Review by Colin Hambrook
One of the funniest and most impromptu elements of DadaFest was Aaron Willimson's 'Barrier Man.'
Aaron was set to perform a piece of intervention around the A Foundation, one of the main settings for DadaFest 2008, but couldn't get permission to do what he'd planned. "You can’t come through here. You’ll have to go round the side or the back…" are probably the most common words experienced by disabled people.
Aaron planned to set up tape barriers and in an act of social reversal, allow disabled people through, whilst asking ‘normal’ members of the public to take a diverted route.
In the event, armed with a yellow hi-visibility jacket, an orange traffic cone, several reels of red and white barrier tape, and a camera man, Aaron set off into the centre of Liverpool. The footage that the cameraman (Alex Candlin) clandestinely filmed of Aaron's antics was showed informally to a group of us back at the A Foundation and was the most laugh-out-loud point in the festival for me.
One of his first stops was the Tate Liverpool, where he proceeded to block off the main entrance into the gallery. Officials came to ask him what he was doing, to which he replied "I'm an artist working for an Arts Festival." My guess is that the security guards took a double take at that point before telling him that they respected his rights as an artist, but "would he kindly remove the tape."
Undettered, Aaron proceeded to block off a series of key thoroughfares with a flimsy 3" wide length of tape. He focussed on various parts of the main shopping centre - and at one point, one of the main roads into town. At each intervention, no-one questionned that what he was doing was not an official act, designated as part of traffic control, or road improvement. People went around the obstacles he set up, or stayed put. At several moments policemen came to ask him what he was doing. When he replied he was working for an Arts Festival, they simply accepted him at face value and let him carry on with what he was doing.
Aaron hit the town centre at the height of Spider fever. An spectacle organised by Capital of Culture saw a thirty foot spider, wandering the town centre, squirting crowds with jets of water, fighting and generally behaving badly. Huge crowds were being controlled by rows of policemen for safety. There was a hilarious scene in the footage where Aaron intercedes, placing himself in the middle of a row of policemen, all naturally wearing yellow jackets. By assuming the same body language Aaron blends in effortlessly. No-one turns or bats an eye.
I'm not sure how the diversions Aaron introduced filled his original brief to illustrate one of the frustrations that face sections of the disability community on a daily basis. But certainly the footage he ended up with is very entertaining and gives an amazing insight into how easily led people are. One of questions in my mind is will Aaron set a new trend in Live Art practice?
Barrier Man is due to be premiered at the Dada Awards on 3 December 2008.