”All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.” ( T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia )
Part of the phenomena known as culture jamming encourages turning away from the mainstream, or specifically, its form of herd mentality. Which creates, in its wake, a new form of conformity, an aesthetic ennobled with its own socialization processes that embody the mechanisms of the culture it seeks to oppose. Culture jamming can be defined loosely as a synchronization of art movement and public activism and has become a trademark and brand of art delivered with all the bells and whistles viral marketing savvy can muster.
” The “Culture Jamming tm” is more in the domain of Adbusters than the BLF ( Billboard Liberation Front ). We really don’t feel like it’s necessary to be part of a “movement” other than the requisite daily bowel movements. Unlike Adbusters and despite the fact that we promote our work as “advertising” we have neglected over the last 32 years to actually design, fabricate, market and sell a product! Silly us. Our confrere’s to the north not only have created a fairly complex business model that has been extremely efficient at marketing their trademarked schwaag, they have accomplished this not small task while marketing “non-marketing” type products.” ( Jack Napier, BLF in interview with Brian Gonnella, Bombing Science )
”They only miss out on sales potential one day a year—the aptly named “Buy Nothing Day.” They amply make up for this down time in product sales the other 364 days of the year as do all other nationally and internationally known brands. This jiu jitsu marketing maneuver which targets a very specific but well heeled youthful protest market has been successfully used by others in the “Culture Jamming” business community. This demographic is also profitably mined by such brand as American Spirit Cigarettes, The Daily Show, Tom & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Burning Man, “Organic” of “Green” anything. Prominently among the (not necessarily self defined) “culture-jamming” crowd, we would place Shepard Fairey…” ( ibid )
Thus,In its own insulated and ego-driven fashion,culture jamming appropriates a manner of cultural imperialism endowed with the veneer of artistic pretension. A cultural hootenany in the West Bank town of Bethlehem called Santa’s Ghetto in December, 2007 was a successful foray into cultural exportation. A type of whirlwind art tour; If Its Tuesday It Must Be Bethlehem type scenario. Since all roads do lead to Jerusalem, it begs the question, Is it easier for an artist to pass through the eye of a needle than a political activist to pass into the kingdom of heaven?
Like T.E. Lawrence, there is among the participating artists, a level of emotional struggle with violence, a search for personal identity and a question of divided allegiencies.Little appears to have changed in Palestine since Lawrence wrote in 1918:
”We rode past the other bodies of men and women and four more dead babies, looking very soiled in the daylight, towards the village; whose loneliness we now knew meant death and horror. By the outskirts were low mud walls, sheepfolds, and on one something red and white. I looked close and saw the body of a woman folded across it, bottom upwards, nailed there by a saw bayonet whose haft stuck hideously into the air from between her naked legs. About her lay others, perhaps twenty in all, variously killed… One wounded Turk, half naked, not able to stand, sat and wept to us. Abdulla turned away his camel’s head, but the Zaagi, with curses, crossed his track and whipped three bullets from his automatic through the man’s bare chest. The blood came out with his heart beats, throb, throb, throb, slower and slower.”
Banksy’s West Bank of the Jordan River exhibition featured, among others, the art and crimes of Ron English and SWOON. There are shades of Not In My Back Yard here, where the complexity of the West bank and its confrontation with Western Culture is ambiguous, ambivalent and often antagonistic with regard to the often self-serving normative democracy based on private property, which is being spoon fed like pablum to the locals.Banksy and English have articulated a critique of Western Capitalism through street art, but the transplantation of that idiom within the Islamic world, its traditions and customs ,within an essentially theocratic leaning society is fraught with complexity inescapable and insurmountable to the point, where the Banksy initiative appears more likely an elevation of personal status and enhancement of gauchiste street credentials.
A situation where underground spray painters have morphed into over ground art commodities.This, Despite the thought artistic intent may have permeated the motivation at some level.
”Ron English, SWOON, and JetSet Graffiti donated artwork to the Santa’s Ghetto exhibition and traveled to Bethlehem to paint on the Apartheid Wall and work in solidarity with the elusive British Artist, Banksy. The effort was made to raise awareness of the horrible reality that faces the Palestinian and Israeli people on a daily basis. Using art as a catalyst for change, these brave artist’s ventured into a live war-zone to create their unique and distinctive form of Street Art and make a statement to the world about the horrors of oppression and marginalization of minorities in modern society.”
That money was raised, and a charity was established, results in an institionalization of a situation, where a status quo must be maintained to ensure the survival of the charitable group. The Santa’s ghetto project is Christian in nature and Christianity( in its various Eastern incarnations) is an embattled fragile minority in Palestine as well as Lebanon. Its also ironic to have, in part, a representation of the aesthetic of atheism in the ”holy land”.
The style and content of the humour of Ron English does not or may not transform well into the context of the middle eat. The west can identify with the zeitgeist, but do the locals?…..
Pop iconoclast Ron English paints, infiltrates, reinvents and satirizes modern culture and its mainstream visual iconography on canvas, in song, and directly onto hundreds of pirated billboards. English exists spiritually somewhere between a Neo Dadaism, Abbie Hoffman, Guy Debord and Bart Simpson; delivering a steady stream of customized imagery stroked with strong sociopolitical undertones, college humor, subversive media savvy, and Dali-meets-Disney technique.He is Dedicated to finding the sublime in the everyday and rupturing the momentum of the didactic approach to art and life. English offers an absurd universe where nothing is sacred, everything is subverted, and there is always a strong dose of humour which may or may not be appreciated outside his home base in San Francisco.
The middle east and its passionate extremes and the Santa’s ghetto project does conjure an unsettling artistic congruence with Milan Kundera’s, The Unbearable Lightness of Being..Lightness versus weight is the key dichotomy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a paradox that cannot be resolved . Sabina, one of the central characters recognizes this on an artistic level, seeing that Communists, Fascists and the extremely religious all employ sentimentalist kitsch, bad art, and propaganda; though she is quite tempted by dissident glamour.
Nietzsche is the culprit for articulating the philosophy of eternal return. Kundera does not believe eternal return exists, and argues that man only has the opportunity to try one path, and hence has no point of comparison or meaning. Instead, those characters who are heavy cannot accept this unbearable lightness of being, and seek to attach a meaning and weight to what they consider important in life. Practically, accepting the lightness of being means accepting a certain lack of ultimate meaning in life, and living for momentary beauty. Those who accept lightness, for example, are not likely to ally themselves to political causes, parties, activism of a militant nature, and social movements.
Hopefully, for Banksy and company, the experience in Bethlehem was something new, perhaps a ”momentary lightness of being”; random but intermittent bursts of light fueled by strong personal beliefs that have political implications and not vice-versa.