Is art above politics? Not if the growing number of artists standing in the General Election is anything to go by.
First it was Bob and Roberta Smith, the pseudonym of Leytonstone artist Patrick Brill, who is running for Michael Gove’s seat in Surrey Heath.
Now two more artists, Russell Shaw Higgs and Gordon Shrigley, have announced they will be running in Hackney South and Shoreditch against the sitting Labour MP Meg Hillier.
“I’ve been brewing this idea for the past four or five months,” says conceptual artist Higgs, 54, who is standing as an independent. “Within that time we’ve had tragedy in Paris, and what came to me was the concept of sending in the clowns and artists, the creative and the bright.”
Higgs, who describes himself as an optimist and will not rule out winning on 7 May, has lived on the Pembury Estate for 20 years, and volunteers for Core Arts, Hackney City Farm, as well as being a freelance contributor to the Hackney Citizen.
Asked what he would do differently if elected, he replies: “Most fundamentally I think the economic system needs changing. I’ve been advocating a basic income for many years which has gone very mainstream now. Everybody’s life should be given value by giving them a minimum level of security.”
A committed gay rights activist and veteran anti-Poll Tax campaigner, Higgs has chosen a bright pink fluorescent briefcase and a bowler hat as the twin emblems of his election campaign, which, he says, will not be traditional.
“I want to be as creative as possible. Every seven or eight days I will make a series of three videos, so there’ll be 10 blocks of three within the 100 days leading up to the final week.
“I don’t think it has to be a hard sell. It shouldn’t be dib-dib dob-dob, I’m top school prefect and look at me rising in my career. It’s going to be a challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Another artist vying for Meg Hillier’s seat is Gordon Shrigley, whose party, called Campaign, is based in the IMT gallery on Cambridge Heath Road.
Shrigley, 51, has lived in Hackney for 30 years, and decided to stand due to what he sees as a fundamental lack of choice within the political mainstream.
“If you look at the narratives within mainstream politics, most haven’t really changed, apart from the post-war Western position and more managerial politics, which is not a politics of ideas – it’s more a politics of steady as we go,” says the artist.
Shrigley’s Campaign party is deliberately not offering ideas or alternatives. Instead of political views, its elliptical slogans aim to make voters think. These include: “I have nothing to offer but offer itself,” and “I have seen the future, and it doesn’t exist.”
“We’re not proposing any particular issues over and above the space of possibility, which is basically that we explore the imagination,” he says.
Shrigley realises he is a wild card, not least because he is running in a Labour safe seat, but adds: “There are a lot of artists and people involved in the culture industries [in Hackney] so in some ways this will be quite a good electorate to pitch that idea to.”