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Artists Confront State Power in a Political Multimedia Exhibition

A new show at London’s Pump House gallery explores the absurdities of bureaucratic control.
A still from Harun Farocki’s ‘How to live in the FRG’ (1990). Images courtesy the artists and Pump House Gallery

Graham Greene’s 1934 novel It’s a Battlefield, a book full of political and economic disempowerment amidst strong bureaucracy, serves as the inspiration behind the new exhibition Each fighting its own little battle in happy ignorance. Now on at Londons’ Pump House Gallery, the multimedia exhibition uses Greene’s novel as a launching pad to consider themes such as political voice and agency, the individual inside bureaucratic structures, as well as labor and language.


Pump House curator Ned McConnell tells The Creators Project that he originally became interested in It’s a Battlefield after doing research on the Battersea area of England, the area where Greene wrote the novel. While reading the book, McConnell became interested in the ideas that revolve around the protagonist, a man who is never appears in the narrative after his initial introduction.

Tom McCaughan, The Indefatigable Field, 2016, courtesy Pump House Gallery, Photo: Eoin Carey

“This seemed relevant to me in terms of the voice, language, bureaucracy and their relationships to the individual and power structures,” says McConnell. “A group exhibition seemed the most appropriate format as there were varying elements to be expressed and I thought a multitude of voices would enhance that.”

Appearing in the exhibition are works by artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Lenka Clayton, famed filmmaker and author Harun Farocki, and Tom McCaughan. McConnell says that the works by Hamdan and Farocki were the departure points, as he had been thinking of the two pieces in relation to each other.

“I was doing research into Farocki when I came across the film How to Live in the FRG and thought it was a wonderfully simple depiction of the ways in which we are taught how to exist and the relationships that had to the ideas in the book of bureaucracy and power structures,” McConnell says. “Hamdan’s work came through discussions with the artist about what might fit with my ideas for the show and we both felt this was a strong fit with ideas around narrative, language, and the voice.”


Installation view

Hamdan’s audiovisual essay Language Gulf in the Shouting Valley (2013) digs into the politics of language and the conditions of the voice faced by the Druze, a community located along the border of Palestine, Israel, and Syria. “The use of sound in this work is of particular importance,” says McConnell. “He brings in a number of registers from a narrator to subtitled voices and flashes of imagery taken from footage shot in the border areas.”

Farocki’s iconic 1990 work How to Live in the FRG, on the other hand, satirizes the excessive preparation for daily life in the German Federal Republic in the form of 32 short instructional and educational videos. These range from mundane tasks and actions like crossing the street to how to engage in small talk. In Qaeda, quality, question, quickly, quickly, quiet (2002), Clayton alphabetically rearranges former President George W. Bush’s infamous 2002  “Axis of Evil” speech, rendering it it absurd.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Language Gulf in the Shouting Valley, 2013, courtesy Pump House Gallery and the artist, Photo: Eoin Carey

The exhibition also includes The Indefatigable Field, a new installation work by McCaughan that features a video and useless contraptions made of old computer technology. The video, as McConnell explains, includes found footage of someone named Jeff “experimenting and explaining the soil energy system along with industrial and domestic landscapes and images of animals and insects that create a sense of futility.”

“He also presents as part of the installation a systems of soil filled trays connected by copper wiring that power six LED lights on a disused laptop screen,” McConnell adds. “The energy generated by the soil has led to some people believing this could be the answer to the world’s energy problems.”


Installation view

Since we all live inside bureaucratic structures that can be comical, nightmarish, surreal and downright depressing, McConnell says that viewers will bring a lot of personal or even group associations to this exhibition. It’s very apropos given the state of world affairs, with Middle Eastern breakdowns, Brexit and the coming Trump presidency.

“I think we have created a set of connections that speak specifically to a moment in time both socially and politically that requires more open dialogue about some of the issues in the exhibition such as political rhetoric, the political and social implications of existing within a globalized and networked world,” says McConnell. “I wanted to investigate areas such as bureaucracy and the effect of power on the individual—hopefully the exhibition has created a moment of reflection for the audience.”

Each fighting its own little battle in happy ignorance runs until December 11th at Pump House Gallery in London. Click here to check out more exhibitions at Pump House Gallery.


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