When you focus on political art, sometimes, you find yourself wondering where politics end and art starts. This was very much the case when I came across Wolfgang Tillmans (1968) Anti-Brexit posters. Tillmans is a German photographer, whose studio is in either London or Berlin. His works – in his own words- are “an ongoing process of observing cause and effect, a locked and unsolvable coexistence of intentions and results.” He is the first non-Briton to win the prestigious Turner Prize.
This is actually a metaphor for the on one hand development of the U.K. (I can actually only speak for London’s art scene), which is flowing to an inclusive attitude towards the non-white-heterosexual man. You have the Tate. The director, managing director, and Tate modern director are all female. They have a workforce diversity program which aims to make the museum as inclusive as possible. They want to be a truly inclusive organization with a workforce and audience as diverse as the communities they sere. They see it as a fundamental in order to succeed and continue to contribute to culture and society. Diversity is reflected in the artworks on view in the permanent collection and the exhibitions. Female artists make 50% of the works on view in the Tate Modern. An overview of the exhibitions at the organization right now: Queer British Art 1861-1967, Fahrelnissa Zeid, Aleksandra Mir Space Tapestry, Simeon Barclay, Judy Chicago Fixing a Hole, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, and Rachel Whiteread. Just two exhibitions left of white male artists. Ok, I love the Tate, but the rave is over, I promise.
So you have this on one hand. And one can sense it coming: on the other hand, you have Brexit. Tillmans saw felt it was necessary to start a campaign because “Today, I see the Western world sleepwalking towards the demolition of the very institutions of democracy, negotiation, and moderation that allow us to live the lives we are living.” So first, he made posters to make sure people were registered to vote. Second, he made posters to support the “remain” camp. Oh and I forgot the mention: they were available as a pdf for self-printing on his website. Of course, people are way more likely to download a poster if it’s made by a world famous artist who is having a solo at the TATE that year.
And he didn’t stop there. He started campaigning against the extreme right parties all across Europe to protect the E.U. His posters, as a collaborated with other organizations) were translated into at least 20 languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, French, Finnish, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.
Most recently, he is campaigning in his motherland Germany against the right-wing party AfD. They would “use and abuse the means of democracy to poison our communities.” So he is urging everyone to not vote for them on September 24. “Every vote counts. Print the posters and ask in a pub, bakery, or workplace whether you can hang one. Or post it online.”
So is it art? Or is this beyond the notion? The French philosopher Jacques Rancière focussed on the question about the effectiveness of political art. I will write something about it as soon as I can comprehend his argument. So, Nato Thompson wrote about art and activism, which is slightly (enormously) more graspable.
Thompson examined whether ambiguity or didacticism is favored in art and activism. He states that in art, a certain level of opaqueness is encouraged, just enough to feed speculation. In activism – however – clarity is preferred. This is why most socially engaged art fits somewhere in between ambiguity and didacticism. It should be didactive to an extent that it is legible enough to impart ideas and engage the viewer in a level of ambiguity in order to explore the work for the viewer.
So perhaps we should see this as sharp activism. He is conveying a clear-cut message, legible for everyone, and hopefully – although it’s too late for the UK – effective this September in Germany.