Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Victoria Gallery & Museum (20)

Art  This is the first occasion the University of Liverpool’s art venue, Victoria Gallery & Museum has been an official venue of the Liverpool Biennial and a demonstration that for all the spaces which have closed in the past couple of years there are still plenty of excellent places for them to inhabit. Not that it should be seen in any way as a new departure for the gallery which since opening in 2008 has been a venue for plenty of contemporary art exhibitions often inspired by their own collections, but not always. One of the highlights of the art that was in the city on the fringe of the 2010 festival was their retrospective of photographs by Astrid Kirchherr.

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For the Biennial, they’ve welcomed Paul Rooney, whose solo exhibition, Here Comes Franz, He Was Afraid includes a new acquisition for the gallery, The Futurist, a twenty-five minute surrealist video piece filmed within the fabric of the disused cinema on Lime Street, originally commissioned in 2008 by Tate Liverpool and which I’m sure I had the pleasure of seeing at roughly the same time. That’s the problem with being interested in culture; you end up experiencing so much that now and then you’ll greet a piece for what should be the first time but always have a nagging feeling you’ve seen them somewhere before. It’s often the same with people.

The piece I’ve definitely not seen before but I’m most impressed by is Small Talk, projected across a corner opposite the entrance to the first gallery space. On first glance it seems like shots of two different petrol stations, but sit for long enough on one of the supplied stools and it becomes apparent that we’re looking at the same petrol station in two different time periods, and that subtitles which appear on both screens are having a conversation with one another, explaining that the two shots, or rather groups of shots were taken with nine years between and that one of the stations is now a car valet service.

Safe to say that it’s a work which works best if you’ve little knowledge of anything else which transpires with its eight minutes. Like Daniel Lichtman’s Powerpoint presentation at the 2010 Bloomberg New Contemporaries, it spins a simple idea and construction into a very rich work full of nostalgia and regret and in this case metatextual areas, entirely aware of its position as an art piece even to the point of explaining its own themes and influences including Jacques Demy’s film musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It’s also smart and funny; I laughed at least a dozen times throughout partly because the humour’s so unexpected but mostly because of its wit.

It’s also a reminder that good art is never abandoned. When Rooney shot the 2001 footage, it was because he liked the way the garage sat isolated against the wilderness and tried to intensify that with various choices of music but recognised that it simply didn’t work. So he sat on the footage for years, only later deciding to try and copy the footage again shot for shot. As Gus Van Sant jokes the spoof Simon & Simon recreation documentary, such things are impossible, you’ll never get things quite right. But as Rooney’s avatar says in the video, he’s made the imperfections a strength, demonstrating that you can never return to the past.

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