the novel Nausea when I was in my early-teens and having to look up what an autodidact was because I didn’t know. It seemed to me the – and still does – that the author of Nausea Jean-Paul Sartre, like George Orwell and many other writes sometimes presented as being progressive by right-wing hacks, was a bourgeois snob. I’ve never read books alphabetically as the character in Nausea does, and no one with even a tiny modicum of intelligence would do this. The fact I read Nausea in English translation is also an indication I was an autodidact. Other things leading me to realise I was an autodidact included the fact I don’t always know how to pronounce ‘correctly’ – according to those with privileged backgrounds – various words and names within cultural and other discourse (less of an issue for digital natives but definitely one for autodidacts who went through their teens in the seventies and eighties as I did). Likewise that I research any subject I’m interested in, whereas I find that those who’ve been to ‘elite’ universities assume they have mastered subjects they haven’t properly understood and have no idea they need to apply themselves to acquiring knowledge in an active way.

5. What does being an autodidact mean to you?

That I’m able to think and learn for myself. I’m not a brainwashed and pre-programmed privately educated product of an ‘elite’ university uncritically reproducing bourgeois values in everything I say or do.

6. Any other thoughts here….

I prefer thinking to thought, it’s more active! And of course it is necessary to continually reforge the passage between theory and practice!

Categories: Interviews, Articles, Papers, reviews, Past PostsTags: , , , , , ,
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