This past weekend, on beaches all over Cornwall in the United Kingdom, passersby found the same message written in huge letters in the sand: “We’re with Corbyn!” The messages drew the attention of the British media, with reports on the BBC news.
The messages in the sand were all part of a planned “mass art action” organized by the artist Stacey Guthrie, who used a Facebook event to encourage the people of Cornwall to express their support for the socialist leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, by writing the message in the sand. When the news outlets caught on to the story on Sunday afternoon, it was as if the very beaches of Cornwall had expressed their unanimous support for the Labour leader.
The timing of the action is particularly significant. The majority of Labour Party legislators are currently attempting to depose their leader, despite the fact that he was elected by a huge majority only 10 months ago. In response to the legislators’ anti-democratic gesture, the people of Cornwall embraced a mass action masterminded by a pro-Corbyn Cornish artist.
“I wanted to come up with a creative response to Momentum’s call for emergency actions over the weekend,” said Guthrie, referring to a Corbyn supporters group, which organized large rallies in support of Corbyn in cities all over Great Britain this weekend. “I put out a call to my creative friends and one of them suggested writing in the sand,” she continued.
The significance of “writing in the sand,” for Guthrie, is that it’s the perfect antidote to the kind of angry politics that’s arisen in the country since the EU referendum result last month. With the left-wing Momentum group often caricatured as an angry “mob” and Corbyn himself, only recently, smeared by the right-wing press as “lunging” at a reporter, Guthrie’s decision to use sand as the medium for her “mass art action” is celebratory without being overly confrontational.
“I wanted to reach as many people as possible in a way that would provoke curiosity,” she said. “Also, writing in the sand is a very non-threatening way of communicating a message. Other forms of public writing can allow the ‘protestor’ to be pigeonholed as angry or disrespectful of public property… so writing in the sand seemed to be a benign yet powerful way of stating the strength of support for Jeremy Corbyn that is felt by a large number of the population of Cornwall.”
Beaches are symbolic of Cornwall, and Guthrie was aware of this while planning the action. Not only are beaches public spaces, images of them tend to reach a huge number of people in a short period of time, as demonstrated by how rapidly the story spread in the media.
“I think the significance of the beaches as a way of conveying a message is primarily that you can reach a large audience with a large-scale piece of writing or art that isn’t confined,” Guthrie told me. “Of course the image of Cornwall is inextricably linked with its landscape and so it was the ideal media for communicating how a large swathe of the community feel towards Jeremy Corbyn. There is also the romantic notion of the tide coming in and sweeping the ‘message’ out to a wider audience; of the message being magnified by the dilution of the sea and becoming much more than a sum of its parts.”
Democratic, romantic and inclusive, this mass art action will live on in the history of progressive politics long after the messages have faded into the sea. And while the action might be pigeon-holed as a protest or a mere extension of the rallies that took place this weekend, it’s actually quite in keeping with the rest of Guthrie’s oeuvre, which often incorporates elements of humour and audience participation.
“I am very fond of the notion of leaving art in public for people to find,” Guthrie said. “I sometimes leave a piece of my art in town somewhere to be found, hopefully by someone who wouldn’t necessarily engage with art in a gallery setting as they see it as ‘not for the likes of them’.”
Let’s hope this action spreads across the beaches of the United Kingdom. After all, it’s not just Cornwall that wants Corbyn to stay.