Hidden Civil War at The NewBridge Project forms the nucleus of a month-long programme of events, talks, screenings and public-realm interventions throughout Newcastle upon Tyne (30.09.16 – 20.10.16). Situated at a time when the use of emergency food banks is at a record high, in a region of the UK with the lowest rates of wealth and highest rates of unemployment it is hard to imagine the show being more appropriately sited.
The exhibition itself sits at the intersection of art and activism with the works featured moving between, and often bridging, these two realms of thought and activity: from quiet, nuanced reflections to more explicit acts of civil disobedience.
Even before entering the space you are confronted by a striking message of billboard proportions:
“IF YOU WERE WAITING FOR A SIGN, THIS IS IT”
No matter what sign you may, or may not, have been waiting for (a sign from god, a sign of the times, or a sign of things to come) you have already been insinuated in one of Richard DeDominici’s thoughtful but light hearted “urban-absurdist interventions”. Inside the gallery the remnants of another such intervention – dozens of black balloons printed with subversive messages – bump and jostle beneath a video projection of DeDominici handing these free balloons to people in the city.
DeDominici‘s utilisation and critique of the messages of mass media provides a playful counterpoint to Craig Ames’ ‘Green and Pleasant Crammed’ (2016). Gleaning words from the popular press – including “besieged”, “swarm” and “crisis” – Ames underscores the way in which words are used as stealth weapons to persistently and pervasively manipulate collective psychology through fear of attack. Whilst many of the battles of the Hidden Civil War are played out in the open ‘Green and Pleasant Crammed’ takes place on the murky battlefield of national identity.
One of the quietest works in the show is Ruth Ewan’s ‘A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World’ (2003 – Present). The CD Jukebox contains an ever-evolving archive of music categorized by political subject matter from Apartheid to Feminism. The Jukebox playlists encompass a wide variety of popular musical genres with tracks varying from the violently political to the more gently utopian. Contemplating Nina Simone’s sentiments that it was “an artist’s duty to reflect the times” Ewan’s jukebox may suggest evidence of a civil war not only in Britain today but across the world and for as long as there have been musical platforms for resisting and challenging those in power.
The most poignant and enduring aspect of Hidden Civil War is its dedicated newspaper The Precariat. Written with the zeal and rhetoric of a revolutionary paper it tackles many of the Hidden Civil War‘s battle grounds including the media, social institutions, land, money, politics and art as a political tool. The paper not only offers a context for the larger programme of discussions and events but also a body of ideas and perspectives which can travel beyond, and be revisited outside of, the gallery itself.
Iris Priest is a writer, artist and researcher based in Newcastle upon Tyne