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Hints to Workmen

Exhibition dates: 5 November 2010 - 5 March 2011
Preview: Thursday 4 November 6:00 - 8:00pm

"A few small hints... a few nudges can help a lot... Libertarian paternalists should attempt to steer people's choices in welfare-promoting directions. 'Choice architecture' can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions.." From Nudge, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, 2008

Harun Farocki (Berlin), Peter Watkins (Felletin, France), Gailan Abdullah Ismail (Erbil, Iraq), Rainer Ganahl (New York), Vinca Petersen (Kent), Stuffit (Bristol), Anna McCarthy (Munich), Baptiste Debombourg (Paris), Keetra Dean Dixon (New York), Robin Bhattacharya (Zurich), The Economist, King Mob (London), Misteraitch (Sunderland), The Diggers (San Francisco), The Open Council, Fiona Bimson (Northumberland)

'Hints to Workmen' takes its theme from two texts that have aimed to improve the lives of the majority of ordinary working people. 'Hints to Workmen' is the title of an educational pamphlet written when capitalism was in crisis - the mid-1840s. Its ideas seem to strangely parallel recent political advertising campaigns, and 'Nudge' theory beloved of the current leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. Both 'Nudge' and 'Hints to Workmen' suggest that "libertarian paternalists" in positions of power should provide their people with "hints" as to how best to live. But whose interests are at stake?

The exhibition offers a sequence of 'hints' that international artists suggest will help shape a better world. It brings together documentation of interventions that artists have realised in public spaces, and in the wider public sphere. The works examine the possibilities for new forms of direct action, from politicized forms of play to outright civil disobedience. They range from inventing your own currency to spearheading full-blown protests, to staging absurd events that bewilder the authorities. The exhibition asks us to re-imagine, to use historian Tony Judt's recent words, what our "collective ideals [are] around which we can gather, around which we can get angry together, around which we can be motivated collectively?"

It begins with a series of bracing and bitterly funny advertising images for major banks from the 1930s, during the last major financial crisis. Surprisingly, they include a campaign by the 'Church of England Building Society' selling mortgages to a new class of potential homeowners. These images hint that what define the English are faith, hope and usury: faith in liberty, or else the freedom of the market; and hope for property and prosperity - with both obtained on credit.


Advertising campaign for HM Treasury, 1921

Advertising campaign for a major bank, 1930

Illustration for an Anglo-American Building Society, 1932

Keetra Dean Dixon illicitly installs public messages around New York that make plain institutions' subliminal messages to us: one bank's ATM is adorned with a discrete steel panel: "trust me".

Keetra Dean Dixon, Trust me', From the series little public plaques, 2009
Misteraitch presents a set of proposals for alternative public signage that instructs people to act on their desires, alongside a new print which envisages an alternative set of celebrations for November 5th - the date that the exhibition opens - based on England's great radicals of the past.

Misteraitch, untitled, 2010

Peter Watkins is a filmmaker who has created some of the most powerful political films of the last forty years. 'Paris, La Commune' reconstructs the few fateful weeks in 1871 when communism was established on Western European soil, creating what has been called a "psychopathic democracy".

Peter Watkins, from 'La Commune (Paris, 1871)

Harun Farocki's 'Workers Leaving the Factory' offers a view on how 'workers' have been represented in every decade since the invention of cinema, and consists of excerpts from works by directors from the Lumiere Brothers and Charlie Chaplin to Antonioni and Lars von Trier.

Harun Farocki, 'Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades' 2006

Stuffit is a graphic artist who creates works to be seen in public spaces. Here, an unlimited edition poster advocating a universal 'Mortgage Strike' is available to visitors to take for free.
Stuffit, 'Mortgage Strike', 2008
Rainer Ganahl's video works document his absurd attempts to 'swim against the tide' of history. In two films, we see the artist cycling headlong into oncoming traffic, without hands, down major thoroughfares in the capital cities of the former Soviet bloc.

Rainer Ganahl, 'Bicycling Moscow: from the Lenin Monument, October Square, to the Mausoleum, Red Square, 2007

Iraqi artist Gailan Abdullah Ismail similarly presents an intervention into the public realm, entitled 'Traffic'. In the city of Erbil, the semi-destruction of public squares has led to chaos on the roads. In protest, Ismail asks people to link arms and form a human roundabout that cars have to negotiate.

Gailan Abdullah Ismail, 'Traffic', 2008

Baptiste Debombourg's short film 'TCS', standing for 'Traine Cul Surprise', documents a stunt-car subculture, which combines anarchic comedy and green politics. 'TCS' is a bizarre form of rallying where drivers race the front halves of cars, rescued from scrap to provide a joyous new urban sport.
Baptiste Debombourg, still from 'Babybottle 45', DVD 6'45'. 2010
Robin Bhattacharya presents two projects. The first is his own personal currency, establishing his autonomy on the international capital markets. The second documents his interventions in the banking centre of Zurich, where he raises the pirate flag, the Jolly Roger, above a private yacht.
Robin Bhattacharya, 'Raising the Jolly Roger on Lake Zurich', 2009
The Diggers were a group based in San Francisco, committed to the radical redistribution of wealth and common ownership. They similarly founded their own currency, producing 'Digger Dollars' to establish an alternative, fairer system of exchange and distribution in parallel to the dominant one.

Digger Dollar, 1967

The Open Council is new public body established to drive forward an alternative model of government. Drawing on the examples set by the Open University, the organization is dedicated to the realization of "experimental public policies", the ideas for which are solicited directly from the whole body politic, to engage the public directly in its governance.
The Open Council, 'proposal for introducing public archery facilities', 2010
Vinca Petersen is a photographer who has documented travelers and protestors for nearly 15 years across Europe. Her series 'Raves and Riots' observes the combination of hedonism and idealism that drives anti-capitalist protestors, and captures the textures of their lifestyles. 
Vinca Petersen, from the photographic series 'Raves and Riots'
The group King Mob, active in the late 1960s and 1970s, included artists who trained in the North-East of England, whose visual skills were put to the service of protest posters of scabrous wit and invention. Tate has recently acquired an entire body of work by the group.

King Mob, 'King Ludd', 1969

Anna McCarthy presents documentation of her ongoing work 'How to Start a Revolution'. The work sees a group of black-clad women inscribing protest graffiti over a major civic monument in Munich's city centre at night, revealing their manifesto by writing it over falsely heroic statues.  
Anna McCarthy, 'How to Start a Revolution, Part I', 2009
Fiona Bimson is a photographer who documents close-knit communities with shared interests. Her most recent project entitled 'Collectors' presents images of hobbyists with their prized possessions, including one of a fourteen-year old with his cache of sporting guns.

Fiona Bimson, from 'Collectors', 2008