Esther Windsor

Freee: Protest is Beautiful

(Dave Beech, Mel Jordan, Andy Hewitt)

2 June – 1st July 2007
Private View Fri. 1 June 6-9pm

1000000mph project space

open Mon-Fri. 12 - 6pm

59 Old Bethnal Green Road, London E2 6QA

Curated by Esther Windsor

1000 000 mph is proud to present Freee's first solo show in London, profiling existing and new works that engage with contemporary political and socilal realities, critcally addressing and using the format of public art. Dave Beech, Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan work collaboratively as Freee, an art collective working on cultural strategies for a counter-hegemonic art. Intentionally and explicitly critiquing the use of art for social and political agendas in contemporary Britain, their work includes publicly staged interventions and art works, often using their bodies, prominent public sites and written signs, video shown on inner city BBC Big Screens, text works on full sized billboard sites and critical writing on aesthetics and politics. Their style borrows from historical protest art, the history of avant-garde strategies, and the traditions of political dissent, using hand-written, hand held signs, flyposters, as well as a 'sit-in'. At the sametime Freee use mass media forms, like Big Screens, YouTube, and billboards, producing advertising posters that look deceptively corporate in design.

Their work stands out as reflecting a shift in consciousness of art and institution but also the political use of art, be it the art market, education system, impact on ex-industrial cities and property prices with the overall consequence of civic values becoming married to market values.

In this exhibition works include: Protest is Beautiful, a new work made from a funeral wreath in letters of yellow silk flowers, photographed and mounted on plywood outside the gallery, appearing as shop sign. Both a melancholic lament and reminder and iconic public message in the style of shopping or advertising. Inside Don’t let the media have a monopoly on the freedom of speech, 2007 a new work as a direct message in a photograph pasted on a large installation wall, while How to talk to public art, 2006 is a video of a dissenting tour of Manchester’s public artworks. Instead of being subject to the secret codes of public art, the citizen addresses commemorative monuments in terms of jokes and histories, with the intention of highlighting the public life that goes on around public art, for example ‘Is it me or do monarchs have an unfair advantage when being seen or heard?’’ or ‘There are no exerts on happiness’. Another new video work is included, Public space, public realm, public sphere 2007 in which the three chant, like a choir or kindergaren class, theoretical attacks on dominant conceptions of the public.

Public art has become prominent and problematised for its lottery funding friendly agenda, closely linked to the Arts Councils' 'Agenda for Change ' and New Labours social manefesto for regeneration. Freee previously showed in a group show at 1000 000 mph Pimps and Hookers (2006) which critiqued arts advocacy and close affiliation to creative and culture industies (Gordon Browns' intended UK industries of tommorrow.) The work a wall sized poster of a banner across a bridge in Venice during the Biennale, read The Aesthetic Function Of Public Art is to codify social distinctions as natural, was part of a project entitled The "Three Functions that examine contradictions that exist within public art. They others read The Economic Function Of Public Art Is To Increase The Value Of Private Property and "The Social Function Of Public Art Is To Subject Us To Civic Behavior.

Class and taste are always markers of inclusion and exclusion, which in contemporary Britain are based on market values. As Dave Beech describes, ‘’Taste conceals its modes of acquisition so that its social divisiveness appears as natural distinctions between those who have it and those who don’t.’ And another critique of the public sphere, in a recent commission read: ‘Celebrity endorsements are the industrialization of citizenship’

Forthcoming projects include: the launch of Manifesto for a Counter - Hegemonic Art, at the Venice Biennale in June 2007, also available from Freee will also take part in the Sackler education series at the Serpentine, on 16th June with 1000000 mph and also independently as an artists collective. In September 2007 Freee will have a solo exhibition entitled How to Make a Difference, International Project Space, Birmingham, UK, curated by Andy Hunt.

Previous projects include: The Functions series, reviewed in Art Monthly and used for a series of debates, most recently by Malcolm Miles in his new book Cities and Cultures, published by Routledge, 2006 and a commission for Hull time based arts, Have you Heard the one about the Public Sphere, 2006, featuring comedian Norman Collier as part of ‘if your names not on the list your not coming in’ The comic finishes with the line, ‘Celebrity endorsements are the industrialization of citizenship’

Freee on Protest Is Beautiful:

With this work we introduce performance into the work, albeit minimally. The artist appears in the work – as model, if you like – in a way that mixes Text Art with Body Art, as well as scripto-visual photographic practices, the readymade or appropriation (we had the flower text made commercially by a company that makes funeral flowers), all in addition to our questioning of the tradition of public art by our use of the billboard. We also used this image as a shop sign print above the window of our solo show at 1,000,000mph.

Review by Bryan Eccleshall:

There is much to protest about these days, but how to go about it in an era when The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” rattles around the brain at the (non) election of a new Prime Minister, whilst doubling as the title music for the very shiny CSI: Miami?

Freee – Dave Beech, Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan – hope to place a kind of honest protest at the centre of cultural activity with their show at 1000000mph in Bethnal Green. Outside the gallery is a shop sign overhead, in which the three artists hold up the name of the show made as a funereal wreath in letters of yellow flowers. It’s seems like a memorial to protest and its potential while embracing a need to sweeten the pill of sloganeering. Freee make works that amuse rather than alienate. You might not agree with everything they say, but you’ll probably smile at the work and acknowledge that they probably have a point, unlike the ranting nutter flogging political platitudes that you cross the road to avoid.

There’s a smartness in the work that doesn’t overstep itself. In the 2006 video piece, How To Talk To Public Art, they ask simple questions of statues and sculpture throughout Manchester. A film of these small interventions runs on a loop. Highlights include: Is It Me Or Do Monarchs Have An Unfair Advantage When It Comes To Being Seen Or Heard?; Insurgents, Criminals And Terrorists Banded Together To Place Obstacles On The Street As Barricades To Prevent The Forces Of Law And Order From Reaching Their City Centre Strongholds and One Day Scientific Progress, Digital Technology, Social Engineering And Genetic Manipulation Will Allow Us All To Be Astronauts. The last slogan is delivered as three speech bubbles as Dave, Andy and Mel vacantly chew gum (it makes them look like they might be talking, but can’t be bothered really). To me it imparts a naïve hope coupled with a kind of agnosticism. In short, there are probably more important things to do.

This could all be ironic postmodern guff, but I don’t think so. Freee talk about encouraging a rounded, questioning, free(e) thinking citizenry that are awkward and searching, rather than blindly towing any party line, which is an encouraging idea in an era beset with false gurus, celebrity endorsements and plug-in air fresheners.

A large photograph – hinting at the iconic Ramones LP – carries the slogan Don’t Let The Media To Have The Monopoly On The Freedom Of Speech on three white t-shirts. It’s a striking image, one that uses a retro touchstone, but comes from people who have heard the LP, rather than simply thinking the photo cool. It’s this happiness to engage in real issues rather than posture over a pair of Converse All Stars that makes me warm to Freee.

Of course, at the heart of this work (and it is in the heart, at least as much as the head), is the one irony they can’t escape: Don’t follow leaders, and that includes us. Think for yourself.