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.

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~ by looopart on February 8, 2011.