|Marion Lea Jamieson
On Art & Anarchy
Daily, hourly & minute by minute,
we are deluged by propaganda for the consumer society and free-market capitalism.
What is the alternative? Some believe that the problem is restrictions
on our freedom and that without them society would be a better place. For
instance, at the Occupy Vancouver rally & march there were speakers,
such as the raw milk lobby (a surprisingly vocal and well organized group)
who argued that “no one should be able to tell me what I can put into my
body”. This is the voice of freedom from authority, one aspect of the anarchist
persuasion, which presents itself as an alternative to the current system.
As an artist, I’ve been interested
in the attraction of anarchy to some segments of society. I became
aware that there was a deep undercurrent of undirected anger in a portion
of the population that lashes out at anything that happens to be in its
way. This happened during the recent Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver and
this has happened to my own artworks on display in the public realm. Sculptures
that I have spent months or even a year fabricating, and that have been
enjoyed by the whole community have been trashed by this infantile, egotistical
rage. Vandals have even brought tools for the express purpose of wrecking
my artwork. My sculptures feel like a part of me, like my children, and
I abandon them to their fate on the streets with trepidation. When they
are attacked, I feel it personally.
As an artist, the best way to deal
with personal pain is through my art practice, so a mini-series in the
Running Man theme explored the phenomenon of vandalism and the public realm.
The piece shown below, called War of All, was an attempt
to understand the anger and capture its energy. It was also an opportunity
to muse on the idea of anarchy. The opposite of anarchy is governance and
the title of this piece refers to “the war of all against all,” the description
that Thomas Hobbes gives to human existence in the state of nature or life
War of All, Spray paint, acrylic paint,
wood & chain, 48'' h x 36'' w
There seems to be a general misunderstanding
about the philosophy of anarchy, certainly among the elites who oppose
any challenge to the status quo. But many self-styled anarchists may not
have investigated the background to this philosophy and its many conflicting
Wikipedia describes Anarchism as
“generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to
be immoral or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human
relations…. Anarchists advocate stateless societies based on non-hierarchical
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the French
philosopher who declared that “property is theft” is often called the founder
of modern anarchist theory. Proudhon favored workers’ associations or co-operatives,
and considered that social revolution could be achieved in a peaceful manner.
Though Proudhon’s arguments against entitlement to land and capital make
sense, his anti-state position may not be as relevant today since corporations
are more powerful than governments.
At the other end of the anarchy
spectrum is the egoist form of individualist anarchism, which supports
the individual doing exactly what he pleases – taking no notice of God,
state, or moral rules. Max Stirner was a German philosopher, who ranks
as one of the literary fathers of nihilism, existentialism, post-modernism
and individualist anarchism. Some adherents to this school of thought have
found self-expression in crime and violence. Individualist anarchists also
gave rise to the modern movement of anarcho-capitalism with absolutist
views of human rights and rejection of the state.
Illegalism is another outgrowth
of individualist anarchism. Illegalists usually do not seek a moral
basis for their actions, recognizing only the reality of “might” rather
than “right”. For the most part, illegal acts are done simply to satisfy
personal desires, not for some greater ideal. This seems to be the
philosophical home of many self-defined anarchists. Framed as personal
direct action against exploiters & the system, this is the rationale
for spray-painting graffiti on public buildings & destroying installations
in the public realm, from bus shelters & public toilets to my sculptures.
Though there is a huge differences between creating guerrilla art and destroying
public art, the motivation is similar and the line between the two is blurred.
I have used layers of graffiti as
a background for War of All because the issue of graffiti
sums up so many social contradictions. Graffiti artists and groups excluded
from the political mainstream argue that they use graffiti as a tool to
spread their point of view. They point out that they do not have
the money – or sometimes the desire – to buy advertising to get their message
across, and that the ruling class or establishment control the mainstream
press and other avenues of expression, systematically excluding radical/alternative
points of view.
While graffiti on public or private
property can be looked at as a political act or an expression of creativity,
most of it is garbage – the equivalent of dumping McDonald’s wrappers on
the sidewalk. And the co-opting of graffiti by commercial culture is a
widespread message that using the public realm to express your individual
ego (whether a creative or destructive urge) is very cool & cutting
edge. So the five drunk guys who come across one of my sculptures
downtown in the wee hours think it is hip to break it apart. Do they
figure that because my piece was accepted by the municipality for the site,
this makes the artwork part of the system and therefore fair game?
Probably they don’t think at all.
Another work from the Running
Man series on the sub-theme of anarchy & graffiti is called
Not Go Quietly.
Do Not Go Quietly, 2000, wood, board,
lacquer, oil and acrylic paints, 36''x 48''
I can’t remember why it has that
title, but it again tries to capture the anger & rebelliousness that
expresses itself most often in tagging & other vandalism. The wooden
figures are absences in that they act under cover of darkness and have
no recognizable goals or objectives.
I’m all in favour of goals &
objectives. I don’t buy the party line given by everyone from the
art establishment to my artist friends that art should not address political
or moral issues. The curse of postmodernism has been the universal acceptance
of the idea that artists shouldn’t have ideas. Having opinions or otherwise
expressing values is soooo didactic!! One must eschew meta-narratives and
simply be a conduit for the flotsam & jetsom of cultural tides. The
real artist is a blank canvas with no point of view, because points of
view are so last century, back when people believed in the glorious potential
of the human race and look where that got us – WWs I & II!
But I do have ideas and I’m an artist,
so no matter how unfashionable it is, I like to express them in my work.
To the right is a piece called Conversion
about the transformation of ecological
into economic wealth, in this case the logging of trees to create wealth.
I’ve used graffiti as a background to indicate that the destruction of
forests (habitat for many species) for the economic benefit of the human
species is also vandalism.
The level of logging carried out
in the province of British Columbia where I live is ecologically, socially
& economically unsustainable. Trees are a vital part of watershed
ecosystems and if too many are removed the system breaks down. Trees are
being cut faster than they can grow so inevitably large numbers of loggers
will be out of work & logging towns abandoned. The logging companies
will take out as many trees as they can before they are all gone, then
simply re-invest elsewhere, leaving BC economically depressed.
Another indicator species of unsustainable
human activity are fish. In Fishery, I have again used
the graffiti motif, except this time, the tags are those of corporate logos.
Fishery, 2001, wood, board, chain, acrylic
and lacquer paints , 4'' h x 6'' w
Big business gets to splash its
tags in multi-million dollar advertisements in all media while the less
powerful use graffiti. All economic wealth originates from the earth and
its bounty of water, air, plants, animals and minerals. real wealth is
in the health of these resources, not in the consumer items that the destruction
of these resources buys.
Anarchy and Occupy Vancouver
Like everyone else, I’m fascinated
by the Occupy Vancouver movement and the many similar protests happening
around the globe. The stated goals of Occupy Vancouver on its website
“to transform the unequal, unfair,
and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city
and around the globe. We challenge corporate greed, corruption, and the
collusion between corporate power and government. We oppose systemic inequality,
militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties
and human rights. We seek economic security, genuine equality, and the
protection of the environment for all.”
There is much discussion in the
media on the fact that Occupy Vancouver like all the other protests, are
leaderless and do not provide a plan for achieving their stated goals.
The corporate media calls the protestors spoiled children who do not appreciate
how good they have it (in other words, how well the capitalist system has
served us here in Vancouver). Steeped as they are in the philosophy of
self-interest, they cannot imagine that others are motivated by concern
for those living in poverty and despair in Vancouver and most other North
American cities. The occupiers and their sympathizers understand that in
the win/lose world of unrestricted free-enterprise, the creation of poverty
is a necessary component of the system. Wealth is systematically removed
from less aggressive or advantaged groups, regions and nations in order
to concentrate in the hands of a few.
Occupy Vancouver will be
challenged by the individualist anarchists who want their personal issues
addressed and are not willing to go through the difficult process of aggregating
interests and reaching consensus. On marches we chant “The people, united,
will never be defeated”, and the challenge is to find union. The
1% and their lackeys are of course united behind the goal of maintaining
the status quo until they have managed to acquire all of the world’s remaining
wealth. They differ only on who gets how much. The 99% not only want their
fair share of the pie, they want to prevent & reverse the growing gap
between rich & poor, climate change, mass species extinction, pollution
of water soil & air, homelessness, inequality, militarization, tyranny,
corruption, moral decay, the breakdown of communities and a host of other
Looking more closely, the common
denominator in all these ills is consumerism and the global economy.
What if everyone opted out of the global consumer culture – how would that
* reduce, re-use recycle
* buy second-hand
* trade, barter, swap
* buy nothing but absolute necessities
* buy local – nothing shipped more
than 100 miles
* wear no brand logos
* buy from co-ops
* start co-ops
* grow your own
* bike, walk, take transit – don’t
* to travel don’t fly, take the
bus or train
* vacation locally
* bank at a credit union
The bottom line is, we have a democratic
system in place here – this isn’t Tunisia or Libya. In recognition of the
fact that folks in these countries are willing to lay down their lives
to resist tyranny, the least we can do is exercise our franchise. The democratic
system isn’t working and most people’s needs are not addressed because
the corporate media convince voters not to vote in their own interests
or not to vote at all. Successful political parties are indebted
to donors with deep pockets and act to benefit them. The most powerful
action we can take is to vote for candidates who recognize & oppose
the subversion of democracy through corporate power. We can get involved
in political parties that represent the 99% & push for strong platforms
that limit the power of the 1%.
go back to Art
in Society # 16, Contents page