Rebel Learning

I had a proposal accepted by the Whitechapel Gallery for their East End Academy exhibition, a showcase of emerging artists in east London. They commissioned me to produce a billboard which would be displayed on the exterior of Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, a new multi-purpose, lottery-funded arts venue, opening in 2005, which will include a gallery space, artists studios, multi-screen cinema complex, a live music venue, recording studios and café etc.

My piece involved inventing a fake organisation that has been commissioned by the government to run educational classes in subversive subjects such as graffiti articulation, computer hacking and protesting effectively. I employed a graphic designer from an advertising company to design it for me with the brief of making it in the style of a local council advert. Part of my thinking was to subvert the notion of commodified radicalism towards an absurd end by suggesting government endorsed rebellion. Also I wanted to pre-empt the disempowering techniques of commercialism attempting to integrate activities that were first subversive into their marketing strategies.

Six weeks before the exhibition was due to open, I had the poster ready, got content 'clearance' from the gallery and sent it to a printers near Liverpool with the Whitechapel picking up the production costs. Two days prior to the show opening the gallery called me in for a meeting at which I was told that the host organisation, Rich Mix, weren't shown my design until very recently, and that they had decided they couldn't show it. The basis was that the content didn't align with the kind of image they wanted to project. The Whitechapel were still keen to show my work and were very apologetic about the situation, however it was too late in the day to find another site for the billboard.

Being censored like this left me with very mixed feelings. On the one hand I was incredibly disappointed not to be showing the piece, and on the other I felt the whole situation was endemic of the hypocrisy of all-powerful 'cultural' institutions that profess liberal inclusionism and social engagement, and I was happy to be left out. The opening came and went, and the Whitechapel staff was still active in trying to find alternatives. They suggested the inside of Spitalfields Market, but I said no because the audience, to my mind, weren't diverse enough and that isn't where a bonafied local council advert would be placed anyway.

So the work was only seen in the catalogue and never put up. It is still sitting in a back room at the gallery. I am still in sporadic conversation with the gallery about how to show the work, but the piece was site and time-specific. They are suggesting an email or possibly a newspaper advert but I am reluctant. Also, anecdotally, funds were raised for EEA through an auction of donated work by more established artists like David Batchelor. Angela de la Cruz, Peter Doig, Tracey Emin, Anya Gallaccio, Chris Ofili, Julian Opie, Grayson Perry, Bob and Roberta Smith, Rachel Whiteread and Gillian Wearing etc. I would like to thank them.

Rebel Learning as pdf