Its façade little changed since the building was erected almost 300 years ago, Bluecoat Arts Centre provides the context for Rolling Home, a physical set of actions that Aleks Danko intends will ‘activate history and memory, and give pause for personal reflection on notions of home’.
The performance involves three archetypal blue houses, made from foam rubber, being slowly rolled from different points in the city centre by students wearing the blue uniform of pupils of the charity school that once occupied the Bluecoat building. Converging on the front courtyard, the houses are welcomed by a brass band, echoing the occasion - depicted in a contemporary print - of the school band leading children in formation out of the front gates of the building on St George’s Day, 1843, a school holiday. A sardonic inversion of this historical image, Rolling Home leads us back through the gates of the school with a fanfare that is unlikely to rouse the patriotic cheers and banner-waving that no doubt accompanied the earlier celebration, when home and school were one and the same on this site.
The metaphorical use of architecture is a constant theme in Danko’s work, which often references institutionalised space as a site for critiquing ideological certainty. Rather than official buildings, however, it is the suburban home - a place both comforting in its familiarity and stultifying in its uniformity - that has become a recurring element. It appears in Danko’s installations, drawings and performances as a toy-like motif, its pitched roof, central door and twin windows needing only a chimney stack to complete the resemblance to a child’s rudimentary schematic of a house.
Its doors and windows resolutely shut, Danko’s domestic shell denies access, and in Liverpool the houses take on a sculptural dimension, objects to be manoeuvred by human force like cargo from the docks before the advent of containerisation. Struck by the ad hoc nature of housing in Liverpool, the artist ponders the effects of a postmodern aesthetic upon a historical city environment. His performance, engaging directly with the Saturday afternoon shoppers who throng the streets of a city centre about to undergo wholesale reconstruction, questions what gets ‘rolled over’ in the process of urban regeneration, and in whose interests.
Playfulness and participation are key to Rolling Home, as well as a sense of the absurd - Danko’s homage perhaps to the Liverpool poets of the 1960s, whose surreal pop verse affected him ‘not so much by what it was as by what it told’ (Edward Lucie-Smith). Like them, Rolling Home journeys through the everyday, interrogating specific places and histories, making poetry of our memory on the way.
- Bryan Biggs.