Written by Dani Abulhawa

Continued from here…

The performance The Levellers developed from the establishment of Canavan’s individual symbolic action to the creation of a collective one. During the second half of the work, signaled by the tolling of the church bells at 4pm, Canavan removed the gas mask and rosemary and took a clamp out of his pocket, which he placed inside his mouth between his lips and teeth, which had the effect of exposing his gums and teeth; the artist ‘bearing his teeth’ in a symbol of anger or rage. He then proceeded to staple a sprig of the rosemary to his forehead, symbolising the Levellers’ cause, before offering people who were gathered to witness the action to take a piece of rosemary for themselves. We were being invited into the action. Canavan returned to his position in front of the church and raised his fist. Many of the audience followed, raising theirs, in solidarity.

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These symbols – what they meant to an individual or how they made people feel – are, ultimately, personal. A fleeting passer-by may take one snapshot of the performance, or choose to stand and observe, or perhaps to join in the collective action. The use of St. Ann’s Square for such a thoughtful action asserted the public urban square as a site of politics, not just shopping, which is another historical feature of public spaces we should not forget.

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Image credits: Hazard / Kris Canavan

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