Thursday, 9 December 2010

On [Protest] Signs & the Signified

This post was published in the awesome and revolutionary Fight Back! A Reader On the Winter of Protest [which is full of good stuff, PLUS I designed the cover. Go get yours asap].

The work of art is an act of resistance, at best, in that the act of resistance posits a vision of how things could be otherwise. This is the real function of art: to celebrate what we know to be human, and to keep asking questions beyond that. I am an artist, and artists deal in signs: I originally published these photographs as a response to the various discourses about who was really behind the protests. Was it violent anarchists, bourgeois intellectuals, kids from the banlieues who listen to Dubstep? Or people just like you? Or all of the above?

Well, I was there too. I was angry about the cuts, as we all should be, because they affect us all, students or not; they reinstate the outdated feudal protocol of class privilege at jurisdictorial level and stand in opposition to what we have come to understand as our basic human rights as residents and citizens of this country. In universal terms education is both a right and a privilege, but access to education was one of the last great things about Britain, and absolutely worth fighting for.

And yet this anger is transformed into something like pride at the moment you find yourself marching to the beat of a hundred disparate voices and sound systems united - not by a complex ideology, but by an immediate and intuitive sense of rightness.
In the spirit of non-violent resistance, and in the spirit of this feeling - something like pride, a little celebratory and a little inflammatory - I began collecting signs; for signs are signifiers, and signifiers are incantations that invoke change. The artist Patrick Brill (aka Bob and Roberta Smith, whose work includes signs and placards hand-painted with whimsical, subversive slogans), in a recent piece for the Guardian, wrote that "the arts are a universal language, reminding us that the factors that unite us are huge, wonderful and exciting, and that what divides us is small and mean."

Whatever you may have read, these protests were huge, wonderful and exciting, and these signs are works of art in the proper sense - a handwritten cardboard many-headed manifesticon in urgent creative response to a power that would see all good things vectored and laminated and priced-up accordingly. The signs speak of the wit, charm and diversity of the protesters, which is the reason I am proud to stand among them. Who was behind the protests? A picture is sometimes worth a thousand column inches: let the signs speak for themselves.

To paraphrase an old anarchist rallying cry: the brain is an organ twice the size of your fist.
Keep thinking; keep feeling; keep fighting.

JD., London, December 2010