a cura di Paola Bommarito


“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”
George Orwell


<<“It is difficult to draw the line between speech which might appropriately be regulated and speech which in any liberal society should be tolerated.”>>1

<<the aim of the exhibition is not to shock, provoke or offend, but to provide a series of reflections on the development of the debate about freedom of expression from politics to culture, as well as to question the limits that govern the free speech argument.>>2

<<This exhibition aims to highlight some of the intricacies, ambiguities and grey areas inherent to the subject, emphasising the fact that free speech cannot be exercised or applied in any programmatic or strictly prescribed manner, and its boundaries cannot be easily delimited.>>3

<<How do artists respond to the issues surrounding freedom of expression?>>4

<<Self-censorship occurs behind closed doors. !ere are practically no whistle-blowers. It would be too risky for survival in one’s chosen field. Many have internalised this mode of operation to the extent that they are not even aware that they are practicing self-censorship. Or they are in denial because it would undermine their self-respect. In private, museum people have told me that self-censorship is indeed the order of the day>>5

<<Each act of free speech is dependent on the platform or podium on which it is performed. […] context is everything in the debate surrounding freedom of speech. As human beings we use our words carefully, as each act of speech is (or should be) one of responsibility: what I say affects you. We choose our words in order to converse and coexist. And whether we like it or not, we censor ourselves on a daily basis in order to live together more harmoniously with those close to us at home and in the workplace. We sometimes refrain from speaking in order not to cause distress to others. We think before we speak in order to find the appropriate words to express our opinions. This is the nature of human relations; this is the nature of politics.>>6

<<Freedom between the lines>>7

<<Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri […] To explore freedom of speech within their own daily life, they proposed beginning a process of weaning off of the English language, by learning one another’s languages (Arabic and Farsi). To understand theorizations and uses of free speech, the artists consulted various contemporary and historical texts, events, and places.>>8

<<Suspended and lost in translation, we are each unable to understand a system that is based not only on opposing values, but, more importantly, on irreconcilable methodologies of argumentation.>>9

<< To whom are you going to award the task of being the censor?>>10

<< To whom you would give the job to decide for you? Relieve you of the responsibility of hearing what you might have to hear? Do you know anyone? Hands up. Do you know anyone to whom you’d give this job? Does anyone have a nominee?>>11

<< Han Hoogerbrugge […] Quatrosopus (2011). A figure with four faces on a rotating head – each face representing a different point of view – voices a range of dilemmas, contradictions and inner struggles about the issue of free speech. […] the animation plays out as a succession of gestures, statements and questions […] Hovering between the poetic and the existential, the violent and the masochistic, the work intimates the problems that underscore the definition, and reality, of freedom of speech. […] symbolizes the quandaries of assuming a fixed position, and hints at the dilemmas underlying the silencing of both provocative speech and unfettered free speech.>>12

<< What they say is it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen, and to hear. And every time you silence someone you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view.>>13

<< Johannes af Tavsheden […]S/he exists in a name that is not her own. In calling herself Johannes af Tavsheden, s/he chooses to remain anonymous. Thus, his work is found, first and foremost, in her disappearance. Once the artist, as a name, or as a brand, has disappeared, the work of invention and fabulation begins. […] By virtue of being unrepeatable, the works live only in the traces of a potency that remains on the bodies touched and the stories generated. af Tavsheden is interested in moments when individuals are able to exceed a given context and open up new spaces for thought and action. His name is a cipher and an invitation to all to question the assumption that individuals are capable of speaking freely in their own name. […] the artist, or those who assume his name, will test the limits of a human speech that has been rendered ever more impotent by its inscription within commerce.>>14

<< I am absolutely convinced that freedom of expression must be total. From this perspective, I am absolutely Voltairean. Clearly, there are problems that do not concern freedom in itself, but rather the use we make of freedom (which is a different thing).>>15

<<Now, I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion, and organized religion. Absolutely convinced of it. And I am glad that you applaud, because it’s a very great problem for those who oppose this motion. How are they going to ban religion? How are they going to stop the expression of religious loathing, hatred and bigotry?>>16

<<Hate speech is generally thought to mean denigrating speech uttered in relation to race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual preferences.>>17

<<Hate speech is one of the most disputed aspects of free speech precisely because the idea of an open culture is dependent on the idea of so-called tolerance. […] whose voice matters more? Whose version of the truth is the most valid?>>18

<<In When the Niggers Take Over America (1993), Crumb parodies US race relations, making literal latent racist fears in order to reveal the absurd logic of everyday prejudice. this particularly controversial work (narrated from a white suprematist point of view) imagines a scenario where African Americans violently take control of the USA. In an extreme reversal of historical reality, white people are enslaved and abused – in much the same manner as they had once shackled and abused African slaves. […] Jews, Latinos, Asians, corrupt politicians, Mafioso crime syndicates also enter into this corrupted, violent world.>>19

<<Are cultural stereotypes to be overcome by banning them from sight? Does victimhood convey special privileges? Who is allowed to speak about the painful history of an ethnic or racial group? Indeed, who owns identity and history?>>20

<<“Some words and images may indeed hurt – no matter how they are used – because they are deeply rooted in the scars and unhealed wounds of history and social discord. Banning them, unfortunately, is not likely to erase the pain of historical reality” Nor is censorship likely to change cemented opinions: learning to negotiate difference through dialogue and considered debate should be one of the great educational projects for years to come.>>21

<<And what have we found to combat this fascist populism? A left-wing populism, one that protects the system of oppression, peddles a hypocritical humanism, assimilates the critique of Israeli politics to anti-Semitism, sounds the alarm of Islamophobia when Islam is taken to task for its contempt for women, and speaks of racism and of endangering multiculturalism when excision and the barbarism of certain ethnic customs are judged intolerable.>>22

<<Archetypes of male bonding, chauvinism, machismo, violence, coercion, homoerotic camaraderie, and the politics of group dynamics, are all hinted at with tongue-in-cheek humour and irreverent wit. Madani’s work infers a history of male dominated societies, especially in the Middle East where the artist comes from.>>23

<<Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen works primarily with performance to explore a variety of issues such as gender, identity, socio-cultural relations, as well as questions of home and belonging. Her work explores how the self is constructed, examining the differences that are inherent in male-female role-play. […] Afghan Hound (2011) is a performance that includes four impersonations of voices from Afghanistan. The work addresses the complexities of gender in cultures where men and women are segregated, and masculinity rules. It also explores how, when sexuality is repressed, new gender constructions develop beyond the traditions of a given society and culture. […] Afghan Hound brings to the fore repressed voices, but also attempts to communicate stories from within Afghan tradition and culture by challenging the stereotypical, and sometimes reductive, western discourse on the Arab World.>>24

<< There is, moreover, a stealthy way to depreciate freedom of expression: simply to drag it into false debates that distance it from real ones. The useless quarrel over the hijab, for example, obscured what should be a fundamental demand: the fight for women’s rights, without which the rights of man are an imposture.>>25

<<Exercising freedom of speech always involves a delicate balancing act, especially in cases where the subject in question is hotly contested. But it also requires balancing in almost all cases. think, for example, of the issue of copyright which both protects the freedom of speech of those who create, but also (perhaps) denies it to those who might benefit: “Copyright and freedom of speech should be balanced, just as the interests in reputation and personal privacy must be weighed against competing free speech or press interests.”>>26

<< The ongoing concentration of ownership of media outlets in private hands and the implementation of strict copyright laws has not aided the articulation of independent voices, opinions and positions.>>27

<< Agency speculates around the question: “How can objects be included within art practices?” This entails an investigation into the way in which the intellectual property regime reinforces the split between classifications of subjects and objects. The nineteenth-century liberal notion of authorship assumed that for an object to be art, it should be expressive of a subject’s free individual creativity. Art that doesn’t fit this categorization is refused the protection of intellectual property laws.>>28

<<They are fundamentally bound to broader questions of politics and culture, as well as social and personal issues. They also impact upon, and are interrelated with, other areas such as the freedom of the press, censorship and self-censorship, the internet, copyright, intellectual property, the privatisation of knowledge, protest and public order, public space, judicial and legal questions, pornography, sexual orientation, lifestyle preferences, and human rights issues in general.>>29

<<Agency constitutes a growing list of things that resist the division between categories of “culture” and “nature”. These things are mostly derived from juridical processes and contested issues of intellectual property (copyright, patent, trademark, etc.). Intellectual property relies on the division between culture and nature. Each thing on the list invokes the moment of hesitation in terms of that division. Agency calls things forth from its list via varying assemblies inside exhibitions, performances, publications, etc. Each assembly speculates topologically on a different question.>>30

<<Such a complex issue is not served well by journalistic sound bites or rhetorical polemics. More importantly, it is impossible to subject the question of freedom of speech to categorical definitions because the concept is itself culturally and socially relative: what could readily be said in one culture may not go down so easily in another.>>31

<<For example, ‘Thing 000946 (Nomads of the Australian Dessert)’, [Agency32] relates to a controversy between an anthropologist and an Aboriginal group about a Aboriginal painting that was photographed and published by the anthropologist in a book. From an intellectual property point of view, the painting is part of their tradition and deemed to be within the public domain and as such can be published. By contrast, from an Aboriginal point of view, the painting is sacred: one has to be first initiated by the group in order to see it.>>33

<<In today’s heterogeneous societies, we are conditioned to accept that freedom of speech should be subjected to reasonable or legitimate restrictions. But what are these restrictions?>>34

<<Certainly, the internet is playing an increasingly powerful role in the dissemination of free ideas, and it continues to function as a space where ideas can be articulated and activism can be practiced.>>35

<<Much of the discussion around free speech is also a discussion about who controls information – “information” here taken to mean power rather than knowledge. The recent WikiLeaks scandal prompted innumerable press articles on the classification of information, whose outpouring can be seen as a symptom of the excessive secrecy inherent to bureaucracies. […] We tend to think that censorship is, more often than not, imposed upon us by governments or states.>>36

<<Taryn Simon […] examined a culture through careful documentation of diverse subjects from the realms of science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security, and religion. These unseen subjects range from radioactive capsules at a nuclear waste storage facility to the art collection of the CIA. Transforming the unknown into a seductive and intelligible form, Simon confronts the divide between those with and without the privilege of access. In examining that which is integral to America’s foundation, mythology and daily functioning, Simon creates a collection of works that reflect and reveal a national identity.>>37

<<All governments have a legitimate right to protect national security.>>38

<<There has been an increase in surveillance of citizens not only in autocratic regimes, but also in our supposedly democratic and free world.>>39

<<The UK, for example, possesses one fifth of the world’s CCTV cameras, was once described by the Washington Post as the world’s premiere surveillance society, and has some of the strictest libel laws in the world.>>40

<<“order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones.”>>41

<< History may not repeat itself, but its irony never stops winking at us.>>42

<<An Ear to the Sounds of Our History mines the extant archive of spoken word LPs to investigate the heterogeneous desires involved in the collection and dissemination of recorded political speech. The albums document a number of violent and contested political struggles and the way in which these contestations were transformed, pressed and distributed to the average household. […] The work attempts to trace various lines within these debates and to demonstrate the economic and logistical conditions that have contributed to our notion of so-called free speech. […] Hayes uses precise articulations of spoken word record covers (which she leaves unaltered) to construct new sentences that speak about the impact of time, desire, history, blackness, gender, nationality, and personality on our understanding of the naturalized category of speech.>>43

<< It is the people who tolerate the government, which in turn tolerates opposition within the framework determined by the constituted authorities.>>44

<< The significance of WikiLeaks lies less in the denunciation of state secrets used to justify lies, of the barbarism and the manipulation of citizens, than in the demonstration that it is possible to break down all the barriers of oppression.>>45

<< Most of our secrecy rules are designed merely to protect politicians and officials from embarrassment. […] It is vital to know when governments collude in torture or other illegal acts.>>46

<< A Second History (2003-10) is a photo- and text-based archival project that investigates the relationship between history and photographic images. […] shabby old houses transformed into multi-storey buildings where residents were leading “the good life”; ‘bonus’ pigs pasted into a farm to add the sheen of prosperity; revolutionary heroes moved into favourable locations; and famous politicians or public figures ‘airbrushed’ out of history. For A Second History Zhang traveled from North to South China, visiting the archives of publishing houses, and researching into a plethora of documents: early and original photos and negatives, books (mainly photography books and albums), magazines, newspapers, and archival material not accessible to the public. All the images and texts were carefully studied and systematically compared in order to discover differences and identify the original image. The resulting work constitutes an illuminating overview of a political era that marked China for decades, as well as providing insight into the manipulation or rewriting of history for political purposes, and the fabrication of memory.>>47

<< “Is every opinion, however unpopular – however foolish, even – entitled to a hearing?”>>48

<< While free speech conditions are necessary for politics to take place transparently and for culture and thought to flourish, these conditions come with responsibilities.>>49

<< One of the least examined issues in the free speech debate is that of self-censorship and pre-emptive censorship, which are increasingly infiltrating our modus operandi. These forms of censorship have potentially more damaging long-term effects than overt or direct censorship since they become entrenched in daily practice in insidious ways.>>50

<<Using voice and pre-recorded sound, Mikhail KarikisHigh-flyer (2011) is a performance that explores notions of aspiration, authority and selfcensorship. […] the performance involves a staged public speech delivered in a state that oscillates between panic and grandeur, good behaviour and nihilistic frenzy. […] In a twisted inversion between private and public life, both images present moments of abject personal display: a state of excessive food intake and an uncontained flow of bodily fluids. […] Exploring the unspeakable within the normalised>>51

<<Today, censorship is often exercised in sophisticated and clandestine ways: passed off as part of the democratic process, and offered as something that is beneficial for the public domain. This process engenders self-censorship>>52

<<Švankmajer also made a number of short, black-and-white live action films, many of which can be read as political allegories on the communist state in Czechoslovakia […] The Garden (1968), one of his most scathing political critiques […]all under a semblance of normality – but a disquieting narrative emerges between the lines. Though it is never spelled out, Joseph represents the archetypal drab Party official, while Frank is his naive victim, who at the end of the film willingly takes his place in the human fence. The film functions as a metaphor for subtle coercion, psychological pressure, the loss of any will to express oneself freely, and voluntary servitude. A subtle political critique, The Garden uncovers the mechanisms of social engineering and the politics of oppression, both of which are related to the political traumas of Czechoslovakia under communism.>>53

<<there has been an undoubted clampdown on private freedoms the world over. Kampfner argues that a modern form of authoritarianism “quite distinct from Soviet Communism, Maoism or Fascism is being born. It is providing a modicum of a good life, and a quiet life, the ultimate anaesthetic for the brain”. We are all implicated in this, and the contemporary disillusionment with politics does not alleviate the situation.>>54

<<In the face of the totalitarian vocation to profit, power, corruption, and populism, freedom of expression is, invariably, inseparable from civil disobedience, individual and collective emancipation, and from the project of replacing a market society with a human one. To forbid an opinion or impose a diktat, be it religious or secular, puritan or hedonist, progressive or conservative, is to treat citizens as idiots, blind followers of herd prejudice who are incapable of thinking on their own.>>55

<< Free speech is a prerequisite for legitimate government: without it, democratic participatory politics, open resistance and protest against injustice or oppression is impossible; and without freedom of debate, elections are meaningless. Without freedom of expression, education, art, science, and any form of intellectual enquiry cannot be properly pursued; imagination is stifled, and knowledge barred. Being brought into contact with diverse thoughts, ideas and information can only be done when these are made public. The development of one’s thoughts and ideas is always fed and nurtured by a public, collective dialogue.>>56

<<the relationship between history, politics, current affairs, the public sphere and collective memory. […] Kilpper’s lo-fi and highly tactile structure […] It is at once an area of refuge, hospitality and social interaction, but also a discursive space with a distinct function and artistic content. […] Any visitor wishing to engage in a free speech act can also use Speakers’ Corner, with the aid of an outsized megaphone made of scrap car metal. […] As such it can be seen as a social sculpture, a political space, and a platform for the exercise of free speech, whether planned or improvised. The work reflects the diversity of emancipatory thinking and revolutionary free speech, but also the increasingly problematic abuse of speech in the name of freedom and democracy.>>57

<<Free speech is “governed by a constellation of formal and informal rules […] in the public domain, we speak not only as individuals but also as members of a larger social and moral collective which we all bear the responsibility of maintaining.”>>58

<<The question of freedom of expression in general is also important. It relates not only to artistic and literary creation, but also to the way in which we inhabit and occupy public space>>59

<<Plato presupposes a pre-established unity in society, i.e. a society without dissent or digressive opinions and belief systems. […] Foucault developed the concept of parrhesia as a type of discourse in which a speaker speaks openly and sincerely without the use of manipulation or rhetoric. […] Mill believed that even if there were one abominable dissident opinion within a society, it would be imperative for that opinion to be heard because society might somehow benefit from it.>>60

<< No one person is free when others are not since freedom is achieved as a consequence of a certain social and political organisation of life.>>61

“Think for yourselves and left others enjoy the privilege to do so, too”


1 Speech Matters p. 9. E. Barendt, Freedom of Speech, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007, p. 21.
2 SM p. 19. K. Gregos, Freedom between the lines.
3 SM p. 9. K. Gregos, Is there something rotten…?
4 Ibidem.
5 SM p. 10. H. Haacke, in “Revisiting Free Exchange: The Art World After the Culture Wars; Hans Haacke in conversation with Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva”, in Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression, edited by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva, The New Press, New York/London, 2006, p. 55.
6 SM p. 12. K. Gregos, Free speech in context.
7 SM p. 19. K. Gregos, Freedom between the lines.
8 SM p. 52. Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri.
9 SM p. 15. K. Gregos, The limits of freedom.
10 SM p. 118. C. Hitchens, Free Speech.
11 Ibidem.
12 SM p. 66. Han Hoogerbrugge.
13 SM p. 116. C. Hitchens, Free Speech.
14 SM p. 88. Johannes af Tavsheden.
15 SM p. 47. A. Negri in An Interview with Antonio Negri, by Katerina Gregos.
16 SM p. 119. C. Hitchens, Free Speech.
17 SM p. 10. K. Gregos, The harm principle.
18 Ivi, p. 11.
19 SM p. 54. Robert Crumb.
20 SM p. 11. S. Mintcheva, “When Words and Images Cause Pain: The Price of Free Speech”, in Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression, edited by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva, The New Press, New York/London, 2006, p. 252.
21 SM p. 26. K. Gregos, Conclusion. Cit. S. Mintcheva, op. cit.  p. 255.
22 SM p. 36. R. Vaneigem, Freedom of expression and the rights of human beings.
23 SM p. 76. Tala Madani.
24 SM p. 82. Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen.
25 SM p. 36. R. Vaneigem, Freedom of expression and the rights of human beings.
26 SM p. 19. K. Gregos, Am I right?. Cit. E. Barendt, op. cit. p. 248.
27 SM  p. 18. K. Gregos, Ownership and regulation of information.
28 SM p. 50. Agency.
29 SM p. 8. K. Gregos, Introduction.
30 SM p. 50. Agency.
31 SM p. 10. K. Gregos, The harm principle.
32 Editor’s Note.
33 SM p. 50. Agency.
34 SM p. 15. K. Gregos, The limits of freedom.
35 SM p. 18. K. Gregos, Ownership and regulation of information.
36 Ivi, p. 17.
37 SM p. 84. Taryn Simon.
38 SM p. 17. J. Kampfner, “Wikileaks shows up our media for their docility at the feet of authority”, The Independent, 29 Nov 2010.
39 SM p. 7. K. Gregos, Introduction.
40 SM p. 18. K. Gregos, Ownership and regulation of information. “Throughout the country are an estimated five million CCTV cameras; that’s one for every 12 citizens. [The UK has] more than 20 per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras,which, considering that Britain occupies a tiny 0.2 per cent of the world’s inhabitable land mass, is quite an achievement. The average Londoner going about his or her business, may be monitored by 300 CCTV cameras a day.” O’ Neill, Brendan, “Watching you watching me”, New Statesman, 2 Oct 2006.
41 SM p. 27. R. A. Smolla, Free Speech in an Open Society, Vintage Books/Random House, New York, 1993, p. 13.
42 SM p. 33. R. Vaneigem, Freedom of expression and the rights of human beings.
43 SM p. 64. Sharon Hayes.
44 SM p. 16. H. Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance”, 1965, in Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, jr., and Herbert Marcuse, A Critique of Pure Tolerance, Beacon Press, Boston, 1969, p. 95.
45 SM p. 37. R. Vaneigem, Freedom of expression and the rights of human beings.
46 SM p. 17. J. Kampfner, “Wikileaks shows up our media for their docility at the feet of authority”, The Independent, 29 Nov 2010.
47 SM p. 92. Zhang Dali.
48 SM p. 14. G. Orwell, The Freedom of the Press.
49 SM p. 13. K. Gregos, Free speech in context.
50 SM p. 16. K. Gregos, Self-censorship and tolerance.
51 SM p. 68. Mikhail Karikis.
52 SM p. 17. K. Gregos, Self-censorship and tolerance.
53 SM p. 86. Jan Švankmajer.
54 SM p. 18. K. Gregos, Ownership and regulation of information. Cit. J. Kampfner, Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost our Liberty, Simon & Schuster, London, 2010, p. 38.
55 SM p. 37. R. Vaneigem, Freedom of expression and the rights of human beings.
56 SM p. 27. K. Gregos, Coclusion.
57 SM p. 70. Thomas Kilpper
58 SM p. 12. M. Valenta, “Why Geert Wilders is not Lu Xiabo”, Open Democracy, 5 Nov 2010.
59 SM p. 9. K. Gregos, Is there something rotten…?
60 SM p. 14. K. Gregos, Free speech in context.
61 SM p. 11. J. Butler, “The Sensibility of Critique: Response to Asad and Mahmood”, in Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury and Free Speech, The Townsend Papers in the Humanities No. 2, University of California, Berkeley, 2009, pp. 128-9