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22nd February 2014

Festival of Imagination

Nancy Barnes hears Jeremy Deller, Mary Anne Hobbs and Dave Haslam examine the dark underbelly of the imagination.

The Festival of Imagination, simultaneously held in London, Manchester and Birmingham, is a new campaign which encourages you to “open your mind and explore”. The festival consisted of events and workshops as well as a programme of talks from world-renowned figures. One of these talks was a discussion which aimed to examine the darker side of the imagination. Jeremy Deller, Mary Anne Hobbes and Dave Haslam, a trio who have frequently worked together on music and art projects came together to express their views on the ‘power of the imagination’. I attended this talk at the peculiar and mundane setting of Manchester’s Selfridges store. On arrival I was chaperoned through the store with pop-band Bastille blasting out of the rather tinny speakers – not what I had expected when I was told I would be going to see a Q & A involving three highly respected professionals within the art world.

Mary Anne Hobbes was interested in how the imagination is an escape from boredom and how as a young girl it was all she had to drive her away from her ‘uninspiring’ hillside town of Garstang, Lancashire. However the ongoing contrast in the views of the other two panelists was what interested me especially.

Jeremy Deller was interested in the positive effects of the imagination and spoke about how for conceptual art, free thinking (the imagination) is how you get to new ideas. He spoke about putting himself in the state of a child – allowing your imagination to run free without embarrassment and worries. Although Deller spoke about the use of the freedom of imagination in art, he avoided speaking about the negative effects which the chair of the talk, Dave Haslam, seemed to want to probe into and question the most . Writer, DJ and legendary honorary Mancunian, Haslam, addressed issues such as how it can be dangerous to ‘imagine’ a life out of your reach, showing his obvious interest in the dark and dangerous side of the imagination. This appeared to me a particularly fresh approach as it is often easy to herald our imagination as a tool for positivity and progression, ignoring the uneasy paths our imagination can take us down.

What frustrated me was how Haslam’s attempt to provoke interesting debate was often repressed by Deller who seemed to blatantly ignore his comments, perhaps in an attempt to avoid digging too deep. Instead of engaging, Deller would reply with a witty comment, once even jokingly announcing that ‘Dave, you must be depressed’. This was a shame as his lightheartedness steered the conversation away from something that could have been more personal and profound. This rigidness in his position within the debate and his unwillingness to open up to the audience undermined its intention: to explore and understand the power and depths of the imagination.  What I really wanted to hear was how he has personally experienced his imagination taking a wrong turn. Isn’t it so refreshing and eye opening hearing about someone else’s darker moments, the moments that people often think they are alone in having?

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