St Paul St Gallery One
17 April 2012 – 11 May 2012
Curated by: Charlotte Huddleston, Melissa Laing and Vera Mey
Design Team: Sue Gallagher, Tana Mitchell, Kim Paton, onne terre and Elvon Young

Assembly was a two-part project instigated by ST PAUL St. The first stage involves the design and creation of an environment that supports the activity of fearless speech within the physical space of ST PAUL St Gallery One. This is being developed by a mixed discipline group of artists, designers and architects: Sue Gallagher, Tana Mitchell, Kim Paton, onne terre and Elvon Young.

The second stage of Assembly was the activation of the kaupapa through activities held within and supported by the space. As part of the kaupapa of Assembly to support speaking on a variety of topics, ST PAUL St extended invitations to groups, collectives and individuals to use the space of Assembly to participate in the exploration of fearless speech to address specific issues of interest to them.

Over three weeks we hosted 17 scheduled events and a number of impromptu meetings, discussions and rearrangements of the space:

Friday 20 April, Midday: Designing Assembly Talk
Tuesday 24 April, Midday: Considering the university gallery, a round table discussion
Thursday 26 April, midday: C.C.C.P. Comrades Collecting for Capitalist Pariahs. (offsite) anartcollective
Saturday 28 April, Midday: Alternate strategies in thinking the university, Talk
Tue – Wed, 1-2 May: SPEAKEASY, Gallery One and surrounds.
Tuesday 1 May, 4 pm: Tertiary Institutes Allied Staff Association May Day function
Thursday 3 May, all day: Moving Image Master Class Screening
Friday 4 May, 12 – 2 pm: Tonight, Simon, I’m going to be a bigot, anartcollective
Friday 4 May, 3pm: Native Resistance
Saturday 5 May, 2 pm: The Evolution of Fearlessness: A public forum on the cost of speaking out
Tuesday, 8 May, all day: Spatial intervention by the Postgraduate Product students
Wednesday, 9 May, 4 pm: Inside-Out and Outside-In: Open discussion on freedom, privilege and responsibilities.
Thursday, 10 May, 9 am: Creative New Zealand regional office meeting (closed to the public)
Thursday, 10 May, all day: S 36° 44’ 18” E 174° 36’ 24”
Thursday, 10 May, midday: Women on Campus Hour, Can Girls Do Everything?
Friday, 11 May, 10 am: Elam Student drumming circle
Friday, 11 May, midday: 3Phase, Sonic Intervention
Friday 11 May, 6 pm: Sustain/Create 2012

Framing Text

Occurring within the gallery and university, Assembly will be a conceptual proposition, expressed through architectural structure/s, intimate and public events, happenings, performances, discussions, screenings, pamphlets and the internet that are responsive to these questions of speech and the kaupapa they represent.

In presenting Assembly ST PAUL St Gallery is embracing one of the primary instructions for universities in the New Zealand Education Act, that they “accept a role as critic and conscience of society.” It is also interrogating the longstanding proposition that the arts have a particular capacity to speak critically about society.

In extending an invitation for participation, we hold in our minds the knowledge that institutions and structures designed to enable the free speech of some, exclude the participation of others. In response, we try to consider how we might enable discussion and foster a sense of empowerment by creating a place from which to speak and act. This consideration is informed by the fact that the institutions from which we speak – the gallery and the university – are often perceived as elitist institutional power structures and places of privilege.

Cultural conceptions of speaking fearlessly and the moral, ethical or spiritual positions from which this speech derives its conviction have changed and adapted as the idea of multiple voices and knowledges have developed. Assembly acknowledges that there are different communication methods and styles.

Above all, we want to facilitate the interrogation of these ideas freely, fearlessly, respectfully and responsibly. We are against racist, sexist, discriminatory and/or derogatory positions. We intend to celebrate the achievements of society as well as identifying the issues.

The approach of Assembly is earnest, perhaps idealistic, but we are seeking to step away from the shield of irony and reclaim the sincere as a position.

Discussion document:

“who has the right, the duty, and the courage to speak the truth?”

Michel Foucault, in his series of six lectures entitled ʻDiscourse and Truthʼ given at the University of California at Berkeley in the Fall Term of 1983, set out to deal with the “problem of the truth-teller or of truth-telling as an activity.” He framed this through a historical analysis of the concept of parrhesia in ancient Grecian politics, theatre and philosophy.

Foucault translated parrhesia both as its common English equivalent – free speech, and its etymological root – to say everything. However, Foucault specifies that parrhesia is not simply the right to speak, but a particular quality of speaking, in which the individual speaks in spite of the risk to self and with a sincerity that is evident to the listener.

He linked it to the essential right of the citizen to speak critically and take a stand towards the city, the laws, political institutions, and so on. He also emphasised the philosophical enquiry after certain truths about the world, nature, the city, behaviour and man. Finally, he argued that the exploration of an “ethics and aesthetics of the self” involved the joining of practice and theory, in effect asking how an individual lives the values and ideas they espouse.

Through the seminar series Foucault posed a series of questions including: who is able to speak freely and fearlessly? About what topics is it important to speak? From what moral, ethical or spiritual position does one speak? What are the consequences of speaking frankly? How does this relate to the exercise of power?

Reference: Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson, six lectures entitled ʻDiscourse and Truthʼ given at the University of California at Berkeley in the Fall Term of 1983 (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2001).

Photos courtesy St Paul St Gallery