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On 16th April 2018 I set out to paste up a six metre by three metre painting on a billboard in the heart of Digbeth, Birmingham, UK. News events at the time have sparked controversy, and I’ve been working on a scaled up version of an exhibition piece from the same time last year with the Distorted Minds Crew featuring a suicide dove. It seemed like the perfect storm to get this piece up.

“You can’t lambaste a sovereign country as despotic whilst in every way acting like a tyrant yourself.”

There are a number of factors that have brought me to this point, but ultimately it boils down to a complete breakdown in trust with our government. Or moreover, the realisation that clichés about bringing liberal democracy to the world and the abject failure of our foreign policy over the decades, are actually just a pretext for us as one of the largest arms manufacturers, to sell weapons to despotic regimes, to steal resources, to destabilise countries we consider a threat, and to posture on the world stage as though there were any semblance of the British Empire left.

Void One - Death From A Dove Billboard 2018

At the time of writing this we find ourselves caught in what appears to be a proxy war with Russia, railing against the use of chemical weapons with no clear evidence, compounded by the fact that we sold Assad the precursor chemicals he’s alleged to have used to produce sarin back in 2012. The OPCW completed a survey of the site we bombed in 2017 and declared it safe. Do we know something they don’t? Why wasn’t that shared and left to an independent body that was awarded the Nobel peace prize for their work in eradicating chemical weapons? Footage of the aftermath of our strikes clearly show there were no chemicals on site, else where are the hazmat suits? The breathing apparatus? I want any military action to follow clear evidence, not hyperbole and hearsay, else it sets a very dangerous precedent for the future. Have we learned nothing from Iraq?

Void One - Death From A Dove Billboard 2018

There’s been a complete disregard for international law and the convention that military action should follow a debate in parliament. Why were these air strikes conveniently pushed through whilst MP’s were on a break? Because ‘outsourcing’ decisions to a democratically elected body is no longer good enough, or worse, considered a hindrance? You can’t lambaste a sovereign country as despotic whilst in every way acting like a tyrant yourself.

Void One - Death From A Dove Billboard 2018

That Britain ought to stand against international war crimes is justified, but only when applied universally. Why is it acceptable to attack Syria under some pretence of moral duty, when in the same week journalists and civilians are being shot by snipers in the West Bank with not a word of condemnation from our government? When we sell billions in arms to Saudi Arabia whilst it’s widely known those weapons have been used for atrocities in Yemen? This government has blood on it’s hands and must be held accountable! When Theressa May’s husband stands to directly benefit from these strikes as a shareholder in Lockheed Martin, one of the worlds largest arms manufacturers, we should be very fucking alarmed!

Theressa May has no parliamentary majority, and is now sabre rattling in an attempt to cover up her shambolic record on everything from health, crime, social care, welfare, Grenfell, Windrush, the list is endless. May’s dismissal of criticism as a desperate humanitarian effort flies in the face of fantasy. You have to build peace, and you can’t do that with explosives, especially if it’s because you just want to be seen to do something. When our foreign secretary admits that “air strikes will not turn the tide of the conflict”, what’s the point? Its funny we always have money for war, [6 million for 8 missiles!] but nurses have to use food banks and disabled people are killing themselves under the weight of being erroneously deemed fit to work.

Void One - Death From A Dove Billboard 2018
There’s something deeply disturbing going on in this country and it frustrates me to the point I feel I need to speak out. My work “Death From A Dove” satirises the oxymoron fighting for peace. It portrays the reality of a world where the concept of peace has been rendered a hollow platitude served up to justify war. The last green leaf has fallen from the laurels, withered in the mouth of a suicide dove pulling the pin on a grenade. It’s presented in prime sight as a crime site, because that’s how I feel about what’s happening. It all seems so brazen! For me, it captures the hypocrisy and sense of hopelessness that pervades the current political climate.

I’m by no means done with this concept…

Void One_

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I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write this piece up to be part of my portfolio. It’s hard to produce political stuff like this as I worry it can come across as cliche. However, on a cold November evening, the seeds of dissent were sewn in my mind and Operation Peace Take was conceived.

I love how my ideas manifest themselves. Small snippets of information about the remembrance commemorations had been steadily seeping into my subconscious, but it was actually a football story that got the proverbial ball rolling. Some footballer was being castigated about not wanting to wear a red poppy because he was Irish and felt that to commemorate what he saw as an occupying force was wrong. This news story resonated with me and made me remember that the red poppy wasn’t solely about the great war, that there existed a white poppy which represented an opposition to war and a commitment to peace as a core cultural value.

The red poppy is traditionally seen as an emblem of Remembrance Day, their red colour symbolising blood spilled in the first world war. Yet, in the years that have followed, it has come to symbolise a broader remembrance of all armed forces personnel who have laid down their lives in service to their country. By excluding the non-military victims of war from remembrance, the red poppy upholds a moral hierarchy of worthy and unworthy victims. The heroic soldier who is worthy of respect, official commemoration and national pride, and the unworthy, unnamed civilian killed or maimed by the heroic soldier who remains faceless, unacknowledged and unremembered.

The red poppy is intimately tied up with a series of myths about heroic sacrifice and necessary violence perpetuated by a monopolized media led sensationalism that fuels a naive and ignorant patriotism. The truth is that war is vicious , bloody, inglorious, and that the soldiers we remember are there to kill and maim fellow human beings. The truth is that many of our wars are nothing to do with freedom, liberty, or democracy. They are often illegal, and predatory in their conquest of resources, lobbied by corporations with a vested interest in the perpetuation of a continual state of war for profit. The images of politicians, and the royal family laying wreaths at the cenotaph to commemorate the slaughter of millions of people, used as fodder to maintain the class privileges which they enjoy, is truly an act of shameful hypocrisy!

People from all over the world had been travelling to London to see the tower poppies exhibition, where ceramic poppies were used to fill the moat of the tower of London to represent our glorious dead from the ‘great’ war. So, with all this simmering away in my mind, I decided to plant a few huge white poppies at this now world famous tourist attraction. I was cautious about how I was going to tackle this because it was imperative I didn’t portray myself as disrespectful. This protest was out of a greater respect for all victims of conflict, whilst denouncing the current climate of militaristic values that celebrate a history that ought to be a source of shame.

This wouldn’t be easy, however, as the exhibition was about to be taken down and I had literally no money. If I wanted to get on this idea, I had 24 hours to do it! I needed some cash, a lift, or both. I decided to put out a post on Facebook asking for people to buy some of my left over prints from City Of Colours. I didn’t want people to give charity. I was overwhelmed by how many people came forward to donate! I had been incredibly vague in the post about what I was going to do. It simply read:

“ALERT: I NEED YOUR HELP! I have an art terror installation i’d like to throw down tomorrow in London. This promises to be the most poignant piece i’ve ever done. I have all the materials ready to go but no funds to get there! I need either a lift to the big smoke or to raise £40 by tomorrow as it’s a proper last minute dash to get this done. I’m not asking you to give me the money. I have prints, canvas’, CD’s & vinyl for sale via the links below.”

I achieved the £40 mark, then called it a day, though I was still being offered more money for the next 24 hours! I can’t thank people enough for supporting this project blindly. I have some incredibly trusting friends, else they just wanted to see me get arrested! With the cash in my account, I began making 2 giant white poppies out of cardboard. [I rightly decided against the initial white paint bombs idea] They were an exact copy of the red poppy only about 3ft and 5ft in height! I’d managed to find someone to take some photographs and booked my tickets. It was now very early in the morning, but Operation Peace Take was a go!

I ‘d been awake all night trying to make the poppies, but they weren’t finished. I decided nothing was going to prevent me from doing this now I’d come this far, so I took the poppies in bits and planned to put them together once I arrived. I needed to find a paint shop, the poppies needed another coat of white and I had decided to splatter the poppies with red paint and a red hand print that I felt represented blood on the hands of those responsible for sending generations to their slaughter. Once I’d dealt with the mission for paint, I dutifully headed toward the tower of London.

I love that feeling just before I’m about to cause some trouble. A heightened state of awareness, high on adrenaline. I had to wait for my photographer to arrive, so I cased the security and possible locations for me to place the poppies. It was going to be a doddle! It makes me laugh to think no one saw me coming a mile off, I was being so blatant. I finished painting my poppies right in front of the tower with spray paint flying everywhere, there was every chance I would get caught red handed!

Void One - Red Handed

The photographer arrived, it was showtime. I’d chosen to get my white poppies as far into the metaphorical river of blood as possible because they would be impossible to remove. The plan was for my photographer to follow me to view my locations, then for us to split up. I would go in first, they would then follow shortly afterwards to take the images, hidden amongst the countless other people taking tourist snaps. I wasn’t bothered about getting arrested, as it would mean a much bigger story. I would try to avoid it, but I didn’t want to get my photographer in trouble. They decided to remain anonymous.

Sadly, the largest of the poppies broke up and was removed almost immediately, but one of them was right in the fray. A perfect location! It would have been nicer if the red hand could have been made out, or that the poppy was a little more clear to see. Perhaps there should have been more of them, yet the sight of the lone poppy almost made it more significant as a beacon of hope among a brutal reminder of our imperial past. In the weeks that followed, I was inundated with theories about how I had broken in, or whether I had used a drone. The truth is, I’m not going to tell you. It’s much more fun that way! I love a bit of intrigue. If someone guesses correctly, I promise I will admit as much! It’s hilarious, because no one really noticed me do it, bar one disgruntled citizen that chastised me as ‘silly’. The deed was done, and it was time for a celebratory pint before the journey home.

Void One - Operation Peace Take 5

The photographs had turned out perfectly. They were later sent out to literally hundreds of journalists, blogs, news broadcasters and newspapers. Sadly, the only people who ran with the story, or even replied, were more obvious institutions like The White Poppies For Peace Organisation and The Stop The War Coalition, even though I pretended at times to be an offended member of the public, morally outraged at the heinous disrespect shown to our troops.

I think it’s time for an honest debate about the morality of our wars and their justification, our role in the world, and time for transparency and accountability by governments for their actions. I found it disgusting that less than a week after the poppies were removed, a private dinner was held at the tower of London for all the major players in the British arms trade. It’s astonishingly crass and I’m ashamed of my country and our role as a major arms dealer. I’m a little disappointed that the story didn’t cause more of a stink, but in retrospect, I guess it was naive to think that anyone would run it. Nevertheless, I hadn’t done anything this subversive for a while and I was proud to have done something I had real conviction in. I have many more excursions planned for the summer.

Void One_