Vinca Petersen (GB)
Vinca Petersen’s work is inseparable from
her life: it is a lifelong project that is born both of a need to make a way of
life public, and a commitment to a set of ethical ideals about how we should, and could, relate to each other.
Though some of her work originates from the need to preserve and celebrate a particular subculture, her body of work has incorporated activism and direct action, leading a self-initiated institution,
international aid work, and unorthodox publishing and exhibiting projects. In the twenty-first century there are innumerable artists who position themselves as activists or whose theatre of action goes past the production of objects for the art market. There are far fewer whose work has had a genuine and remarkable impact outside the art world. There are even fewer who have successfully established their own registered charity, and secured support from many of the great and the good to fund its transformative work.
In 2010, Petersen created Future Youth Project (FYP), to “take people on physical and emotional journeys” whether close to home, working with children in Thanet, Kent; or internationally, especially in the Ukraine, where provision for children with learning difficulties has been limited. In Petersen’s words, the Future Youth Project is “a small model for great change”: it should be seen, as all of Petersen’s work should be, as an experiment in collectivity, in asking what needs to be done.
Petersen’s work through FYP has shown how lives can be transformed through creative activity. Such types of work far exceed what the mainstream institutions of art can adequately represent, but are central to understanding her practice. Her own ideas have evolved as creative responses to mass social phenomena, and resulted in playful, yet utterly serious projects and forms of
action. The question animating her work, is, then how individual creativity can reshape our collectivity – of how, through creativity, we might learn to live together better, and become our ‘best selves’ more fully.
These are, to date, lesser-known areas of Petersen’s work; it is her photobooks that have secured her international
attention – so far. These have celebrated the subculture she discovered in the 1990s, of self-organised music events, free of corporate commercial imperatives. Characteristically Petersen became immersed in this work, being the only figure on its inside to also photograph the life of the micro-communities who organised parties, and the lives of the enormous gatherings of young people assembled around them. That subculture prompted Petersen to travel across the whole of Europe, meeting thousands of young people across nations, across genders, and ethnicities. But that subculture is seen in her work as both a world-in-itself, and a way into a wider world: a means of rethinking who we might be able to be if we were to reimagine ‘freedom’.