Speaking Without Fear: Krzysztof Wodiczko at Brierfield Mill

Posted on 7 June 2017 by Liverpool Biennial

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Guests, 2009. Installation view at Northlight (Brierfield) Mill, 2017. Photo: Pete Carr

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Guests, 2009. Installation view at Northlight (Brierfield) Mill, 2017. Photo: Pete Carr

Brierfield’s striking former cotton mill is temporarily home to Guests (2009), a large-scale installation by Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko that reflects on the current migration crisis. Behind frosted glass, 'legal' and 'illegal' immigrants discuss their current situations. Through sound and video projections, Wodiczko has set out to interrogate complex issues of social acceptance and integration. Responding to the artwork and its current context, three different voices consider the timely presentation of Guests in light of the current socio-political climate.

"The situation in the world has not changed for the better." 

Krzysztof Wodiczko (Artist)

This project was initially presented in 2009 as part of the Pavilion of Poland for the 53rd Venice Bienniale. It is now 2017 but unfortunately the situation in the world has not changed for the better; it has changed for the worse in terms of fear of newcomers such as immigrants, refugees, and those fleeing from very bloody wars, hoping to be protected. But instead of feeling safe they actually suffer, to some degree, a repetition of the trauma because of the way they are treated, or at best tolerated, by authorities or residents who are born here and have never left the country.

People that are on the other side of the projections are coming from various countries in the world. What they say is quite harsh. They speak without fear because they are protected by the foggy glass of the windows and their faces cannot be recognised. They are very close to us, on the other side of the windows, and we can hear everything they say, but we have quite a foggy idea of who they are, how they feel, and how they perceive us. We are getting both the image of our foggy perception of them and, at the same time, a very clear sound of what they say honestly and without fear.

"Conversations about how our community is changing and developing with people that move here are really important." 

Paul Hartley (Director of In-Situ)

We’ve recently had our first families from Syria come to live in Pendle, but Brierfield is also a community that has a 40% Pakistani population. This is because of the cotton industry and its history of immigration with people coming to live and work in the town. Krzysztof’s artwork has allowed us to have a conversation with people about what is important to them in their towns. That’s the whole point of what we’ve been trying to do. We make work or invite artists that really respond to the people and place. What we’ve seen is people starting to shift their perceptions of what art is, from the idea that it’s just paintings or drawings on a wall, to artists that work with people and create artworks that spark conversation and challenge their thinking.

When we started In-Situ, part of what we wanted to do was look at the quality and aspiration of what can happen in a small place like Brierfield and see if we can draw audiences to discover art that’s been either made here or brought in. Our first visitor was a young lad who must have only been about ten. He waltzed in with a flyer that had come through his door and said, "I’ve had this flyer, I’ve come to see the artwork. I’ve read all about it and I want to see what it is". This is just a little kid who has never seen anything like this in his life who went in and just said, "Wow". That sums it up; the chance for a young person from Brierfield to see this kind of artwork that just blows their mind.

"It gives us strength to carry on with what we are doing here."

Mohammed Hussain Hanif (Brierfield resident)

Clockwise from top: Dean Langton and Julie Palmer (Pendle Borough Council), Kerry Morrison (In-Situ), Sally Tallant (Liverpool Biennial), Paul Hartley (In-Situ), Krzysztof Wodiczko and Mohammed Hussain Hanif

To have Krzysztof’s work showcased here is a big honour for a small town and community like Brierfield. We try to get people from different backgrounds, different races and different ages to come together and interpret art their own way. Brierfield Mill was – and is – the hub of our community. This whole building is where immigrants came and worked, hence British Asians like myself are the product of it.

My favourite element of the work relates to a big issue that has been affecting me since last year: Brexit. I can see how Krzysztof has tried to create an atmosphere where Brexit could be talked about in the presence of this work. He is a Polish artist who has lived in France and has nationality in America and Canada. He understands what it feels like to be a stranger in a country that you have lived in for so long. You have put your efforts into that country, into that society and community, to then be told Brexit is happening. What is the future for the next generation? We need to question ourselves as humans.

Krzysztof Wodiczko: Guests is on display at Northlight (Brierfield) Mill in Lancashire as part of the  Liverpool Biennial touring programme from 20 May – 11 June 2017 and open weekends 10am – 3pm. Free entry. 

Photos: Pete Carr