Saturday, October 18, 2008

Merseyside Police Allow Free Expression!

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon for activists organising as part of Liverpool Freedom of Expression. This was in stark contrast to last week's mass stall in Church Street, which saw police repression and spontaneous direct action from members of the public.

Following the events of 11th October, activists from various radical and protest groups held an emergency meeting in midweek. It was agreed that in response to a police request, a delegation should meet with senior officers. At this further meeting, the officers appeared to make some concessions to the law as it currently stands, meaning activists would be able to exercise their legal right to free expression without the kind of harassment seen last weekend.

Merseyside Police are clearly keen to avoid a repeat of the 11th, when their authority and status as enforcers of the law was effectively challenged by Liverpool people whose only intention had been to walk down a street and perhaps do some shopping. Today the police gave activists no trouble, and even gave them their stuff back!

However, the attack of the 11th was not an isolated incident of police repression. The whole point of last Saturday's mass stall was originally to highlight previous cases, and stand in solidarity with those who have been arrested. Because of this, we cannot rest on our laurels, and assume the threat to freedom of expression has gone away. On the contrary, the unfolding recession will surely see our freedom challenged again and again.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Merseyside Police Versus Freedom Of Speech

An entirely legal demonstration in solidarity with international Freedom Not Fear day was disrupted and halted in Liverpool this afternoon, and two arrests were made, provoking an astounding show of anger from the public.

Help! We're being repressed!
Over the past year, activists in Liverpool have been the victims of increasing police harassment and attempts to curtail our free speech. After the arrest of Socialist Party member Tony Aitman for ‘wilful obstruction’ on August 30th, Nerve magazine organised a campaign to unite all local radical and protest groups against this police repression.

As today was Freedom Not Fear day, it was designated Liverpool Freedom Of Expression’s first day of action, and ten groups simultaneously set up their stalls in Church Street. However, the police soon swooped, and began confiscating materials. Disgusted passers-by quickly became involved, and shouts of “let them out”, “you're a disgrace” and “free speech” could be heard. Around a dozen forceful police eventually made two arrests.
Come and see the violence inherent in the system!
Liverpool Freedom Of Expression will be back soon, believing the only freedom we have is the freedom we struggle to win and defend.

More pictures and video can be seen here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Previous Indymedia reports
Liverpool Vigil To Support Freedom Of Protest
Demonstration Defends Freedom Of Protest
Freedom to Express: Sat 11 Oct

Freedom Not Fear Day
Liverpool stands up to police repression against campaigners
Free Speech Crushed In Liverpool! Arrests Made!
Stalling Tactics Win A Victory for Freedom of Expression
More pics of Merseyside Police Versus Free Expression

Flickr Photoset

Liverpool Echo debate

YouTube videos - (1) and (2)

Daily Post: We will not be silenced, say protesters after clash with police

Indymedia Ireland: Police Repression in Liverpool Results in Random Arrests

Monday, October 06, 2008

1995: 'Land and Freedom' released

On 6th October 1995, the Ken Loach film Land and Freedom was released, telling the story of the Spanish revolution and fascist counter-revolution (i.e. the 'Spanish Civil War') through the eyes of a young Liverpool volunteer fighter. The opening and closing scenes were filmed in the city, while the remainder was located in Aragón.

In the story, David Carr (played by Knotty Ash-born Ian Hart) is an unemployment Communist Party member, in Depression-era Liverpool. When he gets the call, Carr enthusiastically joins up to fight with the International Brigades. Though he falls in love with Blanca (Rosana Pastor), his optimism is soon undermined when he witnesses Stalinist repression of anarchists and members of the Trotskyist POUM (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification). Finally, Blanca is killed and the revolution is defeated. Carr returns home with a red neckerchief full of Spanish earth.

Though the battle aspects of the story look like a fictionalised version of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, some of the most important scenes examine the ongoing dilemmas confronting those fighting on the Republican side, against Francisco Franco's fascists. For example, an assembly in a liberated village debates whether to collectivise the land seized from a recently shot priest. An American with the POUM argues that such action risks losing the Republic the support of countries such as the United States and Britain, whereas others forcefully put the opposite case. In the end, the villagers decide to collectivise, and so Loach convincingly shows social revolution in action, and theory being put into practice.

Back in Liverpool, as the film ends, Carr's granddaughter recites lines from the William Morris poem The Day Is Coming over her grandfather's grave:
'Come, join in the only battle wherein no man can fail/Where whoso fadeth and dieth, yet his deed shall still prevail/Ah! come, cast off all fooling, for this, at least, we know/That the Dawn and the Day is coming, and forth the Banners go'
She and others then join in a raised fist salute. The struggle for land and freedom continues into the twenty-first century.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Call Mr Robeson

Tayo Aluko and Friends
St George's Hall (4th October 2008)


When Tayo Aluko premiered Call Mr Robeson at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2007, a reviewer complained that he lacked the presence and bass voice to do Paul Robeson justice. This was a bit like accusing a high mountain of not doing justice to Everest, but it also missed the point entirely. Despite his extraordinary life, Robeson is largely forgotten, and Aluko does humanity a great service by resurrecting the memory.

Born in 1898 to a mother who would die six years later, and a father who escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad, Robeson was a multilingual sportsman, actor, concert singer and political activist. Blessed with an incredibly rich, deep voice, he gained worldwide fame in the 1920s and 30s, before the post-war Red Scare in the United States saw him denounced as a traitor to the nation, and his passport was revoked. But he refused to be silenced, continuing to sing and speak for anyone who would listen. Ridiculously, he was accused of 'meddling' in US policy towards Africa, to which he memorably replied "Now, that’s just too bad, ‘cause I’m going to have to continue to meddle."

Accompanied by pianist Michael Conliffe, Aluko's Robeson roams about the minimal set, addressing the audience directly like some amazing raconteur with more than a few stories to tell. Occasionally he re-enacts key moments from his life, such as his 1961 suicide attempt (which was possibly caused by a CIA agent spiking his drink), climbs onto his soapbox to deliver speeches, and sings such songs as Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, Trees, and Joe Hill (in honour of the Industrial Workers of the World organiser and songwriter who was framed and legally murdered by the state of Utah). Particularly evocative and stirring was the defiant rendition of Ol' Man River, above sounds representing a police helicopter at anti-communist riots in 1949. More than a few eyes grew misty.

In my opinion, it is precisely Robeson's unstinting and often self-sacrificing devotion to the working class of all nations which has so far excluded him from the widespread appreciation his story clearly merits. Tayo Aluko puts in a powerful, passionate performance, bringing Robeson to people who never had the chance to see him perform, and no doubt some who have never even heard of him before. To witness this in St George's Hall - that monument to the British Empire - was a strange but nevertheless inspiring experience. Tayo Aluko richly deserved the standing ovation he received at the end, but I'm sure he wouldn't begrudge Mr Robeson his share of the acclaim.

Click here to view an extract of a performance at Liverpool Community College.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fantasy Studio Project

The Blade Factory, Greenland Street (20th September - 30th November 2008)

The notes accompanying this group show by seven Korean artists promises it 'addresses the alienating effect on audiences of transposing ideas generated in one culture onto another.' That seems like artist-speak for, 'You might not understand this, because some of the Korean references will probably get lost in translation'. However, while cultural references are still geographically restricted to a certain extent - though the globalising economy is daily breaking down the barriers - they are all, in the final analysis, expressions of needs and desires common to all humanity. So long as art engages with those needs and desires, people all over the world can appreciate and enjoy it. This is the case with the often surreal Fantasy Studio Project, and the effect is heightened by the high level of technical skill on show.

Hyun-Mi Yoo's work is mind-bogglingly ingenious, and stunning to look at. By painting onto physical space, inserting objects in unfamiliar places, and then photographing the result, she creates two dimensional 'still life installations', such as Great Earth (about a dozen globes heaped in a corner), Peach (a provocatively placed pair of peaches) and Stone Clouds (above).

Yongbaek Lee's art is also beautifully done if slightly unnerving. His Broken Through appears to be a giant mirror in an elaborate golden frame, but as I stood in front of it trying to flatten my hair, it 'smashed'. Was it something I did? Apparently not, because it recovered itself before smashing again when a woman walked past a minute later. The massive Angel Soldiers initially seemed to be a display of flowers, but when my eyes adjusted themselves, I made out some male figures ever so slowly creeping their way across, camouflaged in flowers. Just as well for them I didn't have a gun, and we weren't in a war situation. Except, of course, we are...

Yeondoo Jung's portraits are slightly more traditional fare, but no less impressive for that. After all, he has created believable renderings of characters he's encountered on his travels, with such imprecise instruments as needle and thread!

Though I surely missed some cultural references, I still found this exhibition very absorbing, which stands in stark contrast to that of my compatriots in the Bloomberg New Contemporaries downstairs. Some things are more important than the set of imaginary lines we were born within.

Vue sur Québec

Novas Contemporary Urban Centre, Greenland Street
20th September - 2nd November 2008 (Tue-Sun 11am - 6pm)

The Novas Contemporary Urban Centre is currently playing host to a selection of intriguing work by Canadian artists, which have each featured in past Québec City Biennials. This convergence of two biennials in a small corner of Liverpool is appropriately organised around the theme of 'meeting', though this is often interpreted so loosely as to be lost on this reviewer.

A case in point is Le siècle des Lumières (The centuries of lights) by Doyon and Rivest. In one sense, the 'idea' of a constellation meets the 'idea' of people's faces being lit up by laptops, iPods and mobiles, creating what at first sight appears to be a constellation but is actually people's faces being lit up by laptops, iPods and mobiles. In another, every piece of artwork ever created (indeed every action) synthesises things, so the motif is stretched to apparent meaninglessness. Still, clever effect.

Catholic icon of Jesus meets dartboard in Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) by Jean-Marc Mathieu-Lajoie. Hitting his forehead is worth sixty points, whilst the representation of divine love for humanity is bullseye. This exhibit is bound to provoke some outrage, but then Saint Sebastian is always portrayed with arrows, and people seem to like that, so this may be an allusion to him and martyrdom somehow.

Similarly, Diane Landry mixes stuff she's found ('assisted readymades' to you) with religious symbolism, with her Mandalas in series Blue Decline. These automated installations suggest the cosmos, like charts in Indian religions. However, these ones are made out of washing baskets, empty water bottles, a spoon, and electronics. The effect of watching them is indeed evocative, and brought up thoughts of nature out of balance (like I don't always have them anyway). Kind of the same, but slightly different, to traditional mandalas.

Finally, Polish-born 'Modern Day Nomad Who Moves Where She Pleases' Ana Rewakowicz has created a 'sleepingbagdress' - that is, a dress that turns into a sleeping bag, and a sort of inflatable tent where the gallerygoer can watch videos of public interventions projected on one of the sides, so long as they take their shoes off first.

Effectively, there is no overarching theme, other than the fact that all these people have been on one point on the globe and now their art is in another, which is well worth a look if you're in the area.

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