The Rule Breakers – Blog Post 2/4

My research has led me in a celebratory investigation of myths, in showing us a snap of the past, the social norms and customs of that society.  However, I want to now go into a more critical investigation of the functions of myths in history. In creating one, slightly fictionalised version of an event we forget the truths and accuracies. But isn’t this wrong? Below is a website devoted to Billy, created by a historian/webmaster who gives an account of his life by using images, letters and other sources. There is a specific section dedicated to combatting the ‘legend’ that `Billie the kid’ had become, trying to separate fact from fiction and actually give the truth about the historical figure.

I want to explore the negative impact of creating a glorified myth, the result of one long game of Chinese whispers over hundreds of years. By doing this in both myth and history, we have created one set narrative that does not encompass everyone’s experiences.  I want to de-construct some of these myths, to see if anyone has tried to subvert the normal narrative. How can we do this? `what ways are there to give homage to those misrepresented in history and myth, the dissidents, the rebels, the ones forgotten? 

In ‘`I Object: Ian Hislops’s Search for Dissent’ he looks through the British Museum’s collection to find objects that question the well-worn historical narrative we all believe. Are there items that have been tampered with that challenge the official version of events? Those made by artists or just ordinary people with a different point of view, those who never accepted the social, political, religious or economic status quo?

From ancient civilizations to modern day, people have used ordinary objects to question the authorized version and narrative, to make a little but lasting protest. The most interesting acts of ‘rebellion’ were the small marks on normal objects hidden in plain sight. You need to have a closer look at the decorative ornaments on the mantlepiece, the throw away items. Doesn’t everyone want to break the rules? Does everybody have the desire to register their protest?  This exhibition dealt with both the very blatant and the very subtle acts of rebellion.

Let us take one example. The Babylonian brick stamped with the name of King Nebuchadnezzar II 604-561 B.C. Part of the huge bearded winged figures, heads of humans and bodies of skulls to commemorate the king. But in an act of defiance the maker has carved his own name in the brick, put it in a wall and never seen it again. Did he do it in entirely in secret, did he laugh and show his friends? But Zabina made his mark against authority and is now remembered 2,500 years later.

Take another example, this 1631 edition of King James bible; in the 7th commandment it states ‘thou shalt commit adultery’ while it also changes God’s Greatness to God’s Great asse. An act of rebellion, or the worst printing mistake?

This exhibition raises the whole question of what even counts as rule breaking. Like the old philosophical puzzle about whether a tree in a forest actually falls if no one hears it coming down, is private satire actually satire at all? This exhibition shows dissent for the ordinary person, but is there any point? Perhaps the fact that a person went to so much effort to carve their name on a brick, shows how cathartic and important it is for the human psyche to say ‘no’. Regardless of whether this has any serious consequence or whether it was just for their own self-satisfaction.

However, does putting all these objects and symbols of rebellion alone in a glass box, in the very museum that seems to celebrate authority, take away what they stand for? The British Museum has been accused of exhibiting “pilfered cultural property” by a leading human rights lawyer who is calling for the return of treasures taken from “subjugated peoples” by “conquerors or colonial masters”. The British Museum seem to be an institution that commemorates history’s rulers, their artefacts, the ‘official history’. It seems ironic that this is where we see these objects of dissent. How can we give homage to these people without sticking these ornaments in a museum behind a glass cage?

Banksy attempted this in a way. The hoax piece ‘Peckham rock’ depicts a stick like figure pushing a trolley and was accompanied by a mock label. It states that it is on loan from the British Museum and previously been seen in displays in London and Bristol. It mocks the pomposity of the museum itself, the idea of collecting old artefacts and placing them in glass cabinets, most of them stolen from other countries in the first place.

In my project I want to give homage to those forgotten in myth, to focus on the dissidents in history and how they can be remembered. Without just putting such objects in a glass case. Similar to the brief  ‘two sides of the same coin’ I want to see if I can take these unique tampered objects and use print processes to make them more  accessible to public. I also want to explore the very idea of rule breaking in both history and modern day. I intend to listen to Ian Hislops’s podcasts in which he questions the very idea of why people rebel and protest through the smallest action.  I want to continue to ask the very question, if no one sees you do it, does it even count?  

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