Art Over the flap in the booklet and into the key, or as is the case here, up to the quay. Not knowing how to photograph the place where a freestanding public art piece is without actually showing the freestanding art piece, I decided to offer this shot of my feet in the spot indicated on the booklet map, or as near as possible. I could have photographed a different part of the Mersey I suppose.
Or indeed, the spot where the work is supposed to be. Anthony McCall’s Column is “a vertical, spinning, ascending column of cloud rising into the sky from the surface” of the water, in my imagination like the smoke which descends from the heavens in biblical epics when God is taking direct action. There’s a photograph of the artist in the Biennial booklet crouching next to a smaller simulation.
I couldn’t see it. I thought initially that I was simply standing in the wrong place, that perhaps part of its make up is a trick of the light, that you have to be looking in a particular direction as indicated by the eyeball diagram on the booklet map to see the work at its best advantage if at all. The accompanying description does say that is “disappears and reappears, in response to weather and light conditions.”
Other visitors also seemed to. I saw a few people carrying the booklet walking about the waterfront looking backwards and forwards. I overheard a family in the shadow of the Museum of Liverpool wondering if they shouldn’t stroll further up, just in case. This is probably the longest most of us have spent looking across the Mersey towards the Wirral, a landscape we’ve probably become quite complacent about.
I rang the Biennial office to ask. We weren’t missing anything, at time of visiting (last Tuesday), McCall’s piece, beset by delays and malfunctions, wasn’t working yet. As the volunteer I spoke to explained, the column is supposed to shoot a mile in the air and so should be entirely visible from most points along the waterfront, which means when it is working it should be an amazing sight.
I wondered if the Biennial could possibly put a sign up on the railings explaining the situation because of all the people aimless wondering around looking for it and the volunteer said she’d pass on the message, which is good. I also asked if we could be advised through social media when it is working. Perhaps they will. I expect she was happy to get rid of me in the end. Sorry, again. Again, sorry.
* * * * *
Watch this space.
Today the BBC reported that after fifteen months of attempting to make this work, the project has been abandoned. There's actually much more in the article than was available from the Biennial leaflet, for example that it was originally due to be working from December 2011 and run through the whole of 2012 and not just the period of the Biennial, also that:
"The Civil Aviation Authority was worried that it would interfere with aircraft and the Port Health Authority had concerns that it could cause Legionella.It's worth noting that the Liverpool Biennial isn't mentioned at all in the BBC article, which talks about the piece as the production of the cultural Olympiad instead.
"Even after those fears were allayed, the steam-generating mechanism did not work properly and the column still did not appear.
"Such vertical steam spirals occur occasionally in nature, when they are known as waterspouts, but nobody has managed to recreate one on this scale by man-made means."