Liverpool Biennial 2012:
The Royal Standard (13)

Art Rather shamefully this is the first time I’ve visited The Royal Standard for no other reason than I have the geographical awareness of a pigeon when the Earth’s core’s halted disrupting the globe’s magnetic field and it seemed like very far to go by public transport.  The  Biennial booklet map has a red spot with the venue number (thirteen, which as you see may be relevant) and an arrow pointing up away from New Quay (near The Mersey).  It's important to note at this point, I consulted no other maps.  It’ll be fine, I said before visit.  Out loud.  To people.  Well …

Here’s how I got there:  having left METAL, which is at Edge Hill Station, I took a train back to Lime Street Station and went down to the underground, to the Wirral Line.  At which point I realised I couldn’t actually get the train to Moorfields due to the single direction, clockwise train traffic in Liverpool city centre.  After asking for information via the big blue button on the platform I was advised, because Central Station’s Northern Line platform is still closed for refurbishment to travel out to Hamilton Square and change platforms.

I travel out to Hamilton Square and change platforms.  I travel back to Moorfields and change lines jumping the Kirby Train out to Sandhills, the only passenger at 4:30 in the evening walking out of the station.  At which point I remember that the Biennial map doesn’t especially say where the venue is.  Outside I ask a passer-by.  He points me in the direction of Vauxhall Road, which is The Royal Standard’s address.  As he walks away I notice his staff badge.  He’s police liaison office.  Which is lucky.

I walk in the direction he suggests and reach … Commercial Road.  Well, hum.  There isn’t anyone about.  Then I notice across the road, and across a playing field, Peter Coyne’s funeral directors.  There’s a telephone number which I can’t quite make out.  Is it .. 702 … 022 …2?  Or 0022?  I cross the road.  I climb the hill on the edge of the playing field and stand against the railings.  I still can’t tell which it is but decide to phone it anyway.

It’s the right number:  “Peter Coynes?” says a voice.  I ask him if he’s on Vauxhall Road.  He says he isn’t.  I ask if he knows where Vauxhall Road is.  He asks me why.  I explain to him that I’m looking for directions and he gamely asks where I am and I explain I’m across the playing field from him and that his was the only telephone number around.  He realises where I am.  “Oooh …” he says and explains that if I keep walking up Commercial Road I’ll reach Vauxhall Road.  I thank him.

Now that I have the number of a funeral directors seared into my memory I start walking.  And walking.  And walking.  And walking some more.  None of the buildings I pass, the disused commercial unit, the derelict pubs have a house number on so I don't actually know how far I'm walking, how close I am to The Royal Standard.  I’m not even sure if I’m walking the right direction up Vauxhall Road.  I’m walking towards the city centre with seems about right.  It starts to rain.  I begin to have Oxford Road flashbacks.

I keep walking.  And walking.  By this time I’ve decided that wherever The Royal Standard is that (a) I should have brought their phone number with me, (b) I won’t be walking back to Sandhills and (c) I should have checked Google Maps.  I’m passing bus stops.  The buses are every half an hour but I’m prepared to wait.  Or get a taxi.  At this point I don’t care.  I keep walking.  Eventually I reach some houses and a house number.  328.  I look again at The Royal Standard’s address.  131.  Sigh.

I walk some more.  At a certain point I realise I must be getting somewhere.  The commercial properties are in use now as are the pubs.  I pass The Green Man.  I’ve heard of The Green Man.  I walk some more and eventually I pass Liverpool Community College.  Then a William Hill betting office, a newsagents and then within sight is the Vauxhall Business Centre and above what looks like a modernist take on the entrance into a inn courthouse, The Royal Standard’s logo.

I visit The Royal Standard, the details of which are below.  Inside as part of the whole, well you’ll see, I ask for directions back.  I’m shown the Biennial map and it’s noted that I’ll know I’m in the right place when I see the Superlambanana.  Well, that’s very close to Liverpool so it must still be a bit of a walk away.  Well, ok, that’s fine.  I leave The Royal Standard and steel myself for this long walk.  I phone home to let people know I’m still out and about and as I’m talking …

… I pass the Superlambanana and as I look up I can see what’s now called the Radio City Tower, the top of Municipal Building and the top end of Hatton Garden and the flags outside the Central Perk theme coffee shop.  Well, that was a load of walking and messing about on trains for no reason other than telling myself I got a lot of exercise in.  I go for a coffee.  On one of the plasma screens, Joey Trabianni is pondering how he managed to get to another Valentine’s Day without a girlfriend.  Me too, Joey.

I look again at the Biennial booklet map and ponder.  What’s that red blob pointing up away from New Quay for anyway?  Why is it not pointing up from Hatton Garden, indeed, why isn’t the map zoomed just a little bit further out so the red spot marks the location?  But it’s unfair of me to blame that map.  I should have consulted other maps.  An A-Z.  Google Maps (which actually says, Transit: Moorfields).  I’ve been told in the past I need to be more relaxed about things.  Less planned out.  Well, I've tried that now and …

*     *     *     *     *

For this Biennial, the Royal Standard has commission five artist-led groups to occupy their gallery space for two weeks, each exploring the festival's themes of private and public hospitality.  It’s a good idea and unlike some venues which have a single exhibition for the duration might lead to some repeat foot traffic.  Not from me of course, what with my numeric approach to visiting the venues.  Depends what happens after (30).

For these two weeks it’s the turn of Dundee's Generator Projects with The Agency.  On the venue’s own leaflet (which has a fantastic map) (really none of the above in The Royal Standard's fault so it’s probably unfair that the majority of this post is about my own stupidity) (though the map’s not on their website) (no, let’s more on) we’re told that its “a paradigm of the cultural economy, an articulation of the values of an artist-run space through the commodification of one within another.”

Through the Standard’s entrance is a small waiting room and beyond that an office with The Agency printed on the door.  Which is unexpected especially after, well, see above.  There are two desks, two people, a man and woman.  The man welcomes me in, asks me to take a number, there is a ticket machine, and asks me to look at a leaflet and ask if I want to know what’s on offer.  I ask if they have a toilet (see above).  They do, which I’m grateful for.

Back in the office, I sit on a couch, pleased about the rest and flick through a brochure.  There are photographs of what looks like an Ibiza-like club tour, except there’s one shot of people watching a presentation and the overall impression is of something other than the kinds of things you’d expect to find on an Ibiza-like club tour.  At this point I am wondering what I’ve let myself in for.  Is this a job agency, a travel agency and as my natural psychological barriers shunt up, I consider my next move.

“So, um, what do you have to offer?”  I ask.  Seems like the thing to do.  Having not read the Standard’s leaflet because I don’t see it until I'm leaving, I’m wondering about the level of fiction I’m being subjected to, the extent to which the two people I’m in the room with are performing for my benefit or if the artifice simply extends to the space itself with its crushingly authentic details.  I briefly wonder how I’m even going to write about it for this blog.

This isn’t helped by two artist-types who wander through apologising for not being able to make an appointment.  I wonder:  Was there a real appointment?  If there was a real appointment, what could it possibly be given that this place has only been open a night and a day.  If it’s not a real appointment, does that mean that they’re having that conversation in that way for my benefit because I’m in the space?  Was that a conspiratorial glance I saw between them?

I had to ask then, didn’t I?  “So, um, what do you have to offer?”  The woman, who having read the leaflet I now strongly suspect is the artist Catrin Jeans, begins to explain that they’re trying to sign people up for an arts tour which is taking place during The Long Night, the evening when all of Liverpool's arts venues open late.  It’s a sales pitch.  But it’s a nervous one and again I’m not sure if she’s really nervous or if she’s acting nervous.  Is anything she’s saying in the way she’s saying it part of the patter or are we having a real conversation?

She shows me around the office.  The pictures in the brochure are on one of the walls (these pictures in fact) and she talks about what might happen on the walk, that it’ll be starting at The Royal Standard and I could hop in and out again.  I tell her I’m not sure if I’ll be available that evening, which is true, I’m not, but it sounds as though I’m fobbing her off I think, which I wasn’t supposed to be, but it’s the space, this agency, it’s so authentic, my tendency to say no to everything has kicked in.

What about the authenticity of the walk?  Given that it's the culmination of this two week installation or performance work or whatever this is, to what extent will the artifice of this agency be extended there?  If I do sign up, what can I expect?  It's all very perplexing and not helped by the fact that I'm wandering if it'll visit some of the venues I won't have numerically "reached" yet on my own way around.  I don't ask because it's becoming apparent that the last thing which is need at this moment is a mention of that.

We sit again.  She gives me an application form and I also take one of Generator’s business cards.  The whole process feels exactly as it might in an agency.  I’m being terribly polite, I feel, in that way I do when I’m faced with desks and people offering jobs or when I need to make a good impression.  I give her one of my blog’s Moo cards which presumably means she will have read this post too.  She’s probably thinking, “You thought I was acting?”  Or some such.  Probably.  Sorry.

All the while the man is working at his computer.  Some kind of letter.  Is that letter real?  Is that proper gallery based admin or is he just doing that for my benefit?  When I leave will be he back to solitaire or visiting Facebook?  When I go, do they relax?  Have I interrupted something more useful?  Perhaps its what they’re wearing which has thrown me.  Does he usually wear office casual?  Does she, with her blue jack and neck scarf?  They’re both very smart, smarter than me.

She asks if there’s anything else they can help me with.  I ask for directions and that conversation’s related above.  I thank them both, and head for the door.  As I leave I stop to pick up the Standard’s leaflet and consider what just happened again, and the point at which reality stopped and the fiction began.  The photographs and material about the previous tour around Dundee (plus the Standard’s leaflet) point to the content being genuine.  But, what about everything else?  The artist's own tumblr doesn't explain either way.

Reflecting back onwhile watching Red Dwarf this evening, I’ve decided that recent Biennial experiences, the perception meddling likes of Markus Kahre’s inn and all of the self-imposed build-up, the walking, led to me expecting to find an art piece and that’s potentially what I found and what I reacted to, even if most of it wasn't.  Which should explain to those involved why I too seemed to be engaging in some kind of performance and why I regarded them with a certain suspicion throughout.  Again, sorry.

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