The Bread and Puppet Theatre, Tableau of three puppets, Photo © Jonathan Slaff

The Bread and Puppet Theatre, Tableau of three puppets, Photo © Jonathan Slaff

Fusing art with politics is a challenge that many contemporary artists are now accepting with great zeal, as the creative sphere of the twenty-first century is able to pose an increasing threat to social norms. As one of the UK’s traditional art institutions in the UK it seems ironic, yet also progressive, for the Victoria & Albert Museum to stage what they claim to be the first exhibition to explore design as a means of aiding social upheaval. It is this rather audacious suggestion that makes the museum’s visitors sceptical of what they will witness at this free exhibition, however there is little expectation for its poignant and inspirational nature.

 

Coral Stoakes, I wish my boyfriend was as dirty as your policies, 2011, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Coral Stoakes, I wish my boyfriend was as dirty as your policies, 2011, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Viewing such a bold exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum shows us, quite neatly in line with ‘Disobedient Objects’, how the contemporary art world is no longer limiting expression but instead celebrating it. As the first piece to greet the viewer, the large black barricade-style doors certainly set the tone; as although there is a strong sense that the art world is close to liberation, as we see, this is certainly not yet the case in reality across the world.

 

Various struggles against authority are represented in the Porter Gallery, where the exhibition takes place. Ranging from Bread and Puppet Theatre’s ‘Cheap Art Manifesto’, promoting accessible art for the masses, to the wonderful ‘Bike Bloc’, a visual and auditory spectacle used during Copenhagen’s 2009 COP15 Climate Summit, a sensitive span of gravity is conveyed. ‘Bike Bloc’ is a truly captivating piece showing the ability of sound to epitomise yet override distress. Composer Filastine seems to have adhered to the museum’s repeated use of the ambiguous phrases “social movement” and “social problem” by creating a diverse and inclusive soundtrack to demonstrate the bike’s primary purpose.

 

Installation image, Disobedient Objects, © Victoria and Albert Museum London

Installation image, Disobedient Objects, © Victoria and Albert Museum London

There are moments within the exhibition which exceed expectations beyond all comprehension and many pieces envelop the viewer in a visceral experience. The second word of the exhibition’s title is misleading in that it suggests that, in standard museum style, cultural artefacts will be presented and viewers will absorb facts about them. Instead, thanks to moving images, sound mixes and quotes from politically-charged speeches, it is easy to feel moved to the point of action. A baffling range of emotions are evoked in Carrie Reichardt’s ‘Tiki Love Truck’ film, in which we are told the story of John Joe ‘Ash’ Amador, a friend of the artist, who was executed seven years ago in Texas after being found guilty of murder. Campaigning to put an end to the death penalty, Reichardt took Amador’s body to a cabin in the woods with a friend in order to make a hauntingly beautiful ‘death mask’, leaving the viewer utterly divided on how to feel about Amador’s case. It is at this point that we are reminded that social activism and its artistic representation needs this; boundaries and possibilities must be interrogated and disputed in order to establish a revised, just world beyond our own personal experiences and knowledge.

 

For more details on the exhibition, visit: www.vam.ac.uk/whatson/event/3357/disobedient-objects-4793/

 

Words by Issey Scott

 

Bone china with transfers printed in green, bearing the emblem of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Bone china with transfers printed in green, bearing the emblem of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London