Liverpool Biennial 2010: Lars Laumann at Open Eye Gallery.

Open Eye Gallery

Art A tiny two room space in the middle of one of the main night club areas of the city (just up the road from the Krazy House) I was disappointed when I first tried to gain access to the Open Eye Gallery in Wood Street during the Biennial preview night because of the queues. But as the single occupier (plus staff) during the duration of my hour long stay yesterday (before stumbling up to Liverpool Cathedral), my disappointment turned to pleasure at being able to give the work the requisite concentration, especially since both of the “main” pieces have strong narrative and thematic threads and ideas which can only be teased out with a lengthy engagement.

After my boring rant the other day about how it's up to the artist to communicate to the viewer/visitor/consumer what their work is about I was pleased to see Lars Laumann’s work ticks all of the boxes. Nice long titles, absolutely clear message. The brand new commission is Helen Keller (and the great purging bonfire of books and unpublished manuscripts illuminating the dark) a forty-five minute editing tour-de-force in which Laumman discusses censorship by primarily re-purposing footage of an Iranian adaptation of the self-censoring JD Salinger’s 1963 novelette Franny and Zooey to retell the story of Keller’s own suppressed works using reimagined translation.

In one especially surprising moment, a shot of the girl at the centre of the drama is intercut with the burning of Nazi materials and I think we’re meant to question at the point at which burning books might be acceptable. Is all ideology worth saving from the fire? Can we torch Mein Kampf? Well, of course not, if only so that we can learn from the past. The pieces loses its way a bit in the second half when it uses a contortionist and found footage to investigate the charges of racism surrounding Selma Lagerlof’s novel The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, but for the period in which we’re essentially watching an Iranian episode of My So-Called Life (probably The Substitute) it’s mesmerising.

Easily overlooked in the entrance room near reception is Duett (Med styrken I var tro I en sang, I en sang), in which a small beer mat sized image is broadcast through a plasma screen leaning against a wall and is essentially what would happen if Autotune The News entered a Beckettian phase employing this footage of Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘Known unknowns’ quote and Margaret Thatcher on the TV-AM sofa defending her decision to sink the Belgano. On a loop. I’ve always been rather a fan of that Rumsfeld speech. Nothing he says is incorrect. There are plenty of known unknowns and unknown, unknowns in life. It’s just a pity he was using it as a prescription for war.

As I write, I’m listening to The Smiths and the reason is the final and arguably best pieces in the exhibition Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana. Inspired by and quoting directly from this website, a speedy monotone voiceover proposes that Morrissey’s lyrics and some of the production on the record The Queen Is Dead prophesise the death of Princess Diana. The obvious and initial reaction is suitable scepticism, except the longer we watch the more persuasive the argument becomes as Laumann’s sweeps us through the similarities between the verse and the details of the crash.

Gosh yes, you find yourself thinking, “sometimes I’d feel more fulfilled / making Christmas cards with the mentally ill” in Frankly, Mr Shankley must be about Diana. There is a version of the same material on YouTube (see below), but Laumann’s addition is the inclusion of film clips to illustrate some points and create even more tangential connections to The L-Shaped Room, to Carry on Cleo, to the sci-fi film Contact. It’s impossible not to become swept up in the sheer invention, but before too long as the argument enters deliberate flights of fancy, excitement turns back to incredulity as it becomes apparent that most of what we’re seeing is smoke and mirrors.

Because this is a hymn to the particularly peculiar conspiracy theorists who without a shred of evidence find evil that isn’t there. Anyone who watched the BBC’s thorough debunking of 7/7 myths last year will know the territory, as they see the few odd coincidences as being significant amid the thousands contradictory facts. In other words, there are just as many words in The Queen is Dead and Morrissey’s back catalogue which have nothing to do with Diana and could just as easily be engaged to explain why Ed Milliband won or how my generation is seriously depressed and heading into an early mid-life crisis. Probably listening to too many Morrissey records in our youth.

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