Friday. 31/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Augustin Macellari

Creative tension

You might have missed it but Banksy is at it again – or at it still. Who cares? The enigmatic stencil-sprayer’s brand of punchline activism became tiresome years ago; it won’t have come as much of a blow for commuters to learn that a recent intervention on London’s underground network was cleaned off by overenthusiastic (or impeccably tasteful) cleaners.

For some, Banksy represents the bottom line in art and activism. He is not. To see Banksy as an inheritor of the tradition belies the rich history of art as an agent of change. At its best, art is a forum for radical ideas. Concepts honed in the gallery have been realised in society – think of Andy Warhol and the cult of celebrity, or the generations of feminist artists who worked with their counterparts in literature and politics to lay the intellectual foundations for something approaching gender equality.

We find ourselves in strange times. The press is imperilled, social media is dividing societies and it’s becoming harder than ever to hold power to account. But artists have already stepped in to fill the gap opened by the retreating fourth estate. Forensic Architecture, the UK-based research group that has exhibited widely in institutions such as New York’s Whitney (“Triple-Chaser”, pictured) and London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, has brought its interdisciplinary practice to bear on investigating human-rights violations the world over. Its research is exhibited in galleries – and it resonates far beyond their walls.

A new project in New York is calling for artists to propose works to appear on billboards around the city. Called “Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020”, it aims to generate dialogue in an increasingly polarised society, calling on artists to envision a different future. It’s within their power to do so – but let’s hope that they keep the stencils and spray paint at bay.

Geopolitics / Yemen

Steps in the right direction

Separatists in southern Yemen have said that they will abandon their aspirations for self-rule and enter a power-sharing agreement with the country’s government, offering a modicum of hope for a nation long convulsed by civil war. It marks the revival of an agreement reached in November and comes after some intense lobbying by Saudi Arabia, which backs the government, as well as reduced military support from one of the separatists’ key regional backers, the United Arab Emirates. The challenges remain immense: both sides now have 30 days to agree a cabinet, which is an incredibly ambitious timetable. And that’s not to mention the other warring factions that remain in the north of the country. “If this deal is implemented this time, it will solve a big headache for Saudi Arabia,” Iona Craig, a journalist who has lived and worked in Yemen, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “But it doesn't solve the problem of the wider conflict in Yemen, that’s for sure.”

Defence / USA

Troop movement

Donald Trump this week confirmed that nearly 12,000 US troops will be moved out of Germany – but the details of where these troops could be heading make for interesting reading. According to US defence secretary Mark Esper, some 5,600 troops will be moved to Belgium and Italy. Another 6,400 troops will be returning home for now – but could be destined for Poland and the Baltics in future. Sending troops to the Baltics might prove tricky. “Nato signed an act in 1997 agreeing that it would not establish permanent bases in ex-Soviet states such as the Baltics,” says Elisabeth Braw, director of Rusi’s modern deterrence project. Though details of the plans are vague, Braw suggests that the US could get around this by leaving the troops on “permanent rotation”. But the message would be clear. “You have to weigh the benefits against the costs,” she says. “While the Baltics are strategically important, creating military bases there would aggravate Russia.”

Society / Portugal

Home remedies

Would you like to live in a palace? Or an old university building? Well, it’s not quite as simple as that but Portugal’s new affordable-housing scheme could soon allow its citizens to take up residence in some grand locations. The government has created a “public housing portfolio” of more than 18,000 existing properties – managed by the Institute for Housing and Urban Development – that could potentially be renovated or converted into affordable homes. At the same time, the city of Lisbon has unveiled a new programme to subsidise the conversion of Airbnb-type properties into affordable housing, allowing for many of these short-term holiday lets to go back on the rental market. Portugal, like many places, has long faced an affordable-housing crunch that was only deepened by the coronavirus pandemic, when lockdowns hit tenants’ ability to keep up with rent payments. The government’s new initiative could be a positive step in bringing life back to core neighbourhoods and reclaiming the city for its residents.

Travel / UK

On the road again

As we head towards peak summer-holiday season, the so-called staycation is proving to be a popular option in the UK, providing a boost not only to country hotels and B&Bs but the car-rental services that can whisk people out of the city. “For people living in cities, access to a car right now is important,” says Aaron Cole, chief marketing officer of London-based premium car-rental service The Out, which is backed by Jaguar Land Rover. “The whole reason that we exist is to help people get out and enjoy a road trip to the countryside or the seaside.” After pausing operations for several months, The Out spent lockdown refining its online booking and cleaning practices, as well as its door-to-door drop-off service. Now, like other car rentals, it’s once again adding more vehicles and staff. “We see ourselves as part of the UK tourism community and have worked with proactive partners all around the industry to get things moving again,” says Cole.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Finisterre

Tom Kay is the founder of Finisterre, a sustainable-clothing brand inspired by the sea and based in Cornwall. Launched in 2003, the company is in the process of reopening its nine UK locations.

Film / New Release

The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets

Retail, we’re told, is in big trouble. But shops and markets have been bringing people together for centuries and we resolutely believe that they are here to stay. Turn to our latest book to see why.

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