Art With its main contribution to the Biennial elsewhere, Tate Liverpool this year have decided to utilise some gallery space to present Thesholds, a selection of work from their collection offering a microcosm of the festivals themes of, as the Tate website explains, “the uncertain boundaries of personal, geographical, political and cultural identities. The exhibition explores powerful themes including British identity, migration and the global effects of regional conflicts.” It’s important to keep that in mind as you wander around because, as is often the case in group shows, the connection between the works can otherwise seem a bit tenuous.
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With Scottish independence back on the agenda, it’s apt that Tate Liverpool should select Layla Curtis’s United Kingdom as one of the pieces in this group exhibition. Originally created at the turn of the millennium during devolution and the reconstitution of the Scottish Parliament, as with many of her works, Curtis has utilised the contours of a map of Britain and reconfigured the internal geography, on this occasion shifting the elements of the Scottish and Welsh nations within the shape of England and vice versa. Subsequent works have attempted similar projects with Japan, the United States and the European Union.
This isn’t some slap happy collage; coastal cities have become land locked and the lines of the roads have been kept reasonable logical so that if this place really existed, perhaps in one of Markus Khare’s parallel dimensions, it would be entirely possible to navigate even if some M-roads would become A-roads and others might drop into the oceans. As the artist says, “Travelling has always been an integral part of my life. Like most people I rely on and trust maps to find my way, locate myself and plan journeys. By dissecting, dismembering and collaging maps to create new, hybrid maps, I aim to explore the effects of disturbing this trusted system of mapping.”
This is a piece which rewards careful study and part of the fun is seeing where your given city had ended up. Liverpool does pretty well, slotted in somewhere towards the Inner Hebrides. On the other map, it’s amusing to find Aberdeen in London’s place, when you consider that Curtis is a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art. It would be interesting to know how she chose the placements for the cities. Was there a plan, is any of the weighting autobiographical, or was it simply that this was the best way this geographical jigsaw fitted together? Either way, England seems to benefit aesthetically from receiving an excess of countryside.