Martin Firrell is a Franco-British public artist long associated with the international out-of-home industry. His works challenge unjust power systems of all kinds,
including patriarchal power, the oppression of women and non-heterosexuals, and the heteronormative status quo. He uses language to engage
directly with the public, provoking dialogue about more equitable social organisation. The
artist's reported aim is 'to make the world more humane'. His work has been summarised
as 'art as debate'.
is a series of 7 billboard artworks created by public artist Martin Firrell in conversation with 7 women who have experience of holding power in arts, literature, finance, education and culture. The series explores the way woman regard and exercise power, and is supported by the artist's 2023/4 residency with leading Out of Home media company Clear Channel UK.
Leaders in Frocks (with Carolyn McCall)
Dame Carolyn McCall is the CEO of ITV.
Leaders in Frocks
refers to a conversation early on in Carolyn's career. The comment was intended to belittle a way of holding power perceived as 'feminine' or 'soft'. Carolyn remembers replying, 'One day you'll realise that a bit of empathy goes a very long way in management.' Her career as CEO Guardian Media Group (2006-10), CEO EasyJet (2010-17) and CEO ITV (2018-present) tends to support that view.
Fall Down (with Rebecca Salter)
Artist Rebecca Salter is the first woman to be President of the Royal Academy of Arts in its 255-year history. As a young artist, Rebecca chose to continue her postgraduate studies in Japan.
is based on a Japanese proverb, much admired by Rebecca as a powerful evocation of tenacity.
Polite and Obedient (with Joanne Harris)
Joanne Harris is an acclaimed novelist, and the current Chair of the Society of Authors.
Polite and Obedient
reflects Joanne's view that activism is necessarily uncomfortable. Barriers to equality can only be overcome through agitation and (in Joanne's own words) 'this is why the suffragettes made such a nuisance of themselves'.
Women from Northeast Lancashire (with Heather Hancock)
Heather Hancock is the first woman to serve as Master of St. John's College Cambridge. Heather is proud of her Lancastrian origins. She notes that Lancastrian women became accustomed to economic independence (and the power that gave them) from their work in the Lancashire cotton mills. They also had to make themselves heard above the noise of the cotton looms and so 'speaking up' is not something Lancastrian women find difficult.
Eat Me (with Maggi Hambling)
Maggi Hambling is among the world's most important living artists.
is intended to reflect the essential vulnerability of the artist. Artists working in public space are 'consumed' by a public which may be knowledgeable or ill-informed, hostile or benign. For artists, power often resides in the ability to choose who to engage with, and who to ignore.
Super Power (with Julia Hoggett)
Julia Hoggett is the first out gay CEO of the London Stock Exchange.
refers to the sudden fearlessness many gay people feel on overcoming their trepidation about coming out. Remaining hidden saps a huge amount of energy. Openness and visibility amplify personal power and agency.
Your Power (with Ngozi Fulani)
Ngozi Fulani is the CEO of Sistah Space, the non-profit organisation supporting African and Caribbean heritage women affected by domestic and sexual abuse.
highlights Ngozi's view that power can be perceived rather than actual. When perceived power is refuted, it ceases to exist because it is, in reality, baseless.
Power Is Always Temporary
Royal Opera House, July 2007
All power must come to an end, in the end. It makes no difference who holds it. The temporariness of power limits its use and the potential for misuse. Anyone in power would do well to be mindful of the inherent precariousness of their position.
Radical Lesbian feminists of the 60s and 70s suggested there was only one way for a woman to escape
male control: embrace lesbianism as a political rather than a personal act. Feminists argued this would undermine the social structures
that traditionally place men at the top of the social hierarchy.
The Gallery is the brainchild of arts producers Artichoke and public artist Martin Firrell. It can be thought of as an 'alternative national gallery' with no walls to hold the artworks in, or to keep anyone out.
Firrell's artwork for The Gallery
What Oppresses Us
quotes from French feminist theory of the 1970s: any oppressor, by definition, has the power to shape all of the responses of the oppressed, including what the oppressed come to regard as erotic or desirable.
A 1947 public information film advises young people how to be popular, largely by conforming to conventional
gender roles and parental authority. The artist reorganises the material to subvert the heteronormative assumptions of the film's
narration, queering the protagonists so that the 'boy meets girl' story takes a distinctly different turn.
asked theologians, scientists, artists, atheists,
and the general public, 'What makes your life meaningful?' Wildly diverse answers,
from the domestic to the sexual to the sublime, were projected onto the Dome, West Front and Whispering
Gallery to mark the cathedral's 300th anniversary.
sun not despair (schematic)
sun (in arabic)
The Taking of Christ (Carravagio)
Design for st Paul's shop paper bags
Life reaches out to life (arabic)
All Men Are Dangerous
Duveen Galleries, Tate Britain, February 2006
All Men Are Dangerous
was created for the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain at a time when wars were
ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both conflicts were widely held to be colonially motivated
and against international law.
again, on billboards, in 2019. This time, the 'dangerousness' referred to might be subtle and diffuse like the risk-taking that caused the financial crisis in 2008 or the gathering threat of climate change. Or it may point to the immediate and visceral dangers of anger, retribution and war.
was created during the artist's residency with the Household Division of the British Army. The artwork reflects the views of military personnel (who regard military intervention as a last resort) and the artist's conversations with British philosopher A.C. Grayling.
In October 1967, The Mobe (National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam) organised an anti-war march in the USA to include the exorcism and levitation of the Pentagon. Rituals and mantras would make the Pentagon rise 100 feet into the air, turn orange and vibrate. Allen Ginsberg described the levitation as a 'happening that undermined, psychologically, the authority of the Pentagon'.
echoes the more colourful 'Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity' (anti-Vietnam war placard, 1969). The attempt to eliminate war with war is, of course, nonsensical. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela teach that radically different strategies are required. The counter culture movement embodied the ideal that the route to peace was peace itself.
Recent legislation has led to far-reaching restrictions on the right to peaceful protest. But liberty dies where there is agreement without thought or argument. This artwork highlights protest's significance as a guarantor of freedom. If nothing can be contested, is freedom any longer present and actual?