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Art & Protest in the Daniel Libeskind Space

6 April 2013

Guerilla Galleries broke new ground in January by staging a clothing-optional private view of their ‘100% Nude‘ exhibition at London’s Daniel Libeskind Space (check the review). Three months later they were back, bringing with them ‘Art & Protest‘. This too broke new ground by offering a clothing-optional private view for an exhibition that did not have a nude theme. A mainstreaming of freedom? Now that would be radical.

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The benefit of arranging two such events within a matter of months is that only a slight polish and a sprinkling of new talent is needed to keep the whole experience feeling fresh and absorbing. This latest view, like the exhibition as a whole, was impeccably well organised from start to finish.

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Nicholas Baldion’s homages to the miners’ strike of the 1980s

Once more Tony André was present to greet his guests at the door. I was astonished and flattered to find he remembered me from January. The man truly has an eye for every detail. An assistant then checked my free ticket and invited a discreet donation. It was heartening to see the glass collection box looking very well fed.

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Natansky, ‘Cuts will kill’, 2013

There were two notable refinements since January: first, that everyone on duty wore a red neckerchief, whether clothed or unclothed, making it easier to tell who was part of the team; second, there was a very strict line on no cameras or camera phones being allowed before 7:30pm.

Unchanged, however, was the complementary wine that flowed generously throughout the evening. Art appreciation can be thirsty work.

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Michaela Mysakova / Michelle Roth, ‘Are we free?’, 2013

With clothes removed and glass well charged I made my way around the art space. In the first room mellow music played as accompaniment to the Michaela Mysakova / Michelle Roth video installation and artwork, ‘Are we free?‘ This was the least obvious protest piece on display but by far the most mesmerising. When I’d seen all the other works this was the one to which I returned and stood transfixed before for the longest period, while music and movement looped and looped.

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Michaela Mysakova / Michelle Roth, ‘Are we free?’ (detail), 2013

Elsewhere artists interpreted the protest theme in one of four ways: scenes of protest; figures of oppression; anger and alienation; or protest statements. Nicholas Baldion recalled the miners’ strikes of the Thatcher era, capturing the mood and personality of workers, forces, negotiators and oppressors alike. Natansky presented strikes in the modern era with ‘Cuts will kill‘, where smiles replace grimaces but lives and livelihoods are still at stake.

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iCON, ‘Mario Stop & Search’, 2013

Politicians are the fair target for most protests. iCON directed his firmly at the face of David Cameron, but also injected some sardonic humour into proceedings with ‘Mario Stop & Search‘. I’ve always believed the use of humour is the most memorable way to make a protest point beyond desperate acts of self-immolation and fatal sacrifice.

Different works were eye-catching in different ways. Angela Chalmers‘ ‘Head 1,2,3,4‘ presented four stunningly distorted faces, each hollering its protest in silence. If I had bought just one piece of art at this exhibition it would have been one of these.

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Angela Chalmers, ‘Head 1’, 2013

It was great to see Pílar Camíno Alcón (Piluca) return with new works. Faced with the nigh impossible task of presenting an image even stronger than her magnificent self-portrait from the ‘100% Nude‘ exhibition, she rose to the challenge with portraits of inspirational protest figures. These included a personalised reworking of J. Howard Miller’s iconic ‘We Can Do It!‘ poster. If anyone can do it, Piluca can do it.

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Piluca sends a direct message… although not an exact translation of ‘we can do it!’

At ‘100% Nude‘ Piluca had posed nude alongside her self-portrait; at ‘Art & Protest‘ the central nude figure was Natansky. Throughout the two hours of the exhibition she was in the main hall being body-painted into the illusionary outfit she had worn at last year’s London Naked Bike Ride – a pro-cycling protest against oil dependency that I too had ridden with on three occasions. When I asked her permission to photograph ‘Cuts will kill‘ she not only consented but offered to pose naked next to it – you don’t get that kind of response too often from artists.

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Natansky the artist / Natansky the art

Like Natansky and many others, I remained naked throughout the two hour viewing. There didn’t seem to be quite as many visitors taking the no-clothes option this time, which was a shame, even though all one hundred event tickets had been snapped up. Perhaps some got cold feet. Well, actually we all had very cold feet…

For me the novelty of my own nudity at an art exhibition came and went very quickly, but the event itself remains quite unlike any other. It has to be experienced to be fully understood. Hopefully this won’t have been the last chance for art lovers in London to discover the experience for themselves.

Featured artists included Nicholas Baldion, Miguel Ivorra, Pouka, Binty Bint, Carl Hoare, Randolph Hoyte, Caroline Truss, Angela Chalmers, Michaela Mysakova, Piluca, Reza Moradi, iCON, Keeley Wynn, Charlotte Ratcliffe, Gee Street Artist, Ashley Reaks, Tisna Westerhof, Katerina Konstantara, Dr Bingo Bongo, Natansky, Paula O’Connell, Gareth Morgan, Irene Godfrey, Dan Fox, David Folan, Sarah Wyld, Marta Lapillo and Ben Mellor.

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