Gifts To A City - August 1971

Submitted by root on Mon, 06/09/2014 - 12:30

Gifts To A City  was the Blackie's Summer Theatre for 1971.  It consisted of a series  of 9 Events which started on August 9th and finished on August 29th. 

As can be seen from the descriptions below of 'The Events' they were not by any means what one would call theatrical performances;  they included events which these days might more easily sit within the category of 'Performance Art', or, given the interaction with the public, even 'Public Art'.  In the 70s, when they took place, we would have called them 'Happenings'.

Event 1.  9th August.  Coloured Lunches

Lunch boxes were handed out at 7.30 a.m. to commuters arriving at St James Station.  In the boxes were bread rolls with salmon paste or cheese fillings, a sausage roll, coleslaw, cream covered fairy cake, and a banana.

The performers handing out the boxes were dressed in office appropriate clothes.

Lunchboxes being handed out outside st James station Lunch boxes being taken away by commutersLunch boxes being handed out outside st James station


Above and left the Lunch Boxes being handed out to commuters outside of St. James Station by David Bassi who is himself dressed as an office worker



The Menu For The  Lunch Boxes

Bread Rolls - Green

Butter - Red

Salmon Paste - Violet

Cheese - Orange

Sausage Roll Pastry -  Blue

Sausage Meat - Green

Coleslaw  - Rainbow

Cake - Rainbow

Cream - Violet

Banana  -  Red & Purple

Enough of the above to fill 50 boxes

The contents of the l;unch boxesThe lunch boxes ready to be delivered

Above the Lunch Boxes with their contents (sadly not in colour) and ready to be delivered.

Press Response

This event was reported in the press on 10th August with an article which began "DON'T touch it!" and which finished "They (the young couple handing out the boxes) did not offer any explanation as to what they were doing."  

 Event 2. 11th August. Polaroid Journeys

This was a day long event (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.).  Starting in the City Centre, the photographer selected an individual and took a set of 5/6 photographs of them - there being an interval of least 5 minutes between each photograph.  The selected individual was not to be aware that they were being photographed.

At the completion of each set of photographs they were mounted in a small booklet which was then given to the person who had been photographed.

Subjects included people shopping, a newspaper seller, a bus conductor, traffic wardens, and a ferry man.

The photographs were taken with a Hasselblad camera with a Polaroid back and telescopic lens.  This gave a good quality reproduction and allowed the photographer to work at a distance. The actual nature of the Event means of course that we do not have a photographic record of it.

Press Response

There was no press about the Polaroid photos but there was another item about the coloured lunches, telling people that the 'striped cakes' were now being tested and results expected within a week.

Event 3. 13th August. Pigeons

We started by photographing 50 pigeons. These were enlarged to 4.5' x 3', printed, and then framed.

printing the pigeon photos in the main auditorium Drying the pigeon photos

Above the Pigeon photos being printed and dried in the old auditorium.

The framed photos were hung around the City Centre during the night (3 a.m. onward) so that the photos were there when people came into the City the following morning.

Pigeon at bus stopPigeon outside the BluecoatsPigeons in the square Pigeon hanging on the door of the Lyceum Club

Pigeon on the railings of St LukesPigeon outside of St Luke's

Above photos of some of the pigeons in situ - at the Bluecoats, on the door of the Lyceum, at a bus stop, around St. Luke's Church.

Press Response

The local press on the 14th August covered both the Pigeons and the on-going saga of the coloured lunches. 

The sub-editors had obviously worked on the head lines which read "Coo! The Hall gets a pasting" and " Colourful lunch would leave you in the pink!" respectively.

The Pigeons piece covered the photographs put up on St George Hall, and in Williamson Square. The first were removed fairly quickly by Hall staff while the latter remained there for some time. There was much speculation as to who had done it and why.

In the colourful lunch piece the food was finally declared safe.

Event  4. 15th August. Life Size Photographs

Photographs were taken of people who did the same thing in the same place every day (a newspaper seller, people taking the same route to work,  etc.).

The photographs were enlarged to life size.  Then during the night (3 a.m. onwards) the enlarged photographs were placed on the same spot that the person photographed had occupied.  

Cake shop window with staffNewspaper  stand in operation

Above two of the shots used - we attached the first one so as to cover the cakeshop window and the second over the closed up newspsaper stand.

Therefore the people photographed  'met' themselves when they returned later that morning.

Event 5. 16th August. Bus event

A bus which ran regularly and in the early morning  from the City Centre to an out lying factory was selected  - the  6.07 a.m. to English Electric.  The passengers on this bus were largely regulars - that is they travelled on this bus 5 days a week.

As passengers boarded they were told that their fare had been paid, offered a news paper, a choice of tea and coffee and a cigarette.

Press Response 

The article on the 16th covered both the life sized photographs and the bus event under the headline "Oh! Whatever will happen next..?"   The article went into some detail, the journalist having interviewed both people who had found the photographs of themselves and some of the bus passengers.

This article was followed by one on the 17th August  headed "Smile, Please - you may be next."

Event 6. 20th August. Lollipop Parking Meters.

Three teams of three people set out to wrap all 'out of order' parking meters, in both city streets and car parks.  They were wrapped in Melanex (a pliable silver material) and tied with cellophane bows so that they looked like giant lollipops.

parking meter wrapped up

Event 7.  24th August.  Ice. 

A lorry and the police arrived at the Goree Piazza with 12 tons of ice in the form of 140 small blocks. These  were unloaded and  arranged on the Goree Piazza in the form of 6 large rectangular blocks. 

The Ice arrivesThe police escort arrive

Unloading the icePushing the ice up the ramp

The ice being manouvred into position


The ice  (and police) arriving;  the ice being unloaded and put in position. The ice as finally laid out.



The Ice in its final position

All this was done during the night so that the office workers would find the ice sculptures when they arrived at work in the morning.

One of the The notice first thing which appeared was a notice  (see left) hanging out of an office window.  Despite its claims the office workers, visitors (adults and children) got involved. By day two we had, had coloured dye added to the blocks of ice;  local workers appearing as a penguin, and as a mountaineer,  office workers leaping over the blocks;  etc

. young children tasting the iceadding dye to the iceThe with dye addedThe 'penguin' takes to the iceOffice workers hurdling the ice blocks

Above some of the activities provoked by the ice -  young children tasting the ice;  adding dye to the ice and the results; a 'penguin' ascends the ice and office workers take up athletics.

It took several days for the ice to finally disappear. 

The ice in the process of melting

Above the ice in the process of melting

Press Response

The headline read "The iceman cometh to a city office."  The following article linked the ice with previous events but noting that no-one knew who was doing this.  However on the 25th August the press had finally discovered that the events were being done by The Blackie and Wendy Harpe was interviewed.

Event 8.  28th August. Egg & Smoke

From a script by David Ward.  The event took place in St John's Market and The Pierhead.

Four men and four women walked randomly through the sites. The men wore black greatcoats and carried sandwich boards displaying a cancerous lung and the word 'egg'.  The women wore bright orange dresses and carried baskets from which they distributed eggs stamped with the word 'smoke'.

The performers set offClose up of the sandwich board

Above the performers setting off and a close-up of the sandwich board.

When a man and woman met they removed the greatcoat and the dress. Under the coats the men wore  orange trousers and an orange T-shirt bearing the word 'smoke'.  Under the dresses the women wore black trousers and black T-shirt bearing the word 'egg'.  The man put on the dress as a cape and took up the basket. The woman the put on the greatcoat and the sandwich board.

This exchange was done with ritualised rehearsed movements whilst the couple looked into each other's eyes.  Once the exchange was complete the couple proceeded on their way - the man now distributed the eggs and the woman displayed the sandwich board.

This exchange occurred every time a man and woman met. The event was complete once all the eggs were distributed. 

Performers walking around St John's Market


Left: Egg and Smoke Performers walking around St John's Market.  As can be seen from the fact that it is a woman wearing the sandwich board there has been at least one change of costume


Event 9.  29th August.  Six Memorials.

A wreath fior a lost place

From  a script by Adrian Henri.  A white line was drawn round a paving stone on the sites listed below, using spray paint, scotch tape, or equivalent (on places where there were no paving stones, a rectangle of a similar size was marked out).  A wreath of appropriate flowers was placed within the rectangle.

 The sites were:-

1. The old 'Paddys Market'

2. The entrance to the old St John's Market

3.  Fat John's Club

4.  The boarding place for the New Brighton Ferry

5.  The Basnett Bar, Basnett Street

6.  The Ticket Barrier for the Manchester Line, Central Station.

Researching the exact location was part of the piece.  They were all sites  where the original buildings no longer existed. That is they had either been demolished or radically redeveloped.

Adrian specified that appropriate clothes were to be worn and that words could be said though silence might work as well.

Arriving by car for the Funeral Walking to the funeral site Laying the wreath to commemorate the Old Paddy's Market Observing a minutes silenceObserving the one minute silenceThe wreath left in situ

The pictures above show the 'Funeral'  for the Old Paddys Market, those below the 'Funeral' for the ticket barrier for the Manchester line at Central Station

In fact a funeral car was hired and the mourners (six of us) plus the wreaths were loaded into it. The sites were visited one by one, the flowers were placed, and a minutes silence observed, before moving on to the next site.

Arriving for the Funeral at central stationLaying the wreath at Central Station

Observing the one minute silence at Central StaionA nun attracted by the wreath at Central StationPeopple looking at the wreath

Additional Notes.

The press coverage was unexpected and became an integral part of Gifts To A City.

To carry out the events we needed a surprising number of 'permissions'  - Liverpool City Police, Mersey Passenger Transport, the City Planning Dept, The Department of Trade and Industry, and the owners of St John's Market. - which made us feel that our lives were more under regulation than we had thought. 

We had not orginally intended to do Lollipops Parking Meters, but rather a air balloon event.  We could not get permission for this as the balloons  would have interfered with plane paths.  So we did the parking meters without having the time to get permission to do it and were rapidly picked up by the police.  However we did manage to cover quite a few parking meters before we were stopped.

The Ice Event, despite being seen as pointless by some, certainly got a lot of responses from the people working in the surrounding offices; and indeed from the police who joined in during the time we were putting it up.

In 1975 we published a Gifts to a City 'calendar', to celebrate the event.

The Team

Gifts To A City was conceived, created and produced by Wendy Harpe, Chris Mead, Howard Steel, David Bassi, David Ward, and Ed George.   

They were assisted by Sue Adams, Khris Brown, Dave Calder, Elizabeth Curran, Les Davidoff, Wendy Earle, Janet Grieve, Joey Joel, Simon Johnson, Keith Justice, Marianne Larsen, Mark Ludlow, Christine Malvern, Judy Mazonowicz, Nick Moore, Barbara Putt and photographer Brian Smart.