Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong is a video of a performance by the artist at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, London. It shows Young, dressed in a smart business suit, ascending a small aluminium ladder as she takes up a position to deliver a speech in front of a crowd gathered around a gesticulating Muslim orator. She introduces herself to an imaginary audience and then delivers a presentation on successful corporate-style communication, from time to time referring to prompt cards and using her hands in the manner of a trained television presenter. As the subject of her presentation is presentation itself, and Young ably demonstrates the skills she is describing, the work creates a circular dynamic. She asserts that a speaker should know his or her audience, adjust the language used to suit them, and know what they want to hear. She goes on to explain that a speaker can change people’s perceptions and that ‘when you can do this, you realise that you’re quite powerful’. Finally she advises potential speakers to become aware of the persona they adopt when they speak in order to facilitate slipping into the presenter role. During the course of Young’s performance, random passers-by stop and take up position to listen for a while before wandering on. The video ends just as Young asks her audience for questions.
Speakers’ Corner, an area in the north-east corner of Hyde Park in central London, is famous as a specially designated place of free speech, where any person may speak publicly on any subject without fear of legal repercussions. It is a location symbolising democratic liberty and has a long history as a site for political demonstrations and the vocalising of extreme political and religious beliefs. In this context, Young’s calm and non-emotive delivery of instructions on how to manipulate an audience is at odds with the impassioned speaker behind her, who represents the cliché traditional to the site. The video’s title, Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong, taken from the title of a book offering advice on how to succeed in business, is deliberately ambiguous. It may be understood to refer to the speeches by all other orators at Speakers’ Corner, to subjects outside of the video’s content or, on a self-reflexive level, to what it appears to represent – the takeover of free speech by corporate cynicism.
Born in Lusaka, Zambia, Young attended Manchester Polytechnic (1988-9) before receiving a BA from the University of Brighton in 1992 and an MA in photography at London’s Royal College (1995-7). She subsequently worked in an IT and management consultancy giving presentations on uses of new technology to corporate clients. The corporate language and processes she learned during this period are central to her art, which is based on appropriation. She transfers the language and processes of the corporate business world to an art context, drawing parallels and heightening differences. By introducing business strategies into the working life of galleries and museums, Young draws attention to their structure and nature.
Young’s practice makes frequent reference to art history, especially to Conceptual positions taken up in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1972, Speakers’ Corner was famously the site of a silent performance by the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers (1924-76) in which the artist wrote such words and slogans as ‘Silence’ and ‘Visit Tate Gallery’ on a double-sided billboard. He mixed the titles of paintings on show at a London gallery at that time among the authoritative phrases, playing on forms of language and institutional critique. Other works by Young make more overt their earlier Conceptual source: in Lines Made By Walking, 2003, Young restages a seminal work by British artist Richard Long (born 1945) entitled A Line Made By Walking, 1967 (see Tate P07149), in which he drew a line in a grassy meadow by walking back and forth. Young remakes this work by walking to and fro in a crowd of commuters on a bridge in the heart of the City of London. An earlier video work, I am a Revolutionary 2001, recalls a poster made by Joseph Beuys (1921-86) entitled The Revolution is Us 1972 (see Tate P07595) and a sculpture made in the same year, consisting of a found roll of office carpet, is titled Social Sculpture in reference to Beuys’s notion of ‘social sculpture’ by which he affirmed that anybody could make art. More recent works have involved collaboration with an intellectual property lawyer (Disclaimer 2004) and with a team of lawyers (Consideration 2004-5), hiring a call centre agent (The Representative 2005) and organising negotiations skills workshops for museum staff (Win-Win 2002 and 2006).
Everything You’ve Heard is Wrong was commissioned by The Photographers’ Gallery, London in 1999. It was produced in an edition of five, of which Tate’s copy is the third. It may be displayed on a monitor or as a projection.
Carey Young, Incorporated, London 2002, p.19, pp.24-5
Fig I: 50 Projects, 50 Weeks, exhibition catalogue, London 2001, Week 18, 22-27 May, 2000