The work merged a part of the roadside landscape with burning political issues, which created tension.

In Britain, cast iron signposts are regarded as an important part of the country’s heritage and its landscape. Huang Yong Ping, has created an artwork entitled The Pole of the East (2004) for International 04 that mimicked the signpost but at odds with its function.

Yong Ping Huang moved to Paris, where he now lives and works, after the political upheavals in China in 1989. He has often used irony to address current affairs. From the outset, his oeuvre has involved critique, deliberately questioning the conflict between the so-called centre and peripheral cultures. His project The Pole of the East (2004), a commissioned work in Liverpool’s city centre, was a good example of this questioning.

In this work, Huang converted a common signpost into a city sculpture. The work merged a part of the roadside landscape with burning political issues, which created tension. The signpost directed pedestrians to 17 countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, China, the Philippines, Libya, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, India, Russia, and Germany. As indicated from the signs, these countries are all located east of Liverpool (and of Britain).

The images employed in the work were taken from British newspapers and European magazines from 2003, illustrating the movement of coalition troops before the outbreak of the Iraq war. A hawk atop the crown replaced the seagull in the signpost. The figure of the pedestrian was changed into a soldier holding a gun. According to Huang, the hawk and the crown represented the American and the British armies respectively. The green soldier is an embodiment of the military awaiting the command. The first four countries on the signpost were labelled by the United States as members of the ‘Axis of Evil’, while the first two have even experienced war. Based on this logic, the artist raised a question in the form of a prophecy – he foresaw that the remaining countries might eventually share the same fate.

In its engagement with this sensitive political context, Huang’s work is perhaps a proposition of global positioning vis-à-vis the dominant Western power. It is no longer a city signpost, but an indication of Britain’s position relative to the rest of the world, and particularly to the East. The artist explained, ‘the work was inspired by and transformed from the signposts in Liverpool. It came from the place but it also questioned this place’.

The Pole of the East, (2004)
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2004
Exhibited at the Albert Dock



The Institut Francais Du Royaume-Uni