For centuries, artists and visual communicators have tested the boundaries between art and socio-politics. From Picasso to Banksy, art has addressed issues and challenged hierarchies imposed by those in power - widening awareness and contributing to social change. Contemporary artists have consequently increasingly expanded this path of political engagement and activism.
Cultural producer, curator and editor Leon Kruijswijk, has been guiding guests of De School through this exploration of Art, Politics & Activism. Last month’s lecture trilogy focussed on the themes: War & Conflict, The Body, Gender and Identity, and New Media.
De School, is a multifunctional space with: a club, restaurant, cafe and a gym. They also have an art program that offers lectures, workshops and other events. The environment is literally the epitome of coolness; with old-fashion wooden chairs, beer, indoor foliage and intimidating art students with berets and man buns.
‘New Media’ - mass communication of digital technologies was the lecture subject that I attended. This heavily explored the art term ‘Post-internet’, which is a current art trend that criticises the impact of the Internet on art and culture. Taking cues from the understanding of postmodernism as a reaction to our rejection of Modernism, post-Internet does not address a time period “after” the Internet, but rather a time “about” the Internet. The lecture opened with the politically provoked art movement Dadaism, by introducing Tristen Tzara’s 1920 ‘To Make a Dadaist Poem’.
Take a newspaper
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are--an infinitely original author of charming sensibility,
even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.
Born from the horrors of World War One, Dadaism aimed to create art that would offend traditionalists everywhere, rejecting logic and embracing chaos and irrationality. Tzara’s ‘To Make a Dadaist Poem’ embodies the Dada movement, by having no pattern, structure, or literate meaning; but it does meteorically explain the true meaning of Dada.
Our first contemporary example that tested our understanding of art and activism was activist duo The Yes Men, who daringly and creatively raise awareness of problematic social and political issues. In 2008, after the election of Barack Obama, much of the United States population was excited about the future. In contrast to reactive and negative stereotypes of activism, the Yes Men wanted to celebrate what they wanted rather than criticise what they didn’t. This initiated the New York Times Special Edition newspaper that surprised members of the public with the headline “IRAQ WAR ENDS”. The Yes Men replaced the motto “All the News That’s Fit to Print” to “All the News We Hope to Print”, and distributed over 80,000 copies free of charge around the United States. For me this really blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, and coming from a design perspective it was professionally well executed.
Following the 1984 Bhopal gas leak where thousands of people were exposed to toxic chemicals, a representative from Dow Chemical Company, in 2015 finally admitted to full responsibility live on BBC News and promised compensation for all victims. This however, was a hoax. Andy Bichlbaum from the Yes Men impersonated Dow, and his performance was Oscar winning. Dow noticed the news item two hours after being aired and it had already become world news. As a result, Dow lost 2 billion dollars on the German market and had to show its true position to ‘rectify’ the false information.
After watching the interview, I was shocked to hear the truth. Guests from the lecture had differed opinions if the Yes Men are artists or activists. From the graphically designed The New York Times Special Edition, to the performative and theatrical Dow interview, can Dow be referred to as artists? My opinion, yes. Although for art, the subject matter is quite direct; what they achieve and challenge is incredibly daring, rule breaking and highly thought provoking - which art should be.
We explored other artists such as Morehshin Allahyari, Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. However I was fascinated by the extensive practise of artist, writer and filmmaker Hito Steyerl (Germany, 1966). Steyerl explores the impact of the internet as well as the high speed circulation of images and knowledge in a globalised world. Her stylised work of computer-generated images and documentary footage instantly grasped and intrigued me as a viewer. Since 2013, her work has become increasingly recognisable and has since been voted 2017’s most influential artists, which ironically contrasts with her beliefs on the distribution of power.
The 2013 film, 'How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File’, takes the form of an instructional video which playfully switches between ‘real world’ footage and digital recreations. The film is split into five chapters that addresses the way digital images are created, shared and archived, and how we as individuals are always been monitored through surveillance. Interestingly the original idea for the film derived from a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch called ‘How not to be Seen’ 1969-1974. You can even hear the noticeable similarities between the male voiceover.
In contrast to Warhol’s notion of people wanting to be famous for 15 minutes, Steyerl argues that in today’s society, people seek to be invisible.
We were then introduced to Steyerl’s 2014 film – Liquidity Inc. Using water as a guiding theme, it is combined with a parable of martial arts, high-frequency trading, cinema 4d renders, weather systems, and the liquidity of markets, labour and information. The film follows the story of Jacob Wood, a former financial analyst who lost his job during the 2008 economic recession and decided to turn his hobby in mixed martial arts into a career. It’s opening quote from Bruce Lee – ‘Be water my friend’, uses the analogy that when you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. You have to empty your mind, be formless and shapeless – like water.
Liquidity Inc, 2014 is currently being exhibited at the Eye Film Museum, Amsterdam. I have been interested investing the for quite some time, but hadn’t yet got round to going. Since the lecture, my interest was certainly sparked, therefore I went to the Liquidity Inc exhibit within the next few days. The film was mesmerising, humorous, insightful and conceptually inspiring. Projected onto a double-sided screen in front of a wave-like ramp structure, Liquidity Inc is a unique exploration of the media in an era of globalisation and the staggering speed that digital technology allows images and knowledge to be disseminated.
Published by: Andrew Fish in Inspiration