by Miriam La Rosa 

Consumer freedom and appearance of freedom
Miriam La Rosa: Another interesting aspect linked to the concept of freedom, and something recurrent in your research and practice, is the issue of consumer freedom/consumer choice. This is often resolved in an appearance of freedom rather than in a concrete possibility of exercising it – here I am thinking of both the market and the erosion of political rights. Is this something you are also interested in exploring, in this chapter of LIMITACTION? How?

Charlotte Warne Thomas:The issues around consumer freedom and the appearance of freedom are something I really noticed when I lived in Russia a few years ago. It really shocked me and I think it planted the seed of noticing it here as well. I realised that people all complained: ‘Oh, when there was communism it was so monotonous, everything was so grey and the clothes were shit and the food was really boring. You could not listen to rock records, you could not play guitar. You could only watch Soviet TV. We had no freedom’. Then, things changed and the iron curtain came down, people had no immunity and no cynicism to advertising, marketing and stuff like that. Immediately, instead of real freedom, which they did not get at all, they got McDonalds and fashionable clothes, i.e. consumer capitalism, and they absolutely love it. Because they have got what looks like freedom. Yes, they have got freedom to travel internationally now, and certainly more rights than during Soviet times, but it is not democracy – it is not real freedom. I am sure the members of Pussy Riot would agree. This is something I really noticed there and I think in many ways it is the same thing here.
The 1950’s and 1960’s in Europe and America saw a huge cultural revolution, where the strict expectations and social pressures to conform of the past were overcome. For example, divorce became much more common, abortion and women rights gained importance, the right to stand up to politicians and say no to the Vietnam War, to march and have long hair; all these anti-establishment kind of things. I think that amongst the “establishment” – politicians, the BBC – white middle class men – there was a genuine fear that the youths were going to become uncontrollable and take over. Fear of anarchy and fear of revolution. However, what actually happened is that the genuine passion fuelling those big and genuine revolutions, got co-opted and became, you know, hippie clothes and incense; by the 1980s it became a lifestyle choice rather than a genuine political endeavour. For example, in this country real and genuine freedom has been eroded even recently with new terror laws. For centuries, you know, you could not be detained, arrested or put in prison for more than 24 hours without charge, but now you can. I think now it is 31 days. Even a couple of years ago, it was up to a year or something if there was a suspected terrorism charge. Then, you get something like Guantanamo Bay where America has quite high standards of legal, you know, you cannot legally detain people without charging them, but they do in Guantanamo Bay. So people in Guantanamo Bay have been there, charged with no crime, but they have been there for 10 years and they are not guilty, they are not innocent, they are just there. Western governments are eating away at the edges of our freedom with the passport of ‘don’t worry, we are the government, we are taking care of your freedom, by making it safer because we arrest terrorists’. The Edward Snowden revelations really showed it. Plus they really are taking liberty on the Internet with your personal information. If you ever send intimate pictures, it is guaranteed that the government would have looked at them. So it is like an erosion of freedom, I think. It is obviously a very complicated situation; the appearance of freedom has come to stand for something, or the appearance of freedom is not the same as actual freedom. To the actual question, I would say that these concerns are kind of key to what I do but, again, I’d be very hesitant to say that this is what the installation is about. When I make work, I have an idea of what it is going to look like and usually it does that, but often it does other things as well.

FREEDOM > Miriam La Rosa > 29.04.2015