Films Of 2019 (V): The Woolworths Choir Of 1979, By Elizabeth Price

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Still from The Woolworths Choir Of 1979 by Elizabeth Price (c)

My work is about people and histories, but not individuals – it’s about people as collective forces or voices and how we emerge as such through material culture.’ – Quote by Elizabeth Price from HERE, a Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art exhibition guide 2012).



Still from The Woolworths Choir Of 1979 by Elizabeth Price (c)

The Woolworths Choir Of 1979 by Elizabeth Price is an associative exploration of the stories of a fire in the department store Woolworths in Manchester, in which ten people died. The video is set up as a stream of visuals and ideas, flowing through three parts which in turn (1) sets up the stage or the auditorium for a drama, then (2) introduces a choir to narrate the drama, and finally (3) presents the tragic event which the drama is based on.


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Still from The Woolworths Choir Of 1979 by Elizabeth Price (c)

Elizabeth Price won the Turner Prize in 2012. Quoting the website of the Tate Museum: “The three sections are linked by recurring images of hand gestures. It begins with a photographic montage of ecclesiastical architecture and digitally animated plans describing an archetypal choir area in a church. Arcane words and definitions, particular to the institution and extracted from essays on churches, narrate the images like a PowerPoint lecture. This bulleted and didactic tone is punctuated by loud rhythmic claps, finger clicks and sung chords. An animated posture and twist of a wrist of a church floor effigy takes the film into the second part which expands on the meaning of a choir as a group of multiple voices. Internet clips of female pop performances, including 1960s American group Shangri-Las and their song Out in the Streets, focus on gestural arm movements and synchronised dances of singers and backing vocalists, layering and assembling them into a unified cacophonic dance and chorus prophetically insisting ‘WE KNOW’. In the final episode the sinuous gestures of the dancers cut to flames, billows of smoke and images of a trapped woman waving for help through a barred window. A range of footage drawn from public archives of the devastating fire that killed ten people at the Woolworths department store in Manchester in 1979 fluctuates between eye witness and survivor accounts, news reports (the first narratives of the event) and material relating to the public inquest that effected change in fire laws in Britain, interjected with text from the chorus. A reconstruction plan of the source of the fire – a storeroom stacked with flammable soft furnishings – brings the work full circle by recalling the rectangular enclosure of the church choir lined with pews.”


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Still from The Woolworths Choir Of 1979 by Elizabeth Price (c)


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