As alarm bells rang throughout the country in response to Brexit, Trump and the rise of nationalism at home and abroad, one of the many debates that began to receive renewed attention was around the role of art as a sphere for socio-political commentary and protest. Is it the artist’s responsibility to comment on and respond to the seemingly seismic world events unfolding around him or her? Is this a particularly fruitful and exciting time to be an artist, with so much urgent ‘material’ to respond to? Such age-old questions remain forever open-ended, yet seemed in need of answer.
Perhaps from out of this context, Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s new exhibition, Revolt & Revolutions, looks at some of the key counter-cultural and anti-establishment movements of recent decades, alongside work by artists who seek to ‘make a difference’. Among the pieces included in the show; The Internationale (1999) by Susan Philipsz will be broadcast across the Bothy Garden landscape, offering a haunting rendition of what was once the rallying call for socialists around the world, but which is now almost forgotten. And Ruth Ewan’s A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World (2003–) features a growing collection of songs addressing a spectrum of social issues; some directly political in motive, some vaguely utopian and some chronicling specific historic events.
Overall, the exhibition sets out to suggest ways in which we might actively contribute towards achieving change ourselves, whether on an individual, community or even global level. (I.e. by doing something more than just signing one of the many e-petitions on Facebook.) As such, it looks set to offer an inspiring start to 2018.