Liverpool Biennial 2010: Phase Five at 24-26 Seel Street.

34-36 Seel Street

Art Part of the SQUAT strand of the Biennial, a collaboration between arts groups on either side of the Atlantic (New York’s No Longer Empty and the UK’s The Art Organisation), Phase Five in habits this almost too outrageously symbolic example of the recent recession, a bank which was in the process of being converted into a nightclub until the owners went out of business.

Like some of the best festival venues, it’s myriad rooms are filled with unexpected surprises. The thematic connection is sound, though none of the pieces are purely sound art, at least not in the same way as Susan Philipz (who is nominated for a Turner Prize this year) or Eimer Birkbeck (whose work I enjoyed at The Lost Soul and Stranger Service Station in School Lane in May) were all of the information is being relayed via speakers.

All of these works have a strong visual element, either because they’re video art or by employing some kind of object. The former can be seen best in Joe Diebes’s Scherzo which films a virtuoso as they produce some utterly ear splitting sounds from their instrument with such speed and dexterity that the artist had to film their performance in fragments, editing them together to show the convergence between man and machine. Not easily watched for long stretches but unmissable nonetheless.

I’m unafraid to say I hated, hated, hated Giuseppe Stampo’s Play: five black speakers in the shape of coffins play the Star Spangled Banner after the visitor has put a coin the slot. It’s obvious, thematically squiffy and tonally uneven since the first reaction on hearing the music is to giggle which doesn’t quite square the artist’s sobering hope that the coffins represent the countries which played “an important role in the collapse of the world economy” (according to the catalogue).

A verbal virtuosity is in order for Jani Ruscica’s Beatbox in which New York beatboxers Kid Lucky and Shockwave and spoken word artist Vocab (oh yes) with time to communicate their wares, which interpret and imitate the sounds of their surrounds because as Vocab says (inadvertently paraphrasing classic noir The Naked City somewhat) “every street corner has the ability to tell a thousand stories”, the urban environment becoming a stage.

Projecting onto a giant screen on the top floor of the building (perhaps in the space where this genre of music would have been playing anyway had this building become a club) the most impressive section is when the luminous Vocab (real name d'Janau Morales) addresses us directly with her poetry surprising us with her verbal dexterity. I’ve checked about online to see what happened next, but all I can find is this contemporaneous video of her in competition:


Also amazing: whilst I was at the record shop, the volunteer said that I must make sure I didn’t omit the basement of Phase Five, noting that I should stay until the end because otherwise “it doesn’t really make sense”. He was right on both counts. Ray Lee’s Murmur is unmissable but curiously so. Descending the stairs, a motion detector activates the installation, a series of stands within what looks like an archaeological excavation site, each holding a long rotating stick with tiny speakers at each end, the first of which begins to resonate a dull rhythmic hum.

The murmur.

The accompanying information board says that Lee is interested in “the way that science and philosophy represent the universe” and the orthodoxies that emerge and submerge depending on current trends. How that translates here is in the sonic dipping in and out of the various murmurs as each of the stands comes on and off line, creating kind of modernist polyphony. It’s difficult, requires patience but the final result is breathtaking.

Until 27th November.

Updated later: After another more thorough search I have found some newer footage of Vocab -- she appeared in competition in June. Three more videos under the link:

Still amazing. I especially like the moment when she calms herself and gathers her thoughts before launch.

1 comment:

  1. We agree again Stuart.
    I visited Phase Five on their opening night 18th Sept. I absolutely loved Joe Diebes' 'Scherzo' but just need to point out that the musician is playing a cello not a violin. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much .I love the sound of the cello. So despite the sightly stressful nature of the climax that never completely peaks I could still listen to it for quite along time.
    Also in Phase Five on the opening night was a performance artist who was suspended by shark hooks (just like butcher's hooks). He was suspended from six of these hooks which went through his skin on his back legs and chest and was thoroughly enjoying chatting to his audience while drinking coffee. Some viewers were disgusted and felt sick and others, like me, were quite bemused.