How "political" can contemporary political art be? Is it best just disrupting the everyday?
A good question posed by Apollo magazine. Here’s their opening answer:
How do you make something visible when it is already obvious? We are living in a time when man-made disasters, from the effects of climate change to the violation of refugee and migrant rights, to governments abusing populations under their control with impunity, are more heavily mediated than at any point in history, but when the possibility of change seems blocked.
This, in turn, can lead to the idea that the problem is one of public apathy, or disconnectedness. If only people were more aware of the scale of the disaster; if only they cared more or had some deeper engagement with the subject, would they respond differently?
These sorts of questions appear to preoccupy some of the UK’s major art institutions right now, with a number of them commissioning – or collecting together – work with overtly ‘political’ themes.
To do so raises questions: is art that attaches itself to current events in such a way any more or less political than that which apparently sticks to more abstract or intimate concerns? What kind of relationship is set up between the work, the subject matter and the audience?
Does the work contain a call to action that goes beyond the usual conventions of privately traded or publicly funded art – and if so, on whose shoulders does that responsibility fall?
One impulse might be to produce work that tries to make people look again at a familiar subject, or to provoke conflicted or confrontational responses. This has been done several times around the subject of migration and borders, from Richard Mosse’s use of military surveillance technology to make images of people trapped at Europe’s periphery, to Marc Quinn’s forthcoming Odyssey, a sculpture made from blood donated by refugees and others. Often, there seems to be an implied challenge to the spectator: you don’t want to look but I am going to make you face up to this.
The artist uses an intimate and small-scale film-making technique – takes shot on an iPhone, mixed with a diary entry-like voiceover – to turn personal experience into a kind of mythology. The voice-over sections talk of being a queer woman moving through a sometimes uncomprehending or even hostile society, and of the waking-dreaming state that comes with prolonged hospital treatment.
Meanwhile, the images range from the domestic (a pet cat, a view of the phone holder’s feet) to the northern Scottish landscape. Aberdeenshire, we are told, is the site of an unusually large number of megaliths – prehistoric standing stones.
Gently, the film invites us to compare a personal web of meaning and narrative to the larger ways in which these are structured: across a land, or a people. The stones remind us this is never fixed for good: once, they must have meant something definite and obvious to the people who put them up.
And if these things can shift, then perhaps our current problem is not one of seeing, or even of empathy, but of imagination – our ability to think beyond our current limitations. In this context, perhaps we need to worry less about art seeming topical and pay more attention to ways in which it can disrupt the everyday.
We would only add that the excitement around this victory for us is that the film was shot on an iPhone - the longest sequences in the film are four minutes, as they exhaust the memory of the device.
But the idea that something as personal, political and powerful as BRIDGIT can be made on a machine that most of us have, is a pointer towards the kind of unalienated, expressive life that should be possible, if we harness our productivities and empower our citizenship as we could do.
Here’s a film profile of Prodger herself: