Occupation and protest: documenting social unrest - join the debate
A debate at the Museum of London on the anniversary of the March For The Alternative.
Occupation and protest: Documenting social unrest
Museum of London, Barbican
26 March, 7pm
Details for tickets at the end of this post
Last week, a collection of placards from the March For The Alternative became part of the Museum of London’s permanent archive.
On the anniversary of the march, the Museum is hosting a night to discuss how society documents protests. A panel, including artist Jeremy Deller, will discuss what the Museum should preserve from current protest movements.
Guy Atkins from the Goldsmiths project Save Our Placards tells False Economy how the evening came about:
"All I remember of this time last year is being in a whirl of planning. Transport to the demo? Sorted. Meeting places? Arranged. Flyers? Printed.
But with paint, tape and Photoshop at the ready, there was still the biggie… what would be on your placard? Images? Text? Irony? Rage? Forget 140 characters. You had 40. Max.
From the Embankment to Hyde Park stretched one long spectacle of angry cardboard joy… “The Notorious B.I.G. Society”… “Mr Cameron: We are not happy L”… “Dave: Repeating unfunny things from the 1980s”…
At the end of the rally, Save Our Placards – a project by a group of Goldsmiths postgrads - asked people if they wanted to extend the life of their protest material.
The response was overwhelming. Hundreds left their placards, banners, flags and costumes by a tree in Hyde Park.
Ever since, we’ve been finding new audiences for the work, drawing out individual stories from the rally and recognising the creativity of the anti-cuts protester.
A week after the rally, we held a one-day exhibition of all the material at the Museum of London. In the summer, the Turner Contemporary included Laurice and Natalie’s “YOU’RE AS SHIT AS THIS BANNER” banner in a book on youth culture and the Russian desk of the BBC World Service even ran a feature on Maureen’s protest umbrella.
Apparently, downtown Moscow is now full of plastic brollies decorated with anti-Osborne soundbites.
A year on, a selection of placards has formally become part of the Museum of London’s permanent collections.
To mark this, and to discuss the material culture of other protest movements like Occupy LSX and UKUncut, the Museum is hosting a special event on Monday 26 March.
It should be fascinating - a chance both to reflect on how moments of protest are framed after the event, and to debate what should be preserved.
On the panel are Jeremy Deller (the artist behind Folk Archive and The Battle of Orgreave), Rory Mackinnion (Morning Star), Kurt Barling (BBC London) and Dr. Cathy Ross (Museum of London).
No to all this jazz
Looking at the haul of placards, if I had to choose a favourite piece it would probably be the ingenious “NO TO ALL THIS JAZZ” by Iain Whiteley. Iain, from Camden, gave it to us at the tree in Hyde Park.
Playful and direct, it’s a great example of how the homemade placard still has a place in the modern protest. Perhaps more so, given how quickly a photo of one can be shared across social media. Iain’s placard is one of those to be preserved in the Museum’s collections and will be on display on 26 March.
Here, Iain describes how he made the placard and why he went on the demonstration.
Brings back memories, doesn’t it?
"I made the placard the night before the protest. It took about half an hour. I photocopied my friend’s hands – blown up for comedy effect – and mounted everything on foam board to make it 3D. The wobbling jazz hands were attached using a spring coil from an A4 office notepad using superglue and masking tape.
“While the message on the placard is generic, I think that’s a good thing. It means it can be used over and over again for anything as long as Cameron’s in power.
"It irritates me that we’re basically told we can go on demonstrations as long as we don’t cause any trouble. It’s as if the powers that be are saying: “We’ll let you have your nice little march around for the day and then we’ll cut all your services anyway.” So, while I don’t want to get involved in any violence myself, I do think the whole polite protest thing is a bit ridiculous, so I was trying to make a point about that, too.
"The day itself was fantastic. One highlight was exchanging banner-waving with the comedian Josie Long. I think her placard said “David, all artists hate you. Except Tracey Emin and you’re welcome to her.”
"I’m not really sure if protests like this make a great deal of difference. They didn’t stop the Iraq war. They didn’t stop the tuition fees increase. But that won’t stop me taking part. And it’s good to meet up with so many other like-minded people who believe in something strongly enough to get out and shout about it.
"In terms of really making a difference, Twitter and organisations such as Avaaz.org and 38degrees.org.uk have really come into their own. It’s easier than ever for people to protest via these kinds of channels, which is a brilliant, brilliant thing.
"But placards are definitely a prettier, wittier way to protest."
The Save Our Placards blog contains more placard stories at www.saveourplacards.blogspot.com.
And there are a few chances to see the placards coming up:
Saturday 24 March – 100 placards from the March For The Alternative will go on display on the South Bank by Hungerford Bridge between 10am and 3pm.
Monday 26 March – 50 placards will be on show at the Museum of London event Occupation and Protest: Documenting social unrest : More details of the night and how to get tickets.
20 to 29 April – Save Our Placards exhibition at the CMR gallery in Redruth, Cornwall.
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