4 Tenets for Europe
25 years ago I made my first public artwork with Clear Channel for an experimental digital screen in London’s Leicester Square.
The screen was 4 stories high and the technology was so primitive a man had an office inside the screen to ensure the lights stayed on. The little room was sweltering hot and the noise was deafening from hundreds of fans cooling the early light-emitting panels.
This year, that anniversary coincided with my 60th birthday. Martin Corke, Clear Channel European Marketing Lead, suggested we mark these two milestones with a pan European public artwork for Clear Channel Europe.
Martin C. also suggested we work with the United Nations International Days. The UN describes these as ‘occasions to educate the general public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity’.
My new artwork, called ‘4 Tenets for Europe’, appears simultaneously in 11 European countries, in 9 languages, on the 15th September 2023, the UN International Day of Democracy.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a tenet as follows:
tenet /ˈtɛnɪt/ noun
a principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a philosophy. ‘The tenets of a democratic society,’ for example.
I started out by trying to think of one principle that is absolutely and completely true for me. Something that would not alter with the passing of time.
Some years back in a television interview, I was asked why my work wasn’t more concerned with beauty. I answered:
‘I suppose everything hinges on your definition of beauty. What could be more beautiful than trying to say something about the world being fairer, more just? I can’t think of anything more exquisitely wondrous – the immense and vast beauty of justice. I think that’s the ultimate. It’s better than all the colored paint in the world; for me anyway.’
So, the first tenet is Prize the Beauty of Justice Above All Else.
Justice is perhaps the one and only unerringly beautiful aspect of human experience. It is both the root and the fruit of democracy.
Tenet 2 is Look at Life Squarely and Forgive It for What It Is.
This is a paraphrasing of the great modernist novelist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). In her work, Virginia tried to capture the essence of life as something flowing and free-formed. Life is something to be seen for what it is without illusions, and forgiven for all its faults.
Tenet 3 is Disobey Any Cruel or Unjust Rule.
It’s my personal view that obedience is dangerous: people who are obedient can be easily led astray – by leaders who are dangerous to the world, for example. But disobedient people are difficult to marshal. In many ways, being an artist is about being deeply disobedient for a living. Disobedience – especially mass civil disobedience – can provide vital protections for any society subject to inept or wicked government and/or unethical law-making.
Tenet 4 is Be Kind to Trees.
Trees are how we breathe so it is in all our interests to look after them. This tenet echoes the final words of the great French satirical novel Candide: ‘Cela est bien dit,’ répondit Candide, ‘mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.’ (‘All that is very well,’ answered Candide, ‘but we must look after our garden.’)
‘4 Tenets for Europe’ demonstrates the power of Out of Home as a medium that can present engaging and timely public art messages at scale, in this instance marking Clear Channel’s close association with Martin Firrell and celebrating the UN Day of Democracy across Europe. – Martin Corke, Clear Channel European Marketing Lead.
I like to think of ‘4 Tenets for Europe’ as a birthday gift to myself – a recipe for a happier, kinder and better-cared-for world. – Martin Firrell Public Artist.
Participating Clear Channel markets are Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, UK.
The public artist Martin Firrell is internationally renowned for showing socially engaged artworks in collaboration with the OOH industry.