Whether it’s in the form of an opinion piece, social media posts or TV debate, there is an abundance of comments about the movements of refugees and asylum seekers in today’s media landscape. But what about the opinions of displaced people themselves?
Look Up (2017), a commission as part of Journeys Festival International puts the words of this group front and centre.
The work of Turner Prize nominee Mark Titchner, Look Up, created alongside Manchester-based group United for Change comprises of a series of large scale text-based works displayed on prominent buildings across Manchester city centre such as the National Football Museum and People’s History Museum. Working with refugees and asylum seekers in a variety of workshops facilitated by the charity Pathway Arts to produce the works, Titchner has created bold, striking pieces that simultaneously demands attention, yet look at home within the screen and poster-populated city centre. As a series of works that are text-based, utilising a bold type face and short, direct sentences, Titchner’s pieces share characteristics with the attention-demanding style of newspaper headlines, which appears emphasised by the crossed wire pattern seen in the background of the works bearing resemblance to the headline placards seen outside news agent shops.
The power of these similarities is in transformation. The pieces utilise the characteristics of a medium that has notable incidents of the dehumanisation of asylum seekers and refugees, such as The Daily Express labelling those coming to the UK as ‘invaders’ (June 2016) and The Daily Mail using its front page to call asylum seekers ‘savages’ (April 2017). However, by adopting the style associated with such claims, the pieces offer more impact by offering juxtaposing content, transforming meaning and subverting expectations. Albeit this is just one of the elements that makes the work so powerful, as suggested by both the name of the installations ‘Look Up’ and the reoccurring refrain of ‘Listen To Me’ that appears on them, almost demanding that viewers looks outside their daily routines and take in the words of asylum seekers and refuges.
However while the artworks are large and loud, the city that they are placed in is bursting with advertising, communication and distractions, which creates an interesting tension between the artworks and their surroundings that are both vying for attention. Will we look up past the distractions of our surroundings to the words of those in need? Will we seek out the words that counteract differing perhaps more commonplace images and ideas? These are the questions that Look Up prompts in its placement and style resulting in an impactful exhibition in the public arena.
Look Up, Journeys Festival International 2017, Manchester.
02 – 15 October 2017.
Beth Dawson is a writer and marketeer based in Manchester.