Freedom of speech seems self-evident however it is often caveated with the view that “I believe in free speech but...” As I have stated previously within the website one of the problems with free speech is you have to essentially give a voice to idiots or at least allow the people you fundamentally disagree with a chance to air their opinions. Stanley Black had garnered no pleasure from making offensive art works, quite rightly he had been accused of making bad art, not in a moral sense but a technical one, which was fair criticism. He had felt in order to push the boundaries of free speech, there was no point in producing work that people would disagree with, as this would be no sort of test. Instead he felt he had to step outside the current norms of taste and decency. He had attempted to do this with a humorous touch, but his choice of subject matter was considered too grave to be considered so lightly.
An important part of my process are the conversations I have in and around my work. I am ultimately interested in ideas and why people hold them. I have always viewed my work as a bellwether to test people’s presuppositions and first principles and I have always felt these conversations to be the strongest part of my work. I decided I wanted to expand on this by holding a series of one on one long format discussions (in the style of a podcast) and to give a series of talks. I approached Michell Smith, we had often commented to each other the overlap of our work as we often explored similar themes although I would perceive them from a right wing position and Mitch from the left wing. I felt this would be a fruitful discussion as Mitch had adopted the intersectional identity politics that Stanley Black was trying to critique and would be a good chance to highlight the free speech principles set out in John Stuart Mills ‘On Liberty’. This is the argument against no platforming, when two people are engaged in a serious discussion about serious issues the most important aspect is not the speakers themselves but the audience. If you believe that the majority of people are fair minded, they will listen to both sides of the argument, they will agree with some points, disagree with others and then will formulate an opinion based on synthesis of their own knowledge and the views they have heard. This is the nature of civil discourse, the main objection to no platforming is that it first presumes that the audience are too weak minded to hear dangerous ideas and removes their individual agency, the second is that it encourages a culture of authoritarianism, after all who is the person that decides that an idea is too dangerous to be heard? However, because of the topics discussed after receiving my warning letter I decided it was too risky to publish the two-and-a-half-hour discussion as I could jeopardise my place on the course.
I had become increasingly interested in the civil unrest that had been occurring in France and wanted to explore the yellow vest as a potentially new symbol of social resistance and its semiotic implications. The ‘gilet jaune’ movement started as a motoring tax protest (the use of the fluorescent vest explained by the fact that every motorist has to carry one in their vehicle, by dictate of the law) but quickly escalated into full scale rioting. Stanley Black reads this as a further symptom of the seismic political realignment that is occurring throughout western democracies. I discussed my initial idea with Mitchell Smith and he was very enthused by it, he suggested we should collaborate on the project and approached me with an idea regarding a video work. I was very excited to be working with Mitch once again and floated the idea that we should create an artistic double act and viewed the collaboration as a further extension of the long format discussion we had held during the Christmas break. Although Mitch was critically concerned with the vest being adopted by English right wing protesters outside parliament I personally felt the french protest was right wing in nature anyway, as a revolt against environmentalism, a clear rejection of a 'green' tax and a more general populist uprising against the neo-liberal consensus. I therefore viewed the piece as more of a comment on Brexit and the lack of dialogue between the leave and remain sides. With myself in Dover giving the two finger salute to the continent and Mitch in Calais giving the bird to Britain with the English Channel forever between us. I also felt the piece could be read as the futility of political art gestures with both of us essentially howling into the wind.