Aesthetics of demonstration
(Sketch/ ideas for workshop – talk )
All the green- ecology posters and buttons were in the 80-s really repulsing to me. Again and again we pumped into the banality of the tree-sign, the completely schematic aesthetical boredom and a sheer visual desert. The same was true for many stereotypes of (eg.Berlin- Kreuzberg’s) multicultural -alterative scene, the graffities sprayed on the wall to fight for woman’s or gay’s or kurd people’s rights. How can it be visually that boring to fight for all these morally positive things and for peace? Can art be used for propaganda, even if it is peace-propaganda?
In contradiction to my old fashioned aesthetical judgment stands the practice of peace-fighters and anti-globalization activist, all those whom I met has often been painting for decades sign for freedom and peace to carry them around in the streets, and would never produce them for art-show’s aesthetical pleasure. Here in Budapest we talked a lot with Toma Sik, “Gush Shalom” Hungarian-Izraeli peace activist and eco-gardener.
He would never like to be mentioned on the same platform with artists producing pictures to sell and to live on them, he doesn’t want to do anything with art, and tells me: “ The loftiness of art distracts out attention from the important questions of humanity.”
Actually this critique, that art distracts attention from important question of humanitarian task, and of being a human is a heavy accusation, and can’t be put away that easily.
Several questions arise:
Is it possible to scrutinize the aesthetics of demonstration and resistance without building up too much emotional distance?
Is there any way for art to talk in simple imperatives (Stop war!), or does it has to float in form of subversive questions? Is it possible to shift both levels - the “ close-to-human level ” , and the “tradition for contemplative art of doubt” - into one work?
Or would it ever make any sense to tell artist to give up loftiness, and art-specific criticism? And create exclusively the imagery of agitation?
In the moment when you can’t solve all the aspects of certain questions on the level of notions in a gratifying way, it is possible try to make images and art-works of them.
2. Additional remark to the aesthetics of demonstration:
In a moment when I see ten thousands of these signs and hand-made plates walking on a street ( it happened last week in Washington) asking for peace and not to start war I start to love them.
But there’s no way to formalize these pictures:
The trust into any formal simplicity turns up to a certain degree into disillusion concerning the strength of these hand made spectacles, and protest march, when I see a shop window in Zurich. It happens to be “ Diesel” cloth-producer advertisement and campaign using merely aesthetics of demonstration on all their communication surfaces. Huge groups of young people running passionately in torn T-shirts through the streets, holding protest sign and shouting.
All what is changed and domesticated is the content of these signs. Instead of “ Give peace, and do not attack other autonomous countries”, we read “ kiss your neighbor” , or “ more green traffic lights”, “plant flowers” and slogans like that.
Seemingly everything is perfectly staged, reflecting the year 2001’s aesthetic of protest, and turning it into fashion and lifestyle culture (http://www.diesel.com/).
Still, when we look closer, there’re similarities and differences compared to real involvement and its documentation.
But still, including the imagery of good agitation into art, and the shift of meanings while using it is an open question.
Roza El-Hassan, 3rd of December, 2002