1 April 2017
Sleek (Issue 53 p.78-82) (Germany)

Artists on politics. From investigations into urban poverty to assisting refugees in Greece and critiquing populism with cat GIFs, these six artists are kicking back against the status quo.

In a world increasingly dominated by right-wing populism, fake news and intolerance, it is not hyperbolic to suggest that art ignoring political upheaval feels irrelevant. SLEEK has therefore decided to compile a list of upcoming artists engaging with some of these threatening issues. Rather than a return to the satirical tone of the Eighties, they are searching for new modes of expression to address our modern context. Art may not be able to change the world materially, but the need for creative, intelligent forms of education and critical thinking is a cause worth fighting for.

Lloyd Corporation

There is a delightful sense of provocation in the work of London based duo Ali Eisa and Sebastian Lloyd Rees, aka Lloyd Corporation. Having met while studying at Goldsmiths, they began to create performances and sculptural installations that dig into the fabric of urban experience and inequality. Two years ago they moved away from object-based work. “We worried that [it] tried to distil a whole, wide ranging, very socially engaged and observation led conversation into discrete objects,” they explain. Their first performance was part of the Hayward Gallery’s “Mirrorcity” show, deploying street vendors as living statues. From setting up a knock-off handbag stall outside the VIP room of the last Frieze Art Fair, to a phonebook-style tome collating images of detritus from London streets, Lloyd Corporation’s work successfully addresses exploitative scenarios produced by capitalism. Forthcoming projects in Lisbon and Milan next year are inspired by ‘job lot’ auctions and online marketing scams. Their work has political aspects without any sense of the didactic. “We hope this work creates discussion, reflection and awareness, but we wouldn’t subscribe to such grand statements,” they say. carlosishikawa.com

Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme

Basel Abbas & Ruanne Abou-Rahme met in Jerusalem as teenagers, but began working together in London. “We were searching not only for a new aesthetic language but also for a different language to think about the ‘political’,” they say. Their early experiments were with live video and sound, which they still explore under the name Tashweesh. The internet has a lingering presence in their work, which draws on everything from Middle Eastern media to the legacy of colonialism, creating a multiplicity of meanings. Moreover, the density of research and material in their output has fascinating results. “The unfolding of different threads and layers has become a major conceptual and formal component,” they note. This spills out into objects and performances, which echo the cacophony of the contemporary landscape. Their tumblr page, SAMPLES, has translated sculptural installations as well as video work and print pieces. Yet this goes beyond mere aesthetics. “A lot of fieldwork, such as interviews and conversations with people on the ground, keeps us engaged with the urgency of a certain moment, allowing us to articulate not just what we feel needs to be said and heard, but also what others feel.” The meaning of Abbas & Abou-Rahme’s work is never obvious. Instead it presents a language of crisis and disaster, media overload and undercurrents of resistance that suggest real – or unreal – narratives of modern life. baselandruanne.com

Ellie Harrison

Before turning to art, Glasgow-based artist Ellie Harrison had been immersed in activism. Thereafter, she began making work as a way of expressing things that cannot easily be addressed through protest. “Art can be ambiguous where activism cannot,” she explains. “It can ask questions without having all the solutions carefully mapped out, and it can be can outrageous and unethical in order to reflect the society in which we live. There is so much that angers me in the world that this inevitably becomes the driving force for everything I do.” Harrison’s projects can been seen as much as political actions as artworks. One example of this is the Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund, which raises capital to invest in renewable energy initiatives to pay for more art activism. Her artworks also include a large dose of humour. “It enables me to laugh at myself as a form of essential self-critique, and as a coping strategy for dealing with a brutal and often absurd world,” she says. Cue sculptures like “Vending Machine”, a reprogrammed snack dispenser that releases items only when news relating to the economic recession makes the headlines, or “The Global Race”, a Segway driving contest parodying the Olympics. ellieharrison.com

Raul Walch

Raul Walch’s interventions include flags placed on ignored poles, temporary fountains, urban fire hydrants and textile performance works. The Berlin based artist recently developed a series of kites together with displaced children and adults at the Greek border on the island of Lesvos. “These rescue kites are a type of flying lighthouse [that] can serve as solar reflectors; as a marker to attract the attention of coast guards, and [can] be used to locate and rescue a shipwrecked person,” he explains. The materials were salvaged from refugee camps and their surroundings: PVC from boats, bits from tents, and reflectors from lifejackets. The project won him the IBB Photography Award for and an honourable mention at the 2016 Berlin Art Prize. This year he took part in the Tokyo Wonder Site residency in Japan, and unveiled “Marking Triangles” at the Japan Foundation in Cologne, a dialogic exhibition with Yuichiro Tamura, with whom he studied at Olafur Eliasson’s Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute for Spatial Experiments) in Berlin. Walch critiques not just our political situation but the art world’s collusion with its financial mechanisms. Politics colours everything he does, including his view of the industry he works in. “We are seeing a big failure in art making a difference,” he says. “We couldn’t prevent the Donald or Brexit, even when it seemed everybody was pulling hard. It isn’t just the failure of the left or politics in general… it’s also [that] the art world seems better off [under] autocratic leadership and a centralisation of capital.” raulwalch.net

Lady Skollie

Laura Windvogel, who creates work under the name Lady Skollie (an Akrikaans term meaning “shady”, she says), has a broad practice that includes graphic ink, crayon and watercolour paintings, radio shows, video and zines. Her ambitious and provocative work often relates womens’ rights and sex, and frequently depicts erotic motifs including papayas, bananas and ‘pussy prints’. “My way of mark-making has always been hard and fast; it reflects some of the sexual undertones perfectly because of this,” she explains. “To me the yonic shape is everywhere.” Based in Johannesburg, she grew up in Cape Town. Past projects have included research into LGBTQI violence, rape and murder in South Africa’s townships. “The political climate in South Africa – and everywhere for that matter – has taught me to find the humour in horror; laugh when you just want to cry. Within my work I guess I try to understand the plight of being a woman in a space that disregards our experiences,” she points out. “I try to understand power structures and how to manipulate them using the tools we are [reduced] to.” @ladyskollie

Boris Eldagsen & Sabine Taeubner

Boris Eldagsen & Sabine Taeubner first conceived followyour.pet, a website critiquing populist politics using dog and cat GIFs, during an artist exchange residency between Warsaw and Berlin. “This invitation came shortly after the Polish populist Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc [Law and Justice] party won the election
in 2015,” they explain. Their initial aim was to voice concerns about the government’s domination of the media. “Since then, the situation has worsened, and the opposition is paralysed by new laws and restrictions, such as the abortion ban proposal in October 2016. Being financed by Polish money, we wanted to use this opportunity to respond to the political situation,” says Eldagsen. Informed by international research and aided by experts from Warsaw, the pair investigated the strategies and demagogic methods of other parties and individuals, ranging from Front National in France to Germany’s Alternative für Deutsch land, and of course, Trump. They then published their findings in the forms of listicles featuring animated canines and felines, to highlight disturbing political and anti-democratic action. “Cats run the internet,” they say. “They appeal to our emotions, short circuit our brain and go directly into our unconscious conditioning. They get us on an emotional level – just as populism does. The internet is a field of political influence and propaganda.” followyour.pet

Francesca Gavin