September 22, 2014

Riot in the museum: book blocs come to the V&A


Italian book bloc. Image via

Italian book bloc. Image via

It was a full Sunday in New York yesterday: in Manhattan, hundreds of thousands of people joined the People’s Climate March, which snaked down Central Park West and through midtown in the early afternoon in a vast gathering intended to put pressure on world political leaders gathering at the UN this week, and also to just make some loud, loud noise about climate change.

And in Brooklyn, the annual Brooklyn Book Festival was held by Borough Hall, where the sweaty, enthusiastic hordes found themselves, at the end of the day, newly minted subscribers to fourteen different literary periodicals (I blame it on Bookforum and the befuddling toxic haze caused by the photo of Ronald Reagan on the cover of the new issue) and proud owners of some excellent new books (possibly including some of ours).

But the scheduling of the two events on the same day meant that lots of people had choose: protest or books? The now four-year-old book bloc movement, in which protesters use large facsimiles of book covers as shields in the course of marches and actions, brings the two together, and is one of the subjects of a new show on the role of objects in social change, “Disobedient Objects,” at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Back in the summer, The Occupied Times ran an interview between one of the curators of the show, Gavin Grindon, and two of the activists, Luther and Rosa, who brought the book bloc to London after its start in 2010 in Rome, where students used it to protest against education reforms. The three talked about, among other things, how the UK book bloc became a form of communication directed not only at the police and the media, but also at fellow far-distant activists — a sign of sympathy via books:

G: …It’s like you composed an aesthetic collectively, even between movements, each making their own changes back and forth. I think about this that like, where Marx argued that commodity objects circulate capital, these disobedient objects can circulate struggle.

R: Capital moves across borders so easily. But you couldn’t actually fight side-by-side with people in Italy against it, but you could take heart from other people’s actions. Just seeing the photos gathered around a laptop with your friends, and then you think – what would they think to see it reflected back at them from London?



Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.