Archives for posts with tag: freedom

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…

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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…

One of my favourite books of recent years has been ‘Wanderlust – A History of Walking’ by Rebecca Solnit. She has some fascinating things to say about women and public space:

‘A woman who has violated sexual convention can be said to be strolling, roaming, wandering, straying – all terms that imply that women’s travel is inevitably sexual or that their sexuality is transgressive when it travels.’

I’ve made a lot of solo trips – I’ve walked alone in the Himilaya and the Alps. I’ve travelled alone in Turkey, India, Nepal, Dominica and Guatemala. I’ve been alone in Mexico City, Istanbul, Delhi, New York, Rome, Reykavik and Barcelona…The key to feeling confident alone as a woman traveller is to have a sense of entitlement. That you have the right to be there. Because few women in few places in this world do have that right. To freedom. And space. And movement.

I’m with Solnit when she says: ‘Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.’

The yearning to travel, the wanderlust, is a very particular freedom for a woman as it can never be for a man. Sylvia Plath said: ‘I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.’ This is the spirit of endeavour, historically always denied to most women.

Most ‘On the Road’ type male odysseys are mapped by women who stay put, who remain immobile. And wait. I am not one of those. I have always wanted to be in the world and of the world. Whatever the risk.

To meander is to be unproductive. It is a luxury of sorts to travel aimlessly, at a slow pace, without the pressure of the shortest route from A to B. That is how these drawings came together really. By taking a meandering route. Where travel is more important than arrival. That is inherent in the creative act – and certainly in drawing.

I’m in an interim moment. Studio based artwork is made and scanned. Next, I’ll be working at ZenEssex design studio to create a layout for the billboard. The Independent Free State takes a pause for breath. It’s down to the other people I’ve enlisted in this project now to help make my vision a reality…

Stop Press: Westminster Council have now given permission for the billboard to enter their Exclusion Zone for one day, which is amazing, as a number of ‘public artworks’ have been denied this privilege. So I’m assuming they must like the visuals I sent. There are some conditions – the logos (Arts Council, National Lottery, Metal) must be discreet and there must be no other text apart from the title and no reference to any exhibition or event. That’s all fine by me. So now I’ll get my dramatic photographs of the billboard ‘in situ’ against a backdrop of central London’s iconic landmarks.

I have yet to direct the routes for the remaining 2 touring days. I’m considering: 1. a tour of all the main London galleries and gallery areas (outside of Westminster) and 2. All the main travel hubs of London. Both of these routes will yield really interesting GPS tracking documents which will fuel further work.

My 3rd and most complex route idea is to follow, as closely as is practically possible, one of the drawings I’ve mapped out – ie so the GPS tracking route will re-form the drawing itself. The female form will be realised though the route taken. This would take some working out and would be at the mercy of traffic and time to complete on the 8 hours hire per day. But it’s got to be worth a go…

‘The demand for freedom is universal and political, but also intensely personal, and one which can require courage to follow…for its path sweeps lonely to the summit, no map, no guide, no god at your heels…If you want to play safe, you should never have come up here, to the site of freedom…Modern, urban, work-oriented societies teach people that freedom is something you outgrow…Our innate freedom is dulled and dimmed, deadened and demeaned by detail and deadline and caution and clocks. But roaring underneath all this, still, freedom growls in the dusk. Freedom is because life is, and to be most alive is to be most free.’

Jay Griffiths from ‘Wild: An Elemental Journey’ 2007

So where did the title for this project ‘Independent Free State’ come from? Partly, it’s a personal narrative, I am now an autonomous artist, having taken ‘voluntary redundancy’ from the public sector a year ago. (ie ‘If you don’t jump off the cliff we’ll push you…so what’s it to be?’) Alongside a whole generation of creative people, I’m part of the recession-fallout with its crippling arts and education cuts. So, I’ve worked for the State for around 15 years and now I’m out on my own. It was the right moment for me. As a product of the early 80s Art School scene I was never going to be happy being complicit in the new regime of the aggressive business model that art education (all education) has become.

With this kind of freedom comes insecurity and precariousness but also excitement, renewed energy and curiosity, you have to be resourceful. Above all, you have to believe in yourself in order to keep getting out there and to make things happen. Freedom can go to your head. I may be out of the stifling bureaucracy and Health and Safety clampdown of the state sector (with its heavy handed infantilization of the thinking adult) but there are still rules, negotiations to be made, mediations to broker, when working in the public realm with public money…

I’m waiting to hear back from Westminster Council (re its ‘Exclusion Zone’ for the billboard) as to whether my artwork will be deemed to be an advertisement after all. The Advertising Regulations are certainly broad. I’m not sure what exactly the artwork will seen to be ‘advertising’: myself? The Arts Council? Art? As a former colleague pointed out recently when we were discussing the project, the mix of irony and truth of art appropriating the language of advertising then in turn being defined as advertising is pretty interesting here.

Westminster have sent me the regulations that define advertisements:

“any word, letter, model, sign, placard, board, notice, awning, blind, device or representation, whether illuminated or not, in the nature of, and employed wholly or partly for the purposes of, advertisement, announcement or direction, and (without prejudice to the previous provisions of this definition) includes any hoarding or similar structure used, or designed or adapted for use, and anything else principally used, or designed or adapted principally for use, for the display of advertisements”.

Apparently a number of public artworks have recently been defined as advertisements by these regulations, they’re that broad.

I’ve had to seek written confirmation from the Ordnance Survey people that I will not be breaking any copyright laws by using OS maps in the artwork. I was concerned, as were other people I spoke to, that to display this work in public would be a breach of copyright. I’ve been told that if I own the maps (I do) and they are not to be reproduced to be distributed as maps then it’s fine. Which is great news. Appropriation is so commonplace in contemporary practice – the use of other images and representations to make ones own – that copyright seems an antiquated notion. Everything’s ‘up for grabs’ in the age of the World Wide Web isn’t it…? Even our entire identities can so easily become someone else’s property.

I’ve been talking to other artists, writers, film makers and lecturers about this project. There’s been a lot of interest. There have been a few cautionary conversations around my use of the World map ie ‘contested’ areas and Islamic countries. That my super-imposing figures that could be interpreted as ‘naked’ on an Islamic State could certainly spark controversy. I’m not interested in courting controversy in this way – it would detract from the project. So I’ve pretty much decided to avoid depictions of these areas. When I showed a friend the map of the Westminster ‘Exclusion Zone’ he remarked that it reminded him of the ‘Ring of Steel’ that was de-marked around London during the IRA bombing campaigns. He also said that the billboard would seem to ‘legitimize’ anything I put on it particularly with the title being ‘Independent Free State’ it could easily be perceived as being sponsored by The State.

I’m considering the map images working as pure visuals without the title, the intrigue and ambiguity of these images are enough. ‘Independent Free State’ will still appear but as the title (brand?) alongside the Arts Council, National Lottery and Metal logos, who are my funding bodies. However, it will still appear ‘written large’ on the reverse side, a kind of ‘blueprint’ for ‘freeform’ human figures where the public will complete the drawing at Village Green arts festival.