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Dave Jacques – ‘Por Convencion Ferrer; the north-west of England, anarcho-syndicalism and tome travel’ (Bluecoat Gallery)
By Phil Thornton
Liverpool artist Dave Jacques’s latest work is an ambitious attempt to make sense of various strands of hidden history through an invented series of ‘anarchist conferences’ taking place between 1910 – 1918 in Liverpool, Birkenhead, Salford, Manchester and er, Bala. Everything from grave robbing in Scotty Road to kiting in Selfridges, the commissioning of warships for the confederate army in Cammell Lairds to notorious Victorian Mancunian thieves are examined in a series of embroidered trade union style pennants and an accompanying 30 minute film that explains in more depth the stories behind the pennants.
The film itself is a wonderful piece of cinematography, a slow motion journey around Liverpool’s magnificent central library interspersed with historical artifacts, newspaper reports, drawings, posters with a narration from Liverpool poet, Paul Farley. Photographs etc. The visuals, especially those shot in the library provide both physical and emotional depth for the subject matter; these spaces, these walls and staircases and bookshelves enclose and define ‘history’ and ‘knowledge’ but who’s history, whose knowledge? Jacques’s research has unearthed (literally, in some cases) long buried examples of how the past is obscured by ‘the establishment’. Stories and tales shrouded by myth, folklore and rumour are investigated and in common with Jacques’s other works, explore the historical facts that the powers that be want to bury and forget. Who is remembered and who is forgotten? Which facts and events are celebrated and which are covered up or cremated?
Ferrer himself was an Catalan educationalist and anarchist who was executed in the early 20th century. The annual conventions are held on the anniversary of his death and just as ferrer offered any subject to be submitted for ‘free and open discussion’ so each year’s subject matter is deliberately diverse, yet certain themes – education, colonialism, crime for example – crop up throughout the timeframe. The years selected 1911-1918 were ofcourse a time when the ‘west’ was in turmoil and anarchists such as Ferrer were challenging not only the militaristic regimes of Europe but also the very notion of politics, culture and humanity itself.
With the rise of religious and political fundamentalism it’s interesting to reflect upon that era when anarchy actually meant a little bit more than ‘giving a wrong time and stopping a traffic line’ or smashing a McDonalds window. Although modern anti-authoritarian organizations such as Critical Mass and CorporateWatch are included in the pennants, there’s a feeling that the dissenting tradition both in the north west and within ‘the west’ has somehow been neutered.
Por Convencion Ferrer is a superb examination of the fragmentary nature of history and memory itself.
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