Maps, Kettles and Inflatable Cobblestones: The Art of Playful Disruption in the City

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During the 1950s and 1960s, the Situationists devised an array of playful interventions that could “awaken” urban inhabitants from the “onslaught” of the modern city and its assault on all other forms of life.[1] However, despite being politically active, their tactics—namely dérives or “drifts”—were designed to be implemented in the quotidian city, as techniques to subvert the everyday rather than as methods developed to be employed within protest events. As such, their utility in transforming them might seem limited. But play is integral to the very operation of many protest marches, demonstrations, and occupations. Think of the turtle outfits of the Seattle WTO demonstrations, the effigies of anti-American protests in Iran, Iraq, and the Philippines, or the V for Vendetta masks worn during the Occupy events.[2] Together, they illustrate what has been called “tactical frivolity,”[3][4] a form of public protest that is neither confrontational nor sub-missive, but humorous and whimsical. Here I discuss the ways in which Situationist tactics have been refracted through new kinds of objectives and arrangements during contemporary protest events, using the deployment of a map-based smartphone app called Sukey[5] during protests in London and the development of inflatable objects by an artistic group called the Eclectic Electric Collective[6] as examples. The app and the inflatables can be seen as subversive tools or “disobedient objects”[7] designed to fit incongruously into their respective protest environments disrupting and jarring the controlled, sanitized and spatially-restrained events. Their mode of doing so is playful, frivolous, and momentary; arguably in the spirit of Situationist tactics like the dérive. I argue that they are urban embodiments of jouissance,[8] playful articulations of political matters.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMedia Fields Journal
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2015


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