Objecting – Sculpture as Counter Evidence


Julika Gittner

RENT, HD video, 01:33 min, 2020

CONSULTATION, HD video, 02:09 min, 2020

Objecting explores ways to expose and resist the manipulation and disinformation techniques commonly used by local authorities and their hired consultants to influence residents’ opinions in social housing estate regeneration schemes through sculptural art practice.


Demystifying Re-development is a series of video works that were developed during my involvement with the consultation process at the St Raphael’s estate in Brent, London NW10. The videos use sculptural diagrams to illustrate key facts and figures that directly challenge the council's unscrupulous push for the demolition of the estate. The pieces question the aesthetics of common factual persuasion methods and propose an alternative visual language for the propagation of counter-evidence through activist art. 


In the context of today’s post-truth politics, the project adopts Marchart’s understanding of the term 'propaganda' as ‘a way of making things politically readable by way of simplification’ (2019: 18). The project aims to expand the traditional palette of campaign media beyond the usual textual and graphic representations of information by producing material visualizations of data. Using objects to visualize data in this way aims to make the abstract information tangible and ‘readable’ to non-experts. Made from household materials the deliberately makeshift objects perform an antidote to the establishment’s use of the scientific aesthetic of statistics and data visualizations as a rhetorical tool.


The collaboration with the residents of St Raphael’s estate took place from 2019 to 2021 and was focused on establishing a body of misrepresented data as well as identifying appropriate channels for distributing counter-evidence via a poster and newsletter campaign, an on-site protest event and social media. The collaboration between artist and community in this project is best described as a ‘sharing of specialist knowledge’ (Leeson 2017: 19) where each party contributes to the part of the project that lies within their field of expertise. This meant that the creative process of visualizing the counter-evidence through sculptural objects was kept deliberately as an autonomous artistic act.


Although it was not possible to test the objects on-site due to COVID restrictions through the duration of the project, the videos were shared by the residents across social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook as part of their online campaign. Particularly the pieces on RENT and CONSULTATION generated positive feedback in likes as well as comments from residents on their usefulness in drawing attention to these issues. Given the limited options for comment on social media platforms, there has so far been little opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the residents’ reception of the work’s aesthetic qualities and this could be explored further by using objects as part of physical protest events in the future.


Lucy Lippard understands artistic involvement within a politically contested situation as a multifaceted commitment that explores and develops a ‘subversive’ and suggestive’, rather than ‘authoritarian’ role (1984: 3). This approach challenges the common practice of measuring the ‘success’ of artistic engagement in terms of positive feedback from the respective communities with a model that focuses more on transformative processes than results. The personal trust gained during the collaborative act of identifying concerns over the councils’ manipulative consultation techniques was arguably the reason for the campaign group in this project to include the videos, rather than their approval of the specific artistic expression of the works. I understand this trust as the basis that can create a space for the kind of artistic autonomy that is necessary if we want to produce new forms of visual representation in socially engaged art practice.