‘Art of Self Defence’


 Date: Oct 2012 – May 2013


If anyone wants to understand our culture and society they had better come to terms with the role and power of commercial images. Consumerism does not stress the value of a collective long range future as the prevailing values of the commercial system provide no incentives to develop bonds with future generations. Faced with growing ecological and social crises, and with advertising being the engine of an unsustainable and detrimental economic system, we have to insist on alternative values that will provide a humane, collective solution to the global crisis. In a small way the AOSD workshops attempted to create new dialogues, understandings and expressions with young people that question the information they receive and the value systems that are normalized in their environments.

The AOSD project was developed in response to a wider critique of the effects of advertising and consumerism on young people in the UK that is emerging in the form of a growing number of diagnostic reports and social commentary. Several of these reports formed a central part of the theory behind the pilot programme. The report by the governmentʼs Riots Communities and Victims Panel highlighted materialism as a key component to social unrest and calls for young people to be “protected from excessive marketing”.

In 2011, Manchester witnessed a form of civil unrest that was characterised by the looting of designer products and goods from city centre shops. This explosion of unrest was of a distinctly different nature to previous historical forms of unrest.  In response to the unrest across the country, the government commissioned the Riots Victims and Communities Panel Report. The panel’s survey found that:

- 85% of people feel that advertising puts pressure on young people to own the latest products,

- Over two-thirds (67%) of people feel materialism among young people is a problem within their local area.

- 70% of those surveyed feel that steps need to be taken to reduce the amount of advertising aimed at young people.

The Public Interest Research Centreʼs report on unethical advertising is also a key component of the AOSD project. The central aim of the AOSD pilot project was to explore the effects of these cultural forces on our communities and environments, from the point of view of young people.

The Pilot Projects:

Each ‘Art of Self Defence’ (AOSD) pilot program was split into four sessions and focussed on critical thinking within a variety of topics, including consumerism, the history of protest, social and environmental justice, the right to the city, and media perceptions of young people, with reference to the social unrest across the UK in Summer 2011.

AOSD aims to develop analytical thinking that explores the participantsʼ relationships with advertising, cultural value systems, consumerism and its effects on our environments – both in terms of ecology and climate change and in terms of the ‘visual pollution’ of their mental environments and personal well-being.

To deliver AOSD Upper Space recruited and trained seven emerging artist facilitators following an amazing response with well over 100 enquiries and over 60 completed applications. It was very encouraging to offer the new facilitators creative control of the workshop template and see them take ownership and direction of each session and the creative outputs. Upper Space delivered three days of intensive training for the new AOSD recruits facilitated in partnership with the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) and So We Stand. Considering that this was our first recruitment process we were very pleased with everyones engagement and passion for the subjects that the AOSD pilots engage with. We now have a solid base of trained and passionate freelance staff for future projects and outreach sessions.

The workshops were delivered in April and May 2013 across six wards in Greater Manchester – Ardwick, Blackley, Crumpsall, Gorton, Moss Side, and Walkden. Greater Manchester is the 4th most deprived district in England and over half of the very highest Index of Multiple Deprivation ranks (top 1% of areas) are in the North West. Almost all (98%) of the most deprived LSOAs in England are in urban areas.

We worked with a number of partners to deliver the sessions – Manchester Young Lives, Manchester Libraries, RECLAIM and Salford Foundation, and each group of young people had it’s own specific interests and needs. Some sessions were delivered with young people who were either excluded or at risk of exclusion from mainstream education, KS3 & KS4 Pupil Referral Units with Manchester Young Lives for example, and some were voluntary drop-in sessions, at Manchester Libraries and with RECLAIM. Group sizes and age ranges varied widely and had to be taken into account in planning and delivery.

The AOSD project utilised the arts as a form of social agency, with creative sessions that explored sticker art; community billboard canvases; screen printing onto clothing and drama.

Opinions are the ripples on the surface of the public’s consciousness, shallow and easily changed. Attitudes are the currents below the surface, deeper and stronger. Values are the deep tides of the public mood, slow to change, but powerful.”

- Sir Robert Worcester, Founder of MORI


Image Gallery: