Viva le Art Resistance!

Advertising is the pornography of capitalism, and consumerism is the sex

The Vacuum Cleaner

In terms of political history, this is an exciting time to be alive. Exciting in the exhilarating sense. Exhilarating in the…falling off a high rise sense. We may indeed be witnessing the end of the world as we know it, and I can’t say I’m sad to see it go. With mass uprisings across the planet, 5 years until irreversible climate catastrophes and global financial collapse, it’s all looking pretty depressing. No wonder our teenagers feel neglected, lost and anarchistic. Where’s the hope for their future?

I attended a talk on How Art is Used Effectively in Protest, at The Hub in Kings Cross last week. Organised by Housmans, the left-wing bookshop, the discussion touched on how our current global situation has led to a rise in political resistance art. Noel Douglas, a member of Occupy Design, explained why we are now in a unique position where there is little to look forward to or to hope for. People are, rightly, distrustful of those in power and their willingness to put the interests of the financial sector before the rights of the people of this country.

To being with, the rise of the ‘viral’ has changed how we communicate a message en mass. An example of this are the brilliant David Cameron posters, which were (ironically) photoshopped and sent across cyberspace to millions of homes and offices. Before long, that image had become a part of public consciousness. People remembered it, discussed it, shared it. The idea is to use the same advertising and propaganda tools which are used against us on a daily basis, but to reflect them back at the government and corporations.

During events such as the occupation of Tahrir Square last Spring, protesters utilised this concept to rally people, leading eventually to a revolution. By using advertising methods, and witty slogans, the message gets disseminated through the crowds. This is the kind of fighting we should be doing. Not with weapons or bombs. But with the power of the image; the power of communication and dialogue. Images can expose and condemn. They can mock, and they can embarrass.

Artists and collectives such as The Vacuum Cleaner and the Space Hijackers use a slightly different method. The Vacuum Cleaner places his work “in the space between art and activism” and uses this concept to explore the idea of protest in public installation art and art vandalism. His work is clever, thoughtful and anti-authoritarian. It’s a reaction to where we are as a society.

This isn’t an entirely new idea. People have been using art and public posters (and propaganda) to convey messages for hundreds of years. The difference now is that technology has advanced to the point at which posters, photos, banners etc. don’t have to be created by small group of people making clandestine visits to printing presses. A huge proportion of the population have their own printers, computers and software (or at least access to them) capable of putting together their imagery. The internet is the vehicle. The most powerful vehicle, in fact, that we have ever utilised. The message is not being filtered through a faction, it’s coming direct from the mouths of the people.

The idea of ‘public’ and ‘the public’ is inherent in this whole movement. It’s about sharing information with others, often across social networks, or through the placing of slogans and messages in prominent public advertising spaces usually reserved for the corporate giants. It literally is art for the masses. The point of the work is to make a difference, to make a change. One of The Vacuum Cleaner’s works – The Starbucks ‘Fuck Off’ Campaign – actually led to Starbucks having to change their logo. Talk about people power. That is literally one man with a marker pen taking on a mega-corporation and winning. I don’t know about you, but that certainly gives me hope.

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