A hot-air balloon labelled “Palestinian Embassy”, and carrying political commentators, will fly over Liverpool next month as part of a prestigious art festival.
The exhibit is part of the Liverpool Biennal 2012, an event that receives funding from the Arts Council England and Liverpool City Council.
The “Palestinian Embassy” is the brainchild of Norwegian performance-art duo Goksøyr & Martens and was displayed in Oslo three years ago.
It involves a hot-air balloon in the colours of the Palestinian flag flying over the city, bearing Arabic writing and with politicians and academics on board “for diplomatic discussions on topics concerning Palestine”.
The discussions can be listened to by audience members on the ground and following the balloon ride, a film of the event will be shown at Liverpool John Moores University.
‘If the topic touches on Israel, it should be balanced’
The panel for the Liverpool balloon is expected to include the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
When the balloon soared over Oslo, those on board included Palestinian political activist Mustafa Barghouti and Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, a former aide to Yasir Arafat.
“They couldn’t secure both sides in Oslo,” said Biennial director Sally Tallant. “In Liverpool, they are keen to present a balanced debate and we will make sure at least two sides are present. It is nobody’s intention to do something that is just polemical. This is a peaceful work that is not supposed to be one-sided.
“The last thing that any of us want to do is to present something that is offensive.”
The artists said that they would try to include “different voices and sides of the Middle Eastern conflict”.
“Palestinian Embassy is a project that will be shaped by the time and place it is performed,” said Toril Goksøyr. “Those taking part in the discussion will bring the conversation in different directions according to their opinions, background and the location of the event.”
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies said that while they had no objection to a Palestinian cultural event happening per se, they were “concerned that this event may well take on more political overtones”.
He said the Board had urged the organisers to ensure that the discussions were balanced “and, if the topic touches on the state of Israel, presented in a fair and sensitive way”.
Noting the Arts Council’s support for the Biennial, he added: “We hope that this project justifies public support and does not simply become a publicly funded chance to attack the Middle East’s only democracy”.
Israeli artists Yael Bartana and Oded Hirsch will also be taking part in the Biennial, which runs from September until November 25.