Bold Street and Bagism.
Written by Gaynor Evelyn Sweeney.
Photographs by Tony Knox.
18 August 2007.
On the close of the unveiling of the Transvoyeur Legacy 2007 art collection in the Emergency Department of the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Tony Knox and I went up towards Bold Street to make our way home.
Outside the Oxfam Charity Shop were two bags on the floor with a guitar case next to it with a pile of papers and loose coins in the bottom. Families walked by nearly stepping on the bags. The bags then moved and guitar music sounded from one bag and followed by citations of poetry form another. Then it was realised these were artists in the bags and doing a live art intervention on ‘Bagism'. Whether the artists were aware they had drawn a crowd, they had an audience confounded and curious to this strange manifestation of incongruous bags resounding prose and music.
A man, somewhat worse for wear, stopped and moved around the bags like an inquisitive cat ready to pounce. He moved further in, stumbling, and tried to lift the bag from one reading poetry and asked "I want to get in with you!" The artist desperately tried to keep the bag contained. Tony by this point was taking photographs and the man noticed and turned to the camera with a peace sign of two fingers.
The take on Bagism, ‘a concept created by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1968. The Bagism might be summed up: By removing the obstacle of prejudging someone according to the length of their hair or colour of their skin, certain people might be more inclined to take the words and ideas others more seriously. Hence, total communication' (Official leaflet ‘Bagism, 2007').
"It's like … a tag for what we all do, we're all in a bag ya know and we all sort of come out and look at each other every now and then, but we don't communicate. And we all intellectualise about how there is no barrier between art, music, poetry … but we're still all – I'm a rock and roller, he's a poet … so we just came up with the word so you would ask us why what bagism is, and we'd say ‘WE'RE ALL IN A BAG!" (John Lennon).
"You know, this life is speeded up so much, and whole world is getting tenser and tenser because things are going just so fast, you know, so it's so nice to slow down the rhythm of the whole world, just to make it peaceful. So, like the bag, when you get in – you see that it's very peaceful and your movements are sort of limited. You can walk around on the street with a bag".
The take on this performance and those planned during 22nd August 2007 in the opening of the ‘Beatles Week' are to imbue a sense of those precepts conveyed originally by Lennon and Ono, but to re-address in the 21st century in contemporary arts and culture in the freedom of speech and to express yourself without the confine of media and institutional controls. It is interesting how this is one of protest brought into Liverpool and during a time in the lead up of European Capital of Culture 2008, where art has since been bureaucratised through local government and those initiatives endorsed by officialdom to satisfy targets, rather than the autonomy and liberty of creativity. One than is reactionary and expressive of current issues and debates surrounding and affecting everyone's lives in the city. Culture has become the designed and re-designed, reductivist for safe sterile marketing. The ideal, lifestyle living, not art.
I stood pondering the performance in front of me and I enjoyed it. I liked the unexpected of it, art back in the street. The enthusiasm of happenings, art opened to the broader echelons of society in the public realm. Not that one will understand straight away what is meant by live art interventions, but the exposure and experience of such touches the immediate senses and leaves the audience curious, questioning why. These are the fundamentals of live art by shared experience and the concept to stimulate awareness, encourage things to be thought about, questioned, and deliberated. It is only by such new modes of expression and thinking happens and society changes. It is not one to imbue accord or conformity, but open up our own preconceptions and leave a sense of something other. I believe sincerely good art, albeit live art, painting, sculpture or whatever stimulates thought and changes ideas of societal convention. Maybe, the re-adaptation refers back to this from when Lennon and Ono did it. To stop for those implicit moments and consider the importance of what matters, whether by the seclusion of the artists experience in the bag or the momentary distraction of the passer-by who encounters this strange performance.
I found it interesting the way a Nun walked past oblivious and continued on her journey. I studied her mannerism and looked back at the figures in bags and thought to myself, does religion have it's own bag that we walk around blinkered by blind faith; yet is not the contemplative role of prayer and meditation supposed to imbue a comparability to the seclusion of the artists experience confined in their bag and shared by observations of the audience. It was paradox on this point, but maybe this trait in re-consideration of how we live our lives or spiritual enlightenment are one and the same. My resolve on this is that Bagism is something to make people stop and think, but there are some ‘bags' maybe we all carry around, not to provoke contemplation and awakening by introspection, but analogous of constraint too by institutionalised ideologies and ways of living. Like with all art, something and nothing can be read in to it and I suppose more reflective of viewer.
Tony and I decided to move on, as the man became part of the performance and played up more to the crowd. Homeward bound, exhausted with our own work from earlier, the performance of Bagism was an enjoyable surprise on the way. I have no idea who the artists were in the bags, but it would be interesting know their take on the whole intervention in Bold Street!
Freelance writer and contributer to Transvoyeur, an international group of artists based in Liverpool, England.