In 1961, the Italian conceptual artist Piero Manzoni turned the world upside down. In a field in Herning in Denmark, he placed a large metal plinth inscribed with the words “The Base Of The World, Homage To Galileo” upside down on the ground. By doing so, the implication is that the entire planet is resting on the plinth, turning the world – and everyone who lives there – into a sculpture. The world as ready-made.
Skipping over the paradox raised by the question of whether a work of art can create itself, there is also an issue of consent. Manzoni’s gesture only works if you accept his concept and are willing to go along with it. If not, then Manzoni hasn’t turned the entire planet into a piece of ready-made sculpture. He’s put a lump of metal in a field.
Rule 3 is why you’ll sometimes see people posting on Twitter that they have just lost The Game, but Rule 1 is vulnerable in the same way as Manzoni’s plinth. Rule 1 is often explained by saying “A person cannot choose to not play The Game; it does not require consent to play and one can never stop playing.” However, surely the rules of a game can only apply to people who are playing the game. If I am not playing The Game, then Rule 1 doesn’t apply to me.
Watching the news increasingly feels like being trapped in a sinister version of Manzoni’s Base Of The World, where the people are being told to be quiet so that they can listen to the voice of the people. But even if things feel terrible and even if we feel powerless to stop the advancing march of Brexit and the man who will today be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, we should remember that we do have power, we do have agency and that things can – and will – change.