Mutable Matter

Mutable Matter of the Week: Citizen Ice Cream Vendor

Center for Tactical Magic, ‘Tactical Ice Cream Unit’. Image source: Democracy in America

Another project I came across recently: ‘Democracy in America’. Curated by Nato Thompson, who was also in charge of the ‘Experimental Geography’ exhibition. As far as I can tell from the website, ‘Democracy in America’ is not merely a travelling exhibition, but also includes a diversity of ‘outreach’ activities. These appear to range from the creation of discussion and experimentation spaces to ‘mobile units’ bringing artistic experimentation with democracy to spaces outside that of the exhibition.

One of these ‘mobile’ projects is the ‘Center for Tactical Magic’, whose ‘Tactical Ice Cream Unit’ (TICU) addresses ‘cold stares’ (= public surveillance) with ‘frosty treats’. Combining the form of a police mobile command centre with the function of an ice cream van, the artists seek to provoke discussion about securit-ice-ation issues. The other ‘mobile unit’ is no less interesting: ‘Another Protest Song’ by artists Angel Nevarez and Valerie Tevere. This project has the advantage that it is not only taking place in various parks in the form of ‘protest karaoke’, but also online. So, if you are a politically inclined musician, you can upload your 21st century protest song on their site!

Re-imagining protest

Slade School of Art Protest

I am moving from being a student to being staff at a time where the future of education (not just higher education) is highly upsetting. I have also moved into a space where this future is being intensely debated – and where some action is taken and experimented with to oppose some of the planned measures. I write ‘experimenting’, because it is clear that, while lots of people have ‘been on a demo’ (even if your dad is a police man at the same demo as you…), not many people have been in charge of organising a protest. When I first joined the protest on 10 November 2010, it felt like demonstrations followed a tried and tested recipe – in fact it felt like the time where I worked as a film extra for the BBC on ‘The Last Enemy’ which featured a large protest scene on rollerblades/skates (haven’t actually got round to watching it due to lack of TV!). Although I had admired some of the creativity behind some ‘protest art’, for instance, on the blog of Tracey Moberly, the enormous amount of creativity that is part of many protests did not become truly tangible until I became involved in the ‘behind the scenes’ part myself.

Chalk graffiti around UCL

By creativity, I do not only mean actions such as keeping ahead of police tactics such as kettling (see also this Guardian article on kettling at the G20 protest), effective use of social media or painting eye-catching placards, but also the on-going attempts to re-imagine ways of protesting. I have been following many occupation blogs and some of the public twitter posts, and you continue to find analyses of previous protests and what they could teach current activists. This can lead to sometimes bizarre, but thought-provoking considerations. A recent tweet by the UCL geographers, forwarded from the UCL occupation twitter, read:

‘Inspiring talk today about 80s Polish student protests. Apparently dressing up as gnomes helped take down regime. Something to think about?’

Further, meetings are happening day in and day out about new methods. Discussants are invited (amongst them geographers, artists, politicians, comedians), workshops and teach-ins are organised, new things are tried to test reactions. The most publicised example of a workshop so far has been the Long Weekend, a two-day event at Goldsmiths. For my ‘former people’ at the Open University, a further challenge presents itself: how do you support a student body that is dispersed across the whole country? Or could this become an advantage?

Open University Students at a recent Protest (Image Source: Open University Students Association)

So far, most of these protests are gearing up towards the ‘Big One’ on Thursday 9 December 2010, but I am sure, this demonstration won’t be the last application of – and creative engagement with – large scale protest in the next few years…


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