if we stop now, they’ll crush us like bedbugs!

site-specific installation with 4-channel audio and intermittent tv, radio and telegraph signals (via timers).

In June, louie+jesse were hosted by Wyspa Institute of Art for a month-long residency in Gdansk Shipyard, curated by the Birmingham-Gdansk project Postindustrial Revolution (www.postindustrialrevolution.eu). In this postindustrial space of working dockers, business developers and strong-jawed socialist heroes, we began to explore the role of women activists, in particular the nurse Alina Pienkowska. We were inspired by the moment when the historic 1980 strike began, and the authorities cut all communications to the shipyard except in the clinic, where Pienkowska, surrounded by ringing phones and urgent communications, became the key liaison point between the strikers and the rest of the world. This moment seemed a coalescence of potentials waiting beyond the threshold of now, a space neither today or tomorrow but between.

Amongst the (proposed and current) landscape/soundscape of the shipyard, we created a stand-alone alternative space where the unsound of strike and extraordinary communciations alongside carefully chosen materials and textures provided new layers and contrasts with the setting. A clean, clinical, overlit and eerily still interior, primarily inspired by a hospital room, it also referenced concepts of gentrification and the ‘Young City’ plans for the site; the generic hotel which now occupies an old clinic building on the shipyard site; cleaning up a messy historical narrative to suit a new regime; and the role of art(ists) in all of this. Encroaching on the silence and clinical atmosphere were a number of communications devices of different kinds, and personal touches of Alina Pienkowska (and other less documented women activists of the time, who played a key role in the strike). The audio was an insistent and subtly varied hum evoking a sterile interior acoustic, occasionally interrupted by elements of outside – resistance, state violence, and the future of the shipyard. The contents of the room included a polystyrene mattress (referring to the ad-hoc sleeping arrangements of the strikers) on an immaculately made metal-framed bed with a hospital sheet and complimentary toiletries from the shipyard hotel, a plastic plant (found in the shipyard), a rubbery linoleum floor, alina’s change of clothes, net curtains, and an overwhelming smell of TCP.

The work’s title is a quote from Henryka Krzywonos, a tram driver involved in the 1980 strike, who cried it at a key moment when the workers were about to concede after a couple of days, their few unambitious demands being met, and three women activists urgently persuaded them to remain and fight on to win far greater rights. Kryzwonos’ words echo on, warning against complacency.

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