Voice // Moment // Happening – a guest post by Hayley Alessi

Voice // Moment // Happening

Soapbox oratory…a practice that created its own legitimacy, built its own platform, metaphorically speaking, in the very act of speaking.  In a sense, then, whatever the props and wherever the setting, the precise and enduring instruction of soapboxing is the self-assumption of the right and authority to speak. (1) 


The Art Sheffield 2013 Zero Hours Festival explores ‘histories of labour, power and social change’ (2), and whilst watching Podium // Zero Hours on Saturday, I began thinking about the history of the phrase ‘getting on your soapbox.’  Its origins lie in protests against the suppression of the rights of working people, including the right of assembly, and Speakers’ Corner (3) in Hyde Park was created in 1872, in response to Chartists and Reform League demonstrations six years earlier, as a space to give a voice to ordinary people.  Something I think the event at Furnace Park did, both in form and content, with the diversity of topics under discussion and a podium made from wooden shipping pallets.

The audience were asked what the phrase ‘zero hours’ meant to us, and my own personal connotation around ‘zero’ was the shape of an open mouth ‘0’, something that happens when speaking.

To speak is to act, using the mouth, tongue and breath to create a movement of air which is transferred into sound.  It is a form of meaning making which carries the possibility of a listener, and promotes a dialogue, a conversation that exists beyond the utterance or event.  A happening.

Zero – ‘0’ – is also a gap or a space, where something can happen, and reminds me of a word I encountered recently:

kairosa propitious moment for decision or action, an opportunity. (4)

Greek, the opening through which an archer’s arrow has to pass

 And to me that seems to be what Furnace Park  represents, an opportunity/space for artists and others to intervene in a discursive place.

Hayley Alessi 2013


(1) Walker, T.U., ‘Mounting the Soapbox: Poetics, Rhetoric, and Labor at the Scene of Speaking’, Western Folklore, vol. 65, no. 1/2 (Winter-Spring, 2006).

(2) Art Sheffield 2013 guide. www.artsheffield.org

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