Liverpool Biennial 2010: Kirsty E Smith and Olwen Holland's Blink Unblink at The International Gallery.

Art Not feeling that well and wanting to come straight home after work yesterday afternoon (felt like a man cold but probably tiredness and a touch of hay-fever) I hadn’t planned to stay out for the private view at the International Gallery last night. I’d planned to pop in earlier to say hello, to thank Kirsty E Smith and Olwen Holland for their invite, look at the exhibition and slope home. I had planned that this would happen at about four o’clock and that I would be stepping through my front door for five, slumped in front of the television tutting along with Sue Barker at the lack of organisation in at the Commonwealth Games venues in Dehli by six, followed by the usual disappointed drift towards bedtime.

Four hours later, nearing the end of the private view, I was still there. Kirsty and Olwen were so friendly, so passionate about their work, that once we began chatting hours disappeared. It’s not often that I’ve had the chance to talk to artists in such detail; usually it’s a case of saying something diplomatic if we’re thrown together at a private view or in the space, but I think I learnt more about the trade in this short time than I ever have, from purpose to logistics. So in a blur of conversation, four turned to six, and the private view I wasn’t going to be at with the influx of their friends and family, then six turned to half eight and time to come home.

Olwen Holland has been an artist for ten years and is interested in spaces, the interiors of buildings, rooms, creating three dimensional experiences from two dimensional representations. She’s influenced by the likes of Vermeer and de Hooch, 17th century interior paintings and the subtle lighting they employed to similar effect. This Liverpool exhibit, Aftermaths, is a series of six photographs of the inside of a house, offering an indication of some kind of domestic crisis: a pile of broken crockery in front of a fire in a living room, soiled magazines in a hallway, sea weed in a bath, vines growing in a stairwell (which are serendipitously mirrored by an actual vine growing in the stairwell).

The usual idea is that we tend to remember the good experiences, the good stuff and not dwell on the bad stuff. But actually in our heart of hearts it’s the bad experiences which probably contribute more to the who we are. Like these photographs we often think of them in an abstract way, especially as time goes on, the aftermath, the, as appears in another shot, chandelier that lies broken on the floor. The photographs are like representations of these bad memories and we’re being drawn into them -- physically in one case. A set of wooden steps in the gallery space reappear in the photograph above leading up to a tattered dress hanging in a window (which also fits in with Olwen’s idea of the third dimension).

By a complete contrast, though not necessarily thematically since all the work is an attempt reconnect with memory, are Kirsty E Smith’s sculptures. Rather like the Tony Cragg pieces, they’re almost impossible to describe accurately. You really have to see them. Tall Legs is an upholstered white box, fitted atop a set of table legs which when you put your hand in offers a very sensual experience due to the mohair lining (she likens it to the orgasmatron from Woody Allen’s Sleeper) and they’re all like that, objects that are both familiar and totally unfamiliar at the same time and we spend half that time trying to work out how they were constructed.

My favourite, is Hyacinth, a kind of foot stool built about a biscuit tin with pink cushioned legs and interior with feathers sprouting from the lid. But what catches the eye is that this is an old biscuit tin with a needlepoint patterns printed on the top and sides which include aphorisms which exemplifies the two elements which seem most important to Kirsty. That they’re constructed with the utmost quality control, no half measures and that the story of their production is almost as important as the object. She attended a cabinet making course just so that she’d know how to construct Rachel, a small wooden cabinet on springs then spent many hours making sure that the brass rail on the curtain that attached to the top fit her exacting dimensions.

Those four paragraphs are a barely adequate synopsis of everything we talked about, though I suspect I did rather a lot droning/interrupting. This was just a thoroughly enjoyable evening, the kind of evening I should have more often involving conversations about the logistics of collecting seaweed, black and white films set in the Outer Hebrides and I’m properly challenged about what I’m doing with my life by near strangers. It’s true; so rarely am I asked what I do, a question which these days doesn’t always mean “where do you work?”, I don’t have or didn’t have a clear answer or at least one that doesn’t require various qualifications or even the odd non sequitur (I don’t, I’m a mess, really). So between munching twiglets and and knocking back grape juice, I probably learnt a lot about myself too.

Blink Unblink continues at The International Gallery until 23rd October and is open Tuesday to Saturday 2pm - 7pm.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Raymond Pettibon at the 107 Wood Street Garage.

107 Wood Street Garage.

Art Somehow I've now contrived to miss Raymond Pettibon's video piece Sunday Night and Saturday Morning three times.

The first was on press day, at around lunch time. Not really knowing what I was looking for, I walked the length of Wood Street before stumbling on one of the wolf signs, which sadly was pointing in the wrong direction and led me up some stairs into what turned out to be the back end of a restaurant, almost bumping into a waitress who was just setting up for the day.

"Hello." She said nonchalantly as though it was usual for people to almost bump into her in this way through the service entrance.

"Oh hello." I said, "I was look for something Biennial related."

She regarded me blankly.

"The Biennial. Liverpool Biennial?"

She shook her head. I produced my catalogue and prodded the cover probably more emphatically than was required.

"This is a restaurant." She said simply.

She was right. It was a restaurant. Not a garage.

I made my apologies and left and told the Biennial staff at the visitors centre about the sign which they promised to check.

The second was at the close of a very long day visiting Biennial venues, the day of Liverpool Cathedral. I was very pleased to have finally found the place given my at best amateur approach to a sense of direction, but less so when I realised just how much I'd lost track of time, that it was closing and there wouldn't be time to watch the hour long film what with the palpable sense of people wanting to go home.

The third was today, when I headed up the gravel footpath with plenty of time and well fed, focused, keen. I sat in one of the directors style chairs in the space daubed with pictures of animals, only for a loud drilling noise to appear from somewhere. The volunteer explained that the "venue" had been closed for health and safety reasons, the racket presumably the work being carried out so that garage will stay standing until November. Not able to hear the film, I left. Again.

Thank goodness the Biennial is so long. Still plenty of time. Edging ever closer.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Jason Jones's Between Presence and Absence in John Lewis at Liverpool One.

John Lewis at Liverpool One

Art The new John Lewis is departmentally confusing. It's not always obvious which sale person works within which product area, or for that matter where on product area ends and another begins. So when I approached some staff members asking about Jason Jones's exhibition, which is advertised as being in the furniture department neither had a clue what I was talking about. Then, as they took me to the actual furniture department, it became apparent I had, at first, been standing in soft furnishings.

My confusion was also due to expecting a fairly typical exhibition space on the shop floor when, as the manager then went on to explain (because it's not clear from the information leaflets dotted about the shop) that Jason Jason's works are in small picture frames and arranged carefully about the surfaces of tables and sideboards and bookcases within the department, almost imperceptibly because they're largely indistinguishable from the interior design highlights John Lewis has in stock.

That's not meant as a backhanded criticism, because in the explanation, Jones implies that in displaying the images, inkjet prints on Hahnemuhle paper, within this setting he was keen to remove the pictures from the preconceived notions that might be imposed on them by appearing in an art gallery space (Jones is currently the curator/manager of the Cornerstone Gallery so will have experienced this first hand) and that he wanted them to be discovered by people who might not necessarily have been expecting to greet an artwork in this context.

Between Presence and Absence, then, is a series of untitled images of furniture from a range of periods (though in the post-modern age, design periods are dropped one on top of the other of course) isolated in various spaces always with the impression that man (or woman) was here and may return. With their muted colours and disarray they're not unlike the shots of a city in the aftermath of disaster, man made or otherwise. What is the meaning of a chair if it's not going to utilised?

After viewing as many as I could find, I asked the sales assistants if any of their regular customers had tried to buy them. After eventually convincing them that I wasn't asking if I could buy them (the condusion, perhaps, because they've not used to having something this tangible in the department that doesn't have a barcode) they told me no, not that they knew of, none have turned up at the till. Just this once there isn't a direct correlation between art and commerce.
About Well, this was bound to happen some time. A review of this blog and luckily, a nice review. Thank you Leon and Jamie.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Ted Riederer's Never Records at Binary Cell.

Binary Cell

Art Much as I love Spotify, and I do love Spotify, more than some humans, it’s ruined the experience of visiting record shops. Along with Amazon, iTunes or whatever flavour of downloaded mp3 takes your fancy, the ability to instantaneously access almost all music at a usually reasonable price or monthly subscription or both has nullified the verisimilitude of the trip to HMV simply because there doesn’t seem to be a reason to wait. I’m listening to the soundtrack to the film Cracks as I type (spotify link), something which is unlikely to be even available on the shelves at the local shop (not that I’ll be listening much longer, it’s very repetitive being essentially spot music).

But it’s not just the purchasing of music. I’m old enough to remember being able to preview music within the shop before purchase and my parents generation could visit a record shop and rent a booth in order to listen to music (some of which survive at The Beatles Story). That’s the experience that Ted Riederer is attempting to recreate within this newly refurbished space on Seel Street which will become a new music and culture venue (or multimedia hub) once the Biennial has completed. Never Records is an old style music shop of the kind which still just about exists in some areas - see Vinyl Exchange in Manchester (which yes I do still frequent on principle).

There are essentially two main threads to the installation that go to the heart of what the record buying experience used to be. One block of wooden racks has dozens of commercial LPs from the 80s and 90s with large sections of their cover blanked out apart from a single word, and by flicking through them we’re able to access a range of aphorisms and poetry, replicating the act of searching for music. But this is also what the artist calls a “not for profit” shop. Riederer invited a range of local musicians to visit and record their stuff for no fee and a single copy of that work has been placed within the racks which the visitor is encouraged to listen to with a little help from the resident invigilator.

Never Records: Sami and Stef Rose

After minutes spent trying to make decision (we’ve talked before about the evils of choice) I selected this recording by Sami and Stef Rose with its intriguing secret German bonus track which the volunteer placed on a deck on the counter at which sat. We stood listening to the record together, an acoustic bit of nu-folk which he thought was close to Belle and Sebastian but with later reflection is a bit poppier. The secret German bonus track was some prose powerhouse that neither of us could translate. Afterwards the record was put back into the racks ready for the next person.

A couple of weeks ago on his BBC Radio Five Live show, Mark Kermode noted that the problem with the proliferation of film and the production line nature of presentation in multiplexes means that the original process of showing a film in which the cinema was almost performing the work to its audience by projecting it has been lost. On this occasion, the act of putting on the record in these circumstances felt like it was being performed, with the two of us as audience members which makes it just as valid an experience as seeing some kind of unrepeatable live performance (unless we ask to hear it again).

I imagine for any kids who visit Never Records, the experience will be about as historically relevant as the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, Western Approaches or the Jorvik Viking Centre (though hopefully just as interesting). But as an artwork, and a reminder of our cultural heritage, and an experience, Never Records is very special indeed. Though of course I made a mental note to check the web later to see if any of Sami and Stef Rose's other music is available online and of course they have a myspace page and the songs I listened to are on YouTube, which spoils things a tiny bit. But not too much since they're rather good.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: An Encounter with Culley at Leo Casino.

Leo Casino


"Hello. (cautiously) Are you a member?"
"No. I'm hear to see the exhibition."
"I'm sorry I don't know what you're talking about, sir."
"Oh. Um, it's in the leaflet. Let me find the leaflet."

I fumble about in my bag. It's the end of a long day trawling through the Biennial and I have many, many leaflets. No sign. I look again and find it hidden in the pages of my BBC Music Magazine special on The Great Composers.

I turn to the relevant side and give the red Independents leaflet to the receptionist-come-security guard. He scrutinises the entry at the bottom of the page.

"Oh, Derek Culley." I notice a pile of business cards on the counter.
"Right sir." He turns and opens a visitor book. "Can I ask you to sign this? And I also need to advise you of the fire assembly point, which is ..." He points to the end of the building as he explains.

I write my name in the visitor book. After my name, under all of the other entries which say "member" I put "visitor". I pause. What reason to give for visiting? "Art" I write quickly.

He thanks me. He tells me the paintings are upstairs, at which point I notice staircase, a tall windy affair that wouldn't have looked out of place on Titanic. I ask him about toilets. They're upstairs too.

Upstairs turns out to be the main casino room. Roulette and dice tables. I feel out of place, uneasy, especially in my jeans and black jumper with the sleeves that are too long for my arms. Danny Ocean always wore a suit. After taking a look at the gorgeous view of the Mersey from the massive window which fills one side of the building I seek out the paintings which are strewn on the cushioned surfaces of each of the other walls.

Derek Culley paints in an abstract style and in contrast with the setting his brush strokes and choice of colours are very deliberate, not by random chance. Most of the canvases are in bright fluorescent colours, though my favourite is a moodier piece in which a swirls of yellow bush stokes mask the shape of a tree trunk against a black background. It reminds me of a still from one of the 70s New York animations that Rolf could show as a special alternative to Warner Brothers on his cartoon club or as a buffer on Take Hart.

Before too long I feel like I'm outstaying my welcome; I'm not a member, after all. So I head down the stairs and through the lobby again then exit onto the Dock Road, stopping only to pick up a business card from the counter on the way out.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Amanda Griffiths' Taming Smoke at the Lady Chapel in Liverpool Cathedral

The Lady Chapel at Liverpool Cathedral

Art With so much to see, and so little time to write, I'm inevitably going be talking about exhibitions which have been and gone. Sorry. Amanda Griffiths' Taming Smoke ran from 4th to 29th September at the back of the Lady Chapel, on window ledges and what must be candle ledges and tables most at about torso height. Unlike the Tony Cragg sculptures in the well with their contrasting materials, these smoke fired ceramics were entirely in-keeping with the setting, the grey surfaces coinciding beautifully with the sandstone walls.

The choice of venue wasn't random. In the information leaflets left in a basket with the display, Griffiths described how her great grandfather, a Welsh stone mason, worked on the building at the turn of the twentieth century, dying sadly of a chest related illness at the age of thirty-six. She hoped that "the placement and containment of my work (would) reflect the atmosphere evoked by the venue of this exhibition". It certainly did that, and it was impossible not approach it without some kind of reverence.

Griffiths's interest is in creating variety from uniformity. She manufactures a series of standard shapes -- tubes, cones, vases filled with slots, small round platters or "fipples" and balls with only the pigmentation generated through wax and dying techniques to differentiate them. Then, playing with this pottery meccano set, the artist goes about arranging them to produce each new object with highly descriptive titles like Enamel Pots, Pierced Rings, Titled Rings or Lifted Ring (the leaflet included an inventory of the sections).

She says she's influenced by La Corbusier amongst others and that's most obvious in the arrangement of the parts; Connecting Pots in which three pots stand parallel to one another, a fipples slotted between is reminiscent some of the architect/designer's later house schemes, perhaps Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp. She mentions Andy Goldsworthy too; his approach to produce temporary installations in locations for which the only subsequent record is a photograph. Griffiths photographs her work at beaches and in sea scapes

But the first thought that entered my head was how alien they were, like musical instruments or cooking utensils from some offworld culture the use of which our xenoanthropologists might take decades to unscramble. Balanced Segment, a half moon tube shape kept from falling over by wooden stick through a hole at its summit could even be both, the alien presumably having two mouths, one for each end. It's almost like nothing you've ever seen before.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Kris Martin at The Black-E

Art With some of my favourite works in the Biennial, like the Laura Belem and like the Do Ho Suh, like The Marxism Room, half of their worth, what makes them so exciting, is the surprise, the unexpected, of reality momentarily shifting about the viewer to take in this incongruous object, as though some element of a Douglas Adams novel has been turned on or off, The Infinite Improbability Drive (on) or the Someone Else's Problem field (off).

Which is why with even greater vigour then even my regional art gallery visits, I'm attempting as best I can not to know too much about each of the art works and venues in the Biennial before I'm standing right in front of them or stepped through the relevant doorways. The only preconditioning I'll allow myself is what's on where and when.

I knew there was something at The Black-E, something spectacular. Last time I visited it was still called The Blackie, and as I approach the venue, so ignorant am I of what I'll find, I try to enter through what may now be the back entrance. So convinced am I that this would be the way in, despite all evidence to the contrary, I took a picture of it ready for this resulting blog entry. Here is the picture I took of it for this resulting blog entry:

The Black-E back entrance

The entrance, you'll be unsurprised to hear, was locked.

I glance again at my catalogue to make sure that I haven't misunderstood and no, I haven't misunderstood, this is an official Liverpool Biennial 2010: "Touched" venue.

I step back down the ramp and onto the street and begin working my way around the walls of the building as closely as I can before realising that the doors at the front, which have otherwise been closed whenever else I've passed by The Black-E before (most recently to show my visiting friend Annette the Banksey on the derelict building nearby) are gaping wide open:

The Black-E front entrance

I gingerly (well gingerly for me) make my way up the steps.

Inside sits a Biennial volunteer in an empty, round stone room ringed by stairs onto a balcony, with some doors at the back. An A4 temporary sign points towards the toilets.

I glance about hoping for some clue as to what I'll be seeing.

"Biennial?" I ask. I've asked a similar question before at other similarly unlikely venues. It's that kind of festival.
"Yes." He agrees.
"Where's the um ..." The use of the non-word "um" obviously a substitute for anyone of a number of synonyms for art.
"Look up."

I look up and I'm startled to find the tip of a giant sword pointing directly at me.

Suddenly knowing possibly subconsciously how Jason felt when faced with Colossus, I jump backwards. Unlike Jason, who threw a spear at it, I laugh. Loudly. A lot.

"It's a sword." I say rather obviously.

Kris Martin's Mandi XV is a massive up-scaled medieval cruciform sword and this is the first time that it has been hung in quite this way. It weighs about a ton and a half and the domed ceiling of the building has had to be reinforced to take the weight, the weapon held in place by steel wire. It doesn't move, though I wonder later what happens in high winds, if it's too heavy to wobble.

In theory I was in no danger, then. But if you step up on to the balcony to take a closer look at the blade, see your haunted face reflected in it, it's impossible not to feel as though it has the capacity to judge, that if someone it really doesn't like blunders unknowingly underneath like I did, all the safety precautions in the world won't stop it from fulfilling its symbolic, Damoclesian duty.

The reviewer at All My Colours speaks at greater length about its metaphoric properties. That the thread that holds it is a reminder of the potential threat of terrorism or global destruction we're under. That because it's in a public place, the sound of Liverpool breaking in through the doors as our eyes drift upwards towards the hilt, it suggests that everything we do is a risk, even "crossing the road or driving a car".

The title "Mandi" is from a colloquial Italian terms meaning "goodbye" which developed from the clauses mano (hand) and dio (god). An earlier work in the series, Mandi III, is a blank train arrivals and departures board that turns endlessly, presenting neither. Now I know why I feel ever so slightly melancholic when the electronic board breaks down at Merseyrail stations. It's usually always good to know where you're going, and that you'll go safely.

sell out

Ballet Or rather the music of Star Wars through the magic of dance:

Honestly George, fuck 3d. Give us a reinterpretation of the entire saga as ballet/opera combo. Bryn Terfel as Qui-Gon Jinn and older Obi-Wann (everyone would have to double up), Renee Fleming as Shmi and Mon Mothma, Anna Netrebko as Padmi and Leia, with the dancers recreating the space battles. Jonathan Miller directs, Julie Taymor does the costumes. It would sell out for decades [via].