Tales from the Paris Commune

Art Sheffield 2013''Zoe Beloff, 'The Days Of The Commune  in the Graves Gallery''(c) Nigel Barker
Art Sheffield 2013''Zoe Beloff, 'The Days Of The Commune in the Graves Gallery''(c) Nigel Barker

The Graves Gallery has taken on a colourful hue with reds and blues radiating from walls.

These are the colours of the Paris Commune in an installation by Zoe Beloff as part of Art Sheffield 2013.

Born in Edinburgh but now based in New York, the artist works in a wide range of media including film, projection, performance, installation and drawing, all of which are evident in the work on view in the Graves.

The starting point for The Days of the Commune 2012 were drawings the artist made of some of the demonstrators at the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

From there she conceived the idea of restaging Bertholt Brecht’s 1949 play, The Days of the Commune, which dramatises the rise and fall of the Paris Commune in 1871, the first great modern occupation where workers turned their city into a progressive democracy of the people. “I read a book about Brecht and discovered The Days of the Commune and said ‘we have to do this right now’,” she explains.

The play runs about two and a half hours and has 50 speaking parts. Without funding she decided the only way to do it was as ‘a work in progress’ to be performed scene by scene in public spaces around New York City, starting in Zuccotti Park, over a period of three months. A group of actors (about half with previous experience), activists and enthusiasts came together to perform whenever they were available - “and students I rounded up when I was desperate” .

“Initially it was a live performance which we filmed and put on my website and then I thought it could be a film and gallery installation,” she explains.

In the Graves the film of The Days of the Commune runs on a screen but all around it are storyboard images and props from the film and posters and photographs from the Paris Commune.

There are cardboard barriers and two dimensional rifles (because it’s an offence to have replica guns in public spaces in New York).

“I made all the props and scenery myself that way because everything had to be portable,” she says.

By bringing together Brecht’s work and contemporary social movements, Beloff is suggesting new possibilities for changing the world in the face of impossible odds.

The Days of the Commune 2012 is in the Graves Gallery until December 14.