Inflatable cobblestone, action of Eclectic Electric Collective
On the 15 February 2003, by a biting cold, we were 2 million people marching with banners to Hyde Park and gather around Kate Moss, Alexander McQueen etc to tell Tony Blair “Don’t Attack Iraq”. The media coverage was huge (see previous post below). On 26 February 2014, a tiny crowd gathered around the #HomesNotJail banner to protest against the victimisation made by the Cameron government (see post below). It is a great sensation to be part of something one feels worth fighting but a great frustration when it leads to nowhere.
The V&A’s press office is most probably the only big institution that reads my blog and knows what will interest me. Following my post on #HomesNotJail, they sent me the Disobedient Object Press Release which I immediately posted onto my Facebook wall. So, yesterday was the big day for press people to peep inside the Porter Gallery.
Freedom thanks to un-glamorised disobedience
The Disobedient Object exhibition is mainly focused on the late 70’s up to today, although it seems there are more worldwide objects from the very recent years.
Nevertheless, the room opens its “curtains” with “First they ignore you. Then, they ridicule you. And then, they attack you and want to burn you. And then, they build monuments to you” – Nicholas Klein, address to the Almagamated Clothing Workers of America – 1914.
“Many of the rights and freedoms we enjoy today were won by disobedience. Activist’s social movements have changed our world from the grassroots up, popularising new ideas and values. The objects made as part of these movements have played a key role in those cultural and political changes.”
Bone china with transfers printed in green,
bearing the emblem of the Women's Social and Political Union -
Photo © Victoria and Albert Musem, London
The first two objects on display are a 1910 tea cup (the only one belonging to the V&A collection – all other objects have been lent by activists worldwide) from the Women’s Social & Political Union (WSPU) for their campaigning on their right to vote – the angel trumpeter logo was designed by Sylvie Pankhurst; the other one is a saucepan from Buenos Aires in 2001 as Argentina government froze bank accounts of 18 million citizens, who in return took the streets and banged their kitchen tools.
Unless it is a rare cutting edge technology object, most objects on display are referred as “cheap art”. An instant think cap is needed to react and cheap or discarded objects are used to vulgarise against the sanctity of affluent society economy in order to ridicule those in power. There is no protest aesthetic or glamour. Activist makers react quickly and work with any media available.
Solidarity via symbols
“You can’t change the world on your own. Solidarity means sticking together”. I wonder how true it is today as governments (or event art institutions) are targeting the most vulnerable people and isolate them even more: homeless people; unemployed single parent, and so on who have no one to turn to and can’t gather a crowd. How do you reach out homeless people if they don’t have a mobile phone or access to internet when laws are made to criminalise them if they sit or sleep in some London borough’ streets... nobody will lift an eyebrow because no big noise is made about it. And the absence of media coverage means an “ignorant” public.
But “if you come only to help, you can go back home. But if you consider my struggle as part of your struggle for survival, then maybe we can work together” - Aboriginal Activists Group, 1970. Sometimes, objects, because of their symbol, create solidarity. When Polish people demonstrated in Poland to end state of communism, they wore a “Solidarność” badge in the 80’s. The badge shown in the exhibition reminded me of some people I had seen in France wearing it in those years; Students in Canada in 2012 who wore a red square to protest against the rise of fees; or the importance of social media, notably for the Egypt demonstration, that reached the Western world rapidly from a placard posted on Facebook. There are also the “reverse” symbols used to unite as the Pink triangle marked out those who were gays in Nazi concentration camps. The “Silence = Death” logo inverted this symbol for gay community to unite and fight homophobia and inaction during AIDS crisis. Avram Finkelstein designed and wore these T. Shirts when in this side of the pond Derek Jarman shot Last of England (1987) to raise a consciousness on AIDS due to Thatcher government impotence on the issue.
Dolls of the Zapatista Revolution, The Zapatista, Mexico -
Photo © Victoria and Albert Musem, London
From division to multiplication
Audre Lorde’s quote from Learning From The 60’s, 1982, “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we don’t live single-issue struggle lives. Our struggles are particular, but we are not alone.” somehow resonates to what Stuart Hall called ironically ‘the most profound thing Thatcher said’ and semi quoting her “There is no such thing as society; there are only individual men and women...” Opening the room with great humour – to be disobedient also allows you to be funny – with the BLO movement: Barbie Liberation Organisation. In 1993 in the US, the BLO people exchanged the voice boxes of Barbies and GI Joes... the video demonstrates why and how they changed the technical devices... changing also the voice of a News reporter who warns seriously against this act of terrorism! While on the wall, a worldwide compilation of demonstration and their disobedient objects “catwalk” the wide screen: Chile, 1989; New York, 2012; USA, 1998; Palestine, 2000; London, 1986; South Africa; Rome, 2010; China, 1989; India, 2014, etc. Speakers explain that social media have a greater impact nowadays to reach quickly the world than signing petitions, without undermining either of them. On another video, a speaker also explains that you have to know what object to use according to the country you live in. It has to accommodate to the law as not to suffer its consequences.
There are also the silent or “innocent” struggles. During Pinochet time in Chile, women were sewing appliqué textiles, known as “Arpilleras”. By this mean, they documented the violence and hardship the population suffered under dictatorship when its authorities thought of their arpilleras as folk-art. Selling these arpilleras worldwide via a discrete network, they not only generated income and gained strength but also inspired lots of countries around the world, Colombia, Ireland, Iran, as a way to survive and resist.
Across the room, other women gathered together to challenge the sexism of the art world in which you can read the hilarious, but serious letter from Luca Cristiani, art critic and journalist, Florence, Italy, 1988: “Dear group of communists, you are the strongest bunch of bitches gained together I’ve ever seen in world of art... Answer if you have the courage, bunch of bitches!!” The long letter is juxtaposed to a Guerrilla Girls 1985 ad-poster questioning the world of art with 4% of women representing it against the world of nudes represented by 76% of women. I am not sure if that first figure has much increased since, but surely the number of men slagging off (rightly or not) female artists (like Marina Abramović) on Facebook is certainly disturbing. Surely, “Abramović males” outnumber Marina herself!
Installation Image, Tiki Love Truck
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Con to icons
As I entered the Porter Gallery, I picked up “the scent” of someone I knew and spotted him straight away. Although, I didn’t recognise him physically, I understood his body movements. As the curators speech started, I was far away and didn’t make it near them to be able to hear. So, I opted to look at the Tiki Love Truck video. Carrie Reichardt is an artist-activist who corresponded with John Joe ‘Ash’ Amador who was on a death row in Texas. When he was executed, she flew there with Nick Reynolds who cast his face once ‘Ash’s body was recovered by his wife. I took a good look to the guy I spotted and he was indeed Nick himself standing next to Carrie by their Tiki Love Truck. We spoke absinth @ Tardis, his father Bruce, Alabama 3 (playing 8 Aug in London), his Con to Icons book he gave me at the opening (see post June 2014). In the video Carrie says it was a very intense moment of emotion, but they had to turn it into a positive prospect. So ‘Ash’ face honours the truck and is also an emblem to fight death penalty.
When you pick up the free A4 flyers, you will learn how to make your own object of resistance. One of them is a “Lock-on”. You chain and padlock your arm inside an iron tube that links you to your fellow activist to protect a tree or anything else. As an activist remembers on the video “Always remember where you put your padlock key...” As it might become quite uncomfortable. However, any new tricks have to be constantly re-thought as police always have the tools to “break-in”. Because of its “free” space between two arms in the “lock-on” tube, police have now detectors to identify where they can cut the tube without cutting people’s arms. So, activists have to put chicken flesh or anything to cheat detectors...
Among the numerous objects in display are pamphlets, defaced currency (with an interactive button and a tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi), banners, rice bag T.Shirts, street signs, tear gas masks, etc. You might also want to pop in the Shakespeare exhibition upstairs and see some protest or music (Sex Pistols) posters.
Chilean Arpilleras wall hanging: Dónde están nuestros hijos,
Chile Roberta Bacic's collection -
Photo © Martin Melaugh
A flash on the map
“We might think of the 60’s as a golden age of protest...” but the map of “Every protest in the world since 1979” shows differently. So, I stared at the map of France. It didn’t stop flashing from 1980 until today while the rest of the world also flashed. But to my great surprise, the flashing increased worldwide almost as if today, the world is in constant protest.
I am not actually sure what determines a protest and how effective protests with their disobedient objects are. Is it according to a number of people attending a demonstration? Is it when the media bothers their journalists to cover an issue? Do I really know the outcome of a specific protest? When Tony Blair declared on 15 February 2013 that he won’t be impressed by a number in the streets and will carry on his “duty”, it does make wonder... When governments target the most vulnerable people and the media chose to ignore an issue, then I suppose the media are backing up that government.
When hundreds of people protest outside the Israeli Embassy in London to stop occupying Palestine, I wonder naively if our embassies should rather stop occupying a territory that occupies a territory... but that would cut down far too many jobs...
Does the amount of protests around the world, mostly thanks to Social media, banalise a protest? Out of individualism, don’t we blank most of them? I have become quite sceptical about the way people protest today, but more than anything I am worried about the increasing number of people (or self proclaimed intellectual artists) who are calling for “No war” on social media in regard of the Israel issue, when their message is quite often an indirect call to racism. The amalgam is easy! We shouldn’t forget the history of genocides inducted by ignorant people who manipulated masses’ minds, especially in recession times.
One thing I am sure about is that the V&A as an institution and as an international venue did not have to hold such exhibition. Disobedience triggers negative feelings, especially in Western societies where everything has become so polite, formatted and “mummified”. Curators Catherine Flood and Gavin Grindon have had the courage to implant some rooms with a view on disobedience objects and gathered these objects from around the world. Of course I am tempted to scream the struggle must go on! But we must be vigilant as not to embark into a downward spiral that triggers hatred towards innocent people as well as being aware some people are simply money takers under their communism “banner”. So, get inspired, take a peep... and get up, stand up... stand up for your rights... don’t give up the fight... Bob Marley.
Installation Image, Disobedient Objects,
(c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
If you are noise sensitive, get your ear plugs in, all videos are subtitled and as usual with the V&A, it is of great appreciation for those with hearing impairment.
Later on, as I visited an art space around Oxford Circus, I bumped into a small number of Locked-on activists outside Benetton shop (see Benetton Victims link below) – I have had friends working for Benetton: “On April 24th 2013 a factory collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in one of the worst industrial disasters in history. 1,129 people died and 2515 were injured. Benetton clothes were found in the rubble, but they are refusing to contribute to the compensation fund for the families of the dead, and the injured survivors - United with Victims of Benetton is calling on Benetton to #payup. Token donations won’t do, micro loans and ‘skills training’ add insult to injury. We will continue to hold Benetton to account until they pay real compensation to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund.”
V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
Opening times: 10.00 to 17.45 daily; 10.00 to 22.00 Fridays
Disobedient objects is a FREE exhibition in Porter Gallery from 26 July to 1 February
Post on Don’t Attack Iraq: http://babylondonorbital.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/ten-brian-eno-ken-loach-saadi-yusef-etc.html
Post mentioning Nick Reynolds: http://babylondonorbital.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/nightshift-promotions-underworld.html
Benetton Victimes: http://www.benettonvictims.org/?page_id=2
Next week, I will post on blog struggle... what might be my last post!
Follow Twit = https://twitter.com/bbldnbtl
Follow FB = https://www.facebook.com/babylondon.orbital