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The Art of Protest

. . . deserves an entry of its own.

Thursday 25th September, another relentlessly sunny day. Sometimes artists scandalise their public without meaning to. You're just doing your best, trying to get to the heart of things, and suddenly the Salon critics, the very people whose approval is essential for your survival, are absolutely furious! Often, often, at least for the last hundred and fifty years, they've been doing it on purpose: pour ├ępater le bourgeois, a game that went off and began to stink a long time ago, to my mind. I am so tired of hearing that some Turner Prize nominee, artist, or work of art's whole fabulolus claim on my attention is that he, she or it is disturbing, challenging, and so on. To disturb, to challenge is the collateral damage of great art. If it's all you've got, dear, why don't you just put a slug in my sandwich? Sometimes angry, grotesque and rebarbative art is scandalised instead of scandalising; shocked instead of shocking. Picasso's Guernica: the artist's angry, immediate reaction to a Fascist bombing raid on a Basque town was instantly, and remains, a potent anti-war icon, and focus for art-activism.

And then there's Protest Art; something different again. Art being put to use by activists (who happen to be artists), as a means of changing the world. There's a lot of it about, more than you'd think. At the Climate March on Sunday, besides admiring the banners and placards, I talked to people who'd been witnesses at bp or not bp's Deepwater Horzion performance (first staged July 2010) in the Great Court at the British Museum. I looked at the photos, and wondered if bp or not bp were in danger of getting themselves shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Why not? A choice that could defintely enhance the Turner's reputation. I've seen plenty of protest material in art museums. And notoriously, candidates for the notorious prize are nominated by the jury members*. They can choose whoever they like, and protest has been judged to be Turner prizeworthy before now (Mark Wallinger, 2007)

As I was leaving Westminster, a kind woman carrying a box of fortune cookies, obviously seeing how tired and hungry I looked, stopped and gave me a cookie. I can't show you the cookie, because I ate it, but when I checked the small print, I realised I'd been Protest Art bombed by the Belarus Free Theatre.

And that's all about the Climate March. It was an enriching experience, as you can tell. Much to think about, much to follow up, lots of art to seek out. You missed this event? Well, that's a shame but you have nothing to worry about. The one day Climate Summit in NYC** achieved absolutely zilch (I'm sorry, did I say zilch? I meant, non-binding pledges, of course). There'll be plenty more marches.

*the public are supposed to be able to nominate, but I wouldn't take that seriously if I was you; the Director of the Tate is rumoured to have a casting vote: wouldn't know about that.

**Okay, the Chinese. I grant you the Chinese. I put my faith in them (in Bold As Love) not because I admire their methods, but because they have a history (so to speak) of taking the long view. It's what we need right now. Maybe they'll come through. Eventually.


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