THE MINISTRY OF DREAMS, HOPES, AND FEARS
George Orwell Square in Barcelona was named after the author who satirized totalitarianism and state surveillance in his novel 1984. He also fought against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War—and nearly died when shot through the throat by a Fascist sniper. Ironically, George Orwell Square was also the first place in Barcelona where the government installed surveillance cameras. Now, the ruling People’s Party has drafted an Orwellian “Citizen’s Safety Law,” imposing stiff punishments for people protesting without state permission, insulting or photographing policemen, “insulting Spain,” wearing a mask, etc.
In support of the People’s Party, the “MINISTRY OF DREAMS, HOPES, AND FEARS” was installed in George Orwell Square. I set up my ministerial “office,” with desk, carpet, lamp and dead plant, at the foot of an unintentionally Big Brother-looking statue in the square. On my desk was a sign that said, in Catalan, Spanish and English: WRITE YOUR DREAMS.
I dinged my desk bell and the performance began. My Bureaucrat character never spoke, but communicated through gesture and facial expression. A line of onlookers began to form, waiting their turn to walk up the long carpet to my desk, sit on the tiny stool and write down their dreams. As they wrote, I would censor their writings in mid-word with a black marker, or stamp CLASSIFIED and RETURN TO SENDER on their most intimate secrets. I would change the sign to WRITE YOUR HOPES or WRITE YOUR FEARS in the middle of their writing and indicate to them gravely that they had to change what they were writing to meet the new state mandate.
Once they handed in their writing, I would take their dreams and smell, stamp, snip, annotate, footnote, fold, twist and crush them with a mortar and pestle. I would roll their hopes into a cigarette and light it, inhaling the smoke of the burning document to evaluate its taste. I would chew up and spit out wads of their fears. If anyone wanted to protest, I silently guided them to the “permitted protest zone,” an area delineated on the ground in the shape of a single footprint. They had to put one foot there and lift the other, permitless foot off the ground. While thus balancing in the acceptable protest zone, they were free…to read aloud the selections from 1984 that I indicated to them.
My intention was to address the problem of the constriction of freedom of expression and protest through an absurdist and ironic performance that referred back to the Spanish Civil War and the advent of Fascism, located in a square that evokes totalitarianism, surveillance, thought control and the Fascist dictatorship.