Revolt and Revolutions

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Martin Boyce’s 1993 work ‘Souvenir Placards’ brings back memories

This year marks 50 years since the great French general strike when 800,000 students, teachers and workers marched through Paris; the explosion of the peace movement; the rise of an international student movement of revolt; anti-racist riots in US cities; and the Prague Spring.

This exhibition, mostly drawn from the Arts Council Collection, is of work by artists who have wanted to make a difference. It aims to capture aspects of counter-culture and resistance and to stimulate a sense of solidarity with past and present struggles.

It consists of a range of work in various media and genres.

As you approach the gallery you’re welcomed with Susan Philpsz’s 1999 sound installation “The Internationale”.

Inside you’ll find four rooms packed with exhibits which will stir memories for many and warm the blood of anyone who hates injustice and oppression.

Ruth Ewan’s “A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World” (2003) is an interactive auditory kaleidoscope of hundreds of political songs, updated to include the most recent anti-Trump offerings.

Other exhibits include Yoko Ono’s all-white chess set, undermining the notion of the inevitability of conflict, and Henry Moore’s 1960 sculpture “Helmet Head”.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park has exhibited many of Moore’s works. Born locally to a mining family in Castleford, Moore was an early member of CND. The first local miners’ union used to meet in his front room when he was a child.

Andrew Logan’s large mosaic mirrored safety pin, “Homage to the New Wave” (1977), is a motif of the punk era, and Victor Burgin’s “Possession” (1976) addresses wealth distribution. For me, in 2018, it also evoked oppressive gender relationships.

Peter Kennard’s visually arresting photomontage “Haywain. Constable (1821) Cruise Missiles USA (1981)” dates from the time of mass CND marches. It juxtaposes Constable’s pastoral scene with the world’s destructive nuclear potential and the keenly felt threat of the destruction of humanity.

There’s an international flavour to the exhibition too. It includes “Christiana” (1977) in which Mark Edwards references the Danish anarchist squat which housed around 1,000 people, and “Arpillera: The Journey of Our Lives” (1999) made by Chilean refugees from Pinochet’s regime who came to Sheffield to work in the steel mills and pits.

Their integration into the local working class was helped by the solidarity of their shared hatred of Thatcher and her best buddy Pinochet.

Standing before Martin Boyce’s 1993 Turner Prize-winning “Souvenir Placards” brought back memories of demonstrations during the miners’ strike and, well, any protest you might have been on, I guess.

The final room, Larry Achiampong’s and David Blandy’s “FF Gaiden: Legacy 2017”, is stunning. Gaiden, or “side story”, combines the visually rich backdrop of Grand Theft Auto 5, where a woman walks through a landscape of hills and abandoned mines, with the inspiring auditory backdrop of Castleford resident Alison Catherall’s life and memories of the miners’ strike and her political awakening.

If you can get to see this exhibition it’ll be well worth the effort. You’ll come away with a spring in your step and even greater resolve to change the world.