18 Wednesday 18th June 2014
The Bite Back Movement is an art and design duo led by Alexander Augustus (London, UK) and Seung Youn Lee (Seoul, South Korea). Begun in 2012, their main focus has been on combining Illustration, fashion and installation in projects between London and Seoul. BBM's current project is a concept that focuses on youth unemployment in the UK, born out of their online platform, travelling exhibition and graphic novel 'A Dangerous Figure' which they began last year, a project that they hoped would serve as a voice for jobless young people in the UK.
"Youth unemployment is a robbery. If you're unemployed at a young age, you're more likely to be without work at a later age, and to have lower wages for the rest of your life: "scarring", they call it. That's why we need to give young unemployed a voice, to organise people so we can transform lives, and to give people hope." - Owen Jones (Independent / Guardian)
The poster - which is included in all Don't Panic Packs at the moment - features an amalgumated portrait of hundreds of unemployed youths. The poster was also pasted in two locations in the UK; in London Southbank were kind enough to let us use some of their walls for an installation; and in Bristol the People Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC) also let us takeover one of their subway tunnels in the 'Bear Pit'.
We spoke to the BBM guys to find out a little more about the project.
What inspired you to create to 'A Dangerous Figure' project?
The seed was planted during the period of unemployment following Alex's BA Degree. Having worked unpaid the majority of two years he got a strong insight into the abuse young people can face in the workplace. In fact, virtually all of Alex's peers were doing work which should legally be paid, with set hours, responsibilities, and often managerial elements such as training new staff, but as unpaid interns. Unless you've gone through something like that yourself, it is very difficult to understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of exploitation. The key issue is really misrepresentation - politicians and media misrepresenting the motivations of the young unemployed and discussing our generation as “scroungers”.
How do you feel your project tackles the issues of youth unemployment in the UK?
The ultimate aim is to change the way young unemployment is discussed. We mainly wanted to convert the statistics back into the humanity they represent. But we also wanted to rebrand the young unemployed - we wanted to elevate them from the position of isolated victim, to something more powerful, collectivised and unified. Often the people pushed to the edges of society are the ones with the most valuable perspectives on how everything is run. The UK young unemployed have unique insight into what's going wrong, and indeed, what's going right in the world of work here. It can be a hopeful message, it can also a threatening message.
A Dangerous Figure depends heavily on participation, did you find young people were willing to contribution to the project?
We were a bit overwhelmed to be honest, in the first few weeks of being released the website had average hits of over 7,000. Not all of these participants filled out 100% of their details, but the figure is a testament to how important this issue is for people. Participatory projects can often appear to be a bit of a gamble, but when you’re discussing something this important, which so many people care about, it kind of becomes a unifying thing. The internet was therefore the perfect vehicle for us to take this project forward, configuring the website as a facebook plug-in.
Are you surprised about the images final appearance, and the data you collected from contributors statements?
In terms of the face, we knew it would be a racial mix and we knew it would be a gender mix. What we hadn’t really predicted was the information other people read into the image, we have heard the portrait described as an “Indian girl”, “Eastern European man”, “like my son”, “similar to my wife”. This face is static, yet versatile, and this is really the point. Unemployment can effect everyone.
I’m certain many people would be surprised about the results of the data collected, but not us. In many ways this was the purpose of the project. We knew the participants would be motivated by either strong hope or strong anger - this is why they took the time to contribute. This is why A Dangerous Figure is dangerous, because it is a driven person, not a lazy or apathetic person. Certainly not a "Scrounger".
Do you see there being a solution to the issues you are raising awareness of?
Not for everyone, no. But that’s the system we live in. There will always be a faction of people left behind, and in many ways it’s sad that this issue has only been picked up on because unexpected people are now experiencing unemployment. For example, there have never been so many graduates unemployed in the UK, and there have never been so many people from higher income families unemployed.
Anything in the pipeline we should be looking out for?
A few exciting things going on in the next few months. In August we will lead an international workshop between Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Following that we will be working with economic immigrants in South Korea, to represent the realities of their situation, which have largely gone ignored. We also have plans to travel our recent exhibition about futuristic Korean Christian fashion to London, OH MY GOD: What You Believe in 2100 AD.