«Sawing» Bolotnaya (Moscow 2013)

The adventures of a giant inflatable saw during the opposition rally in Moscow

by Veronika Komarova

On may 6th 2013 almost 20 000 muscovites gathered on Bolotnaya square near Kremlin to mark the 1 year anniversary of the “March of Millions” – an anti-Putin demonstration, which in previous may  turned into a bloody clash between the protesters and the police. During this major opposition rally, the third of its kind in 2013, a giant inflatable “saw” («Pila» in russian) was seen surfing through the crowd. This 10 metre long symbolic sculpture (the “saw” is an easy-recognizable symbol of corruption and budget-stealing in Russia) was made specially for the event by Artur Van Balen/Tools for Action in collaboration with the artivist group Partizaning and other local activists, artists and journalists to show support for the protest movement in Russia.

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Anniversary of a bloody protest

The Russian opposition movement today is noticeably losing its former power and popularity among the citizens compared with last year. Started during the autumn of 2011 as a response to the rigged parliamentary elections (as of which the opposition leaders started to call current ruling party “United Russia”- “the party of crooks and thieves”), it soon began to spread all around Russia and received active support from foreign countries as well – with the slogan “Fair votes for Russia” mass demonstrations were regularly held in more than 20 countries. After the massively falsified presidential votes in March 2012 – when then prime minister Vladimir Putin received 63.64% and became the president for the 3rd time – a sudden wave of protests reached a new high. However, only 2 months later, on may 6th (the eve of Putin’s new-term inauguration) the opposition organized a new demonstration called “March of Millions” which unintentionally turned into a huge violent fight between the protesters and the police. People were walking down the Yakimanka streets to Bolotnaya square with posters saying “We will not let the thief into the Kremlin” when the police suddenly blocked their way, announced that the rally had been cancelled, and began force them to disperse with batons. What resulted were dozens of injuries and hundreds of arrests.

 

Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QloceWWaM6A
“The battle of Bolotnaya” became a turning point in the short history of the 2011-2012 protests – people suddenly became aware of how dangerous even the most “peaceful” rally can be in this country, and, as a result, some part of them decided to step away from the movement. One year on, civil activists still live in daily fear of being caught and tried in the “Bolotnaya square case”  (there are already 30 people accused of organizing the 6th of may’s mass disorders, most of whom are under arrest and awaiting trial) and a lot of former protesters, who used to take part in almost every rally last year, now choose to stay at home instead of taking risks on the streets.

 

The new symbol of Bolotnaya

However, a year after the “Bolotnaya tragedy”, the opposition decided to gather again on the same spot on 6th of may 2013 – with a new claim to “Free Bolotnaya prisoners”.  As everyone else, we had doubts about attending the demo – no one could guarantee the safety of the event, especially with last year’s tragedies at the forefront of our minds. In a situation where anyone could be arrested without cause, it was extremely dangerous to be there, especially with a giant saw-shaped object «the Pila» (“sawing the budget” in russian is a settled expression which means “corruption” and “budget-stealing by the officials”), which we had made specially for this event and were supposed to bring with us.

Transport of inflatable saw to Bolotnaya Square, 06.05.2013, Moscow
Transport of inflatable saw to Bolotnaya Square, 06.05.2013, Moscow

On the day of the demonstration, the inflatable was taken-out to Bolotnaya square by his associates who were  activists of the local movement “Partizaning”. The problem appeared right away at the entrance to the meeting – as in Russia protesters need to go through a metal detector before entering an authorized rally. A policeman began shaking his head as soon as he noticed our cart with a huge silver object, and it seemed like our plan would fail at the first hurdle. Our explanations that it would be a “huge inflatable silver ball” didn’t work. The guard said that the art-action should have been confirmed earlier, directly with the organisers.

 

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Luckily, we could quickly catch one of the organisers, who helped us to settle the problem with getting the saw through the entrance. Thus, the police agreed to let our cart through with the proviso that the sculpture would be inflated under their close watch. The process of inflating the saw attracted a mass audience. Demonstrators couldn’t understand what would come of it –  was it a silver caterpillar, or a phallic symbol …

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When the inflatable was ready, poet Alexander Delphinov, who was also attending the event, grabbed it and went straight into the crowd shouting out an improvised verse about the saw, the corruption and the “crooks and thieves” who “cut and steal” the budget.
The saw was joyfully greeted by the crowd with people helping activists to carry it. Someone even organized an improvised performance with words: “It’s time to saw some budget”:

 

The sculpture had made ​​two crowd-surfing “trips” from the entrance gates to the stage and back, and then stopped under the monument of the well-known russian painter Ilya Repin. People kept coming there until the very end of the day – they were taking pictures, touching the saw from different sides and discussing its meaning. I would imagine that, for some of them, our huge inflatable «Pila» became a symbol of Bolotnaya-2013.

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See also video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=C7qFexkxzxE

The  inflatable art-action with inflatables showed russians a new way of  protesting, one which was more creative, self-organized, and safe. Perhaps this was also a method which was a little more fun to express their thoughts and demands during the mass demonstrations. Fortunately, solidarity with the “May 6 prisoners” rally has gathered more than 20 000 people and ended peacefully.

Veronika Komarova is a journalist writing for Public Post, an online russian news blog.

The Short-Lifespan of the Inflatable BT Brinjal (Delhi 2013)

Inflatable BT brinjal shortly before it’s destruction in Delhi on 18.03.2013.

*Brinjal is the word for “Aubergine” or “Eggplant” in India. BT brinjal is the first GM food-crop that the biotech industry has been aggressively marketing in India. Lucy tells the story of what happened with the inflatable Brinjal, that was brought into a protest against the Indian Governments new Land Bill.

The farmers refused the leave Delhi when the one day of protest was over- they stayed for 3 days sitting, cooking, sleeping in the streets of the capital. The arrival of the 6 meter inflatable BT brinjal*1, made by a group of artists and activists in South India, was welcomed with cheering. It was tossed back and forth over the crowd, spinning slowly and then bouncing back.

Suddenly a farmer leader on stage was shouting “we must resist the Land Bill just as we must resist the GM industry – and not believe their propaganda. BT Brinjal Nasho! Nasho*!” (Nasho means “destroy” in Hindi. )

Suddenly, and savagely, the brinjal was beaten with sticks and kicked, and publicly destroyed. When it was found on the ground, a group of old men were still hitting the deflated and flaccid ex-brinjal.

After the destruction, it was found being torn to shreds by three punjabi farmers. Seemingly they were still venting their rage at BT brinjal. Then it turned out they wanted to use the remains as a tarpaulin – indeed, the protest stretched to 3 days, and farmers were all sleeping in the streets. So the inflatable lived on as a sleeping mat for the farmers.

Three punjabi farmers use the remains of the inflatable BT brinjal as a sleeping mat.

Background of the Protest:
From 18.03.2013 TILL 21.03.2013 there was a massive mobilisation of 40.000 farmers from all across India in Delhi. It was a huge protest against the Government’s new Land Bill which will allow more agricultural land to be diverted for non-agricultural purposes. The government is acting as an agent for industry, removing farmers from their their land. In India 70% of the population practice small-scale farming. This grabbing of farmers’ land is in keeping with  the current paradigm of development which sees the villages emptying and agriculture being corporatised, whilst both the urban population and consumption swell.

The Eurocentric Media-Trap
One of the mainstream newspapers, The Hindu carried a good article (see picture) with an image of the inflatable BT brinjal. Unfortunately the photo – not representative of the event-  was taken in the minutes just as the brinjal had been inflated and was initially being carried into the crowd. Of the 40.000 people present, only two were western. We were careful to stay away from the BT brinjal  as we knew the press love the western-centric images and it diverts attention away from the indian grass roots movements (Westerners are commonly associated with big funding, NGOs and diminished autonomy for movements).

The Pink Slapping Chappal – (Mangalore 2013)

After the Delhi gangrape in December 2012, a revival of the feminist movement began in India. This 7 meter inflatable slipper supported the “Walk for Women”, a Women rights demonstration in  Mangalore, South-India. The video documents the collaboration between Artur van Balen and Tilly Ferguson // Tools for Action  and the political theatre group Tharikita Kala Kammata, Breakthrough, Shakari Snehittara Niranthara, based in Mangalore and the village Bramakutlu. The building process took place in the village Bramakutlu, 25 km east of Mangalore.

The Pink Slapping Chappal // Mangalore, India January 2013 from Artur on Vimeo.

Many thanks to Vani Periodi, Vidya Dinker, Uday Kumar, Sunila, Malika, Pavitra, Ini, Kishur, Agyi, Aydin, the groups Tharikita Kala Kammata, Breakthrough, Shakari Snehittara Niranthara and many others in Bramakutlu village and beyond.

Object: 7 x 3 x 1,5 m
Material: flex foil, double sided tape, thread, discarded car tubes, bike pump
Video: 6:10 ; edit Artúr van Balen

Preparatory Workshop in Mangalore on 7.01.2013

Mangalore Skillshare from Artur on Vimeo.

12 meter hammer storms the United Nations Climate Conference in Cancún (Mexico 2010)

“Art is not a mirror to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”  -Bertolt Brecht/ Vladimir Mayakovski/ Karl Marx

In 2010 an inconspicuous looking suitcase was sent from Berlin to Mexico City containing a 12 meter tall inflatable silver hammer. Thus began El Martillos odyssey to protest the policies of the United Nations Climate Conference in Cancún. El Martillo’s short, but glorious life, climaxed when protesters from Marea Creciente (Rising Tide) stormed the conference complex fences, gigantic hammer above their heads.

In full view of the press Mexican police tore the inflatable to pieces. Within an hour global the media corporations declared El Martillo a symbol of the climate changes protests as its image traveled across the world.

Watch the video below:

The action is also archived and preserved in The El Martillo Project, published by Minor Compositions. The book documents the whole process from its conception and construction to the media flurry it sparked off. Included are numerous full color images and documentation of the project; texts and analysis by David Graeber, Alex Dunst, and Cristian Guerrero; an interview with John Jordan from the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination; and a fold out technical manual and plan for creating giant inflatable hammers.

Initially inspired by the quote “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” The El Martillo Project aims to inspire creative action and joyful disobedience.

You can order the book here.

Reviews:

“In the world of contemporary art people often publish beautiful critical documentation of projects that are neither very beautiful nor critical. These glossy catalogues give surface value to projects that are often vacuous and obtuse. Nothing could be more different with The hammer – the project itself beautifully merged the aesthetic and the activist, the world of art and that of social movements, whilst being a critique of old forms of protest and a celebration of collective creativity. The  catalogue amplifies this fantastic project and tells the story of this courageous experiment in art activism via texts, press cuttings and images that inspire us and remind us of the power of beauty when it is thrown into the streets.”  – John Jordan, Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination

“I often think that grassroots activist communities don’t document enough. There’s so many battles to fight and oppressive systems to counter that we are always on the move. The power of archiving our creative resistance means than future movements don’t have to start from square one. It’s always a delicate balance of taking action, reflecting on it, archiving it for others and making our actions stronger for the next time. This organising praxis can be profound and help us shake power in the achilles heel if we get it right! The brilliant El Martillo Project most certainly struck that beautiful balance… so enjoy!” – Dan Glass, The Glass is Half Full

Bio: The eclectic electric collective (e.e.c.) is an international art collective operating at the borders of art and activism. It is founded in 2008 by Artúr van Balen and Jakub Simcik.

Make your own inflatable Hammer!

The 12 meter inflatable hammer was sewn during a 10 day participatory workshop from the eclectic electric collective. The hammer can be inflated in 9 minutes by a small high-tech ventilator (DV 6224) using two car batteries (24 V) as its energy source. See the video for instructions:

The motive for the hammer was inspired by the quote: “Art is not a mirror for reality, but a hammer with which to shape it”, expressing clearly the distinction between “representational political art” and “interventional art politics”. The sewing pattern was developed during the workshop by Sarah Drain and many others.

Digital Sketch made by Paul Pistorius 2011.

Inflatable cobblestones (Berlin 2012)

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Sous les pavés, la plage.(Under the pavement, the beach.)
Streetgraffiti from the french ’68 movement

On the 25th revolutionary 1st of May demonstration in Berlin-Kreuzberg, protesters were throwing huge inflatable cobblestones, made of silver-reflective foil and tape.The creative intervention was initiated by the artivist collective “eclectic electric collective” (e.e.c.) and was meant as a celebration of an object which is both a symbol and a material weapon of anti-authoritarian struggle everywhere. It also aimed to bring new strategies of tactical frivolity into the demonstration.

A member of the collective explains:

Through 25 years of riots, the cobblestone has become an icon for protests at the May 1 in Berlin Kreuzberg. The use of cobblestones in social uprisings is however much older: from ancient Rome, to the Paris Commune in 1871 to the ´68 movement, cobblestones have been used for barricades and as a weapon of defense. Taking stones out of the pavement is a favoured act of those who refuse to consent to an oppressive social order.

Cobblestones used as a barricade in the uprising of the Paris Commune 1871.

The May 1st demonstration in Berlin has long been a testing-ground for police tactics of crowd control and restrictions on protest. This year, 7000 highly-armed and aggressively shielded cops matched some 15 000 protesters, who were warned that a new water cannon, with a 10 000 L water-capacity, would be ready to be used against them.

The inflatables are a collective creative intervention against this growing repression of protest and dissent, in ways that are both concrete and as well as symbolic. The experiences of the inflatables on May 1 proved their many uses in situations of protest, which can be summarized by the term “tactical frivolity”. Inflatables bring celebration and play to a demonstration while at the same time having strategic functions in situations of conflict…

Watch Video below:

Inflatable Cobblestones Berlin Part 1 from Artur on Vimeo.

Inflatable Cobblestones Berlin Part 2 from Artur on Vimeo.