Artist Rod Webber didn’t set out to break entirely new ground in performance and visual art, but in January 2020 his new movement faced its first day in court – and surely not the last. At stake is the question of who decides what is art, and what is crime?
The emerging Unwalling movement portrays the absurdity and contradictions of an arbitrary space between authority and all which authority claims to contain - a space concurrently both beautiful and horrifying according to the institutional power held by the viewer. Unwalling is a collage of artwork, power, and (in)justice in which the artist, the artwork, and the audience break infinite social, cultural, and political walls to liberate our perception of what counts as art and who gets to decide.
A recent Unwalling explores themes of free speech and justice by juxtaposing compliance and defiance on the canvas of YouTube terms of service. A mixed media videography work, the documentary piece entitled “The ‘Oppressed’ Majority” depicted the dangerous ideas and people at the center of prominent right wing populist movements and was promptly banned for the hate speech of its subjects. Yet who was protected by silencing a film meant to warn their targets of the risk? Webber's channel has since been reinstated, after constant public pressure from supporters and friends, but for five months an important message was heard by no one.
Another Unwalling piece entitled “Epstien Didn’t Kill Himself” will appear before a Miami-Dade County Court once again on February 27. The piece envisioned its title scrawled in Revolution Red lipstick across a canvas recently vacated by a duct-taped banana which sold for $120,000 before another artist ate it. These two acts were recognized as art while the Unwalling which followed them was regarded as “vandalism”. The piece speaks to issues of classism in the art world, and the arbitrary nature of a form which can be defined its legal relationship to private property not by the artists, but by the “owner” of the canvas itself.
The brilliance of Unwalling lies in using subject, medium, and setting as a catalyst to evoke real world consequences which flip fairness on its head to unmask protectors and villains alike – revealing their subjective nature to the viewer. Like all great art, Unwalling can appear many things to many viewers – but unlike other movements, the subjectivity of Unwalling is found in the point of view informed by its viewers (and its participants) relationship to authority and power.
Artist Rod Webber states: “Anyone can make art— but I find that adding a pinch of ‘crime’ is the special sauce.”
- Mike Shipley, Political Activist