Context is Everything

Hopes + Dreams exhibition


The Letter Exchange exhibition Hopes + Dreams – statements of intent explored  opened in July 2015 at the Lettering Arts Centre in Snape, Suffolk. The brief was to: “take as  source material your own or other people’s manifestos – artistic, political, religious – and to bring these to life, to show them in a new light, to inform or even amuse new audiences.”


As usual when tackling a project like this, at the outset I really had no idea what form the finished thing would take. I started researching manifestos by looking through some of the best known ones. What struck me was how similar some of the language was regardless of political, religious, or artistic leaning they were written from. I suppose manifestos are essentially utopian, the writers are setting out their vision of a better world so their words will, to a certain extent, sound the same.


I began to wonder what would happen if you took extracts out of context, could you collate them into a patchwork, cut-and-paste manifesto. At the back of my mind was the realisation that many of humanity’s most intractable disputes have come from people using small sections of longer texts to justify their own position.


This distilled down to two clear thoughts that are the basis this piece. Firstly, we all have our favourite aphorisms that we collect throughout our lives building them into a sort of personal manifesto to help us articulate our view of the world. Secondly, if you appropriate a short phrase from any source and take it out of context, you can manipulate its apparent meaning; the extremist can sound reasonable, the moderate can sound authoritarian, the imaginative can sound downright dangerous!


It’s that idea of a collection of personal aphorisms that led me to use fridge magnets for the work. They are cheap to acquire, easy to dispose of, their transient nature at odds with the power and permanence of the words they hold. A good example of how this can be taken to extremes is the recent crazy for all forms and variations of ‘Keep calm and carry on’. This is now so ubiquitous and bastardised that power and simplicity of its original purpose is lost. The posters were designed to be used in the event of a successful German invasion in World War II; they were printed and distributed to Post Offices who were to display them in the hope of reassuring the public.


This work is deliberately ambiguous. I hope it will make the viewer think about the power of the words and the consequences of using them casually, divorced from their original context.


I’ve used texts from the following sources, I’ll leave you to decide which is which: Anarchist Manifesto (1850); The Bible; BLAST (1914); The Communist Manifesto (1848);

The Dada Manifesto (1916); Das Kapital (1867); Dogme 95; First Things First (2000); The Futurist Manifesto (1909); The Havana Declaration (1962); A Humanist Manifesto (1933); Italian Fascist Manifesto (1919); International Occupy Assembly GlobalMay Manifesto (2012); Mein Kampf (1925); The Quran; Sayings of the Buddha; The Unabomber Manifesto (1995); United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948).









Buy the magnets