Video, 2006, on show at Hull Central Library from 6 October and on the big screen, Hull City Centre – dates to be confirmed

Norman Collier, the stand-up comic, uses his famous broken microphone routine to attempt to make a public announcement about the debasement of the public sphere.

In their new video commissioned by Hull Time Based Media, the Freee art collective treat Norman Collier’s hilarious failure to speak to his audience as symptomatic of a broader and deeper malaise. ‘If you paid to listen to me’, he says in his broken, frustrated voice, ‘you can not hear me’. We can blame the faulty microphone, but the tension between performer and audience dramatizes the historical unravelling of the bourgeois public sphere.

The bourgeoisie invented the public sphere by abolishing the courtly hierarchies that prevented ordinary people from entering public debate. What killed off the bourgeois public sphere however were the power of the market and the commodification of opinion. ‘When is the public not a public?’ the comedian asks, rhetorically, seeming to set up a punch line. ‘When it’s a market’, he answers himself, plainly. His comic technique is used to deliver, albeit intermittently, a political analysis of the state of the relationship between culture and its publics in the society of the spectacle. The comic finishes with the line, ‘Celebrity endorsements are the industrialization of citizenship’ this statement undoes both Norman’s own power as a celebrity and Freees collaboration with him.

The project entitled If your names not on the list you’re not coming in, curated by Esther Windsor, includes new works by Cedric Christie, Jessica Voorsanger, Gavin Turk and Bob & Roberta Smith.

Have You Heard The One About The Public Sphere? Have You Heard The One About The Public Sphere?

With thanks to Norman Collier
Photographs by Jacqui Bellamy
Camera and lighting by Andy Lowe, sound by Jacqui Bellamy.

Hull Time Based Arts

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