Opening night: Friday 4 November 2016
Freee Art Collective are made up of three artists, Dave Beech, Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan, who work together on slogans, billboards and publications that challenge the commercial and bureaucratic colonization of the public sphere of opinion formation. Freee occupies the public sphere with works that take sides, speak their mind and divide opinion. Dave Beech is Professor of Art at Valand Academy, University of Gothenberg, Sweden; Andy Hewitt is Senior Lecturer in Social Art Practice at The University of Northampton, UK and Mel Jordan is Reader in Art and the Public Sphere, at the Royal College of Art, London.
Slogans are used extensively in their work, emblazoning them across billboards, scarves, balloons, badges, placards, t-shirts, fireworks and more. The group are concerned with opinion formation and write deliberately antagonistic slogans in order that its readers might agree or disagree with them and in doing so consider their own stance and how they arrive at it.
Freee are using the space at NN Contemporary Art to present their new public kiosks. These brightly coloured kiosks will be active during the exhibition for a host of activity including badge-making, talks, design workshops and a starting point for walking tours. Freee have invited artists, designers, critics and theoreticians to create workshops and activities, available for all to join.
A panoply of drop in activities will be popping up weekly at NN at Freee’s Public Kiosks. In addition regular NN events will be taking place:
Thursday 24 November 2016, 2–3pm
Thursday 22 December 2016, 2–3pm
Bumps & Babes
Get messy with your baby or pre-schooler in these crayon-fuelled, finger painting sessions. Make sure you wear clothes that can handle paint!
Saturday 26 November 2016, 2–4pm
For artists by artists the Crit Group invites artists to bring their work in progress for some friendly peer critique. Crit Group is led by Sayed Sattar Hasan.
Thursday 1 December 2016, 1–4pm
More For Tea
Rebecca Herbert will present ‘More [for] Tea’ when visitors to the gallery will be invited to eat a cake made specially for the Freee-Carracci-Institute.
Friday 2 December 2016, 1–2pm
Lunch time Write Club
Do you want to brush up on your art writing skills? From CVs to artist statements, funding applications or letters of introduction, bring your writing questions and samples to Write Club for feedback with Artistic Director Catherine Hemelryk.
Friday 2 December 2016, 1–4pm
Freee Public Kiosk
Sean Griffiths will work with Freee to think about the design and function of temporary structures such as Freee-Carracci-Institute public kiosk. Sean Griffiths is a director and co-founder of FAT. He has extensive project experience across numerous sectors including housing, education, leisure, arts, transport and master-planning. Sean is highly respected amongst his peers and is a prolific contributor to architectural debate through lectures, symposia and papers. Sean is the Louis I Kahn Visiting Professor of Architecture at Yale University.
Friday 2 December 2016, 4–7.30pm
Freee Comedy Evening
Dave Green is a comedian who went to art school. He will be working with Freee’s texts and manifestos to make some new material that he will perform in the NN Cafe. Dave Green has been doing stand-up comedy since 2011. Since then, his surreal one liners and deadpan delivery have fast proved popular with audiences and promoters alike. In 2013 he won the wild card vote in the BBC New Comedy Award securing him a place in the semi final which was broadcast on BBC Radio 2. In 2014 he was nominated by a panel of industry professionals to take part in the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year.
Watch the set here.
Wednesday 7 December 2016, 7–9pm
From Art to Commerce
These monthly sessions are for anyone running their creative business whether it is in its first steps or you are more established but want to develop. Topics covered include cash flow, business planning and marketing.
Friday 9 December 2016, 1–4pm
Freee Public Kiosk on Market Square
Freee’s Public Kiosk will be in Northampton’s Market Square to work with passerby’s to use the kiosk as a focus for the collection of data and conversations. On this occasion the kiosk will host research staff and students from politics, law and psychology. There is an urgent need to record the arguments that the public are making for and against leaving the EU. The aim is to capture this important information to inform public debate. It is intended that the project does not draw conclusions on the strength of the case for or against Brexit. Participants arguments will be used to create an argument map which comprehensively captures public discourse on the topic.
Saturday 10 December 2016, 2–3pm
Motomi Kozaki is leading an origami workshop as part of the exhibition. Freee’s brightly coloured manifestos are transformed into origami shapes: transformable octagon shuriken aka Ninja stars. Suitable for ages 6 and up the workshop is free and no booking necessary, drop in.
Friday 16 December 2016 from 12–2pm
Slogan Badge Making
Pick a badge you agree with or make your own slogan on a badge. Drop in between 12–2pm or until stocks run out.
Freee’s Mel Jordan and Andy Hewitt in conversation with Catherine Hemelryk
You’ve been trialling the Public Kiosks throughout the year and we can see the final kiosks in the gallery space, can you talk a little about that process.
Previous to the development of the kiosks, we were pairing everything down to a series of very minimal performative works and when we utilized things such asthe Spoken Choir through our manifestos, we found there was no focus for people to attach themselves to. The kiosks have become a moment of focus, a visual marker of when we are about to do something or when we can call people forward. Prior to the kiosks, we had rejected the idea of conviviality and then we decided we had been incorrect and we began to rethink, conviviality; the convivial as part of the process of establishing opinion formation. So we see the kiosks as that sort of convivial moment when we open them up, we share some of the badge making activities or the ideas that we’ve had and we can talk to people. They draw people in to talk to us when we are behind them and generate activity, to do things together and through this they become a process of conviviality in a different sort of way, not like a cup of tea or a slice of cake, they are like a different version of conviviality.
Yes that is right. We have done projects where we have invited other people before, forexample Protest Is Beautiful where we have invited people to come along and be in an image with us and join in with something that we are saying and doing. However, I think we’ve tried to avoid some of the clichéd ideas of what it is to ask someone to participate because what we are looking for in a participant is dissensus as well as consensus. That’s what the Spoken Choirs aim to generate, you are invited to read the manifestos we write, out loud collectively and you either read it out or you don’t. The aim is to make people decide for themselves and consider carefully what’s on the page. If it gels with their thinking about a topic, then they can say it and stand by it. We put a bit of pressure on people I suppose, by asking do you agree, do you agree enough to say it out loud? We have that method and the kiosks are another extension of that or something that runs in parallel. They attract people in and it’s those conversations that can occur through production of something as simple as a badge, which can be the beginning of a whole set of discussions, where people can open up.
We tried to run slogan workshops previously where we got people to think about what slogans they might like, but it’s difficult to crystallize what you really believe in. Saying it out loud because you’re always worried about consensus and what people might think of you when you say something, can be difficult, especially if it is not understood as liberal or respectful. So I think that the kiosks have been able to give people a chance to adapt our slogans and generate new ones. A conversation is created through making a badge for example. When choosing one of our slogans to make into a badge, they would then say it would be better if it’s like this and we’d say, “that’s a brilliant idea – OK ,well we’ll change it and we’ll add that to what we’ve been doing so far and adopt it”. Slogans only work when they are adopted collectively; a slogan doesn’t mean much if only one person uses it!
There is a certain amount of authority or authorship that we provide in terms of this exchange. These are our slogans, these are our manifestos and what I hope through having the kiosks and in having the readings, is that people come along and we hear what other people have got to say and we can agree or disagree with them. They can also do the same and that’s an idea of an ongoing production of political subjectivity – this is what we are interested in affecting.
The idea of us publishing a slogan is not just about authorship because slogans change and they are re-authored all of the time, but the thing about us issuing and publishing a slogan means that people can situate themselves in relation to that slogan. So they can then say they disagree with it or agree with it. In a way we purposefully write slogans that are antagonistic, stating the things we believe in. This is in order for people to situate themselves in relation to the slogan because if you have a very neutral slogan it’s very difficult to understand what your opinion is. The process of our participation is about opinion formation and the relationships to the slogan and development of political subjectivity.
We put a value on dissensus as being something that is essential for democracy and that is nothing new but it is how our work tries to operate because we think those values or those traditions of discussion, debate – protest even – are things we have to maintain as rituals. We’re not alone in doing any of that but we see the space that art provides as a public sphere, as a place it can operate to ask questions about culture, politics and art.
Bringing the kiosks here we started to think about how they operate differently in the gallery. So we are making a series of shutters for them and wrapping one of them up when it’s closed because we didn’t want them to look like sculptures just because they are in a gallery. When we have activated them before they haven’t been left in a place as an object.
They have tended to be up momentarily when we are with visitors and then we take them down again so in this long period we have at NN, we are going to shut them so they become and object of documentation and then when we are with them, which will be regularly, they will open up for production to take place. It is very much about making things with people in the space as often as we possibly can.
You have a very clear aesthetic so I see the kiosks as sculptural objects when they are not in use and you are using some of your previous works as backdrops as well to complement them and to create an entire environment for the people who are coming to be in and for the kiosks to be situated within that wider practice that you have. Can you consider them as sculpture objects or can that be considered as a bi product?
We call them props, we don’t see them as sculpture; we see them as having a function, which is for this discursive interaction with people. We will have some of these things that are historical objects for us, some we bring in that people hold, so the flowers in Protest is Beautiful were props for the embodiment of an idea that people held aloft together. As objects they have a purpose and are part of the ritual that we invent around them. In that respect they aren’t sculptural things in the respect that you look at and contemplate as you might with sculpture, similarly the images aren’t necessarily images to contemplate as with painting, but they are documentation of processes and rituals; they are a version of those rituals at certain points in time. We don’t have a preciousness in terms of using the same image and that’s why this is the first time this billboard poster’s been produced as it is but there have been plenty of other versions used of Protest is Beautiful and hopefully it will continue.
The things we make have a social life and that’s why they exist and why sometimes new things exist and it’s usually based around words because each one tends to be a prop as a slogan and the props and slogans become images when they are embodied by other people so there is this sequence of things that happen.
But as Catherine says there is an aesthetic to them. The last yellow kiosk has a sense of nostalgia, a look, as if we are trying to recoup some idea of political protest. There is a relationship to that; we do want to revive those processes.
There is such a strong art historical precedence as well from Rodchenko and Klutsis’ Constructivist kiosks all the way up to the Bloors and more.
Jonas Staal pointed out the other day all those agit prop kiosks that were symbolic of those different points of Modernism.
Yes it is that avant garde tradition and we wholly admit we are very interested in all of the way the avant garde continued to question and rethink – anti art is part of what we think about our own work. Our work seems to have five axis:
Montage, Text Art, Participation (Participatory art practices), the history of the Avant garde and the culture of political protest (badges, slogans, placards, etc)
These are art historical ideas about artistic production and […] it is this axis we tend to be thinking about and sometimes we might be testing out one or two of those in more detail or we return to them without preoccupation for making things visual or visible.
It was interesting being at IMMA recently talking with Jonas Staal, Mel Evans from Liberate Tate, Kerry Guinan and us and it was quite a spectrum of what you might think of as political artists getting us together in one room and of course while we might share the same politics we absolutely differ in approach. We wouldn’t be campaigning like Liberate Tate because our enquiry is much more about the politicisation of the subject, the individual and so we go back to that, it’s one of our principles rather than a particular type of campaign. For us, art has lots of problems.
We wouldn’t instrumentalise art to do some of those things. We wouldn’t think of art just as a creative process but also acting as social division, which is an avant garde position.
You have said that you are not activists.
We are thinking about the whole – art, politics and social relations; we are looking at opinion formation because that’s what we think affects people’s political subjectivity. We’re worried about the dominance of the press and the way it is creates certain value systems. That’s why we want to imagine everyone as publishing to one another.
We’re also interested in art not being autonomous and if you start thinking about art as publishing rather than as objects or exhibition, that immediately changes the work.
Here at NN we’ve called the exhibition/project Freee-Carracci-Institute because we are really interested in that idea of the Baroque. There is never one version of the work and we don’t mind re-saying and re-doing the work and we will get rid of work that doesn’t matter any more. We really wanted to think about publishing, republishing and rethinking our work during the project here and to see what happens when we do this. That is why the idea of a programme of people visiting and engaging with the works is very exciting for us. In some of the events we are proposing, the remit is quite specific in terms of getting artists and members of the public to interpret, disagree or agree or come up with their own slogan in relation to ours. It is always in relation to what we have presented [in the exhibition] but at the same time we think that the minute you start thinking about what someone else thinks it helps you to crystallize what you really think.
 Mel Jordan, Freee art collective, The Public Sphere and the work of the Freee art collective, talk at IMMA, Dublin, 26 October 2016