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A-N Guyan Porter Residency

A-N Guyan Porter Residency

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31July 2009
Guyan John Porter
, ‘Portraits, Sri Lanka’.
Kai-Oi Jay Yung
First published:a-n Collections September2008© Writer(s), artists,photographers and AN: TheArtists Information Company2008All rights reserved.
Kai-Oi Jay Yung speaks to Guyan Porter about hisresidency at Chandrasevana Creation Centre in SriLanka.
Guyan Porter has been “making connections throughout theworld... travelling extensively” ever since his 1998 residency toRussia. Travelling itself has become critical to understandingdiverse art contexts and cultural settings, enabling Guyan to “explore unorthodox environments”.
Previously President of Scottish Artists Union and Network Coordinator for the NANInitiative, he is well equipped for wider economicalsynchronisation and social altercations accompanying shiftingbetween the local and the global. “Collaborating on agenda is...the way that I work... [investigating] conflicts between internaland external authorities.” 
In December 2006, Guyan began a two-month residency atChandrasevana Creation Centre, Hikkaduwa, southern SriLanka, resulting in a collection of photographic portraits of locals towards a book about his residency. In 2004, a 9.3undersea Indian Ocean earthquake generated a tsunamiportending towering killer waves that extinguished lives,livelihoods and homes from Sumatra to Somalia.
201,901families in Sri Lanka alone were affected with damagedhousing and endemic displacement. The tsunami capsizedfreighters, stripped mountainside of vegetation and tore apartcoral bays sustaining fishing villages, signalling a globalcatastrophe urging an “unprecedented global response”.
Thisresponse came from organisations springing into action whenin-country mechanisms could not cope. Disasters andEmergency Committee (DEC) aid agencies were despatched for “effective and swift humanitarian assistance”.
Strategicfundraising saves lives; DEC raised £390 million, providinghousing, food and medical services.Following his tsunami experience, (“We were with forty friendscaught in... Hikkaduwa. Our children were missing... Over2,000... died within three kilometres of us.”) Neil Butler set upthe charity Hikkaduwa Area Relief Fund (HARF) “to supportlocal community as it recovered”.
Within three months, HARFinternationally fundraised £40,000, subsidising local farmers,mains water for Displaced Persons Camps and the founding of antenatal clinics. Besides relief aid, Neil’s UZ art eventbackground incited him to introduce art into HARF’s “
long termregeneration projects
Guyan was selected for a residency and helped set upHikkaduwa’s Chandrasevana Centre as “an arts resource forresidencies, [with] creative ways of adding to the variouscommunities”. His, “desire to help in some way... ” became, “aresidency project and... assisting in an advisory capacity wherepossible.” The host centre’s offerings and expectations arecustomary; “encouraging collaboration between art forms...recovering members of the community... activities celebratingSri Lankan culture... [of] economic benefit through tourism.” For artists, Chandrasevana facilitates accommodation,equipment, “information to working in Sri Lanka”, holding 
Guyan John Porter
, ‘Portraits, Sri Lanka’.
Guyan John Porter
, ‘Neil presents first event’. ‘Guyan Porter, Sambadi’.
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for whom, in what way did Sri Lanka provide a meaningfulcontext for Guyan’s practice? HARF stipulates artists “give aminimum of one day a week working with local communities” and “make a piece of work enhanced by being created in SriLanka”.
Does this concretise an organic, intangible process;curtail creative autonomy and hurry the half baked? “Weorganised ... installations and processions for the [centre]opening, half way through my residency.” Cultural scales arebalanced too; local artist Prasentha was transported toGlasgow’s Merchant City Festival; an exchange barter of engagement and delivery.International to local practice is difficult to elucidate; settingcultural context as defining parameters is not enough. Whatfactors determine integration, how is this processcommunicated? Surely ideas and work developed can only evertruly be received on site? HARF stipulates, “all work... willalways be presented... to the local community.” 
Followinglives crossed and context internalised, Guyan’s residencyportraits were, “images of people who live and work there...combined with interviews.” 
For Neil, a “rich interaction thatproduced some powerful work”.
It’s not the first time HARFhas ended by a photography book; in 1994 Ian McMillan,prompted donations and encouraged tourist return with £5Images of Sri Lanka.There must be more
lurking somewhere? Guyan’sguarded interview leaves me intent to delve. “I would needtotal editorial control... the residency I did was complex.” Guyan omits detail, then “...a war not really reported in thewestern press... has escalated dramatically.” 
Oninvestigation, the backdrop is, in fact, tsunami tragedyembroiled in violent civil war. North and East tensions betweenSinhalese majority and LTTE Tamil separatists (Tigers of TamilEelam) equate bloodshed of 100,000 lives over twenty years.Rehabilitation endeavours are themselves impeded;overcrowded welfare centres, families unable to return home,women complaining of “sexual harassment”.
Aid agenciesaccuse the government of complicity, “failing to provide... relief or work to all the victims.” 
Despite official ceasefire, ‘nopeace no war’, a “climate of impunity” reigns, allowingunchallenged human rights violations.
Action Against Hungerfound “aid workers lying face down and shot at close range” 
and only recently Amnesty International urged the UN HumanRights Council to end government and LTTE abuses.
Guyan’sintimations sharpen focus. It was, “impossible to fullyunderstand the complexity... of tsunami and the war in SriLanka prior to going, no matter... [the] research...communication and conversations.” 
Environmentaldegradation, community life disintegration... this desperatesituation is Chandrasevana’s real working context. HARF treadscarefully, operating “within Sri Lankan Government Policy andconsultation with... UN and British High Commission”.Simultaneously, its businesses programme is a “...moresensitive area mainly concentrat[ing] on
employment of women”.
How may Guyan communicate contextual circumstance without jeopardizing HARF’s endeavors and practice integrity? “It wouldhave been impossible to address the terror of the tsunami,although that was something... I thought about a lot.” 
Panning out, resolution appears to lie in the suffering of thelocals. That Guyan is interested in “facilitating individual andcommunity interaction with political structures” is pertinent.
Suffering here is endemic; a local imparts, “I die each morningwhen I wake up.” 
Internationl Child Art Foundation (ICAF)’sdevelopment of Healing Arts acknowledges the 1.5 million
a-n THE ARTISTS INFORMATION COMPANY: Guyan Porter r...http://www.a-n.co.uk/cgi-bin/db2www.exe/article.d2w/input?me...2 of 522/9/08 20:14
survivors needing “psychological help beyond humanitarianrelief”.
People are central to HARF; Guyan and Neil talk of  “lifelong friendships” and Chandrasevana’s “long-termpsychological and social consequences”.
Dialogue concludes, “need for a... psychological support that... creative projectscould offer... physical rebuilding... was the easy part of a muchmore complex process.” 
The context was one of giving backto inhabitants who “offered... help in spite of their own grief”;to enable the vulnerable to rebuild health, families, andcommunities towards the future.
Chandrasevana “addsgreatly to rejuvenation and healing of the area” since, “it’s aplace where [people] can relax... talk about what hashappened.” IT equipment replaces failing words; restoringconfidence, ebbing away experiences.
“Exposing people tonew ideas and technology... creative processes... is itself psychologically positive.” 
Consequently, Guyan’s portraits take on a potent cathartic role.After investigating a potential arts festival and peace tour, themost feasible, pertinent, meaningful outlet was, “somethingmore intimate... interviews and portraits seemed like a goodway to work with people... discuss experiences.” 
When askedwhy only face portraits, his reply communicates a connectionenabling individuals to acknowledge, move on. “The faceconceals... reveals. Many people... were left with physicalscars... I was more interested in... how people survive trauma,mentally and physically... How we transform and adapt.” 
Theportraits may be the physical end product, but not the sum of his experience. Guyan’s residency is not social working, norinterchange art for education, though artists are perhaps “social entrepreneurs”. Our non-formulaic insights are catalyststo enrich and transform daily social environment; tapping intounderlying human conscience. “The centre supports peacebetween... communities of our island... opportunity tocelebrate our own culture and understand the lives... andbeliefs of others.” 
Fellow resident Hugh Watt reinforces, “thecentre [was]... to do with them.” 
The real question is how to measure the tangibletransformational value of art, to what extent it benefits livesand catalyses the artist’s development? As paid professionals,we are answerable to intercultural responsibilities tosubstantiate our sector’s health. Transposition to new socialenvironments provides fertile space for renegotiating audience,environment and process. It can be a hazardous trajectory,though, when context is political massacre, poverty, andnatural disaster conundrum; how to assimilate and reconfigurekey issues when so removed from a familiar framework? SriLankan artist, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, received deaththreats for staging the allegorical drama The Trojan Women. It “is the most powerful contribution... I can make as an artist tothe efforts to end war”.
Guyan recognises art’s instrumental role in proliferatingsocietal awareness. “In governmental terms, art is a bargain...strengthening economy, addressing social problems andsustaining an international brand.” 
Prosperity very muchdepends on, “...skills and outlook when propagating ‘more artto more people in more places’.” 
Are contexts so removedthat all outcome value is lost in a cultural chasm? Ultimately,Guyan’s resulting residency work speaks of humility towards “how people overcome adversity... when so much has beentaken away.” 
Any resituating local and international is alaboratorial yardstick, and “residencies are all about context...That context will always be unique.” 
Kai-Oi Jay Yung
’s practice splinters sculpture, installation,
a-n THE ARTISTS INFORMATION COMPANY: Guyan Porter r...http://www.a-n.co.uk/cgi-bin/db2www.exe/article.d2w/input?me...3 of 522/9/08 20:14

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