In 2017 the artist Dan Mair enrolled in the Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts, London to study an MFA in Fine Arts under his artistic alter ego Stanley Black.

The course structure was divided into three, ten week units at the end of each unit we were required to display an artwork as part of an in-house exhibition and submit a webfolio of supporting work and documentation.

During the first unit I had become increasingly aware that certain topics of investigation were being actively discouraged and if approached had to be discussed in a particular manner and from a limiting and narrow perspective. I decided I wanted to challenge this politically correct orthodoxy and started working on my 'Scared Cows' series which included the now infamous and controversial work 'Stanley Black is a Bastard'. My intial aim was to try and open up dialouge and create disscussion by testing the boundaries of taste and decentency and interested in the institutional response such a work would envoke.

The unit one grades were achieved through peer assessment. We were divided into smaller groups to view the exhibited work and web folios. I had structured my web folio as an artwork within itself and played around with the scrolling nature of a website. I was told by a member of my assessment team that when the work was finally revealed to the group there was an audioable gasp followed by a stunned silence.

The grades and feedback followed shortly and offered fair criticism.

I was then summoned to a informal meeting. I prepared a written response to counter any accusation of racism and to clearly state my artisic intention...

"I am grateful for the critical response to my work and fully accept the all points raised. I do however have to make a strong rebuttal regarding the two most controversial pieces contained within the arc(hive). Although I fully understand that both ‘Stanley Black is a Bastard’ and ‘The Rape of Barbara Kruger’ are highly offensive, I will strongly deny any accusation that they are racist or misogynistic and by implication that I hold or endorse such views. A stream of thought that started to surface during my research was the question of free speech/expression. I had hoped that I had flagged, with the use of other works contained within the web folio my stance but it would appear that I failed in this endeavour. I realise that I was extremely naïve to produce such incendiary works without contextualising them which has left my work and myself open to misinterpretation. Although Matisse wanted his art “to be like a good armchair”, I wanted mine to be like a hammer. I am naturally rebellious and with these works I wanted to question peoples first principles and challenge the viewers presuppositions. Testing the boundaries of taste, decency and what is acceptable discourse within the academy. My intention was to provoke dialogue and initiate debate in and around the question of free speech/expression. Any disciplinary action will now become part of the artwork."

The meeting went well and it was clear that the tutors were fair minded. I was told that such work was unacceptable and given the advice that exploring such issues would close doors within the art world and no one would "touch me with a bargepole,"  however their stance that the work I had produced had no artisic merit purely on the grounds of offensiveness was unconvincing. I decided to spent unit two researching the several issues I felt this work had raised, freedom of speech, offensiveness and the origins of politically correct thought.

During unit two I became increasingly interested in freedom of speech as a political issue. This period had seen a number of censorious trends begin to dominate the wider cultural sphere including no platforming, cancel culture and a general policing of language. I started to research the origins of the ideas that informed such actions. From the Frankfurt School to the post-modernists, a canon of work had developed, named by its detractors as grievance studies or applied post modernism. This theoretical framing of the world has neo Marxist underpinnings and although in the post-modern sense rejects grand narratives and absolute truth claims it does adopt the oppressor/opposed narrative replacing Marx’s class analysis of the bourgeois’ oppressing the proletariat with a scheme of white straight males dominating all other minority groups.

This type of thought and way of looking at the world has become known as identity politics or intersectionality and although no tutor fully endorsed all of its ideas it was clear that some of the first principles and presuppositions had seeped into the collective consciousness of the institution and its wider discourse.

For my second unit I wanted to produce work that directly challenged these ideas. At this stage I was less interested in the artwork itself but the viewers reaction to it. The misreading and application of Foucault’s notion of power dynamics, where all social interactions are a power struggle, I felt was misguided and I wanted to challenge the victim mentality that this belief fosters and also challenge the particular narrative of the past that this historically illiterate and lacking nauance.

IT'S ONLY A QUESTION?

If encounter image/idea = (problematic+issue) take away humour + run NPC code { assume_worse_intent.exe}

I had hoped that I had fully contextulised my work in my webfolio, unfortuanatly this turned out not to be the case.

During my initial meeting a discussion had been engaged in where I was told that art produced within the university setting would be viewed differently as the audience ‘understood art’ and taking such work into the public sphere would have a different more negative response. Although I agreed that the location of a work and its context altered its meaning, I was interested in what the public response to such a blatantly offensive piece would be. I decided to conduct a Situationist Intervention at Trafalgar Square in the heart of London behind the Fourth Plinth (famous for its rolling commission of public art.) I viewed this as a performance piece and filmed the event as documentation.

My course leader was absolutely horrified that I had engaged in such an act and for the second time during the course I was called into the office. I was issued with a written warning which was described to me as a cease and detest letter.

I had proposed to give a series of talks around contentious and difficult issues but in light of the letter I was strongly advised to abandon this project.

DEGREE SHOW

The degree show marks the accumulation of two year’s worth of research and learning. The structure of the two-year course is excellent for artists, allowing for plenty of time for development and critical interjection from the tutors. I therefore viewed the exhibited work as the final statement of Stanley Black and the end-point of his adventures in academia. This meant I wanted to tie up several threads of my practise and as a completist by nature present a work that unified the various strands of my practise.