Ideas succeed or are left unrealised; the letter for their commission is a document in which both of these potentials exist. In Peter Liversidge’s work this document is foregrounded, manually typed existing to reveal the constant speculation that artists engage with. This process that reveals what is hidden from view, showing the life that ideas have independent of their outcome. Letters set off chains of events, they initiate.
For ‘Notes on Protesting’ Liversidge proposed to collaborate with two Year 3 classes at Marion Richardson Primary School in East London. The alliance with the children was realised through four months of workshops that engaged pupils at the school in directly in voicing the aspects of their lives that they wished to change. As with any institutional setting, imagining its transformation demands being bold enough to ask for the impossible. Here documentation of rehearsals by the children on sugar-paper capture their written demands for ‘More Bald Eagles’ ‘Perfume in the lift’ and a ‘Planet made of gold’. Over time, as the project developed, common daily realities are revealed, shoes that are too tight, daily slaloms around dog dirt and a dislike of cooked tomatoes. The individually voiced complaints gather strength as a unified mass, become collectivised and see beyond themselves; it is here that Liversidge has focused the children with the sound and rhythms of collective vocal protest.
Screened at Whitechapel is the recording of the 2014 May Day performance of ‘Notes on Protesting’ in which the mass of blue shirted small children gather inside the entrance hall of the gallery, holding placards they begin to hum. Facing an audience of adults they repeat a demand for ‘No more dog dirt’ that we should ‘clean up, clean up clean up!’. Their statements are echoed on their banners, as hand-painted notes on cardboard that ask us to ‘Give money to the poor’, and say ‘Thank You’ and ‘Don’t tell shhhh’. The scale of the placards makes the children feel miniaturised; they sway as they hold them facing the audience while the camera captures their shifting emotions in which confidence becomes momentary uncertainty then humour. Their chanting is charged with potential for change as ‘2,4,6,8, who do we appreciate’ merges into an assertion that this is ‘Not the King not the Queen’ and that there should be ‘No More Homework’. Their speculations reach an arc with the open question of ‘What if we took our problems to the United Nations?’; leaving a space for future action and consideration. The project is captured within the gallery as an archived artists’ book that depicts the tone and pace of the texts developed by the groups. The placards are placed resting together and a display cabinet articulates the project’s development. Facing the placards is a large banner that states in rainbow letters ‘Make the City Calm, Make the People Calm’, a section of a verse that becomes a work within itself.
On the first of May 2015 the performance was restaged at Whitechapel by children from Marion Richardson Primary School, a revisitation of the power of the collective voice and a call to make changes that benefit all of our lives.