Four Words output on an advertising board

Four Words

Dr Alan Dunn


Exhibition (M)

Curating, Publishing, Text

120 January 2016

Billboard, Art, Curating, Publishing, Art, Text


Dr Dunn has been inventing curatorial models for interjecting artworks by professionals, students and amateurs into social contexts since his internationally-recognised Bellgrove Billboard Project (Glasgow 1990). Artists working with billboards has a lineage dating back to Joseph Kosuth in 1968 and this output, FOUR WORDS, extends the curating of billboard art into the digital realm by presenting new texts on motion screens. Invited by commissioners METAL and Seedbed Trust to develop a large-scale project that “provokes discussions around social issues”, Dunn devised FOUR WORDS for the largest full-motion digital advertising screen in Europe, opposite Liverpool Lime Street Station. Staged during the sales season, the project interrogated our relationships with capitalism and January, a complex month of self reflection. Supported by Arts Council England and Seedbed Trust, Dunn worked with 100 contributors on statements that were each animated for 10 seconds.

Contributors included Gerhard Richter, Turner Prize nominees David Shrigley and Fiona Banner, The Warhol Foundation, teenagers, economists, activists, retired seafarers, students, disability arts charity DaDaFest, a priest, a journalist and a former Liverpool footballer. For many participants, bold expression in public was a rare opportunity. Seen by 4,287 people, FOUR WORDS was reviewed by Simon Ward for Corridor8, Chris Sharratt for a-n and Damon Fairclough for his online blog Copywriting, content and creative thinking. Documentation was published in the journal Stimulus Respond leading to Dunn being invited to guest edit The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (Intellect Publishing, 2017) to further explore artists’ uses of restricted texts, including his three essays ‘Hard to read’, ‘FOUR WORDS’ and ‘sans titre’ (with Professor John Wood, Goldsmiths University). FOUR WORDS was tailored for Leeds Market (2016) and Leeds Beckett University (2016) and incorporated into the MA Art & Design curriculum. A paper on FOUR WORDS was presented at Manchester Metropolitan University’s FUTURE NOW 5 conference (2016) and Bath Spa University’s MA Curatorial Practice staged a one day FOUR WORDS seminar (2017).

Four Words street level footage Ed Pink TV

Billed as “a series of interruptions”, the billboard — Europe’s biggest, full-motion digital advertising screen — featured the animated work of 108 individuals and included contributions from non-artists as well as internationally recognised names such as Gerhard Richter, Fiona Banner, Douglas Coupland and David Shrigley. Snappy, slyly subversive and sometimes thought-provoking announcements and calls to action flickered like unexpected interruptions to afternoon shopping trips… “People respond to incentives” announce Freakonomics — economist Steven D Levitt and writer Stephen J Dubner — a cheekily provocative statement in the midst of the January sales. Continuing the theme of money, credit and consumerism, 16-year-old Zak Dunn-Jurack announces that “You owe me 50”

Chris Sharratt a-n

The slogan won’t be a component of an ad or marketing campaign, but will instead form part of a project curated by the artist Alan Dunn. The initiative, called FOUR WORDS, aims to take over Liverpool’s most visible city-centre advertising site in the middle of the sales season and offer shoppers 100 different four-word thoughts based on ideas of value, money and exchange. In the words of the brief: “We want to offer the Liverpool public FOUR WORDS that will act as a counterpoint to the sales season and the invisible pressures of this time of year.”

Damon Fairclough Blog

Funding credits

Arts Council England, Seedbed Trust, Liverpool City Council and Leeds Beckett University.