By the end of unit two, once again Stanley Black found himself on a sticky wicket. His return to political art had backfired, he had hoped he had contextualised his work and clearly explained his intent however he had failed in this attempt and once again his work was deemed unacceptable. Having been called into the office (for a stern chat about his judgement and future direction) for the second time during the course it was becoming clear to him that his initial aim of ‘testing the boundaries of taste, decency and acceptable discourse within the academy’ had been achieved. As stated during unit two, the main objective of Stanley Black’s political work was his ardent defence of freedom of speech.
Stanley Black’s initial aim during his studies was to investigate identity and the self through the use of persona. Although due to the nature of his work he presented during unit one and having fell afoul of the universities standards of acceptable thought, Stanley black decided to instead begin an investigation into freedom of speech within the academic setting. During this exploration he was repeatedly told that there was no issue with freedom of speech within the academy and his claims of problems across the wider cultural environment including the media and internet platforms were greatly exaggerated. He decided he wanted to challenge this pushback. His unit two assessment and subsequent warning letter can be seen as the final gambit of this particular set of moves. As stated in his unit one assessment reply letter “Any disciplinary action will now become part of the artwork “
Having received the warning letter Stanley Black’s creative output had been restricted and he now had to operate within confined boundaries. To comply his first action was to redact large sways of his website that could be deemed offensive or in breach of the universities “diversity policy.” A retrospective project was began and all offensive material was hidden from the public and any suspect text was blacked out. The second was to explore themes around censorship in its subtler forms and the often unseen phenomena of self-censorship. Stanley Black’s first example of this was an on-going project still in development when he received his warning letter.
Freedom of speech seems self-evident however it is often caveated with the view that “I believe in free speech but...” As Stanley Black had stated previously within his 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 in 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 wouldn’t 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, on the subject he stated,
“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 Mitchell 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, mainly race, identity and nationalism 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."
Stanley Black 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. Having discussed this initial idea with Mitchell Smith, he was very enthused by it and suggested a further collaboration on the project and approached Stanley Black with an idea regarding a video work. Stanley Black was very excited to be working with Mitch once again and viewed the collaboration as a further extension of the long format discussion they had held during the Christmas break. Although Mitch was critically concerned with the vest being adopted by English right wing protesters outside parliament Stanley Balck 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 globalist consensus. He therefore viewed the piece as more of a comment on Brexit and the lack of dialogue between the leave and remain sides. With himself 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 them. Stanley Black also felt the piece could be read as a comment on the futility of political art gestures with both the artists essentially howling into the wind.
YELLOW VEST - GILET JAUNE
BLACK MARKET ART
Much like the Angels Den of unit one, Dragons Den was again an opportunity to show work to industry insiders and receive critical feedback. Stanley Black decided to present a performance piece. Building upon his previous presentation artworks he had delivered during unit two, 'Vanilla' and 'Stanley Black talks…Offensiveness'. His aim during these talks was to set up a confrontational dialogue in opposition to the usual style of consensus found within the academy. Where ideas and speech are a song sung to the choir. The format is a retelling of the story of the Stanley Black and the events that led to his warning letter. Remarking on these works,
“Part of my thinking on speech centres around the idea that if topics are not allowed to be freely discussed and debated in an open forum, they are essentially pushed underground were they become more toxic, dangerous and the general public less informed on such matters. As part of the talk I had to present an example of my work. As I was pivoting towards censorship as a theme, I thought it would be funny to re-edit my ‘Waterloo’ video’, [the specific artwork I was asked to remove from my website due to the warning letter] edit out all the visuals and leave only the sound. This was intended to be a comment on self-censorship and a continuation of my redacting process. As I explained in my presentation, I had started to view my warning letter in terms of Aristloe’s competing virtues. This is the notion that in some circumstances two competing virtues are at odds with each other and at one stage a decision has to be made on which virtue is paramount. In this case for the university administration it is the intersectional and identity politics notion of diversity, for myself, the classically liberal notion of freedom of speech.”
In early 2019, Stanley Black became a founding member of Uncovered Collective. A group project to try and maintain the links and bonds formed by the students whilst studying. Its main objective is to organise exhibitions to showcase its members art and art practises. It achieves this by holding group exhibitions that transform unusual spaces into rich artistic environments.
Having already folded in the previous two exhibitions organised by the group, Uncovered Collective began work on their third show ‘Postopia.’ Although Stanley Black, as a member of the organising committee, was heavily involved in the curation and setting up of the show he also viewed it as another chance to expand his ideas further and explore relevant issues within his artwork.
BFB (BEFORE FACEBOOK)
AFB (AFTER FACEBOOK)
“Having researched the origins of identity politics and intersectionality, especially in regards to its theoretical basis in disciplines such as women’s /gender studies I started to become interested in how these often obscure and niche ideas had filtered through the relevant facilities, spread throughout the humanities, into the wider academic ethos and are now being adopted by large sways of the wider cultural sphere. In large part this has been facilitated by the social media revolution. Whose platforms distribute information and ideas (even bad ones) at a unimageable pace. In 2014 Facebook worked with UK groups Press for Change and Gendered Intelligence to add 71 genders to the user interface. I am particularly interested in the speech codes that surround the issue and the label transphobic which is levelled against anyone who does accept the new paradigm of this ideology and especially the demonisation of people who believe that gender is intrinsically linked to biological sex."
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL
The penultimate opportunity to showcase work before the final assessment and degree show was a pop-up exhibition held in the college reception area.
With this work Stanley Black continued the theme of acceptable enquiry and the discourse that surrounds it within the university setting. With a nod to the culturally iconic ‘The Simpsons’ opening sequence where the delinquent Bart is forced to write lines at school as a punishment Stanley Black described this work as his “most petulant yet”. The work has a personal aspect with obvious reference to his own disciplinary but also serves a wider political point of how issues are taught and moralised within the education system.
The final chance to showcase original work was a poster event like that held during unit two. Once again Stanley Black eschewed the project brief and took the opportunity for an act of blatant self-promotion and a further opportunity to explore censorship within his work especially in relation to censorship in the context of the course.
“Much like the poster event of unit two I decided to ignore the brief and instead viewed it as an opportunity to promote my free speech critique. Being the final event to showcase new work before the degree show I viewed it as my last chance to engage in a cheeky art gesture. As previously explained, I had intended to give a series of talks after the Christmas break, however after my written warning which was described to me as a cease and detest letter and due to the subject matter of some of the proposed talks I was strongly advised that this was not a good idea and I should reconsider. The aim of this poster, the gesture surrounding it and the art work as a whole was to highlight my belief that although the academy purports to be a place of open ideas and diversity when it comes to diversity of thought they are in fact extremely closed and actively hostile to any discussion or ideas that fall outside the left, liberal, metropolitan, globalist view of the world.”
The degree show marks the accumulation of two years’ worth of research and learning. Stanley Black therefore viewed the exhibited work as the final statement of Stanley Black and the endpoint of his adventures in academia. This meant he wanted to tie up several threads of his practise and present a work that unified the various strands of his practise.
INSTITUTIONAL ECHO CHAMBERS
Having submitted a final proposal, the class was allocated space within the exhibition. Stanley Black was given an excellent spot which encompassed the whole of the corridor. Being away from the group suited the nature of his work and he decided to utilise the space by creating an installation piece that expanded on the themes and concerns of his original idea. An echo chamber is an internet concept which has gained common parlance. A quick online search describes an echo chamber as “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered” or
“An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system and insulates them from rebuttal. By visiting an "echo chamber", people are able to seek out information that reinforces their existing views.”
CORRIORS EQUAL POWER
Having explored text-based work throughout the course Stanley Black decided to frame the installation with an imposing statement that would dominate the area and create a top down dialogue with the rest of the pieces on display. A pun on the phrase “the corridors of power” the text attempts to explore Stanley Black’s views on the consensus building nature of bureaucratic entities which by their very nature and structure reinforce particular modes of thinking and discourage maverick or “out of the box” methodologies.
The initial hypothesis, which Stanley Black explored during unit one in his ‘Scared Cows’ series was that there are certain subjects that have to be approached and discussed in a particular (politically correct) manner. During unit two he became increasingly interested in this mode of thinking. He started to research the origins and first principle that form the basis of this particular way of viewing the world. The ideas and assumptions have their roots in the disciplines which follow the Frankfurt School's notion of critical theory and lean heavily on a curious symbiosis of Marxism and post-modern theory. Stanley Black is a defender of evolutionary psychology as he feels it is a better tool to understand humans, not only as cultural agents but as biological animals. His claim is that it appears to offer a more scientifically robust view of human nature and is closer to a common sense approach of human affairs rather than the fanciful claims asserted in the often nonsensical writings found in the critical theory academic departments, who's abstract theories seem to have no bearing to reality. Stanley Black therefore wanted to conduct a scientific test by collecting empirical data. Having become aware of ‘The Political Compass Test’ and the statements presented within it, having spent time talking to his class he calculated that if they surveyed, they would all appear in the left-liberal quadrant of the graph. His initial idea for his artwork was to produce the graph as a visual pun, with everybody on the left and only him on the right. Highlighting his political black sheep status amongst the group and the wider art world. The title ‘Institutional Echo Chambers’ again aims to highlight Stanley Black’s belief that there is an orthodoxy of thought within the academy and institutions are not just bricks and mortar but are filled with people. Whose ideological slant and ideas shape the structure and have a real-world effect on policy and procedure.
The second critical decision came in terms of framing. In both of tutorials it had been mentioned to Stanley Black that the idea was interesting but a little one dimensional in terms of display and both tutors recommended that I needed to expand on my initial premise. Having toyed with the idea of a live performance or audience participation through an interactive question, Stanley Black decided the most fitting solution was a video prologue. The aim was to introduce the viewer to the Stanley Black persona, whilst maintaining distance and highlighting his political leanings and stance. He wanted to make the video look like a cheap infomercial and play around with the ‘is he joking/is he being serious’ delivery he had explored during unit one. Under the premise of confirmation bias, the subject matter informed the structure of the piece. Stanley Black’s aim for the video was to offer his view on the technical varsity of the scientific method and its findings, which often contradicts and opposes the findings and claims found within gender studies literature and research. Stanley Black had found through conversation that if a person believes gender is a wholly a social construct and has no basis in biology, they have adopted a gender studies view of the world which contradicts all the scientific data researched on the subject. This stance then becomes an ideological framework, where evidence is ignored if it contradicts the initial ideological stance. Confirmation basis is the psychological mechanism that allows this to happen. By structuring my video explaining what confirmation bias is and then presenting a series of scientific findings Stanley Black hoped to highlight the phenomenon of ‘ideological possession.’ The subject matter was also in keeping with the ‘Institutional Echo Chambers’ title and allowed Stanley Black to offer a stanch defence of scientific truth (especially in evolutionary psychology) and a harsh criticism of his belief in the fanciful claims of the gender studies departments. Dismissing epistemological arguments; Stanley Black has always been interested in the audience reaction to his work and in some ways, it is this reaction that is most important aspect to his political art, rather than the artworks themselves. His aim has always been to test people’s beliefs, presuppositions and first principles and with this work his intention was to determine which side of the fence the viewer stands on the issues he raises
DOES THE SWAMP NEED DRAINING?
The second piece Stanley Black wanted to include was a playful reimagining of a Donald Trump MAGA hat. Stanley Black decided he wanted a piece that would span the entirety of the adjacent wall. A prefabricated multiple object seemed like the best solution and fitted with the Stanley Black aesthetic established during the course. Having already explored cake and the yellow vest as political symbols; He decided to work with the Donald Trump MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat due to its political implications, its bold colours and the speed in which he could have them made. Having become interested in the MAGA hat as a symbol due to its polarising nature. And although he wanted the piece to be cheeky, it was also meant to be triggering for a particular audience of the far left. By slightly changing the text Stanley Black wanted to subvert the meaning and reclaim the cap as art. The message is also meant to be gently teasing and hopefully can be read as a sly dig by Stanley Black and his overall view of the contemporary art scene.
AGREE/DISAGREE, HOW STRONGLY
The final work to be displayed within the ‘Institutional Echo Chambers’ installation was another text-based work this time rendered on a LED display. The display flashes the entirety of the statements found in the political compass test. Having previously explored the nature of questioning and enquiry within the academy the work is intended to display uncomfortable statements amongst more mundane and agreeable ones to blur the division between the artistic and science methods, between objectivity and subjectivity and question the artists culpability in the display of such statements.