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A healthy counter-balance

Forum > Reviews

From mini-FM to hacktivists: a guide to art and activism

Mercedes Vicente at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery
12 Dec 2005 - 6 Mar 2006

by John Hurrell
6 Comments
2005_12_18_561928

Exhibitions featuring global activism are extremely rare in New Zealand, especially in municipal galleries. There has been the occasional international conference - like Cultural Provocation, held in the Manukau Institute of Technology in August 2003, but not political art of global concerns in galleries. Of course national political art, be it over Treaty claims, racist sport, feminist or queer issues, has been common since the seventies. But in this millennium, while the consequences of globalisation, ecological disaster, WTO and GE are discussed daily in our media, little penetrates our public galleries.

Some artist/activists don't care about that. They deliberately eschew galleries and work instead in the 'littoral' zone –the space between art and life. They've abandoned 'art' as being largely irrelevant, preferring to work invisibly for political and economic change solely in the 'real' world –usually in small communities.

The artists in this large New Plymouth show are different. They have a primary focus far beyond galleries, and a higher profile, and see 'legitimation' in a white gallery as a help not a hindrance. About a third of those in this exhibition were also in Vicente's October exhibition in New York called If it's too bad to be true, it could be 'Disinformation.' Many are activists who only call themselves 'artists' when it suits them. The enemy they fight tends to be corporate power that is US based, and usually the techniques they use involve photography and new media.

Some of these activists are guerrilla pranksters who create havoc through ersatz corporate spokespersons or fake websites. The Yes Men are well known in New Zealand through the documentary film about their hoodwinking of DOW Chemical at business conferences and through a website that promised $12 million compensation for victims of the Bophal Union Carbide tragedy. 0100101110101101.ORG likewise deceived visitors through their Nike Ground website. It advised of an imminent renaming of various streets and squares in Vienna by Nike, and the erection of a public sculpture featuring the 'swoosh' logo.

Since the 80s independent video collectives Paper Tiger TV and Deep Dish TV have encouraged a wider range of public opinion through their use of cable and satellite technology. On level 6 (the largest space in the Govett) an interactive lab presents over 25 hours of their material, featuring a wide range of issue-based subject matter, from critiques of the war in Iraq to those examining mainstream media itself.

Other artists examine government control of radio transmissions and work hard to subvert it. Tetsuo Kogawa and neuroTransmitter promote mini-FM radio as an easy- to-build, legal alternative to mainstream domination. They travel round the world publishing guides and conducting workshops. Similar in her preoccupations, Zita Joyce processes New Zealand transmitting information, showing on Auckland and Taranaki maps the surprising ubiquity and range of our diverse broadcasts.

The most seasoned political artists in this show came out of the radical student movement of the sixties which opposed the Vietnam War. The highly charged photographs and photomontages of Allan Sekula and Martha Rosler have hitherto only been seen in magazines or books in this part of the world. Rosler's sixties collages of luxuriously furnished interiors show American atrocities routinely occurring just outside the living room plate glass windows. Sekula (as is Rosler) is widely respected as a theorist. His sequences of slides on the streets of Seattle feature dramatic confrontations between WTO protestors and police.

There is one obvious problem with shows of this type. They tend to conflate a variety of different political positions into a false unity. Not everyone who despises Bush's middle-east policy or Don Brash's attitude to the electoral Maori seats supports say, Alannah Currie's anti-GE lobbying, or is alarmed about the global domination of McDonald's or Coca Cola. Art lovers are not necessarily left-wing, and even if they happen to be, hot political issues still don't conveniently cohere into an easily identifiable cluster. Consequently, Art Activist shows like this might provide sudden moments of insightful revelation to some visitors or be seen as a smug preaching to the converted by others. Their value lies in the new choices they provide. Fresh options to be pondered over.



Comments:
1 to 6 of 6
nznancy
12 articles & 232 comments since 13 Aug 2006
Hmm, old article but I hadn't seen it. I've given it three stars for information content.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Mm maybe I should bump the vote up a bit.
Let's see 3+5 = 8 div by 2 = 4
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
You can't vote for your own articles, but I'll do it for you John.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
I was fishing for a few snorts of indignation but no luck. Oh well it's Friday. All our readers are knackered, and thinking about the weekend.
nznancy
12 articles & 232 comments since 13 Aug 2006
Does this site have imaginary numbers, as Kim Hill was talking about on radio today with a mathematician? (the word sounded like Rieman and there is an area of geometry called Reimannian) ... ( :-) (I am not asking for negative votes if that's what you translate this to mean: its just a joke and it would probably be in bad taste. However, I accidentally clicked some votes on a wrong artbash page recently and then couldn't seem to fully erase them.)
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
No, you can't fully erase your vote, but you can change it (from 1 - 5) just by voting again.
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