The Social Function of Public Art

The Social Function Of Public Art Is To Subject Us To Civic Behaviour, Paint on wall, 6m x 3m, 2005

Don't Let the Media Have the Monopoly on the Freedom of Speech

Installation view. Foreground, Don’t Let The Media Have The Monopoly On The Freedom Of Speech, photograph, poster, 2007

Protest is Beautiful

Installation view, foreground – Protest Is Beautiful, silk flowers 6m x 3m, 2007

The Function of Public Art for the Gallery

The Function Of Public Art For The Gallery is to Preserve the Distinction between

Art and the Rest of Culture by Establishing a Legitimate Form of  Exception on Arts Own Terms , Vinyl text, 6m x 3m, 2007

How To Make A Difference
Thursday 27 September to Saturday 3 November 2007
International Project Space, Birmingham
Curated by Andrew Hunt

Wednesday 26 September
Manifesto reading from 2 – 4pm with volunteers creating a makeshift choir
Artist Talk 5 – 6pm
Private View 6 – 9pm

Manifesto Reading
Freee invites you to participate in a sound work to be recorded (without an audience) at the International Project Space in Bournville, Birmingham on Wednesday September 26th between 2pm and 4pm.

We are putting together a makeshift spoken-word choir to read aloud sections of the Freee Manifesto. Copies will be supplied in advance. Freee will be reading the entire manifesto but unlike conventional choirs, however, participants will be asked to join in only with those sections of the manifesto that they agree with which could range from a small section or sentence to the whole thing! If you are interested in joining the manifesto reading please email us at [email protected]

Excerpt from a recent interview with Andrew Hunt and Freee Art Collective (full interview will be published in the exhibition booklet that accompanies the exhibition).

Andrew Hunt: Can you tell me about your exhibition at International Project Space?

Freee Art Collective: We’re producing a new billboard for Birmingham, which shows us making placards with a group of students and protesting with them. Outside the gallery will be a sound work of a makeshift choir reciting excerpts from our manifesto – the key thing is that we are asking our choir to behave as individuals by joining in only with sections that they agree with. We are also showing the flowers from the Protest Is Beautiful piece, a billboard sized photo of us wearing the slogan Don’t Let The Media To Have The Monopoly On The Freedom Of Speech, some slogan works on the walls, and some videos of interventions in the public sphere.

The exhibition will contain examples of our earliest works – the slogan text works – alongside the works that we have done to overcome what we thought were limitations in those works. We were worried that the slogans had no contexts, as if they existed outside the world. This isn’t how we think of language use or of the way that slogans function socially, so we started to situate the slogans in specific contexts.

The Neo-Imperial Function, for instance, is a text in Mandarin which is shown in Birmingham, then photographed and shown in China, then brought back to Birmingham. So the text is embedded into very specific contexts – and never quite feels at home.

We became dissatisfied with this way of working because we felt that the slogans, even when they were embedded in contexts, remained anonymous and faceless. We wanted to stand by our words, to show our commitment to the slogans by appearing with them. We talk about this as a form of embodiment – we want the slogans to be embodied by being physically supported by us. The slogans, in the first place, were an attempt to go against the prevailing tendency in art to be non-committal and vague (for example, asking questions of the viewer without taking the risk of saying what you think). By embodying the slogans we not only state our beliefs, we commit ourselves too.

As a whole the exhibition will show a range of ways in which language, debate and text can be used to build counter-public spheres. This is why the show is called How To Make A Difference: the works act as templates for citizens to activate themselves within the public sphere.

Exhibition Info:

Freee is a collective made up of three artists, Dave Beech, Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan. The group’s practice is concerned with the tension between function and autonomy in art, and reflects on the history of avant-garde strategies. In particular they deal with questions related to the reconciliation of art and life and the transformation of contemporary art’s social relations.

Their work often turns the tables on the relationship between the public and the spectacle of the colonised public sphere: instead of being subject to the expertise, authority and power of civic architecture, public art or institutions, the participant is reconfigured in terms of an active citizenship, addressing the public sphere as a space for idiosyncrasy, dissidence and resistance. Sometimes the activated public in Freee’s works are passers-by or invited members of the public and sometimes they are the artists themselves.

For their exhibition at International Project Space, Freee have created a project that brings together practices and debates around public art and the gallery space by installing a series of small public artworks within IPS. These works relate to existing public works also made by the group, including a billboard commissioned for Birmingham city centre. This work, called How to Make a Difference (2007), pictures the group making placards and protesting with a number of students. Seen perhaps as the behaviour of ordinary, if somewhat unusually vigilant citizens or just the ravings of interfering busybodies, the content of this billboard is unlikely to register as a public artwork at all by those who originally encounter it. Instead it will come to make sense, or become fully visible, viewed and recognised as a public work, only when it is subsequently seen within the context of the gallery.

Traditionally within art, the billboard is seen as occupying a public space distinct from the gallery. What the exhibition at IPS will attempt to do is to bring these two spaces conceptually and functionally closer. In this sense, the gallery will operate as a public space and function as part of the public sphere of mass communication. Technically, in this case, there is very little difference between making an image for a billboard and making a billboard size image for the gallery.

In addition to this, a sound work will be housed outside of the gallery that will project a recording of a makeshift choir reciting excerpts from a manifesto written by Freee. The key thing about this work is that the group have asked the members of the choir to behave as individuals by singing only the sections of the manifesto that they agree with. The resulting recording will attempt to capture the strongest parts of Freee’s manifesto through the real time performance of the choir’s members. Other works will include the floral piece Protest Is Beautiful (2007); a billboard sized photograph of Freee’s members wearing the slogan Don’t Let The Media Have The Monopoly On The Freedom of Speech, together with various videos of the group making interventions in the public sphere.

Examples of Freee’s earliest slogans will be hand painted onto the gallery walls by a sign-writer and shown alongside more recent works such as The Function Of Public Art For The Gallery Is To Preserve The Distinction Between Art And The Rest Of Culture By Establishing A Legitimate Form Of Exception On Art’s Own Terms (2007). The work will pass between the street and the gallery in an exchange of information, culture, authority, experience and context. In this way these texts intend to use slogans as performative actions that engage with their social context rather than their logical language-based structures, so as to be considered as inherently action-based works in their own right.

As a whole, the exhibition will show a range of ways in which language, debate and text can be used to build counter-public spheres. This is why the show is called How To Make A Difference: the works act as templates for citizens to activate themselves within the public sphere. As Freee say about their work: ‘we reclaim the billboard for the voice of protest, and we reclaim the gallery too. We don’t aestheticise the billboard and we don’t import the vernacular of advertising into the gallery. We reconfigure each as platforms for a dissenting public sphere.’

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Choir: Manifesto for a Counter – Hegemonic Art, International Project Space, 2007

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Choir: Manifesto for a Counter – Hegemonic Art, International Project Space, 2007

A small number of individuals were invited to participate in a private reading of our manifesto. Each participant was posted a copy of the manifesto along with a red pen that they were asked to use to underline any sections of the manifesto that they agreed with – during the reading they were asked to join in only during those sections that they had previously underlined, with the effect that the reading became more choral when more participants were in agreement and more solo when the section was either more controversial or less easy to understand.

Exhibition essay entitled Just Give Me the Truth by Mark Hutchinson.

Freee in conversation on some of the works in How To Make A Difference commissioned for Ixia By Sophie Hope

Choir reading Freee’s Manifesto for a Counter-Hegemonic Art, 2007. AN: The Artists Information Company by Stuart Tait

Art Monthly review by Paul O’Neill




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