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On the Other Side FACT 2024 Rob Battersby

A Machine to Unmake You (M2UY) (2019-2024)

Multi-channel video installation (various lengths); digital photographs; text; book


In her work, Melanie Crean uses strategies based on storytelling, performance, and speculative design to investigate contemporary social issues, reimagine cultural archetypes, and intervene in civic systems. Since 2019, she has been working in collaboration with imprisoned veterans at HMP Altcourse in Liverpool. In a series of workshops, Melanie and the participants used narrative strategies to facilitate a discussion of their life experience of joining the armed forces, being deployed in war zones, attempting to transition back into civilian life, and being incarcerated. Participants described their intensive training to become a soldier as being like a machine, saying there is unfortunately no corresponding machine to ‘unmake them’ as they attempt to return to civilian society.

In M2UY (2019-2024), Melanie and the participants consider the problematic alignment of incarcerated veterans’ lives with what the sociologist Joseph Campbell called the ‘Hero’s Journey’. In mythology, this narrative structure follows a hero on their path through adventure, crisis, and transformation, mirroring a soldier’s path. The cycle is meant to conclude with the hero as master of their surroundings, though this has not been the result for the participants. Often, recruitment campaigns for the armed forces employ these tropes, promising a similar outcome that doesn’t reflect the impact of trauma experienced by soldiers, sometimes before, and often during, their time serving in the armed forces.

The works in the exhibition focus on the men’s individual journeys, their strength in rethinking possibilities for their own stories, and their mutual aid to support one another in their efforts. A series of videos shown in the foyer and Gallery 1 depict silent performances filmed at HMP Altcourse in collaboration with the participants. All are clocks in various forms, exploring concepts of time, the body, labour and mutual aid amongst the men.

In May 2024, Melanie will present a publication which includes interviews with veterans and justice studies researchers, artists working collaboratively with incarcerated populations, and a photo essay interwoven with writings by the participants. The publication also describes methods and the curriculum used in the project that centre the lived experience of those affected by both the armed forces and justice systems. The publication will be presented at an event at FACT, and will later be distributed as a resource. Beyond the gallery works and the publication, a pilot programme in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University will test out some of the ideas from the incarcerated veteran participants.

Further Reading from the Artist

1. Boal, Augusto, Games for Actors and Non-Actors. Routledge, 1992.

Boal uses performance games to explore issues of power, often without spoken language, informing M2UY’s commitment to poetic forms of dialog and representation.

2. Campbell, Joseph, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, 1949. Quick overview

Campbell describes a common structure to hero journeys that is found across cultures, arguing that myths are essential for people to understand their social and spiritual realities.

3. Design Studio for Social Intervention. Ideas, Arrangements, Effects, Systems Design for Social Justice. 2020.

Ds4si’s framing of Arrangements as places in a system where one might intervene to produce desired effects, informs M2UY’s framing of it’s work with decision makers.

4. Sered, Danielle. Until We Reckon; Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair, 2019.

Sered describes how communities are safer the less they rely on prison for a solution to wrongdoing, and the more they rely on preventative care, informing M2UY's pilot university support workshop series.

5. Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind. New York Times, April 17, 2019.

Gilmore’s framing of abolition as care informs M2UY’s position that prison and the idea of “the criminal” are constructs that have been designed, and can be un-designed.

Created in collaboration with incarcerated veterans and staff at HMP Altcourse. This project is produced by FACT Liverpool as part of Resolution, an arts and research programme led by FACT, in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University and funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, with additional support from the US Embassy. Courtesy of the artist.