Chris Joseph’s “Manifestants, Police, Politiciens” (“Protesters, Police, Politicians”) addresses the riots that took place in the streets of Quebec City, Canada, from April 17th to 21st, 2001, in protest of the Third Summit of the Americas. The piece is composed of photographs and newspaper articles depicting the protests of politically concerned citizens that were quashed by excessive police force and questionable crowd-control techniques. The protest received a great deal of media coverage due to the violent exchanges and the controversial nature of the protesters’ message: they sought to abolish negotiations of the “Free Trade Area of the Americas” (FTAA), a policy that would dissolve barriers and to free trade among all nations of the Americas, except for Cuba. Media coverage, however, highlighted the disruptive nature of the protests rather than the concerns that motivated them; as one article, quoted from Joseph’s work, states, “Peaceful marchers accused the news media of focusing on the easily photographed havoc while refusing to heed the anti-globalization crusade, which has breathed life into the leftist movement, giving groups as disparate as ecologists, trade unionists, and old-line Marxists a common cause for the first time since the Vietnam war.”
Unlike some of Joseph’s other work, “Manifestants, Police, Politiciens” is not directly interactive. Fragments of newspaper articles flash before the reader in random sequences, producing an electronic collage of disappearing and reappearing text against a colourless background. Paragraphs are often cropped, altering the context and limiting perspective; these design elements evoke the way in which corporate media strategically filters and obscures information in order to manipulate public attention and affect popular perception. The fragmented and sporadic style of the work reflects news and media environments by recreating the bombardment of diverse and complicated information, which can be difficult to clearly interpret.
As the work begins to run, three pop-up windows emerge at the forefront of the screen, contributing additional layers of representation to the primary collage. These pop-up windows cycle through photos of protesters, police and politicians as they took part in the summit in their respective ways. The images variously reinforce and contradict the messages and descriptions of events presented in the primary screen. In some respects, the images function as visual indicators of the scale and severity of the protests, but they also supply a counter-narrative to those media reports that depict “Hundreds of self-described anarchists and revolutionaries.”
By situating “Manifestants, Police, Politiciens” online, Joseph gestures towards that way in which new communication technologies are employed with increasing frequency in the service of political-social activism. Joseph’s chosen medium thus befits the work’s particular message: communication affordances of the Internet—in particular, its social networks—enabled the protesters to effectively organize at the Third Summit of the Americas. “Manifestants, Police, Politiciens” posits the subversive potential of the Internet, where artists and activists may create and organize in a fashion that opposes—or at least supplements—the limited perspectives of mainstream media.
John Martin was a student of Dr. Kiki Benzon for a course in Contemporary Fiction taught at the University of Lethbridge, Canada during the Winter term of 2011.