Enter the maze

Disobedient Objects

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has an exhibition from the Summer of 2014 on Disobedient Objects. It looks at the way protesters have designed objects to support their protests often with limited resources. The objects on display range from banners, badges and T-shirts to tubes designed to lock people together in a sit-down protest that is hard to move, and even printed teacups used by the suffragettes to spread their message into Edwardian homes.

Technology has played a part in home-made protest movements too, though not always in obvious ways. In Poland in the 1980s people wanted a subtle and easily hidden way to show their support for the Solidarity protest movement that ultimately overthrew state communism in the country. One way they used was to turn small electrical resistors into lapel badges, both as a play on the word resistance and to show support for the pirate radio stations that were helping their cause.

As technology advances it is often taken up by authoritarian regimes to maintain their power. Some exhibits show how it could be used by protesters to fight back too. Robots are increasingly being militarised and if they aren't already will no doubt soon be used by regimes to both spy on and help quash protest movements. Some designers have tried to show that robots have a part to play in protest too. The Graffiti Writer robot from 1998 carries a rack of aerosol cans on its back. As it trundles along it paints protest messages on the pavement behind it, allowing protesters to stay a safe distance from their graffiti. The Institute of Applied Autonomy who designed it wanted to highlight the (then) coming of robot warfare, suggesting robots could be used in protests against repressive regimes too. Only three years later the first armed drones - essentially flying military robots - were used over Afghanistan. Drones can by used by protesters too. The FLONE is a simple home-assembled drone that can hold a smart phone and be used, for example, to film any brutal action of police during peaceful protests.

Authoritarian regimes may increasingly use technology to suppress their people, but the Disobedient Objects exhibition shows imaginative protesters can turn the same technology on its head and use it to support their protests too.