Matt Retallick: State of Independence

Brief musings on independence v collective, another prompt for discussion. 

In my recent walks around Liverpool, independence has been on my mind. What does it mean to be Independent, and where can we find it? A few weeks ago, I introduced my method as a flâneur, and, as you will know, I have been gathering survey responses from those that represent the cultural landscape of Merseyside. These responses have in-turn informed my routes. As I live in Liverpool, and I’m not useful enough to drive, my short text today stays within seagull-flight of the St John’s Tower. I’ve been strolling to places like Bold Street, and down Lark Lane because many of you told me that these are great examples of independence in Liverpool. What strikes me, however, is this sense of collective independence, and that’s what I will briefly explore here as a prompt for discussion. 

It’s funny to think that being independent, is by definition ‘being free from outside control or subject to another’s authority’ but what I find is quite the opposite. The shops, bars and restaurants which flank either side of Bold Street and Lark Lane, surely find their strength in the collective, and hone their identity in influencing each other? When I emptied my wallet this morning, I found my Independent Liverpool card – the independent businesses connected have of course opted into a collective. Even our city symbols come in pairs, two Liver Birds, two cathedrals, two football teams. As I walk around town and take note, I wonder if independence is not about distancing yourself, but instead about finding a tribe? Do we always need to belong to something? If so, in what way do we show this? For example, on another recent stroll, I walked past a gift shop window and chuckled at finding a replica purple bin for your desk. I always think bins are not just necessary waste receptacles, but in fact territorial markers. We’ve got a purple bin, so we belong to something bigger, we are set apart from other places, but we are together as a city. This is something we recently chatted about on our Artist Hosts podcast in the case of the artist studio. There are various studio complexes throughout our city, but what does that mean for independence? Do they foster a community, or is it about being part of ‘a brand’ for want of a better phrase? It’s the same with independent coffee shops. Why do they all end-up looking the same? Bare plywood surfaces, metro tiling, pot plants dotted strategically, peg board menus. 

It makes me wonder if the difficulties we experience as Artist Hosts attempting to define the independent, stems from the fact that none of us are free from outside control or influence? Is anyone, or anything truly independent anymore? Please feel free to leave a comment below, would love to know your thoughts.