Dazed talk to artist and philosopher Hilary Lawson, curator of the philosophy festival at Hay-On-Wye, about consciousness, radical ideas and the power of imagination
The acclaimed artist and philosopher Hilary Lawson is curator of both the groundbreaking Open Gallery (which specialises in what he calls ‘video painting’), and the ever-more popular philosophy festival How The Light Gets In. The festival begins tomorrow in Hay-On-Wye and features talks from the illustrious likes of Philip Pullman, Roger Penrose and Bonnie Greer, who will all be taking questions from the floor about everything from the evolution of conciousness to the genesis of the creative imagination. On the first day of summer, I had a chat with the eminent thinker about tapping into the openness of the universe, creating a new kind of art experience and curating a festival of radical ideas...
Dazed Digital: Do you think there is a growing interest in philosophy?
Hilary Lawson: I think that there is, and that’s because lots of the old certainties that came from religion and science have been shaken. There is an enormous amount of change that is taking place right now and we are at risk of thinking we understand more than we do, and at risk of not appreciating what we don’t understand. The function of philosophy is just to allow us to view all the options that are there for us, and help us consider how we might be able to deal with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The festival is really an opportunity to get philosophy out of the academy and into people’s lives.
Dazed Digital: How much do you think our modern circumstances could be a product of the creative imagination? Could a novel such as Brave New World, for example, be a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Hilary Lawson: I think they could massively be a product of the imagination. Personally, I think the world is open and that we close it with our stories and narratives. Those closures are ways in which we understand the world and they enable us to create and to do things in the world, but they are not the truth. If we imagine a new narrative or a new closure then that gives us the potential to create something that we didn’t have before, but it also constrains us in that in gets us to think in certain ways. In a way, we find ourselves always on the cusp of openness and closure in life – we want enough openness to see what the potential is but we also want some good narratives to fall back on to help us navigate this strange space that is being alive.
Dazed Digital: Is this openness something you strive to achieve in the video paintings at Open Gallery?
Hilary Lawson: The video paintings are certainly influenced by the Fluxus notion of the passing moment and avoiding trying to hold something permanently. They are an attempt to get back to human experience and away from the conceptualization of a lot of contemporary art. What we are trying to do is put the viewer in an environment where they have to allow themselves to become lost in the space. When you go to the seashore, for example, and look out to sea, you get lost in the way the waves are breaking and the shadows are falling – you could be there for a lifetime and it would never be the same, yet it would have its own very specific character. The video paintings are trying to pull us back to that experience.
Dazed Digital: So you are interested in tapping into the vastness of the universe?
Hilary Lawson: There’s certainly a whole load of stuff going on for us at any given time that is infinitely larger than us, and people have always tried to access this openness in space that our thought somehow limits. There is a talk at the festival called Reclaiming The Body, which suggests that the western focus on the importance of thought and the mind could be all wrong – maybe it’s the body that is able to be open to the flux of the world, and it’s conscious thinking that actually gets in the way of accessing that.
Dazed Digital: Are these the kind of questions that inspired you to start How The Light Gets In?
Hilary Lawson: I would just like there to be more engagement with ideas in our culture. There’s a whole ‘emperor’s new clothes’ thing going on in academic philosophy where everyone is busy trying to pretend to be clever, and you just have to cut through that. We try and encourage real debate, asking straightforward questions in straightforward ways – you don’t have to know a whole lot of jargon to understand what life is about.
How The Light Gets In Runs From May 28 – June 6
Conversations On A WIndow Pane 1, Gabrielle Le Bayon, courtesy of Open Gallery