01 MAY '05
2 Billboard Images, 2.25m x 3.2m, 2005.
This work was made for the EuroPART - New Contemporary Art from Europe', rolling billboard project, Vienna. The commission was part of '25 Peaces', the Viennese cultural capital of Europe arts projects. Three artists from each EU country participated. Multiple copies of each artists' two images were placed on rolling billboard screens at various locations around the outskirts of Vienna. One copy of each of the 75 artists' billboard images is now held at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.
"On the first of May 2005, the "Unite/Mayday March and Rally" congregated in Trafalgar Square, London on the afternoon of May 1st 2005. The event was organised by British groups such as "Unite Against Fascism", "Love Music Hate Racism", with the "London MayDay Organising Committee". Speakers at the rally included Ken Livingstone and there were live performances by some pop acts. A huge range of London dwellers and some tourists attended.
Police presence at the rally was high but not overwhelming. The majority of the hundreds of police officers who had supervised the march through the city had retreated to nearby streets, where they waited until the rally was over.
In Trafalgar Square, there was a policeman dressed entirely in black holding a stills camera and concealed video camera. This "Forward Intelligence Team" officer, was accompanied by two uniformed policemen wearing high visibility jackets. I saw them standing on the north steps of the square and proceeded to film them in full view of them and the surrounding crowd. For the next half hour or so, I followed and filmed this group of three as they moved around the square. When I viewed my footage later that evening I realized that they had also been filming me.
I was asked to participate in EuroPART, a rolling billboards project in Vienna that sought to focus on the "political, historical and social changes in Europe, and the resulting constructions of space, be it geographical, mental, private or public". I decided to use images from the footage I filmed at Trafalgar Square
Before and after the July '05 Bombings on London's Public transport the British police were increasingly visible where groups of people congregated. Earlier in the year my partner and I had been photographed by the police while walking down a street in the east end of London. When asked, the police told us this was because they thought we had come from a clandestine meeting being held on the street. I later found out, that this was a meeting about taking direct action against British and American businesses monopolizing the Iraqi market. A few weeks after the first terrorist bombings that summer, conversations in the UK about police procedure took centre stage. Jean Charles de Menezes, mistaken by the Metropolitan Police's Anti-Terrorist Force as a suicide bomber, was shot dead. The Met. Police Chief warned that it was likely more innocent people would be killed as they had now adopted a "shoot to kill to protect" policy to stop more potential suicide bombers.
The curators of EuroPART had written about the artists' billboards as "conversation pieces" in public space. Would the Viennese public have conversations about images relevant to social spaces in another part of the EU? How could these supposed conversations be measured? Would billboard images visible to people driving past at speeds of upwards of 30 miles per hour provoke any conversations?
Two of the artists' images from the 150 printed were labelled as "pornographic" by the Austrian media (works by Carlos Aires and Tanja Ostoji). A political debate followed and the offending images were eventually taken down. The rest of the billboards stayed up for the allocated one month. They were positioned on rolling billboards all around the outskirts of the city along the highways.
A friend of mine took the black and white photographic documentation of all of the images in situ for the project's catalogue. This took her two days of travelling around by car in the freezing cold. The evening she pulled up to document my work '01 MAY '05' she noticed a police car was parked underneath the billboard's frame. As she approached them with her camera equipment the police asked her: "is there something we should know?" She explained what she was doing and why. The Austrian police got back into their car and drove off."
Michelle Deignan 2006