Dancing in Bloomsbury

Disobedient objects have a history as long as social struggle. People have always used them to apply ‘counter power’ and objects have played a prominent role in social change along with performance, music and the visual arts.


In the documentation of the performance/intervention, we see a ‘Hetty’ hoover taken out of ‘her’ usual context of sucking up dirt and dust in pre-dawn corridors, classrooms and offices, more usually pulled along by poorly-paid cleaners who’re often denied the rights that others take for granted, ‘she’ becomes a ‘disobedient object’, like those shown in the recent, illuminating V&A Disobedient Objects exhibition, which focused on the art and design of objects within social movements?


At a Justice for Cleaners demo outside University of London’s SOAS College, Hetty dances to a fiddle-player’s jig. The hollowed-out cylindrical head; bright pink with thick-lashed wide eyes, hose and nozzle ‘nose’, creates a mask that within the demo context is at once comic and affecting. As with Gillian Wearing’s Dancing in Peckham the dancer appears incongruous but is largely ignored by those around her. Similarly, as with Pipilotti Rist’s Ever is Over this is a short but bold, feminist piece, publically subverting the female form.


In this intervention, the case of SOAS cleaners is highlighted and turned back on itself. The demo has been called to highlight the cleaners’ demand to be brought in-house but is taking part outside their workplace. As part of this, the performance becomes intentional; it is live in a public space as opposed to a film: the work has evolved and found an audience.


However, just as these spaces are changed so is Hetty: an anthropomorphised cleaning machine becomes personified and the only audible reaction from an onlooker is “you’re crazy!”