7 Jan 2011

Breaking with Convention

The sense - producing human machine works on the basis of a very simple law:

We cannot see all the phenomena we can think of,
and we cannot think about certain images we can see.

The power of the sense, which cannot be reproduced in words or images,
belongs to the world of human feelings, as inner side of every image or word.

The sense we live in - the sense behind the one we believe in - is a vehicle which can be used for our journey or abused for the journey of someone else.

23 September 1993
Dear Mr Evans,

I am writing with reference to the reproduction of one of the
photographs from your recent exhibition published in the Sunday
Times Magazine of 29 August 1993.

The British Red Cross has a special responsibility for monitoring
unauthorised use or misuse of the red cross emblem and of designs
closely resembling the red cross emblem within the United
Kingdom. This is part of the price we pay for the privilege to
use the red cross emblem in our work.

I realise that the photograph in question does not replicate
exactly the red cross emblem. However, the red cross used might
be said to fall within the statutory provision prohibiting use
of designs closely resembling the red cross emblem without prior
authorisation from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
(Section 6(2)(b) of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 - copy
attached). Perhaps more importantly, you will understand that
the image is rather stark, with disturbing connotations, running
counter to the meaning of the red cross emblem and the
humanitarian objects of the International Red Cross.

As you may be aware, the red cross emblem is the internationally
agreed symbol of protection during armed conflicts. It is used
to safeguard the wounded and sick and those who seek to help them
in a totally neutral and impartial way. If the red cross is
used for other purposes, no matter how insignificant or
beneficial they may seem, its special significance will be
diminished and potentially lives may be lost.

I also enclose a leaflet which may help to explain more clearly
the restrictions on use of the red cross design. Similar
restrictions apply in most other countries.

Whilst respecting fully your freedom of expression as an artist,
I feel obliged to bring the special significance of the red cross
and the legal restrictions on its use to your notice and ask for
your understanding and co-operation.

I should be most grateful if you would kindly take the above
comments into account when producing future material.
Thank you in advance for your consideration and support.

The 'enclosed leaflets'

 The above warning was received when I was promoting my first, and last, commissioned exhibition 'dis'. I was astounded to find I had unwittingly broken the Geneva Convention. dis was a collaborative project that investigated the 'power of information'- a subject popularised by the introduction of Wikileaks. The image at the center of the controversy explored the appropriation of symbols and how sentiment or meaning could be changed or perverted. To the right a Lucky Strike cigarette packet is cut to reveal the word 'lust'. Lucky Strike claimed to change their branding from green to red during WW2 to save on copper used in the printing process. This was convenient propaganda; in reality the green graphic didn't appeal to female smokers. To the left is the image of a man broken into the shape of the Sanskrit symbol for good luck- the svastika. The svastika has had it's meaning irreparably changed by association with fascism. The positive '+' symbol that the body hangs on is corrupted by the negative connotations of the swastika. The '+' is on a black background though, not white and is also proportionately slimmer than the Red Cross logo. This incident clearly illustrates the value and sensitivity of information.

 The Glasgow Pavilion's Christmas pantomime production of Robin Hood has now fallen foul of the Red Cross rule. The character of a nurse wearing a uniform with a red cross has too broken the Geneva Convention. This has turned a pantomime into a farce. I thought that the choice of Jim Davidson as lead actor was enough to break any conventions of taste.

A friend slipped this pamphlet into my hands when I told him of the Red Cross's attempt to expurgate the project.