Themes such as memory and the identity of place are central to Yael Bartana’s work.

In the past she has focused on nationalism and social behaviour in Israel, witnessing and documenting ceremonial and religious events. At the Grand National, by focusing on the crowd rather than the actual race, Yael Bartana observed some of the codes of English class structure: the ‘Tatters’ versus the County Stand, old money versus new, the haves and the have-nots.

There was a time in England when horse-racing was banned and, to curb royalist insurrection, new laws created a land of joyless conformity where drinking and gambling were punishable offences. It was a time of republican government under Oliver Cromwell. When Cromwell died in 1658, and his son proved a poor successor, Charles II returned to England in 1660 to take the throne. Thus began the Restoration, as England was tired of being without a king.

Charles II restored racing to the realm, fostering the Sport of Kings by encouraging the commoners to attend the races. He jockeyed his own horses, under the alias ’Old Rowley‘, and was victorious at Newmarket. He introduced the use of racing silks and furlong posts, and offered prize money and numerous trophies to encourage breeders to improve the qualities of their horses.

There is only one surviving equestrian statue of Charles II (1665); it stands in Edinburgh’s Parliament Square, and is the oldest in town. Visiting Liverpool for the first time, Yael Bartana felt echoes of the past resonating through the urban landscape, a pervading air of disappearance. Figures on horseback, enduring symbols of monarchy and power, including Thomas Thornycroft’s 1870 equestrian statue of Queen Victoria on St George’s Plateau, became markers for her.

This led to Yael Bartana becoming interested in filming the Grand National, perhaps the world’s most famous steeplechase race. Run at Aintree on Merseyside since 1839, it’s a gruelling two-mile circuit for horses and riders alike. For Yael Bartana it provided an unrivalled opportunity to comment on individual and collective behaviour.

The film alternated between the Parade Ring and the Tattersalls Enclosure. This, the largest area on the course, is where over 30,000 racegoers can be found watching the races from the slope of the exposed Aintree Mound. Here Yael Bartana’s crew trained their cameras on the betting process and the expectant crowd.

The footage also captured Ladies’ Day, the highlight of the meet for many and a brassy parade of fashion sense and high-heeled stamina. Among the ruffled feathers blowing in the stiff breeze, one contestant stood out. Refined in a blacktop hat and diamond choker, she had a marked dignity that’s countered only by Yael Bartana’s cheeky soundtrack, which sped up the local Scouse accent to make it impenetrable even to an insider.

You Could Be Lucky, 2004
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2004
Exhibited at BBC Big Screen



The Mondriaan Foundation
The Royal Netherlands Embassy
The Embassy of Israel