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Created and performed by Liz Crow
Mass-sculptural durational performance, 2015
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.
Jess Thomas (to Nov 14)
Jess Edge (from Nov 14)
Production management, technical services & marketing
Matthew Fessey, CoQuo
China Blue Fish
China Blue Fish
Normal Mansell MBE
Volunteers (public conversations)
Nico Andreas Heller
Swindon People’s Assembly
Volunteers (narratives reading)
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
Coin Street Community Builders, Oxo Tower Wharf
Rhi Jean Hill
Bristol City Council
Chippenham Town Council
Pitt Rivers Museum
Clare Solomon, People’s Assembly
Ladye Bay, near Clevedon
North Somerset Council
Wessley Massam, owner and skipper of the Jan Rorlan
Fleur Timmer, crew
Aidan Rumble, CoQuo
Mari Yamamura (firing)
Dave Makie (scattering second camera)
Simon Whetham (dig)
Rob Saunders (making)
Steve Gear (firing & milling)
Jake Chapman (scattering)
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
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
A quiet but powerful protest
This is what I call imaginative campaigning... More power to the weary elbow of indefatigable @RGPLizCrow
A breathtakingly beautiful but also haunting piece of art. I'm blown away by this.
Art that movingly addresses the cuts but isn't hyperrepresentational, illustrative or shit
I choked up! Intellectually and artistically I think it's fabulous. As a human it makes my heart ache!
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.
08457 90 90 90 (UK only)
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.
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.
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.
McRuer, Robert (2018)
Crip Times: Disability, Globalization, and Resistance, NYU Press, ISBN: 9781479874156
How disability activists, artists and social movements generate change and resist the dominant forms of globalization in an age of austerity, or “crip times.”
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
Crow, L (2020) Figures:
An artist-activist response to austerity, The Routledge Handbook of Disability Activism
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 04/02/2023]