SHE PREDICTED A RIOT

Protesters try to get their point across with riot police

At the end of day on the 1st of April 2009 my routine was broken by a complete disruption of bus services departing from London Bridge station. Caused by the G20 demonstrations that took place that day across Bishops Gate, Threadneedle Street  and the surrounding area around the Bank of England. It left me with no option but to go back home walking. I knew that at least it would give me the chance to check the demonstrations a bit closer.

Arriving at the East end of Cornhill I decided to walk down the street to watch a bunch of protesters facing a line of riot police officers, moments before they clashed. It was all a bit too fast and confusing. As I approached I saw a number of objects being thrown at the police, who in turn started advancing against the aggressors aided by tear gas. In a split second, the whole hell broke loose. Suddenly, I found myself looking at a good two hundred people screaming and running in my direction, so I thought it would be sensible to turn around and run too. It was in that moment that, on my left, I spotted another group of Metropolitan Police officers around a man lying on the floor but I didn’t have much time to think, just run and get myself out of that mess.

Met Pol officers finally persuade demonstrators to retreat

Back in Bishops Gate things were a bit less tense, although there was an incredible number of Met Pol officers, Riot Police and all kinds of security personnel getting in position. It looked like as if they were really preparing for a battle. Only then I started to actually notice the people taking part in the demonstration and realised that they too were a pretty heterogeneous crowd: punks, homeless, students, environmentalists, agitators and a whole lot of ordinary people who, like me, were extremely pissed off with banks and the government for the economic cataclysm they had created. Many broken windows and beatings later I finally arrived at the sacrosanct refuge of my home, and started pondering about what I had just witnessed. Sadly, the next day I found out that the man I saw lying on the pavement had actually died as a result of head injuries when he was violently pushed to the floor by the police.

Summits attended by heads of state are always likely to attract demonstrations. These groups of people take that as an opportunity to have their voices heard amidst the intensive media coverage that usually characterize such events. The tactics vary though. Some might try to cause as much disruption as possible in an attempt to ‘amplify the signal’, whereas others just do it for the sole purpose of defying authority and the establishment. Either way, it is thanks to independent intermediaries that some truth may emerge out of the extremely diffuse picture generated by that kind of event. The talented London-based, Scottish photographer Jane Stockdale has just done that. She put herself in the cross-fire between police and demonstrators and managed to capture arresting (in the figurative sense, almost) images showing the animosity with which authorities tackled the situation, but also the defiance of some individuals who artfully dressed themselves to look like jihadists or Sinn Féin hardliners.

Intimidating look with a bit of sense of humour

Pause for a fag between clashes with the police

However, it is not uncommon to come across situations where both text and image are edited/manipulated, making for an official version that works in favour of vested interests, be it governmental, corporative or both. For example, Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernnays, the pioneer of strategies of social control through Public Relations had among his clients industrial conglomerates such as GM as well as the US government. President Roosevelt himself requested Edwards’ services following widespread social unrest caused by the big crash in 1929 (anyone spotting similarities here?). Through manipulative strategies entrenched in Freudian psychoanalytical principles he even convinced the American people to back a military coup in Guatemala just so his client, United Fruit, could continue operating its exploitative banana business with the aid of ‘friendly’, pro-US  government.

Jane Stockdale (in the middle) disrupting the DJ set during the book launch at KK Outlet

Examples of mass manipulation and induced behavioural change are aplenty but it is remarkable that these strategies would probably not succeed without the extensive help of mainstream media. Therefore, resistance only makes sense if it too attracts media attention, or at least, the attention of independent mediatic actors like film makers and photographers. That’s why the collection of images such as the ones Jane Stockdale has shot during the demonstrations preceding the G20 summit can make a valuable contribution to create a more complete and veritable picture of similar events. To all of you who were not there being hammered or ‘kettled’ by the police, her new book ‘I Predict a Riot’ is a good (and safe) option to check what happened during that day in the comfort of your sofa or local coffee shop.

Available now at KK Outlet. Move, move, move!!!

LONDON (ANTI) DESIGN FESTIVAL 2010: A SELF-DIRECTED CRITIQUE

Intriguing pieces

Last week was marked by another London Design Festival which swept the capital with events and exhibitions (allegedly) dedicated to design, in all its glory. Running since 2003, the event has grown from strength to strength, and established the city of London as one of the main design stages in the world along Milano, Köln and New York. It also points to the long course the design business in the UK has taken since the early eighties when the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, recognized the potential for value creation (and more tax revenue, of course) by publicly urging designers, and the concerned organizations, to promote themselves more vigorously.

Poster for The Anti Design Festival

During this period we witnessed the consolidation of fundamental cultural changes in Western societies originated mostly in the aftermath of WWII up until the late 70s. Besides the likes of civil-rights movement and feminism, another social transformation occurring at that time was the emergence of a new category of consumer citizens who fueled the economies in the West through a new, and often extravagant attitude towards material culture, also known as ‘conspicuous consumption’. It was in the same period that groups of intellectuals started interrogating these phenomena mostly affecting the middle-class strata, developing the well-known post-structuralist theories (Deleuze, Guattari, Baudrillard, etc) and influencing artistic movements such as the Situationist International, helping to form the culturally collapsed plasma of post-modernity in all its myriad of expressions.

Works presented at Londonewcastle project, part of LADF

Installation at Londonewcastle project

Wall installation at Londonewcastle project

It became clear however that during the last week the current (or old?) model based on continuous market and economic expansion has reached its point of utmost saturation in all senses. Firstly because the economic boom of the 90s and early 2000, which contributed to a massive surge in consumption, not only created a demand for increasingly distinctive design as a means of keeping abreast of competition but it consequently lured hordes of students into design schools since, creating a big imbalance and steep drop in relevant, meaningful creative output, paradoxically. Secondly, the ‘superficial coating’ strategy that the vast majority of companies tend to adopt, does nothing but lither our lives with dull products, bad solutions and even worse experiences. The result is that the side effects of conspicuous consumption is a beast that needs to be continuously fed and the social, environmental and above all, cultural costs are enormous.

Idea Generation Gallery artworks and installations

That is why, out of all the exhibitions/events I have seen during LDF, the ‘Anti Design Festival’ was perhaps the least obtuse as it tried to pull visitors from their ‘overly commercial spell’ by introducing the works of designers-turned-into-cultural-agitators to the public. Originally curated by Neville Brody (whose book ‘The Graphic Language of’ I am eternally indebted to) the event took several locations around Bethnal Green road, Hoxton and Liverpool St, displaying all sorts of artworks that, in one way or another, tried to raise questions about the critical state of contemporary material culture and cultural intermediation. The manifesto-style published on their website might sound a bit naïve in certain points but the overall message is simple: Western societies’ current system of values have reached breaking point. The meritocratic mentality pushed forward by America and its glorification of yuppie culture has done little to alleviate people’s anxieties where the equation money = consumption = happiness takes a manicheist dimension. Even worse, the impact of the ideal of success has not only contributed to create a constant state of frustration that can be miraculously treated by reification through consumption and status but also created a self-harming, suicidal ecosystem. The result we can attest by visiting design festivals such as the LDF: redundant variations on the same, exhausted themes, lack of critique, apathy and infinite dullness at the service of an over-complacent system whose sole objective is to increase profits.

Piece on display at KK Outlet

However, thanks to a minority of creatives there were a few examples of good, inquisitive thinking translated into products, solutions or just concepts and this is the attitude the organisers should be fostering by being more selective and rigorous in their criteria when choosing exhibitors. Truly lateral thinking and risk taking come at a price, we know, but it is certainly one worth paying.

Design that engages. Tent London and KK Outlet

Subversive rug by French subversive collective Bazooka