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Joe Sweeney
Courtesy of Joe Sweeney and Cob Gallery

This art installation asks us to be totally honest about the Brexit debate

Through the medium of a 90s phone booth, this artist aims to show that we’re more willing to voice our opinions when we think no one can respond

As the UK braces itself for its imminent departure from the EU, artist Joe Sweeney’s interactive project, +44... Leave a Message for Europe, offers a safe haven for people to vocalise their feelings about Brexit.

The divisive nature of the referendum and its aftermath has invited streams of conflicting viewpoints, often expressed online. It seems impossible to reconcile the role of social platforms in welcoming free speech while punishing those who choose to be vocal. Sharing opinions with the digital world means unleashing the potential for hate, trolling, even death threats.

With an aim to challenge social media discourse and promote diversity of opinion, +44 comprises a 90s telephone box inspired sculpture, set in a remote location on Kent's Dungeness beach. Members of the public are asked to “call” the telephone installation and record a voice message, anonymously, relaying their views on Brexit.

Sweeney explains, “I think the more people record the messages, the looser we’ll all become. Everyone’s invited to the party, we just need to find a way to break the ice.” An archive of recorded messages will be available online for the public to listen to, and will include those of outspoken fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, and art duo Gilbert and George. But while everyone's invited, hate speech won't be aired.

In a time of such uncertainty, the familiar silhouette of a phone box is an apt choice. An emblem of Britishness, as well as the past, it serves as a reminder of how people used to connect. Sweeney describes it as “an overlooked urban motif that is slowly disappearing as new technologies take over – they are still there but are less and less used”.

In their place, a virtual dialogue which is often more alienating than productive. The loss of old-school technology ultimately means the loss of the human voice, and this is what Sweeney hopes to bring back to the conversation. He says, “This is what drives this project, it focuses solely on the ‘human voice’. Putting idiosyncrasies, regionality, and humanity back to the online discussion. Trying to find a new authenticity in the individual via social media, which will be playing a big part in encouraging participation and sharing.”

+44... Leave a Message for Europe will be in place and open to calls from March 1 – 29. Watch a campaign video below, courtesy of Cob Gallery, and visit the website here.