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Figures

Created and performed by Liz Crow
Mass-sculptural durational performance, 2015

About

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

This page gives an overview of the project. You can find the full project website here.

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. With making sessions 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. As each figure was made, a corresponding narrative was released.

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 is a multi-layered and uncompromising work, 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.

www.wearefigures.co.uk      #WeAreFigures

 

Stills

  • At low tide, the clay banks emerge from water, glistening in sunlight.
  • At low tide, the clay banks emerge from water.
  • At low tide, the clay banks emerge from water, glistening in sunlight.
  • The slipway falls steeply down to the river at low tide, as a member of the sailing club hoses away the surface mud.
  • Liz is on a trike-wheelchair, tethered to a rope and assisted by three of the crew. The slipway opens out to wide banks of mud, the river beyond.
  • At the bottom of the slipway, with banks of mud giving way to the river beyond, Liz and a member of the production team sit on the ground, gazing out to the water.
  • A wheeled cart with empty plastic crates is lowered down the slipway. Members of the team dig mud with spades from the riverbank.
  • Members of the team dig mud from the riverbank with spades.
  • A leg in wellington boot and a space claggy with deep brown mud.
  • Mud from lightest to deepest brown, deep-textured.
  • A wheeled cart with empty plastic crates is winched up the slipway. Below, members of the team dig mud with spades from the riverbank.
  • Liz sits on the slipway, filling crates with mud.
  • Liz’s hands are coated in thick, wet mud, camouflaged against her coat.
  • A member of the team digs with a space into a high bank of mud, two yellow tubs next to her, part-way to being filled.
  • A hive of activity with nine members of the production crew at the bottom of the slipway.
  • A wheeled cart with empty plastic crates sits at the bottom of the slipway. Members of the team dig mud with spades from the riverbank.
  • Light and shadow fall upon a small area of cobbled slipway, pools of water and mud left by the retreating tide.
  • At low tide, the clay banks emerge from water, glistening in the sunlight.
  • Scattered across the slipway is a head of spades, a hosepipe and a scraper. Pooled around is mud and water, left by the tide.
  • Members of the team dig the mud at the bottom of the slipway. On the grassy bank high above stands a camera operator at a tripod.
  • 20 crates of mud, and some yellow tubs, are stacked, filled with mud.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, painted blue and caked with mud.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, painted blue and caked with mud.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, caked with mud.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, caked with mud.
  • A sausage-shaped length of deep brown mud emerges from the mouth of the pugmill.
  • Hands receive the mud as it is extruded from the machine.
  • Hands receive the mud as it is extruded from the machine.
  • A clump of mud with finger imprints.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, painted blue and caked with mud.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, painted blue and caked with mud.
  • A sausage-shaped length of deep brown mud emerges from the mouth of the pugmill. A wire cutter slices through it.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, painted blue and caked with cracked, dried mud.
  • Liz shapes the extruded mud into spheres, ready for sculpting.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, painted blue.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, painted blue and coated in dried mud.
  • Once the clumps of mud have been removed, on a wooden board, coated in a layer of mud, is the sticky, textured residue of clay.
  • Clumps of mud on a muddy board.
  • Clumps of wet clay set out on a wooden board.
  • A close up of industrial machinery, painted blue and caked with dried mud.
  • The clumps of mud have been removed from the wooden board, leaving their imprint. A few clumps remain.
  • In the centre of a large manufacturing warehouse, metal shelf unit hold rows of clumped mud.
  • A member of the production team wears a high vis jacket with the Figures logo, a drawn figure, and the text #We Are Figures.
  • Daytime on the foreshore, the Oxo tower in the background. The river is full, the water partway up the stairs and covers the foreshore.
  • Liz is carried across the shingle foreshore in a fabric sling by two members of the production team.
  • Liz’s legs protrude from the carry sling, the shingle of the foreshore glistening wet beneath her.
  • A hand adds another clump to a mound of clay.
  • Leaning on a hessian-covered support, Liz holds a clump of clay in her hands and begins to shape it.
  • Liz holds an almost-completed figure between her hands, using a pencil to indent eyes.
  • Liz holds a completed figure between her hands. It is rough-hewn, with eyes deep indentations.
  • On a wide shingle foreshore, St Paul’s and the London skyline as a backdrop, Liz leans over a pile of clay, sculpting a figure.
  • Photographed from above, on the wide shingle foreshore, deep in shadow, Liz is an almost-camouglaged dot on the landscape.
  • On a wide shingle foreshore, Liz leans over a pile of clay, sculpting a figure. To her side are two completed figures, which stands upon the shingle, almost camouflaged.
  • Liz drinks from through a staw, as her PA extends a blue water bottle. Liz holds a piece of clay, a heap of clay still remaining to be sculpted.
  • Liz holds a completed figure between her hands. It is rough-hewn, with eyes deep black indentations.
  • On a wide shingle foreshore, St Paul’s and the London skyline as a backdrop, Liz leans over a pile of clay, sculpting a figure.
  • A lone figure appears to emerge from the shingle of the foreshore.
  • On the riverwalk above the foreshore, two women shield their eyes against bright sunshine, both gazing intently into the distance.
  • On the back of an empty wheelchair is a high vis jacket with the Figures logo, a drawn figure, and the text #We Are Figures. In the background, a member of the production team leans against the foreshore railing in conversation with audiences.
  • Liz sculpts on the foreshore. Around her a photographer, videographer, an artist drawing her and a passerby who holds her hands to her eyes against the sun, watching Liz as she continues to sculpt.
  • Liz sculpts on the foreshore. A woman sits on the foreshore, opposite Liz but at a distance, and holds her hands to her eyes against the sun, watching Liz as she continues to sculpt.
  • On a wide shingle foreshore, St Paul’s and the London skyline as a backdrop, Liz adds another figure to a group on the shingle.
  • Liz places a completed figure amongst a group of others on the foreshore, against a backdrop of shingle.
  • Seven figures are grouped on the foreshore, seeming to rise from the shingle, the clay and ground of similar browns and greys.
  • A high vis jacket with the project hashtag. In the background, 11 figures gather on the foreshore.
  • A close up of Liz, flanked by members of the team.
  • Liz hand rests on mud-coated trousers, next to the controls of a power wheelchair, her fingers caked in mud.
  • Liz’s PA places a glove on Liz’s hand.
  • Daytime on the foreshore. The river is full, the water partway up the stairs and covers the foreshore.
  • Liz is carried by three members of the team down a flight of metal steps. Towering above them is the red-brick Oxo building.
  • Liz is seated on a step in a sling, while three members of the production team get ready to lift her.
  • Liz sits in the sling on the foreshore, leaning against the legs of two members of the production team who stand behind her. All three look to a distant spot outside the picture frame.
  • Liz holds a clump of clay in her hands, a mound of clay resting in front of her. Her hands are bandaged.
  • Against a deep black sky and a skyline of St Paul’s and the city, Liz sits with a few lanterns in front of her. She is a tiny figure in a dark landscape.
  • Liz holds a partially-sculpted figure in her hands, a mound of clay resting in front of her. In the background, a lit candle in a glass jar rests on the foreshore.
  • Seen from above, against a deep black sky and coloured lights reflected in the river, Liz sits with a few lanterns in front of her. She is a tiny figure, almost invisible against the dark of the foreshore.
  • Seen from above, Liz sits with a few lanterns in front of her, almost camouflaged against the dark of the foreshore.
  • With a backdrop of city lights, two passersby sit on the foreshore facing Liz, in conversation, their faces illuminated by candlelight.
  • A small group of figures on the foreshore
  • A lone figure sits on the foreshore, the imprint of the artist’s fingers visible in the clay.
  • An open plastic crate sits on the foreshore, the figures lined up inside it. Next to it are the hessian-covered blocks Liz leans on to make the figures.
  • Over 100 small clay figures are lined up over five rows of shelving. Each is sculpted to the same design, yet varies in the detail, giving a sense of commonality and individuality.
  • Around 200 of the final 650 small clay figures are lined up over rows of shelving.
  • The beach is an expanse of shingle. Plastic crates are piled up next to a wooden pallet. A camera operator is filming as crew make ready the bonfire area.
  • The figures are stacked in rows, each wrapped in paper. They are surrounded by chicken wire, held in place with plastic crates and scattered with pieces of kindling.
  • Flames encroach upon the figures, which are grouped tightly, perched on wood and wrapped in chicken wire.
  • Liz Crow looks to camera. Behind her, the bonfire roars in orange flame against a backdrop of beach shingle and bolders.
  • An inferno of orange flame consumes a pile of wooden pallets.
  • A rough sea, the waves encroaching up the shore. A large bonfire burns furiously.
  • In the shelter of a hollow in the rocky cliff-face, Liz sits on beach stones, facing towards a large fluffy microphone on a stand. Nearby a camera operator sets up a camera on a tripod.
  • Facing into a hollow in the rocky cliff-face, Liz sits on beach stones, facing towards a large fluffy microphone on a stand and reading from an open folder.
  • Liz's hands, wrapped in wrist splints, rest on printed pages in a yellow folder.
  • The embers glow, the last few flames flickering. At the out edges, the figures are visible, encased in chicken wire, merging into the surrounding shingle.
  • A net of chicken wire encases the figures, flames still burning at the outer edges.
  • A net of chicken wire encases the figures, flames still burning at the outer edges.
  • A net of chicken wire encases the figures, while the fire recedes to embers.
  • A net of chicken wire encases the figures, embers still glowing.
  • Boulders draped in seaweed and a muddy sea beyond.
  • Waves roll towards beach boulders.
  • The bundled figures, seaweed-strewn and surrounded by sea froth.
  • Out of shingle, seaweed and seawater billows steam.
  • Out of shingle and seaweed rises a column of steam.
  • Out of shingle, seaweed and seawater billows steam.
  • The frame is filled with a jumble of figures, fired to terracotta, with edges charred. Some of the figures remain whole but fired. Others are chipped, split and broken.
  • The frame is filled with a jumble of figures, fired to terracotta, with edges charred. Some of the figures remain whole but fired. Others are chipped, split and broken.
  • Liz sits in an expanse of crushed bricks, in reds and pinks, against a backdrop of woodland. She sifts through the fired figures, which are piled on a hessian mat, their colours echoing those of the landscape.
  • Sheets of metal give way to a hopper, with textured plates of steel.
  • The figures, fired, burned and broken, are piled upon a hessian mat. Liz cups one of the figures in her hands.
  • The figures, fired, burned and broken, are piled upon a hessian mat. Liz reaches out towards them.
  • Liz sits in an expanse of crushed bricks, in reds and pinks, against a backdrop of woodland. She sifts through the fired figures, which are piled on a hessian mat, their colours echoing those of the landscape.
  • A jumble of figures, fired, burned and broken.
  • A hessian mat rests upon an expanse of crushed bricks, in reds and pinks. On the mat, the fired figures are piled, their colours echoing those of the landscape.
  • Liz hands over a small black shovel which holds several fired figures, their colour echoing the pinks of the crushed bricks on the ground below.
  • Metal plates, their surfaces grooved, feed down into the milling machine.
  • The arm of the machine projects upwards, a black conveyor belt propelling chips and dust into the air.
  • The arm of the machine projects upwards, a black conveyor belt propelling chips and dust upwards.
  • Liz sits in an expanse of crushed bricks, in reds and pinks. In the foreground is part of a yellow-painted industrial machine.
  • The arm of the machine projects upwards against a backdrop of brick and woodland. Small explosions of chips and dust fly into the air and downwards to ground.
  • Surrounded by broken bricks, in reds and pinks, against a backdrop of woodland, Liz looks on pensively.
  • Liz sits in an expanse of crushed bricks, in reds and pinks. In front of her is a hessian mat with the remains of the figures, which echo the colours of the landscape.
  • The black belt of the milling machine projects upwards, propelling fragments of crushed figures into air.
  • From the end of the milling machine, fragments of crushed figures are propelled into air.
  • Liz sits, surrounded by bricks, watching the milling as dust drifts across.
  • A swathe of intensely rippled water gives way to stiller water that reflects back the light.
  • A gap opens between steel gates, the sea beyond. The image is horizontal strips of water and dry metal, sea and sky.
  • A wooden jetty, a stretch of vertical wooden planks, projects out to greys of water and sky, dwarfing a small sailing boat.
  • Liz gazes into the far distance. Behind her runs a thin rope and steel guard rail, with the sea stretching beyond.
  • Beyond a muddy shoreline are cranes and industrial warehouses.
  • Looking back to shore from the boat, large houses are built at the top of a tree-lined cliff. A small group of people is gathered on the rocky cliff, looking out towards the boat.
  • A rocky outcrop with a small lighthouse projects into open sea.
  • A compass is built into the wooden decking of the boat.
  • A hand rests on a wooden tiller.
  • High up on a mast fly two flags: a blue and white checkered flag above one of horizontal stripes in blue, white and red.
  • Liz looks far distance. Behind her is a rope safety rail and, beyond a stretch of water, land.
  • A band of sea and a band of sky, in greys, separated by a sharp line of horizon.
  • Above a crate of dust and pieces of the figures, cupped hands are filled with the remains.
  • Cupped palms hold a small mound of the dust and remains.
  • A small cloud of dust above choppy water.
  • Rising from choppy water, with Clevedon seafront as a backdrop, is the wooden structure of the pier. The upper tier is surrounded by green railings with a pagoda at the centre.
  • The dust and ground remains fall from an outstretched palm held above water.
  • Dust and ground remains fly from outstretched palms held above muddy water.
  • Dust and ground remains fly from outstretched palms held above muddy water.
  • A dusty hand rests on a wooden boat cleat, a loop of rope running beneath it.

Credits

  • Figures

    Director/Artist
    Liz Crow

    Producers
    Liz Crow
    Jess Thomas (to Nov 14)
    Jess Edge (from Nov 14)

    Production management, technical services & marketing
    Matthew Fessey, CoQuo
    Trish Wheatley

    Production Support
    Robert Armstrong
    China Blue Fish
    Zoe Hackwood
    Alice Holland
    Jess Keily
    James Mitchell
    Alethea Vane-Hier

    Tour Guides
    China Blue Fish
    Lizzy Maries

    Volunteers (dig)
    Robert Armstrong
    Mike Cleary
    Deborah Cordon
    Annelies Egli
    Ed Kear
    Normal Mansell MBE
    Sue Pearce
    Bob Pitchford
    Rebecca Pring
    Tom Smith

    Volunteers (public conversations)
    Isabelle Clement
    Julie Cleves
    Ellen Clifford
    Gill Hay
    Nico Andreas Heller
    Roger Lewis
    Robert McRuer
    Carolyn Moon
    Violeta Paez
    Sophie Partridge
    Paula Peters
    Swindon People’s Assembly
    Laura Walsh
    Judith Watts
    Laura Welti

    Volunteer (firing)
    Sarah Keily

    Volunteers (narratives reading)
    Deborah Cordon
    Jack Nicholls

    Digging site
    Shirehampton Sailing Club, with special thanks to club members Bob Hayes, Marc Rigot, Norman Mansell MBE, Ed Kear

    Mud preparation & milling
    Ibstock Brick, with particular thanks to Ian Downie

    Exhibition site
    Coin Street Community Builders, Oxo Tower Wharf

    Mobile exhibition
    Matthew Smith
    Rob Barrell
    Ruby’s Yard
    Rhi Jean Hill
    Bristol City Council
    Chippenham Town Council
    Pitt Rivers Museum
    Clare Solomon, People’s Assembly

    Firing Site
    Ladye Bay, near Clevedon
    Sarah Mason
    North Somerset Council

    Scattering boat
    Wessley Massam, owner and skipper of the Jan Rorlan
    Fleur Timmer, crew

    Website
    Aidan Rumble, CoQuo

    Cinematographer
    Louie Blystad-Collins
    Mari Yamamura (firing)
    Dave Makie (scattering second camera)

    Sound recordist
    Simon Whetham (dig)
    Rob Saunders (making)
    Steve Gear (firing & milling)
    Jake Chapman (scattering)

    Additional photography
    Claudio Ahlers
    Matt Smith

    With thanks to: Fraz Barker, Luci Gorell Barnes, Nick Biggs, Rick Burgess, Trudi Calvin, Barbara Crow, Molly Crow, Disability Arts Online, Disability News Service, Dr Danny Dorling, Oxford University, Ian Downie, Ibstock Brick Ltd, Neil Dunlop, Environment Agency, Professor David Gordon, Bristol University, Savannah Gordon, Rosemary Greenwood, Steve Holmes, Tony Heaton, ShapeArts, Clare Johnson, University of the West of England, Andrew Kelly, Bristol Festival of Ideas, Dave Lupton aka ‘Crippen’, ProMove, Nemia McLachlan, Come to Good, Jitka Palmer, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, Julie & Eddie, Primitive Pottery, Jenny Sealey, Graeae, Em Sheppard, Nigel Smith, Environment Agency, Shawn Sobers, University of the West of England, Nancy Striden, Lewisham Council, Dr David Stuckler, Oxford University, John Telper, Lancrop Laboratories, Thames 21, Totally Thames Festival, Laura Welti, Bristol Disability Equality Forum

    Crowdfunding Backers
    Robert Armstrong, Anthony Arnove, Katy Bauer, Jamie Beddard, Emmeline Burdett, Trudi Calvin, Carole Carrick, Deborah Caulfield, Isabelle Clement, Barbara Crow, Malcolm Crow, Diane6ster, Chris Evans, Penny Germon, Steve Graby, Catherine Hale, Glenn Hall, Colin Hambrook, Tony Heaton, Tim Jeeves, John Kelly, Nemia McLachlan, Robert McRuer, Irina Metzler, Jenny Morris, Naif Pierre, Ann Pugh, Nick Roads, Juliet Robson, Anna Scott, Gaele Sobott, Cathy Stewart, Judith Stewart, Michele Taylor, Anne Teahan, Jo Verrent, Kamina Walton, Christopher Ward, Laura Welti, Donna West, Nic Wistreich

Press

  • A quiet but powerful protest

    Disability Arts Online
  • This is what I call imaginative campaigning... More power to the weary elbow of indefatigable @RGPLizCrow

    @MediaWiseMJ
  • A breathtakingly beautiful but also haunting piece of art. I'm blown away by this.

    @gennydonne
  • Art that movingly addresses the cuts but isn't hyperrepresentational, illustrative or shit

    @monstris
  • I choked up! Intellectually and artistically I think it's fabulous. As a human it makes my heart ache!

    @meg_e_r

Advice & Support

Advice & support

These groups can advise on financial and legal problems relating to austerity and cuts.

Citizens Advice Bureau
“We help people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free, independent and confidential advice.” Website lists local branches.

Law Centres Network
Search for your nearest law centre.

Benefits and Work
Subscription service (£19.95/year) for detailed and up-to-date guides on how to make effective claims and appeals.

Counselling & crisis

Samaritans
08457 90 90 90 (UK only)
Email jo@samaritans.org
Samaritans youth project: 020 8692 5228
Confidential helpline open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “Talk to us any time you like, in your own way, and off the record – about whatever’s getting to you… Please don’t suffer alone.” Website lists local branches.

Turn to Me
Online mental health support community, where you can remain anonymous. Valuable resource in times of real crisis and whilst feeling suicidal thoughts.

Campaigns & Resources

Campaigns

The People’s Assembly
A national forum for anti-austerity views to bring together campaigns against cuts and privatisation with trade unionists in a movement for social justice

Disabled People Against the Cuts
Direct action for justice and human rights for all disabled people

In Actual Fact
Anti-propaganda site of actual facts about cuts and claimants

Contact your MP
Identify your MP and write to them free.

They Work for You
Find out what your MP, MSP or MLA is doing in your name, read debates, written answers, see what’s coming up in Parliament, and sign up for email alerts.

Register to Vote
Register online or by post to be able to vote. Takes about five minutes.

 

Reading

10 Myths About Austerity
Debunks 10 of the big claims made for austerity.

Stuckler, D & Basu, S (2013)
The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, Penguin Books
Looking at the human costs of austerity policy.

Clark, T & Heath, A (2015)
Hard Times: Inequality, Recessions, Aftermath, Yale University Press
Analysis of the social consequences of the financial crisis in an already-unequal society.

O’Hara, M (2014)
Austerity Bites: A Journey to the Sharp End of Cuts in the UK
A 12-month journey around the UK chronicles the impact of austerity at the sharp end.

Orton, M (2015)
Something’s Not Right: Insecurity and an Anxious Nation

Crow, L (2015)
Summer of 2012: Paralympic legacy and the welfare benefit scandal, Review of Disability Studies

Sponsors

  • Arts Council England

To cite this page: Crow, Liz (2015) Figures: mass-sculptural durational performance, 2015, Roaring Girl Productions [online] [Available at: http://www.roaring-girl.com/work/figures/] [Accessed 16/12/2017]