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Tuesday, 1 May 2012
“She watches Marvy's face as he pays Monika,
watches him in this primal American act, paying,
more deeply himself than when coming, or asleep, or maybe even dying”
- Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), Thomas Pynchon
It is fitting that on May 1st – Labour Day in many countries – that we consider the ‘Occupy Art’ movement.
This movement’s art is especially interesting to me because it frequently uses the techniques of corporate advertising and State information propagation to promote subversive and dissident themes.
Broadly-speaking, the Occupy Art movement targets the wealthiest “1%” ruling-class by empathising with the other “99%” – with both of these expressions fast on their way to becoming iconic in their own right. Shared media and the internet are the main vehicles of dissemination.
There is of course nothing new about subversive art. It has been with us in many media for many millennia. Usually the subversion takes the form of the artist using their talents to undermine the established icons and symbols of the cultural, religious and political norms. For very pragmatic reasons of personal safety, the act of subversion within the art work was often hidden or ambiguous (“plausible deniability”) and only understood by a small “in-crowd” or group of initiates. Subversion was never before intended for the mass consumption.
And that, I think, is what makes the Occupy Art different. It is quite clear that the movement is motivated to bring seditious ideas to the masses but – and this is an important distinction with past subversive art - as a collaborative act between the artist and the mass audience; both are “in” on it. This is not a case of attempted manipulation, nor is it an attempt to transmit a secret communication to a circle of acolytes.
No. This is the artist and the audience knowingly sharing symbolism with the explicit intention of broadcasting a very unambiguous message to a very specific group of individuals.
Occupy Art is bold, brash, unequivocal and unashamedly partisan. It is essentially poster art; and I don’t mean that to sound derisory in any way.
The Occupy Art movement are seemingly not as concerned with commercial considerations as they are with getting their message out there. Generally the work is not intended to be brought-and-sold but rather “disseminated”.
To aid the spread of their ideas and images, the Occupy Art movement frequently support ‘copyleftism’. I have to say however, that Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley's idea of “All Rights Reversed” from their 1965 seminal religious text The Principia Discordia is much, much funnier - although admittedly less likely to find a sound legal footing! All Hail Discordia!
Much of Occupy Art looks similar to the propaganda posters of many governments past and present. And well it might because it is very obvious that as well as serving a social purpose, Occupy Art also has a political purpose.
In fact, one of the things I like most about the Occupy Art movement is their creative use of propaganda techniques previously only employed by governments and corporations and turning it around back in on them – not only the images themselves but also the heavy use of slogans and the relentless distribution of the message.
Occupy Art is important, not necessarily for its imagery as such, but for the message it conveys - and the whys and wherefores behind that message. And, of course, it is important with respect to those whom the message is addressed.
Occupy Art is a mechanism which anyone can use – by creating it oneself, by including it on one’s blog or social media page or by a myriad of other ways – to show personal dissatisfaction with the way things are, with the way that the planet is currently being governed. It is an instrument to protest the unfair distribution of wealth and assets, corporate ownership of human essentials, homelessness, starvation, wage slavery and all the rest.
Since the House of Medici in the 14th Century, the creation of the Bank of England in 1694, the enactment of the Federal Reserve in 1913 and – perhaps most troublesome of all – the invention of the Black-Scholes formula in 1973 normal people on this planet - the 99% - have been without a voice and thus have not been heard.
The Occupy Art movement provides a zeitgeist for the 99% to unite around; the Internet provides the means of distribution for the ideas.
Only time will tell whether the message is heard by the ruling-classes and what the consequences might be if/when it is heard.
It may not be very pretty.