1. The curation and overall aims of the exhibition
To display grass-roots art and design objects that have been used as part of a protest. Objects and images have always been part of demonstrations; they are ways of being noticed, of innovating to overcome obsticles to success and also they can rovide a way for large numbers of people to identify with a common cause.
2. The way the work has been exhibitied in the space:
At the entrance to the gallery is a 'barricade' - that is a design in black and white on a folded screen that shows objects like cars, bricks and wood- found objects that would be used to make a barricade in a protest. As you move further in it seems like the curators wanted to give the impression that we are part of a protest ourselves. They use metal poles, rough plywood to make blocks, plaques and on the floor too. Music and shouting is played in the back ground to further add to this effect and a projection onto the wall at the very back of the room to show some of the objects in action, particularly those being used at the 'front line'. The effect is exhillerating and gives the impression that these objects are not just static and detatched from their cause, they have a life of thier own. In fact many of them are still in active use, just loaned to the V&A for the duration of the show.
3. Audience expereince:
The audience moves throught the room, through this simulated barricade and to the 'front line'. This is because of the rough materials and lay-out mentioned above and which can be seen in the drawing of the room. However as you walk towards the back of the room the exhibitis are more and more recent ones. Near the entrance where there is a tea cup used as a symbol of protest during the sufferagette movement in Edwardian Britain, then we move through the 70s when demonstrations first became more widely popular, the 80s, 90s, 00s and the present day with a space left available on the far wall for a 100th peice of design used in 'ongoing struggles' (there are 99 pieces on display).
Apart from this temporal and spacial journey, another key aspect of the exhibition is it's interactivity. The curators seem to very much want to encourage spectators to engage with what they are seeing by thinking of how they themselves can use design as a form of resistance. There are free instructions on how to make several of the objects on show. There are also opportunities to do things such as stamp your own bank note with a design that highlights ecconomic inequality in the UK, to try out a lock-on for your self, to open up and look behind a piece of folk texile art and descover the hidden note about how it represents the dissapeared children of Chille during the Pinochet regime. The message is clear - you can do it too!
4. The techniques, ideas and themes of the artists and designers in the exhibition.
Many of the artists and designers in the exhibition are annonymous as they are either objects that have been replicated many times by hundreds or thousands of people, or because the message the artist is spreading puts them at risk of harm from authorities. This in some ways means that the work is ironically more humble than much of what we normally see in such prestigious galleries as the V and A. It is also more democratic because the objects are often made with found material that is present and availble in daily life and they are easy for anyone to make as well. This replicability is often of central importance as it is a way of aiding resistance of the masses and spreading a message. The bike Bloc is an example of a useful protest object that can be made out of ordinary objects like bikes.
Another key technique that some of the objects have employed is subverting the meaning of an object or action. Two key examples were the 'cobble stones' large inflatable silver cubes that protesters throw in the direction of the police. This echoes the tradition of protesters in Europe throwing cobble stones in ages past, because they were easily at hand. However, these cobble stones are in no way dangerous and they make a mockery of the police by engaging them in a kind of comical game, bouncing back and forth between them and the protesters. The authority of the police is made to look rediculous if they should respond to these shiny, unassumic objects by attacking or arresting them!
The second object that makes use of this kind of subversion of meaning is the Book Bloc. This is a cardboard shield decorated to look like a famous piece of literatire like 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. They have been used in protests concerning freedom of education, libraries beign closed etc. When the police have used their clubs on these Book Blocs it cuases them to literally act out an 'attack on education itself'.
© Elizabeth Kendal, all rights reserved