The jailed Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is part of a new cultural movement that’s using people power to challenge society’s vested interests
If this is a new avant-garde then it’s operating on a different set of aesthetic rules to previous generations of political art. Typically, artists have wanted us to be as outraged as they are in the face of war or great injustice. Their pictures – angry, provocative, shocking – reflect this. Think of Picasso’s Guernica; the shrieking heads and spewing blood in the imagery of feminist artist Nancy Spero; Richard Hamilton’s Bobby Sands, naked beneath a blanket in his befouled cell at the height of the dirty protests.
By contrast the likes of Deller and Alÿs prefer dialogue to polemic. Rather than conjuring visceral imagery or bludgeoning slogans they wield art as a form of “soft power”: a means to bring people together, to stir emotions and nudge participants towards a new understanding of the social and political order.