Staff, spikes, pikes, placards, protest boards

Wood – pale, grainy, natural. Weak and flexible in narrow sections, but thicker material risks a predominance of wood over image. Assembled en masse as protest boards; a silent protest, a verbal war of words, dissent, refusal. Their varying styles, sizes, imagery and text create a sense of immediacy and disorder. Rough and ready, they perhaps jar inappropriately with the precision and perfection of the work I make.

Metal – dark, strong, hard, smooth, sleek, graphic; a somewhat mutant and ‘alien’ interruption within the gallery space. Amassed, pikes feel physically threatening in terms of their potential as a weapon, but their streamlined, minimal appearance also offers an aesthetic sense of restraint and order.

Messager positions her spikes as pikes, the tool of an ancient soldier; an instrument of pain or death linked to periods of revolution, warfare, and physical rebellion. Unwieldy and originally designed to be used in a deliberate, defensive manner the pike is also capable of aggressive attack. Messager’s Pikes; ‘A whole world is heading our way, impaled on metal rods’.(1) It’s method of presentation offers apparent casualness, propped informally against the wall.

In truth, these poles perhaps have more of the physical characteristics of a quarterstaff, another medieval weapon. The word staff has interesting connotations – a staff of office, a stick indicating an official’s position, or a social rank or degree of social prestige (directly relevant to aspects of my research into the gaze). A staff can also provide support, and is a working tool such as to help direct sheep.

One could also view them as the bars of a prison, or as a barcode.

To determine what sort of staff looks best from an aesthetic perspective with my images, I carry out a rough and ready photo shoot:

And the winner is…10mm steel box section. Strong, supportive, with square, clean lines, it offers the best weight against the pictures – it has a definite presence but does not overwhelm them. Dark grey when new, it gradually rusts.


(1) Annette Messager, Annette Messager: Les Messagers, trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods, (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2007), p.353.

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