Tom Dale, Banquet of Sound (2012)

Democracy has, one assumes, been going downhill since the time of ancient Greece. And here are the ruins of the principle: twelve abandoned, jumbled and toppled lecterns.

In the midst of their cluster is a nod to the classical world that spawned public speaking. But the statue which has long sat in the gardens here is the most troublesome of gods, Bacchus.

This lover of wine and experimentation is the last man standing in the in the verbal jousting matches which have led to the pile up of these metonyms of free speech.

So Dale appears to suggest we may be intoxicated by the notion of democracy. We go to war for it. We dare not speak out against it. We brand our enemies with a disregard for it.

But just what does our democracy add up to? The artist makes the point that lecterns are not only for politicians, but also celebrities, captains of industry, perhaps even bingo callers.

Their proliferation (and it must have been fairly straightforward to knock up these hollow jesmonite replicas) can be seen as a media frenzy, or a point-of-view piss up.

But cracks are already beginning to appear on the installation. In one sense this can be seen as a groundclearing exercise for something which could follow on from democracy.

That’s not to say totalitarianism, but a preferable form of democracy. A world to come, rather than a future held in place by monolithic discourses such are represented here.

Happily enough in the gardens of Ham House, they cancel out one another. Despite the title of this piece it is the quietest work on display. The only voice it waits for is your own.

Banquet of Sound can be found in Garden of Reason at Ham House until September 23. See project website for more details. And read what Dale himself said about this work in an interview for Culture24.

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