Art Resistance

7g. Art Resistance

I took a degree level course in ‘Art and Design in a Social Context’ at Dartington College of Arts. Art, of course, is one of my favourite forms of resistance. Capturing community expressions through murals in the 1980’s has moved on 1000 miles since I went to art college, although Banksy is a superb and contemporary example. Now there are some brilliant, highly political and subversive artworks around. In truth this subject is a book or two in itself. There are hundreds of public examples, but here’s just one from ‘Liberate Tate’:

Liberate Tate is an art collective that makes unsanctioned live art in Tate spaces to free Tate from BP. On the 11th March 2016, Tate announced BP sponsorship would end. Today Liberate Tate celebrates this victory for the gallery, the public, artists and the environment and makes the following artists’ statement:

“Thank you everyone for coming here today. There will be no speeches. There will be no naming of names. Instead, THIS is our artists’ statement.

This is a day many thought would never come. BP sponsorship of Tate is inevitable, they said. BP sponsorship of Tate is vital, they said. Without it, Tate could not function, they said. That’s just the way it is, they said. But we changed that. You changed that. We all did this.

We did this with our determination, commitment, stamina, tenacity, audacity, outrage, creativity, artistic craft, deep ecology and soulful collaboration. We did this with approximately 75 litres of molasses, 25 litres of sunflower oil, 20 helium balloons, 15 whispered hours of court transcripts, 1 tonne of arctic ice, 50 tubes of black paint, one 16.5 metre wind turbine blade, 1 portable toilet, 20 black sleeping sacks, 600 sticks of willow charcoal, 60 carefully selected texts, 60 millilitres of black tattooing ink, 600 black latex gloves, and 100 or so black veils – including one at 64 square metres.

We did this together. We did this with Art. We did this as Art.

We stayed true to a collective, collaborative artistic practice to create porous, participatory performances that were genuinely confrontational. We honoured artists like the Guerilla Girls, Hans Haacke and Joseph Beuys in our work, and we referenced activist movements like Climate Camp and Occupy in our activities. We were always inside Tate, talking to staff, working with the support of the PCS Union, bringing our questions from the outside world into the heart of the gallery.

BP continues to attempt to mine the tar sands in Canada. BP continues to face legal challenges from Colombian farmers and Louisiana fisherfolk. BP continues to benefit from its associations with the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and the British Museum. Our work is not done.

Yet, Tate is liberated from BP. Tate is liberated.

We end with the words of Doreen Massey, who sadly passed away one week ago today, who supported and inspired our work. She wrote these words when Tate Modern was opened in the year 2000: “Within London, Tate Modern marks a new assertiveness. From the restaurant you can stare the city and St. Paul’s more equally in the eye. The challenge is to combine this reborn centrality with a real embeddedness in place – and to preserve within its new-found authority that old ability, on occasions, to cock a snook at the powers that be.” By ejecting BP, Tate has indeed cocked a snook at BP, at the fossil fuel industry, at the British establishment and those in the art world that hold back progress.

We look forward to seeing galleries and museums around the world follow this lead in the months and years to come. For a fossil free culture! Free art from oil!”

Go take a look here: http://www.liberatetate.org.uk/

Art and activism does not usually employ ‘representational art’ but organizes activists and artists through radical and transformative friendships to create works of insurrectionary imagination. It helps to organize social movements to meaningful and effective expression. Extinction Rebellion are getting good at this.

You can involve yourself at a collective level in making art, and there are plenty of instructional videos online to help you with this. You can also ‘go it alone’. Just recognise your own feelings and let them lead you into expressing them in a local way, in your way, through your art. What actions might you take?

Next are three practical examples of ‘art resistance’ from my own activity which I have written-up for you. Choose your acts of resistance from your own skill sets and let creative unhappiness guide you. What really makes you mad and what might you do about it as a form of artistic expression?


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