Vanilla Beer artist

Here is the tale of Damien Abbott's experience at the Royal Academy of Arts, which seems to me a classic piece of hidden censorship. He wrote to me about on 15/11/2002; here are extracts from his letter.

We were invited to show [at the Royal Academy of Arts] by the Approach Gallery and given carte blanche to do whatever we liked. So we came up with this short text:

American imperialism is an obese villainy thriving on war. It is a confederacy of hate dictated by selfish oligarchs contemptuous of the world, its cultures and environment.

The U.S. war machine mutates our sense of community into a savage god of retribution whose emblems shroud the 'natural selection' enforced by the union of free market capitalism and military might.

The text was sprayed directly onto the walls and ran, like a cornice, all the way around the room, with alternating words in black and red. Mindful of the fact that the show would open on September 12th, we knew it would be a sensitive matter for some, but were not really prepared for the mess that followed. On seeing it, both Norman Rosenthal and Max Wigram (nominal curators of the show) were very distressed, with Rosenthal declaring that - the Myra Hindley painting will be like a walk in the park compared to this - and Wigram suggesting that we didn't understand, that Norman might loose his job.

Their fears were allayed slightly by some passing curators from the States who showed interest in the text, but the Academy still suggested that perhaps we could remove the words 'American' and 'U.S.' Jake, from the Approach Gallery, was also beginning to tremble a little and, mindful of potential American sales, thought this was a great idea - we briefly considered it but it was taken out of our hands and the Academy painted out the offending words (probably the first time in history that the word American has been officially deemed obscene.)

In a final countermove we sprayed black boxes over the new white spaces that were now in place of the offensive words. The Academy objected to this as well, on the grounds that people would think we had been censored (uh?.hello?) They relented, however, asking us into a "gentleman's agreement" that we would not show uncensored photos of the text until after the show was over. We saw no reason to break this agreement, mainly because we could no longer see any reason in their actions anyway.
(Damian Abbott - died April 2010)