The Right to Riot
Renowned Australian artist Luke Cornish, who works under the alias ELK, joined NextStreet Art Gallery last night for a live demonstration of his mural work. Before the performance, we had the opportunity to sit down with him to better understand the intention behind his work. His piece, based on Delacroix’s La Liberté Guidant le Peuple (1830), captures his perception of the modern “French spirit”, particularly with reference to the Gilet Jaune movement. What started as a grassroots citizens protest against the fuel tax, has escalated to a wider anti-government sentiment. As an outsider, ELK attempts to document what makes this movement pertinent on a global scale, and what it means to have the right to riot.
1789 remains one of the most politically, socially and artistically influential dates in the history of France. The tumultuous six years that followed the storming of the Bastille, involved a violent dismantling of the monarchy. The timeline of events that occurred during this period is eerily similar to the protests taking place in modern day Paris, albeit disguised with modern apparel and weaponry. The formulaic tradition of protesting see\ms to be a part of French culture; everyday citizens rising up to fight for better living conditions. However, the development of technology has enabled the acceleration of this trend throughout time. In our current global climate, the need for change is an epidemic reaching further than the streets of Paris. This is the quest for liberty that ELK is trying to capture with his work.
Cornish, originally from Canberra and working predominantly out of Sydney, takes his love for street art around the world. He has travelled to countries such as Syria and Lebanon to work with those faced with the crisis of liberty on a daily basis. Having experienced it himself, ELK was inspired to create a series about the human plight. He often says that being an artist is akin to being an investigator: someone who sheds light on what plagues society, and documents it in order to change the status quo. Upon arriving to Paris and witnessing the Gilet Jaune uprisings, ELK found similarities with other experiences around the world. He concluded that the notion of society’s inability to put up with injustice, is a cyclical entity.
His artwork utilizes classical imagery as a vehicle to parallel modern phenomena with the age-old struggle for justice. When comparing La Liberté Guidant Le Peuple to Cornish’s mural work, we see an evolved France; a diverse selection of protagonists representing todays bourgeois population. The bright yellow vests serve to highlight the desire for equal platform and opportunity. As he works, Tourists and Parisians pause outside NextStreet to ponder the implications of the piece. When something so violent and pertinent is placed on a canvas- it becomes a struggle of the mind more than one of the streets for a brief time. This is a fascinating dynamic that ELK works to uncover.
When asked about his process, Cornish starts by clarifying that his job, as an artist, is to hold a mirror up to society. This is a solitary position to be in, but necessary by nature. It is one that requires patience, an open mind and somewhat of an obsessive need to understand and document. The result of this is evidently reflected in his thought-provoking work, that we are proud to host at NextStreet gallery. We are curious to see how the mural might start a further dialogue around what it means to have the right to riot, on a global scale.