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Una Walker At Static, Liverpool

Being on a thousand-and-one mailing lists for galleries around the world can be awfully frustrating. Here’s the latest show from my inbox that I really want to go to, but won’t be able to, Surveiller at Static, in Liverpool:

Artist Una Walker spent 128 days, approximately 1,280 hours, producing an inventory of art exhibitions in Belfast from March 1968 to March 2001. The chronology, presented on gallery walls, and as a searchable database in an office, attempts to document the length, type, title, venue and media source of every artist’s show. Surveiller is ‘just a list’, but like many things that are ‘just lists’ it creates and communicates power structures and opposes the experience of those ‘who were there at the time’ with larger and longer patterns.

The database presents fact: when, where, what and who. It does not distinguish the art listed according to quality, content or reputation, nor does it provide any visual information. We expect art to be emotive and subjective, so to subject art to this analysis seems stark and reductive. However the tension between objective and subjective, or observer and subject, is inherent in surveillance, and, like all good data collection, this inventory reveals much. The information presents art as a type of social activity, subject to the influence of politics and economics. For example, in 1974 there was notably fewer exhibitions. The list shows there were only five active galleries, others being decommissioned through bombing. In contrast, in 1994, the year of the cease-fire, galleries were busy. The increase in galleries and shows in the recent years is notable, reflecting the growing faith in culture as a tool for economic regeneration. Many new commercial galleries have opened, evidence of the greater spending power of the culturally literate.

It might seem that Walker is performing a generous service for her fellow artists, placing them in official histories where they were previously invisible. However, the aim of Surveiller isn’t to valorise individuals but to reveal the mechanisms which make practices visible and effective. The list is as accurate as possible, but it relies on the very media sources it also represents, amplifying any effects of misinformation. It is noticeable that none of Walker’s information sources are from outside Ireland. It seems that scanning the UK or international art press during this period was pointless as so little about art in Ireland was published. The sheer mass of internal artistic circulation in Belfast during this period is overwhelming and the person who surveys this information can’t help but wonder what return any of them received from their work.

In Surveiller Walker is an amasser of information and a controller of data. Far from being atavistic, Surveiller gives Walker a position of power to represent her colleagues and reduce them to data. The time period presented here is a time of surveillance and controlled media representation. Surveiller reflects this oppression by turning inwards and broadcasting these mechanisms. The artist makes her work out of watching and recording artists, the gallery makes its exhibition out of recording exhibitions and the viewer watches themselves surveying the data.

Sounds fabulous, no? If you do happen to be in Liverpool, the show opens this Thursday at Static, 23 Roscoe Lane.

Posted at 1pm on 22/02/05 by Jack Mottram to the art and culture category.
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  1. Damn, I just got back from lunch and there was an invite to that show in the post. Thought it looked good; wondered where it was, then turned over the card to find that it was in Liverpool. There appears to be a debate/event with Walker an academic, and the editor of Cultural Trends the day before your birthday, too.

    Posted by Leon at 4pm on 22.02.05

  2. Yeah, I got the invite too - I wonder how we both came to be on the list of a Liverpool gallery?

    Posted by Jack Mottram at 7pm on 22.02.05

  3. No idea how we ended up on the list. That said, it was addressed to me at the Sunday Herald office (in fact, it was addressed to me as a staff arts writer), rather than my home address, so I’m assuming that they just harvest names from the papers/magazines that they buy/get sent…

    Posted by Leon at 12am on 23.02.05

  4. Hello chaps,

    the mailing list for this show has been really bizarre, as Isabelle got emailed about it on all three of her email accounts, despite the fact that she has never signed up to any gallery mailing lists ever, whereas I didn’t get anything even though I should have, since I once signed up on Static’s own list.

    The show was already on in Belfast last year, and I told Hugh to go to it, although I don’t think he went, and the fact that the publicity about it didn’t reach you two then kind of proves her point about the lack of information on Northern Irish art in the wider world doesn’t it?


    Posted by Mark Godber at 10am on 23.02.05

  5. RE:UNa Walker exhibition
    I was an artist based in Belfast ( 92 -97 ), I can fully endorse and commend the Artist for the ideas / concepts involved in the show.
    Is there a panel discussion on these issues?

    Posted by Lawrence Cassidy at 3pm on 25.02.05

  6. Hello Una.
    I saw your installation at static, Liverpool.
    I was in Belfast from 1992 to 1997 and organised exhibitions and founded Magpie Art Studios, 48 King Street, off Castle Street.
    If you need any info on exhibitions we did, site specific etc, some of which are reviewd in Source MAgazine and Circa, please let me know.

    Posted by Lawrence CAssidy at 1pm on 11.06.05

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