Last week we travelled to the beautiful island of Guernsey for their national Liberation Day celebrations on the 9th May. This was our second time in the Channel Isles; previously we were in Jersey in 2007 for their annual arts festival. This was our first time in Guernsey and the idea of taking part in a festival celebrating freedom and liberation was just magical. The ideology of freedom is as ephemeral as the art we produce and needs to be protected at all costs. It’s no surprise that mankind has fought many a battle for liberty. In coming here my mind was taken back to the week before when we were in Dundee; the place where freedom fighter William Wallace was schooled….on our return from Scotland we stopped off at the National Wallace Monument in Stirling. A magnificent tower built in the celebration of freedom & liberty. For those who don’t know, William Wallace was the subject of the 1995 Mel Gibson film BRAVEHEART. A brave scot who attacked the oppressive English (Edward Longshanks) and drove them back as far south as York. Wallace along with Che Guevara has always been a personal hero of mine.
John Barbour wrote in 1375 “Ah, freedome is a noble thing” Was the same then as it is now; we find ourselves at the opposite end of the realm, on an island and one of the very few places in Britain occupied by Nazi Germany. A different time and a different place maybe but the principals remain the same….invaded and oppressed by an alien & aggressive force. This was the inspiration for our street art event; War of the Worlds, our own interpretation of the ‘tripods from Mars’ as featured in HG Wells famous novel. We were to be situated on Victoria Pier, the middle of three piers in St. Peter Port; the main coastal town in Guernsey and about a three mile drive from the airport.
We arrived on the morning of Sunday 8th May and the place seemed very quiet, it was hard for us to imagine what Liberation Day was going to be like. We’d been told it was going to be very busy but on arrival our first thoughts were: “where is everybody hiding!!” St. Peter Port itself is very pretty, a little harbour town with meandering streets, bobbing boats, crystal clear waters and picturesque views.
First stop was a site visit on Victoria Pier where we bumped into Kate & Alex from the Guernsey Event Company; these are the folk responsible for putting this whole thing together. People may not realise that events on this scale take a lot of effort, mostly unseen. It’s very hard work ensuring that thousands of people enjoy themselves, seamlessly and unseen. Event’s organisers are often unsung heroes; people only tend to notice them when things go wrong!
After getting the ‘run down’ from Kate & Alex we took a stroll around the harbour and onto Castle Cornet; an ancient harbour fortress on the south side of St. Peter Port, one of the most prominent features on the harbour front. The castle was modified by the Germans in 1942 with massive gun emplacement designed to protect the harbour against attack. This was the perfect place to do a bit of research into the occupation and get some idea on what it must have been like to be invaded by a foreign force.
It seems like the people of Guernsey take Liberation Day VERY seriously, it is after all their national day when the entire island comes together in celebration, unlike the rest of the UK it’s been decreed a bank holiday with the 9th being a Monday this year. It was of course the 9th of May 1945 when Guernsey was liberated from German occupation.
The following day, Liberation Day was in total contrast to the day we arrived….”where did all these people come from?” I asked; and more importantly “where were they all hiding on this tiny Island??” St. Peter Port was just heaving, we were on-site at 8.10am for a 10 am start and even at that time people were around watching the local school children cross country running and other activities going on up and down the harbour front. It was a fine sunny morning with very little wind so people had turned out in force, the signs where that this was going to be a tough gig. By tough I mean busy; VERY BUSY!!
Our chalking art robot was a big hit with the kids and adults too with parents joining in throughout the day, we struggled a bit with crowd control and not enough barriers which meant that people were walking through the art (as they do)….it was just the case of the sheer numbers of people on the pier where threatening to overwhelm us at times. This made the event a bit stressful. Involving the public in creating a piece of art that is aesthetically pleasing on the street and in a live situation is no easy task….
We stopped the workshop twice throughout the day just to regain control but all in all things were going well until about ten past four when the heavens opened and washed away all our hard work….the frustrating thing was not that we got rained off but that we got rained off before we’d finished the art. Street art is always a gamble against the elements and you accept the fact that the work you produce is only temporary in nature. There is no point in being precious about your work, it’s the nature of the art but on this occasion we were less than an hour away from completion and that’s where the frustration lies in the uncompleted work.
Freedom can mean many things to many people; the freedom to express love, to play, to roam and to dream and so on and that’s the great thing about Liberation Day, it’s not just about liberty (whatever that means) but about the ideals and ephemeral principles of freedom, to ‘play out’ and ‘own’ the streets & public places and to give thanks to those brave souls who have laid down their lives so we can live in peace and ‘freedom’ I think to be truly free we must first of all understand what it is to be oppressed and the darker side of the human condition.
Viva la Liberation!
Many thanks to Fools Paradise & Kate & Alex of The Guernsey Events Company Ltd for making it happen.
Workshop by UrbanCanvas