Keywords, Art Culture and Society in 1980s Britain
Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4BB
In Williams book Culture and Society (1958), he redefined culture as responses in thought and feeling as to what is going on in society, asserting that the surprising confusion of any particular uses of a word, within a group or period is a very difficult question.
The objectification of its entries expresses the dissemination of the history of language of ideas, suggesting a move away from left/right wing politics, illustrating the evolution of the word and ideas against the backdrop of 80s British artists and discourse of narratives of parochial, national and international politics.
Organised in partnership with Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts, London), where the first incarnation of Keywords was presented from 27 March - 18 May 2013, the exhibition spans a twenty year period from the first publication of the book to the last year of Conservative rule in 1996.
It depicts a seminal discourse of oppositional politics in Britain, which had an impact on culture from the miners strike, to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), ongoing insurgency against British rule in Northern Ireland, race riots, gay liberation and feminism.
The exhibitions thematic construction is presented through thirteen key words by Luca Frei, collaborating with Will Holder.
They use templates of keywords in unique blue typography painted directly on to the gallery walls, thematic words within which other works are hung include: PRIVATE, STRUCTURAL, FOLK, VIOLENCE, CRITICISM, LIBERATION and FORMALIST, MYTH, ANTHROPOLOGY, NATIVE, MATERIALISM, UNCONSCIOUS and THEORY.
The tightly packed exhibition, selected from 300 artists works, endeavours to express the purports to explore the discursive polyphonic polemical discourse of the 80s through fifty two works, including 13 films by 55 artists, selected from over three hundred artists, presented in two separate gallery spaces which includes two-dimensional, sculpture and film-based work, by artists such as Stuart Brisley, Helen Chadwick, Peter Kennard, Rose English, Alexis Hunter, Yve Lomax, David Hockney, Anish Kapoor, Sir Anthony Caro, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, Bill Woodrow, Jo Spence and Stephen Willats, Paul Graham, Willie Doherty. Yve Lomax, Derek Jarman and Elisabeth Frink and a great deal more. Within its ambitious remit it incorporates geopolitical, national, and micropolitical facets such as Liverpools local fanzine magazines, prior to the 80s riots, as The End.
Other key art works presented that strongly juxtapose narrative, text and image include One for Sorrow Two for Joy 1976, a pioneering performance from Rose Finn-Kelcey, Sunil Guptas London Gay Switchboard 1980, Helen Chadwicks notorious Carcass 1986. This is also on display for the first time since its premiere in 1986.
The artist Peter Kennard (65) who was present at the show, who abandoned painting in the 1970s in search of new forms of expression that could bring art and politics together for a wider audience, and whose photomontage work was made in response to the radical disruptive political dichotomy of our time, considers that the Tates exhibition presented an opportunity for a speculative art critical evaluation of the work produced in the period in relation to key works and keywords associated with Williams book and British 80s artists.
Kennard believes it also reassesses a cyclical debate of relative associational political values, allowing the opportunity to assess the ongoing very real inequalities that people and young people in education in Britain face today.
Kennards seminal work, Haywain with Cruise Missiles, constructed from a reproduction print of the work by John Constable, The Hay Wain (1821), which he purchased at the National Gallery (London), was made in response to the announcement on the 17 June 1980 of the first US nuclear cruise missiles to be stored on British soil (at RAF Greenham Common, Berkshire). Kennard uses Constables Haywain, an archetype of the British landscape, to further the discussion around CND.