Jennet Thomas’ The Unspeakable Freedom Device caused minor tremors in the Contemporary Art World before it was even exhibited.
Commissioned by The Grundy art gallery, the film was scheduled to premiere in September 2014.
Disgruntled Tory councillors, unacquainted with the work but understanding that it featured a Margaret Thatcher impersonator, called for it to be shelved.
That experimental film has a strong enough hold over the people of Blackpool North and Cleveleys to sway voting inclinations is questionable; regardless, the exhibition at The Grundy was delayed by 9 months until after the general election.
The act of censorship naturally drew more attention to the film and increased its scope for audiences beyond the walls of the Blackpool gallery. A touring programme of film screenings and Q&As across arts spaces in England followed– the most recent of which was presented in Manchester by The Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books.
The event, held at Manchester’s International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Jan 22nd, opened with a screening of Thomas’ film via the artist’s MacBook and a digital projector.
The film is a futuristic folklore in which two women make a pilgrimage to the mythical ‘Blue Lady’ in the hope that she can cure their unfed shoebox baby who is sick and in danger of turning green.
Their journey takes them to a political party conference-cum-trade show at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens – a location that saw the rise of Thatcher in the 70s and 80s through the annual Conservative Party Conferences held there. Here, the Blues unveil their latest product – a device so technologically advanced we cannot possibly envision it.
The film screening was followed by a short interval, during which enthusiastic audience members were encouraged to buy the Unspeakable Freedom Device book, and a performance by the excellent Simon Bookish aka Leo Chadburn aka the person who composed the score.
Chadburn performed his latest EP Red and Blue, a meditation on the Reagan/Thatcher years, and a selection of tracks from his 2007 album Trainwreck/Raincheck. The music, intricate pre-recorded electronic compositions, was beautiful and disorientating. The lyrics witty and evocative, delivered in a form of vocal declamation that varied from impassioned to deadpan.
The Unspeakable Freedom Device is certainly allegorical but, unlike a piece of straight political satire, meaning is layered and multifaceted. It is in this that the argument that it could show political bias on the publically-funded gallery’s part seems ungrounded. The blue, red and green tribes that populate the Unspeakable universe could just as easily refer to the RGB colour model used in electronic device display as they could political parties.
The work is not concerned with Thatcher’s policies, much-less contemporary Conservative party policy, nor the impact of Thatcher’s reign on British industry or society. It is an absurd dystopian sci-fi that centres on the cult of Thatcher and the cult of technological innovation.
The fact that it was censored is surely the basis for a more persuasive argument that a dangerous cult of Maggie might genuinely exist than the film itself.
Daniel McMillan is an artist and writer based in Manchester.
Image courtesy of Arnold Pollock.
The Unspeakable Freedom Device, book launch hosted by The Exhibition Centre For The Life And Use of Books, The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester.
22 January 2016.
Copies of The Unspeakable Freedom Device available from Bookworks.