Monday, 16 November 2015

Signs of resistance

Near Holborn, London, November 2015

London has changed a lot in the last 5 years. This is nowhere more obvious than on the street, the intersection of city structures and city dwellers. Cycling into, across and around central London provides an overview of the city that cannot be glimpsed through the subway tunnels alone; nor in the newspapers or news broadcasts. On backstreets and main roads, more and more small businesses are boarded up, having been forced out by rising rents and competition from national chains.

But people won't be silenced, and I'm starting to see more and more signs of resistance emerging. Last week, protests took place in London on two consecutive days. On the afternoon of the student protests, police swarmed the streets and enforced road blocks. It was eerily quiet. But on a side street in Holborn, close to many university campuses, I spied this encouraging message:

"It is the power of the mind to be UNCONQUERABLE."

In September, this poster was attached to the window of an empty building, which had previously housed an independent catering business that sold Malaysian food:

"Think Locally - Fuck Globally"
High Holborn, London, September 2015

This notice has since been removed, whilst the homogenous national sandwich chains (Pret, Eat and the like) are thriving. They offer 'Malaysian-inspired' soups every now again, which are not very tasty. 

These are graffiti messages from strangers to strangers. They'll be taken down, scrubbed clean, papered over. But people will continue to make their mark, and graffiti will always be subversive. This is neither a name tag declaring ownership of the street; nor pretty, colourful pictures subverting connotations of anarchy; but messages inspiring resistance. It's nice to know that I'm not alone; and you're not alone either. 

It's especially needed when the establishment only offer us signals praising those who conform. Like this:

"The joy of NORMAL"
Shepherd's Bush underground station, London, September 2015

and this:

Metro newspaper tube advert campaign. Central line, London, September 2015.
This ad campaign openly mocked commuters' typical 'antisocial' behaviour, and encouraged them to instead read this free newspaper instead. (i.e. don't do what you want to do on your journey; don't have an independent mind; read this commercial paper funded by advertising instead! It's much better!)

We need to keep thinking, keep questioning; keep talking and writing out. They're trying their best in Brixton:

"CAUTION. Cleansing in process."
Brixton, London, September 2015.

We need to keep working, separately and together, to show that we're not alone. 

Friday, 13 November 2015

Liberate Your Legs

I don't have a television, don't take public transport every day, and don't read many magazines. I manage to bypass a lot of advertising that reaches people through the traditional channels of regular ad breaks on TV, and posters and billboards on the tube. There's a huge amount of advertising online though, which I can't escape on my computer and phone. I try to skim over a lot of it, but naturally some of it still stands out.

I was pretty surprised to see a 'suggested post' on Facebook this evening that advertised a razor marketed at women with the slogan 'Liberate Your Legs' and accompanied by the hashtag slogan 'Ditch Your Tights'. I haven't experienced hair removal adverts since I stopped watching TV 6 years ago, so I found it very weird that their copywriting and overall approach hasn't changed much over the last 10 years.

Although the razor in question was now blue, it was still photographed on a glossy, bubblegum pink background. The brand's subdivision is called 'Wilkinson Sword Women', together with its slogan 'Liberate' and sub-site '' lending connotations of strength and power. Free yourself! Be a strong Female, and join with us other sword-wielding Women!

The 'Hydro Silk' subtext further underlines the glossiness of this ad campaign. 'Ditch Your Tights' I find pretty horrid because it immediately suggests that you should only be going bare-legged if you've shaved.  It's also pretty weird when you consider that November in the Northern Hemisphere is not really the  ideal climate for bare legs. So where are you going around with bare legs? Probably in intimate situations; but why should you feel ashamed?

Well, it's in the interest of companies like Wilkinson Sword to promote positive associations of hair removal so that they can sell razors. Smoothness and silkiness transfer from the imagery of the advert to the skin on your body. This ad offers a free sample razor, but obviously the promotional campaign aims at future brand loyalty. It's free, so what's stopping you? Get smooth legs! You'll never be able to take your tights off otherwise!

Facebook treats its ads like a public forum, so naturally I had to reply to them. (See the image above.)

Of course, I have no idea why Facebook thought that this was an appropriate post to 'suggest' to me. I know that the site monitors its users, so how could it have failed to miss all of the LGBTQ-friendly, gender-queer empowering, pro-feminist (etc) events that I've shown interest in as of late?

Luckily, unlike with adverts on the TV, public transport, and newspapers/magazines, Facebook actually allow you to respond to their choice of adverts. Though Facebook is definitely not an unproblematic phenomenon,  I honestly do appreciate the level of interactivity that it still offers.

Hopefully this will allow me to continue living in my own little bubble of liberation for sometime longer, unplagued by ignorant and brain-washing adverts. And of course, the true liberation is both not being offended by my own body hair; and not allowing huge corporations to profit from giving me a negative self image. Power to that!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts

I was very happy to be able to see Ai Weiwei's exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. I have a bit of an ambiguous relationship with installations and abstract art, but I've always had great respect and admiration of Ai's drive and determination in face of China's system of government, both as an artist and a citizen. Ai's politics are central to this show, with the exhibition overall focussing on his relationship with China. The works on display are often hugely tactile, large, and emotional in their literal embodiment of government corruption. Within the exhibition, and the treatment of Ai Weiwei in the British Press, Ai's studio becomes symbolic of resistance to China's regime.

After a crowd funding campaign, the trees can be experienced for free in the RA courtyard. These trees were created from pieces of trees which died naturally, which were subsequently sold in pieces in markets. People looking for innovative ways to make some money, or the commodification of the natural world? Ai created the trees from the pieces that he bought. They were very imposing on the gloomy November morning.

A couch beneath allows people to sit and look up at the branches; but a lady was contributing to the installation by applying a full face of make-up.

According to the Guardian, Ai describes the process of creating these trees as "just trying to imagine what the tree looked like”. To me, the simplicity in this statement calls into question our preoccupation with validation and the creation of value, specifically regarding the art world and celebrity.

The exhibition describes his work as being influenced by Dada. This was very helpful for me as a gallery visitor, for the simple association with a movement and art philosophy helped me situate Ai's work and understand it in a broader context.  Ideas and objects are as important as the overall messages intrinsic in the work. Sometimes subtle, sometimes very obvious, Ai's art works to challenge preconceived normals, and what is considered of importance and value in society.

Ai Weiwei's show at the Royal Academy: amongst Trees, selfies, tourist portraits, and the union jack flag.

This is an important exhibition. Situated at the Royal Academy of Arts, this is no trendy, edgy, fleeting show; it has weight and significance. We must not ignore the injustices which the Chinese government exert on its citizens, even though our economy is dependent on said government. The British establishment has made its loyalties clear in the recent treatment of those protesting the Chinese government in London. Ai Weiwei's show makes it clear, however, that government corruption is real; and that people resisting it are right in doing so.

I won't go into detail on the specifics of the exhibition, as you can find that in the broadsheets' arts columns if you wish to. Or, go with an interest in the work but allow yourself to be surprised by what's on offer. You cannot fail to be moved.

Ai Weiwei
Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly
Until December 13
Click here for information on tickets

Monday, 2 November 2015

Presence then absence: the private/public dilemma

London, November 2015

Tonight's post comes in two parts: first an update on where I've been and where I'm now. And secondly, a musing on being present or absent in the online and physical world in 2015.

Greetings in Daylight Saving Time and the month of November. 

Where have I been in the last two or three months? Mentally, in a state of disarray; but physically, mostly buzzing around the various campus buildings attached to the University of the Arts London. In September I started a Masters degree called MA Fashion Cultures. This slightly ambiguous title is a vehicle to write about great clothes, bad women, sex, and really messy nights out within an academic framework. To the academics amongst you, I'll clarify that within the Masters, I am focusing on queer theory, gender and sexuality studies, and subcultural groups. And hopefully I'll get some gender-bending films, theatre and performance art into the discussion too.

The Masters is pretty demanding but incredibly stimulating, and it's great to have a viable, positive space to channel my questioning, restless mind. Lectures have led to many more thoughts, and providing I get back on schedule with this blog, should lead to more content here too.

It's become very clear to me the reason why I have never been a successful blogger: my lack of regular posting. In my defence, I think that success in anything requires consistency, which demands stability; and my life in the past 5 years has lacked all of these things. This seems to have made me more likely to give up on things than I would have been a decade ago. After a raucous Friday night out celebrating terror and lost souls with some good friends, my pal Kate said to me quite simply, 'You should just write it again.' And so I am. 

This leads me nicely onto the second subject of this post, which I will only touch upon here as it's a massive topic, capable of generating much more thought and discussion. Being absent in a world of communication is not only difficult, but I believe is actually becoming subversive. I was recently speaking to another dear friend Akeela on the topic of disappearing, and how it's near impossible to do this today. Your phone has automatic GPS built into it; contactless payment is the norm for public transport in London (in fact the only option for buses); payments are made directly into bank accounts. But not only is it supremely easy to be monitored and found by outside forces; we do our own internal monitoring, of ourselves and of others. The tell-all sources of Facebook and blogs have been near-eclipsed by the show-all forum of Instagram, where displaying the private publicly is clearer and less ambiguous than ever. And we want to be seen: merit is placed on neo-celebrities who are famous for being famous, liked for being liked.

Recently, I was informed that David Bowie doesn't have an Instagram or a Twitter. The closest you can get to him in private is via his partner's Twitter account (where she sometimes shows photos of their dinner). Could his choice, as a celebrity [who is actually famous for talent], to continue to keep an invisible inner life be something radical today? Are the most subversive people the ones we've never heard of, doing things we'd never think to follow?

I'd love to hear what you think.

And I'd love to hear what you think I should write about next!

Bis bald,