Contemporary Art: Where’s Your politics? Where’s Your Guernica?

Last month I went to see KP Brehmer. Real Capitalism–Production at Raven Row gallery. I came away feeling elated that such beautiful work could be so politically clever. Brehmer pushed the buttons of Capitalism using its own templates, casting comment across its growing evils using charts, graphs and maps. Brehmer’s work is quiet yet immensely powerful and, though made in West Berlin during the Cold War, is no less relevant today. The UK is in a state of division, with our political parties either a scrambling mulch of overlapping one-upmanship or drawing ever closer to ridiculous extremism. And, with no where else to turn, I’m wondering where our KP Brehmers are.

Art has always had great potential to be political, often with the comic at the helm – think the nineteenth-century chamber pot that let you shit on Napolean’s head and the million and one caricatures of Maggie Thatcher from the ‘80s, but less and less are we seeing the quietly provocative political art that has the ability to be so powerful. Jeremy Deller, who touches on social politics in his work, is having to mix it with magic at Turner Contemporary. Marvin Gaye Chetwynd – the pioneer of performance – turns to history to offer any political comment, re-enacting David Copperfield’s walk from London to Dover; the film ending with her and friends surveying the unemployed council estates. But even when asked – in conversation with Catherine Wood at the Arts Club on Wednesday – Chetwynd is reluctant to name her work as political; it is apparently more ‘fun’ and possibly anarchist.

History, it seems, is easy to bring into art; just look at the poppies. But where is the artist proud to make a statement about the state of things now? Banksy’s images are often very astute social comments, but, as anonymous, he’s not exactly an ambassador. The Artist Taxi Driver (Mark Mcgowan) is all too proud, recording overly passionately political interviews in his cab, culminating in the film This is not a recession, it’s a robbery  – he was also the artist who pushed a monkey nut all the way to Downing Street using only his nose. Even the politicians appear better at using art to make a statement, Shepherd Fairey’s Obama poster was and is infamous; then in 2010 the Guardian used it for Nick Clegg, and then The Sun rehashed it for David Cameron. Were there no other images?

It is visuality that gives art its edge over the grossly verbose politicians who repeatedly refuse to answer questions, because we all know a picture contains a thousand words. This week hundreds of Australians buried their heads in the sand – literally, on Bondi beach – in protest to Tony Abott’s refusal to take climate change seriously. No speech could have made a stronger point. With the UK elections looming next year, the art can’t come too soon – so come on artists, I know it’s not easy, but you’ve got one of the only strong markets right now. Lots of people are looking, so where’s your Guernica?

Words: Sophie Hill © Artlyst 2014 Photo: Walkings 1-6, 1970
Estate of KP Brehmer, Berlin, and Common Room Film Produktion, Helmut Wietz, Berlin

Jeremy Deller English Magic is at Turner Contemporary until 11 January 2015.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Hermitos Children 2 is at Studio Voltaite until 14 December 2014.


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