Personal motives for the creation of Soapbox Event

When the real estate prices went down after 9/11, many artists, including myself, hoped New York City might actually become a better place as a result of the disaster. I thought maybe this could become a city where people again focused on quality of life and social ties, rather than money and social cache. Turns out, the slump in prices was only a financial happy hour. Economic fears continued to gain territory and – as Mayor Bloomberg made it clear to us – this was a city where only rich should live. A new disaster hit Manhattan’s Financial District this last September (2008). It still remains to be seen what all this means in a grander scale and if any changes I was hoping for actually will take place.

After 9/11 not only New York City, but also the nation changed. President Bush effectively stumped the long history of US freedom of speech by instating Patriot Act and public media practiced vigilant self-censorship ever since – at least up until the fall of 2008. I am still waiting for this self-aggrandizing mass psychosis; the uncritical belief in the omnipotence and goodness of the American people, troops, and government, to dissolve and have it replaced with sober self-reflection. Obama’s administration is faltering in its pursuit of justice and initiating a truth and reconciliation process into US sanctioned practice of torture. “Popular opinion” – this fake orgasm of democratic process – is believed to want the sacrifice of human rights and democracy for the sake of something I am struggling to understand. It looks like simply revenge, a wish to see the drawing of blood of ‘them’. Indeed, a way to manipulate and gratify “popular opinion” is to spectacularize suffering – no matter who is suffering.

As a direct reaction to the discrepancy between the Patriot Act and the Bush administration's stated desire to 'bring freedom and democracy to oppressed peoples’ - a statement used to justify the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq - I wanted to create a performance that would investigate or - even more - make us feel what democracy and freedom of speech are as a practice. I have learned from US history that democracy is only realized in and as a practice, and by a constant monitoring of this process. Democracy does not happen automatically. It is an ideal we strive to achieve. Citizens need to keep themselves critically challenged in order to further this ideal. In his campaign Obama successfully activated this idea, inspired voters to again believe in democracy, and was elected. And now voters go back to sleep?

With fluent and fast communication tools available in a virtual world, are we contending too easily with this - almost automated - flow of data without any conception of how it is actually impacting the world? You may freely write your opinions and post them online, but what are the chances that someone will read them? Is freedom of speech effectively taking place, if nobody is hearing your voice? When communicating online, we are physically separated from the bodies we are communicating with. What does it mean to no longer have physical interaction while discussing? When, for whatever circumstance, do we need to go out to the streets with our actual bodies to effect change? And how does an online blog such as this one help further this process? What needs to happen in both these worlds for democracy to become a fact?

I still have not seen the effects of societal change without seeing actual bodies participating in the process in ways other than words. How can we make effective use of the available tools today to bring about participation and change - no matter where our bodies are?
Soapbox Event is a performance where I have pared down the structure of the exercise of democracy to the most elemental form of free speech: human bodies, human voices, and space. I am interested in looking at how we humans create or break down structures to make them work for us, or inversely, how structures force us to conform and change our expressions and experiences of each our lives. I am doing this in order for us to examine what happens between individuals as we try to impose our own lives and experiences onto others' lives. In a sense, Soapbox Event starts with the diametrically opposed situation compared to democracy: a group of individuals holding on to their personal wills before collectively reaching a democratic compromise. I hope for us to witness how social connection and human grace might emerge from this very physical exercise.

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Pia Lindman