Looking for the most enlightening collation of thoughts this side of Dianetics? bare/not manifesto is here to show us all the way…word…
Caged Bird Sings
‘Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.’ George Bernard Shaw
‘Madness is freedom’s most faithful companion’ Jacques Lacan
‘All oppression creates a state of war.’ Simone de Beauvoir
We live in a world fraught with contradiction – bikinis and burqas, the moneyed and the minimum wage, left-wing or right-wing, faith and nihilism and the hetero-normative and the ‘other’ – are just some of the ongoing struggles which both restrict and affirm our personal freedom. Our media perpetuates this no man’s land of perceived autarchy, where stories such as the Fritzl cases or the anniversary of the Berlin wall’s disintegration reaffirm the ability of individuals to fight for freedom despite overwhelming and terrifying conditioning, while the repercussions of official prisons such as Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq war and the ‘war on terror’ (in itself a linguistic minefield) continue to remind us how blithely our freedoms can be disrupted and taken away.
Are we made to feel that the kind of safety, which undermines liberty in the name of security and protection, is acceptable and desirable? Concerns about claustrophobia, stereotypes, security constrictions, moral and physical obligations, cultural and religious beliefs, and political ideas are a few of the encounters which make up our daily worlds, bombarding us in advertising; threaded through the plots of literature, movies and songs; and worked into our political ideologies. These are big themes to tackle for first-time curators but then why not go naked and bare all?
What we feel as an act of freedom can be lived as an act of violence by someone else. We adjust our sense of personal freedom to fit into our community, which defines and legitimises our freedom, but requires a different set of rules from the individual to function freely. Images, as powerful, empathetic and wholly personal signifiers are a strong way to convey these dichotomies and awaken society to their place in the world, especially the ways in which society has accommodated the idea of the female and the way in which race is represented. It is with this in mind that we have selected a group of artists to tackle the cultural, political, sexual and racial themes of restriction. However, how many of those ties are really inevitable, how many of them are self-imposed by our collective or personal conscience? Many of us want to escape the obligations deriving from them to explore a ‘free’ life, but total freedom is a Utopian ideal, defined by philosopher and anthropologist Roland Barthes as a world where there are ‘no conformities or stereotypes, no clichés or myths or anything which is either given or dictated; a world where it is possible to eschew all conflict because everyone and everything is allowed to be different’ – a beautiful and improbable dream; however freedom is a terrifying thing – some people cope with it by restricting themselves in order to make their world more manageable.
For the exhibition, we chose a space in which it would be possible to recreate a claustrophobic sensation. The space we have selected is the Crypt at St Pancras Church. The church is somewhere people have sought refuge but its institutions such as the monastery and nunnery have also been places of living entombment where the inhabitants are enclosed in their cells and live by a unilateral religious doctrine. Barthes posed that if we are subject to the whims of language as a collectively recognised placement of signs and signifiers, then our ability to redefine words and images, to create our own language, allows us to assert and potentially attain our personal freedom. In this context, the word ‘church’ can be defined then as both a sanctuary and a prison. And the crypt? Is it possible to redefine this space – physically going down onto another level, the act of going into a dark space much like entering the subconscious and playing with the notion of revealing and concealing darkness and light. Come and see.