I have known Davin and admired his work for a number of years (http://www.davinwatne.com). In 2012 he showed some of my work in ‘Look Attractive’ a group exhibition of international artists at UMKC Gallery in Kansas City. In 2015 he created an artwork to be displayed in commercial advertising spaces in Cardiff City centre as part of my ‘Consumer’ project. The concerns of our practices intersect in many places and so we decided to collaborate on a project that centres on our mutual interests in advertising, media images, and the politics of representation. Because both the UK and USA are going through times of extreme transformation and disruption Davin and I felt that it is the right time to work together to explore these changes.
We began the collaboration via skype, discussing mass media imagery and the use of social media in political debate, and set up an instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/hard_stop/) to act as a visual essay examining the rhetoric of mass-media. We hoped it would be a place to exchange images & ideas to explore how images communicate, persuade, and seduce.
The name Hard Stop came from a trip to Nottingham Contemporary to see The Place is Here exhibition. I attended a panel discussion about Art, Activism, Race and Social Justice in which the use of ‘hard stop’ was discussed. Hard stop is a method used by police to bring a vehicle to a stop, often by shooting the people inside. The idea of bringing something to a violent halt resonated with me. In The Arcades Project Benjamin writes that progress is mythologised under the sign of predetermination. The ‘ideology of progress’ naturalises the idea of the current course of development as an inevitable trajectory of capitalism that cannot be altered. The political consequence of the naturalisation of progress is conformism and passive acceptance of the status quo. In the nineteenth century the development of railways came to symbolise progress. Benjamin writes ‘Railroads were the referent, and progress the sign, as spatial movement became so wedded to the concept of historical movement that these could no longer be distinguished’ (quoted in Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing, p. 91). Marx used the locomotive as a metaphor for revolution; however, Benjamin countered the equation of progress with movement arguing that revolution would take place when the locomotive stopped: ‘Perhaps it is totally different. Perhaps revolutions are the reaching of humanity travelling in this train for the emergency brake’ (ibid., p. 92).
For Benjamin, the crises of ‘modern time’ are not moments in which violent change might take place, but where existing power structures will be held in place. Benjamin equates ‘modern time’ with movement and acceleration, but it is a type of movement without progress and a relentless pursuit of novelty that conceals lack of change. Contrary to its representations in terms of speed and movement, progress is characterised by suspended animation and the maintenance of social power structures. Progress is immobile and eternal. Real progress will take place when transiency ceases.
In a world characterised by alt-truth and continuous communication via social media we desperately need time for reflection. With this in mind Davin and I appropriated the term ‘hard stop’ to signify the possibility of bringing to a halt (at least momentarily) the deluge of information we receive. Under this moniker we hope to create interventions in the public realm that cause pause for thought and invite viewers to critique the images they see.
This collaboration is supported by a travel bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company.