Art & the Public Sphere
A well-worn leather Diadora trainer lies on the side of the road, separated from its twin some time ago. The shoe is lifted up quickly by an 8-year-old boy, its tongue cut out at the base and the two laces pulled through its eyelets. His small hand finds the frayed ends of each lace and threads them through holes at the edges of the tongue, securely fastening them with double knots. He picks up a large stone from a pile gathered from the nearby hillsides, all the perfect size to nestle into the
... shoe's pouch. The stone rests there as he walks into the middle of the road. Holding the tongue heavy with the stone in the air, pulling the two laces taught in the other, the boy releases the pouch and starts to swing it around his head, releasing one end of the string on the second rotation. The stone flies high, hurtling towards the two Israeli army trucks up ahead. In another time and place, a length of bamboo culm is passed up and secured to complete the third tier of scaffold. The statue's head, shoulders and uplifted arms holding the torch get lowered onto its torso by a group of young art students standing on wooden planks. The sun is setting and down below, friend's link arms, protecting the carts that carried the sections of statue, scaffold and tools 2 while the artists complete their Goddess of Democracy. It is warm and the metal armature makes it heavy to handle, its foam and papier-mâché skin shining white in the evening light. The students cover their artwork with a blue and red cloth. After a long night, two people chosen from the crowd pull the cords to reveal the statue to the thousands of supporters shouting 'long live democracy'. The Goddess stares silently into the eyes of a large photo of Chairman Mao. We imagine the lives of these objects encountered in the exhibition Disobedient Objects at the V&A, yet we were not present at either of these two events. Curated by research fellow, Gavin Grindon and V&A Prints Curator, Catherine Flood, the exhibition (with accompanying catalogue, conference and blog) explored 'object-making within social movements, a people's history of art and design from below' (Flood and Grindon 2014: 9). Banners hang from the ceiling and sounds came from the bike bloc speakers, the compilation of video footage and interviews projected on the back wall. The exhibition took place in a room adjacent to the main foyer of the V&A. It included objects from social movement cultures around the world starting from the late 1970s to the present day (with the exception of, for example, the Suffragette tea set from 1910). Struggles being represented range from deregulated capitalism in Argentina, sexism, racism and corruption in the art world, loggers in northern India, union busting in London, land rights in New Zealand and the rise in tuition fees in Canada. The exhibition celebrated the imagination for protest and alternative futures that emerge from experiences of pain, anger, injustice and violence in these various conflicts.