Apr 102012

Originally published on Bock the Robber

I don’t know much about protest but I know what I like.

The Big Cheese Poverty Party launch. Bourkes Bar Catherine St Limerick 3/12/2010.




An awareness that some particular forms of public protest may have peaked led Limerick Web agitator Bock The Robber to announce the formation of his ‘Big Cheese Poverty Party’ in the centre of a ‘troubled’ Limerick city centre.

In coming to the idea of an imaginary political party Bock redirected his editorial duties away from the internet and by deciding to place himself in front of a ‘real’ audience he announced an intention to wash himself with the soapbox strategies of his usual critical targets, the mainstream political class.

While farce as a tool was employed for this event, the eventual production engaged not a parody of a political stand up, cabaret, performance art or even a version of the current mainstream satire on the subject. Bock engineered a combination of cross-genred creative communication stategies that underlined the ethos of his site as a performance.

An agenda and party speaker were dressed up but there would be no deposit paid to Leinster House and no manifesto sent to the media. This protest party would exist primarily just for its opening. The exercise could be seen as a conventional art referenced ‘happening’ crossed with a version of something like the old Irish tradition of creative stump politics where trees would be planted for votes and then dug up after election day.

Topics on the mismanagment that have created this immediate social state have been well dissected and served by commentators ranging in breadth from The Irish Times’s Fintan O Toole to the driver of the agit-prop concretemixer and it is within this critical gap The Big Cheese Poverty Party intends to operate.

The project is as concerned about the necessity of acting out and emphasizing protest reminders as it is about flagging citizens’ responsibility in being informed about relevant content and commentary. Remember the concrete truck protest had been rolled out in Galway City months before with only minor media coverage of its anti-Anglo message filtering out. For repeat emphasis its driver deemed it necessary to reconsider the size of his stage for Dublin. Bock’s decision to communicate information physically is related to this strategy.

In realising the responsibility inherent in presenting a message that also incorporates an awareness of protest fatigue, Bock and his collaborators concentrated on curating, staging and designing work that creatively confirmed a position rather than a offering any new ‘State Of The Nation’ response. For the design of the content delivery, the evolved intention was to relay a Bock reminder about the consequences of the country being in hock to the IMF via a combination of materials and theatrics for a short performance.

Bock is not a practising artist but through his site a collective has come together and, when required, these voluntary media workers and artists suggest various directions in realising ideas generated from the website’s commentary. Also, it is imporant to reiterate that all aspects of this production were self-financed in a spirit of bring what you want to the table. Once the Poverty Party idea was upgraded from an inital virtual rant, a city centre space was negotiated and the process of creative visualization began.

With this work the ‘non-artist’ Bock has unintentionally referenced a number of socially-engaged creative references.  Think here of the theatre activist Augusto Boal’s notion of the ‘spect-actor’, the philosopher Theodor Adorno’s insistence on ‘the experiential dimension of the reception of artworks’ and perhaps for future events Bock could even take from the Yippie leader Jerry Rubin’s 1968 attempt to crowd design a mass exorcism of the US Democratic party

A photographic exhibition was one direction taken with an open call put out and all entries then displayed on the bar walls. This aspect was the project’s support for Limericks ‘starving artists’. Bock then developed a downtroden peasant persona for his keynote speech and encouraged a similar dress code for the audience. Volunteers were dressed as surgeons for metaphorical organ  removal and a white-gloved mechanical hand was set up for ‘Minister flesh pressing duties’  in the absence of course of those invited Ministers.

There was a battered wooden box with the word ‘soap’ daubed on its side, which on inquiry turned out to have previously held ammunition from the Curragh camp.

On the night Bock’s character was framed against a projected slideshow of the downturned Limerick City centre donated by students from the LIT Masters course in Social Practice And The Creative Environment. In full character, Bock’s impassioned rant concentrated on the consequences of a future irish identity provisionally processed through the German economy as two surgeons listened silently either side of him.

As he spoke, his words were translated by an invited German speaker whose dramatic barked delivery echoed Bock’s spiel.  ‘Seb the German’ was also available to quip in english, ‘Have your fun but pay up before that happens’.  Meanwhile a selection of cheese neatly topped with EU flags was passed through the crowd as Dublin visitors to the event handed out an edition of ‘Ireland owned by the IMF’ stickers.

As befits an event in a public house the audience was an open and diverse mix of family, collaborators, curious customers, artists and media workers who had answered the call to support an attitude as much as to enjoy a Friday night out.

Bock co-ordinated an event that accessed and made use of various arts practices electing professional and non professional actors to create a participatory event on various levels. The result redirected the now contentious political language of local (‘parish pump’) politics to service the design of this performance piece as an contemporary exercise in social protest.

By the nature of its contract with the audience this was an open sourced event. Self-funded, open to all and descriptive of a contempoary protest strategy corresponding to Jacques Ranciere’s words on the subject. ‘Politics’ he says,’ is first of all the configuration of a space as political, the framing of a specific sphere of experience, the setting of objects posed as ‘common’ and subjects to whom the capacity is recognised to designate these objects and to argue about them’.