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Reader’s own expressions of their ‘independent free state’ will be posted here – an ongoing series…

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‘The People Must Eat!’

I was invited to host a lunch at Edge Hill Station as part of the Liverpool Biennial – the theme this year being: ‘The Unexpected Guest’. Edge Hill’s the oldest working passenger station in the world and the venue actually sits between the two platforms, which kind of makes it invisible as people are unable to see that it’s inhabited  – so it’s a great vantage point for voyeuristic people-watching as they sit unnoticed on the platform…For this event a special train arrived from Liverpool Lime St at 12.01 with the passengers being accompanied by a specially commissioned John Cooper Clark poem on a mobile ‘busking machine’ to get them in the mood for some creative consumption…

I was asked to create a menu for up to 20 guests at a pop-up venue, Cafe Valise, which made some connection with my work.

I decided to use the Independent Free State newspaper as the starting point for the meal.

Initially, I considered handing over ingredients telling guests to ‘Make Your Own Damn Lunch!” in the spirit of DIY, and in particular Bob and Roberta Smith with his ripost to ‘Make Your Own Damn Art!’ – but decided that would be ‘ungenerous’ so instead decided to prepare a big colourful ‘help yourself’ vegetarian finger-buffet. I dispensed with table-settings and presented the table loaded with plates of open sandwich deli-style food that I hoped communicated a sense of abundance and celebration..all the food came from Lidl – ‘The People’s Supermarket’, the napkins were printed with the IFS logo and the table covered in the IFS newspaper (handily under the glass tabletops) – so we were eating directly off it…

The joy of making food, for me, is always the presentation, the ‘creative’ experimentation with combinations of tastes and flavours, colours and textures, so this was a smorgasbord of painterly taste-sensation foods, people were then free to ‘create their own plate’, to experiment with their own food combinations, to ‘play’ a little – to enjoy the sensuous, tactile experience…

The guests were also invited to make a visual response on the back page of their newspaper of their ‘Independent Free State’, to photograph and email to me for this blog – watch this space.

What I’ve realised of course, is that, even though my initial motivation for this project was as a kind of ‘personal riposte’ to the corporate world I’d recently ‘exited’ – in fact I’ve succeeded, unintentionally/intentionally to create a recognisable brand of the Independent Free State…right down to the rubber-stamped paper serviettes and even the map-printed dress I wore to host the meal..photos to appear here later. The entire 2 hour event was filmed – there was a lot of focussed discussion around making work on-site, the importance of drawing as core skill..the corporate world and the artist..the all pervasive nature of mass-media..self-promotion..etc etc Finally, I asked my guests to make an expression of their ‘Independent Free State’ on the back of their newspaper, photograph it and email here to appear on the blog…watch this space

The Independent Free State Final Edition newspaper is available to view/take home from the following places: Metal Southend-on-Sea, South Bank Centre, Camden Arts Centre, Imbibe bar Blackfriars Road, Socialist Book Shop London, Barlow and Fields cafe, C2C rail network, Liverpool Biennial (Edge Hill Station), Strand Cafe Trebarwyth Cornwall, Aragorn’s Studio Tortola, Synchro Studios, Kettles Yard Cambridge, Jerwood Drawing Prize…
Please note: product stock will be unpredictable due to ‘guerilla’ distribution tactics…please order your copy here – thank you

Billboard in situ at 176 Blackfriars Road London SE1

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The IFS newspaper is just going to press – 500 copies will be printed and ‘guerilla distributed’ around galleries, book stores and travel hubs – as far and wide as I can get them.

See the newspaper here: http://www.newspaperclub.com/INDEPENDENTFREESTATE/newspapers/20552-independent-free-state-final-edition

Press Release:

The Independent Free State is a ‘blueprint’, an imaginative possibility, that explores the correspondence between physical and psychical realities. Itis a site for transformation, a place for thinking, dreaming, seeing. The cry for a state of independence is universal, political and deeply personal: it takes courage to try and find your site of freedom, it’s not a safe endeavour.

I reflect on how territory has been re-drawn as I re-draw and ‘whitewash’ as I see fit. It’s a powerful act to re-draw land mass. With a flick of the brush or pen, perhaps hundreds of square miles of territory has been eradicated. Oceans wiped out. Mountains obliterated. Whole communities, cultures, war zones are reduced to colour, tone and contour. Isn’t this how those in power have always thought of the map – regardless of what lives may exist there – take a pencil and re-draw a border where one did not previously exist?

The figures are not quite human, they are human-objects: simulacrum. But they are female.  Female ownership of land, property, children, of her own body is a modern concept: territory of her own. Though her body has always been ‘of the land’ – a place of discovery and endeavour, an unknown territory to be taken, a place to ‘stake your claim’.

Here, map and female form have become one. They’ve synchronized and melded, each transforming the other. You could call this feminization of the map. Her territory: occupied territory. The map’s flesh-toned urban sprawl becomes her. Drawn images incorporate the contours, roads, railways and edges of the land  – seeking out drawings that already exist.

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At the same time, a new billboard poster will be on display on the Blackfriar’s Road in London just south of the river near Tate Modern for the month of August. It will be a back-lit installation and I hope, highly visible, in a prime location for the duration of the Olympics, when the eyes of the world’s media will be on London.

The Independent Free State lives on.

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The Independent Free State mobile billboard toured around London on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd July 2012. The following images are from Day 2: Westminster, Central London and selected iconic locations. The Olympic Stadium was also on my ‘hit list’ but we couldn’t get anywhere near it. Stopping on the roadside in Central London is a precarious business – however the Independent Free State and the photographer went unchallenged the entire day which was a surprise in this summer of high security.

I like how the context of The Independent Free State re-invents and re-presents itself in each location – whether it has two large cannon pointing at it outside the Imperial War Museum, peace flags waving in the background outside Westminster, three young women like classical statues lined up in front of it somehow echoing the female forms in the image, the reflected image in the previously ‘occupied’ territory of St Paul’s cathedral, a statue of Churchill looking down on it or the prestigious Lloyds, Shard and ‘Gherkin’ buildings looming up behind it…

These ‘Planning Proposals’ detail ‘imagined’ artworks to be located in/on specific trees within Chalkwell Park in Southend-on-Sea Essex. They were printed on to vinyl banners and left on the trees for 7 days, launching at Village Green Festival.

I see these proposals as an intervention – the artworks may or may not be viable but they are certainly possible -with the right will and funding. They also ‘test-out’ the public’s response to ‘regeneration’ planning applications and ‘public art’ within their locality.

Text/email comments have included:

‘I am very upset at the prospect of the trees being used for so-called art! Leave the trees ALONE!’

and

‘Lovely old tree best left alone!’

‘To whom it may concern,

I am appalled to learn that you want to put an ugly chavvy stiletto shoe ( and call it art) in such a beautiful tree! Why would anyone want to spoil our natural art forms, which are the trees? It is a stupid idea and totally unecessary!
Yours annoyed’,

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The Independent Free State billboard has attracted some ‘exuberant’ comments including:

‘Free it up ………. ..surrender your walls , the people must draw !’

‘love the vibe’

‘Cool kids – where do I get my passport?’

Post-‘Village Green’: a moment to reflect – a pause before the next phase. The billboard has been out on tour for 3 days now. I’ve had to let go of it, send it out into the world and await the photos and GPS tracking documentation. Also in the pipeline: a time-lapse sequence of the entire live event.

The live event really ‘happened’. I’d put into place so many contingency plans to enable children to draw – in the event, they totally got it and went with it and very little ‘management’ was required. Around 80 individual children made drawings on the day. The thing just grew organically as the space was filled. So at the start there were some big bold drawings then as it progressed drawings were scaled naturally by the children to fit any available space. Young children have natural composition skills – an innate sense of what ‘looks right’ that we sadly lose as we grow-up and over-thing and over-rationalise everything…and learn to distrust our intuition.

The resulting drawings were joyful and exuberant  – the children were asked to draw: ‘something that looks human but isn’t human…’ this crowd of hybrid figures then ‘became’ the occupants of the Independent Free State. The collaboration between the existing artist drawings of hybrid ‘automaton’ figures and eclectic historic, pre-historic and global-cultural appropriations and the children’s freed up figures was frenetic, exciting.

Every child was first asked to make a drawing on blue graph paper on a red clipboard – this helped them to focus on what they wanted to draw – the drawing was then given a red ‘Independent Free State’ stamp – a kind of validation  – a ‘passport entry’ for the Wall – the billboard. This functioned as a kind of pseudo bureaucratic ‘permission’ to ‘go for it’. Which they then did.

Being asked to imagine a non-human human was a brief of sorts – there had to be some parameters otherwise we’d have got cliche cartoon (Pokemon) characters and bad graffiti ‘tags’. I observed how respectful the children were of each others space, the other drawings. Although they were not told they could not add to or draw over other drawings, it was clear they are schooled enough not to ‘go over the lines’. Which is something that could certainly be challenged. I’ve worked with students before where they’ve been asked to co-draw ie work on the same drawing and/or develop each others drawings. It’s a fascinating exercise in personal space and boundaries of course but also of your own sense of authorship/ownership. It’s not easy.

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On Exclusion Zones and Routes…

Just as I was planning my mobile billboard’s routes around London for 3 days in July, I came across this in The Guardian:

Writer Iain Sinclair has said he fears freedom of movement will be restricted in Westminster because of military-style tactics to be  used in the build-up to the Olympic Games this summer. The Ministry of Defence is reportedly considering deploying surface-to-air missiles in parts of London.

 “My impression of central London is that it’s becoming a gradual no-go zone, or a very difficult zone to manoeuvre your way through. There is no longer permission to move through. There are all these suspended permissions and barriers and the whole operation of security.

All of which makes my having gained permission for my billboard to enter the ‘exclusion zone’ of Westminster even more of a ‘privilege’. A double-sided artwork titled Independent Free State. OS maps of London and the Thames Gateway. ‘Human replicants’. What kind of strange equation is all that?

Sinclair added: “I was walking around the Olympic site two days ago with an American writer for Harper’s magazine, and he revealed at this point that he was formerly a US marine. “He said, ‘I recognise this landscape totally. It’s a military exclusion zone. It’s been treated in exactly the same way as we would operate in Baghdad’.

“It’s true – you’ve got these people who have dug in and are securing perimeter fences and are putting up barbed wire and checkpoints and overhead drones. We have now invaded ourselves.”

The Westminster exclusion zone means the billboard will only be able to visit all the central London sites on one day, I’ll have a photographer  onboard and hope to get some dramatic shots ‘in situ’ though it’s unpredictable where and for how long the billboard will be able to ‘stop and linger’ – particularly a few weeks before the Olympics.

My 3 routes look like this:

Sunday 1st July: All the main Galleries and cultural hubs outside of Westminster. Stopping along the way for ‘unsuspecting’ audiences on the street: include the V and A, Saatchi Gallery, South London Gallery, The Drawing Room, South bank Centre, Hayward Gallery, Tate Modern, Barbican, Cubbitt, Victoria Miro, White Cube, Whitechapel Gallery, Maureen Paley, Cell Project Space, Matt’s gallery, Wapping Project, Clifford Chance…

Monday 2nd July: Westminster – all the main tourist sites plus Battersea Power Station and other iconic city buildings including the Gherkin, The Shard, Canary Wharf and of course The Olympic Park. (If we can get anywhere near).

Tuesday 3rd July: The billboard will tour all around the perimeter of the Westminster ‘Exclusion Zone’ – parking up at the perimeters of Hyde Park and Regents Park and other high-visibility locations wherever possible.

The GPS tracking’s going to be really interesting documentation…