The Freedom Cabinet
at The School of Art, Birmingham
At first I thought it was an old taxidermy cabinet that perhaps used to contain a preserved shrew or magpie. It was positioned at the back corner of the archive room with various other curios. It seemed to reside somewhere between being an artefact and being merely the container for an artefact now lost.
With the cabinet were three rolled pieces of paper, A4 in size and yellowed white in colour. They described in an unusual script the one-time inhabitant of the cabinet. Not a deceased animal, but a casket- that in turn contained 'The Freedom of the City'.
It struck me as ironic that 'The Freedom of the City' was so thoroughly held inside it's own casket, and this again inside a cabinet. And more ironic still that it was now lost, perhaps 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 posses 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 scared of responsibility.
The search for freedom has played it's role in most conflicts 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 go from protecting the ‘free-world’ to the introduction of freedom and democracy. Hitler also referred to 'the quest for freedom' before the Second World War.
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 place it on it's pedestal where no-one can endanger it and impose their freedoms on ours. At this point the thing in the cabinet has gone.