You Can't the Fire.

Single channel video, 8'50", 2016.

In 1994, Fluxus artist Ben Vautier was invited to participate in an exhibition of work under the well-meaning if somewhat enervate banner of Artists Against Violence. He responded with a work that consisted of the curatorial invitation letter itself, with Vautier's trademark scrawl painted over the top: "I am for violence. If you put my head under water and I cannot breathe, I shall try to put it out of the water with as much force as I have. I am against oppression, not fighting against oppression." The curators, to their credit, exhibited Vautier's reply in their show, alongside a series of automatic platitudes and truisms by nineteen other artists. (That the exhibition was funded by the Federal Association of German Banks, a lobby group made up of two hundred banks that have had most of the Global South and Eastern and Southern Europe held "under water" since its inception in the 1950s seems to be lost on everyone.) 

 

You Can't the Fire attempts to continue and develop Vautier's conversation; to look at the notion of violence outside of Western bourgeois liberal apologia and its "all violence is bad" reflexes. Marxist historical materialism sees everything in its wider context; what is violence when it emanates from the oppressed? Clearly it isn't the same thing as violence from the oppressor. What does it mean when we invalidate the tool and language of violence on behalf of the oppressed? Who gets to define the nature of violence? Is it just guns, tanks and bombs? Why are systemic starvation, incarceration and colonisation dismissed as acts of violence?

 

And as for the dancing... well, I just really like to dance.


This work was originally made for Stuck in the Mud, a group exhibition at Verge Gallery in September 2016, curated by Madeleine Preston.

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Artbank collection, purchased 2016.