Words and Pictures, Patrick Kirk-Smith
Toxteth Welsh Streets are probably some of the most famous roads in the UK, not just Liverpool, but how many of you have actually walked down residential streets and seen what’s happening for yourselves?
No, me neither. I’ve driven through, but even with a huge part of Liverpool Biennial 2016, and probably the most significant part of the Biennial Fringe, it took me until late September to actually visit these roads on foot.
So yes, you’d be forgiven for not going to see Contravision while it stood, but it’s harder to forgive letting its implications pass by. The artist behind the installation, Nina Edge, has everywhere lately, leading courses at Tate Liverpool, The Florrie and City of Liverpool College, and given talks at The Bluecoat with their director Bryan Biggs. It’s impossible to miss the sounds of protest still coming from The Welsh Streets, and in particular, Kelvin Grove.
The window installations are actually quite different to the protest though. The window stickers, while very difficult to photograph (see slideshow below), have a presence in the road that almost makes condemnation a happy thing.
Everyone’s familiar with the perforated steel adorning the houses of L8, and the colourful boarding decorating the empty windows in L1. What Contravision does is take everything about those visuals, ties it all in with questions, and brightens up the end of the semi-unoccupied Kelvin Grove. It gets you thinking.
It gets you making judgements. And yes, like anything with a conscience it’s also got an agenda. So you’re not going to leave with a neutral mind, you’re going to leave the front of 40 Kelvin Grove wondering what possible justification there is for next door being empty. Or, similarly, why the residents who stayed through the boarding up have to put up with knowing they’ve got a few less neighbours than they should.
The project surrounding the installation, Welsh Street Housing Group (@welshstreets), has existed, and has been on the front line of art with a social conscience in Liverpool for a long time, and Nina Edge has hardly been a quiet voice through that. What’s even more promising than its history, though, is that the project looks to be continuing, and transforming, and learning.
Welsh Streets Housing Group openly accept demolition where necessary, but have had visible success in maintaining their neighbourhood since 2004. Some buildings have come down, and some have remained unoccupied, but for the most part, their efforts have managed to sustain a thriving community.
So if you’re heading to Toxteth for the last few days of the Biennial (Lara Favaretto, Arseny Zhilyaev & Rita McBride all have public works in L8, open this weekend) you’d be robbing yourself of the history surrounding the Biennial venues if you didn’t walk down Kelvin Grove for Nina Edge’s Contravision.