An Interview With Liam Geary Baulch

Liam Geary Baulch is an artist and activist (largely involed with extinction rebellion) whose performance piece ‘Sea Squad’ I first saw at art space ‘turf projects’ in Croydon. “Let’s chant it! Let’s rhyme it! Let’s cheer to save the climate!” was the rallying cry of artist Liam Geary Baulch’s pro-environment performance project, Sea Squad. Personifying the sea to raise awareness of human-inflicted pollution, his performance inspired me to interview him via the internet to find out more about his art and activism.

What inspired you to start the Sea Squad projec

Sea Squad, honestly, the initial inspiration was a sports shirt I found in a thrift shop in Brooklyn. It said the team’s name on the back , ‘Colonial Concepts’, and I thought there has got to be a performance in this. Costume has always been important for my performances, becoming back drops of visual symbols to contextualise the work. And then I started drawing relations between cheerleaders and the sea level rising we are seeing today.

But more seriously three years ago I decided to focus my practice on climate change as the biggest challenge for the world.My ongoing project Sea Squad represents the sea as a cheerleading squad, and uses chants, dances and costume to discuss colonialism, capitalism and rising sea levels. 

Other events include a memorial march which I curated through London to remember the whale which died swimming up the Thames; this gained recognition on TV, radio and print interviews. More recently I've worked with school children using a punch and judy style puppet show about air pollution where the kids have to scream "Stop Smog!" when they see the bad air pollution. I am determined to continue to engage audiences creatively in solving climate change.

I personally found this project really inspiring. What other projects have you been involved with and how did you start performing?

I like using the structures of songs, which provide familiar and appropriate contexts, for performances of writing, music or dance with political impulse. An example of my projects would be 'The Deptford Shanty Crew', where I ran a local community choir to reclaim the areas history through singing against gentrification, taking the forms of historic working songs from the area to create new responses to the contemporary conditions.

This year was the first time I rediscovered drawing alongside a performance practice. I showed these alongside a collaboration with a punk band at my show at Serf gallery in Leeds. They explored a cross between the history of monarchy in England and recent punk and alt culture, particularly focussing on the sinking of the white ship, an event which led to one of the longest periods in english history without a monarch on the throne. I like creating narratives which inspire people to think about how we could live in a society that's different to the status quo we have taken for granted today.

How many places have you performed Sea Squad at?

I have created live performances and public interventions in galleries including the Royal Academy, smaller artist run spaces like Turf in Croydon, Limbo in Peckham, in international arts residencies and festivals including The London Design Festival and smaller ones on friends farms, at TEDxEastEnd, in theatres such as Derby Theatre, and on the street. 

How has the response been so far?

The molecular structure of the sea if infinitely expandable. Cheerleaders chant together in formations that are easy to replicate. Everyone is welcome in Sea Squad, and the audience is always invited. So will you wait for the rising of the masses or the rising mass of the sea before you act on the climate?  Will you join Sea Squad? The response to cheerleaders dressed in royal blue and waving pom poms while chanting sincerely about rising seas is varied. I try to use an upbeat tone and humour to get people to think about the climate for more than 5 seconds, we so often see scary depressing images which turn people off this topic. So I like it when people laugh along, I like it more when people join in the chants and the dance moves. People respond in different ways, when I performed Sea Squad for young children, they were most interested to explore the fact I was a man with a beard wearing a long blue wig and a short blue skirt. By the end of the event half of the young people had tried out what it was like to have long blue hair.

Is there an ideal response for audiences after viewing your work?

I don't think I have an ideal response, the range I've described a little above is all great, and part of learning how we make narratives about such a huge issue. And how people can feel engaged enough to consider taking action. Doing something, however small, is a good step.

You interact confidently with audiences while performing - do you ever get anxious and how do you deal with this?

Yes, of course I get anxious about live performances, my stomach tightens up, and it can be pretty horrible after not knowing how it came across. But I rehearse my performances, and so I know them all fairly well, and if I'm working with a squad we will do rehearsals too.

Who do you think your main influences are?

I think I've been influenced by pop and folk culture generally, obviously cheerleading is from the southern US, as is Beyonce who always gets an homage in my performance. Mark McGowan, the artist taxi driver, really inspired me in his humorous and emotional response to the political situation through his surreal youtube video art works and public protests.

Bonnie Diver