Monday 5 July 2010

Manicured misrule

Revolution Now!, ICA, London


Anarchy in the ICA, where Gob Squad have bound the doors shut, occupied the building and called out the instigators. They don’t know what they want, but they know how to get it. Action alone is no longer enough; presentation is everything in this cosmeticised coup of manicured misrule. They might not have a real solution, but it’s time for a-changing times.

Sure, we’ve been taken hostage in the name of the cause – whatever that might be – but it’s not long before Stockholm Syndrome kicks in and everybody’s talking ‘bout revolution, evolution, um, masturbation… Anyway. We are become the children thereof and we’re not coming out until our demands are met. Or, at least, until one person stops to throw a flaming bottle of champagne against a wall. Complying with health and safety legislation, of course.

Revolution Now! is charged with Gob Squad’s inimitable high-octane freneticism and characteristic brash cynicism. They tear about the stage and the seating rake, urging us into action and sculpting us into a presentable rabble. They strip chunks of resonant pop culture bare like carnivorous magpies, vandalising the iconic like the Chapman Brothers on Nitrous Oxide. They orchestrate us into cheering and cheerlead us into orchestrated aggression. They make us read protest poetry and pose gun-toting and peace-signing for the camera.

All this is to create the image of a revolutionary force, ripe for broadcast to a lone television placed on the street outside, through which they attempt to ignite a genuine act of insurgency. Bemused passers-by stare back blank-faced, resolutely oblivious to rules by which the event is operating, by which they’re being asked to play. No, it’s more serious than that, isn’t it? To act. To revolt. By turns it’s brattish, riotous, vaudevillian, clever, stupid, coarse and tech-savvy. And it’s all extraordinarily good fun.

But it’s also surprisingly shallow. Overarchingly, I suppose, Revolution Now! is a lament for political activism and people power. In taking such an extreme stance of enthusiasm and generating such support for an empty, meaningless cry for change, Gob Squad show up the apathy of a stagnant and docile society. More than that, the implication is that genuine revolution has become impossible in a world governed by its media. Perhaps the best any public outrage can hope to muster is a Twitter campaign or a Facebook petition. And what do they choose to achieve? A festive chart-topper for Rage Against the Machine. It’s hardly Tiananmen Square.

I suppose one could read into this a diatribe against the infectious irony amongst digital natives, if only Gob Squad didn’t seem so caught up in that themselves. In fact, they stubbornly refuse to take anything, including themselves, seriously. What that means is that, for all that we get caught up in the excitement of persuading the public to take arms, there’s very little at stake. Rather than genuinely trying to incite an uprising, Gob Squad seem content to see what they can get away with. There’s more than a touch of Trigger Happy TV about it, a sense of mocking the uninitiated and excluded.

A further symptom of this is its dilettantism, which really prevents Revolution Now! from being anything more than a cursory exploration of activism. That we should remain onside and entertained, playing along and partying in the aisles, seems more important than really getting to grips with the subject in hand. As a result, a wide range of ideas are picked up and tossed away without interrogation. It’s a shame, really, because the revolution itself is a real pleasure. Only afterwards do you realise how little it meant.

Run over. LIFT continues at various venues till 18 July 2010.

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