Liverpool Biennial 2010: The Cooperative.

The Cooperative

Art Currently the old Rapid Hardware paint shop is headquarters to The Cooperative, a group of seven local arts collectives, Jump Ship Rat, Sound Network, The Royal Standard, Red Wire, The Lost Soul and Stranger Service Station, Arena Studios & Gallery and Mercy. It has a performance area in the basement and gallery space which will have a rolling programme of weekly exhibitions across the Biennial period.

Part of the display is an archive of the cooperative’s previous work, something of a nostalgia trip for those of us who’ve been visiting these festivals over the past decade, a rare reminder of work which might otherwise have been fleeting in experience or ephemeral in the memory. Oh I remember that. Oh I remember that. Oh it’s that! Wow. I’m getting old.

I giggled when I saw again The Ballad of Lonesome Barry Row, a video piece featuring the story of giant rebellious yellow skip (Barrys Skip according to the stencilled sign on the back), as it sprouted wheels and began a journey through the back streets of Liverpool apparently with no space for steering let alone a driver, unsure whether I was seeing an impossible, magical item or the spirit of The Goodies. Or both.

Open Wednesday to Sunday 1pm-7pm, 18th September until 29th November.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Day One

Art About fifteen hours ago, I stumbled up the steps of the entrance hall at the right hand side of St George’s Hall (opposite the Walker Art Gallery) to pick up my press credentials for today’s launch of the Liverpool Biennial. There’s something rather comforting, touching even, about entering a place and being greeted by someone who knows your name, gives you a card which will grant entry to various venues and a copy of the catalogue. As ever I felt slightly fraudulent standing in front of that table with only myself and the few of you as a potential audience, but honoured nonetheless.

On my way out, I was greeted by a tall smart man who introduced himself, but I was too embarrassed to ask him to repeat his name when I didn’t hear it the first time, especially since he seemed to have the word Director in his job title, so I can’t tell you who he was. We walked to the Biennial’s headquarters on Renshaw Street and my embarrassment in not hearing his name continued, when I told him I was a simple blogger and he treated me like any other member of the press by suggesting, with great passion, venues and art work I might like to see during the day, happy to answer the one question I had about the organisation of the Biennial.

The organisation of the Biennial reminds me of the way Ira Glass describes an impending episode of the This American Life podcast. The organisers choose a theme, then curators travel the world visiting other festivals and museums seeking artists who might be able to work within that theme. The artists, assuming they’re interested, visit Liverpool and then produce a proposal based on their experience of the city and how it fits within the theme, and after negotiating the proposal into something manageable, they’re commissioned to produce the work and after a year and a half, venues across Liverpool are filled with it. More on the theme later.


The Biennial Headquarters was not quite ready for visitors, so my new friend suggested that I see some of the public art in the area, which meant that my day began with this extraordinary piece on Duke Street, Do Ho Suh’s Bridging Home an apparently simple idea, complex in construction, detailed in its resonance. The artists spends much of their time shuttling between Korea and their adopted home of America and so they’re obviously interested in the culture clash, the melting pot created as different people’s find themselves in close proximity.

Except Suh is also discussing the differences between old traditions and futuristic modernism, the twist being that this is a new building in the old style between to apparently new buildings which have aged and fallen derelict. The result is an inexplicable, impossible object as though the space between two realities has become torn, this grand design defying gravity the result, perhaps drawn here by the street art on the building next door which asks us if we like our neighbours.

Whilst I stood writing the notes that led to these sentences, an old but elegant woman approached simply to say “Quite amazing isn’t it?”. Some Far Eastern students stopped to take photographs. A man in a business suit stepped off his route to come and take a look, shaking his head as he walked way. It is the kind of happening that requires you to stop and stare and gape not least because the people passing by on the street directly in front of the house, recessed as it is just out of view, must wonder what it is about them which is attracting so much attention.


Tala Madani’s Sunny Side Up, despite being a giant mural is surprisingly not that easy to find. At the gable end of some buildings on Fleet Street, I walked past it twice assuming it to be another example of the graffiti art which covers much of the area. When I asked a workman who was clearing the site in front, of flytipping and a wooden fence which had been blown over in the horrible wind last night, didn’t realise this was what I'd been interested in when I first asked him, even though it transpired he'd watched it being created.

He was excited to discover the patch of land he was working on had its own postal address and he stopped work for a moment and we stood looking at it and the mural together. He explained that the painting had been there about a week and that the artist or someone had spent one day adding the legs and the next the yellow smudges and that he preferred the giant painting of a God which it now obscured. It took me a moment to realise which were the legs. I still don't know what the yellow patches are supposed to be.

As I considered where to take my picture, a bedraggled bloke who didn’t look like he’d been to bed, perhaps kept company for the evening by a bottle of alcohol approached us, and asked the workman if he was a refuse collector. He replied in the negative, clearly wondering what business it was of this total stranger. The bloke then asked what he was doing. The workman told him he was clearing the site. The bloke asked him quite menacingly what he was standing around for. The workman grinned. I took it as my cue to take the photo and move on.

FACT Liverpool

FACT Liverpool led to complementary coffee and pan du chocolate. And Mark Lawson. At this point, I’ll quickly explain my absence from the blog these past few weeks, well if not absense, at least a suggestion of mild disinterest. A couple of weeks ago, the careful eco system of storage in my room looked ready to collapse, as one bookcase, perched precariously above another, gave every impression of wanting to fall down, taking my big television and everything else with it, caused by the weight of several hundred dvds slotted between it and the other wall.

After placing the bookcases next to one another on the floor, I now had nowhere to put the several hundred dvds and after sighing several times, and a few trips to Wilkinsons for plastic wallets and cardboard boxes, I set about the task of transferring nearly my entire shop bought dvd collection from their plastic display boxes into plastic wallets, storing the inlays neatly and then placing them into my insane dating classification scheme, entering the details into a huge database as I went.

Which took - a few - days. But having built up a rhythm, I then decided to also catalogue the many discs full of documentaries and music concerts I’ve amassed over the past few years, mainly from BBC Four, far more than I’ve ever had a chance to watch, a kind of insurance against the closure of one of the best television stations in the world due to a squeezing of the license fee. But since, over those past few years, I’ve never considered that I’d ever want to do anything so stupid as catalogue them, these discs often have simply BBC Darwin, Arts Docs or Mark Lawson Talks To … with no indication of what’s actually on them, especially who Mark Lawson was talking to.

So I’ve laboriously been placing each disc into the computer, checking the contents, entering them onto the database, then looking for the pertinent date via Google, usually from the BBC website, filling in the necessary information about the relevant series and episode and episode title when required. On the one hand it’s demonstrated that I’ve recorded more documentary series than I’ve remembered even existed, but on the other if I ever need a working knowledge on a given subject fast (as though that set of circumstances would ever come up), I just have to pull out the relevant box.

I’ve nearly finished but nevertheless I thought this was the most bizarre, unbelievable, antisocial perhaps endeavour anyone might attempt. And then I visited the Tehching Hsieh piece at FACT Liverpool and realised that I was but an amateur. For a whole year, between April 1980 and April 1981, Hsieh performed a work – this was in a gallery space – in which he would clock-on at a work machine and take a photographic self portrait. Every hour, on the hour. For three hundred and sixty five days.

The result is a room filled with small photographs of the artist standing next to the machine, in strips of roughly twenty four, with the clocking in cards at the top as proof of each day’s work, and a 16mm film projector showing these frames turned into a film in which we watch a man go from forced baldness to long hippyish hair, physically aging presumably through poor sleeping patterns, but with the same determined expression on his face which says that he will not be beaten by this self imposed prison.

It’s at the moment when I realised the scale of the work, in physical, psychological terms that I heared Mark Lawson’s voice enter the room followed by Mark Lawson himself. From what I subsequently gathered he'd later be discussing the work on the radio with a man that I was already discussing the work with (there are now four of us in the room including the invigilator) and for a brief moment I find myself in the midst of a live, unrecorded Front Row discussion as I noted that Hsieh’s beard didn’t grow which meant he will have had to have shaved regularly. They left shortly afterwards, but after seeing his name scrawled on a few discs it was quite a surprise to find that, albeit momentarily, Mark Lawson was talking to me.

There are internet memes in which people take a daily photograph, sometimes over much longer periods and so the aging is actual and natural rather than caused by the physical discomfort of having to wake up between REM cycles (meet Noah). But they’re about recording change, whereas Hsieh is desperate to keep each picture as similar as possible apart from these few difference. Now and then, a frame is darker because the bulb in the gallery space has blown or there are fewer shots because he slept through or had an engagement (the reason recorded on the clocking in card).

Only once has the artist gone crazy. It’s near the end, perhaps in mid February, a single shot in which his head is forward and he’s let his now long hair fall in front of his face giving him the aspect of early Slash from Guns and Roses. But in the next he’s back to normal. Perhaps it was his birthday, perhaps he had a little bit of a breakdown, but it’s proof that even in the most extreme regimented endeavours, it’s possible to have a lapse. But if he’s like me, he’ll be thinking that the work can never be perfect because of that one little mistake.

Think About Your Future

The Biennial often offers up The Futurist to see how a given artist will react to one of the great reminders of Liverpool’s popular cultural past. In 2006, the shutters were replaced by a sheet of glass so that we could see the old movie posters for One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and the shattered dreams of a thousand nights at the cinema strewn across the water stained carpet. This time, Emese Benczur has recreated the billing sign at the front but replaced coming attractions with the words, well you can see the words in the photograph. I’d wondered why the cinema sign had been repaired.

At present I’m think a lot about the future. I’m 36 next month, the kind of age which seemed ancient and indeed was middle aged in Shakespeare’s day. I don’t feel 36, but I can feel the rapid progress of time, so when I see a sign like that, it’s not an order to go forth with some new project, but a reminder of a project ongoing. Especially when it lights up. Of course, the artist is looking at the future in more global terms than my upcoming midlife crisis; she wants to think about what we’re doing to the planet, so those bulbs are carbon neutral. Still it felt like a message to me, Rudy. Um, Stuart.

Liverpool Biennial Press Launch

To St George’s Hall and the official press launch of the Biennial. Unlike previous years were the concert room has been utilised, this was more interestingly set in civil courtroom. Another digression. I originally met Lewis Biggs, the director of the Biennial, when I was seventeen and he was the director of Tate Liverpool. I was studying as part of my A-Level the post-war Korean artists who were exhibiting there and with some largesse I wrote to him requesting an interview. He agreed, and spent half an hour of his busy schedule in a meeting room at the Tate, fielding questions which on reflection could just as easily have been answered by the exhibition catalogue.

The main purpose of this meeting was for Lewis and the curator of the Biennial, Lorenzo Fusi, amid the ringtones of the gathered press, to explain the theme. The starting point, as is true of so many of these things, the global financial crisis and how the pits and troughs of inflation are mirrored in the art market. They decided that for this Biennial, they would try to attract art whose value wasn’t in some over inflated price tag, but the gut reaction of the viewer, them literally being “touched” emotionally or in some cases physically by what they’ve seen. As I think you might have noticed, most of the work I’d seen before that moment had certainly done that.

Tate Liverpool

There will be some people reading this wondering why I wasn’t somewhere else at 1:20 pm rather than inside the Tate Gallery, the sole member of the press walking around. Let’s just say my inability to read emails properly had led me to assume that my press credentials wouldn’t stretch as far as they might. But really it’s ok, since I was due in work soon anyway. Even if lunch for me actually consisted of holding onto a chicken sandwich for dear life in a gale whilst sitting on a bench opposite the Mann Island project and the new Museum of Liverpool, watching bits of tomato falling out of the bread and flying into the distance. I have now printed out a copy of the itinerary and I know what I’m supposed to be doing tomorrow (or later today).

It would also account for why, when I reached the Tate, the exhibits were quite ready yet so it’s probably unfair to offer too in depth a review of much of it, except to say that I doubt most visitors will have the same experience of Wannes Goetschatckx’s 1 without of seeing the many television screens featuring the artist in a range positions in a wooden box, on a swing, pacing a room from above, knocking tallys off the wall in chalk, sitting on a toilet, washing naked in a bath and have the artist in the space as well as though the sprite from the old Commodore 64 game Little Computer People has stepped out of the screen and is evidently wondering what you’re doing there.

The ground floor display space is consumed with an installation by Magdalena Abakanowicz. Embryology 1978-80 features giant, stitched organic looking oblong shapes, in various sizes arranged on the floor with a chalk path running through them. It’s the kind of installation I’ve always been a fan of, in which the same items are gathered together in different was depending on the space so that rather like a rock band on tour, although the elements are the same, the results may be different depending on the venue. To some extent it’s up to the viewer to decide what these shapes are, whether they represent potatoes, internal organs, or if there’s some kind of scatological quality. I will return.

John Moores 2010 Private View

After work, at 7:10pm, I attended the private view for the John Moore’s Exhibition at the Walker. As ever, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, the more “traditional work” trumping the abstract for emotional resonance, but given that it’s my first week back at work and I’m still adjusting, and I’d been looking at art for much of the day, it’s entirely possible I missed something. I definitely wasn’t as much in the party mood as the people dancing in the area at the back of the main entrance hall where the chairs and table usually are.

The show is rather different this year because it combines the usual British collection with entries and winners from a version of the competition presented in Shanghai. My favourite from their contingent is Le Weizhou’s Where Are We From Where Will We Go? in which an otherwise empty sheet of rice paper has a painted queue of people waiting patiently for something, similar to the famous Saatchi campaign poster “Labour isn’t working”.

In his untitled work, Jon Bradley has spread paint and resin across his canvas giving it an eye-catching gloss missing from other paintings in the exhibition. An impressionistic homage to The Great Wave and Turner and a dozen other landscapes featuring the sea, what’s clever is that there actually very few contrasts in shade across the canvas, the deep blues across the bottom of the composition creating a sense of foreboding, the shapes he’s created capturing the violence of a maelstrom.

A different kind of maelstrom is presented in Nicholas Middleton’s Protest, 1st April 2009. Middleton’s photo-realistic painting is a regular to the John Moores exhibition – I adored his Scene From a Contemporary Novel in 2006 but on this occasion he’s actually commenting on his own art form by offering a situation in which nearly every figure in view his holding some kind of image recording device, from cameras to mobile phones. This is an old, ancient even, media presenting the media that has theoretically out advanced it but in such a way as to find a middle ground.

Steve Proudfoot’s The Party is a glimpse into the kind of lower middle class household Mike Leigh also highlights so well, a family gather in the living room around a buffet table. Proudfoot captures neatly the solitude that often ensues at these events, the lonely geniality of sitting on the sidelines drinking wine and wondering why no one is talking, or at least talking to you. The hint in this painting is offered by the ghostly figure of a young girl dancing. Is this a party or a wake?

I slipped away home.

... blue light swirls about AMY's body.

TV Firstly, I emailed 2Entertain, the main retail publishing company for new BBC television product to ask if the third series of The Sarah Jane Adventures which is due out on dvd soon would also be appearing on blu-ray (it was the first series shot for High Definition). The 2Entertain DVD Enquiry teams says:

"I am sorry to have to disappoint you but upon investigation I can confirm that we have no immediate plans to clear and release this title on Blu Ray."

I have emailed a reply asking for an explanation.

Secondly, here is one of those bonkers predictions for what may happen with the much discussed "game changing" cliffhanger in the upcoming, sixth series of Doctor Who.

There's been some speculation that Karen Gillan will not be appearing in the whole of the next series and yet Amy Pond somehow is. How about:


... blue light swirls about AMY's body. Even further into the distance a silhouetted female figure is stalking away as though the weather doesn't even exist.

What's happening to her? (beat) Doctor?

The platform continues the shake, the wind and rain buffeting the sides and the three figures.

I don't know. I don't know! Something, something, something. Something I've forgotten. Oh, I, no no no. Aaah. Oh. No not that either. Oh. [SHOUTING!] Oh noooo ... Amy Pond. Your name is Amy Pond. Amelia Jessica Pond. Amy! (to Rory) She can't hear us. (SHOUTING AGAIN!) You have to hear us. You were born in Scotland! In 1989. You're married to Rory. Your parents are Augustus and Taba ... oh of course they are! Grrrr. Amy! Amy!

The blue light stops. AMY drops to the floor like a rag doll.

THE DOCTOR and RORY try to approach her, but the weather continues to hold them back as they barely keep themselves standing, holding on to the guard rail for dear life.



Suddenly, Amy sits bolt upright, her eyes as certain as they've ever been. She looks at the ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROLS. She stands, her body rigid against the false forces of nature that whip against her body. THE DOCTOR and RORY watch her figure from a distance as it seems to walk with superhuman strength.

Amy don't! The controls are live. They're only low levels shocks but cumulatively the radiation ... let me ...

Amy! Please!

There's nothing ... aaah ...

AMY, her face determined but wincing with pain, makes the necessary adjustments to the environmental controls. The rain stops. Then the wind. The fog lifts. Already THE DOCTOR and RORY are approaching their travelling companion who turns and curiously gives them a broad grin.

I'll be with you in a minute ... ooh I'm going to miss this accent ...

Suddenly the peace is shattered again as AMY's body VOLCANOES!!! Golden energy blasting out of her head, her arms - beautiful, ferocious she snaps upright, ENERGY BURNING AWAY, fast, gone! And there she is. Blinking. Dazed. The New woman.


Hello sweetie!

Fade Out.


Fade In.


A tiny shuttle is lifting off, its thrusters finally able sustain flight, now that the environmental conditions are back to normal.


Familiar hands expertly work the controls of the shuttle. A small display flashes Autopilot in red LED lettering.

A hand, its fingernails a rouge red, reaches into a handbag. Next to a squareness gun and sits a small pocket watch, which looks infinitely old. The hand clicks it open. There's noting unusual about it, apart from the pretty swirls on the case.

As the interior of the GEMINI STATION is replaced with the dark void of space on the outside of the ship, we see a familiar face reflected in the viewscreen.

It's the older RIVER SONG!

Bye Amy.



on the subject of writing memoirs.

People Short interview with Elizabeth Wurtzel on the occasion of moderating a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival which includes news that she has new book (possibly) coming and this insightful comment on the subject of writing memoirs:
"I think that I try to be careful about other people. I try to keep their lives private. I can’t think of anything in particular, I’m trying to think of something I wish I hadn’t said or done in writing. There are things I wish I hadn’t said or done in real life. When you’re writing a book or an article even, you go through so many drafts and edits and there’s so much time to reconsider everything, I think it’s pretty clear by the time you’re at the final point that you know what you’re doing. So, I can’t think of anything, but there might be other people who wished I hadn’t written something, but I don’t feel that way."
My heart went pop today for the first time in a long while. I'd almost forgotten what it felt like. I'm glad that it's still possible.

Liverpool Food and Drink Festival 2010

Liverpool Food Festival 2010 from the air

Liverpool Life The sun beats down on another Liverpool Food and Drink Festival launch at Sefton Park. The day began earlier than usual, 10:30am (I began queuing half an hour before). Unlike last year when I received what amounted to a free breakfast, there were perhaps understandably given the times we live in, less free samples, but still loads of tasty food at relatively cheap prices.

Desperate to try something new I ended up with old favourites with new twists: sausage on a bun (infused with damson), small pizza folded over (and containing lasagne pasta – both of the major Italian food groups in one), barbecued mushroom and a kind of spinach pie (essentially a free associating tortilla). Big lunch.

The tastiest experience was the cup of earl grey tea I bought from the Brew stall. Brew is the tea shop on Bold Street and they’re employing a contraption by adagio teas called the ingenuiTEA, a pain free infuser, which also means they can offer a wide selection of tastes in the middle of a field.

I was so impressed, I bought one.

The dried tea leaves go into the “jug” to taste. Hot water is poured on top. And we wait. Douglas Adams suggested two or three minutes, but I like mine a bit stronger, so about five minutes. During the process a bit of magic happens. The dark, tinder dry tea regains a bit of its life force and the water fills with actual leaves.

It’s fascinating. Here’s a picture from above, post "pouring":

Tea Leaves

And from the side:


Once the tea has brewed, and this is the other miraculous bit, we place the “jug” on top of the cup and the tea dribbles out of the bottom into the cup/glass/flask/whatever you drink your tea from. Which is all rather more exciting than a mini-sieve or a cage on a chain or indeed a tissue paper bag. I can’t imagine wanting to make a cup of tea another way again.

I have my window open and can hear the festival continuing in the background as I type, at present what sounds like a square dance. I'm taking this break because some things are best enjoyed sparingly (plus I don't want to eat too much). I’ll be back out later for desert ...

Update Apple Tart with custard and cream (ooh) and some mocha and chocolate cake. There's only so much food a human can consume, it seems.