By Elizabeth Silva (Sociology, Open University) and Sheila Goloborotko (artist)
By Isaac Marrero-Guillamon (Goldsmiths, University of London)
I encountered the logo you can see in the image above in the summer of 2012 – first as an online image, then as a copyright controversy that made it to the news, and finally printed on t-shirts (mostly worn at anti-Olympics events).
Space Hijackers (SH), an activist collective who define themselves as “a group of Anarchitects”, had set up a webpage (1) where people could “sign up to be part of the official protest of the Games” and apply for tickets to official protest events. They warned visitors to “be wary of bogus sites claiming to give you access to protest at the Games. Ensure you only register with our authorized website.”
The website, and the tweeter account associated with it, caught the attention of LOCOG (the London Olympics Organizing Committee), a limited company created to organise the Games and exploit them commercially. Acting within their legal remit, they accused SH of “inappropriate association” with the Olympic brand, arguing that their use of the official logo could create confusion. According to LOGOG, SH were impersonating the Games’ official organisers.
Soon after, Tweeter duly responded to the accusation and shut their account without previous notice. This of course made news amongst activist circles, but also in the mainstream media (2), which of course further publicised the campaign and contributed to its notoriety.
Following a bit of back and forth, Tweeter ended up restoring their account. This, according to SH, meant that the “confusion” had finally been resolved – and their status as official protesters officially recognised. Later on, in order to avoid further conflict with LOCOG, they stopped selling the tshirts and instead posted the instructions to make your own. The DIY shirt became even more popular, and was worn by many activists in the spring and summer of 2012.
I think the campaign raises interesting questions for Curating the activist object. First, it produced a momentary shortcircuit in the logic of the copyright system: SH managed to drag LOCOG into a paradoxical position, where denouncing them meant recognising the success of the campaign. Second, it involved connecting ‘viral’ online tactics with offline actions, so that the debate over the trademarking of the Olympics (which, lets not forget, included protection over the flag, the motto, the anthem, the emblems, the flame, the torches, and words such as “Olympiad”, “Olympian”, “Olympic”, “Summer”, “2012”, “Gold”, “Silver”, “Bronze”, or “Medals”) proliferated unexpectedly. Third, it made use of satire and DIY methods in ways people could easily participate in – allowing the campaign to become appropriated by many, rather than directed by HS.
(Image from SpaceHijackers.org)
1 http://www.protestlondon2012.com (as of June 2014 the site seems to be down.)
2 It was featured amongst others in The Guardian , The Telegraph , and Wired .
A video tutorial of the Occupy movement explaining how to record a demonstration, a website of Gezzy Park in Turkey posting sketches that show in detail the precarious architectural constructions in the square, or a collection of placards of the Spanish indignados kept in an squatted building later evicted by the police… the uprising of new social movements all around the world since 2010 has made visible the material effort that has refurnished the city with new political forms. It is known that in the analysis of politics we not only should take into consideration the materiality of politics but that material things are political objects too. Social movements are characterized by particular repertories of practices and modes of organization that imprint their political forms. We assume that their material culture has a particular political condition too; the infrastructures and objects mobilized by social movement have a distinctive political condition that we want to explore through the notion of ‘activist object’.
Digital infrastructures have produced intense changes in the forms of organization of social movements, but they have made visible their materiality too. Tutorials, photos, videos, websites, digital archives… account for the everyday activity in social movements and preserve their history in digital repositories, archives and collections. The intensification of documenting and archiving practices is especially evident in the case of the Occupy movement which documented its own existence on the Internet since its beginning. We think that these gestures reveal the reflexive stance of social movements towards the preservation of their own history and material culture and gives expression to the extension of the archive in our society. Documenting and archiving are however only two of a set of practices that are mobilized in the preservation of material culture among activists. Collecting placards, leaflets; documenting ephemeral interventions in photos and videos, building and curating websites and digital archives are part of this effort. It seems that these practices are usually located in sites chosen very carefully and that the circulation of these objects to mainstream institutional sites is full of difficulties; in this situation the activist object reveals the tension between the modes of publicity deployed by social movements and those of more conventional institutions like museums or public archives.
We want to approach activist objects through the entanglement of practices that social movements mobilize in the preservation and care of their material culture; exploring the processes of collecting, documenting, archiving and curating activist objects, both inside and outside the movements. What is the relation between the activist condition of certain objects and the practices that take care of their preservation? Is the circulation of documentation what activates an otherwise mundane object into an activist one? Is the documentation of certain practices (photos, videos, websites…) an activist practice in itself? Which kind of political relationality is enacted by activist objects in their circulation? How to curate and exhibit objects without disarming their distinctive political capacity? What kind of transformation takes place when an activist object becomes part of a museum collection? Might it be possible to collect, document and preserve such objects without deactivating their political potential?