# Two
- 2012

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Beautiful Trouble or how to move between art and revolt

Beautiful Trouble. A Toolbox for Revolution. Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald Mitchell (eds.). OR Books, New York and London 2012, 450 pages

Beautiful Trouble puts forward, one after another, different principles and ways of carrying out creative activism, listing them with clarity and with practical instructions on how to use them. It is no coincidence that one of the editors, Andrew Boyd, is a leading figure within this field, having led satirical campaigns such as Billionaires for Bush, one of the book’s case studies [1]. Together with Dave Oswald Mitchell, Boyd coordinates an multiple authorship that involves ten groups and "dozens of artists and activists from all over the world" that seek to convey a knowledge which is intimately tied to praxis.

Fig. 1

Beautiful Trouble splits its double-page headings into "tactics", "principles", "theories" and "case studies". Each one of these features a discussion of advantages and disadvantages, citing real examples and listing related sections within the book itself [2]. It is interesting that social movements that have been labeled as part of a "do-it-yourself" culture for basing themselves on direct action and trying to avoid delegating responsibility onto others, adopt forms that emulate “do-it-yourself" home decorating. It is about staging a rebellion as if you are putting together a Swedish bookshelf: the book proclaims itself to be "toolbox for the revolution", a kind of kit for insurgency which is ready to be put into practice.

Fig. 2

For Boyd, the texts should be read "before going out into the street or after having gone out, when one sits down to reflect and plan the next action." Know-how accumulated over decades is presented in a simple and practical form, ensuring that Beautiful Trouble could serve as a bridge between generations or as a kind of genealogy of practice. The creative commons license means that these texts are accessible in a free form, without copyright restrictions.

Most of the actions and case studies have a creative manner of conduct that is centered on the production of symbolism and the generation of images. In the book’s promotional video we are told that "today’s social movements have a creative new edge that’s blurring the boundaries between artist and activist, hacker and dreamer". On many occasions it deploys humor as a political weapon: Beautiful Trouble is an entertaining and audacious book which provokes smiles in the reader. Its theses are read between the lines, left implicit under an appearance that lacks pretentiousness [3].

Fig. 3

If we accept that creative activism constitutes a kind of current or hybrid branch situated between art and political action, this book could function as a sort of canon of its authors, ideas and practices. In this sense, Beautiful Trouble has its own preferences and oversights: Marxism seems to have been practically erased, ideology is not made explicit and a certain pop sensibility is emphasized, in which US campaigns very much play the leading role. The compilation is put together with an awareness of the implicit limitations of a format that owes so much to the dictionary: in a gesture that is more symbolic than practical, there are blank pages so that an active reader can fill them with reflections or accounts of street action.
Reading about proposals that range from guerilla theater to general strike, one is unable to avoid reflecting on the eternal question of the limitations of art or, in this case, the limitations of creative activism. In response to these questions, Andrew Boyd affirms that, in a strict sense, "creative intervention could call attention to an issue, but it is important to understand that many things need to happen in order to produce a change in society". Nonetheless, the question is not so simple:

"In a wider sense, one could define creative intervention as a real movement. One could say that the Egyptian revolution was no more than a huge revolutionary creative action. In that sense there are no limits because your creative piece is your revolutionary piece"1

Beautiful Trouble is an invitation to think through praxis and thereby test the elasticity of those fine lines that separate art from life, the dreamed world from the present world. All of this with the playful attitude that characterizes the best of the classic artistic avant-gardes [4].

Fig. 4