Thanks to those people who participated in the discussion in response to Martin Goldsmith’s presentation on Sunday.

Martin has documented Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park over many years. His aim, he said, was to represent the variety of the people participating in these events – speakers and crowd members. In particular he is interested in representing dialogue and democratic forms of interaction. He uses an older type of camera where you stare down into the viewfinder and this seems to be less confrontational for his subjects. He feels like he is part of the crowd, not a detached observer although he admits that the photographs are the result of a series of edits, including the moment he chooses what/who to shoot.

Some people who came to Martin’s talk had personal experiences of Speakers’ Corner and were taken there as children.

The conversation ranged quite widely. Points covered included:

  • How Speakers’ Corner had changed over the years – discussions now seemed less serious, more a form of entertainment than serious political engagement.
  • The origins of Speakers’ Corner seem to be connected with gallows and public executions. Crowds used to gather at Tyburn as a form of entertainment and to listen to the condemned person’s final words.
  • Political positions were perhaps more polarised in the ’30s – now communities are atomised, people feel smaller in relation to the big issues. There is more freedom but paradoxically people feel less powerful. We used to do things collectively but now children are kept indoors and separate.
  • We live in a surveillance society but new technologies also offer new possibilities for information-exchange and political action – e.g. use of twitter in Iran.
  • Rights (free speech for example) are not just given – they need to be maintained. There needs to be a soap-box in every town.

Apologies for admissions: if you were add the discussion, please add the topics you remember. You are also welcome to comment if you weren’t at the discussion but are interested in the themes.

Thinking about Beuys, we could continue to discuss the relationship between art and politics and the nature of ‘genuine’ participation…

Posted by Ryan Coleman on Monday 6 July 2009