Article 31
Text for a poster by the Freee Art Collective
Land of Human Rights postercampaign by < rotor > in Graz
2009
Article 31

Perhaps the first enquiry one should make of any list is ‘What is left off?’ or ‘What is absent from it?’ Article 31 is not an attempt to plug one of the gaps within the official list that is the thirty Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the contrary, the extra Article is one that does not fit in; the apparent extension of the list does not fix it but draws attention to what is absent from it: not only the fact that the Declaration has absences within it but also that there are limits to what the Declaration addresses.

The text appears in a photograph. It is not simply text but part of a situation. The artists’ words are printed on hoods which cover the artists’ heads. The artists are, quite literally, behind their words. But this complex situation is also a picture of the difficulty that art faces in a public sphere dominated by advertising and promotion.

On the face of it, the proposal is somewhat cheeky. It proposes that we should all have the right to be free from advertising. And it follows from this that we should all have the right to participate equally in forming social values. Compared to the seriousness of the direct abuse of the individual and restrictions imposed upon individual liberty, the indignities of suffering from advertising may seem somewhat minor. But the difficulty in thinking of advertising per se as an abuse of human rights, shows the extent to which certain problems are endemic to a society. Some problems are rendered unthinkable by presumptions inherent to a particular society. Any idea of rights will be grounded in assumptions as to what an individual is.

At a practical level, Article 31 is entirely possible: it calls merely for the dissolution of advertising and promotion, to be replaced by an open, collective production of value. But this could never happen: advertising and promotion are at the heart of the cultural logic of capitalism. Advertising is one of the ways in which capital structures the public sphere. To abolish advertising would be to destabilise capitalism as a whole. A great deal of individual liberty is not only compatible with capitalism but a necessary condition for the free flow of capital. What capitalism cannot countenance is any view of human rights which are incompatible with the free flow of capital. This is what sets Article 31 apart: it may be cheeky but it is also deadly serious.