Monday, 22 August 2011

Top 10 Contemporary Political Artists

The phrase "it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Capitalism" has been attributed to both Zizek and Jameson.  It seems prophetic in the wake of the bank bail-outs: it seems impossible to even imagine the banking system (which has bankrupted not only our country but many countries) failing, we are ready to pay any price so that this broken system carries on.  And even though we own the banks, we have no power to influence them as they announce that they will continue with their unlimited bonuses.  It is indeed easier to imagine the end of the world: think of the recent apocalyptic scenes on London, ransacked and on fire.  We can't turn to politicians for guidance, there is tri-party commitment to the same forms of Capitalism.  So, how can we imagine alternatives?  This is where Art can play a unique and crucial role.  Philosophers or economists have to come up with an alternative before they can communicate what it might be.  Only the Artist has the power to forge a space where we can imagine new possibilities.  It doesn't need to be didactic either:

Even artistic experimentation and creation that is not explicitly political can do important political work, sometimes revealing the limits of our imagination and at other times fuelling it".
(Michael Hart & Antonio Negri 2009).

This got me thinking.  What Artists are there out there who are capable of fitting this brief?  I turned to Google for an instant answer but "Top 10 Political Artists" only returned results containing the likes of Picasso's Guernica. This is the best site here.  It cites the deaths of Socrates, Caesar and even JFK.  There's some Poussin, Delacroix, David and other historical paintings in there too.  Not very helpful though, we can't turn to dead Artists for answers... or can we?   History can teach us many things but these paintings tend to illustrate a point rather than provide space for new possibilities.  For example, Guernica was very much a shock and reveal campaign telling us what has already happened, it was specifically linked to the atrocities that occurred in Guernica in 1937.  Likewise Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People" is political but in more of a reportage kind of way.  It tells a story, it glorifies the French Revolution, it commemorates the event.  I suppose we could get involved in a debate about the use of historical painting today but I'm more interested in what artists exist now who could help us understand our world and imagine new possibilities.  What would this work look like?  So I Googled "Top 10 contemporary political Artists" - nothing.  Then "Top 10 political contemporary artists" - nothing.  Given the sense of urgency for us to understand a rapidly changing world, a world aethetised through the mass media too (we're talking about interpreting the image of, say, 9-11 as much as the act for example)...this struck me as strange.  In contemporary art circles the political (especially the overtly political) isn't all that... "fashionable" I guess.  

It was at this time that I went to see the Wilhelm Sasnal exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ.   Now, here's an artist who deals directly with political imagery (in a historic, communist context) but also with the added bonus of the cultural context of growing up in Poland as the Berlin Wall fell, and advertising flooded in, then the internet happened and in one person's lifetime the proliferation of the image changed so much.  Although this exhibition isn't particularly strong in this sense I couldn't help but compile my "Top 10 Contemporary Political Artists" in my head.  So, over the next few weeks I'm going to post descriptions of such Artists, in no particular order, starting with Sasnal. 

No comments:

Post a Comment