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GALLERY 2010/2011

critical writing

A Userr's Guide to Demanding the Impossible

About work

This is a short theoretical, strategic critical essay written in December 2010 during the student protests in London, and distributed at several occupied art schools in the city, reflecting on and trying to encourage new forms of political/symbolic action amongst art students and others in the current struggles against auesterity in the UK. The authors are theorist, art historian and activist Gavin Grindon, whose research focuses on the history of art-activism, and the artist-activist John Jordan, a founder of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination. Gavin would be available to visit and speak at Memefest.

Art, Activism, Student protests


Editors comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

This is a great document. Engagingly written, open-minded, specific yet wide-ranging in its focus. Anybody who suggests offering “tasty ice cream” at protests is on the right track.

Right now I’m teaching a course in Alternative Media, and showing a lot of demonstration footage. A little of it goes a long way (or maybe a lot of it goes just a little way). Same chants, same hand-held footage, same loud speakers over the loudspeakers. When a videomaker documents something novel, a new approach that involves creativity and fun, the whole class perks up. We can model, at least a bit, what we’re fighting for, while we protest what we’re fighting against. This booklet is a resource offering historical perspective and inspirational examples. At some point, more careful research needs to be done about impacts and consequences of these varied tactics, to learn more what works in specific circumstances. But there will always be an element of unpredictability about it, a chance convergence that creates something special and far-reaching.

Right now in the US, the left is waking up. After a stagnation of psychic depression and despair during the Bush years, millions made an effort to turn the country around via the 2008 election. In the wake of seeming success, we settled back to satisfied quiescence, hoping it would all be taken care of by Washington Democrats, and hoping the right would be shocked into their own quiet depression. Instead, the most lunatic right got invigorated, the Washington Democrats once more let down the left, and it is only in the last few months that progressive forces have been catalyzed to respond. As in the UK, it is the universities that are leading the charge – not in some nostalgia for the Sixties, but because conservatives are targeting the last vestiges of public goods for destruction, and universities hold large numbers of public employees. The public university activists are making common cause with other public unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and despite the efforts to ignore the protests initially by corporate media, the message is getting through. This may not result in immediate victory – the forces on the right are extremely powerful – but at least it gives us a chance. As the authors say, winning is the best inspiration for further effort. Was winning in 2008 enough to sustain a progressive movement? Or is that victory, having been tempered by subsequent events, now inadequate as inspiration? The efforts in Wisconsin are a result of that election, but also of the Stewart/Colbert Rally in 2010, the coverage of the events in Egypt, and local traditions in Wisconsin. It has many points of inspiration, and will need to spread to many other fronts for any victory worthy of the name.

View other works commented by Daniel Marcus  ››

This is an excellent and productive essay examining the emancipatory potentials of art and the imagination generally as a means for transcending the current conditions of social conflict and contradiction in which we live today. Displaying a wide range of artistic, cultural, and political references presented in an accessible style, one of the most immediate strengths of the essay is that it not only discusses practical examples of art as politically engaged, but also directly invites the reader to take up such practical-imaginative activities himself or herself and, through this, already co-create the contours of future meaningful utopias in the here and now.
Further research in the same area could include a fuller enumeration of the possible importance of process regardless of the success, visibility and leverage of the final product as it were (i.e. a consideration of the importance of the initial act of resistance and the potentially utopian social texture already made while people get together and decide to actively engage with the wider world and change it), a consideration of the way in which such activities could further connect and weave meaningful social relations with those outside the class faction these activities are usually associated with, and outlying some strategies by which such activities can, if possible, nonetheless avoid full assimilation into the spectacle.

View other works commented by Nikolai Jeffs  ››

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Entry details


A Userr's Guide to Demanding the Impossible

Concept author(s)

Gavin Grindon; John Jordan

Concept author year(s) of birth

1978, 1968


United Kingdom (Great Britain)

Competition category

critical writing

Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

Kingston University of London, Visual and Material Culture