An Abstract Regarding Self-censorship and Victimhood in Art Practice

[Presented at the Decolonising Art Practice: Self-Censorship and Criticality key event at Chelsea College of Arts, 15th May 2017]

Self-censorship, or rather, criticality of your own linguistic behaviours, is not just a confidence killer inherited from my mother. It can operate as a means of critiquing the powers that speak through you (including my mother). Resistance to your internal instinctual logic is essential. We are tools of others, and the languages we inherit are not inherited in an entirely ego-survivalist manner. These languages are often not intended to benefit an evolution of knowledge but line the pockets of others. The means of externally manipulating our internal voices are perpetually consolidated by those who seek power. Think of the many ownership of language issues: Resistance to access to literacy by the church or state, translators of the bible burnt as heretics, native languages suppressed or overwritten, rising fees for education and the automation of Internet comment moderation.

Language defines our individuality. It genders our clothing and mannerisms, puts a value on our position in society, feeds us information on what is funny, clever, worth buying, how to eat, behave in public, behave in private, how to emotionally or sexually relate to others and even creates the categories that these are judged by. When we accept that this powerful human technology exerts a massive force on our behaviour we must ask ourselves how we can, sometimes, resist it.

Resistance is an important part of protest in collective thought. We are constantly bombarded in our day-to-day academic life by opportunities to discuss or enact resistance with others. These political acts vary in their intention or effectivity, and any criticism of these group behaviours must be dealt with case by case and at another time. But what remains important is the relationship you are able to deform with your internal voices, the ways in which you can mess with the monologue to act freely. Free expression is not as simple as a lack of inhibition and does not materialise at the removal of self-censorship. Self-censorship is an important tool of the individual and must be targeted with insight to allow a voice of dysmorphic difference to occur. In other words, we must always resist the urge to be free, as freedom is the progeny of the few and is always offered to us tethered and at a price.

The status of abused individuality is a method of resistance. This is different to the empowerment of the individual, where the marginalised cultivate alternate currencies. Alternate currencies are still methods of value, and will serve to enforce the competition of hierarchical power, the one you can’t win. By calling out our status of victimhood without a progressive solution, we can create lumps of resistance of ourselves that cannot be manipulated for gain.

Within your art practice, it is important to censor the self through criticality, to hinder the working process and prevent the easing of the journey for external languages of power. You will work slower, and you will produce less, but at least nothing you do will make any sense.


The Economist, Language and technology: Voicing concerns, 16th July 2012