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DWP Deaths Make Me Sick at Surface Gallery's Street Art Festival

17 July 19 words: Adrian Shaw

Adrian Shaw headed down to the Surface Gallery to check out Vince Law's DWP Deaths Make Me Sick, part of their Street Art Festival...

As part of the exhibits on-show at Street Art Festival 2019 at Surface Gallery, Vince Laws has put up six pieces - part of an on-going series, under the general heading DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Each piece - Shrouds - made from recycled bedding and spray-painted with legends’ - are of five victims of the UK Government policy of cuts to welfare benefit: John Walker ('Saddled with Debt Payments due to the Bedroom Tax. Took his Own Life’) , Linda Wooten (‘Double Heart and Lung Patient. Found Fit to Work. Died Nine Days Later’), Carl Payne, Mark Wood and Terry McGarvey (‘Dangerously Ill from Polycythemia.  He asked for an Ambulance during his Work Capability Assessment. He knew he wasn’t well enough to attend but feared his Benefits would be stopped. He died the next day’); plus a general piece regarding the victims Work Capability Assessments.

Each of the legends are in block letters for impact on each shroud; prevailing colours are black, red and white, so the whole set of this six-piece dramatic installation reads like a charge sheet on the avoidable deaths of the victims – uncared for in an uncaring official world. After all – 'Dead People don’t Claim’. He also includes a statement that ‘the DWP’s response to concerns about death rates was to stop publishing them.

Vince Laws describes himself as a poet, artist, performer and campaigner.  He says, "I am a poem. As an artist, I define what a poem is. If my art can be anything from a painting to a concept, so can my poetry. I am a poem".

His indictment, portrayed above, can also be read as a criticism of each and every one of us: we tolerate these deaths due to our own self-interest and enforced competition to survive. Like lemmings, we are implicit in our own – and each others’ – destruction.

Go see this (and the other excellent exhibits) in the Festival, and get angry, as well as informed and ‘entertained’... We are going to need this anger – and our resistance against the coming maelstrom of Brexit – to survive our individual and collective separation and insularity. Here are seeds for change...

Street Art Festival 2019 at Surface Gallery closes on Saturday 20 July

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