Thursday, 4 September 2014

Memes and the dark side of the Ice Bucket Challenge

I've taken part in a few crazy stunts for charity in my time. Completing a 50 odd mile bike ride from London to Brighton aged about 11 on a 3 gear Raleigh Grifter (only two of which were working, not the useful middle yellow one though). Being beaten senseless by a Royal Marine armed with a gigantic cotton bud while straddling a slippery tree trunk suspended 6ft above an inflatable pool of murky, freezing cold water, aged about 19. The concept of tipping a bucket over my head for a good cause is therefore not alien to me. But one thing concerns me about this latest internet craze - the ethics. The introduction of social media to the equation, and the implementation of deadlines and "fines" troubles me a little. Of course, to most people it is just a harmless bit of fun, but examine the fundraising system it exploits. There are plenty of people out there to whom personal social media means more than is strictly healthy. I'm not talking about vanity; I am talking about vulnerable people with real social, financial and medical problems whose situation (or indeed personal beliefs) precludes them from taking part, yet who may not be willing or able to communicate this to their social circle. The ice bucket challenge (indeed most social media challenges) relies, in part, on guilt shaming people into taking part and donating, or risk being viewed as a social pariah. "Do this or you won't be a cool kid" - in how many other scenarios is peer pressure just plain wrong? Using the word "fine" for a refusal implies a penalty against unacceptable behaviour, and is another pressure tool. The fact that so many people try to embellish their effort, and in some cases risk life and limb to try and make their challenge different from all the rest, speaks volumes for the craving of peer acceptance and approval on social media, and somewhat detracts focus from the charity the effort is intended to highlight and support. When it becomes a question of how many "likes" one got, rather than how much of a benefit the charity received, the good spirit is somewhat tarnished - especially when it is reported that nearly half of challenges result in no donation to charity whatsoever.  (or at least not to a Motor Neurone charity, the disease having a bucket of ice tipped on your head is designed to briefly simulate). Think of the best challenge video you saw. Can you remember the name of the charity that benefitted, or how much they received?

 I'm not advocating banning such things, nor am I saying don't take part, but both charities and those nominating should be careful not to put vulnerable people (or for that matter, anyone) under undue pressure. One of the more notable dissenters, Pamela Anderson, has been variously reported as simply "refusing to take part" (ie shamed) or as not taking part due to her views on alleged live animal experimentation carried out by ice bucket challenge beneficiaries ALS. Whatever the reason, she is entitled to her own choice to take part without fear of a media backlash.

One of my favourite internet crazes is the meme (pronounced to rhyme with team as I discovered only yesterday).

Relying on a seemingly defined set of images, including those from popular culture, movies, and cute animal pictures - these things are everywhere on social media. Anyone can make a meme, and various generators exist on websites, or as apps. But can they be defined as art? Although the images are repeated, and often have a "style", the meme offers the author the chance to express themselves creatively through the text. Memes are often darkly humourous, cynical, sarcastic and tasteless. But as any Turner Prize commentator should know, taste in art is in the eye of the beholder. Tracy Emins' Unmade Bed was not to everyone's taste, nor Damien Hirsts'  severed cow. Banksy is an urban hero to some, and a criminal nuisance to others. The fact that a meme draws upon a specific set of creative skills, in my view makes it art - a medium that is readily available to millions. And that's what I love about them. There is always a fine line between funny and grossly offensive, and there are obvious areas of religion, race and gender that should perhaps be avoided.

To draw this post to conclusion, I am going to join my topics together; don't pressure people or feel forced to give money to charity - it should always be a free choice. And if you're getting nominated and want to provide a humourous response, whether you intend to take part in the challenge or not, why not make a meme?

Here are a few ice bucket related offerings to get you started:

Image copyrights remain the sole property of their respective owners.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Lakes and Looms

View from Cat Bells
Just returned from a rather pleasant family holiday to the Lake District. I'd never been before, largely due to the fact I develop vertigo standing on a chair. The rest of my family, including my loom band obsessed daughter, don't seem to suffer from this problem. To them, Bear Grylls is an underachiever. I had of course seem images of the dramatic scenery, and so I made the journey North to sample it for myself. I now realise that the Lake District is not the place to go if you're averse to a little bit of wet weather. The entire week was a series of deluges with occassional breaks for sunshine. The rain doesn't bother me, but it quickly became obvious that my existing waterproofs were not up to scratch. One thing I noticed, as I dashed from store canopy to canopy, gathering various more climatically appropriate garments, is that as people move around Keswick, they actually generate a permanent, distinct noise of interacting waterproof fabrics.

Suitably attired, I proceeded to accept the challenge of scaling Cat Bells. This may be a mere hillock to the more seasoned climber amongst you, but as I faced the steeper parts of the North Face, I had mixed emotions of intrepid explorer versus looking for a chairlift. I am pleased to report that I did, eventually, make the summit - albeit clinging to the sides at various locations bewailing my imminent demise, while a young family including a four year old girl and a father carrying a nine month old baby in the top of his specially designed rucksack ambled past, oblivious to the treacherous surfaces and lethal altitudes.

View from Llantrig
The views and scenery are absolutely spectacular, although I confess that the following days conquering of the gentler peak of Llantrig was probably more suited to my ability. That said, I am going back one day, and I will face my fear head on once again.

Once back on firmer footing, and calmed by a suitable selection of the local refreshments, my mind turned to tinkering with the website and ironing out a few issues. I was then approached by my daughter and nephew. Apparently, word had spread of my artistic limitations, but it had been recognised that I might just be the person to create a "Spiderman" loom bracelet. This was my effort - I hope you like it!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Addled Monkey - Partner Reward Scheme - details announced

We have now posted details of the Partner Reward Scheme, explaining how you can profit not just from selling your work on Addled Monkey, but take home a share of Addled Monkeys' profits too!

Click here to go to Partner Reward page

Addled Monkey Genesis - From Loom Band to Art and Craft community project

California Dream Electric
I guess I have my six year old daughter to thank. Like many children her age, she became drawn into the obsession of her generation - brightly coloured rubber bands and plastic clips, enticing and potentially lethal to siblings under 36 months - constructed on a device that looks like it should be sold in one of those shops in Soho with blacked out windows, and applied like some kind of psychedelic tourniquet to their creators' wrist (or more likely that of a reluctant parent).

I have always had a great passion for arts and crafts, but for the most part kept it suppressed and hidden. The reason behind this personal repression is my acute embarrassment at the fact that I am, and have always been, utterly, catastrophically rubbish at absolutely anything to do with painting, drawing, pottery - basically any kind of manually creative talent is totally absent from my DNA. To be fair, I've never really tried my hand at carpentry or needlework - largely because any exercise involving sharp tools would be more likely to result in an impromptu visit to A&E, rather than the next Bayeux tapestry.

And then came loom bands. Something I felt even I could have a crack at. Even better, I had the perfect cover - a six year old. Armed with my cover story, I hastened to a nearby toy shop and picked up a paddle (sorry, loom) and a bag of bands for £1.99. I then set about manifesting the creative depths of my mind through the medium of latex free silicone.
Crystal Blue Persuasion

My intention, at surface level, was to give the fruits of my labour to my daughter, in a display of parental generosity that would be gratefully remembered until at least the following day when One Direction brought out a new sticker album (fickle creatures, six year olds, as it turns out). However, I alone knew that I was, in fact, satisfying my own inner desire to "make stuff".

Even as a small boy (yes, I'm a bloke) I loved "making stuff", especially Lego. Unfortunately, my conspicuous lack of talent meant that whenever I strayed from the instructions and indulged my inner builder, the result tended to look as if it had been constructed by someone with a love of hallucinogenic intoxicants, and a wholesale lack of appreciation for the laws of physics.

I digress. I continued to churn out more designs, and in my mind, they started to get names - inspired by the music and popular culture icons I love. Jimi Hendrix, Breaking Bad, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd. And then something very strange happened.

People who saw my designs appeared to like them. I started getting asked to make them for friends, colleagues. I'd done it. I was "emerging", as they say in the trade I have for so long wistfully observed as an outsider.

Various "Acoustic" Designs
I decided to put some of my "work" on eBay and Amazon. To my utter astonishment, they sold. Overnight, I became a succesful designer, entrepreneur and "artiste", despite being fundamentally clueless about all things "crafty". 

I know I'm no Stella McArtney or Tracy Emin, but this gave me a genuine sense of accomplishment and elation, previously unknown to me, that I imagine must fuel the arts and crafts community. Other people actually wanted my creations.

The numbers can be made to look seriously impressive. From my humble £1.99 outlay, my loom bracelets returned a 5000% turnover - in the first month. 

Once you've done the maths on that, you realise I won't exactly be hurtling up the gravel driveway of my Beverley Hills mansion in my custom Lambo quite yet, but it's still no small sum to a regular Joe like me. But something was bugging me. I'd had a real struggle listing my work for sale. Unless I paid up front costs, I didn't have full control over how my work was pitched. I also found the commission charges to be eye watering - especially since in some cases the payment processing added additional cost. Furthermore, my money was going to a massive corporate, some of whom perhaps have ethically questionable approaches to tax. And for what? They weren't promoting my work (they would if I paid them more), they weren't passionate about it (I know, they're loom bands, but I'm now an artiste and I am allowed to get a bit diva these days). To all intents and purposes they were just charging me actual rent for a virtual space.

And so, the Addled Monkey project was born, complete with website, founded entirely from the hard gotten gains of my loom band empire.

Lighthouse by Lisle Smith
An online street market, with the focus being the community that it is designed to serve. No listing fees, but crucially free ethical promotion of the work, by people who are passionate about it.

Some friends, infinitely more talented in the arts than I, came forward with their magnificent pieces and bravely allowed me to get started with their work. I have spent the last two weeks wrestling with site templates, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. There have been occassions where I have considered using my tablet as a frisbee. You know that moment when mobile wifi cuts out just when you hit send on something you've spent hours working on? That. But I am finally satisfied with the design. It is "Bagpuss", as I call it - a bit rough round the edges, and held together with a shoestring (or rather latex free silicone band) budget, but it is functional, and it has character.

Heart of the Forest by Kate Collison
Now here is the best bit. There is something else we are going to do. I don't want Addled Monkey to become another marketplace in the mold of the others. I want the community to help each other, to get out there and promote each others work in an ethical manner, in the same passionate way they talk about their own work. So, in the event that Addled Monkey makes a profit this year, SIXTY PERCENT of that profit will be returned to qualifying partners who have listed and sold with us over the year, in the form of dividends. The remaining forty percent will be earmarked to develop the site, always with the best interests of the community it serves. There will be qualifying terms, but these will be reasonable and achievable. The exact details are being finalised, but the decision is made, this is going to happen. It is my intention to repeat this policy for as long as Addled Monkey remains viable and profitable. I will post the full details on the site over the next 24 hours, so stay tuned, and I hope you will join us on our little adventure.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Welcome to the Addled Monkey Blog - MonkeyMill!

Don't be shy, come on in, grab a mug of virtual cocoa and put your feet up. But please take off those muddy shoes first; we at the MonkeyMill can be a bit precious about the state of our soft furnishings.

Who are we?

We are a growing community of amateur and emerging artists, keen to list our work for sale, and to promote it on the internet using ethical marketing techniques.

We recognise that not everyone has the time, confidence, tech know-how or budget to take those first few steps out of their workspace - which means that the rest of us are missing out on seeing their art, and we are the poorer for it.

The concept of Addled Monkey is to not just offer those artisans a marketplace on which to list their products for free (there are plenty of sites far larger than us that do that) but crucially to offer FREE product promotion and marketing.

This means that you can go about making the most sumptuous works of art, safe in the knowledge that it is being passionately exhibited to the entire interweb thingy, through that "social media" wotsit.

The site takes a small commission only on succesful sales which goes towards upkeep, site development and promotion. No shareholders, no salaries.

The project is organic and rough round the edges. It operates on a shoestring budget and has progressed from an initial startup investment of £1.99.

Sure, we lack the polish and pomp of the big marketplaces, but that's part of our charm!

Come and get involved today! Email us, visit the site or our Facebook page using the links above. We will post news, articles and images of our partners work right here, so please subscribe if you'd like to see new, affordable, original arts and crafts!