The Freedom Cabinet

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Photographs and photograms 12″ x 16″

At first I though it was an old taxidermy cabinet that perhaps used to contain a preserved shrew or magpie. It was positioned at the back of the archive room, with various other curios, and seemed to reside somewhere between being an artifact itself and being merely a redundant container for an artifact now lost.
With the cabinet were three sheets of rolled up paper, A4 in size and yellowed with age. They described in an unusual script the one time inhabitant of the cabinet. Not a deceased animal, but a casket, which in turn contained ‘The Freedom of the City’.
It struck me as ironic that the ‘Freedom of the City’ had been so thoroughly contained inside it’s own casket, and this again inside it’s own cabinet. And more ironic that it was now lost, perhaps now actually free.
This led me to think about freedom in a more general context, both it’s intangibility as a concept, and our constant efforts to possess and protect it. What ‘Freedom’ is, whether it exists and if it does, do we have it or want it, is a constant source of debate. Kant suggests that it does not exist as everything is defined by nature and subject to causality…While Hegel relates freedom to awareness and knowledge. Freud would maintain that people do not actually want freedom as it brings with it responsibility – and people are afraid of responsibility.
The search for freedom has played it’s part in most conflict of recent times. From slavery to complex wars of ideals – the need for or the need to protect freedom resonates. The situation in Iraq seemed to change from the need to protect the Free World, to the introduction of freedom and democracy. Hitler referred to the quest for freedom before World War II.
The current climate of fear of terrorism sees our individual freedoms reduced, in order to preserve them. In the West where freedom is totemic it seems increasingly important to protect it, to build walls around it, and to place it on it’s pedestal where no-one can endanger it by imposing their freedom on ours. At this point the thing in the cabinet has gone.

Installation at Margaret Street School of Art, Birmingham as part of ‘Treasure Seekers’ series.