Salt Lake City, UT
Confronting the state of contemporary politics, Jennet Thomas’s The Unspeakable Freedom Device offers a satirical interpretation of electioneering, voting systems, and cultural extremes in British society. Thomas’s film and multimedia installation follows the journey of two women through a sci-fi dystopian world as they search for Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, where the infamous former prime minister—Margaret Thatcher—delivered her most memorable speeches.
In Thomas’s neo-medieval futuristic world, voting is banned and citizens are persuaded to follow the “Blu Lady” through the “Unspeakable Freedom Device”—a technology that “feeds” people a sense of contentment. Using a color-coded visual narrative of red, green, and blue, Thomas evokes the language of computer technology while simultaneously pointing to the political symbolism of each color. Through RGB animations and a humorous caricature of Thatcher, Thomas allegorizes how images of authority figures in mass media become after-burns on the collective memory of a culture. As Thomas’s characters become entangled in a cargo-cult of the Iron Lady, audiences are able to experience the humorous consequences of a new political paradigm in which surveillance spaceships and party campaigners reveal sordid truths about governmental trickery.
Coincidently, Thomas’s work became politicized when Blackpool’s city councillors postponed the film’s release at the Grundy Art Gallery in 2014. Due to a “purdah“ regulation— meaning a rule that would veil the public during Britain’s general election—the officials censored the work until May 2015, after the election, for fear that Thomas’s film would influence voters.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether you go or not, Thomas' book by the same title, Jennet Thomas: The Unspeakable Freedom Device, presents a world in which all signs have collapsed and meaning has imploded, two impoverished pilgrims stumble through a broken landscape in which profound disorientation leaves them unsure of which route to choose: red, blue or green? Using color and design to great effect, Thomas follows the movement of her characters as they navigate a new environment at once sinister and psychedelic, savage and ritualistic.