Danica Dakic, Grand Organ, 2010

•October 31, 2010 • Comments Off on Danica Dakic, Grand Organ, 2010

Danica Dakic

Grand Organ, 2010

Single-channel video installation, HD video transfered to Blu-Ray disc, 13 min

Original music by Bojan Vuletic. Director of Photography Egbert Trogemann

New Commission for Liverpool Biennial 2010, Touched

Ascending the narrow spiral stone steps near the entrance to the Anglican Cathedral makes you feel anxious about the awaiting experience. Pushing through the heavy blackout curtains to this enclosed space you are immediately plunged into darkness so severe that you are disorientated and unable to assess the parameters of the room. As your sight becomes accustomed to the darkness you notice that there are four chairs available for the spectators’ comfort to view Bosnian born artist Danica Dakic’s video “Grand Organ”. The video was filmed in St George’s Hall, Liverpool where the Grand Organ is installed. The Neoclassical St George’s Hall has been chosen by Dakic for its fascinating 19th Century history as a dual purpose venue for the contrasting businesses of justice and entertainment, combining a courtroom and concert hall under one roof. It is curious that Dakic has placed the resulting film in a Cathedral setting away from the site of its making. In some ways it could be said that it would be more fitting to place this video in the context of the place where it was performed and filmed. However, in placing “Grand Organ” in a church Dakic could be seen to be adding another, more spiritual or religious, layer to the readings of justice and leisure attached to it by its original setting. The small enclosed viewing space adds to the intimacy of the experience and helps to draw you in to the events unfolding on the screen.

There are three groups of participants in this film; young girls who scurry along echoing corridors and up and down wooden staircases; young choir boys dressed smartly in white shirts who emit melodious, though sometimes jarring, musical notes; and young adolescent girls who act out a courtroom scene in sign language, accusing and sentencing a red haired young woman. There is only one use of the spoken word in the whole film which follows the court judgement: “Not guilty of this crime”. The whole tone of the piece is set by way of sound, vision and choreographed movement.

Dealing in metaphors and trading in symbolism the piece is a hybrid of visual delights and an open narrative which is both magical and ambiguous. It is replete with opposites; light and dark; above and below; male and female; the poor and the privileged; the dreariness and the splendour; the high pitched notes and the low bass tones. All serve to convey a wholly atmospheric and disconcerting piece which creates dramatic tension.

The most apparent theme of the video is the innocence and vulnerability of children hinted at through their carefree activity. This frivolity appears in stark contrast to the seriousness of the courtroom drama. The narrative action is punctuated with moments of stillness and silence which play a dual role in creating atmosphere as well as highlighting the periods of intense activity and energy.

The camera repeatedly focuses in on the Grand Organ calling our attention to the opening and closing of the stops which is accompanied by a noise similar to a throbbing heartbeat; the Grand Organ becomes the heartbeat of the building, the vital organ which supports all life within. The numbers worn by the young girls echo the numbers on the organ stops; a comment perhaps on our individual (in)significance as a part of a collective.

There are several points in the video where we cease to be mere spectators and are implicated in the due process by way of the performer’s gaze. The film ends when the accused stares directly at us before walking slowly downstairs to meet her fate.


Hector Zamora, Synclastic/Anticlastic, 2010

•October 24, 2010 • Comments Off on Hector Zamora, Synclastic/Anticlastic, 2010

Hector Zamora

Synclastic / Anticlastic, 2010

50 mm cast concrete shell structures (series of 7 variations/moulds)

200 pieces produced

Courtesy of the artist

New commission for Liverpool Biennial 2010, Touched

Between two new black glass monolithic buildings at Mann Island on Liverpool’s resurgent waterfront lies a new installation by Mexican artist Hector Zamora. You first catch sight of the artwork as you approach the clear glass frontage which inside contains 200 suspended structures. These individual concrete cast pieces give the impression of a flock, shoal or even an alien invasion floating above head height.

The raw grey concrete reveals its material truth and beautifully exposes its moulded construction; what you see is what you get. The 200 rhomboid-like concrete shapes are organised in seven variations. These categories are ordered regarding distortion of shape, size and mass. They are sporadically displayed and each of the individual four corners are threaded with wire and hung from a black steel framed gantry.

The actual site interacts and complements this work since the glass walled enclosure is a transparent area that exposes the quayside, docks and associated buildings. This World Heritage site is a place of movement and transience, a historical place of departure for millions of emigrants starting their journey to the New World. These concrete multiples induce feelings of migration and exodus. By provoking conflicting thoughts of threat and wonderment the piece holds your attention and imagination. The shadows cast against the floor, glass and walls enhance the play and movement of the work. Although a slight vibration is generated by the draught of the open doors the entire collective piece is composed and presented as a moveable entity.

The unidentified mass effectively occupies a space between the natural/organic and the mechanical/man-made. The evident concrete manufacture of each individual element of this artwork speaks of the industrial but viewed collectively the multiples appear as an extraordinarily beautiful and quite enchanting spectacle. The surface of these concrete slabs is rough and imperfect but retains an aesthetic appeal. The moulded seams are proudly exposed and reveal their process of manufacture which contrasts with the organic flow of the collective swarm. Although you are perfectly aware of the solidity and mass of each element of the installation the illusion conveyed is one of weightlessness. Each piece appears simultaneously animated and “frozen in flight” with their own individual and characteristic curvature in either of two opposing directions, the anticlastic or synclastic title of the work.

You can’t quite locate the position of Zamora’s artwork; it is abstract and yet at the same time reaches into the dynamics of the natural world. You observe the delicately cast concrete pieces above you just out of reach. He has magically transformed this solid material into something ethereal and insubstantial. Zamora has used this given space to its optimum and created a magical work that allows your imagination to fly.

Emese Benczur, Think About The Future, 2010

•October 18, 2010 • Comments Off on Emese Benczur, Think About The Future, 2010

Emese Benczur

Think About The Future, 2010

Mixed media outdoor installation

New commission for Liverpool Biennial 2010, Touched

This disused building on Lime Street was once the home of the Futurist Cinema and for Liverpool Biennial ‘Touched’ it has become the site of Hungarian artist Emese Benczur’s installation “Think About The Future”, 2010. Benczur has recreated the “Futurist” sign in its original position high above street level. The letters are bold, red in colour with a metallic edge conveying an ultramodern outlook. This is in sharp contrast with the neglected state of the building itself which has fallen into disrepair over many years. Below the title is a mock Readograph sign which traditionally would display the names of the current films showing at the cinema. The sign says ‘Think About Your Future’. This is very confusing since the official name for this artwork is “Think About THE Future”. Obviously the whole meaning of the piece changes significantly with the substitution of this single word. The sign asks us to consider our own individual fate whereas the given title of the work (“Think About The Future”) would seem to refer to our collective prospect as in the future of mankind. So there is a contradiction between our personal, finite destiny as opposed to the bigger picture of the global legacy. It is one thing to talk about our own future, over which we may have limited control; quite another to be asked to think about our responsibility to future generations. Whether this is a case of the artwork’s true meaning being “lost in translation” (A Hungarian Artist working with an Italian Curator for an English Biennial) it communicates as shallow, its visual effect is slight and its sentiment vague. It appears to be crass and simplistic. Whilst the “Futurist” sign looks new and authentic, the Readograph sign is obviously fake and a parody of the glory days of this dearly regarded picture palace which still lives on in Liverpool folklore. This notice is poorly made and clumsy as it fails to replicate the original cinema display, simply looking cheap and inferior by comparison. For the sign to be read as genuine the text should be centrally placed-it is not. The font used is clunky and oversized and it does not convince. The letters are flat and the joke “falls flat” as a result.

Maybe a carefully constructed attempt at recreating a genuine Readograph sign would have packed a more powerful punch. Moveable lettering could have elevated the work; the letters could even have changed every week, just like a new feature showing; “THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE”, “THINK ABOUT YOUR FUTURE”, “THINK ABOUT OUR FUTURE”, “THINK ABOUT THEIR FUTURE”…. If detail and authenticity were applied to this project it could have achieved a more impressive impact.

Benczur could have used archive photographs of the Futurist to aide and develop a much more focused approach. Maybe she did and the cost became a factor. For this reason it appears to be a half baked idea containing the seeds of a concept but which has not been fully realised. It almost looks like the budget for this project could not fully deliver a worthy Liverpool International Biennial piece.

Do Ho Suh, Bridging Home, 2010

•October 13, 2010 • Comments Off on Do Ho Suh, Bridging Home, 2010

Do Ho Suh Bridging Home, 2010

Mixed media outdoor installation

New commission for Liverpool Biennial 2010, Touched

Between 84-86 Duke Street Liverpool


This installation is quite difficult to locate, especially if you begin your journey, as we did, walking the length of Duke street on the same side of the road as the artwork is installed! Retracing our steps back up the street we took careful note of the numbering of the miscellaneous properties and eventually returned to number 84-86. This was when we realised why we had overlooked Do Ho Suh’s work first time round. Walking along Duke Street on the side of the installation, it’s easy to pass by. Above eye level, and belonging to a mixture of newly regenerated and authentically dilapidated buildings, Do Ho Suh’s artwork can be hidden at close range. But when you see it you really see it! Whilst standing beneath this quirky vision you are compelled to stand back, in fact to cross the road, to view it in its entirety. Instantly you see a piece of architecture turned on its side, squeezed between two buildings and set back from the street. It’s a small Korean domestic building made of authentic stone, wood and slate but its power emanates from the fact that it is tilted and wedged into an angled position. Its slanted attitude conveys a sense of accident or a calamitous fall earthward from the sky.

Do Ho Suh has literally and physically transported a piece of Korea into a Northern English City. The Korean style house is a reconstruction or replica of a home from a past era, a distant memory. It’s an alien structure which brings its own weight of history and cultural development into a collision course with another culture. The obvious distinction of this little foreign invader of an artwork from the neighbouring buildings plays hide and seek with the viewer since, once we notice it, we wonder how we could ever have been blind to its presence! How it contrasts with its surrounding environment, its size and style juxtaposed against ‘our’ industrial past, warehouses from the golden age of Liverpool port history. This small Korean dwelling is, all at once, out of place, out of time and, even more noticeably, out of kilter! Reminiscent of a game of Tetris it is animated purely in your imagination. As a viewer you want the artwork to right itself and drop into an accurate tight fit alongside its neighbouring buildings and so you visually correct its faulty placement. But the tilt of the house is locked in to this static position; it will never fit in.

On the ground below the work is a double painted black wooden garage door. On top of these doors is a looping barrier of barbed wire. This is not directly part of the work but becomes a consideration when viewed as a site specific piece. It brings a sense of hostility, an unwelcoming fence which says ‘keep out’. It’s a factor in the work and it creates another level of reasoning and questioning.

The bridging aspect of two cultures is not fully transparent; it’s more a fusion, a synthesis or grafting of two diverse cultures. Dealing with nostalgia and memory the building is from the past, it’s been transported geographically as much as through time and imagination. In many ways it holds a loss of personal identity and is crowded out by its superior mass invested neighbours. The highlighting of the ‘in between’ space and the lack of individual personal space in a cramped city maybe makes you aware of other empty, physical spaces within the city. The piece can be seen as representing the migrant, occupying areas and voids in the city, weaving and evolving amongst the native population. It is the unknown, the unfamiliar and apprehensive to our eyes.

It is often said that, in the city, the only people who look up are tourists. This work produces a viral effect on the crowd. Once Do Ho Suh’s house is discovered groups of people gather and view the artwork. The casual passers- by notice and in turn become curious; they then scrutinise the artwork which makes others curious and so on…

Will Kwan, Flame Test, 2010

•October 3, 2010 • Comments Off on Will Kwan, Flame Test, 2010

Will Kwan

Flame Test, 2010

Mixed media

New commission for Liverpool Biennial 2010, Touched

Scandinavian Hotel, Nelson Street Liverpool

The Scandinavian Hotel is a disused building at the end of Nelson Street in the heart of China Town, Liverpool. Its glory days saw tens of thousands of Scandinavian emigrants passing through the port en route to the New World, used in the main by thriving steam packet companies. It’s now a stylish white elephant of a building, with a long history of disputes over ownership, use and threats of compulsory purchase. In becoming the site for a new commission by Hong Kong-born Canadian Will Kwan, the building’s history takes on an ironic twist.

Upon the facade of the building Kwan has installed thirty six colourful national flags from all around the world. They are displayed in two rows of eighteen, equally spaced and running the full length of the white building.

As you approach this structure, Spanish colonial in style, it has an air of official celebration; a state endorsed ceremony or event; all the flags are out! On the day of our visit, with the sun shining, it felt like an ‘other’ place, a cinematic view of a Spanish or South American townscape.

On closer inspection the colourful flags reveal themselves as symbols of protest rather than Nationalistic pride since the flags display images of their own destruction. Will Kwan has sourced multiple photographs of flag burning from across the world, creating a series of overtly decorative banners which carry sinister undertones. The photographs have been gathered from various international news agencies who have documented protests, demonstrations and conflicts. The viewer is drawn into a guessing game of trying to name that flag/conflict! It’s quite a shock to see our own Union Jack in flames, even though we’re accustomed to viewing  the flag burning of other nations’ banners from our distant perspective. Somehow we forget that we, as a nation, have provoked hatred and criticism in many countries. The demonstration of national flag burning is presented as a frequent event, no matter the struggle or cause, the common and effective visual statement is to publicly burn the symbol of your enemy’s national identity. The modern day protestor is keenly aware of the power of the global media machine. Through news agencies, such as Reuters, images of the ceremonial burning of a flag are instantly relayed across the world by way of new technological platforms.

In calling his site specific installation “Flame Test” Kwan would appear to be testing our point of provocation before we too are “ignited” to respond. His title could be read as a metaphorical description of a measure of the limits of our national pride. How much do we identify with our flag? Do we feel offended by other nations’ hostility towards us?
Taken at face value “Flame Test” is an innocent, decorative display of colour which draws attention to this usually anonymous, unoccupied building. And yet, with further consideration, you discover it is politically loaded and highlights the inherent dangers and fears of nationalism. The casual passer-by may completely overlook Kwan’s artwork but maybe this is where its subversive success lies. The subtle propaganda of this piece may gradually infiltrate the consciousness of an apathetic audience and make them question the importance and significance of the symbol of the flag in this age of multiculturalism.

Kris Martin, Mandi XV

•September 27, 2010 • Comments Off on Kris Martin, Mandi XV

Kris Martin

Mandi XV, 2007

Cast bronze, stainless steel

702.2 x 136 cm

Edition of 2 + 1 AP

Courtesy of the artist and Sies +Hoke Galerie, Dusseldorf

The Black-E

1 Great George Street  Liverpool L1 5EW

Entering this fine 19th century building, up the eight stone steps through the classical Corinthian columns, you immediately catch a sharp reflection of light hitting cold  steel. An enormous medieval cruciform sword is suspended from the dead centre of the circular domed vestibule of this former Great George Street Congregational Church, 1840-1.

Instantly impressive, due to its size, material and suspended weight, the blade of polished stainless steel glistens and appears sharp with its handle being cast bronze. Here we are presented with the inspiring work of Belgian artist Kris Martin, “Mandi XV”. (“Mandi XV” is one of a series of works which stems from a colloquial Italian term for ‘goodbye’, an expression originating from the words mano (hand) and dio (god) and meaning ‘to leave in the hands of God’).

Its central placement and alignment within the brick walls elevates the tension of this deadly weapon which invites the spectator to submissively view from beneath. At this moment, when the tip of the vast sword is above your head, thoughts of chance, destiny, accident, torture and mortality resonate throughout your mind. It’s a magical instant of realisation when you know that if this sword breaks free it would easily slice you in half. You cannot help visually calculating the actual weight of this sword imagining what it would feel like to hold, the clamour of sound it would produce if it fell, the damage it would cause, both in terms of the human spectator and the fabric of the building it occupies.

It’s amazing how the onerous mass of this sword can instantly bring into play thoughts of our fragile hold on life and makes us question the role of destiny. The sword acts both as an invitation to participation, by placing oneself directly below the point, but also repels the cautious viewer who considers the risk of such an action, reminiscent of the tempting of fate by walking beneath a ladder.

The staircase, within and opposite the entrance, serves as a platform to view the work. This change of perspective draws you in to a consideration of the material aspects of the artwork, affording you a more detailed view of the perpendicular steel as well as helping you to focus on the detail of the hilt. Now you can examine the craftsmanship of the bronze work, though the markings on the hilt are intriguing and tantalisingly out of reach.

On reaching the top of the staircase the view now becomes an elevated reverse of when you entered the space. In your line of vision is the grand entrance door open to the hustle and bustle of the chaotic and chancy city. The noise of traffic and commuters invades the contemplative atmosphere within, but maybe adds another layer of meaning to Martin’s piece by acknowledging the risks we take in everyday life, whether it’s crossing the road or driving a car. The massive double doors are constantly open and invite you to confront your fate directly from the street. The static pendulum demonstrating its weight and gravity is beautifully framed by the symmetry of the building.

The location of this work is successful on many levels, the mocking Corinthian columns with the modern made medieval sword which in turn echoes the tale of Damocles from the same 4th century Greek mythology. The positioning of spotlights is effective, casting a dynamic shadow of a cross upon the surrounding back wall, with the staircase alluding both to an interactive and sophisticated gothic theatre set as well as the original religious setting of this site.

In the story of Damocles the sword is suspended by a single horse hair, the threat of ever present danger hanging above his head teaching him about the unenviable situation of the King despite the obvious advantages of power. For us in the 21st century we may read messages of the threat of terrorism or global destruction hanging over mankind, or we may simply come to accept that all our lives hang by a thread.

Laura Belém The Temple of a Thousand Bells, 2010

•September 19, 2010 • Comments Off on Laura Belém The Temple of a Thousand Bells, 2010

1000 hand-blown glass bells, nylon string, 5.1 sound system, lighting

Audio duration: 8 mins 2 sec

Music by Fernando Rocha

New Commission for Liverpool Biennial 2010, Touched

The Oratory, St James Cemetery (next to Liverpool Cathedral), Liverpool L1 9DY

The Oratory sits in the shadow of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and can be overlooked by the visitor in favour of the breathtaking sight of the red sandstone gothic monument. But for the duration of the Biennial the public will be encouraged to take time to enter the small, chapel-like building of the Oratory to view Brazilian Laura Belém’s artwork installation “The Temple of a Thousand Bells”. Acting as a trailblazer for the International Festival of Contemporary Art, Touched 2010, the installation was opened to the public on Friday 20th August but our visit on a bright and breezy Saturday afternoon acted as the starting point for this Liverpool Biennial review.

Entering the space you encounter an open central area surrounded by classical columns leading the viewer’s gaze upwards to the sky-lit installation of 1,000 glass bells. They are quite individual, slightly differing in size, hand blown glass and precious; none of them is more than a few inches high, each one suspended by nylon string at various heights from the translucent paneled ceiling. These bells are unusually clapper-less and redundant of sound. Even the gentle movement afforded to them by way of the breeze entering the space does not allow them to clash against one another and so they tantalize us with unfulfilled expectation. Sound is provided through the 5 strategically placed speakers which surround the empty central area. At the beginning of the sound piece, which lasts just over 8 minutes, you can hear gentle atmospheric sounds of wind, sea, chiming bells, which seem in keeping with the contemplative environment of the oratory. After a short while a male narrator’s voice overrides the soundtrack and begins to tell the legend of “The Thousand Bells” and thus attempts to explain the meaning behind the artwork.

Unfortunately the narration dominates the visual and aural experience which was enough on its own to powerfully convey notions of loss, fragility and melancholy. The sight of the gently swaying silent glass bells, the sparkling light captured on their forms, accompanied by doleful chimes and echoing abstract sounds communicated the “story” far more effectively than the slightly inaudible bass tones of the storyteller. This commentary is too literal and limits your reading of the work, taking away the mystique and stifling the viewer’s imagination. The attempt of a 3D sound-scape fails to ignite or enhance the beautiful spectacle from above. The success of Belém’s piece is due to the fact that it does not overpower the spirituality of the Oratory. It subtly relates to the whiteness of the marble, the alignment of the columns, and compliments the fabric of the building rather than being obtrusive.

The experience changes again with the addition of more visitors so that, as a communal gathering, it becomes less spiritual and more spectacle. It’s obviously an installation you would want to re-visit many times over in order to truly appreciate all aspects of this experience.

It’s wonderful to have access to this building which is normally off limits to the public and to be able to get up close and personal to Tracey Emin’s “Roman Standard” but the downside is an incredibly awkward, ill-conceived access ramp. The construction is shabby, distracts from the alignment of Emin’s sculpture, interferes with the classical lines of the Oratory building itself and is a poor introduction to the seductive and spiritual place which Belém has invented. Surely a design team could have devised a solution which was more in keeping with the experience of this site specific artwork.

Presently the installation relies mainly on daylight so it will be fascinating to see how the seasonal changes will alter the dynamics of this glass work. Will further consideration be needed to provide artificial lighting?