Disobedient Objects at the V&A

A trolley with a mind of its own. A phone that drops calls mid-conversation. The computer that crashes when you’e mid-way through a very important document. These are the things that come to mind when I hear the term “disobedient object.”

I think of objects not behaving in the way that they are supposed to, of things thwarting their design and (usually) vexing those of us that have to make use of them.

Disobedient Objects
Disobedient Objects


What didn’t come to mind was what the V&A envisioned for their current exhibition. 

The Disobedient Objects exhibition is the “first to examine the powerful role of objects in movements for social change” according to the exhibition page.

A first it may be for the genteel environs of the V&A, but I can’t help but wonder if whoever wrote this has ever heard of the People’s History Museum in the magical, mystical, non-London world of “t’Up North”, Manchester to be precise, where they deal with this subject matter on a daily basis.


For an object to be ‘disobedient’ it has to work against its intended function. The objects presented here fulfill their functions, to help people drive social change, to disobey, to rebel. Whether we’re looking at a suffragette tea cup, or a politically charged placard, the things are doing what they are supposed to.

A WSPU teacup and saucer
A WSPU teacup and saucer
Political placards
Political placards

Perhaps Distruptive Objects would have been a better way of thinking about them?

The exhibition itself is disruptive more than disobedient – the DIY nature of the design, complete with chipboard rather than the usual polished finish, reflects the DIY nature of the objects it presents, none of which were meant to be seen as art. The barricades, the banners and the placards aesthetically invoke a rebellious atmosphere, but made me wonder, can you really be rebellious in a museum?

The gorilla girls
The gorilla girls

Well, the Gorilla Girls can be, but their campaign was specifically museum-y anyway…


Back to the point though, can museum objects themselves really be disobedient in the way the exhibition is suggesting? Should we even be looking to archive the efforts of these movements?

Thinking about positioning, this a museum that is mainly concerned with aesthetics. Thinking about programming – running alongside Disobedient Objects is an exhibition on wedding dresses and another one called Horst: Photographer of Style. Hardly heady thoughts of changing the world. To combine these two thoughts: are these objects being reduced to what they look like rather than the movements and ideas they represented? That seems to be the suggestion.

Disobedient Objects raises a lot of questions, and is undoubtedly thought provoking, but perhaps not in the way it was intended to be. If you want to see it, it’s free and is at the V&A until 1st Feb 2015.


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