Revolt and Revolutions; Alfredo Jaar: The Garden of Good and Evil – review
Source:theguardian Author:Tim Adams Date: 2018-01-17 Size:
The rousing chorus of The Internationale can rarely have sounded as fragile ……

The rousing chorus of The Internationale can rarely have sounded as fragile or halting as it does on a frosty morning in the walled garden of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield. The Scottish artist Susan Philipsz recorded the revolutionaries’ anthem as a sotto voce solo in 1999 almost as a funerary farewell to the idea of full-throated protest. In the open air, in 2018, hearing Philipsz’s breathy voice eddying on a biting wind is like being stopped in your tracks by Wordsworth’s otherworldly Solitary Reaper. If it is a call to arms, it is a distinctly tentative one. The song instead acts as a plaintive summons to the park’s Bothy Gallery, where other lost traces of the direct action of the last century are preserved, as if of a different time and place altogether.

Revolt and Revolutions takes as its reference point 1977, the year of punk and the year in which the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was founded, as an outsiders’ outside space, by the visionary Peter Murray, who is still its director. Forty years on, the gallery presents a small and thoughtful expression of things that then seemed loud and urgent – experience looking back at innocence. In one room, 2011 Turner prize winner Martin Boyce’s Souvenir Placards are piled on the floor or propped against a wall, a mix and match of marchers’ slogans: “Ban the Bomb”, “Coal Not Dole”, “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay”. The signs are either discarded for good, or feasibly ready for action, depending on your point of view.

In another room, Ruth Ewan’s A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World is an ongoing collection of a thousand or more protest songs that visitors can call up to order. Younger users, brought up on skip and shuffle, will no doubt be twitchily frustrated by the fact that each track must be played in its entirety before the next CD drops into place. Although the selection comes up to date, again the effect is diffuse, unfocused – Simon and Garfunkel’s Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream gives way to Dead Kennedys’ version of I Fought the Law and the Legendary KO’s George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People – a greatest hits of half-forgotten idealism and sudden righteous anger, preserved on defunct tech.

The other pieces chosen – mostly from the Arts Council Collection – also ask questions about then and now, about the ways in which the causes of the recent past have become mothballed or stylised. A single portrait by Marcus Lyon of a Greenham Common protestor – one woman from 70,000 in black and white – stands alone on a wall requiring a detailed explanatory caption. Peter Kennard’s photomontage of cruise missiles on the back of Constable’s The Haywain, one antique reference now freighted with another, occupies another corner. Andrew Logan’s totemic, mirrored, punky safety pin sculpture, adrift on its plinth, looks like an artefact of a lost tribe that is no more “relatable” (dread term) than Henry Moore’s Helmet Head No 3, a gesture of the artist’s pacifism that, out of context, could be another warlike bronze.

‘Hardship as virtual entertainment’: Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s 2017 video FF Gaiden: Legacy.

The disjunction between the singular causes of the past and their incongruity in the present is expressed most uncomfortably in Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s video FF Gaiden: Legacy, part of their series that applies an oral history soundtrack to open-source graphics from the Grand Theft Auto 5 video game. In this instance, a generic gamers’ avatar treks up mountains and through tunnels to loosely illustrate the heartfelt story of Alison Catherall, born and still living in nearby Castleford.

In her recorded voiceover Catherall dwells on her growing up, of missing school because her family could not afford shoes, of the communality of mining families and the brutality of the pit closures. She talks with moving honesty of the subsequent hollowing out of families and of purpose – of how her own brother “died of a broken heart” when he lost his job in the pit – and how she now works as a community leader and part of a heritage trust to preserve that history. The story is familiar but no less touching for that. The scrolling, lifelike progress of the wall-sized, youthful avatar, however, striding over obstacles in her shorts, looks a parody of that real-life struggle, hardship as virtual entertainment. The local is made universal, global, and something is lost in the process.

Arpillera, New Chilean Song, 1980-3 by an unknown political prisoner. Photograph: © Jonty Wilde

In this contained way the exhibition poses interesting questions of the nature of politics in our fractured and mediated present: is protest a heritage industry, another look to be tried on, or a rooted reality? Where might our contemporary concern be focused?

Two of the pieces in the Bothy Gallery seem to reach out beyond its walls and provide one answer to those questions. Amid the flotsam of 70s protest here are two wall hangings from a related narrative. They were both made by refugees from General Pinochet’s Chile, a thousand of whom were given a home in nearby Sheffield in the late 1970s. One, created by an unknown political prisoner, is a colourful, guitar-shaped homage to the Chilean protest singer Victor Jara (whose songs are, by happy coincidence, available as a selection on Ruth Ewan’s jukebox). The other is a large-scale wall hanging – which might easily be mistaken for an NUM union banner – made to celebrate the Sheffield refugees’ “Jornada de Nuestras Vidas”, their new life in Yorkshire, back in 1976.

The narrative threads of these tapestries lead you back out into the open air to the other, more urgent, expression of artistic activism still on view at the park. Last autumn, the celebrated Chilean artist (and “frustrated journalist”) Alfredo Jaar installed 101 conifers at the park. In between the trees, like cages from a Grimm fairytale, are a series of prison cells, made of stainless steel. They are mostly hidden from view, until you delve. The cells are each one metre square. The dimensions are important, a reference to the late Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish’s poems from an Israeli prison, and a metaphor for the “black sites”, the secret detention centres operated by the CIA in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Romania, Guantánamo Bay and Diego Garcia.

Jaar suggests these spaces as the globalised equivalent of the Greenham base of 40 years ago; how to protest against them is a silent question. As the small retrospective of Jaar’s work – since his own exile from Chile – also attests, the courage to bear witness does not go away; it just changes shape, gets older. The Garden of Good and Evil will be a permanent addition to the park as it enters its fifth decade.

Alfredo Jaar’s The Garden of Good and Evil. Photograph: Jonty Wilde

[Editor] 姜鑫