Free Society

Free Society
Free Society: Art work by Taymaz Valley

The liberals in Quebec have passed the Bill 78 to stop the student protests against tuition hikes. Students, who have been wearing red squares on their clothes to demonstrate their objection, are now under threat of fines and imprisonment if they participate or encourage protests deemed illegal by the state.

The bill effects all citizens, thus taking away one of the most fundamental rights of the people in a democratic society. The red square is no longer worn by students alone; people of all background and persuasions now show their solidarity by wearing red squares.

The band Arcade Fire backing Mick Jagger on this week’s Saturday Night Live in US, wore red squares in support of the Quebec students. As well, Xavier Dolan brought the red square with him to the Cannes film festival in France.  Artists from all over the world have spoken up against the violence and unprompted, unjustifiable use of force exercised by police in cities like Montreal.

Art work by Taymaz Valley
Art work by Taymaz Valley

Facebook and Twitter profiles are full of red squares, and I cannot help being reminded of Kazimir Malevich and his square series. The Russian painter who profoundly and fundamentally influenced the Abstract artists, and still influences many, set about to change history of painting using an avant-garde approach and eliminating the bourgeois take on art. His Black Square began the idea that art should be felt emotionally, and seeing figures or scenes were just too conformist.

The newly appointed Communist Party at first embraced such revolutionary ideas, because it was a fresh look at art, matching their notion of a new approach to life; however soon, with Stalin coming to power, they saw it as a threat and started banning the avant-garde, favouring instead a Socialist Realism version, where heroes of the revolution were depicted as god-like figures set to inspire the masses.

Kazimir Malevich spent a lifetime being suppressed, but it comforts me to know his Black Square outlasted Stalin’s reign. At Malevich’s funeral, the mourners wore black squares on their clothes in solidarity with freedom in art and now an allegory for freedom in society.

Malevich wrote in 1926: “When, in the year 1913, in my desperate attempt to free art from the ballast of objectivity, I took refuge in the square form and exhibited a picture which consisted of nothing more than a black square on a white field. The critics and, along with them, the public sighed, ‘Everything which we loved was lost. We are in a desert…Before us is nothing but a black square on a white background!’”

“The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is a living, regal infant. The first step of pure creation in art.” This tiny black square revolutionised art, and perception of art, inspiring a whole generation of artists, writers, poets and musicians.

It came at a time of change in its birthplace, when people were rising against discrimination and suppression in Tsarist Russia. It had predicted and predated the Russian Revolution of 1917 by two years, however life soon caught up with art and we had one of the most significant uprising of people against inequality in the history of 20th century.

People of Russia were tired of being poor, not having the necessities required for living whilst a few fat cats on top of the food chain basked in the splendour of their riches, adorned by silk and diamonds. So, a revolution was born, and although it turned sour in the end, it managed to awaken a taste for equality in people. A revolution in Art manages the same.

You see, changes in Art start by the artist standing his ground, not scared anymore. The critic bellows a cry to put fear in the artist’s heart, yet he is not afraid anymore. The point of no return has passed. The critics charge forward pen at hand with derogatory words, yet this time the artists are charging toward them with firm steps.

The fear is gnawing at the hearts of the critics now and they have no other option but to use force, so maybe the artists become scared again. However this tactic is in vain. You see, we are social animals, and if anything, evolution has taught us that we managed to survive by being social, by protecting one another in our pack; and here it comes alive within us. Because when we see mighty, corrupt forces mistreating one of our fellow pack members, we become enraged as a society and we seek revenge.

With that first raised fist, a significance change has occurred. A quiet shift so important and vast, it goes undetected by the leaders and critics so engulfed in their self-satisfactory, rickety, smug state of oblivion. But, now it is too late, the leaders once again have lost touch, and people are again on the rise for freedom, and Art is right there with them.

Let me get this straight.

Tories do not favour so-called socialist state-economic planning.

That said, we’re in the midst of a global economic depression and Canada must find ways to stimulate its own economy in order to survive. Ergo, the federal government must set an economic policy in place that allows core industries to continue operations while further providing stimulus to at-risk industries.

As it so happens, the Tories have decided to place an emphasis on infrastructure and resource development, two sectors of the economy that have been adversely affected in the past by negative global economic trends in the housing and resource markets. With regards to the former, it has allowed Canada’s construction industry to continue working pretty much without interruption throughout the last three years. True to their promise, the Tories have invested considerable amounts of money into rebuilding the highway system as well, further building new bridges and providing additional revenue for choice public transit projects.

You’ve doubtless seen the signs declaring the Canada Economic Action Plan, on the sides of roads, at schools and various public buildings, and if you happen to live in Montréal, then you know full well the extent to which the Tories are investing in infrastructure repair. It’s exceptional strategic thinking, as the motivation lies clearly in supporting the federalist premiership of Jean Charest more than it does convincing the Québecois to vote Tory, which is unlikely to happen.

Now all this said and done, when it comes to infrastructure projects, the fed needs to demonstrate a degree of local awareness and maximize the political implications of their spending. An example would be the funding for a new hockey rink in Québec City (estimated to cost a $400 million and of NHL caliber), which demonstrates the Prime Minister’s interest in potentially winning back the Québec City region in time for the next federal election.

With regards to the new Champlain Bridge, it’s another means to an end. What’s better than a broken bridge to cultivate a populist following for all the wrong reasons? What breaks my head is how a supposedly Conservative government can justify attacking state economic planning during an economic recession and then turn around and overspend on stimulus projects.

It’s almost as if they’ve let their PR gurus get the best of them and have become stuck in semantic arguments they don’t know how to win. And it is in this predicament that we currently find ourselves.

By playing this game the Tories can blur the line between economic stimulus and nepotism, between sustainable economic planning and good old-fashioned graft. And in the end the politicians and pundits play word games while financial mismanagement becomes the norm. In turn, the politicians, rather than fighting to keep government expenses at reasonable, manageably low levels, instead try to secure as much tax revenue for their individual ridings.

A former West Island MNA and a group of apparent public transit enthusiasts are seeking $1 billion from the provincial and federal governments to replace the St-Anne’s/Hudson line. This is more than twice the cost of a longer train line that would need to be built from scratch on the eastern side of the island. How can this be?

What sickens me is that these figures are taken for granted, or perhaps the voting base thinks that this is an investment of a billion dollars into their community. It isn’t, but it could easily be spun to look that way. Is it any wonder we can’t afford to pay strategic development? The interests of the voter-base are so narrowly focused the politicians can easily exploit it for their gain, all they have to infer is that someone else is getting an unfairly large amount, and in turn you deserve more. What a pathetically myopic people we must be.

Our society has stopped considering the simple solution, the ingenuity and innovation that cuts costs dramatically and allows for our technological evolution. An example; the new West Island commuter train is being marketed as an ecological replacement for the existing service. New routing and switching software, in addition to the closing of some loops and extensions of existing branch lines, would allow all train traffic on and off island to use a massively expanded network more efficiently. One has been pegged at a billion-dollars, while the other would cost a mere fraction of that amount, perhaps less than a quarter of that figure, and is infinitely malleable. The cost of the Champlain Bridge replacement has been pegged at $5 billion and will be financed through a toll, meaning it will cost the taxpayer nothing.

Is that right?

I don’t think so.