Subversive

Adjective: seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution.
Synonyms: disruptive, troublemaking, inflammatory, rabble-rousing; seditious, revolutionary, treasonous, mutinous, rebellious, renegade, unpatriotic, dissident, insubordinate, underground, undermining, discrediting, destructive…

 Veronese and the Inquisition

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/mar/19/veronese-ai-weiwei-national-gallery-last-supper Paolo Caliari “Veronese” (Verona, 1528 – 1588) was one of the greatest painters ever, But he was also a hero of artistic freedom. Veronese was the Ai Weiwei of his time, a brave man who stood up to authority – and won. He was hauled up before the Inquisition and accused of disrespect for Christianity. Veronese’s painting The Feast in the House of Levi can be seen today in the Accademia Galleries in Venice. It is full of jokes, gaudy jesters, drinkers and fashionable people – oh, and Christ is there too, somewhere in the carnival crowd. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/mar/14/veronese-review-renaissance-venice-national-gallery


Who’s the vandal:

Ai Weiwei or the man who smashed his Han urn?

An attack on the Chinese artist’s installation in Miami has been condemned as an act of vandalism. Why is smashing art only acceptable if an acclaimed global artist does it?
A “protest” at a Miami art museum raises some questions about what exactly art is, now. A man called Maximo Caminero has smashed an artwork by Ai Weiwei, one of the most famous artists of this century and a hero to many for his defiance of the Chinese state.
Caminero’s proclaimed motive – that the Perez Museum in Miami should be showing local, not global, art – is pretty daft (I didn’t know they had Ukip in Florida!?), but he has accidentally punched a massive hole in the logic of contemporary art… For the “vase” that was smashed is actually a Han dynasty urn that Ai Weiwei “appropriated” for his own art by painting on it. The Han era in China was contemporary with the Roman Empire in the west. In other words, this is a major antiquity made by a Chinese artisan roughly 2,000 years ago. But that’s not why the urn is valued at $1m or why its destruction is world news. No – it’s because it was part of an installation by Ai Weiwei. It is the Ai Weiwei artwork, not the Han dynasty object, that is being mourned. Perhaps it is not really an antique at all. If it’s a fake,and therefore subversive, that makes the entire installation more likeable. If it’s not a fake, then surely Ai Weiwei, and not Caminero, is the vandal who ruined a whole bunch of antiquities by painting them whimsical pastel colours?

In the exhibition Ai Weiwei: According to What?, at which the vase was smashed, an array of repainted “Han urns” are shown in front of a sequence of black-and-white photographs of the artist smashing one. This artwork is called Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995) and for me it is Ai Weiwei’s most provocative gesture. I feel highly provoked. It shows the artist letting go of an elegant object made with intelligence, imagination and love more than 2,000 years ago and letting it smash to bits on the ground. There is no apparent doubt about the authenticity of the Han artefacts Ai Weiwei uses in his art. He bought a batch of them in the 1990s and started by painting them before creating his photographed performance Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn in 1995. What does his attack on Han art mean? I could see it as a devastating satire on the modern world’s alienation from the past. Ever since the Chinese Revolution began in the early 20th century, political and economic ruptures have cut off China from its ancient culture. Is Ai Weiwei parodying that? Or is he mocking western art-lovers who think all Chinese art is ancient? Ai Weiwei certainly does capture the industrial world’s disconnection from making, our loss of crafts and even of basic respect for them. But he also embodies these cynical attitudes as he smashes that lovely old vase. He seems to invite further violence to art – even his own. This is not the first time an Ai Weiwei appropriation of a Han urn has been smashed. In 2012, art collector Uli Sigg was filmed smashing an urn in emulation of Ai Weiwei – except the one he smashed was one of Ai Weiwei’s most famous works, Coca Cola Urn. Since Uli Sigg owned it, he was free to do so. So – smashing art is interesting if an acclaimed global artist does it, and even if an art collector does it. But the guy who walks into a museum and smashes it is a vandal?


Ai Weiwei

S.A.C.R.E.D, 2013

Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D., 2013, Installation at Chiesa di Sant’Antonin, Venice as part of Disposition organised by Zuecca Projects and the Lisson Gallery.

Walking into a church in Venice and finding six large black crate-like boxes would be a fairly odd regardless but add couple of dozen other art lovers into the equation, wandering around the space and climbing on little black boxes to peer intently into the crates is a distinctly strange and somewhat unsettling experience. Like most churches in Venice, Chiesa di Sant’Antonin, a fourth century building extensively reworked in the Baroque style in the mid seventeenth century, has a rather ornate interior. The austere black boxes that dominate the floor of the space are an incongruous sight; once one gets beyond the immediate visual confusion, the context raises some interesting questions. S.A.C.R.E.D. is one half of Ai Weiwei’s exhibition Disposition, this installation tells a personal story. It was his investigations into the Sichuan earthquake – the subject matter of Straight – that set Ai Weiwei at odds with the Chinese government; S.A.C.R.E.D. tells the story of what happened to the artist when he was arrested without warning in 2011 and held for 81 days under suspicion of ‘economic crimes’.  On his release, Ai indicated that he was not permitted to talk to the media – including Twitter – so telling the story of his detention seems a risky strategy. To anyone who has read Barnaby Martin’s book Hanging Man: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei or seen Howard Brenton’s play The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, staged at the Hampstead Theatre in London 2013, this is a familiar story, indeed the staging of Brenton’s play bore a close relationship with Ai’s own installation, nonetheless there is something shocking about the experience of peering in to the fibreglass dioramas that inhabit the iron boxes and watching the guards watching the artist.  Ai is watched at all times by two guards. They watch him sleep, shower and shit; they watch him eat, they pace the cell alongside him as he exercises. The only time the guards are absent is when Ai is being questioned; then he is with his interrogator and a notetaker. The relentlessness of the scenes played out in these replicas of his cell is both powerful and draining but there’s an air of absurdity about the dioramas and the use of fibreglass that lightens the mood; it is never less than clear that we are looking at models – and here the larger than life artist is smaller than life-size.  There are a of layers to peel back. Firstly there’s the voyeuristic fascination with watching and with examining every awful detail of the cell and its unpleasantly grubby toilet. The solidity of the cast iron boxes is all the more awe-inspiring in contrast with the flimsy appearance of the patched up interior space; in a way there are parallels here with the idea of human vulnerability in the face of the powerful machines of state. If Straight is Ai making a stand, using his position as a major international artist to speak out on behalf of others in his country whose voices will never travel, then S.A.C.R.E.D. is him facing the consequences of his actions. Given his profile, Ai’s detention was never going to see him disappear without trace – his arrest was inevitably major news around the world – but the threat was very, very real and his experience of those 81 days can have been nothing less than terrifying. In that respect, S.A.C.R.E.D. is perhaps Ai’s nightmares made solid. – Ann Jones, Permalink

ai-weiwei-s-a-c-r-e-d-2013-installation ai-weiwei-sacred-2013-exercise ai-weiwei-sacred-2013-questioning   Ai’s latest exhibition runs until April 2015 and he has taken his work to ALCATRAZ prison, I wrote about it here.


Dictators in fridges:

Eugenio Merino

Spanish artist Eugenio Merino (b: 1975, Madrid) has stuffed mannequins of totalitarian leaders into chiller cabinets. It’s just what we need in this age of burgeoning nationalism. Eugenio Merino – creator of Always Franco, and others – is being taken to court, accused of damaging the honour of the late Spanish dictator. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2014/mar/05/dictators-fridges-artist-franco-eugenio-merino ALWAYS SHAMELESS: http://web.eugeniomerino.com/?cat=10

Always Bush, 2014. Eugenio Merino.

It seems incredible that General Franco is still oppressing artists in Spain from beyond the grave. The dictator who rose to power by defeating Spain’s Republic in the 1930s civil war and ruled until his death in 1975 might seem to be a forgotten nightmare in today’s democratic Spain – but an artist has succeeded in provoking a foundation that preserves his memory into taking some distinctly intolerant legal steps. Eugenio Merino is being taken to court – for the second time – for works he has made using the image of the authoritarian ruler. His work Punching Franco is a lifelike head of Franco designed to be used as a punchbag; the Franco Foundation says it is “demeaning”. He has also been sued for his work Always Franco, a lifelike figure of Franco inside a fridge. He has now extended this out to create a whole series of dictators in Coca-Cola branded fridges.


Jake and Dinos Chapman:

Insult to Injury | Goya prints

Over the years, and weaned on a diet of the former YBA’s pickled animals and unmade beds, the British public has become remarkably difficult to shock. Could that be why Jake and Dinos Chapman, bought a collection of Goya’s most celebrated prints – and set about systematically defacing them? In a work entitled Insult to Injury (2003), the brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman managed to raise the hackles of art historians by violating something much more sacred to the art world than even the human body – another work of art. chapmans-great-deeds-against-the-dead-from-insult-to-injury-2003 The Chapman brothers’ first translation of Goya’s prints was the work The Disasters of War, an installation of small-scale sculptures of each of the etchings. Though here there is the relentlessness of multiple gruesome scenes, the work lacks the overwhelming impact of Great Deeds Against the Dead, an impact that comes from the human scale of the figures. The Chapman brothers of course, couldn’t stop there. Reworking Goya’s images of destruction wasn’t enough so they set about intervening with the actual images. Having bought a copy of the Goya portfolio and worked on top of the images, giving the figures cartoon-like clown and animal heads. There’s no doubt that this is a controversial work. The prints were made after Goya’s death, though they were made directly from his plates and the set was in mint condition so of considerable significance. Prints are, of course, a reproducible medium, so the set wasn’t unique but it was, nonetheless, important. The Chapmans have described their act as ‘rectifying‘ the etchings though others have, inevitably, described it an act of vandalism. The question remains: why have the Chapmans gone to all this trouble? As far as I can tell, there is no rhyme or reason to their interventions – aggressors and victims receive equal, indiscriminate attention.  There is no  pattern in the choice of figures to have been disfigured.   http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/chapman


Mark McGowan:

The Artist Taxi Driver

 {Published on Oct 27, 2014} With over forty two thousand subscribers (of which I am one) and well over eleven million views to his Youtube channel and over forty thousand Twitter followers, Mark McGowan (b: 1964, London) is a street artist, performance artist and prominent public protester who goes by the artist name Chunky Mark and more recently The Artist Taxi Driver. By profession, McGowan is a London taxi driver and visiting University speaker and Art tutor. McGowan is known internationally for his performance art including shock art, street art and installation art, and as a stuntman, internet personality, video blogger, social commentator, social critic, satirist, political activist, peace activist, and an anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-monarchist and anti-power elite protester. McGowan entered the mainstream news in the early 2000s for his unconventional, satirical, sometimes comedic / ironic, and often absurdist approach to public protest and demonstration. “Chunky Mark” conducted hundreds of performances in the UK and dozens around the world, stirring up some international attention, further debate on “what Art really is”, controversy; and both support and mockery alike from intellectuals, the art world, private corporations, the police, the military, the tabloids and the public.  Most often McGowan has not applied for police permission beforehand. McGowan abandoned the Chunky Mark persona in late 2010 and fully adopted the “Artist Taxi Driver” persona for his YouTube web blog on, where he daily films himself (most often) alone in his taxi between fares, wearing dark sunglasses, and in which he rants passionately and emotionally about the news and issues of the day. Since March 2013, the Artist Taxi Driver through his YouTube and crowd funding he has/or is in the process of making documentary films. The first entitled This Is Not A Recession, It’s A Robbery, then The War Machine (2014) and currently in production Westmonster The Movie. McGowan is critical of the British royal family, is a Republican, and claims he has never voted since “all politicians are the same” and the developed world has become “kleptocratic” rather than democratic. McGowan is a licensed Hackney carriage driver around Inner London and the Square Mile, which he refers to as the “the City of London, the City of Corruption”. In the past McGowan has worked with the Scottish Arts Council, the University of Central England in Birmingham, and spoken on the issues of public art and how it can relate to protest at the Royal Academy of Arts. Although he’s shunned by the professional art world McGowan is renowned for bold protest performances such as Artist Eats Fox (2004) for which he slow-roasted and ate a fox in order to demonstrate his objection to, “the public’s fixation with a government ban on fox hunting and society’s misplaced priorities.” On other occasions he’s devoured a swan and ​a corgi to protest against the behaviour of the Royal Family. (Specifically, an incident in 2007 in which Prince Philip – allegedly – watched one of his mates beat up a fox with a flagpole on his Sandringham Estate.) McGowan is a strict vegetarian and has said these performances were extremely difficult for him personal on a deeply personal level.

“I turned to performance art because I found it a much more accessible medium to deliver what I was trying to express,” he ​told the BBC in 2003. “The way to engage in art is to bring it into the street, which is what I’m doing – not by putting it in the White Cube or the National Gallery.”

His most recent press interviews were with The Guardian here and online with journalist Dawn foster here.


Neue Sachlichkeit kunst

The New Objectivity

(neue Sachlichkeit kunst) The New Objectivity was an art movement in the German Empire of the interwar period. It found it’s expression in different art forms such as painting, visual art and at the same time in the new medium of film. The term The New Objectivity was coined in 1925 by Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, for a highly acclaimed exhibition downstream of expressionist art in the Kunsthalle Mannheim. The time frame of the New Objectivity is commonly associated with that of the Weimar Republic equated: 1918 to 1933. {Gustav Hartlaub, ‘‘Introduction to ‘New Objectivity’: German Painting since Expressionism’’ (first published in German 1925), pp. 491–3 from Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg (eds.), The Weimar Republic Sourcebook. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. 1994 by The Regents of the University of California.} It began immediately after the First World War with the themes of many artists devoted to socially critical visual themes and ended in 1933 with the takeover of the Nazis and the subsequent Gleichschaltung of the media. The New Objectivity is usually divided into three separate streams: the realism (Verismus), classicism and the Magic Realism. Methodologically, they involve a range, and sometimes a combination, of Marxist, feminist, structuralist, psychoanalytical, and other theoretical procedures.

Verismo

In Verism the New Objectivity is designed as a political art, dealing  critically with the Weimar Republic and with the socialist and communist solidarity goals. The most important representatives of the New Objectivity were Otto Dix , August Wilhelm Dressler , Birkle ,Christian Schad , George Grosz , Conrad Felix Müller , Bernhard Kretzschmar , Georg Schrimpf , Karl HubbuchWilhelm Schnarrenberger , Rudolf Schlichter , Eberhard Schlotter and Karl Rossing . The Verists developed one of the most well-known topoi of New Objectivity in the form of provocative representations, often to the grotesquely exaggerated, using the old masters techniques. The Verists – one wants to speak of the ‘‘left-wing’’ – tear the objective from the world of contemporary facts and projects current experience in its tempo with a fevered temperature. {Note: a form of Verism was adopted in the opposite political direction, with the development of some artists toward National Socialism. Examples included; Sergius Pauser in Austria and Ernst Nepo.} Of all the artists of this movement, the polemic graphic art of George Grosz (Ger. 1893-1959) is best suited to the theme of subversive. From the age of 23 (1916), Grosz became involved in the political upheavals in his country and in December 1918, he became a member of the Communist Party. George Grosz and Otto Dix (Ger. 1891 – 1969), illuminated a chamber of horrors in which the whole of Germany found itself after the 1914-18 War and the inscriptions of shabby stupidity and demagogic vulgarity that underpinned on the Republic. By 1933 the power of the Nazi regime increased and George Grosz’ name was most frequently mentioned as an enemy of German Culture. From 1933 on, however, Grosz had abandoned the political motifs that had previously characterized his drawings. He escaped Germany for the United States, where he eventually settled.

“Berlin, February 5, 1919. Called on the painter George Grosz this morning… He said he would like to become the ‘German Hogarth’ – to be deliberately concrete and moralistic in his work. He wants to preach to the world, improve it, reform it…” – the diary of Count Harry Kesler.

George Grosz pillars of society - Stützen der Gesellschaft

Pillars of society – Stützen der Gesellschaft

George Grosz while painting; Pillars of society - Stützen der Gesellschaft

George Grosz while painting; Pillars of society – Stützen der Gesellschaft

george-grosz-suicide-1926

Suicide,1926

List of References

Aisenberg, Beatrice, : Grosz’s Political Position: False Commitment, False Testimony. dissertation, Jerusalem University, 1998. Backett 1976: J. Backett, The Twenties in Berlin, London 1976. Benson 1987: T.Q. Benson, “Mysticism, Materialism and the Machine in Berlin Dada”, Art Journal, 46:1 (1987), 46-55. Catalogue Käthe Kollwitz, Drawings, Litographies, Prints and Sculptures, Museum Israel, 1971. Catalogo Goya y el espîritu de la Ilustracion, Madrid, 1988. Grosz 1972: G. Grosz, The Face of the Ruling Class, Frankfurt 1972. Grosz 1974: G. Grosz, A Little Yes and a Big No: The Autobiography of George Grosz, London 1974. Hess 1974: H. Hess, George Grosz, London 1974. Lejeune 1953: R. Lejeune, Honoré Daumier, Lausane 1953. Lewis 1971: B. I. Lewis, George Grosz, Art and Politics in the Weimar Republic, Madison 1971. McCloskey 1997: B. McCloskey, Grosz and the Communist Party Art and the Radicalism in Crisis 1918 to 1936, New Jersey 1997. Richard 1979: L. Richard, Del expresionism al nazismo – arte y cultura desde Guillermo II hasta la Republica de Weimar, Barcelona 1979 (from D’une apocalypse à ses productions intelectueles aux années vingt, Paris 1976). Schneede 1985:U. M. Schneede, George Grosz – The Artist in his Society, New York 1985. Townson 1995: D. Townson, Dictionary of Modern History 1789-1945, London 1995. Willet 1978: L. Willet, Art and Politics in the Weimar Period -The New Sobriety 1917-1933, New York 1978. George Grosz’s friend and Dada comrade-in-arms was John Heartfield. On March 15, 1920, during a confrontation with the army, 50 workers died and 150 were injured. Several shots entered the Zwinger Gallery, damaging a Rubens (Batsheba). The artist Oscar Kokoshka, professor at the Academy of Dresden, published an article in over forty newspapers asking for gunfire to be kept away from the gallery. Grosz and Heartfield attacked Kokoshka for defending holy possessions and for his reactionary conception of art.

Lewis 1971: 94. In their article, Grosz and Heartfield argued: ‘with pleasure bullets flying into galleries and palaces and into Rubens masterworks, instead of into the houses of the poor in workers’ districts’, McCloskey 1997: 65.

In another article published in November 1920 and entitled Concerning My New Pictures, Grosz urged artists to show political commitment in order to promote ART AS A WEAPON for the defense of the workers. In this text, Grosz expresses the opinion that art is secondary compared to the class struggle, and demands that artists express their own personal stance on this question, and define whether they are on the side of the exploiters or of the masses. {Lewis 1971: 97}


DAda

Everybody knows something about Dada and Surrealism. Dada, established in 1916 and over by the early 1920s, was an international artistic phenomenon which sought to overturn traditional bourgeois notions of art. It was defiantly anti-art. More than anything, its participants, figures such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Kurt Schwitters, and Raoul Hausmann, countered their love of paradox and subversion to the insanities of a world-gone-mad, as World War raged and Europe tore itself apart. Dada is seen as iconoclastic and confrontational, Dada revelled in the chaos and the fragmentation of modern life. Art historians have found it convenient to generalise about Dada ‘paving the way’ for Surrealism, but that was only really the case in one of Dada’s locations, Paris. Both Dada and Surrealist attitudes ranged many topics from irrationalism to sexuality, before focusing closely on politics. More than anything else, Dada and Surrealism were ‘avant-garde’ movements. Broadly speaking, art in the 19th century was synonymous with bourgeois individualism. By the early 20th century, several key art movements – such as Futurism in Italy, Constructivism in Russia or De Stijl in Holland, as well as Dada and Surrealism – were contesting any separation between art and the contingent experience of the modern world. Their reasons for doing so were inflected in different ways by politics – Constructivists, for instance, were responding directly to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia while Futurism was responding alongside of Fascism in Italy – but they tended to share the belief that modern art needed to forge a new relationship with its audience, producing uncompromising new forms to run parallel to shifts in social experience.   TEXT_dada

lhooq

Defaced Mona Lisa reproduction, by artist Marcel Duchamp “L.H.O.O.Q (She’s got a hot arse)”

For the cultural theorist Peter Bürger, writing in the 1970s, the mission of the early 20th-century European avant-garde thus consisted in undermining the idea of art’s ‘autonomy’ (‘art for art’s sake’) in favour of a new merging of art into what he calls the ‘praxis of life’. BBC Interview with Marcel Duchamp 1968

I tried to to be away from it (DaDa), to keep apart from the group,  the group expression, the group activity of it, I always wanted to make a personal contribution to it. Why? I don’t know, it’s a form of individualism if nothing else? – Marcel Duchamp, 1968.


Situationist International


William S. Burroughs: cut ups


 Disobedient Objects

http://wp.me/p42pSs-x1 Tools of protest: Disobedient Objects, the V&A’s subversive new show Some of the most powerful exhibits are the simplest ones – things that engage with the more theatrical side of a demonstration and show how the balance of power on the street can be swung with just a bit of mischievous wit.

The ‘inflatable cobblestone’, designed by the Eclectic Electric Collective to outwit authorities at street protests. Photograph: V&A V&A/PR


 DESTRUCTIVIST MANIFESTO

Rafael Montañez Ortiz (b. 1934) who was born in the United States and is of Puerto Rican descent, was an innovator in the destruction art movement of the 1960s.  He was a member of several artist-activists groups that opposed the Vietnam War and fought to end racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination in the United States.

Synopsis

In his manifesto, Rafael Montañez Ortiz,  discusses the concept of destruction as a new mode of creating art. He validates employing “destruction art” as an appropriate methodology, given the history of war that plagued the twentieth century. Ortiz compares destruction art to sacrificial rituals, thus claiming that destruction art is cathartic because it forces both artists and audiences to purge their violent impulses, and confront their fears of death.

Destructivism A Manifesto

It was Ortiz who conceived and founded in 1969 El Museo del Barrio in New York City.


Greg Sholette:

Dark Matter

Sholette’s ‘Dark Matter’, provides a useful collectivising term for those artists who produce the art world from below. ‘Dark Matter’ refers to all the human creativity that is excluded from the mainstream art world. The book is an interweaving of political contexts, theory, accounts of radical art activity and considerations of the archive, mainly in a US context and loosely related to Sholette’s involvement in a series of political manoeuvres within the radical underground of New York in the 1980s & 1990s.

Links to Greg Sholette’s strata of dark matter:

Candida Television:   http://candida.omweb.org/

Journal of Aesthetics and Protest: http://www.joaap.org/ 6+: http://www.6plus.org/borcila.html

Howling Mob Society http://www.howlingmobsociety.org/

Critical Spatial Practice: http://criticalspatialpractice.blogspot.com/

MicroRevolt: http://orangeworks.blogspot.com/

Center for Tactical Magic: http://www.tacticalmagic.org/

Yomango!: http://yomango.net/ and http://www.yomangoteam.com/

The Yes Men: http://theyesmen.org/

Critical Art Ensemble http://www.critical-art.net/

Target Autonopop: http://www.targetautonopop.org/

Temporary Services: http://temporaryservices.org/ including their wonderful Public Phenomenon Archive see also http://www.darkmatterarchives.net/?page_id=21


 Creative Destruction and Art

I think there is a necessary consequence of the human urge to create great art and that is the urge to imitate it, modify it, distort it, and generally degrade it, if not completely destroy it. Douglas Gordon’s 2007 exhibition “Self Portrait of You & Me” series of portraits of celebrities with faces deformed as if by an explosive blast which seem to echo Bruce Conner’s “A Movie,” a 1958 montage of car crashes, nukes and nudes.

Douglas Gordon’s 2007 exhibition “Self Portrait of You & Me”, Warhol’s Marilyn.

Ori Gersht’s “Big Bang I” from 2006, a mesmerising slow-motion video of a flower vase shattering. Gersht also recreates famous still life paintings using real object then films and photographs the things exploding. Self-righteousness seems to justify any act of destruction. In 2001 the Afghan Taliban dynamited the Buddhas in Bamiyan, calling them idols of the infidels. In a Byzantine art exhibition now at the National Gallery of Art classical statues were vandalized in the fourth century by Christians who “improved” Greek and Roman art with incised crucifixes. Christians too lopped of the penises of many a Greco-Roman and later Italian Renaissance statues were “improved” with the addition of leaves. Suffragette Mary Richardson, in 1914 took a meat cleaver to Diego Velázquez’s “Rokeby Venus” at the National Gallery in London (to protest the imprisonment Emmeline Pankhurst, “the most beautiful character in modern history,” Richardson thought it right to destroy “the most beautiful woman in mythological history.”) Tony Shafrazi spray painted “KILL LIES ALL” on “Guernica” in 1974, when Pablo Picasso’s mural was still at MoMA (Shafrazi claimed his actions were an anti-Vietnam War protest and an attempt “to bring the art absolutely up to date” and “give it life.”).


STRIKE! magazine, SPG, David Graeber

Where activism meets art

January 2nd, 2015 London Underground.

 Anarchist Metapolitics & Tactical Frivolity – Simon Critchley

It seems to me that the great virtue of contemporary anarchist practice is its spectacular, creative and imaginative disturbance of the state. Contemporary anarchists have created a new language of civil disobedience that combines street-theatre, festival, performance art and what might be described as forms of non-violent warfare . Recalling the argument of the previous chapter, what one sees in groups like Ya Basta! and Rebel Clown Army is carnivalesque humour deployed as a political strategy. David Graeber describes some of these phenomena with great wit:

Ya Basta! for example is famous for its tute bianche or whiteoveralls tactics: men and women dressed in elaborate forms ofpadding, ranging from foam armour to inner tubes to rubber ducky floatation devices, helmets and chemical proof white jumpsuits (their British cousins are well-clad WOMBLES [white overalls building libertarian effective struggles, s.c.] ). As this mock army pushes its way through police barricades, all the while protecting each other against inj ury or arrest, the ridiculous gear seems t o reduce human beings to cartoon characters – misshapen, ungainly, foolish, large, indestructible. The effect is only increased when lines of costumed figures attack police with balloons and water pistols or, like the ‘Pink Bloc’ at Prague and elsewhere, dress as fairies and tickle them with feather dusters. At the American Party Conventions, Billionaires for Bush dressed in high-camp tuxedos and evening gowns and tried to press wads of fake money into the cops’ pockets, thanking them for repressing dissent. These comical tactics hide a serious critical political intent: they exemplify the effective forging of horizontal chains of equivalence or collective will formation across diverse and otherwise conflicting protest groups. Deploying a politics of subversion, contemporary anarchist practice exercises a satirical pressure on the state in order to show that other forms of life are possible.

Picking up on thoughts about humour, it is the exposed, self-ridiculing and selfundermining character of these forms of protest that I find most compelling as opposed to the pious humorlessness of most forms of vanguardist active nihilism and some forms of contemporary protest (I name no names). Groups like the Pink Bloc or Billionaires for Bush ( a culture jamming political street theater organisation) are performing their powerlessness in the face of power in a profoundly powerful way – Tactical Frivolity!

Politically, humour is a powerless power that uses its position of weakness to expose those in power through forms of self-aware ridicule. This is why the strategy of non-violent warfare is so important. Of course, history is habitually written by the people with the guns and sticks and one cannot expect to defeat them with mocking satire and feather dusters. Yet, as the history of ultra-leftist active nihilism eloquently shows, one is lost the moment one picks up the guns and sticks. Anarchic political resistance should not seek to mimic and mirror the Arche violent sovereignty it opposes. It is rather a question of the cultivation of a pacifist activism that deploys techniques of non-violent warfare or what we might even call ‘tactical frivolity‘.

David Graeber offers a useful distinction between Marxism and anarchism:

Marxism is typically a theoretical or analytical discourse about revolutionary strategy, whereas anarchism can be understood as an ethical discourse about revolutionary practice.

It is this emphasis on ethics as a binding factor in political practice that interests me, as opposed to the silence or hostility to ethics that one finds in Marx’s work and in many Marxist (Gramsci is an obvious exception) and post-Marxist thinkers.


 Joseph Beuys

in the same way that Ai Weiwei uses everyday objects (to make political points)


Hamilton Finlay – Propaganda for the wood elves Propaganda for the Wood Elves 1981;

Propaganda for the wood elves

Photograph 8 1/4 × 5 13/16 (210 × 148) Made in collaboration with Harvey Dwight from a photograph set up and taken in Finlay’s garden at Little Sparta. In conversation with the compiler the artist described the image as ‘an enigmatic emblem. Visual paradox is one mode of an emblem’, adding that it referred to traditional German tree-worship and the violence of nature.


Luis Buñuel, 1953

The Brute

Buñuel is famous for the bookending sections of his career: his Surrealist experiments in the late ‘20s to early ‘30s and his sublimely twisted art films of the ‘60s-‘70s. But between he found himself in Mexico making subtly wicked satires within the mainstream. A lesson in sublimated perversity!
Synopsis: A tough young man who helps evict poor people from their houses finds himself falling in love with a girl who lives with her father in a building about to be demolished.

Peter Kennard (1949)

Walter Benjamin 1990

Walter Benjamin, 1990.

Medium – Photograph, black and white, on paper, Dimensions – 172 x 319 mm

Peter Kennard The Kissinger Mind 1979

Medium – Photographs on paper and ink on card; Dimensions – 365 x 310 mm

Peter Kennard born 1949 Title – Apartheid South Africa Date – 1974 Medium – Photographs, gelatin silver print, on paper and gouache Dimensions – 250 x 210 mm

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