Assemble: Political art or not?

DESIGN ACTIVISM

The work of Assemble, London based collective with experience in design, architecture and art, had not been something I was familiar with until I became aware of their Turner prize nomination and subsequent win. Describing themselves as the first ‘non-artists’ to be up for the prize, it seems a strange choice to reference their work in relation to political art. However, their Granby four streets and workshop projects are exactly what a piece of political art should be if using ‘an open letter to critics writing about political art’ as guidance. It claims that ‘the function of political art is to challenge and change the world’ (Lambert and Duncombe,2012); at a talk about the place of art in architecture I attended, they explicitly spoke about feeling the desire to do something in the world. The project in Granby, location of the Toxteth riots in 1981, is an ongoing collaboration with the residents who set about trying to reclaim their area

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Granby four streets (source: Hunger Tv. Image by unknown) 

after the council used the riots to get hold of the space for development. However, the area was left to decay and residents took it upon themselves to renovate the streets in small acts of rebellion including painting the fronts of empty houses and lining pavements with plants and flowers which can be seen in the image on the right.

It also included the creation of a community land trust, CLT, who have worked with Assemble on this project and still are; they are currently planning the design of winter gardens that will be placed in the abandoned houses that are beyond viable economic repair. This desire to change the world is exactly what is required in political art as it is not bound by aesthetic or medium just an explicit need to effect change which is another idea discussed in the article. To quote Bell Hooks, ‘the function of art is to do more than tell it like it is-it is to imagine what is possible’. This is clear in the ethos of Assemble as the Granby workshops, debuted in the Turner prize exhibition, as it has been set up to provide a long term self sufficient space that encourages creative skilled learning and removing class associations with artisan, ‘trendy’ design products. There is an irony to this as the houses in the Granby four streets were initially established to house artisan workers and it seems to have come back full circle.

Granby four streets n.d. photograph, viewed 25/01/2016 <http://www.hungertv.com/feature/turner-prize-shortlist-announced/&gt;.

http://assemblestudio.co.uk

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/dec/07/urban-assemble-win-turner-prize-toxteth

http://simplyreference.com/quotes/view/8406/—-the-function-of-art-is-to-do-more-than-tell-it-like-it-is–it’s-to-imagine-w

Duncombe, S & Lambert, S. (2012) An open letter to critics writing about political art. Available at: http://artisticactivism.org/2012/10/an-open-letter-to-critics-writing-about-political-art/ (Accessed: 25/1/2016).