Liverpool Biennial 2012:
The Monroe (9)

Art The Monro seems like a nice place. There were certainly plenty of people passing through the doors of many stripes, but it’s impossible to comment further than that because the Biennial bypasses the bar with an entrance to the rooms above via a separate doorway. The festival inhabits an old flat, the kind of dwelling I always imagined Sherlock Holmes lived in before I was old enough to realise that (a) he’s a fictional character and (b) he’d need rather more space than this. At the top of the stairs sits a lone volunteer. Having hiked over from Copperas Hill, I sit briefly and get my breath back and we chat about visitor numbers. Because this isn’t one of the “main” venues, it’s more of connoisseur’s choice, the Biennial equivalent of art house cinema so there's less people through the door than some others.  Apart from him, I was alone for the duration.

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Since this is the connoisseur’s choice, the Biennial equivalent of art house cinema, if you are intending to visit, I’d stop reading at the close of this paragraph. The Biennial’s booklet is pleasing vague on the specifics, that this is “a welcoming and cosy environment where slight physical and sensorial shifts conjure against the peace of mind of the guests, suggesting that the site might be haunted”. That’s only the half of it. If there was a theme park dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock, this would surely be installed in the Bate’s Motel recreation next to Janet Leigh’s room with its blood splattered shower curtain and sensor activated Bernard Hermann sting. Now stop reading. Speaking as someone who worked out the twist of The Sixth Sense from the trailer, I know how important it is to keep some surprises. Spoilers …

Are they gone? Why are you still here? I imagine that it’s either because you’ve already visited and know what I’m talking about, aren’t bothered about visiting, in which case, more fool you, or you’re nowhere near Liverpool in which case I hope to give you a flavour though this meagre description of the experience will inevitably fail to capture the shock and awe. Like Audrius Bucas & Valdas Ozarinskas’s Black Pillow, there’s a moment when everything you believe to be true disintegrates, just before your rational mind kicks in seeking an explanation. Markus Kahre, the artist has channelled the work of MR James, so if you’re a fan of the old Christmas adaptations of his work this is for you. All of which sounds like so much build-up but it really is that good. And that’s my final warning.  Stop reading now.

Still here? Well ok then. After glancing through the first room, which has the Dane Mitchell’s spectral glass objects and Janine Antoni’s cast of the inside of her mouth cupped around the bowl of a silver spoon, I’m drawn towards a doorway which turns into a small corridor. Passing through, an apparatus on the wall makes an unsettlingly air propelled noise which makes me jump. That’s the preparation. At the end of the corridor is a door, and through the door a room. It’s the guest room of the inn, a small low bed, a small carpet with the corner turned up and a chair and desk upon which sits a fan. Above this within a mirrored frame is a black surface reflecting the room I’m standing in. It’s curious. There’s something not right. I look the image up and down but can’t put my finger on what it might be.

It’s through this black mirror I notice the other door in the room. I turn and see a bright light shining through, a bright light which isn’t in the image in front of me. That’s odd. It’s then I notice. I’M NOT IN THE IMAGE IN FRONT OF ME. I look down at my hands. They’re still there. I’m not invisible. Questions, oh the questions. How is he, he being the artist, doing that? I’ve watched enough episodes of Doctor Who and Fringe now to know that the only way to find out is to investigate so I hold up my hand and gingerly move it forward. And forward. And forward again right through the mirror. Which isn’t there. Astonishingly, what the artist has done is recreate the room I’m standing in the closest detail in the space next door (explaining the corridor) right down the turned up corner of the carpet and a tiny fault in the surface on the top of the lamp.

I carefully lean forward and peer into this other space. The bed, which is in a place which wouldn’t easily be seen through the “mirror” anyway is also reflected in this other space. I turn. Intrigued I move into the other room and again, the same arrangement, the same room and beyond that room another, also reflected. This is slightly less effective because of the need to create the illusion of another room beyond through a bright light and yet as a design and narrative achievement it’s still extraordinary and unsettling and even with an enquiring mind with the capacity to sit on the edge of what human perception might conceive. Kahre has decided that this doesn’t require a title, but obstinately, it’s called “No Title” rather than “Untitled”. Any kind of title would be a spoiler I suppose.

It’s a sculpture, it’s an installation, but to an extent it’s also performance art but with a visitor being acted upon rather than acted too. The Fringe and Doctor Who references above were not accidental. In No Title, Kahre, as well as jolting our primal expectations of reality, nudges the part of us who wonders if there are parallel dimensions and how different they may be, some darker in which the version of us is having an even worst life or lighter, taking a path akin to heaven on Earth with us existing somewhere in between. But Who fans will see the similarity to the entropy increases elements of Logopolis, the Doctor and Adric’s dash through nested TARDISes, the console rooms becoming darker the deeper they explore. I will admit that just briefly my internal cloister bell did chime.

As I step out of the space and back down the corridor.  I can’t quite remember what I said to the volunteer though I imagine it was something along the lines of “That’s just, but that’s just amazing”, a word which is over-used but on this occasion entirely accurate, the dictionary definition “causing great surprise or sudden wonder”. Which this does. Which this did. Ironically when I was at Copperas Hill beforehand, I’d remarked to someone that the kind of art I tend to like has a surface which then dissolves into something, I’d scrabbled around for the right word but what I should have said was profound. The “oh so that’s it” moment. Which is why it’s important to be a spoilerphobe even with art exhibitions because some art is best experienced rather than simply seen.

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