Artist's Statement: Brad Butler on Hold Your Ground at Canary Wharf

Brad Butler interviewed by Mark Sheerin | 13 March 2012
Black and white photo of an artist duo smiling
Artist duo: Karen Mirza and Brad Butler© Karen Mirza and Brad Butler
Artist's statement: In their own words...Brad Butler talks about his collaboration with Karen Mirza for the site specific commission Hold Your Ground. This film, based on an Egyptian pro-democracy pamphlet, will be shown at Canary Wharf Screen...

“The pamphlet is in Arabic and it is called How to Protest Intelligently. It came out very early in the revolution in Egypt. It’s a series of ideas or tools for people attempting to resist the state.

It’s quite specific, including what you should wear in a protest, where you should meet, and what you could say, who to speak to. It’s advice for the citizen.

One character in the pamphlet is a rioter who’s fighting a policeman and underneath there’s a slogan, which says, ‘Hold your ground’.

He’s spraying paint towards the policeman, and it makes you think: what do you have around you as potential tools which can be used to attempt to draw a line with when you’ve had enough of retreating?

Our Canary Wharf film has no interviews. It has some archive footage from Northern Ireland, from UK demonstrations, from Egypt and a few other places.

But mostly what it has is a character who is both attempting to teach and attempting to speak a protest language. In fact, she only says four actual words, so a lot of her actions are about attempting to construct language.

The reason this is relevant to Canary Wharf is because it is such an iconic controlled and contested power base in London.

So our protagonist is calling to the workers in transit to think about their relationship to speaking out, to think about where they place their body, to find new gestures of protest, to address their frustrations in finding the freedom to speak out about issues, to find connections.

Hold Your Ground was something that comes out of a larger film we are currently making called Deep State.

The Deep State is the state within the state, so it’s an unelected power-base, which operates on us as people, but also from inside the state on the state itself, the term comes out of Turkey where they call it Derin Devlet.

At one end it falls into conspiracy theory and in that way it can be easily dismissed, but in other ways it is very clear in things like rendition, in the banking crisis, in corporate forces that influence Governmental policy.

For example, the Neo Conservatives in America were particularly clear about not giving a fuck about showing there was a Deep State.

Often these things are mostly hidden away, but in their case the way they dealt with Iraq was very Deep State, including their use of privatised military forces, their blatant embezzlement of Iraqi resources and [US diplomat] Paul Bremer's laws that set about dismantling of the Iraqi State to create a free market suitable to US interests

So for more than a year we had been creating an archive of ideas around civil disobedience and the difficulties of speaking out - what is said, and unsaid, and the relationship with pressures on the body.

We filmed a lot in Cairo as well as in the student and union protests in the UK, and we then suggested to Film and Video Umbrella that we take this archive to the writer China Miéville.

China writes social/science fiction, sometimes known as weird fiction. And also he’s one of the founders of salvage punk.

So we went in with the idea of a collaboration through our archive, and through our discussions with China we immediately crossed over with this idea of the Deep State.

We had just been to Turkey at the point of starting our discussions and everything just aligned.”

  • Click here to see a trailer for Canary Wharf Screen and visit the Art on fhe Underground website.

  • Hold Your Ground is one of several works from Film and Video Umbrella (www.fvu.co.uk) and Art on the Underground to be shown at Canary Wharf. It runs from April 26 – May 27 2012.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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