Sunday, 6 June 2010

Dirty Protest

Hubu Phonk is an artist and DJ living in Belfast, N.Ireland. Here he talks  protest art and why brand recognition makes big business easy game.

Greenpeace really were on to a winner when they prompted the world to dust off their Crayola and go to work on the BP logo. After all, spoofing and lampooning a corporation responsible for pulling down it's pants and squatting over the Gulf Coast is tonnes of fun. But it's not just BP who have suffered the wrath of the graphic designer in recent years. Faceless Corp Inc is for many fair and easy game; I mean think about, there they are sitting up there in their corner offices, smoking their fegs, drinking their scotch and slapping their secretary's pert arses. Bastards the lot of them (I've been watching a lot of Mad Men recently, you must forgive me). Where was I, ah yes, BP or [insert major corp of choice] shoving their product down our throats day and night, on TVs and on our streets, dangling their big shiny logo in our faces. They're begging for it really. They provide the wall, all we need is the spray paint.

And spray we did - thousands responded to the Greenpeace campaign, joining in on what can best be described as the world's largest toilet door defacement; wickedly funny, astute, subversive and sometimes (though Radio 1 has forever tarnished the word), genius. In many respects this speaks to me in a way that certain cleansed and approved 'public' art never will. But in the immortal words of Billy Joel, we'd didn't start this fire.

Protest art has been with us for generations, a  medium of expression not limited to education or rank, pretty much any prole with a some charcoal could have a go (for example, look back to the Roman Empire and you'll see accounts of street art ripping the piss out of the social elite and rulers of the day). As methods became more sophisticated so too did the means of expression, bright and shinny posters became the medium of choice once paper was more widely available, though I'm pleased to say graffiti was not totally forgotten. From protesting the strife of workers in the early late 1800/early1900s, to the war in Vietnam and the Attica Riots, artists, be they professional or not, have been steadily getting the message across that we're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore.

So from graffiti and posters, we now move on to logo defacement and more. Ah yes, the corporate logo - the double edged sword of recognition and success. The bigger your brand, the more open to ridicule (just look at what some naughty people have done to the McDonald's, Coke and Nestle to name but a few). Logos and brand names are the modern day regal portrait, on which we all want to draw a mustache, devil horns a massive squirting knob. And thanks to today's globalized, photoshopped world, we can all have a go and share this passion with millions.

For more information on protest art, check out this, this and this.

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