The Occupy Movement Meets the Art Establishment: Part 1

Figure 1:  Ted S Warren/A P, 2011. A protester at Occupy Seattle wears a V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask. [Photograph] At: JONES, JOHNATHAN, 2011. Occupy’s V for Vendetta protest mask is a symbol of festive citizenship. The Guardian. [online]. [15/02/2020]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/04/occupy-movement-guy-fawkes-mask

Unfortunately, the case of Tate and Tate Liberate is just one example which highlights a broader, more universal issue surrounding the funding of activist art/artists and their supporting institutions. A similar story can be told for the Occupy Movement and their involvement in the 7th Berlin Biennale and Documenta 13, 2012. So what was Occupy’s relationship with art before the Biennale and how did it change afterwards?

Let’s start getting a few things clear. Although many of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the Occupy Movement, for those who need filling in what is it and why did it start? Well, it describes itself as a ‘a News and media channel amplifying the voices of the global 99%'(1). You may be wondering who this 99% are. Well, I’m getting to that. The group was formed following the economic crash of 2011 on Wall Street – protesting against capitalist ideologies is one of its prime concerns, specifically large corporations and global financial systems that they claim control the economy(2). They claim that these bodies act in such a way that disproportionately benefits a minority, ignoring and undermining the majority (the “99%) in terms of democracy and social justice(3). The movement has blown into an international platform of dissent and reform and is now a one of the world’s largest activist movements. Indeed the movement’s sheer scale, as pointed out by political theorist Chantal Mouffe, can cause “serious divergences within the 99%” facilitating factions. Mouffe further suggests that this “kind of reasoning could easily remain at the level of a moral condemnation of the rich, instead of a political analysis of the complex configuration of the power forces that need to be challenged”. However, these “divergences” are part of what some would argue characterises the movement as inclusive, producing a platform which unites people under the world-view of the 99%, subsuming any grievance or injustice against the occupiers(4).

Indeed, the diversity of participation, the translocal nature of the organisation and its consequetial scale are the most unifying elements of the movement, something which has rendered it so affective at communicating a cohesive identity. This, of course, expands into engagement with art and design. On the website, it reads that the movement uses ‘news, analyses, music, video, photography and graphics to heighten awareness and inspire engagement for social, economic and environmental justice'(5); the diverse application of Occupy’s moral tenets has illustrated the movement’s urgency, authenticity and validity. When discussing Occupy’s visual dimensions, art critic Sebastian Loewe mentions the success of Rachel Schragis who transformed the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City into an illustrated flow chart(6)(Figure 2). The poster clearly disseminates the moral allegations of the group, reading “all our grievances are connected” by the immoral machinations of the 1%.

Figure 2: SCHRAGIS, RACHEL, 2011. Flowchart of the Declaration of the Occupation of NYC. [Print] At: Justseeds Artist Cooperative, 2011. Flowchart of the Declaration of the Occupation of NYC. Justseeds. [online]. [15/02/2020]. Available from: https://justseeds.org/product/flowchart-of-the-declaration-of-the-occupation-of-nyc/

This was partnered with a strongly cohesive visual identity formed in their adoption of the mask from David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta graphic novel from 1982 (film 2006) as a symbol of resistance(7). As Loewe goes onto state, Occupy ‘express a longing for political morality through the means of art and artistic direct action’. Being personally concerned with the issue of fast fashion and the impact it is having on the environment, I decided to do a little research into the organisation’s mask. As soon as I googled ‘buy vendetta mask’, the top result directed me to Amazon UK where I found page after page of rebellious camouflages from a plethora of British companies who provided slight shape and tone variations. I selected the first option, as any member of the group is bound to do, and started digging. Ironically enough, an Occupy activist investing in this symbol of global justice would be advocating not only Amazon (a multi-national tax-evading corporation(8)) but a company which ships their products from China(Figure below); in itself, shipping from Asian countries increases the customer’s carbon footprint hugely, let alone tying them to a number ethical implications associated with buying from Chinese factories which are notorious for their poor workers’ rights(9). Surely this is against the interest of the 99%? The concerns of the Occupy Movement would surely stretch as far as basic consideration of product sources? I’ll leave you to make your own judgement.

Despite their obvious double standards, the overall image of the multifaceted movement was translated into socially engaged artistic practices and politically committed art.

REFERENCES

(1) http://www.occupy.com/about

(2) https://placesjournal.org/article/occupying-wall-street-places-and-spaces-of-political-action/?gclid=CjwKCAjwkPX0BRBKEiwA7THxiIXStJokwhrp4hYXee1G6vWa3tzoMPuGe6-23E1Z3MHuAbqh3P19ZRoCc08QAvD_BwE&cn-reloaded=1

(3)“Who exactly are the 1%?”The Economist. January 21, 2012. ISSN 0013-0613

(4) Chantal Mouffe, “Constructing Unity Across Differences. The Fault Lines of the 99%,” Tidal Magazine: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy 4 (2013): 5.

(5) http://www.occupy.com/about#sthash.RMLPBfKb.dpbs

(6) LOEWE, SEBASTIAN, 2012. When Protest Becomes Art: The Contradictory Transformations of the Occupy Movement at Documenta 13 and Berlin Biennale 7. Field. Issue 1: Spring 2015. Viewed 15/02/2020. Available from: http://field-journal.com/issue-1/loewe

(7) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/04/occupy-movement-guy-fawkes-mask

(8) https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/10/amazon-uk-halves-its-corporation-tax-to-74m-as-sales-soar-to-7bn

(9) https://waronwant.org/sweatshops-china

I hope you enjoyed engaging with my creative shenanigans of dissent! If you so happened to find this topic interesting or have any questions/suggestions, I love a good chin-wag so please do get in touch. Thank you for reading!

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