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Daniel Meadows. Welfare State International (1976-1983)

Daniel Meadows. Welfare State International  (1976-1983)

The Hyman Collection includes six framed exhibition prints of Daniel Meadows' extraordinary series of works depicting the cultural collective Welfare State International. WSI were celebrated for imaginative performances and rituals that united the social and the cultural. Meadows, who loved their work and shared many of their ambitions, was their principal photographer between 1976 and 1983, providing many of their defining images including the cover picture for their handbook Engineers of the Imagination, eds. Tony Coult and Baz Kershaw (Methuen, 1983).

The Welfare State International website summarises their concerns:

Founded in 1968 by John Fox and Sue Gill, Roger Coleman and others, Welfare State International was a loose association of freelance artists bought together by shared values and philosophy... WSI first became well known for large-scale outdoor spectacular events. When the company began, taking art out of theatres and galleries into the street was considered revolutionary. The company's name was originally 'The Welfare State' offering art for all on the same basis as education and health... Under the Welfare State umbrella, a remarkable group of engineers, musicians, sculptors, performers, poets and pyrotechnicians invented and developed site-specific theatre in landscape, lantern processions, spectacular fireshows, community carnivals and participatory festivals. These creations were by turns beautiful, abrasive, didactic, provocative, disturbing, wondrous and even gently therapeutic... Some big events such as 'The Raising of the Titanic' (London International Festival of Theatre 1983), 'False Creek' in Expo '86, Vancouver, and the biggest lantern festival in Europe (Glasgow City of Culture 1990) have become touchstones balancing the aesthetic with the social... Art has a central and radical role in our lives. In the everyday, it's about what we value, how and why we celebrate.

Three of the photographs in the Hyman Collection record one of their most celebrated events, The Loves, Lives and Murders of Lancelot Barrabas Quail which traced the life of a mythical national folk hero. It began in October 1977 on the Fulledge Recreation Ground in Burnley, and then toured. Tents were set up around an area that resembled a medieval jousting ground. There were sideshows and giant puppets and a cinema that showed a film about Quail and his early life. After the film there was music and food and then an outdoor play. The performers and giant puppets tormented Quail, but he finally defeats them.

Two of Meadows' other photographs in the Hyman Collection are from Uppendown Mooney (1978) which was written for WSI by their long-term collaborator, the acclaimed poet and playwright, Adrian Mitchell.

The sixth photograph by Meadows in the collection was taken at Brookhouse Summer Festival, Blackburn, Lancashire, in August 1977.

The Hyman Collection is grateful to Daniel Meadows for his assistance in cataloguing these pictures.

British Photography / The Hyman Collection

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