“Figures is a mass-sculptural performance that makes visible the human cost of austerity and urges action against it.”

#WeAreFigures

Listen to the stories of austerity being read aloud during the firing

Figures

Using excavated raw river mud and taking up residence on the streets and foreshore of central London, artist-activist Liz Crow sculpted 650 small human figures, each one representing an individual at the sharp end of austerity. Coinciding with tide times on the nearby Thames, at the incoming tide, the newly-sculpted figures were moved to safety. At each low tide, the artist returned to sculpt more figures, in an endurance ritual that spanned 11 consecutive days and nights in all weathers.

Though made in the same form, each figure differed in its detail, representing both common humanity and the individual. Their number echoed the 650 constituencies throughout which the effects of austerity are felt, as well as the number of MPs whose choices determine the choices of others

Once dried, the figures toured en masse in a mobile exhibition that visited locations from London to Bristol over five days, the figures making visible the stark human cost of austerity and creating a talking point for members of the public to grapple with the questions raised by the work.

In Bristol, the figures were returned to foreshore and raised into a cairn. A bonfire burned into the night, firing the figures, while their corresponding stories of austerity were read aloud until the returning tide doused the flames. The figures, fired, burned and broken, were reclaimed, gathered and ground down to dust.

In the final phase of the performance and on the first day of the new government’s tenure, the ground remains of the figures were scattered back to water, taken out to sea as a poignant reminder of the human cost of austerity and a call to the international community to take heed.

Rooted in symbolism, ranging across worldwide ‘mud men’ mythology and the cycle of life, the firing and crushing of human aspiration, the bearing witness of the cairn and the dispersal and forgetting of stories of social injustice, Figures will be a work that is multi-layered and uncompromising, yet simple and tender in message.

The 650 stories of people at the sharp end of austerity are drawn from leading-edge research, Parliamentary records and campaigns in the field of social justice. Covering a range of topics, including benefits reform, local authority spending, homelessness, malnutrition, NHS rationing, and so on, they have been selected to represent a spectrum of experience. Volunteer stewards, from campaigning and arts curatorial backgrounds, attended the performance, drawing on these stories and supporting members of the public in conversation about the issues raised by the work.

Timed to coincide with the 2015 UK general election and subsequent newly-formed government, Figures raises profound questions about how we treat each other, what kind of society we want to be, and what role we might each of us have in bringing that about.

Figures

Digging

 

Figures began on the banks of the River Avon at Shirehampton, Bristol, in February 2015.

Over two days, the Figures team dug mud by hand, carted it up the bank and prepared it for transportation. The mud was than taken to Ibstock Brick at Cattybrook, Bristol to be prepared for the making phase.

You can see a record of the dig on our Engage page. You can join in our coverage on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine using the hashtag #WeAreFigures

Making

 

On the streets and foreshore of central London, artist-activist Liz Crow sculpted 650 small human figures, each one representing an individual at the sharp end of austerity. Though made in the same form, each figure differs in its detail, representing both common humanity and the individual.

Coinciding with tide times on the nearby Thames, at each low tide, the artist returned to sculpt more figures, in an endurance ritual spanning 11 consecutive days and nights in all weathers.

At the end of each making session, the figures were added to an exhibition at the nearby Oxo Tower, until all 650 were gathered.

Throughout the making phase, as each figure was completed, it corresponding austerity narrative was posted on the Narratives page. These narratives span the entire country and cover a spectrum of experience.

Dates : Monday 30 March until Thursday 9 April 2015 inclusive.

Tour

 

Once dried, the figures were toured en masse in a mobile exhibition visited locations from London to Bristol over five days, the figures making visible the stark human cost of austerity and creating a talking point for members of the public to grapple with the questions raised by the work.

When touring locations were cancelled with short notice because the work was deemed ‘too political’ in the run-up to the election, the tour extended to guerrilla locations including Trafalgar Square as part of the May Day march and outside David Cameron’s constituency, Witney.

Dates : Friday 1 May to Tuesday 5 May 2015.

Firing

 

In Bristol, the figures were returned to the foreshore and raised into a cairn. A bonfire burned into the night, until the returning tide doused the flames. As the figures are fired, their corresponding stories of austerity were read aloud in a performance lasting six hours.

Dates : Election’s eve, Wednesday 6 May from 3.30pm until first light on 7 May 2015

  1. 1. Figures Live - Stories of Austerity Read During the Firing 2:21:42
  2. 2. Figures Live - Stories of Austerity Read During the Firing 22:53
  3. 3. Figures Live - Stories of Austerity Read During the Firing 1:06:47
  4. 4. Figures Live - Stories of Austerity Read During the Firing 21:46
  5. 5. Figures Live - Stories of Austerity Read During the Firing 2:04:31

Milling

 

The fired figures will be reclaimed from the foreshore, gathered and ground down to dust.

Date : Wednesday 20 May 2015

Scattering

 

On the first day of the new government’s tenure, the ground figures were scattered back to water as a poignant reminder of the human cost of austerity.

Date : State Opening of Parliament, Wednesday 27 May 2015