Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, which turned 40 last year, is known for its groundbreaking approach, offering space to a diverse range of artists. Its opening in 1977 met with serious opposition and, in the decades since, it has consistently positioned itself within the arena of creative social change. This makes it exceptionally well-placed to host a collection of objects made by practitioners who attempt, quite simply “to make a difference”: Revolts & Revolutions, in partnership with the Arts Council.
The variety of the work on show echoes this broad statement of intent: sound and digital installations sit alongside prints, photomontages and sculptures. Likewise, the subject matter ranges from squatters’ rights to nuclear disarmament, with plenty in between. Nonetheless, by not focusing on one particular issue, the exhibition is able to offer provocative suggestions for change, rather than a simple history of a given campaign.
Viewers are initially drawn in by Susan Philipsz’s The Internationale (1999). Once a rousing socialist anthem, it is rendered frail and halting here (though hardly “dirgey”, as one critic has suggested) as it drifts across the park. Further musical offerings come from Ruth Ewan, whose installation A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World offers a staggering range of loosely-defined protest songs. Presented via this archaic – albeit charmingly so – medium, a question is raised about the relevance of these political ideals today, with a certain naivety to the whole thing. Elsewhere, things become more directly challenging. Peter Kennard takes John Constable’s well-known bucolic landscapes and places nuclear warheads into them in Haywain, Constable (1821) Cruise Missules U.S.A. (1981) (1981). The sense of dread, of losing something held dear, is palpable. But, he seems to ask, did the idyll we seek to protect ever really exist?
Fans of Punk iconography will also find things to enjoy here: Steve Johnston’s portraits of young men and women in the earliest years of the genre (1977-8) are, somehow, simultaneously anarchic and innocent, while Andrew Logan’s Homage to the New Wave (1977) – a giant metal safety pin – managed to predict, at the time of its making, the tiny item that would become a symbol of a whole movement.
Revolts & Revolutions is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 15 April. Find out more: www.ysp.org.uk
1. Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon, Destroy London, 1977. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon.