The Naffness of Political Art

The creation of Dismaland was an exciting prospect: the idea of an installation-come-theme park located in the seagull-infested bay of Weston-super-Mare. The summary of every millennial’s fairground experience, and as a guy who spent my earlier years at Playgroup in princess dresses and infatuated with The Little Mermaid, I only had to see the ripped, acidicized Ariel on her platform in front of the haggard Cinderella castle, to know that I needed more information about the show’s inception.


Time had passed by being back at home in the North, away from London and everything seemingly happening that was relevant in the world, every Instagram post or newspaper article I’d read on Dismaland had watered down my ambition to go to the Southern cove and see the sad staff in Mickey ears and pink hi-vis completely. Work that displays both joke and punch line in such a synchronised manner, with no allowance for contemplation or any desire to process what you’ve just witnessed, isn’t something I really wanted to cash out on. Remixed political work which could have been produced by anyone from a YBA contemporary to a teenage street artist seemed to be polluted by wave of datedness, a Camden market sponsored excursion that feebly jeered “Fuck The System”.

Time moving on and tastes evolving as they do, the street art that was once able to express boredom with a regime became naff. If it was so easy to turn into parody, it’s effect was truly dead. With the rise of the Internet as a global critique, work became easier to dissect and take the piss out of. During my A-level years, there were a group of boys from Moss Side who ran amuck with spray paint, listening to Burial and smoking fuck loads of weed who lived an illegal activity, who were so naturally intelligent that they made everyone else to feel like doing this shit was OK.


The following years ketamine was drought-less and dubstep had just wetly emerged out of the Tony & Effy Stonem aftermath, a fetish for getting trollied, everything was a snowy flux of being young and that youthfulness being important. Everything that people of that age were looking at was telling us to be a mess and to partake in destruction: so it happened. Justice and Romain Gavras were colliding with council blocks and pedestrians; Alice Glass and Ethan Kath were blood-gushing onto my MySpace profiles, Emo was the next stage on from being a Mosher or a Goth. Even if it didn’t say “anti-establishment” in the lyrics or script, you knew that somehow it was connected to separateness from the controlling body of the nation. 

Since Banky’s art moved into the granite-topped kitchens and Cath Kidston living rooms of the liberals, statements that were tied to his name became a flaccid remembrance of an opposition, to something he then became the nucleus of. His stencils becoming as much of a fixture in the homes of the submissive public as flat-packed furniture, friend’s houses I spent time playing GTA in as a tween would be cream sofa-d, gold furnished and smothered in Ikea canvases of our anonymous Guy Fawkes with a spray can. As a now established form of art by the older generation, they could look at the erratic work their kids were producing in GCSE and A-Level art classes and see the “art” there. All teen’s work became about “urban decay”, “the street” and “politics”, however mis-informed.


Banksy and Shepard Fairy had said in Exit Through The Giftshop that they felt used by Thierry Guetta, AKA Mr Brainwash, who was essentially a documentarian on their work before he went off on his own successful spraying meltdown. Having now spawned thousands of street artists of zero calibre, the early noughties players have been reduced to simmering in the same pot as their clones, shoulder-to-shoulder with knock-off snogging policemen. A tried and tested method of the anti-establishment, predictability levels multiplied, the same school of wit that would cast a pig as a member of law enforcement, even inspiring a Twitter account that mimics Banksy-isms in the form of a roommate’s tale of living with the artist. Street art is essentially a stream of dad jokes for the kids of this decade. While governmental control will obviously always be a theme, although due to the drastic homogeneousness created by all the possibilities of the Internet, we all have a lot more in common than ever before.

Contouring techniques, Fetty Wap, Snapchat, all playing the same roles in our lives curated by King Kylie, have watered us down to the point where we can chat to anyone about anything and expect some form of level playing field. There is a lack of the Katniss Everdeen spirit, or rather no evidence of it, that hasn’t come in the form of a hyper-web aesthetic of late. Even magazines that were once bastions of the underground like Dazed and i-D have started to produce Tumblr-related drivel every hour or so on their online platforms, intent on telling us about a “youthquake” which is merely a flurry of feminine pits left unshaven. I, along with thousands of other doubtful-of-the-world teens, had scraped each page of every new issue of both of the previously mentioned titles.


I was hammering to escape the provinciality of my surroundings reading interviews with a fresh Kirsten of The Virgin Suicides, or a photo essay on the DMZ, only to now have the piles of mid-noughties mags gathering dust in the corner of my bedroom at my parent’s house in Derbyshire. It wouldn’t be so painful if they weren’t constantly repeating themselves, their journalists seemingly on the same payroll and mindscape as Buzzfeed. It’s been a topic amongst friends recently on boycotting Dazed Digital, but its hard to gauge just how much the content is sub-par vs. how growing up into the circles often spoken about in such titles de-sensitises you to how good the content actually is. Having been to university that has constant hype from London-based magazines, and all their appetites for throwing twinky/twigs-y design students into editorials, seeing the dim underbelly of wet blankets with dyed yellow hair and shaven heads confirms your loss of faith in the publications that used to so heavily enthuse you.


The theme of activism is now usually tied to the self-promotion of individuals, generally the celebrities of Tumblr expanding onto Instagram: the well-versed art students who turn the fleshy, odorous space their gender occupies into a bonfire of self-inflating micro-essays. Bushwick, Bedstuy, Dalston and Peckham are all Western plateaus of cool youth activity, all carrying a highbrow air to issues that effect more than just the rich-pretending-to-be-skint liberals of PS1 and Arcadia Missa.


Sexuality, race, gender and religion are always hot topics for work that rakes in the applause, with class always seeming to slip under the radar as an unspoken facet. It’s not wise to base work upon being under-privileged when your parents pay your rent. Raising the issue amongst the artistic crowd is often uncomfortable, the realm of industries drawing in the privileged set, as there’s not exactly a big influx of privately educated offspring running off to become plumbers and bricklayers. On the surface, due to the nature of dress and self-presentation, anybody can pass for working-class with the right pair of trainers and filthy fleece.


The issue will always be a shield for the champions of each cause to charge with, yet the most important facet is the one that involves them being the glowing, re-touched face of the rebellion. It takes away from the former grandiose gestures of being pissed-off and going out into the street and saying something about it on a wall or on a picket outside parliament, but issues are simply marred by bedroom-based (or worst: the club-based) “activism”. Amidst all the aggressively narcissistic hordes, there are a few guiding lights that don’t just encourage the same Insta-celeb expansion as Alexandra Marzella’s deleted social media accounts. Creating for the cause of the issue and not just the self, zines and events that sprout up as a form of free speech are a small but endearing facet of our current time state.


People who produce work for their own purposes, the purpose to expel thought onto the world to manifest some kind of independent thought would be very welcome right now. Banksy might be in the same boat as Christmas cracker jokes at this point, but at least he was fighting against the droll way of existence, and not just for his own face to be recognised on a night out in whichever currently trending part of your nearest capital city.

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