My interest for subversive art came together with climate change activism. Some years ago, I learned the portmanteau word ‘artivism’ and got closer to artivists. This quote resonated with me: ‘The role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible’ and I even had some artivist experiences in the streets of São Paulo!
Art has a potential that we, professional activists that spend most of the time looking to a computer screen, sometimes struggle to understand. Drawing lots of penis or ‘giant comedy phallus’, as the artist calls them, around potholes has much more impact than publishing a report about bad conditions of street pavement for cyclists. Unruly actions like these demand a quick response from the government. Indeed, that was the City Council statement: ‘Has this person, for just one second, considered how families with young children must feel when they are confronted with these obscene symbols as they walk to school?’
Moving from the UK to Brazil, a stolen car became a symbol of the water crisis in São Paulo. The artist Mundano painted ‘Welcome to the Cantareira Desert’ on it and people started using it to measure if the water level of the reservoir was increasing or not. This bothered the government that removed the car that had spent the last 20 years under the water in that place. Mundano then painted the car in a pillar to serve as an informal measure tool too. Official authorities painted over it less than a week later. These images travelled the world, I was proud of Mundano when I saw his work in the Guardian and in one of the classes of the Sustainability module I took.
Unruly art is powerful because it contains the message on itself. It does not need explanation and it connects with peoples’ emotions. Can you guess what the following art is about?
Since I arrived in Brighton, I started following Russell Brand’s youtube channel as a way to follow UK politics. He publishes daily videos during week days and his main argument is that people should connect to their communities, get together and organise unruly actions to stand up for their rights because Westminster politics has been captured by big capitalist corporations and Members of Parliament do not represent the people who voted for them. He says it is not worth voting and that he has never voted, which is quite a statement for someone who (ironically) was voted the world’s fourth most influential thinker.
It was a big surprise (at least to me) that this Monday, on elections week, he declared his support to Ed Miliband and called his audience to vote for Labour Party.
My first thought was that he lost my respect for not staying true to his beliefs by deciding to be part of the game. Certainly, it was a smart move from the Labour Party to gain this unexpected support because Brand’s audience is mostly formed by young people who do not feel represented by politicians and are not willing to vote. He has more than a million subscribers on Youtube and almost 10 million followers on Twitter. But how does Mr. Don’t Vote justify it?
Brand says in the end of the video that people have to vote because they cannot allow the Conservative Party to dismantle community access (to welfare state system). He clarifies that for him democracy is not only about voting every 5 years, it is about being active everyday so people can be heard about housing, poverty and inequality issues. Finally he says that Ed Miliband has lots of limitations but if he is the candidate who agrees that we need a kind of politics where communities have to be involved and welcome pressure from below, he is the candidate to vote for because this is just the beginning of the revolution not the end.
It will be hard to know if Brand can be responsible for helping Labour Party to win the election, but it is interesting to think that the unruly thing to do in this context was to speak the ‘language of the rulers’ when nobody expected it.