Rant 51: The Revolting Student

Rant 51: The Revolting Student Abbi Torrance, Portrait 1 (Simone's political protest), 2009. Pencil on paper. 29cm x 21cm. Credit: Abbi Torrance

As students take to the capital's art galleries in protest against tuition fees and arts funding cuts, artist Jim Colquhoun questions the motives and the desired outcomes of this revolt. Are the protestors simply asking to be part of the elite?

I have some sympathy with revolting students and I understand their fury at the ongoing privatisation of education being perpetrated by the Tories and their lapdogs the Liberal Democrats.

I especially applaud the destruction of Tory HQ and I know I was not alone in experiencing a vicarious adrenalin spike as the building was trashed!

And yet . . . and yet

This all reminds me of current recipient of the Turner Prize Susan Philipsz.

Philipsz claims to have been an ‘activist’ in her teens and twenties but her political activity, it seems to me, sits uneasily within the framework of her current art practice.

Of course such a trajectory is not unusual i.e. from firebrand to establishment figurehead but what is really surprising is how little adverse comment this shift incurs.

It is as if this is expected and that Philipsz and others have simply woken up to the realpolitik and stopped being so bloody childish!

After all such an accolade will propel her into the upper echelons of the art trade and ensure her ability to work and live as an artist, a destination denied to the majority.

Which brings me neatly back to the current student ‘uprising’. I do wonder what took them so long and why their demands are, in the end, so laughably quotidian.

There is much talk of the parallels with May 1968 – the abortive uprising in France and elsewhere that (belatedly) brought the International Situationists to our attention – but really there is no valid comparison.

In May 68 there was a rejection by students of bourgeois individualism and allied notions of careerism, professionalism, family and other juicy manifestations of ‘the spectacle’.

In 2010 what we have is a rather meek and self-serving request to be ‘included’ in an avowedly middle-class trajectory that leads towards materialism, workerist ‘job satisfaction’, arse-licking corporatism and in the case of the ‘successful’ artist, a chance to hobnob with the great and the good.

So the students mildly demonstrating in the room adjacent to the Turner Prize party were, in reality, demanding their right to be included in that sickening art jamboree.

And no doubt they will get their wish.

Contributed by Jim Colquhoun

Jim Colquhoun is an artist based in Glasgow.

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