"Spoilers."Art In commenting on Biennials and contemporary art in general, I've talked about how just like any other creative media, it's often best approached cold without much of a preview so that we can allow whatever we're being greeted with to wash over us, to luxuriate in our initial reaction however positive or negative that might be. There's not one occasion I think think of when I've thought better of a piece, enjoyed it more, having known about it first. Unlike painting, for example, contemporary art, due its generally inherent minimalism, often has a very short period within which to surprise, shock or amaze us if that's it's approach. If it has enough thematic or intellectual depth, that will develop afterwards, but it's the gut reaction which is usual the fundamental point of its existence.
-- River Song, "The Big Bang"
If only I'd been able to see Rita McBride's Portal before stumbling into the darkness of Toxteth Reservoir but it's been another of the pieces whose image has been splashed around across social media and in publicity, because of its spectacularity, that it was impossible to approach cold and that's a shame. Having been directed by a door person to keep my eyes fixed on a blue bollard until my eyes adjusted, I already knew what they were about to look at and although I was still astonished by the scale of it, I felt pangs of disappointment that this was still a secondary reaction hoping that the version of me in a parallel dimension who'd managed to avoid seeing the work ahead of time was suitably gaping at it with the correct aplomb.
As the accompanying video explains (and again please don't visit this page if you're at all thinking about visiting) the artist has always had a strong interest in science fiction and wormholes in particular and that's what she's trying to express, really quite successfully here. Green laser beams bounce between walls across a hundred metre gap, creating a lattice of light broken by dust in the atmosphere. On first inspection you might imagine that these are wires or fibre glass cables stretching between until you realise that's impossible. Instead it's a version of the security lasers which appear in modern heist films stretched to their limit, in green rather than red and resembling the screens of code in The Matrix films. Spectacular and large scale. To get the full experience you must walk from one end to the other.
About the only reservation I have is that the accompanying sound is the echo and chatter of voices from the door people and people entering visiting rather than something to accompany the sight, a fitting sound effect like the sounds of the universe or time vortex something which echoes about the space in a similar way to the light. This feels like a work which requires our concentration and yet the space is filled with audible distractions that bring us right back to reality. Pretty quickly I cranked up my iPod and listened to some instrumental music which helped somewhat. Of course, this would be a nonsense on busy days when the space is filled with people anyway but I'm a huge fan of verisimilitude, of going all out when attempting to communicate an idea. Nevertheless, I'd still list this as a highlight of the Biennial and well worth the trip down one weekend when it's open.