Sunday, 9 September 2012

Art: Interview with the Doodle Manifesto

I don’t know why, but there is something about the term “community art” which causes me to roll my eyes and transform into the world’s biggest sceptic. Whenever I hear the words “community art” I begin to imagine an over-confident, self-proclaimed “artist” whose only discernable talent seems to be filling out application forms for arts funding. I picture an arrogant, self-congratulatory charlatan making bold claims about the absolute necessity and radical nature of their work. I hear the words “engagement” and “dialogue” and “intervention” circling around my head. I think of the artist’s proclaimed passion for the community which they have cynically dipped into for their project, only to forget about them once the funding runs dry and their next project begins... You see, “community art” brings out the worst in me. It was this cynicism which would explain why I was so taken aback by the Doodle Manifesto.

On a sweltering July afternoon, accompanied by L K Jay and my trusty guide dog Watson, we met Steve and Martin of the Doodle Manifesto. Descending into the cool darkness of Sela bar in Leeds, and out of the oppressive heat, Steve and Martin waxed lyrical about free-form, social drawing.

The Doodle Manifesto have started running a fortnightly social drawing night at the Chemic in Leeds. Every other Wednesday evening they run a night where you simply go along and doodle over a pint. I asked them how they came up with the concept; they explained:

“We met at art school many years ago and lived together for a while. We started doing doodles together. It was a bit like the old game, I think it was called 'consequence’, where one person draws a head, folds it over then passes it on to the next person to draw a body. The Doodle Manifesto is that kind of principle. We want to do what we were doing in our living room and open it up to as many people as we can”

The Doodle Manifesto have been running a night in York since December of last year and it was recently when they decided to spread their wings and start another night in Leeds. Of course, the Doodle Manifesto is not the only social drawing night in Leeds. The Drink and Draw Social Club has been running in Leeds for a few years (the third Monday every month at A Nation of Shopkeepers), and is a very good night. The crucial difference between the Drink and Draw Social Club and the Doodle Manifesto is that the Doodle Manifesto work on the same piece, as they explained: “The worst thing you can do is just give someone a blank piece of paper and say ‘fill this up’. It’s a lot easier to start with a doodle and then pass it on so people can take it where they want to and pass it between each other, until we’ve completed something. They develop organically over a few hours; sometimes it’s pleasing, sometimes it’s quite dark. It goes off in so many directions depending on who’s there.”

There’s something which really appeals to me about these kinds of events. They are welcoming and down-to-earth, and they are run by passionate and creative people I began this article by talking about “community artists” and how they send a shiver down my spine; not so with events like this. This is community art as it should be: spontaneous, creative and done out of love rather than to some self-serving ends... Now I sound like a hippy...

This article originally featured in Art Fist issue 8.

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