Sunday, 20 May 2012

Art Activism

On art and communication
A year has passed since I joined the first Shortcourse/UK expeditions. Hosted by University College Falmouth and Cape Farewell, these were a set of local adventures designed to bring together artists and environmentalists, to get us thinking about climate change in a local context and what role artists can play in creating discussion around such issues. As I've commented before, it was a really illuminating experience for me, and led to my recent participation in Hevva! Hevva!, an art exhibition at the world-renowned Eden Project. The most important thing it taught me was the value of art as a tool for communication. Today, it seems crazy that I had never thought about art in this way - its something I talked about in the piece I wrote for Hevva! Hevva! - and the power of art as a mouthpiece was brought home to me this morning when looking at some of the images that Banksy has created.

Bow down to Banksy
'Best of British' is all the rage in the UK at the moment with both the Queen's Jubilee and the London Olympics taking place. In my opinion, Banksy is Best of British. This illusive artist is known for his anonymity, though considering the type of comments he makes through his art, I suspect that he wouldn't be too keen on the label 'Best of British'.

Why do I love Banksy? Well, because of what I think he is saying through his work, his comments about our society and its hypocrisies. The following image really sums it up:
Banksy mural in north London featuring Tesco bag as a flag
I think this is just brilliant. Painted on a wall in north London, the first thing I love about it is the way he makes use of the inherent features in the wall - i.e.. the electric wire running up the side of the building is recycled as a flagpole. The second thing I love about it is what it says about us: how we pledge allegiance to the corporations running the world. Some have interpreted this image as a comment on plastic bags, but to me it is more than that. To me, the recognisable Tesco logo represents corporate control; the two children with their hands on their hearts, how sucked in we are to letting them rule our everyday lives. One simple image; so many words and ideas. Now that is Art Activism.

On corporate control
Speaking of corporate power, yesterday my colleagues and I perched in the store window where we work to watch the Olympic flame pass through our little Cornish town on its first day in the UK. It arrived in Cornwall the previous evening to much fanfare (and road closing, and dark-windowed cars, and police), and while I'm not really into the whole Olympic thing (I have concerns over both the monetary and environmental costs), it was hard not to be a little excited by the crowds lining Truro's streets yesterday morning.

The flame itself was very - er - flamey and 'kinda cool' in a caught-up-in-the-atmosphere kind of way, but what I wasn't expecting was everything else that came along with it. Aside from three empty minibuses, a couple of cars and several police motorbikes, it was preceded by a large Coca-Cola lorry, a huge S Samsung lorry (really far too big to go through the streets of a small market town - wasn't that well though out), and a Lloyds TSB lorry, each one complete with music blaring and scantily clad dancers boogying. What does any of that have to with the original spirit of the Olympics? This demonstration of corporate sponsorship and power made my heart sink, particularly when it was backed up by the afterflow of children into the store all carrying the heavily branded flags and balloons these companies had been passing out along their journey. What is going to happen to them all? In the bin, I expect. More waste, as well as more honing of our children's brains to worship at these business altars. Bah, humbug.

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