disobedient objects continued


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. The Disobedient Objects exhibition[1]  focuses on the art and design of objects within social movements.


It may seem surprising that the Victoria and Albert museum presenting this exhibition. As a product of the Great Exhibition, the V and A is a celebration of the world the Victorians constructed, with little consideration that life could be different and little regard of alternative ideas for society.


Many of those who loaned items for this exhibition were reluctant to do so as they weren't intended as works of art: they were made in the heat of the moment, responding to a situation. Taken off the street and placed in a museum context there is a danger of these objects being deprived of their integrity and 'de-fanged', as Julia Bryan-Wilson[2] puts it. I think this in part may be because there is something discordant about showing the products of protest, objects which speak of pain, fury and dignity, next to a gift shop.


Wilson believes we should be careful about what happens when objects such as protest banners enter institutions disconnected from their use, but she asks, what are the alternatives for these objects if not in museums? In private collections or going mouldy in storage?


The exhibition gives voice to ongoing struggles. John Holloway makes the argument that bringing the objects together de-objectifies them and reactivates them. “Each object looks at the other and says...'we are not alone'”. [3]


T.V. Reed observes “The current rather jaded...media landscape calls for ever more artfully crafted acts of challenge to the systems that be...today more than ever, when protests can be brushed aside by the media as 'sixties style demonstrations', as if protest were just a retro style choice”.[4]


This exhibition shows how new technological advances have impacted on protest, especially mass media such as twitter. However, for sheer effect the large-scale papier-mâché puppets have more of an emotive impact. It could be argued that on the actual streets authority is undermined more by absurdity than technology, a notion which resonates with my current practice.


I think this single-room exhibition, packed with objects, succeeded to an extent in communicating their revolutionary capacity. The video and text help the viewer reconstruct but, as Reed comments; a profound act of sympathetic imagination is also required.


This thought provoking exhibition leads us to reflect on what the future is for art and activism, and what our responsibilities are:  how do these objects help us re-imagine not just politics but the act of protest itself? Methods of protest, as well as their slogans and chants quickly become stale and redundant. What styles and aesthetics of protest might be called for? Can we think differently about protest and collectively?








[1] Victorian & Albert Museum, London, July 2014 – February 2015


[2] Bryan-Wilson, J. (2009) Art Workers: Radical Practice in the Vietnam War Era (University of California Press)


[3] Holloway, J. (2002) Change the World Without Taking Power (Pluto Press)


[4] Reed, T.V. (2005) The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle (University of Minnesota Press)