Art and protest collide at the V&A’s new ’Disobedient Objects’ show

Art and protest collide at the V&A’s new ’Disobedient Objects’ show

The inflatable cobblestone is a large blow up silver cube. It was devised by the Eclectic Electric Collective and used during strikes and protests in Berlin and Barcelona in 2012. And may pop up at a protest near you some time soon.

Designed to be thrown at the police instead of actual cobblestones - the traditional protest ballistic -  it either ties them up in the tiresome business of deflating it; trying to squeeze it into the back of a van, a potentially comic process requiring a good deal of manpower; or engaging them in a bouncy back and forth, play or absurdity replacing violence and hostility.

It’s just one of the 99 exhibits (one space is left for a late addition, the struggle continues and all that) at the V&A’s new ‘Disobedient Objects’ show, a collection of four decades worth of protest art (and apps), agit-props and other devices of dissent; from a graffiti writing robot to Chilean textile storytelling, most of it borrowed from activist groups. There is also a cup and saucer set from the permanent collection, branded with the suffragettes symbol which oddly looks like the Starbucks logo.

The show’s co-curator Gavin Grindon says it’s a collection of ’art and design from below’ and an area criminally over-looked by institutions. This small but definitely significant exhibition is especially strong at looking at the ‘alternative infrastructure’ that protest groups often offer, from maps to the inflatable general assembly by 123Occupy (inflatables are big in contemporary protest) and signage produced by the Occupy Sandy movement. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York many of those involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests decided they had the collective will, organisational skills and practical know-how to lead the recovery efforts - they were right.

It’s just a shame the show has been crammed into such a small space, even if Jonathan Barnbrook’s graphics and the exhibition design by the V&A’s Line Lund keep things clear and vital. 

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