Liverpool Biennial 2012:
St. George's Hall (15)

Art  As I type this, I’m trying to remember the last time I visited St George’s Hall on Lime Street.  Not just wandered around outside or used the plateau as a short cut to get to the Walker Art Gallery.  My blog suggests it was the last Biennial, in 2010, for the launch, but that can’t be true.  Can it?  The city’s community centre is such an ever-present architectural object, that I’ve assumed that I’m a regular visitor.  Certainly I used to be.  But nope, not been inside since Lewis Biggs Touched us.

Which isn’t to say I really went inside yesterday.  As you’ll see, the hall is hosting a public art piece, but a Biennial A-board outside the entrance with a large white arrow suggested something else was happening inside.  So in I went and found a café where the old reception used to be and a little shop (I like a little shop).  I asked the receptionist.  No, he said, no official Biennial within the Hall but the Independents Biennial does have a display but its closed on Mondays.

I told him about the sign, which I now realised was pointing “up” not “inside”.  I wasn’t the only person to suggest that, he said.  I had a glance around the little shop and exited back onto St George’s Place and as is the routine, took out my Biennial booklet, read the text and tried to decide what to make of whatever had been placed in front of me, accompanied by the soundtrack album to [500] Days of Summer (“They made a statue of us …”).  As I was leaving I noticed: the A-board had gone.

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Although Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson work in a range of media of which neon signs like the one attached to the end of St George’s Hall are just one example, their thematic connections is politics, and more expressively civil liberties.  Another of their installations, Constitution of the Republic of Iceland (2008/11), featured the said documented plastered on the wall of a gallery space along with a video piece featuring an experimental theatre projected based on the same document.

For this Biennial, the artists have followed in the footsteps of similar architectural interventions on Liverpool landmarks (cf, Emese Benczur’s Think About Your Future on The Futurist in 2010) and placed the phrase “The Right To Right” in flashing lights, its final word change to “wrong” after each flash.  It’s eye-catching and certainly visible from as far away outside the shell of what used to be Lewis’s (have a look through one of the open windows next time you’re passing).

It’s a statement and also a question.  What right do we have to rights?  To aid the discussion, the artists have collaborated with philosopher Nina Power, whose talk on the co-modification of the human I attended and loved at the last Biennial, to produce a text chatting around the topic which has been produced as a newspaper available at some venues and is also online here.  I recommend that you read it immediately, though I’ll not pretend I understood more than about 20% of it.

From what I gather, her overall thesis is relatively simple.  We all have rights as human beings.  But good luck finding two people who agree on what those should be, a disagreement not aided by one person always wanting to find some way of restricting another’s rights because they think it’s just common sense, or they have a religious conviction or because they believe it will keep the peace, stop a war, end suffering, that sort of thing.

I don’t happen to think anyone has the right to carry a gun.  But people who have guns in most cases think that they should have the right to carry a gun so that they can defend themselves from other people who also think they have the right to carry a gun and don’t think that the law is a good enough deterrent or set of rules.  In other words, just because I don’t think people should have guns is not enough to stop people from having guns so they’re going to get them anyway, no matter how hard it might be.

I don’t happen to think anyone has the right to tell a woman if she can or can’t have an abortion (just as I think it’s up to any human being to decide what to do with their body).  But there are some people who think that any child, however they’re conceived, has the right to a life, even if the mother’s own life is ruined or the child itself isn’t going to have a decent life themselves.  Both of those decisions are about choice.  Who has the right to choose?

I don’t happen to think that it’s up to people who aren’t gay to tell gay couples whether they can or can’t marry or indeed have any of the same rights as straight couples.  That this remains such a big issue in the 21st century shames us all, especially since the people who are making this an issue are doing it for no other reason other than bigotry and homophobia.  What two people they don’t know want to do with their lives, has to do with them, they can never logically explain.

All of which suggests I’m relatively left wing.  I am relatively left wing.  I hate the right wing.  Whereas the left wing is all about increasing freedom, the right wing always seems to be about creating restrictions.  I’m yet to see a moment in history were a right wing approach hasn’t ultimately been a disaster and the left wing approach hasn’t.  Well, ok, there’s communism, but isn’t that just what happens when something goes so far left it catches itself coming back the other way?

All of which is simplistic to the point of redundancy, but however much of a supporting argument we might want to present, however many quotes, our reaction to events will always be instinctual.  We feel revulsion when a fourteen year old girl is shot in the head for campaigning for her gender to receive the same education as men in her country, but inconsistently that revulsion is shared by people (well, ok, politicians) who want to restrict their own society's children’s access to education in other ways (and do).

But where does all of that leave a neon sign attached to the side of building?  Without Power’s text, would I have had this discussion (such as it is)?  I know that my first reaction was to wonder if the “Right” have the right to be “Right” quickly realising that indeed, that for all the hatred they provoke either through ideological belief or financial convenience they unfortunately do.  Because if we tried to stop them, we’d be just as bad as them.  Why does there even have to a "they"?  Why can't it all just be "us"?

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