05 September 2011

The Bad Art Collective and irrational fat activism

I just spent the weekend making Bad Art at the Researching Feminist Futures conference in Edinburgh. For two days I sat at a table and made stuff with three other members of The Bad Art Collective, a group we formed earlier this year, and various delegates who dropped by during the event to make some Bad Art with us. We had paper, pens, glitter, felt-tips, macaroni, lentils, pastels, scraperboards, glue and other media too, plus a lot of Blu-Tak to stick everything we made to the wall.

People have different ideas about what constitutes Bad Art. At the conference people variously related to our Bad Art table as a project of irony, or a relaxing retreat from workshops or presentations where the 'real' work takes place. That's not how I see it at all. Drawing, making things, talking, cackling, working collectively, that's the space where things happen. I loved the moments at the weekend when people started to get over their insistence that they can't draw or 'aren't artistic' and contributed to the larger project. Better still was when what they produced made them laugh and want to do more. A felt-tip becomes a weapon.

The Bad Art Collective
Researching Feminist Futures, Edinburgh, 2-3 September 2011
Photograph by Evangeline Tsao
Our project was called Bombarded By Images and the idea was to critique the often-heard truism that women develop terrible body image because they are constantly bombarded by images in the media. We wanted to show that we are more than capable of making an abundance of our own images, and to think about and do activism that is creative, productive, full of agency and bad attitude.

Because of our theme, and because the four of us are grounded in fat activism and Fat Studies to a greater or lesser extent, a lot of what we produced was about fat, resistance, anger, fat culture, bad feminist art about bodies, being anti-social, inexpertise, enjoying stupidity. Drawing stupid/not so stupid pictures was a true delight, it opened up a space that was beyond rational-critical dialogue, where we didn't have to play by the rules of politeness or propriety.

It's a couple of days later now and I've been thinking about that feeling. I love fat activism that is weird, grotesque, anti-social, and I feel sad that this kind of activism is sidelined or barely acknowledged or known compared to the 'real work' of changing laws, addressing inequality, righting wrongs. Those kinds of activisms are fine, I'm glad people do them, but they don't make my heart sing, and don't speak to my politics and cultural touchstones, which are of the punk, queer, anarchist variety. I think activists should consider ethics and do what they can not to support oppressive hegemonies, and I don't think you have to be po-faced about it; I like activism that makes me laugh a lot, that is prankish and evil.

Just now my friend sent me a link to Slavoj Žižek's rambling account of the London riots in August, stupidly titled Shoplifters of the World Unite. He's as windy as you'd expect an overly-lauded ageing white man academic to be, but I like his remarks about the irrationality of the riots as a form of protest. It made me think that, amongst its many qualities, Bad Art can also be thought of as a form of 'irrational' activism, fat or otherwise. The pictures and objects we made aren't waiting for anyone's approval, or official sanction by committee. Sometimes they make no sense to anyone else, or they grate, they don't behave or speak nicely, or engage politely with the other side. But they make sense to us and they make us happy, they're full of life and humour and intelligence, not to mention imaginative possibility and power. They resist and create simultaneously.

I feel excited by these ideas, and I expect I will come back to them. Full documentation of Bombarded By Images is coming as soon as I can make time to stick it on the Bad Art Collective blog – you'll just have to wait. Meanwhile, here's one of the things I made at the weekend, inspired by The Warriors, The Chubsters, The Ramones, and the Manson Family diorama that used to reside in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds! Coloured pencils forever.

1 comment:

Alexie said...

Who is the theorist?