the long night I’ve spent in Liverpool

Life Many is the long night I’ve spent in Liverpool, but last night was The Long Night (part of the Abandon Normal Devices festival) with dozens of arts venues across the city holding open their doors until late in the evening. It’s a fantastic idea, though with so much happening in such a short span, you’re always missing something and if you’re like me and don’t like to miss anything if can leave you in a bit of a daze or even worse looking like the Roman god Janus with a migraine. I think I might even have contracted a touch of Whitworths, that rare condition which leads me to insensibility during art gallery visits though as you'll read the fact that my sense were constantly assaulted didn't help. Stumbling about from venue to venue I think I somehow managing during the course of the night to give Robin the impression that I’m only really interested in free alcohol (I hardly ever drink) and mash part of somebody’s artwork (again I have to press the point, I hardly ever drink).

First stop The Walker and their new Bridget Riley show, Flashback. Riley is one of those artists whose work I admire without necessarily being a fan. This is artwork created using a set of principles, an initial idea taken through to fruition without deviation or improvisation. That takes some mental discipline and I do like the idea of Bridget Riley working doggedly in her studio against established expectations to create these geometric shapes, static images often filled with movement, but find them very hard to look at. It certainly was last night, her seminal Movement In Squares which looks like a chessboard being pulled into a singularity, making me feel like the primal William Hurt in Altered States. At least this show offers a variety of her work, from the cataract inducing Cataract series through to her signature Ecclesia, showing that she’s just as much about wavy lines as vertical lines of colour and that she’s still pursuing an ideal of colour representation even in her later work.

The Empire Theatre were offering tours, Natalie from the education department weaving a history of the building around an explanation of how, as a receiving venue, it manages to present such a variety of touring productions from Opera to Webber. The tour included fascinatingly complex explanation of the lighting system by the crew and some of the stage craft involved in modifying each show for the venue, noting that set designers aren’t always clued up on the need for flexibility, which explains why some productions can look a bit crushed or spare depending upon the size of the stage. Once again my perceptions were bent by this visually deceptive space. From the middle of the stalls the stage looks very large, but in fact the performance area is foreshortened, the space the actors have to move about far less than you’d expect. Plus the auditorium is actually partially underground, explaining why an audience of a couple of thousand can fit into an edifice which simply doesn’t look large enough from the outside. Insert Tardis related cliché here.

At the Bluecoat is Under The Volcano, a group show responding to the work of Wirral born artist Malcolm Lowry. I will need to return to take a proper look, but my highlights so far are a room containing Cian Quale’s black and white home movie footage of the Isle of Man ferry unfolding from a human activated projector which brought back memories of a similar crossing I took as a child and Julian Cooper has three paintings from his Under The Volcano series illustrating scenes from Lowry’s semi-autobiographical novel. Local artists were selling their work in the courtyard outside. I bought a card featuring a rather fine line drawing of the Palm House in Sefton Park from Lianne Mellor, who I’ve promised to mention again when her website is up and running.

By now, I was flagging. Flagging so much in fact that I didn’t fancy the stairs within the exhibition space, but then couldn’t initially work the lift, whose control panel is about the most complicated that I’ve seen. It’s so complicated that they’ve actually included extra instructions on what to press:

Yes, I took photographs. Eventually I realised that you need to press button 2 to reach the “first” floor and button 4 to reach the “second” floor (and obviously G for ground). It’s to do with the vagaries of the building’s design – there is in fact a proper first and third floor, only accessible from the other end of the building, which this lift doesn’t stop at. They’re invisible here. It seems to me that it would be a lot less hassle (at least for the weary traveller) to simply replace the numbers on the buttons 2 and 4 with 1 and 2. It might not be architecturally accurate but it saves having to take the Krypton Factor mental challenge just to go up.

It’s at the Old Barbershop, at my old barbers in fact, next door, which is now The Lost Soul and Stranger Service Station that my foot inflicted the blow on the artwork, a paper design across the concrete floor which was partnered by a canvas piece on the wall. I stepped closer to scrutinise its geometric lines, didn’t look and down, and oh dear. The artist, Bernadette, was very gracious and not as cross as I might have been. We had a rather surprising discussion when I said her work reminded me of some of the works in Working With Nature: Traditional Thought in Contemporary Art from Korea which was at Tate Liverpool in 1992 (and I credit with developing my artist awareness which led me to getting my A-Level which meant I got to go to university first time around and well, everything in life is connected) and she said that she’s already had a very similar conversation with someone else. I’m still a vandal though.

Thence briefly to the Open Eye Gallery and their new exhibition from Duane Hopkins, Sunday. This features a series of videos of a disaffected youngster in various levels of repose, on a roundabout, looking into space, bored, who is then reflected across to the other side of the screen to create a mirror image sometimes interacting with himself, with each figure apparently in a time loop suggesting that there’s no escape from the existence they’re slotted into. Combined with the atonal music which permeates the space, despite the technicolour images it’s an especially melancholic piece and was difficult to spend too much time with. I’d imagine it’s a particularly difficult show to supervise the aural and visual assault difficult to take for too long, especially in the necessarily darkened space. But the intensity is important. It rattles the sense so that the visitor pays attention to what they’re seeing placing them right in the moment. As a filmmaker, Hopkins is aware of the tricks of the trade, how suture bonds the viewer to the image for the greatest effect.

The sensory overload continued in the Media Lounge at FACT which has been transformed into an epilepsy inducing three dimensional zoetrope in which what looks like tiny plastic Michael Jacksons dance before your very eyes. It’s the kind of surprising work with has been FACT’s hallmark during its twenty year history. Last night was the birthday party and though I missed the main thrust of the party, I did manage to grab a glass of champagne, and a cake from FACT’s Stuart who I met at the Twestival the other week. Outside in Arthouse Square is KMA's Stranger Attractors. Intelligent light is projected on the pavement which we can interact with creating new shapes which are then video projected onto the wall of FACT making us active participants in the artwork. At the end of the night as groggily I watched dancers spinning about the beams showing the pedestrians how its done (accompanied by a saxophonist), I decided that it been just the right kind of night, one there should be more of, that I should have even more of, a long night in Liverpool.

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