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Exhibition review Art attack in Yorkshire

MIKE QUILLE recommends a combative exhibition of radical art

Revolt and Revolutions

Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Wakefield

THERE'S no better example of left culture's ability to inspire, support and accompany radical change than the current exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The works in Revolt and Revolutions, linked in a variety of ways, showcase some of the strands of counter-cultural and anti-establishment movements of recent times and they're an invitation for us to join in.

At the entrance The Internationale, sung by the artist Susan Philipsz, is broadcast across the former coalfields and industrial heartlands of West Yorkshire.

The faltering, saddened voice conveys the suffering inflicted on the northern working classes in the last 50 years, and the resilience and continuing determination to redress injustice through political action.

Inside the gallery, Ruth Ewan’s A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World is a selection of social and political music classics, updated to include songs for the Trump era, while political music is also celebrated by an arpillera, a kind of Chilean patchwork quilt by an unknown political prisoner, illustrating the key ideals of the New Chilean Song Movement.

This was a powerfully persuasive cultural movement that assisted the rise to power of Salvador Allende’s socialist government in 1970.

Sculptor Henry Moore, a socialist and the son of a miner, was brought up in a household where meetings of the first miners’ union were held. His bronze sculpture Helmet Head evokes the exterior toughness and interior vulnerability of hardworking, hard-up men and women.

There's a particularly vivid set of photographs expressing the punkish, counter-cultural spirit of the 1970s, but the outstanding artwork is a 15-minute video of local Castleford resident Alison Catherall.

She tells her life story from the optimism and pride when she was young in the 1950s and 1960s to the Tories’ assault on local steelworking and mining communities in the 1970s, 1980s and beyond.

Her voice rises and becomes impassioned as she talks about her continuing militant determination to campaign for a transformed world  and a better life for young people through education, culture and heritage.

This moving oral history of suffering and struggle is illustrated by film from a video game of a female avatar, striding through deserted pit galleries, up and down hills, by day and by night and through all weathers.

A story of local endurance, resilience and resistance is thus turned into a universal message, a moving artistic tribute to both local and global working-class communities.

By promoting the power of art to change the world through the exhibition itself and the many activities, talks and discussions, Yorkshire Sculpture Park is encouraging the appetite for cultural democracy emerging from the labour movement.

Revolt and Revolutions is free and runs until April 15, details: ysp.org.uk. A longer version of this review, including a poem about the exhibition by Matt Abbott, is available at culturematters.org.uk

 

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