Sunday, 25 February 2007

Daydream Workshop

Snow Factory Quicktime Movie 53 secs, 6.4Mb
Copenhagen, 25th February 2007

Saturday, 10 February 2007


During the 1970s in this little known eastern European state, extreme suppression of freedom of speech took an unusual turn, but the way protesters overcame it was even more unusual. Protest was allowed but there were extreme restrictions on what words and form of words could be used in protests. Gradually the restrictions became so comprehensive that protest became all but meaningless. Protesters took matters into their own hands however and started to create banners with apparently obscure pictograms made up of typographic text. They effectively invented a new language which, while having its roots in underground resistance quickly became widely understood among mainstream society. In the letter of the law the authorities could do nothing as the protesters weren’t actually doing anything illegal. The images on the placards refer to particular issues, above for example you can see anti-nuclear weapon and anti death penalty placards. If the images look uncannily like concrete or visual poetry such as the work of Peter Finch, John Furnival or Bob Cobbing.

(images from the Sackner Archives of Concrete and Visual Poetry)

This is no surprise as the use of this form of placard was developed by a number of young artists with strong links to the Fluxus movement.
Concrete and visual poetry invited us to question and redefine and renegotiate the relationship of the word, punctuation, the letter and as a consequence language, to meaning, foregrounding punning and visuality, in the politics of poetry and visual language. Now this strategy was being employed in the in the street in the politics of protest and free speech...

Or at least that’s what I’d rather hoped was the case, but these are not documentary photographs but the work of Jens Ullrich whose doctored newspaper photos of protests are part of the Media Burn show on for another week or so at Tate Modern. The Tate website tells us that “...there is a sense of futility in the bearing of placards emblazoned with meaningless signs. However, some fundamental message survives, conveyed in the protesters’ facial expressions. For Ullrich, there are parallels between the protesters in these images and the role of the artist, a struggle to be understood and to make sense of the world around them.” Hmmm, really? While Media Burn makes a fairish stab at exploring “the boundaries between art, politics, protest and the media” Tate’s record of dealing with ‘political’ art has been less than distinguished, remember that this is the same institution that censored John Latham.