Preview: Art Turning Left

One of the artists featured in a Tate Liverpool exhibition insists local homeless people should be given a voice, says Ciara Leeming

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When the artist Martha Rosler returned to New York City after a decade living in small-town California, she was in for a shock.

It was the early 1980s and her hometown was in the midst of a homelessness crisis. “All of a sudden there were more and more people not just panhandling [begging] but living right out on the city streets,” she recalls.

“In my lifetime we had never seen such a thing. I became alarmed and curious. How could such a thing be occurring?”

When Rosler was invited in 1988 to put on a solo exhibition in the city, she seized the chance to highlight this growing problem. In her series If You Lived Here… she involved photographers, painters, poets, filmmakers and architects, as well as activists and academics, supporting anyone who did not know how to make their ideas and concerns visual.

And she collaborated with an organised group of homeless people called Homeward Bound, and produced an animation about homelessness shown on the giant screen at Times Square.

In the 20-plus years since If You Lived Here… has been exhibited in spaces across America and Europe. The latest outing is at Tate Liverpool as part of Art Turning Left, a show looking at how left-wing causes have influenced artists through history.

Rosler, 70, insists each venue must include a section exploring the local state of homelessness, involving academics, local artists and activists. There must also be a public forum that discusses the issue – something that is being organised at Tate.

Homelessness in Liverpool increased by 17 per cent from 2011 to 2012, say government statistics. “In the current show I’ve asked the museum to invite people in to discuss the state of secure, affordable housing in Liverpool and the way to move it forward,” she says.

Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789-2013, Tate Liverpool until 2 February

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