Beautiful world, where are you? – with the latest news from Great George Street, this seems a relevant question for the 2018 Biennial to be asking.
Having been torn down twice – with the decision made not to replace the damage the second time – Banu Cennetoğlu,’s artwork The List has now been vandalised for a third time. It’s a work which is meant as a memorial for the asylum seekers, refugees and migrants who have lost their lives on Europe’s borders. Not content with this loss, it seems that some groups would prefer to deny their existence completely.
There is a sense of shock that this has happened in Liverpool. In recent years, Liverpool has tended to see itself as a particularly open and inclusive city. The kind of place where the actions of the general public have twice stopped EDL demonstrations in their tracks, where 58.9% of voters chose Remain in 2016. That it is now also a place where groups with anti-refugee views are becoming empowered to make public statements breaks that self-perception. But it should also be a call for those who believe that these lives had value and deserve their memorial to stand up for what we believe in.
The city and Liverpool Biennial are confronted for the third time this summer with the question: what do we do about The List? After its initial destruction it was replaced; however after the second incident Biennial chose to leave it in its torn state “as a manifestation and reminder of systematic violence exercised against people”. Although The List is an artwork which inevitably ignites political debate, to leave it up for repeated abuse is a disturbing symbol.
The 34,361 people whose names it records have no other presence in this world. In this circumstance, the acts of violence against The List represent a physical violence – violence willed against not only these non-existent bodies, but all others like them. The question, therefore, becomes one of how much violence we are willing to stand back and watch those who follow this ideology inflict. To leave The List defaced is to fail to stand up for these people who have no voice. Leaving it as it is would be to simply look on as though we cannot answer this. But it can be answered by replacing these posters, refusing to let these people remain abused. And, if it happens again, continuing to do so.
The List has been hung in many other cities, but never before defaced. The Liverpool incarnation has become a unique symbol, and a significant one. The List has become the battleground where the answer may be reached. It has become a visceral public representation of how we will act in the face of the divisive politics of hatred toward others. The fate of The List is now down to the Biennial and Liverpool City Council; if Liverpool wants to continue to perceive itself as a ‘Beautiful World’, they must choose, for the sake of everyone they name, to keep these posters alive.
Julia Johnson is a writer based in Liverpool, interested in how engagement with art can be opened up to the widest possible audiences.
Liverpool Biennial 2018 continues in venues across the city until 28 October.