Independent Free State: Inception


The ‘Independent Free State’ is a drawing based ‘Campaign for Imaginative Space’ created by Heidi Wigmore, supported by Metal Southend-on Sea and funded by The Arts Council. I’ll be presenting new work at Village Green, a free one day arts festival in Southend-on-Sea, now in its 4th year, which attracts audiences of around 27,000 people. The project will include drawing practice as ‘live’ event and artworks located in the public realm.

The idea came about as a result of my participation in a 5 day ‘CultureLab’ at Metal in March 2012 which explored themes of ‘Protest and Propaganda’. The week long event was perfect timing as I had just returned (the night before) from a 2 month residency in the Virgin Islands via New York. My trip had been documented in a blog entitled ‘The View from Farway’ where ideas, observations and debate were presented in an informal structure around the effects of tourism, big business, cross-cultural and environmental change on a small island which can be seen as a microcosm of the wider world. (More of this in the next post).

The accompanying literature from the Arts Council confirmation letter states:

‘It is important to celebrate your success and to let people know how their communities are benefiting.’

This blog is a way of communicating what the project is all about, its  progress and evolution. A lot of people have congratulated me on securing the funding for this project to take place, which is incredibly affirming, (even my bank manager) – people understand how hard it is, in these times, for an autonomous artist to win financial support for their work.

My Manifesto goes something like this:

The ‘INDEPENDENT FREE STATE’ is an unstructured/unbounded space, a site for transformation, the antithesis of the ’sensory deprivation tank’ of the modern office/shopping mall/institution. It is a subversive space in that, instead of ‘keeping up with the machine’ it is a space for thinking, musing, dreaming, seeing.  My aim is to restore value to drawing. I see drawing as ‘live’ because it is a manifestation of the creative impulse, in this way it is an ‘Independent Free State’ in and of itself.

The project will encompass the following elements:

1. A mobile temporary billboard (10′ x 20′), an ‘occupied’ physical space, designated and clearly defined as the INDEPENDENT FREE STATE. Part of the artwork will be made on site at Village Green by the artist and the public as a performative drawing event ie drawing processes will be experienced and shared as ‘spectacle’ in the public realm.

2. The artwork will then go out ‘on tour’ over the course of three days around London landmarks, including the major museums and galleries, and seats of political power. The aim is to celebrate the spirit of endeavour and of drawing as an instrument of communication, here utilising the format of mass-(mobile) advertising.  The fact of advertising being that the viewer cannot choose to look away, the image is inescapable, there is no choice but to look. Mobile advertising reaches estimated audiences of 100,000 a day in high density urban areas, giving optimum exposure to the artwork.

The image is inescapable, there is no choice but to look.

3. A series of hand-rendered drawings printed on canvas banners wrapped around specific trees in Chalkwell Park. These will take the form of ‘Controversial Proposals’ by the INDEPENDENT FREE STATE for imaginary artworks. Each tree will be visualised as a ‘Planning Proposal’ for a contemporary artwork . The images are ‘blueprints’ for extravagant ‘flights of the imagination’, Grand Projects that may or may not be realised.

These Controversial Proposals are imaginative possibilities, they exist to excite the imagination, my work explores the correspondence between physical and psychical realities. They are also absurd reminders of how disempowered people can feel in the face of ‘development’ and ‘regeneration’.

4. The ‘INDEPENDENT FREE STATE’ free newspaper, presenting selected visual documentation from the project, including a blank ‘imaginative space’ for ‘the reader’ to fill. The newspaper will be distributed freely to commuters as an alternative to free newspapers (eg Metro) and as an art ‘intervention’.

I am interested in the ‘free’ newspaper’s all-pervasive distribution which also makes it ‘invisible’, immediate, irrelevant and redundant. It bombards us during its brief life, whether people want it or not.

It is 5 days since I heard I’d secured my funding. I was in Cornwall at the time where a dramatic surf beach, Trebarwith Strand and headland overlooking the Atlantic was ‘invaded’ and then ‘occupied’ by a tribe of over-dressed people for a ‘wild wedding’. (In the same way that swimming ‘out of bounds’ is now termed ‘wild swimming’). I then returned to 2 days of set-painting at the BBC’s iconic White City building, a ‘hallowed’ city within a city that echoes with the cultural history of this country since the optimistic times of the mid-fifties. I could only wonder at what a starkly different world we live in now.

My first priorities have been to confirm with third parties their involvement in the project, which has been a great pleasure, including Adrienne Coles at Mobile Media (suppliers of the mobile billboard) who is very excited about facilitating an artwork rather than the usual advertising campaigns.

My first ‘obstacle’ which is already turning into an interesting new twist is that Adrienne has now informed me that Westminster Council is an ‘Exclusion Zone’ for mobile advertising. She has supplied me with a map outlined in red of this zone. It is an immediately arresting visual, creating, as it does, an ‘Independent Free State’ of its own. My intention is to attempt to negotiate with Westminster Council who I’m reliably informed have a ‘Public Art’ department. If this goes nowhere then this ‘exclusion’ presents a new opportunity for the designated route for the artwork to travel: all around the perimeter of Westminster.

This first post has enabled me to re-consolidate the ideas behind and the aims of the project before studio work kicks in.

The work begins here – where a concept becomes reality. I’m raring to go.

All comments welcome!