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Alicja Biala’s monumental public artwork ‘Merseyside Totemy’ unveiled at Liverpool’s Pier Head

Liverpool Biennial and Liverpool BID Company today unveil a monumental new public artwork by artist Alicja Biala, addressing the urgent issue of the impact of climate change on Merseyside. The work, titled Merseyside Totemy, will be open to the public at St Nicholas Place, Princes Dock from today (14 July) and will remain in situ for two years.

Merseyside Totemy, part of Biala’s Totemy series and formed of three totems, brings together statistics around climate change aiming to visualise the issues Merseyside faces in terms of rising sea levels and flooding by situating them using local examples.

Each totem features 3 ribbon flags pointing to three areas of Merseyside threatened by rising sea levels: Liverpool City Centre, Formby and Birkenhead. The flags reference international maritime signals, an alphabet of phrases used by ships around the world to communicate with one another.

Visitors can digitally interact with each totem via the QR codes at the base of the sculptures to access information on the data that determines its proportions, gathered by the artist and researchers Jason Kirby and Timothy Lane from Liverpool John Moores University. The data represented shows what Merseyside could look like in the year 2080 if ice caps continue to melt and sea levels continue to rise at their current speed.

With data around climate change typically being presented to the public in an intangible and unrelatable way, Merseyside Totemy aims to strike a hopeful note with visitors. By acknowledging that the effects of climate change are already being felt, the conversation must shift towards the positive possibilities for mitigation and action, rather than prevention.

The totems have been produced at Castle Fine Arts Foundry Liverpool using materials that reference traditional shipbuilding, including painted and rusted mild steel, whilst the patterns on the work are inspired by the maritime history of the region, specifically the colourful buoys that appear along the Merseyside coastline.

The plinths for the totems are based on stone filled gabion baskets that would usually be used to build sea defences and every material used in the creation of the work has been chosen to ensure maximum longevity and reusability. Further information on plans for the sustainable afterlife of the work will be revealed in due course.

As part of the project, global built environment consultancy Arup have supported a series of workshops with the artist in schools located in areas that are likely to be most impacted by coastal changes. The workshops have looked at climate change solutions through an innovative and optimistic lens, enabling students to learn how to represent their own data in exciting and engaging ways. The artist has also been working with local schools and the Liverpool Biennial Learning Team to create a ‘Climate Wish’ card game that will help young people to navigate difficult and often worrying conversations around climate change.

Later this year, the resource will be made available in school libraries across the Liverpool City Region and online to encourage everyone to make their own Climate Wish. Children in the region will be around retirement age in 2080, meaning that they will experience these effects of climate change within their lifetimes.

Sam Lackey, Director, Liverpool Biennial, said:

“We’re thrilled to unveil Merseyside Totemy today, bringing large-scale public artwork to the city and encouraging important discussions about the climate crisis.

With much of Merseyside set to feel the impact of rising sea levels within the next century, Biala’s work is strongly situated in the context of the local area, presenting important data in a way that can connect with everybody who passes by.

We hope that this new work will serve as a starting point to spark ideas and conversation around what can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change across our region.”

Bill Addy, chief executive of the Liverpool BID Company, and chair of LVEN (Liverpool Visitor Economy Network), said:

“Public art has the power to transform our streets, squares and public places. Our commitment to supporting the presentation of art is a vital part of how we create a catalyst for future activity, how we make places more attractive and inviting to live, work, visit and explore.

I am excited for people to see this work. It will bring a colourful and thoughtprovoking addition to our famous city-skyline. With the addition of a new sculpture on The Liverpool Plinth, two artists have unveiled their work in this corner of the city.

There is such an appetite for new art in the city and we’re delighted to be bringing new and exciting work for people to discover and enjoy.”