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Coconut Complaints

As part of the Fairground, (a collaborative week-long workshop that the University of Kent, Valley Kids, Canterbury Christchurch University, People's United, and Whitstable Biennale put on in the Tate Exchange space (Level 5 in the Switch House, Tate Modern) in Spring 2017), I also proposed to make a Coconut Shy entitled Coconut Complaints.

What with proposing to create Smash The Patriarchy and collaborating with Anne and Jess on other stalls (Peace & Judy, Medicine Stall, and Merry-Go-Round-of-Art-and-Ideas), I was not sure that I would have enough time to make the Coconut Shy as well. Fortunately, Ross and I were able to construct it during the last weekend before heading to Tate.

The first three sketches depict my ideas for the coconut shy. Initially, I thought of continuing the theme of melting wood, so the coconut shy would link to Smash The Patriarchy. However, the reason for presenting Smash The Patriarchy as melting is to recreate the strongman game with feminist sensibilities and make a high striker that is not for men only to use to show their strength, but for everyone to use and engage with feminist ideas. I did not feel that the coconut shy needed to be recreated with feminist sensibilities as it was already an inclusive activity. Also, given the time restraints, I could not commit to carving another melting wooden sculpture. Therefore, I decided to stick to a more basic structure, see sketch 2.

The concept for the coconut shy became about inviting participants to design a coconut with a complaint (which could be about politics, art, discrimination etc.), which they can then attempt to knock off the stand using a political tool bean bag. However, this idea entailed a supply of coconuts for participants to design, and after much research online it was near impossible to obtain coconuts in bulk. Another option which I thought would be much cheaper, was to just buy five individual coconuts and get some labels that participants could write their complaint on and then stick onto the coconuts. I searched for multicoloured sticky labels and couldn't get any big enough, then I looked for assorted card shapes but couldn't find any in bulk, finally I settled on the idea of using post-it notes (and using blu-tac or double sided tape to help stick them onto the coconuts). Then at the end of each day, I could take the post-it notes off the coconuts so the coconuts are ready to be plastered in complaints on the next day, and store the post-it note complaints.

After debating how to go about designing/attaching complaints onto the coconuts, I thought of the case study I conducted on the Guerrilla Girl's Complaints Department that was at Tate Exchange during 4-9th October 2017. They had provided assorted card shapes and blu-tac for participants to write down their complaints to stick on the walls. All of these complaints were then archived. However, it is yet to be seen what the Guerrilla Girls plan to do with the participant's complaints, and whether any of the lodged complaints will be resolved. Which raised the question, within the case study, whether the process of lodging a complaint, artistic or not, would make any difference (other than the opening up and unburdening from the participant).

Taking inspiration from this idea that participant's complaints are just being lost into the void, I wanted to push further this question about what difference complaining/complaints departments are making. Therefore, I abandoned the idea of using post-it notes and instead came up with the idea of vocal complaints. In which, participants would say their complaint out loud before using the beanbag (designed as a political tool) to throw at the coconut. This act would not only symbolise this idea of complaining into the void, but it would also be an easier and quicker to access/interact with the stall and would provide more focus on the political tools/bean bags. I also hoped that it would provide more of an affirmative moment for the participant to shout out their complaint, to use their voice, become part of the art piece, rather than write down and give over their voice to the Guerrilla Girl's Complaints Department archive.

Having decided the concept behind Coconut Complaints, I began designing the bean bags with Jessica Elgar. The idea for the bean bags as political tools was put to paper on 7th February, in sketch 3. I had planned to design the bean bags as 'political tools', so participants can pick out a bean bag that represents a protest sign, a peace sign or the communist symbol etc. By the 15th March, I had already purchased the bean bags and fabric pens. By the 4th April, I had researched and come up with 12 political tools/movement logos that I drew on each bean bag. Here's the list, the slash indicates the two sides of the beanbag:

  1. Hippie love (love heart)/Flower Power (flower)

  2. communism (symbol)/Che Guevara (as revolutionary symbol)

  3. propaganda ("we want you")/art (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling)

  4. intersectional feminism (symbol)/"decolonise feminism"

  5. peace (symbol)/anti-nuclear (symbol)

  6. protest (sign)/Occupy movement (symbol)

  7. black lives matter (symbol)/"check your privilege"

  8. LGBT+ equals (symbol)/

  9. animal rights (paw)/WWF (symbol)

  10. anti-bullying (symbol)/"stand up, speak up"

  11. Disability rights (symbol)/"I am disABLEd"

  12. recycling (symbol)/environmentalism (symbol)

Photograph 1 shows a selection of the bean bags designed as political tools/movement logos.

Photograph 2 depicts the constructed coconut shy. It was made out of timber, timber fence posts, and netting. We then designed it with white paint and fairground bunting.

*Sketches were created on 7th February 2017. Photograph of the process of designing the political bean bags was taken on 6th April 2017. Photograph of the process of constructing the coconut shy was taken on 9th April 2017.

Coconut Complaints at Tate Exchange (12-15th April):

Coconut Complaints was a permanent attraction throughout the four days at Tate Exchange. The aim of the stall was to invite participants to shout out a political complaint, and in exchange the participant can choose a political tool from the available beanbags to then have a go at knocking a coconut off the stand. Six of the beanbags were used for Coconut Complaints, and the other six were used for the Trump clown performance (performed by the young people from Valleys Kids) (see photographs 11-14).

Particular participant experiences at Coconut Complaints throughout the four days:

  • One male adult participant (approx. mid-30yrs) took much interest in the political tools on the beanbag selection and engaged in an inspiring discussion about them.

  • One invigilator, Kim, informed me that she had noticed that participants who shouted out a political complaint were more likely to knock off a coconut than the participants who didn’t.

The last point is interesting as it relates to the hope I had that vocal complaining would provide an affirmative moment for the participant. As Kim noticed, the participant was more likely to succeed in knocking off the coconut when shouting out their compliant. We can therefore interpret that the participant was able to gain more control over their aim during the moment that they felt the most affirmation. A further question can be raised about the process of lodging a complaint; whether more of a difference can be made by participant's using their own voices to voice their complaints, become part of the art, become empowered and affirmative, rather than lodging their complaint to a complaints department and waiting for them to decide whether it should resolved or not.

Below is the signage used for Coconut Complaints at Tate:

"Got a complaint about anything political? Is it making you go cocoNUTS? Well why don’t you shout it out at Coconut Complaints!

Tell us your political complaint, and in exchange you can choose your political tool from the available beanbags to then have a go at knocking a coconut off the stand."

*Photographs 3-14 were taken by Jason Pay, 3-11 on 12th April 2017 and 11-14 on 14th April 2017.

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