For those of us involved in north London grass roots politics in the 1980s, the “loony left” tag was an irritating and pervasive insult that we had to tolerate. Since then “identity politics” has become the popular buzzword to berate political activists protecting the rights of oppressed groups. For many commentators the backlash to this trend is the reason for Trump’s electoral success. Ironically Trump himself exploited identity politics by galvanising a range of special interest groups and by conflating all “Us vs. Them” conflicts to the overarching battle of “The U.S vs The World”. This was evident in the Trump rally so tellingly filmed in Cornelia Parker’s recent video installation American Gothic. I find it rather depressing that the “personal is the political” battle cry from the 1960’s that should have transformed politics has become so devalued.
Art is an important force to push back against this trend and this blog has championed many contemporary moving image artists that are successfully pursuing this goal. Among them Alice May Williams has the key quality that they all share – an acute sense of history – and this has greatly enhanced her recently opened exhibition, And Now… Grants for Irish Lesbians! It is showing at Tintype until July 15 and is inspired by the outraged Evening Standard reporting of the Islington council funding decision in 1983. It includes her punchy and engaging video, On the 73, which creates a heartfelt and amusing narrative of a doomed lesbian flirtation from a sequence of iconic still media images compiled from the last 25 years. I gave a rave review to it in December when it was shown as part of Tintype’s Xmas window screening. She has also applied her facility with language to compose a typically rye and poignant “text work”, Grants for Irish Lesbians, 2017, painted onto the gallery wall from which I have quoted in the title to this blogpost:
What’s left? what’s left? of the loony left?/ Where’s Islington now, that was here, was then?/ We dream of grants for lesbians.
Well, part of the answer is that the “loony left” and “identity politics” have been painted into a corner by a prevailing orthodoxy that tries to link them with ideas of victimhood and bleeding heart liberalism. It is heartwarming to see the term “loony left” treated with such nostalgia. The Corbyn surge may yet breathe life into this 1980’s idealism and restore the idea that politics is all about finding our group identities and resolving conflicts of interest by working out how we can all rub along. The lightness of touch that Williams brings to these heavy political issues gives the lie to the dour, po-faced stereotype of the “loony left”. I look forward to her next film at Knole House in Kent next year in a group show that includes Lindsay Seers.
Also included in the Tintype show are a number of her delicately executed paintings.