"We are not of this race. We are not of this earth. Susan and I are wanderers in the fourth dimension of space and time, cut off from our own people by distances beyond the reach of your most advanced science." -- The Doctor, An Unearthly Child.Art This journey through space and probably time, since we're all travelling into the future even if it's the slow way, by seconds, minutes, hours and days, begins at Caines Brewery. Caines was one of the key Liverpool businesses, founded by Irishman Robert Cain in 1858 and at its height owned a chain of over two hundred pubs but over the years through mergers and takeovers its licensed premises and brewing have been watered down to the point that there are just five establishments left and the Cains name is being lent to a collection of craft beers. This factory was closed in 2013 with a view to redeveloping the entire site as a leisure and and housing complex [wikipedia]. Caines's website is still up and running as though none of this has occurred with all its bells and whistles and no mention that the Biennial has temporarily made it's home here.
Despite not being much of a drinker, I had always planned to book a visit for a tour of the factory fascinated as I am with manufacturing process as well as how they're communicated to the public. But meant doesn't always translate into do, and so this was the first time I'd really set foot on the site, apart from the occasion when I got lost on the way to The Gallery art space a few years ago. Like the Old Blind School and the Copperas Hill post building back in the day, it's an opportunity to see inside old working buildings otherwise shut off from the public with their fixtures and fittings still largely intact. The space, the old canning hall, has a similar atmosphere to The Furnace, the hall utilised at AFoundation during the 2006 edition of the Biennial and which now houses the main eating area with the caravans at Camp and Furnace. High roof, concrete floors and an adequate toilet.
Three of the Biennial's "episodes" feature, Chinatown, Flashback and the Children's Episode. These are are separated by Andreas Angelidakis's Collider, a large structure of concentric circular walls apparently inspired by the Large Hadron Collider (for which the University's Victoria Gallery and Museum currently has a fascinating exhibition). Immediately it's apparent that although the concept of the episode implies separation between sites just as they would be in a televisions series, these themes will in fact be somewhat intermingled - there's also an exhibit from the Software theme here too. The effect seems more analogous to someone changing channels on a television and skipping between different series or the crosscutting of storylines in an ensemble film, especially if those storylines don't interact directly like Griffiths's Intolerance.
As you might expect my favourite piece in the show, Yin-Ju Chen's Extrastellar Evaluations riffs on the theme of alien presences interacting on earth. The idea is to gather together evidence of a race of beings from the lost continent Lemuria, living on Earth in another dimension but visiting us periodically and most notably as a group of conceptual artists in the 1960s. Most recently on display at the Kadist Gallery in San Francisco, it's spread across Caines and FACT and in Caines inhabits the Chinatown and Flashback "episodes". Rather like a story told across multiple episodes, we can only really appreciate the whole effect once we've experienced all of the sections creating an incentive for visitors to travel to the various venues Knowing my luck with the randomiser, I'll be seeing the rest of the piece in a couple of months.
The first section, in Chinatown, is in an office on the edge of the main space, a long darkened room with a video projection at one end, metal tiles arranged in two patterns and easy to kick if you're not watching what you're doing arrangements of crystals. You're initially greeted by a letter (in very nice joined up handwriting) from someone called Lucia, who claims to have been channeling the message of the Lemuria indicating, rather poignantly given how 2016's gone so far, that if "Earth beings become one" they'll be happy to bring their higher civilisation back to this "blue marble". So we're in Eric Von Daniken territory territory, or Arthur C Clarke's monolith, the notion of higher beings nurturing humanity. In Doctor Who this tends to mean Scaroth or the Silents and there's very much an ulterior motive.
The screen features a figure bestride the landscape, long blonde hair, look of intent. Now we're presented with the notion of alien visitor, Jeff Bridges in Starman, Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth or indeed a Time Lord. He wanders about, investigating, walking. He, we must assume is Adama, the person communicating with Lucia. Words are superimposed across the screen, greeting us, explaining his intent, advising us when his message is sent. We must then conclude that the metal plates are part of his communication device and the crystals indicate in their shape his constellation of origin and some other things. Are we supposed to be visiting a recreation of the site where he's been or the devices he uses to communicate with us? Given everything happening elsewhere in the canning room, the suspension of disbelief is impressive.
The exhibit continues in Flashback with photograph of the cosmos projected on the wall, a television set on the floor and a chart filled with geometric shapes and photographs from Earth's past nearby. I sat on the floor and watched the screen as it filled with images similar to those in the other space, of green landscapes and snow filled vistas but instead of the starman, it's what must be his ship, a giant mirrored cube floating through like a Zardoz head or the Pandorica in flight-mode and with all the elegance of Skagra's sphere in the BBC Video restoration of Shada. I whooped with delight. The photographs in the chart indicate divisive or tragic moments of the 60s, the Vietnam War and the death of the Apollo 1 astronauts, mixed with examples of abstract public art, obelisks and other weirdly shaped structures, which we must infer are the Lemurian's handywork.
An Interview with Yin-Ju Chen, Kadist Artist in Residence 2016. Extrastellar Evaluations is on view 5/11-6/25 from Kadist on Vimeo.
Find above an interview with the artist from its appearance at Kadist (with excerpts from the videos) in which she talks about this mythology in much the same way as any writer does about science fiction. Her ideas are rich and based on existing stories, Lemuria was part of a theory from the 19th century designed to explain incongruities in platechtonics which have since been discredited. This fictional land has nevertheless spawned a range of genre fiction, notably as an antagonist for Namor The Sub-Mariner's Atlantis. The word "Lemuria" has appeared in Doctor Who, in the Alan Barnes's Seventh Doctor audio, Daleks Among Us, but it seems to be attributed to something else entirely although the notion of extra-dimensional beings having and effect on human history is almost a cliche in the Whoniverse. Almost?
In some ways, I wish that video was available in the gallery space by way of explanation although perhaps the fiction as it stands is supposed to be opaque, hoping to fire our imagination. It succeeds, especially if you're a fan of this kind of fiction. My favourite element is how it co-opts other artworks in a similar way to newsworthy events in alternative history fictions, the metal tiles and rocks implying that the Lemurians have been communicating through other artists. I wonder how I might have approached these sections if I'd seen the FACT material first, something I won't know until I make it there. Let's have a look and see if the randomiser on my time ship will land me on Wood Street next. Set the controls and .... no, not yet ... fast return switch it is then ...