Friday, 4 November 2011

Top 10 Contemporary Political Artists: 4, Los Casagrande

Berlin, August 2010: Chilean Art Collective Los Casagrande drop 100,000 bookmarks with poems by 80 German and Chilean poets from a helicopter over Berlin.  Berlin was, of course, the logical conclusion to their "poetry rain" project which had previously taken place in Santiago de Chile (2001), Dubrovnik (2002), Gernika (2004) and Warsaw (2009).  As the Guardian points out all cities which, like Berlin, have suffered aerial bombings during their history.

Warsaw Poetry Rain

But Berlin is particularly poignant given the Berlin Blockade of 1948-9.  After WW2, and before the Berlin Wall, Germany was divided in two with East Germany falling under the control of the Soviet Union.  Berlin, entirely in East Germany, was subdivided into sectors controlled by the Soviets (East Berlin) and the US, Britain and France (West Berlin).  In June 1948 the Soviets blockaded all roads and railways controlled by the Western Allies, thus making the Soviets the sole suppliers of food and fuel and thereby gaining effective control over the whole city.  In response the Western Allies organised the Berlin Airlift, dropping supplies by air into West Berlin.  In one year they made 200,000 flights and by April 1949 they were supplying more by air than they had by land.  The US and Royal Air Forces mobilised by dropping food and fuel (not bombs) as an act of (cold)warfare against the Soviet Union.

Subimos al helicoptero

Watching the Warsaw Poetry Rain (above) reminds me of a KISS concert I was at, in Donnington.  Paul Stanley made a rare speech concerning the political malaise before saying "... every now and then you owe it to ROCK N ROLL ALL NIGHT AND PARTY EVERY DAY!".  This was followed by the song of the same name and an explosion from which thousands of Rizla-esque pieces of paper fell from the night sky like a ticker tape parade.  The show won me over as a KISS fan.  The audience were gripped by a mix of Rock music and "ooh...ahhh!" moments derived from firework displays and, the ticker tape parade.  It was magical, it was fun.  Watch the video of the Warsaw Rain and you'll see the look of delight on the faces of adults and children alike.  Everyone likes a spectacle and everyone likes something for free.  But look closely and you'll also see middle-aged men studiously perusing the bookmarks.  The drop elicited two primary reactions: joy and intellectual reflection (what does this mean?).  In this way Casagrande successfully engaged their audience, their audience being regular street passers-by - not gallery going art lovers... and this is important.  Remember this: Casagrande's projects will not make them money (they rely on grants to realise them at all), they do not gain individual fame (as they are a collective), they do not seek approval or regonition from art-lovers (as they confront anyone and everyone).  It is a protest, for sure (against war).  It is organised distribution of art (poetry) and ideas.  I love the idea that someone today might be looking at their bookmark and fondly remembering the day they caught it, falling from the sky.  Or they might be driving or walking somewhere and think about it.  They might even re-read the poem and reflect on the current malaise.  The art lives on in memory - and in a book mark. 

What if you can't get hold of a helicopter?  In 2008 the Georgian author David Tursashvilli, part of the group GWARA (an acronym for Georgian Writers Against Russian Aggression) led a more low-fi protest against the Russian attacks on Tbilisi.  He took his children to the bottom of the garden with the intention of burning all the Russian books in the house.  He then changed his mind and decided to give them back to Russia, at the Russian embassy.  He "bombed" the embassy with paper aeroplanes made from the pages of the books.  You can read more about it here


Berlin Poetry Rain

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