In 2007 I created The Smoking Suffragettes, a performance inspired by a publicity stunt intended to encourage women to smoke. Edward Bernays, the godfather of Public Relations, directed the stunt to take place as part of the 1929 Easter Parade in New York City, involving a group of debutantes simultaneously lighting up cigarettes and smoking them in public. He stood by ready to tell the media that these women were suffragettes demonstrating female equality by smoking their “torches of freedom”. Instead of smoking cigarettes my female performers smoked vibrators, a literal representation of Bernays’ psychoanalytical ideas about female sexuality. My performance was choreographed to 'La donna è mobile' by Enrique Caruso, another of Bernays’ clients.
The performance first took place for Rational Rec at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, and then again on International Womens Day at Corsica Studios and also at the Camberwell Arts Festival. It was last performed on 19 June 2007 outside the British American Tobacco Association head office in Aldwych to mark the UK smoking ban, and in the same month was broadcast on Resonance FM, screened at the Colchester Arts Centre and reviewed in Art Monthly (see below).
In May 2009 The Smoking Seminar was held at UCA to mark the two year anniversary of the UK smoking ban and critically examine the role that artists and designers have played in influencing the way we think about smoking. The seminar invited responses from a panel on which sat: art historian Brenda Zwart (CoBra, Amsterdam), advertising decoder Judith Williamson (UCA) and smoking ban commentator Michael Hodges (Time Out). The seminar was chaired and recorded by curator and broadcaster Cecilia Wee, and then broadcast on Resonance FM on 1st July 2009.