Free Speech Surrogate

The Free Speech Surrogate offers the opportunity to use constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech without fear of reprisal. First presented for two days as part of the UnConvention on Peavy Plaza in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a second edition took place over 6 weeks in November and December of 2008 on the Goetheplatz in Weimar, Germany as part of the exhibition Künstler, erklärt euch solidarisch mit der Kunst at the marke.6 gallery.

In each case, people could submit a statement of any length online or in a physical dropbox. Dressed as the classical depiction of liberty, with flowing robes and Phrygian cap, I read the announcements aloud at scheduled times: twice a day at the UnConvention and once a week in Weimar. In Weimar, the previously announced texts and the costume were displayed in the exhibition space between public appearances.

This is a project that I include in grant applications because the images have strong visual appeal. No one really knows if it functioned or not, and in some sense they don’t really care. At the moment, it is a sort of performance, but I want this project to be more than symbolic. Similar to the Free Speech Machine, it is a misguided proposal for solving a real problem – how can we use our right to free speech? Who has access to methods of public address? Who is listening?

In my utopian world, the Free Speech Surrogate would be a functioning public service in a community. My original impulse was to minimize the division between the Surrogate and the public. There is no platform to stand on, no pedestal elevating the Surrogate above others. However, I felt like some sort of uniform was necessary for it to function – a visual indication that the Surrogate was acting as just that. Maybe after the position and its function was established, the uniform could become more subtle – just a hat or a pin indicating that the Surrogate was on duty.

After presenting the work in these two different contexts, I became frustrated with the temporary nature of it and how this limited the functionality of the work. Though the longer run of the presentation in Weimar led to a good selection of announcements, it did not seem like an “audience” developed – people would listen during the announcements, but I had no sense that they knew in advance about the presentation or would come again the following week. In Minneapolis, the festival atmosphere essentially removed any sense of this as a sincere proposal. Like some other projects, it seems that this one could only be truly functional if it becomes durational; if that line to the everyday becomes completely blurred, and it loses all of its event quality. Or perhaps it is something I need to come back to and repeat in other locations.