For months, the United Kingdom has been roiled by student protests standing up to the coalition government's attempt to sharply raise annual tuition at universities to up to £9,000 ($14,600). Now, a coalition of more than 90 artists, musicians, and creative figures have come together to make a statement of solidarity with the young protesters. The list includes some big names: visual artists Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, and Rachel Whiteread; Clash rocker Mick Jones, Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, and Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes; and fashion designer Stella McCartney. And the form of solidarity offered is not just abstract -- it comes in the form of cash to pay the fines of persecuted and jailed students, thus encouraging further civil disobedience against the education fee hikes.
The campaign, taking the name "Can't pay your fees? We'll pay your fines!", has been spearheaded by Jake Chapman, who announced it in a cover story for Dazed and Confused magazine last week. Known for his nightmarish installations with his brother Dinos, Chapman's work -- tableaux of mutant children, and defaced works by Francisco Goya -- has always expressed a grim view of the world, edged with punk-ish nihilism. With his fund, he has a very concrete target for his rage: The right-wing Tories led by David Cameron, and their Liberal-Democrat coalition partners, whom he describes as craven sell-outs, having courted support from the art community, which it then sold down the river by collaborating in a savage program of austerity.
A must-read feature on Chapman in the Evening Standard describes him as brimming over with rage at the tuition hikes. "I really don't believe it's an austerity measure," he says. "I think it is at the very root of Right-wing thinking, which is to disempower social mobility." Elsewhere in the interview the artist notes that his connection to the issue comes from personal experience, as he would not have been able to rise to where he is without financial assistance.
The most iconic images of student protest in the UK come from November, when student protesters stormed and vandalized Tory Party headquarters. "I can't promote violence because I would be arrested, that would be self-defeating," Chapman says when grilled about whether he supports such actions. "I absolutely have empathy for the degree of aggression and anger that those students have. I don't think they're role-playing, and I think the way that the media treats them is really outrageous, and it can only lead to even more of a sense of frustration."
Details of the charity art auction that will provide the funds for student protesters are still coming together, though it promises "exceptional works of art, unique memorabilia... and desirable artefacts from the great and the good." The Chapman brothers appear to be planning to make at least one major work for the sale, though a scheme to create collaborative artworks also seems to be something being discussed. Jake Chapman also says that he has had offers from bands willing to donate percentages of money raised by their gigs to the "Can't pay your fees? We'll pay your fines!" fund. If enough money is not raised at the auction, the artist has even offered to try to make up the difference himself.
Finally, Chapman is realistic about the meaning of the gesture: "If paying the fines mocks the judicial system and the Government, then it is worth doing it," he says. "And there is no other reason. If you think about it, we can't expunge those kids' criminal records, so the fine is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the effect on their futures. But for people like me who believe in state education and education for all as an absolute fundamental principle, there is nothing else I can do other than support it in this way."
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