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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
'I'm vacuuming up after capitalism'
The Vacuum Cleaner in action, Nottingham
In action outside a Virgin Megastore
James Leadbitter is a member of a loose collective of performance artists who target consumerism and capitalism. They are demonstrating in the financial heart of London with the help of household cleaning equipment...

During the May Day protests, we are going to be in the City of London vacuuming up after capitalism. We'll be there with our vacuum cleaners and warning people to watch out for the dirty capitalism all around them.

With our cleaners, we never let dirty capitalism settle.

The current project all started about six months ago but various artists have been involved in developing the ideas over the last couple of years in Britain and America.

We all came out of the live art scene and felt quite frustrated at some of the activism we were seeing.

We wanted to take the idea of autonomy and create our own demonstrations, rather than follow any specific movement. In America, one of the leading figures is the Reverend Billy, the preacher at the Church of Stop Shopping.

Take the anti-war movement, for example. Up to two million people marched on 15 February and it achieved nothing. If these two million people took the initiative to develop more creative resistance, it would inspire more and more people.

So a lot of work is about humour because that really works. If people see a group of us vacuuming or praying, I think it's more likely to get them to question things.

Anti-shopping prayers

Last weekend we took a prayer meeting to Brent Cross shopping centre in north London.

This is an important part of our work where we play with ideas of worship and consumerism.

The congregation in mass prayer in a shopping centre
I've got no illusions that what we do is going to stop people shopping but they may go home with a question in their minds about the society we've created

We started by going into a some of the shops in the centre such as Gap, Nike and Benetton. Once inside we started giving quiet prayers to the products. As it progressed, some of us got down on our knees to give praise.

So as our confidence grew as a group, the five of us spread out into the open areas of the shopping centre and we started shouting out into the cathedral of consumption.

All the messages that are put about by advertisers are basically saying that shopping is the new religion. We were just taking it that little bit further.

We had quite an interesting reaction. A lot of the shoppers were quite startled. Some of them laughed. Others looked at us as if we were idiots.

Eventually the security guards threw us out. We're not aggressive and we know that what we do and film takes place on private property so if they ask us to leave, we do.

Empty shopping trolleys

A lot of us are also involved in another project called the Whirl Mart Ritual Resistance which started in New York State in America.

This was a protest against Walmart, which now owns the Asda supermarket in Britain.

James Leadbitter praying to a shopping centre, watched by a security guard
The temple of consumerism
The group goes into a store, all wearing the same shirts. Then, in a line, each member pushes around empty shopping trolleys [carts in America] in a quiet meditation.

I think most people can tell the difference between our kind of protest and those who are violent. We are just out there to try and make a point, make people think and have fun while we do it.

I've got no real interest in party politics as I find it futile. I see no difference between the three parties. The real power lies with bodies like the World Trade Organisation, multinational corporations and the World Bank.

So, to some extent, that makes me an anarchist in terms of believing that you can do things for yourself.

I know that sounds idealistic, but when you consider what is vital for life - food, shelter and human relationships - you can do that yourself.

I've got no illusions that what we do is going to stop people shopping. But the person who sees us praying or vacuuming may go home and have a question in their mind about the society we've created.

I can't provide the answers to those questions, that's something we all have to find.

The 2003 Stop Shopping Tour UK is taking place throughout May. See internet links for details. All pictures courtesy the artists involved.


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