Rapper and poet Liv Wynter is a queer, working-class artist based in South London who wants to explore issues of gender, class, and sexuality through activism and art. Her weeklong residency at the Royal Standard in Liverpool, called HOW MUCH ARE THEY PAYING YOU, was organized as a response to the £25 application fee for New Contemporaries, and ran simultaneously with the Liverpool Biennial. Wynter’s quick wit and stage presence make her performances poignant, radical, and funny.
Last year, Wynter took on the male-dominated rap battle Don’t Flop, calling out sexism and homophobia while challenging a seasoned freestyler. Lately, Wynter has been working with WHEREISANAMENDIETA, an archiving project and group of activists, who stormed the Tate Modern to protest an exhibition of work by artist Ana Mendieta’s husband and alleged murderer. The Creators Project talked to Wynter about her residency at the Royal Standard, her Skype-based project HEADFUCK, and how she’s learning to experiment with the written word.
The Creators Project: Can you tell us about the first days of your residency?
Liv Wynter: It’s been wild! I've drunk more than my own body weight in tequila and done more admin than I could have ever imagined. At the artist talk last night, some institutional heads came along. I was talking about drawing a line between activism and art—I think art is inherently exclusionary, so to separate art and activism is often necessary to keep activism accessible. I was cussing out institutions for being inherently racist, sexist, etc. and they kept coming with 'not all institutions' or more specifically, 'not everyone who works at an institution.' It was kind of funny because in a conversation about people being silenced by institutions’ self-obsession, they demonstrated exactly that by trying to defend themselves. It was a totally derailing moment, and kind of ironic they didn't clock their own gestures.
What are you most looking forward to in the next four days?
I'm looking forward to the performance event, hosted by Liverpool’s own Kevin Le Grand Bailor, with work from Liv Fontaine, Emily Pope, and Travis Alabanza. I'm looking forward to the intervention at New Contemporaries. We've made so many flyers with lists of things that you could also own for £25: £25 is the equivalent of two days rent and bills all-inclusive in Liverpool, and £25 is 2 days rent or 11.2 days of gas and electric in London. I like to get people talking.
Both your residency and your recent work with WHEREISANAMENDIETA have to do with erasure in the art world. How have you experienced it firsthand?
All women or queer people or working class people or people of color face a sense of erasure. Our histories are not documented well, we are not archived well, and so we have to now create our own histories. I think this is part of the reason I'm interested in plastering myself all over social media, to be overbearing in my documentation as a queer working class woman feels quite ‘fuck you.’ I want my representation to be in my hands.
How did you construct HEADFUCK and what have you learned from it?
HEADFUCK was a series of 30 one-to-one performances that took place over Skype at 1 AM. I had just left uni and had done a show that was unpaid. So I wanted to do a residency length piece that existed completely outside of an institution and had no support or funding that was autonomous. Each performance needed to be paid for in some way. Some people paid money. Some offered dinner. Some offered skill shares. It was a huge learning curve in how to self-generate, and a serious lesson in admin. I also wanted to return to ephemerality. HEADFUCK has no documentation and the poem doesn't exist anymore. The only people that have ever and will ever hear that piece are the people that participated.
Why the Royal Standard?
I chose The Royal Standard because I wanted to do my first residency in another working class area, which Liverpool is. Us Londoners have a tendency to think we are the be all and end all of culture and art, and we really ain't. The Royal Standard is artist led, which means I didn't have to fight with big institutional bodies, and could make work that was satisfyingly political. The residency also formed out of a retaliation to the application fee (£25) for New Contemporaries, so I'm here during their opening. The Royal Standard is one of the best spaces I've ever had a chance to work with.
What happens to pieces after you've performed them? Do you plan to release or publish them in the future?
It still feels important to me that poems stay attached to my body and my voice. However, now I do write things. I'm commissioned to write for print, and I've been writing a play as well. When you perform a poem, it can reflect your mood. You can move lines around or drop bits out. You can't do that with printed text. It represents an exact moment, and has no space for growth. I find that equal parts frustrating, exposing and uncomfortable.
Finally, what's next for you?
I'm gonna be working with WHEREISANAMENDIETA. We have a night in August to officially launch the archive, and then we have some plans for further direct action. I have some stuff coming out with Laugh Magazine and SALT. zine. I guess I'll mainly just be working at my local pub, trying to finish this play.
To learn more about the artist, click here.