Wednesday, 15 April 2009

G20 protest police brutality - the ongoing fallout

Where did this idea of a 'protester' come from? Perhaps it should now be written as 'Protester'. When did a person protesting become this definite category with separate legal identity and restricted rights? A person communicating with other people in a public place - it all seemed so innocent.

When the death of a man is defended on the basis that it is difficult to tell who is a Protestor and who isn't we know that a separate category of person has taken shape, a category that is 'kettled' not just within the streets of (the City of) London but in the eyes, fists and truncheons of power. The message is that you are welcome to become a Protestor as long as you don't become a protestor. Be quiet, well behaved and content with standing in a confined space for an indefinite amount of time and say thankyou for the privilege. Shout too much and you'll be slapped with the back of an armoured hand, swatted as if you were a fly. Dead eyed politicians and sweat beaded police chiefs will spout platitudes and promise to 'get to the bottom of things' but the bottom is never in sight - their rhetoric is in so many ways bottomless. They are seeking to discover how one of their children could have swatted the wrong sort of fly - they want to know how their all seeing eyes could have mistaken one face amongst the masses for evil when it was never a Protestor at all. Their investigation may ask why this particular gnarled lump of fluorescence, kevlar and hostility did what they did, why they beat a guy in the wrong way (a failure of technique, surely). They will wonder how a passer-by could be mistaken for a Protestor and think up ways for such a thing to not happen again.

For all the media's mediation no significant heads will fall; the heads aren't even where this beast lives - it lives in The Law.

Protest cannot be in contradiction to the law. Protest is an act which forms the very basis upon which the rule (in both senses of that word - as in edict and as in government) of law can exist. The rule of law in a democracy is not the police, the parliament or the judiciary. It is the will of the people to accept that which is done in their name (and by the names that they are given). The people cannot be outside the law; sometimes The Law is outside the law. Only once the right is given up can the institutions that lay claim to the law truly own it.

Now, it is a mistake to equate mass protests with 'the people' yet protesters are only individuated by police surveillance. In their capacity as protester they are faceless (sometimes literally) and their treatment reflects this. A protestor is The People in the singular and should be treated as such. The police take this facelessness as a threat to be normalised, be it through force or the threat of force (and as we have seen there is very little differential, spatial or temporal gap between these two things in the milieu of contemporary protests - one can turn to the other and back again in a moment).

The facelessness of a protester is taken to be an admission of their threat, their danger when it should be recognised to be the opposite; their facelessness makes them The People, only in the singular.


Pretentious? I prefer 'grandiloquent'.

Jonathan Jones' unintelligent art.

There is no such thing as a purely aesthetic anything. If a work of art is apparently a-political that is political in and of itself. A space apparently 'outside' politics only serves to reinforce the 'inside' of politics. You can't have right without wrong, or left without right or hot without cold; you can't have one without the other and as such nothing ever escapes it - not even art.

All art is political because attributing artistry to a thing (be it a pile of bricks, a shed that used to be a boat or a piece of stencil graffiti) suggests that this thing is worth the time, effort and (perhaps most importantly) money that it takes to constitute that thing - these are political considerations.

To place the artwork in a timeless, spaceless space outside such base, coarse things as society and politics is to exempt art from the same moral and practical ties as everything else. It is to exempt the exclusivist, elitist pastime of high art from social critique, thereby erasing its exclusivity and elitism and fixing the artwork as a thing important beyond the social meaning that people attribute it.

The debate over what 'is' art and what 'isn't' is therefore a statement of political power. It is an attempt to prefer one form of human expression above others not only in terms of quality but of type, of kind.

The relatively simplistic pleasures of a Banksy piece are then excluded from the art club. Such obviousness has no place within the frankly stultifying orthodoxies of high art society.

I suggest, therefore, that we should celebrate Banksy's ineligibility for the Turner prize. It is not a reflection upon Banksy's artistic credibility or indeed his quality. It merely suggests the roles his work performs and the roles it doesn't.

Banksy lightens up otherwise dull parts of urbanity. He brings a smile to passing city dwellers and tourists. He makes otherwise empty social spaces meaningful. He creates space for humour and social commentary where there was before only pollution and concrete.

The kind of 'intelligent' art celebrated by the Turner prize however attempts to situate itself far outside of space, far outside of politics and far outside of humour, pollution and urban decay. It therefore creates a space wherein middle class urbanites can experience a highly restricted, sanitised aesthetic that erases dirt, politics, social meaning, class, etc. This is rather like the desire for such people to live in walled communities ('because you can't put a price on security'), to never take public transport ('because its just so dirty, yuck, and the people!'), to send their kids to public schools ('because those inner city youths just would just ruin poor little Tarquin'), etc.

Jonathan, in not nominating Banksy you have paid him the highest possible compliment. I will take dirty, obvious and political over sanitised, meaningless and vacuous any day. Frankly, the lack of intelligence shown in high art and your defence of it just goes to show that if you've got nothing to say, say it's art.