Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Open Eye Gallery.

"You are here because you want to know the truth about this starship. And I am talking to you because you’re entitled to know. When this presentation has finished, you will have a choice. You may either protest. Or forget. If you choose to protest understand this: if just one percent of the population of this ship do likewise, the program will be discontinued with consequences for you all. If you choose to accept the situation—and we hope that you will—then press the forget button. All the information I’m about to give you will be erased from your memory. You will continue to enjoy the safety and amenities of Starship UK, unburdened by the knowledge of what has been done to save you. Here then, is the truth about Starship UK and the price that has been paid for the safety of the British people. May God have mercy on our souls."
--- Starship UK Video Announcer, "The Beast Below"
Art Despite being from this city and being at just the right age, I have absolutely no memory of the student protest which is the subject of the recording of performance piece and connected video documentation on display at the Open Eye Gallery. In April 1985, I would have been ten years old which judging by the photographs was about the same age as a lot of kids who began marching at St George's Hall and worked their way through through city centre down Dale Street to the Pier Head.  But living out in Speke, my world very much limited to South Liverpool and with my prospects looking in the direction of the Blue Coat School in Wavertree, perhaps it was just something happening elsewhere.

The Liverpool schools march has already been the subject of an exhibition at the Blue Coat in 2011, which was reported on by BBC News at the time.  That was more of a historical affair with many more of the photographs taken by local photographer Dave Sinclair, which are also somewhat the basis for part of this display.  One of the criticisms I have of this display is that these photographs don't have a more prominent position; they could for example have been presented in the upstairs gallery, which at the inception of the Mann Island version of Open Eye was designated as a space dedicated to archival photography, instead of the continuation of installations from artists which are carried over from other venues.

The oddity of watching the group of volunteers recreating the walk stepping along such familiar streets brought to mind Biennials of the past when there was much of a sense of international artists creating work which reacted directly to the city. To be honest I spent much of it trying to work out why a couple of the faces seemed familiar and although I recognised a few people from the Biennial team, there were a couple I can only conclude I've seen at press days or private views around the city.  But I appreciate the artist Koki Tanaka's approach to highlighting the past, and how this was an example of how protest can work, the Thatcher government did slow down and re-evaluate their plans for the YTS scenes which were the subject of the march, only attempting them again later in a different form.

The problem as a visitor is this video is presented on a flat screen at the entrance to the display in a main walk through to the other galleries and back to reception and so as I discovered on the day I visited, it's impossible to watch without having people jostling to get past.  On the day I was there, a college group were being given instructions from a teacher, drowning out the sound of the speeches on the video which provided necessary context at beginning and end of the march.  It's a puzzling curatorial choice to have the key exhibit in such a compromised position especially since there's plenty of space elsewhere in the room, where two other screens containing interviews with people who marched and their children can be seen relatively unhindered.

Listening to them describe the reasons why they attended in 1985 and how they feel the issues they were raising back then are still relevant, I reflected by on the only street protest I've ever attended as as an undergraduate in Leeds in 1993 (I think), joining a crowd of contemporaries marching from Headingley, up Otley Road to the City Campus protesting against the dissemination of the grants, the introduction of loans and tuitions fees.  But even then I felt very uneasy about the affair and said as much to the two journalists from the Leeds Student paper.  What had seemed like a grassroots expression against something which would stop higher education from being accessible to someone from a poor background like me, I quickly noticed had been joined by people holding aloft placards advertising the Socialist Worker and about other unrelated issues.  By the time we reached the city centre and the rally on the Headrow, I peeled away.

Next Destination:
George's Dock Ventilation Shaft.

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