‘Keywords’ at Tate Liverpool

Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain – Tate Liverpool’s latest offering to the city’s ever-increasing creative and cultural portfolio and a bloody good one at that.

Using Raymond Williams, one of Britain’s most influential thinkers in the twentieth century, as it’s muse, the exhibition takes the liberty of building on his study entitled Keywords (funnily enough) of social and cultural vocabulary. For some of you this may manifest the cutesy scouse slurs spattered throughout an Alex Gerrard gossip column or our kid’s latest Liver-lingo and we sure ain’t here to judge ya! However, we would direct you towards the more profound, deep and meaningful messages behind Keywords because behind most pieces in the showcase lies an interesting story that leaves a strong imprint on the ol’ brainbox.

The 1976 seminal study that the exhibition has based itself around contains over 130 short essays using words such as ‘violence’, ‘country’, ‘criticism’, ‘media’, ‘popular’, ‘liberation’, and ‘exploitation’ as inspiration. Scrawled over the white walls in supersize, royal blue cursive, these words provoke the audience into considering their definition and cultural connotations (as well as being great space fillers), particularly in the eighties. As with everything, London had it first but Liverpool are doing a pretty mean job of displaying it at the moment. The exhibition space is unusual – not the cubic room we’re more regularly accustomed to, with the pieces displayed across one long wall in a linear fashion. It’s engaging and curious and all those other arty farty words but most of all, it’s a refreshing change from the norm.


If you do go and pay Keywords a visit, you’re going to be treated to works from famous bigwigs like Helen Chadwick, David Hockney and Jo Spence so you can’t complain. Photography, installation, film, sculpture, paint, “Housewives with Steak Knives”, even blood pumping through plastic tubes – there’s something for Tom, Dick and Harry here.

Derek Jarman’s Ataxia – Aids is Fun (pictured, right) is perhaps one of the ones that strikes the deepest chord. In a nutshell, the piece comprises of a great big canvas splattered with various colours of paint in a manner of reckless abandon. For those who don’t take the time to read the description, you’re going to leave the gallery scoffing at ‘modern art’ and saying “even could have done that!” but look a little closer and you’ll be moved…

Willie Doherty’s black and white photographs are pretty cool too and make you want to pick up that camera that has been collecting dust for some time now. The glass cabinet displays of The End fanzine, which wrote about culture, society, music and lifestyle in Liverpool during the 1980s was of particular interest as publications such as this paved the way for today’s magazines, ezines and blogs just like Good Vibes! So all in all, definitely worth a look around.

Now, with every silver lining there has to be a cloud right? This stormy let down came when I lost signal and subsequently internet service and any contact with the outside world for 15+ minutes as I perused the second room. How would I possibly upload the mandatory shot of the glittering Docks from the Tate window to my Instagram? How would I check myself in @tateliverpool to appease my followers who hadn’t been informed of my every move for over an hour? All valid concerns of the modern day gal. Moral of the story: don’t forget to grab the Tate WiFi password on your way up to  floor 4 to avoid the perils ahead if you should fail to do otherwise.

I wrote this review for Good Vibrations Magazine

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