Review by Theresa Wolfwood
“Disobedient objects have a history as long as social struggles itself….Objects have played a key role in social change alongside of performance, music and the visual arts.” From the introduction
“To disobey in order to take action is the byword of creative spirit.” Gaston Bachelard, quoted in this book
This well-illustrated book is more than a catalogue accompanying an exhibition; it is a thoughtful and informative description of how ordinary objects -from plastic drink bottles to scraps of fabric to even paper currency- can express opposition to injustice, war and oppression of many kinds. It is the next best thing to seeing the exhibition. The exhibition of the same name had hundreds of thousands of viewers at the Victoria & Albert Museum; it will be travelling through galleries in other countries.
Of course the objects are not themselves disobedient but the provocative title shows the creativity of social activists who liberate art from its formal establishment strait- jacket to become the art of everyone longing for a better world.
Featured on the front and back covers are the results of disobedient artists who change a plastic drink bottle into a gas mask with explicit directions for construction and use; the ordinary bicycle lock is re-invented to join people together in resistance at demonstrations.
Scraps of fabric become Zapatista dolls – I bought many of them from barefoot little girls on the streets of San Cristobel, Chiapas when I returned from my stint in jungle as a human rights observer. I cherish them as art and as a memory of those brave people who continue today to create another kind of society.
My friend, Thalia Campbell, used scraps to make the first banner for the historic Greenham Common women’s peace camp. Since then she has travelled the world showing others how to make their own banners mad organizing banner exhibitions..
The arpilleras of Chile made by women who were suffering under the brutal Pinochet regime as their family members were murdered, disappeared or imprisoned. Made from scraps of fabric, often from the clothes of the dead or disappeared, the tapestries were dismissed as naïve folk craft. These depictions of their daily lives, the terrible conditions in Chile and their dreams of a better world have become treasured archives of memory and are now recognized as true art of resistance. This arpillera, showing handcuffed hands, the eyes of the secret police and peace doves falling from the sky as women weep for the disappeared and murdered, was chosen as a postcard for the exhibition.
In the Afterword, V&A director, Martin Roth, concludes, “Disobedient Objects reveals design to be much more than just a professional practice or a commercial process. It shows that with even the most limited of resources, ordinary people can take design into their own hands. It celebrates the creative ‘disobedience’ of designers and makers who question the rules.”
All photos from the V&A website