Friday, July 25, 2014

Disobedient Objects

Since I have at least one reader that enjoys hearing about my escapades into the cultural scene of London, I figured I would document another I have been to recently that has likewise shaken my world:

Last night Churches and I went to a corporate opening night of the V&A's latest and controversial exhibit: Disobedient Objects. This covers objects designed, appropriated, and created by social movements between the late 1970s and now. It was absolutely fascinating, and extremely powerful. The range of topics was astounding.

There were objects against educational price hikes, the death penalty, undocumented and uninvestigated disappearings of children, sexism in art, disparity between the wealthy and poor, destruction of historical buildings, and more.

They weren't what I had expected them to be. Sure there were normal banners and things that were marched down the streets in nonviolent protest...

...but there were also things like:

A death mask car. This was made in response to an inmate put to death in Texas. The friends and family of the deceased created a mosaic art car with a death mask of the executed man (made within hours of his execution). They rode this around Texas and London to spread the awareness of what the death penalty actually means - how the families of the criminals are affected, how one person's life has been extinguished, not a number or a crime.

[Side note: I did some research on the executed man and he was charged with robbery and murder of a taxi driver. He and a 16-year-old female accomplice had the taxi drive to a remote area in the country, where he shot the taxi driver in the back of the head, then rifled through the driver's pockets and fled. The reason they were caught and identified is the 16-year-old accomplice shot another person accompanying the taxi driver, but this person survived and later identified them.]

Notes hidden in crafts. Chilean women used to create arpillas (stitched blankets) to express opposition to authoritarianism, the violation of human rights, and the disappearance of loved ones during the rule of the military government. These disappearings went undocumented and uninvestigated, so these blankets were sewn with images to represent this, with notes tucked inside for the future owner to find. They knew the blankets would be sold elsewhere and some owners might eventually find their notes, spreading knowledge of what was happening.

Shields made in the shapes of books. When educational costs were being cut in one country, students made battering shields to fight riot control police, choosing a book to defend from the cuts. The images of riot police hitting students with these large books was deep indeed.

Shackled arm tubes. A particular group (one of whom I met at the exhibit as she was taking photos of the video she is in, which is on loop in the exhibit) protested the expansion of British roads into the countryside, which in turn was demolishing historic houses and "uglifying" the landscape. They argued that instead of creating more pollution and destroying what was beautiful and should be preserved, the government should invest heavily in public transit instead. Better for the environment, everyone gets to stay happy (including the 93-year-old woman they were trying to evict from one of the historic houses, who had lived there literally all her life). To move against this, they padlocked their arms inside metal tubes that could not be removed without sawing (or the key). The government in turn starting using the same saws and technology used to remove casts (so it wouldn't cut into flesh accidentally), so protesters got more creative and started shoving other objects in the tubes with them, to confuse the technology. Eventually they did prevail and road expansions were halted.

Though I don't agree with everything that was being fought for or represented, I do acknowledge the powerful messages that were trying to be conveyed and how many of the things we have today were achieved by means just like these. It was fascinating to see and I applaud the V&A taking a controversial subject as this and giving it a spotlight.

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