…to be expected

•August 22, 2012 • Comments Off on …to be expected

FACT (Foundation for Art and Technology) Liverpool`

•May 18, 2011 • Comments Off on FACT (Foundation for Art and Technology) Liverpool`

FACT

88 Wood Street

Liverpool L1 4DQ


Meiro Koizumi
My Voice Would Reach You (single channel version), 2009
HD video installation, 16 min 45 sec

This video piece is tucked away in a corner near the entrance lobby of FACT. If you are lucky enough to notice it you are rewarded with an intimate and fascinating private eavesdrop on a telephone conversation. The bench provided allows for only 3 viewers at a time thus making it quite an exclusive experience even though it is situated in the hustle and bustle of the entrance area with the comings and goings of the public, the queues of cinema goers waiting for tickets and the casual visitors looking for information leaflets. The conflict with incidental noise and extraneous movement could be seen as a negative but, considering the context of the film, a telephone call made in a busy Tokyo street, actually enhances the subject matter.

The video itself is in three sections beginning with a centrally placed, well dressed male figure talking on his mobile phone. It is a common sight, one we witness every day; someone having a conversation in a public place with an unseen person whose voice we cannot hear. This stationary figure seems unaware of the busy world of the street he is occupying. People rush by and the noise of passing traffic invades, but the man continues his conversation regardless. Subtitles relay the spoken word to the viewer and we come to a gradual realisation that his mother is the recipient of the phone call. It is a tender conversation full of touching, personal moments. He is trying to persuade her to join him for a weekend treat at a spa, a recognised symbol of status within Japanese culture. It seems that money is an issue and he reassures her by saying that she should not worry about the cost. It is obvious that he cares deeply about his mother and wishes to make her happy by reaching out to her in this way, even becoming tearful in his insistence.

We leave this street scene for the second section of the video which concerns a letter written to his mother. The subtitled voiceover again provides the narrative explaining that this is the first letter he’s ever written to his mother, which sounds curious until you realise that there is no reason to write letters in this age of ever increasing means of communication. The text is accompanied by photographs of mother and child as we become privy to a precious memory of a bicycle trip that was disrupted by a punctured tyre and an impromptu visit to the woods to eat rice cakes. We also hear about the sandwiches that his mother prepared for him for his school lunch. At the time they were a source of embarrassment for the young boy as his school friends’ sandwiches had much more interesting fillings such as scrambled egg and sausage. With hindsight the grown man now appreciates the thought and effort his mother put into this food and he realises that they were the best sandwiches. This letter ends “You’ve gone to a place where this letter can never be delivered, I knew somehow my voice would reach you” It is at this point that we come to the full realisation that his mother is, in fact, dead.

Now we return to the street scene with the grown man talking on his mobile phone. Initially we believe that this is a repeat of the beginning of the video, so closely does his speech resemble what we have already witnessed. Of course it now takes on a poignant air as we know that he can’t be talking to his mother since she is dead. The piece takes another twist as we now hear the responses of the person on the other end of the line. He has actually phoned a call centre and the recipient of the call is trying to make sense of the strange disconnected conversation. Politely, but insistently, the person attempts to address the issues of the caller but is totally confused by the personal nature of the conversation, in particular the offer of a weekend away. Several call centre employees are treated to this phone call and each one tries to explain that they cannot help the caller, one actually states “I’m afraid I am not your mother”. At once comic and tragic you feel that the bereaved man is using this phone call in an attempt at catharsis. If he can voice his feelings towards his mother maybe he can achieve closure. He ends by saying goodbye to his dead mother and the video closes with atmospheric organ music reminiscent of a funeral service.

It could be said that this singular piece encapsulates the theme of the whole 2010 Biennial, “Touched”. Meiro Koizumi’s understated video is certainly touching and moving and its message is bound to connect with every viewer. Its universal story transcends cultural boundaries, making it the most affecting work of the Biennial.

Minouk Lim
The Weight of Hands, 2010
HD video and sound, single-dash projection, 10 min
Supported by Arts Council Korea and SAMUSO, Seoul
Courtesy of the artist and Gallery PLANT, Seoul
Commissioned by FACT and Liverpool Biennial 2010 for Touched

This mysterious video piece is projected onto the wall of a confined, dark space. Using heat sensitive cameras to film the action we cannot clearly access the performance taking place as the glowing acid colours distort and blur our perception. The most obvious reading is one of surveillance but who is watching who? We see a group of strangely attired people on a coach arriving at some kind of industrial or construction site. These insubstantial anonymous figures progress slowly and their theatrical demeanour is heightened by a solo voice singing a doleful song. They appear as lost wandering souls dislocated in space and time. Where do they belong? Why are they here? Why should we care about them? It is difficult to relate to these people or their situation, especially since they do not seem to relate to one another. They move as a group but each is isolated, the only moment they work together is when they physically use their hands to support the singer by passing her body along the length of the coach.

Setting aside any intended social or political context the video is testament to colour, movement and sound. Taken on face value it could be read merely on the same terms as an 80s music video, such as “Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie. It is difficult to reconcile the given text regarding this piece with the video itself.

Tehching Hsieh
One Year Performance 1980-1981.
16mm film, time cards, photographs, time clock and other documentation materials.
Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

The whole of the ground floor gallery at Fact is devoted to the documentation of this one year performance. The amazing array of photographs, which stretches across all four walls of the space, is testament to Tehching Hsieh’s dedication to his chosen task-to photograph himself on the hour, every hour, for an entire year! It takes some time to grasp the enormity of this feat. You could be forgiven for suspecting some form of deception is taking place but, such is the artist’s attention to detail, he begins on day one with a completely shaven head. The gradual process of the re-growing of his hair is evidence that we are facing an insane performance which manages to be small in terms of scale and focus but enormous in terms of significance. The “mistakes” in the display, where he failed to take a photograph at the appropriate time, serve to emphasise the impossibility of his self imposed regime whilst also reinforcing our wonderment at his sheer dedication as the hours passed away for an entire year. You feel compelled to stand in awe at this documented display and give it due consideration, almost as if you should acknowledge the time it took to produce. The meticulous nature of the display mirrors his machine like performance.

Tehching Hsieh’s expressionless face and utilitarian uniform belie his repetitive enterprise as he punches his hourly clock card then takes a photo as evidence. A 16mm film of the collection of photographs is endlessly projected playing like a modern day stop-frame animation, the whirring noise of the projector filling the space with an audible marker of the swift passage of time.

This is a piece about confinement, but not solely in terms of time. Ultimately this is a confinement within space, as he is metaphorically chained to the clock as we all are due to the patterns of our contemporary society. However, it is worth noting that this piece is 30 years old and you can’t help wondering what significance it brings to a Biennial in 2010.

Kaarina Kaikkonen
Hanging On to Each Other, 2010
Collected used clothing

Moving into the atrium area of Fact we encounter this, supposedly, site specific installation by Kaarina Kaikkonen. Using donated items of clothing from Liverpool residents Kaikkonen has created a hanging sculpture which is raised high above the head of the viewer. The clothes are arranged according to colour i.e. darker colours near the base receding to lighter colours towards the top. The gallery text informs us that the sculpture takes the shape of the hull of a ship, thus reflecting the maritime heritage of Liverpool. Since this is not immediately apparent this notion seems like an afterthought or an attempt at adding more weight to this piece than it deserves. The sculpture certainly makes good use of the open space of the atrium but fails to convey ideas of personal memory. Neither does this display of clothing act as “a basic symbol of healing, care and unconditional love” as stated in the official Biennial Guide.

Yves Netzhammer
Dialogical Abrasion, 2010
3D animation, sculptural installation, sound
Courtesy of the artist and Anita Beckers Gallery, Frankfurt
Commissioned by FACT and Liverpool Biennial 2010 for Touched

Occupying Gallery 2 is this mysterious work by Swiss artist Yves Netzhammer which consists of a maze of narrow passageways interrupted by small scale installations. The whole room is thrown into darkness which is interspersed by random illuminations in selected areas, one at a time, revealing hidden objects and displays within. For example, an elaborate readymade sculpture of a pair of shoes whose laces transcend their functionality by creating architectural descriptors of their situation in relation to floor, ceiling and walls.

Within this nightmarish labyrinth is located Netzhammer’s 3D animation which corresponds exactly with the scenario created by the physicality of this space. Figures in the style of test crash dummies are smashed, broken, pulled, thrown and even shot at in multiple scenarios. Devoid of human emotion and feeling, it makes a cold and slightly uncomfortable watch. The nonlinear narrative within the video chops and jumps but simultaneously corresponds with the physical surroundings which the viewer assumes relates to the animation and vice versa.

A sense of clinical precision, underlined with a sinister unease is maintained throughout. Grey and sterile you feel you’ve stumbled across a strange experimental lab and just maybe you are the subject matter. Your attention is distracted towards loud crashing metallic noises which seem to be randomly generated throughout the gallery as Bernd Schurer’s atmospheric soundscape interferes with your attempts to extract a coherent and logical reading. The project/experiment is inexplicable leaving you disorientated and confused which is obviously Netzhammer’s intention.

The theme “Touched” is explored to a greater or lesser extent by each of the pieces in the Fact section of the Biennial. Taken in its literal sense Minouk Lim’s “The Weight of Hands” would seem to fit the bill entirely by virtue of the fact that it concerns the sense of touch. But by far the most satisfying piece remains Meiro Koizumi’s video “My voice would reach you”. The memory of this affecting narrative lingers in the mind, touching our sensibilities and colouring our world.

Open Eye Gallery Liverpool

•February 28, 2011 • Comments Off on Open Eye Gallery Liverpool

Open Eye Gallery

Lars Laumann

Liverpool Biennial ‘Touched’ 2010

‘I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’.

Everything in this exhibition makes you question what constitutes “truth” and how it can be distorted through subjective readings, clever editing and censorship. In each piece Laumann skillfully plays off reality with fiction, making you realise that labeling something as being “truthful” can be a deceptive act. The whole show concerns the truth, or rather versions of the truth, and none more so than Laumann’s latest work made especially for this year’s Biennial.

Helen Keller (and the great purging bonfire of books and unpublished manuscripts illuminating the dark) New commission for Open Eye Gallery and Liverpool Biennial 2010, Touched.

What are we to make of Laumann’s new commission, set in its own space towards the back of the Open Eye gallery, a bench provided for the convenience of viewers to settle down and watch this video of nearly 30 minutes duration. At first it feels like a straightforward narrative film, albeit of inferior standard, but it’s difficult to penetrate the unravelling story-line. We are told this is a post revolutionary Iranian T.V. adaptation of J.D. Salinger’s 1963 short story “Franny and Zooey” overlaid with English subtitles. A grainy V.H.S. ‘pirate’ quality drama is played out on screen, even the Iranian T.V. network logo is visible in the corner. We struggle to make sense of the subtitles in relation to the actions of the characters on screen, especially since the main actor displays a highly emotionally charged persona which appears at odds with the lines we are being fed. We come to a sudden realisation that all is not as it seems when she declares “What you are really afraid of is the America inside you!” Again, this outburst seems out of context and leads you to fully examine the details of the video and draws your attention to the fact that the subtitles have been pasted over the pre-existing text of the T.V. version. Just when you are still trying to come to terms with the complexities of this piece the faux-narrative changes again and the many twists and turns of Laumann’s artistic style reveal themselves, taking us on a journey and making our heads spin in confusion. Images of book burning, one being Salinger’s own “The Catcher in the Rye”, are inter-cut with archive footage of Nazi posters being ripped from walls. The viewer feels disorientated and wonders what happened to the original story-line and how does this treatise on propaganda and censorship relate to what we have already seen? But we are never to return to the story of “Franny and Zooey” as Laumann develops his film/collage technique even further by throwing other elements into the mix. A series of bodies forming letter shapes, presumably a reference to the Helen Keller of the title since she was both deaf and blind, are followed by a child narrator clumsily telling the story of the book “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils” and how its Swedish author, Selma Lagerlof, was accused of prejudice since she omitted the whole area of Halland from this tale of the History and Geography of Sweden. It was thought that she considered this region to be racially impure and unworthy of inclusion in this bestselling children’s book of 1902. But how do all these separate issues connect? Could we use the title of this work as a starting point?

Let’s begin with Helen Keller whose extraordinary life, with its own manipulations and complex historical re-telling, is an enthralling read in itself. Keller (1880-1968) was a deaf/blind author, suffragette and lecturer whose inspiring life story even produced an Oscar winning film ‘The Miracle Worker’ 1962. Her Socialist political activism was frowned upon in her native USA and her essay ‘How I Became a Socialist’ was burnt by the Nazis in the infamous book burnings of 1933. There was also an accusation of plagiarism levelled at her for a story she wrote when she was just 11 years old. “The Frost King” appears to be an example of cryptomnesia where an author can subconsciously re-use another’s words and innocently pass them off as their own since Keller’s story bears more than a passing resemblance to ‘The Frost Fairies’ by Margaret Canby. This is not something we could accuse Laumann of doing in his work since he very consciously appropriates and recycles others’ images, words and stories for his own purposes. Keller’s plagiarism is touched upon in the subtitles accompanying the first part of the video when the main protagonist alludes to this, possibly false, allegation.

It has to be said that the casual viewer will undoubtedly miss the subtlety of Laumann’s message since we had to do a lot of homework to discover the full complexities lying within this narrative. However, our efforts were fully rewarded as this seemingly simple understated film has revealed itself as a disturbing moralistic debate on presentations of truth, justice, power and propaganda. Multiple layers are woven into this disorientating narrative which manages to combine references to censorship, plagiarism, prejudice, Socialism and Nazi-ism. Maybe the thread that holds it all together can be summed up in the sentiment “the truth will out!” As Helen Keller herself declared in 1933 when she discovered that her book on Socialism had been burned, “History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas. Tyrants have tried to do that often before, and the ideas have risen up in their might and destroyed them. You can burn my books and the books of the best minds in Europe, but the ideas in them have seeped through a million channels, and will continue to quicken other minds.”

 

The new commission is exhibited alongside two existing video works;

Duett, 2010

Consisting of a large black monitor standing on its end and leaning against the gallery wall “Duett” takes on the appearance of a monolith or shiny granite gravestone. The viewer is coerced into an intimate connection with this work since the sound can only be heard by way of two sets of headphones hanging either side of the monitor from a short lead. In this way we get “up close and personal” with the two combative performers who Laumann has appropriated. These two giant historical political figures combine to perform a digital, yet somewhat sinister, X factor style challenge. Laumann presents Margaret Thatcher and Donald Rumsfeld. They are given a few inches of screen space on the monitor, two talking heads facing each other producing two extraordinary pieces of dialogue. We hear first from Margaret Thatcher whose voice is digitally manufactured making it appear that she is singing her words in an otherworldly tone and sounding like a robot devoid of human emotion. The speech is taken from an interview with David Frost on TV AM in 1985 just 3 years after the controversial sinking of the Argentinian warship Belgrano. This action was sanctioned in Westminster by Thatcher’s cabinet despite the fact that the ship was sailing away from the Falkland Islands and was outside the British government’s self-imposed exclusion zone. It was sunk by HMS Conqueror with the loss of 323 lives. Laumann has taken short segments of the interview and synthesized Thatcher’s voice to such an extent as to transform it into musical notes. The words are repeated, accelerated and slowed.

‘That ship was a danger to our boys, that’s why that ship was sunk, I know it was right to sink her and I would do the same again’.

Rumsfeld’s part in this performance is taken from a speech he made in 2002 at a press briefing regarding the Iraq government and their alleged weapons of mass destruction:

‘The message is that there are no “knowns.” There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns’.

It’s an amazing statement which lies central to the access and consequential use of information which can develop policy and ultimately make a case for war. Rumsfeld presents a spaghetti of words which Laumann manipulates as a soundtrack to ridicule and emphasise the confusion attached to belief systems of truth seeking. This work again plays on ideas of the truth and belief. Can we take the words of these world players at face value or are we cynical enough to suspect that we are being manipulated in the same way that Laumann has manipulated Thatcher’s and Rumsfeld’s speech patterns to create this strange alien rhetoric? Their words are cleverly deployed to justify multiple enemy deaths in times of war and we must wait for 30 years to discover the whole truth of the circumstances.

Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana, 2006

Conspiracy theory and belief are investigated within a classroom setting as the audience are invited to occupy infant size school chairs to watch and hear a collection of strange obsessional findings. Each track from the Smiths 1986 album ‘The Queen is Dead’ is given detailed analysis by a voiceover to prove that Morrissey (with the help of extra-terrestrial beings) foresaw the death of Princess Diana in 1997. A series of clips from archived sources slickly edited together and projected on a screen brings a convincing documentary style to the work. Belief systems and manipulation of information make this a comical and entertaining piece which can be seen as mocking devoted followers who are too willing to believe a set of given laws and half plausible facts. It is more evidence that Laumann is intrigued by definitions of the truth and its presentation.

Informational based current affairs and historical interpretation are at the heart of today’s modern societies. Control and influence of news networks, newspapers and publishing is crucial in shaping opinion and debate. An agenda setting regime can to a certain extent manipulate and direct policy towards a specific religious or political philosophy.  Laumann himself uses a subtle form of creative subversion which could easily be seen as haphazard and chaotic but ultimately reveals itself to be the absolute opposite!

52 Renshaw Street

•February 8, 2011 • Comments Off on 52 Renshaw Street

 

52 Renshaw Street

Liverpool

Touched 2010

 

The exhibition at this site has been curated by Lorenzo Fusi and is separated into three sections, Re-Thinking Trade, The Human Stain and seven other individual artists whose work does not appear to fit in with either of these themes.

On reviewing the artwork at 52 Renshaw Street a consideration of the show’s curation is a prerequisite to a true judgement of its effectiveness. Any Liverpool resident would be familiar with the building’s previous use as the D.I.Y. store “Rapid” and wholly accustomed to its rambling and labyrinthine corridors and stairways. Now that all the fixtures and fittings have been ripped out of the inner fabric of the building it has become the backdrop and setting for an extensive display of internationally acclaimed artwork, some old, some newly commissioned for the 2010 Biennial. In some places the building has been left in its new state of disrepair with the walls showing their battered, bruised and scarred surfaces. In other areas the walls have been carefully disguised as pristine white gallery spaces, fit for purpose! The net result is a rather shambolic, untidy and unsatisfactory “halfway house” of compromise. As viewers it is sometimes difficult to separate the art from the building, especially where the Catedra Arte De Conducta have intervened and, via a series of events and happenings, added random scraps of MDF to the wall waiting for a response from the public. You find yourself stretching the imagination and considering an empty space vacated by an extractor fan as an interesting piece of art, which isn’t altogether a bad thing! It’s just that you don’t want to feel that you’re being led into an appreciation of the space rather than the art you have travelled here to see.

 

Rosa Barba
Tania Bruguera
Song Dong
NS Harsha
Alfredo Jaar
Allan Kaprow
Ryan Trecartin

In addition to the two discrete aforementioned thematic groupings there are works on show by seven other artists which presumably do not easily fit into the titled categories. Again, some of the work is newly commissioned whilst others are represented by previously existing pieces.

We enter the underbelly of the city in Rosa Barba’s ‘Free Post Mersey Tunnels’ sculptural sound piece. A mass of ventilation pipes twist and turn in this large indoor venue. You can walk around and through the contorted industrial loops of aluminium which resonate deep bass sounds vibrating through the crumbling walls and entering the spectator as they pass through the space. This manifestation feels like the intestine of what lies beneath Liverpool, tunnels below the streets transporting people in trains, cars and buses, weaving through and under the River Mersey. The thundering sounds are a mix of wind and traffic which brings the beast alive and presents the grand illusion of revealing the hidden city. The pipe exits/enters the building through a first floor glass window and cascades outside, down towards the pavement below. It’s a fine trick which you almost want to believe, as you would cup a shell to your ear so that you can hear the sea, the curious mind is willing it to be real. Barba uses the given space to great effect and without any conceptual interplay the piece holds its own as a piece of abstract sculpture, it echoes the aesthetics of a modernist path and from floor to ceiling expels the dynamics of weight, mass, movement and light.

Song Dong can do comedy rather well! For Touched 2010 he’s ‘Touching the People’ with great comic effect. He can move amongst and around the artists, creators, educationalists, journalists and art sponsors in a slap stick way. With a video and projector in hand he attended the Biennial openings at the Anglican Cathedral (well to do/formal) and 52 Renshaw Street (artists and wine) evenings. It certainly touches all our contemporary art needs; intervention, ephemera and dematerialisation. It’s a light hearted, lightweight piece from Dong but it’s perfectly formed and presented on a moderate living room sized monitor.

A fairground novelty is the first impression you get as you enter the room of NS Harsha, ‘Sky Gazers’. Hundreds of painted faces cover every inch of the floor space, all looking up to the sky which in this instance is a low mirrored ceiling. The effect is unsettling as the mass of faces is reflected back from the ceiling. Between this lies the spectator, we become above, below and part of the crowd. The work reads as notions of the collective, we are just one more face amongst humanity together looking towards the sky for reason or wonderment.

If you like art with an overt political conscience then Alfredo Jaar’s “The Marx Lounge” is bound to grab your attention. This room installation stands apart from its companions in every way. Firstly the presentation of this work is in stark contrast to the rest of the building as every detail has been carefully pored over making this an effective site specific piece. Jaar has created a lounge feel to the room by painting the walls and rafters a sumptuous deep red and using a plush red carpet to induce a rich warm sensation within the viewer. Carefully placed lamps and tables together with comfortable seating encourage a wholly interactive involvement with the work. A large table is completely covered in piles of multiple copies of Marxist literature which the viewer can read and ruminate over at their leisure. The books are brand new and orderly, making this political philosophy relevant and maybe desirable. Everything about this work suggests a slow pace, a private contemplation rather than a dramatic revolution. Jaar literally places Marxism on a table for us and invites us to consider an alternative perspective to our capitalist way of life. Seductive, low lighting levels and a complete transformation of space make this a visual and thought provoking intelligent work. This piece could prove to be the most significant experience of the whole of the 2010 Liverpool Biennial.

Ryan Trecartin’s video trilogy regurgitates the high speed digital world of visual communications. The entire basement of the building is occupied by his installations which are separately discovered as you move from room to room. Each video, lasting anything from 30 minutes upwards, instantly invades and disturbs your mind relentlessly churning out its vacuous message. A cast of friends and family, and including the artist himself, act out a series of fast moving “straight to camera” fragmented monologues like audition tapes for a reality T.V. programme. They’re playing up to the camera, demanding your attention, telling it like it is- “girlfriend!” It’s loud, brash, vulgar and chaotically nonsensical. It offends your ears and intellect reminiscent, as it is, of viewing M.T.V. on full volume and on “speed”. Ten minutes is enough to make you want to scream “STOP” so nauseating is this roller coaster experience. If Trecartin’s intention is to repulse and irritate the viewer he has succeeded with this fascinating, glittering trash.

 

 

Re: Thinking Trade

 

Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle
Karmelo Bermejo
Minerva Cuevas
Freee
Meschac Gaba
Daniel Knorr
Lee Mingwei

In grouping the work of these artists together under the banner “Re:Thinking Trade” curator Lorenzo Fusi has tried to make the viewer question systems of trade and exchange in our consumerist society. Unfortunately this premise has been lost in many of the artworks on display as they contain the self-same ideology of consumerism. The visual aesthetics of some pieces is simply not strong enough to counter or react to hard capitalist philosophies. For example, “Time/Bank” by Aranda and Vidokle, consisting as it does of a room installation mock-up of a local bank branch, leaves the viewer at a loss. It is an empty space showing nothing but a graphic artist’s re-interpretation of banknotes which account for time spent on particular and individual tasks. We were left wondering how many “bank hours” were accrued and which “communal projects” had actually benefited.

In employing the tools of commercial advertising the Freee collective, Daniel Knorr and Minerva Cuevas simply regurgitate the over familiar visual language of marketing in a supposedly subversive attempt to highlight the evils of capitalism. They are unsuccessful, mainly because we have seen it all before. It’s about as subtle as being hit over the head with a sickle and hammer! The patronising message is force-fed to the viewer through obvious means: the re-working of the Del Monte logo, the writing of brand slogans onto live models, the window vinyl photos of polemical slogans. None of these provoke a political reaction from the viewer and all represent a poor use of a potentially exciting, and very public, window arena. Knorr’s use of semi-naked models is questionable, especially from a feminist viewpoint. Audience reaction seemed to focus on the titillation of underwear clad women, who represented the majority of the participants. Whether seen as figures of fun and derision or objects of desire, the handwritten message they carried was utterly lost from sight.

Gaba’s attempt to call to mind cultural and economic systems of exchange by creating a “souvenir shop with a twist” manifests as a clumsy parody. It fails on all counts; visually, conceptually and functionally. It is reminiscent of a charity swap-shop and looks neglected and bereft of any audience participation.

In total contrast, Lee Mingwei’s “The Mending Project” stands out as an example of how you can convey a strong, political message through an economy of means and a contemplative visual approach. His participatory installation is demarcated by way of curtains which enable the exclusive intimacy of the space as you enter. Here we are not patronised but rather encouraged to consider another approach to consumerism, one where the personal is crucial and exchange is intellectual not monetary. The space radiates spirituality and offers a moment of stillness and calm from the external world of endless shopping and city life. The most important aspect of this piece is the conversation taking place between the visitor and Mingwei as he, or one of his menders, darn the torn clothing. It would appear that these conversations are not recorded but nevertheless seem to hang in the air as much as the coloured threads which flow from the repaired garments, left to accumulate on the table, to the randomly displayed spools hanging on the walls around the room. Here we are presented with a true alternative to the consumerist society into which we have all been born; one where the individual’s needs are paramount and the sharing of moments of connection can fill our lives with meaning.

The final work of this section of the show is located at the furthest end of the building and comprises a simple video lasting barely two and a half minutes. Fireworks spelling out the word “Recession” are applauded by an amused crowd on Miami Beach. We are told that this is an ironic comment on the “ultimate global threat” but it comes across as a self inflicted wound on the status of art and creativity in a world obsessed with money-what a waste! Bermejo’s previous work, or “actions”, could be construed as insulting to the “poorly paid” or indeed to the many volunteers who continue to make the Biennial itself possible. He has voluntarily cleaned tables at a Burger King and the windows of a Deutsche Bank branch, without being asked. His motive? He is trying to reveal the exploitation of the people who normally perform these tasks for little money. Call us cynical, but surely such behaviour could lead to further exploitation when it is “revealed” that some people will actually work for nothing?! Isn’t this exactly what the Biennial volunteers are doing when they invigilate for no pay? It seems like Cameron’s “big society” had an early start in Liverpool.

The Human Stain

Oren Eliav
Tim Eitel
Edi Hila
Y.Z. Kami
Aime Mpane
Csaba Kis Roka
Markus Schinwald
Zbynek Sedlecky

‘The Human Stain’ is Biennial curator Lorenzo Fusi’s personal touch, ‘the transformations of the human ecology in these realms constitute the core matter of this section of the exhibition’. The individual experience is centre stage as opposed a representation of the city.

Israeli painter Oren Eliav presents us with a series of works which deal in the psychological realms of public speaking, in particular men found in moments of public awkwardness and embarrassment. A dark sinister element occupies each scene of off-camera shots or partially obliterated features of politicians and preachers.

There is no denying the epic cinematic voyeurism in Tim Eitel’s portrayal of intimate spaces of isolation and detachment within our urban environment. Abandoned mattresses, shopping trolleys and bin bags of rubbish populate dark grey, blue black canvasses. The hidden and anonymous occupants of these areas represent the stark underbelly landscape of our society.

Edi Hila produces dramatic paintings from a transforming Albanian totalitarian communist state to a new political system which embraces the free market. The cost of change is successfully portrayed in ‘La Mamma’, which depicts the artist’s mother who was forceably removed from her apartment as corrupt property speculators moved in to take over state owned developments. These works are sympathetically accommodated in this former independent hardware store, framed by the eroded layers of the past and well trodden routes within this abandoned retail centre.

Y.Z. Kami combines photographs of dilapidated buildings in Detroit with portrait paintings of residents of Harlem, New York. The sombre downbeat images of dereliction and despair firmly hold the individual within the built environment whilst investigating the intimacy of place and face.

Aime Mpane’s series of sculptural wood painted panels are a powerful evocative display of collective memory from the brutality of colonialism upon African peoples. The fifty painted portrait panels are gouged, hacked, attacked and burnt, all actions which strikingly serve as individual metaphors relating to the human cost.

Csaba Kis Roka plays with grotesque irony and dark psychological notions of sexual and political depravity. Satirical authoritative figures are mocked and exposed, mutated and contorted in a nightmarish vision. The abuse of power, which is the central theme, is conveyed through personal ridicule and explicit imagery.

Markus Schinwald enters a theatre of ambiguous torture or sadomasochism. He opens the doors of victim, perpetrator and the observer weaving a narrative of social control, guilt and wrongdoing. The paintings are tantalisingly composed to edit out the wider context of events and the void is given over to the viewer’s imagination to decipher.

Zbynek Sedlecky’s acrylic paintings use the medium to create a literally watered down version of the truth. Public buildings, such as airports or office blocks, are depicted in washes of dull muted colours and populated by hastily sketched humans.

You can’t argue with the fact that this series of works holds together as a reflection of the human condition in our modern world. The “stain” of mankind is what makes us human; we live, we breathe, we die, and possibly, we in turn leave our stain behind.

 

52 Renshaw Street as a central focal point for Liverpool Biennial 2010 ‘Touched’ has brought with it many challenges  of curation, presentation and context. This ghost remains in the very fabric of the building, a torn piece of wallpaper or a laminated plank of wood can be found amongst the partitioned deteriorating walls, stairs and ceiling. Therefore the challenge lies in curating and accommodating twenty plus  artists under one roof. Lorenzo Fusi has divided this exhibition into three separate curated shows, each aiming to demonstrate its own agenda and particular points of reference. The  most dynamic and ultimately successful are the site specific works, the pieces which confront and contradict, turning the imagination from your given place to other worlds and back again. The video pieces are quite resilient and hold their own in contained spaces yet the two dimensional paintings are somewhat  lost and are not given the gallery space they crave. The three curated agendas blend and are not defined to the unsuspecting visitor, this may be an intended  premise which is off  ‘guide’ but it fails to elevate any reasoning or intention Fusi wished to facilitate.

A Foundation Liverpool

•December 19, 2010 • Comments Off on A Foundation Liverpool

A Foundation Liverpool
67 Greenland Street
Liverpool, L1 OBY

Sachiko Abe
Cut Papers, 2010

New commission by A Foundation and Liverpool Biennial 2010 for Touched

It would be easy to believe that the gravel pathway you must traverse on your way to the Furnace Room is part of Sachiko Abe’s art installation “Cut Papers”, conveying as it does a sense of pilgrimage or ceremony. The shifting stones slow you down making you aware of each step you take and preparing your mind for the contemplative space you are about you enter. Once through the small doorway you encounter a vast empty chamber and your eyes are instantly drawn to a delicate white structure rising up in the centre of this former industrial space. On closer inspection it becomes evident that this fragile entity is composed of fine filaments of white paper precariously clinging to each other for strength and substance. As the form stretches upwards to the ceiling it narrows until it appears to be hanging by a slender thread. A pathway of this finely shredded paper trails along the concrete floor from the base of this curious object, leading the eye away to the furthest end of the room where it pulls your attention to a live ghostly figure, Japanese artist Sachiko Abe. Precariously perched on a ledge high above our heads and elegantly clothed in a pure white dress Sachiko is meticulously cutting A4 pieces of paper into minute slivers by following the edge of each sheet, turning it clockwise then cutting again and again until she has reduced it into a continuous one millimetre wide thread. The sound of this process is amplified and transmitted live around this immense industrial venue.

There is an obvious fairy-tale perspective to this work, its stillness and strange theatrical performance make it a beautiful yet haunting spectacle which the viewer experiences in reverential silence. Part performance, part installation it is difficult to stop your mind from being captivated by Sachiko’s presence and her undeniably beautiful creation. Unfortunately this means that our attention is diverted away from the obsessive nature of the very act by which the work is produced. It is at this point that we must confess to having seen Sachiko carrying out the same paper cutting exercise before, but in a completely different context and presented in an entirely distinctive manner. This was back in 2004 when she occupied the Concert Hall space of the Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool, but there all similarity ends. At the Bluecoat, Sachiko provided the viewer with a text which partially explained her actions and how she came to spend up to 6 hours a day cutting paper. This included a description of time spent in a mental institution following a breakdown. It was here she discovered that using scissors to cut paper in this meticulous way actually calmed her nerves rather like a form of meditation. When the doctors witnessed the soothing effect of this otherwise potentially dangerous occupation they allowed her to continue. With this story in mind you entered the darkened, intimate space of the concert hall to discover Sachiko acting out her “controlled madness” behind a curtained area at the centre of the room. You could only glimpse her obsessively, though calmly, carrying out her incessant paper cutting through the gaps in the curtains which functioned in the same way as hospital screens. This impression was reinforced by the inclusion of a hospital bed and Sachiko’s garment, a standard hospital gown. The sound of the scissor cutting was again amplified and relayed through speakers placed on the floor around the room but in this more enclosed arena the noise was much more powerful and emphasised the drama of the setting for the piece.

There appears to be a significant shift in our role as a viewer once we are denied the “back story” to Sachiko’s performance. At the A Foundation, with no visitor information other than a press release to explain the work, one cannot help but interpret the piece entirely at face value and via the aesthetically beautiful presentation. In raising Sachiko above our heads we now see her transformed into a celestial being whilst we mere mortals occupy a more lowly status on the ground. She is out of reach and unattainable, a beautiful fairy princess who is unaware of our presence, deep in the contemplation of her futile actions and waiting for release. In the Bluecoat presentation we at least occupied the same space as her and could easily empathise with her tragic story. Her performance at the A Foundation is equally compelling and effective but lends itself to a totally different interpretation.

Below Sachiko Abe is a small house-like structure, an abandoned office complete with doors and windows. The space is entirely white and to a certain extent resembles a modern white cube gallery. Inside are two brightly lit rooms containing small wooden black framed drawings and within a separate room is a continuous drawing on a large roll of Fabriano. It’s a minimal environment where an explosion of concentration and perseverance are expressed with the simplest of materials, pencil on paper. A repeated organic pattern is meticulously drawn over and over again. The intensity of these small works is impressive and mesmerizing, each one devoid of narrative or story telling yet captivating enough to hold the viewer’s attention. The small scale-like cells are multiplied in pencil and display the slightest of application, a rhythm formed due to the regularity of mark making and consistency of pressure. These are as beautiful as patterns found in nature such as sand ripples formed by a receding tide on the beach.

In another enclosure within the Furnace Room is the installation ‘Paper Clouds 1’ which you enter alone and encounter the produce of the Sachiko Abe’s obsessive cutting process. Above, and touching your head and shoulders, are thousands of the fine cut strands. You are given the opportunity to get close and touch this shredded paper which you have witnessed outside.

 

Antti Laitinen
The Bark, 2010

New commission by A Foundation and Liverpool Biennial 2010 for Touched

The new commission, ‘The Bark’ comes in the form of Laitinen building a bark boat in the gallery at Greenland Street. Early on Saturday 25th September 2010 Laitinen sailed his craft on its maiden voyage across the river Mersey. (He sailed an identical bark boat across the Baltic in August 2010). Back at the gallery the boat is now on display, surrounded by construction tools, materials, bark shavings and other paraphernalia of its making as well as a strategically placed clump of seaweed. This installation appears artificially staged, an empty coffee cup left on a work bench making it seem as contrived as a folk museum reconstruction.

We literally enter the world of Antti Laitinen through a philosophy of bark to basics! A room is populated by a series of fake tree trunks clad in Laitinen’s material of choice, bark sourced from the floor of the forest from his native Finland. Made from chicken wire and using plastic ties to hold the sections of bark in place, this mock forest creates a kind of grotto effect which could pass as a plausible theatre set for a school’s retelling of a fairy tale.

Also presented at A Foundation are works from the past ten years, performances such as ‘It’s My Island’, ‘Bare Necessities’ and ‘Untitled’. In all these video works Laitinen appears as a sole player, acting out a Robinson Crusoe-like existence, battling against the elements, man versus nature. He appears quite a comical figure, none more so than in ‘Bare Necessities’ when he performs naked eating small insects and living in a shelter he has made for himself in a hole in the ground. And yet, throughout all these trials he plays the straight man, focused on his survival, serious in intent.

A set of drawings and prints which form ‘Walk the Line’ are evidence of the process which dictated a series of walks undertaken by Laitinen using his portrait overlaid onto maps in conjunction with a recording of the journey on a GPS device.
We find endurance and perseverance are themes which concern the artist and make him question his existence, but this is one man’s journey through the world and time. Laitinen cuts a lone figure and we find it impossible to see him as a spokesperson for all mankind. He is not advocating any political message or promoting any environmental issues but rather revels in his perfect isolation. This reading is reinforced by the very title of the 2007 work ‘It’s My Island’ which excludes our participation. The distinction between art and life is blurred by Laitinen’s self generated challenges and we are merely invited to act as a witness to his ongoing adventures.

the Bluecoat, Touched 2010

•November 22, 2010 • Comments Off on the Bluecoat, Touched 2010

the Bluecoat
Liverpool Biennial ‘Touched’ 2010
School Lane
Liverpool
L1 3BX

Ranjani Shettar

Aureole, 2010
Cast bronze
Dimensions variable

Within the Vide (a gallery space between the lift shaft and staircase) is the bronze cast sculpture of Indian artist Ranjani Shettar. This a-symmetrically placed installation piece begins at floor level and reaches upwards touching and arching high against the concrete walls. We are told that Shettar uses the ancient lost wax process to produce this work but it obviously references organic forms such as leaves or vegetation. The verdigris colouring and uneven quality of the cast surface heighten the personal and fragile nature of these individual segments which describe a looping formation, an “Aureole”, against the backdrop of the walls. Each separate form is anchored protruding at right angles and, with the inclusion of subtle lighting, produces gentle shadows. The contrast between these delicate filigree structures meeting cold modern architecture is where the sparks are supposed to fly. Unfortunately Shettar’s elegant leafy shapes appear insubstantial against the hard grey imposing nature of brickwork. It is beautifully decorative and ornamental but no more than that. It is certain to be overlooked by the casual non-discerning viewer.

Carol Rama

The Cabinet of Carol Rama

92 year old, self taught Italian artist Carol Rama is represented by a collection of twelve works which span a sixty year period. The room-like gallery space contains a mix of watercolour, sculpture, collage and photography. As you enter the gallery you are confronted by a blown up black and white photograph of Rama sitting in her home/studio surrounded by a jumble of artworks and art paraphernalia. Having witnessed this scene the gallery setting feels slightly cooler and empty, especially since the walls have been painted a forest green colour and the floor is cold grey concrete. The most intriguing aspect of Rama appears to be the artist herself. The historic flavours are there; time and endurance have brought together an archival collection. A twisted bicycle inner-tube cast in bronze conveys suggestive overtones, managing to appear both flaccid and rigid at the same time. A work such as this bears an art history familiarity and places Rama firmly in a past era that maybe has failed to bestow a more deserved recognition upon her. Other works also play on the sense of the surreal; black woollen “wedding dresses” which display human organ motifs, a misshapen bronze sculpture of a shoe with a mysterious inner appendage, and an ink/collage with dolls’ eyes. If the intention is to convey Rama’s extraordinary career journey through European Modernism then surely a more considered, breathable presentation is needed. With more attention paid to the detail of this installation “The Cabinet of Carol Rama” could have been an inviting curiosity shop for the viewer to explore. There are hints of the personal and ornate evident in the beautiful framing of the works on paper and the implied past functional use of the dresses as clothing. However, sympathetic lighting, a carpeted floor and use of occasional furniture would have helped to convey a homely atmosphere and could have lifted this display from a half hearted museum piece into the realms of domestic artistic bliss.

Daniel Bozhkov

Music Not Good For Pigeons, 2010
Benches, massage table, football players’ shirts, music – video projection.
YouTube video, monitors, soft toys

Locked within a metal mesh cage, constructed from the type of sheeting used to board up empty property in Liverpool, is housed a mishmash of an exhibit. It is the artist as tourist, observing, collating and naively misunderstanding. It includes a cheap reconstruction of Liverpool Football Club changing room, ageing T.V. monitors showing a You Tube hit: a baby panda bear sneezing with the mother panda jumping with fright, fake Liverpool FC shirts hanging from the walls and a projection screen showing random film clips ranging from the Liverpool 8 rapper RiUvEn to Bozhkov himself in conversation with former 1980s Militant Tendency Liverpool Councillor Tony Mulhearn. A musical sequence which contains Bozhkov singing “Imagine” inside a derelict Anfield house is especially cringe-worthy. The work borders on the patronising and reflects a superficial shallow view. Unfortunately this is something which is not uncommon from many International artists directly responding to the city of Liverpool in making new work for the Biennial. As a Bulgarian artist Daniel Bozhkov’s attempt to engage with Liverpool treads a fine line between comprehension and condescension by dishing up the usual clichés and stereotypes of football, music, the riots and urban regeneration.

Nicholas Hlobo

Ndize, 2010
Recycled rubber, fabric, ribbon, white clay

The windowed gallery space is occupied by a solitary white faced mannequin figure wearing a costume made of deconstructed tyre inner tubes, zips and ribbons. The figure stoops and leans towards the window peering at passers-by in the street outside. A trail of ribbons and balls made from stitched rubber makes a pathway on the floor leading the eye away from the harlequin style figure and taking the viewer on a journey out of the room and up the staircase to the upper level gallery. Immediately on entering you encounter a room thick with colourful ribbons hanging from a false ceiling. It is difficult to penetrate the space and you are quickly overwhelmed with feelings of frustration and claustrophobia as you try to negotiate your way through, guided by random pathways that begin to open up amidst the forest of brightly coloured streamers. This interactive, crowd pleaser of an artwork provokes gentle laughter but ultimately feels like an empty experience. It is reminiscent of a journey through a garden maze or a fairground hall of mirrors but your quest through this labyrinth reaps no reward, save the discovery of a pair of mannequins dressed in similar attire to their companion on the ground floor. We are informed, by way of a supporting statement, that Hlobo “engages in an investigation of sexual identity and personal politics, contemplating his position as a gay man within Xhosa culture”. Any connotations to gender or sexuality are so out of sight they are lost within this superficial family friendly interactive artwork.

The curation for this group show feels clunky, mismatched and ill conceived. It is an uninspiring exhibition, especially when you consider the international stage which the Biennial occupies. In the case of this Biennial show it would seem that the whole is actually less than the sum of its parts. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something…..

Cristina Lucas, Touch and Go, 2010

•November 7, 2010 • Comments Off on Cristina Lucas, Touch and Go, 2010

Cristina Lucas

Touch and Go, 2010

Single-channel video projection

New commission for Liverpool Biennial 2010, Touched

Europleasure/Scandinavian Hotel, Nelson Street

When you enter the swing doors of the derelict Europleasure International building you are immediately immersed in a fairground version of The Beatles 1968 song ‘Revolution’ which instantly sets the tone and atmosphere for the artwork. Directly facing you, beyond the viewing barrier, amongst the debris and red painted girders you are presented with a large screen showing the video of Spanish artist Cristina Lucas, “Touch and Go”.

As with all video art the time element is crucial. As a viewer we need to be made aware of how much time we are expected to invest. We also need to know if there is a specific narrative which requires a sequential reading of the piece. It is annoying to discover that the information label for Lucas’s work does not include the running time; fortunately it does not alter your experience of the video if you randomly enter the film at any given moment, though it could spoil the “punch line”.

The film shows a succession of men and women of pensionable age, arriving outside the Europleasure building and throwing stones at the windows of the abandoned warehouse. Most of the protagonists turn up ready and armed with a stone, others collect their weapon from the nearby pavement and then, in turn, create a deliberate act of vandalism by hurling their stone through a window. The humour relies on the fact that these are “grown-ups” who should know better than to fling stones at windows, even if it is in political protest. However, protest is not the dominant theme of the video as comedy and farce outweigh the political message. Using Silent Comedy film techniques, such as the reliance on facial expression and appropriate music to add meaning, Lucas has created a funny film which resembles an early Saturday evening ‘candid camera’ TV programme; all that is absent is canned laughter at appropriate moments. Embedded in the soundtrack are interludes of plucked stringed instruments which also add comic effect.

Her choice of music speaks volumes about her purpose, the fairground soundtrack creating an atmosphere of frivolity. It also invites us to make an obvious comparison between stone throwing and the fairground coconut shy. We can only guess that Lucas’s use of The Beatles “Revolution” is ironic since the lyrics appear to condemn the destructive act: “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out”. Maybe Lucas is presenting her collaborators with a second chance at protest or helping them to recapture their “mis-spent” youth.

The slow motion technique used throughout helps to emphasise the deliberate actions of the characters who appear delighted and proud of their transgressions. Their stone throwing communicates as a premeditated, one-off act which induces in them feelings of guilty pleasure.

There are pauses within the action of the film when the camera switches to an inside view of the building and focuses on the consequences of the stone throwing. These sections appear detached from the thematic comedy element of the video and indeed are accompanied by more ambient sounds. Slow motion is employed to beautifully capture stones travelling through window panes, smashing glass cascading onto the stone ground. The light bouncing off the splinters along with the complex spinning and rotating fragments make these moments aesthetically compelling. The broken shards of glass appear weightless as they gracefully fall to earth. Within these fragments of film lies a poetry which resonates with a dynamic clarity of material, light and movement. In this way the alleged element of protest is de-fused and the “sting in the tail” is replaced with a creative vision born of the destructive act.

The action gradually picks up the pace and there is a frenzy of stone throwing before the film ends. Now we see a final wide angle shot of the building played out in real time and devoid of music. The title of the work, “TOUCH AND GO” is revealed in the broken panes of glass as a passer-by walks down the road oblivious of the message high above.

The curiously named Europleasure International building is cleverly used as the venue for Lucas’s video. Once outside the building you can now occupy the area where the drama was played out in the making of the film and view for yourself the message in the windows. Without prior knowledge of the film you could easily be unaware of the work; it would remain just any other neglected commercial building within the city.

The colloquial phrase “Touch and Go” alludes to a dramatic and pivotal moment in time. This video fails to convey a fundamental message of the flux of commercial enterprise and its impact on ordinary people. Lucas’s reliance on comedy detracts from such serious issues as unemployment and protest and therefore this artwork is almost bound to be enjoyed on a superficial level. In the words of the Beatles, “You can count me out”.