Liverpool Biennial 2010: Media Landscape: Zone East in the basement of the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre. Continued.

Media Landscape: Zone East in the basement of the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre.

Art Part of the City States strand, the show gathers together artists from across the Far East, twelve different countries to demonstrate that right now it's impossible to catagorise media art, that like so many of disciplines the barriers have broken down and that artists no longer feel constrained in how they project their vision (other than money but let's not talk about that on today of all days). Most of the work appears on plasma screens, though there are some projections and nearly all require the use of headphones which means that the interaction is mostly one to one or two which makes the experience rather more intimate than at most venues at the Biennial featuring video art.

As I hope was conveyed in yesterday's post about the Silas Fong piece, this basement exhibition is filled with unexpected delights, not least the venue itself which as you can see from the photo above is a black hole in comparison to the bright light of the usual white cube spaces and far more atmospheric. Visually similar to the Cavern Club, it's also rather like a Christmas Grotto for adults, but instead of a recreation of Santa's factory or an unlicensed Disney tale, we have a collection of thematically complex stories and other rather magical fancies most of which work best without much prior knowledge, pinioned as they are on the moment when we realise what's happening, what the piece is about.  I'm about to spoil just two of the pieces.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Silas Fong's Stolen Times for Sale at Media Landscape: Zone East in the basement of the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre.

Media Landscape: Zone East in the basement of the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre.

Art Just when you assume that you’ve seen everything there is to see online, you stumble upon the YouTube lift collectors and realise that it will never end. The YouTube lift collectors (or whatever collective noun they might go under) gathers on their profiles hundreds and hundreds of recordings of themselves travelling in lifts, all of them almost exactly the same, the only obvious difference being the location.

Some admittedly have a historic interest (see above) but most contain a near identical mix of glass and steel (see below). Over and over we hear the name and make of lift and location as they initially rush through the doors (information which is then diligently replicated in the title of the video). We watch as they select a floor, hesitating long enough to show a clear view of the buttons. We see a shot of the closed doors, perhaps accompanied by some commentary. Then the doors open again at the destination.

Their motivation must be similar to bus or train spotters of which there are many too on YouTube, or else they’re in competition, who can upload the most to the web, catch them all? The videos span the globe, lifters (?) in countless countries collecting, though it’s also a tragic reminder of how the whole world is turning into a giant urban landscape, millions of lifts taking humanity, upwards, then downwards.

But what struck me on discovering the phenomena, especially as I also scrutinise the Biennial, is how, if these videos were being projected in an art gallery, perhaps strung together in a collection running for minutes or hours, we visitors wouldn’t bat an eyelid; we’d spend minutes indeed pondering the very issues I’ve just discussed in the previous landscape, of man dehumanising his habitat.

That's what Silas Fong has tapped into in Stolen Times for Sale currently displaying on an upturned plasma screen at the Media Landscape: Zone East show in the basement of Novas. From what we can gather the artist has set up a camera outside a lift which, on remote control, stops and opens its doors so that he can film the reaction of passengers who did not request this floor.

Over and over we watch as doors open, the people peer out, then select their intended floor again and the doors close. It’s compulsive especially when the lift is full and a dozen sets of eyes all boggle with surprise on seeing us (or as is more probable the camera lens now pointed in their direction), eleven sets of eyes then momentarily glancing at the person nearest the buttons.

As the title implies, the artist is stealing moments from these lives as he pulls them out of the natural progression of their day; there may be cause and effect even, these could be the vital seconds that later lead them to missing a bus or train, extending the stolen time. That’s more noticeable when the passenger is focused on reading or texting or daydreaming and it takes even longer for them to react to the lift stopping.

In some respects it’s not too far away from Trigger Happy TV or its ancestor Candid Camera in capturing the reaction of the great mass of us when thrown into an abnormal situation. As ever, it’s all about intent. If someone declares themselves to be an artist – and as in Fong’s case has an international reputation then the work they display is art (with due respect to Joseph Beuys).

Plus, the video doesn’t just exist in a single form. The artist has genuinely sold these seconds at previous exhibitions, supplied to the visitor on disc, with a price based on various factors such as duration. Though the version at Novas is uncut, this YouTube upload includes captions that show which moments have previously been claimed:

I’m reminded of the original commercialisation of film, in which Mitchell and Kenyon and their contemporaries would pitch their camera in front of a factory or at some event and then hand out flyers coaxing their subject to come and see themselves on screen at a special show that evening. Except in this case, it’s strangers buying portions of other strangers lives. Shouldn’t they be receiving a cut of the profits?

Until 20th November.

Sight and Sound Magazine's Film of the Month. A list.

Film Every month since 1998, Sight and Sound Magazine have singled out one film a month for a longer form review. The feature, originally The Main Attraction but now called Film of the Month, tends to highlight a work that might not otherwise receive mainstream recognition, especially at times when a single film otherwise dominates the box office (unless in the case of something like Star Wars or Saving Private Ryan they've clearly decided that it's a cultural phenomena that requires comment).

In an effort to continue my film education and add some eclectic variety to what I'm watching, I decided to work my way through anything they've recommended which I've haven't yet already bumped into. Problem. No canonical list available, at least not all in one place. This is slowly building but doesn't stretch too far. And so I decided to make one, ploughing through their website and my back issues, and I present it to you after the link. I hope you find it useful.  Each year's worth of selections is listed in date order.  Reviews are available via the search box on the magazine's website.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Hacking your enjoyment.

Art The Guardian's published an "insider's guide to the arts", a kind of cultural life hacker. There are a couple of items which are certainly pertinent to getting the most out of the Biennial:
What's the best way to enjoy an exhibition?

Rain is always useful; it's the perfect weather for introspection. And mid-afternoon, midweek – when it's always nice and quiet.

Jennifer Higgie, co-editor, Frieze magazine
I'd add that it's still a good idea to have some music with you for those times when deep quiet or silence is impossible and you want to block out distractions. Loud classical seems to be best, some exultant Bach or one of the Beethoven symphonies. The problem with rock music is your brain starts making connections that aren't there.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Gareth Kemp and Nick Sykes at Bold Street Coffee.

Bold Street Coffee

Art On the days I've been "doing the Biennial", after much initial humming and harring (due to the usual malfunction in my decision engine), lunch has been taken at the Bold Street Coffee shop, an (as far as I can tell) independent cafe which was built on the rubble of the old Coffee Union.

Having only been open a few months, it still has an eager quality of wanting to please. There's a fascinating production diary here which underscores the many choices the owner had to make in relation to how the coffee would be made and how the fixtures effect the kind of mood that he's trying to create.

I do like the relaxed atmosphere of the place, young yet mature, like the suburban French cafes that appear in the films of the French New Wave (with no smoking). On my first visit, a Jean Seberg lookalike asked me to watch her belongings while she went to the toilet. Aaah romance!

The food is tasty, the ham and mustard sandwich a particular favourite.  I haven't risked the coffee yet, since as we know caffeine and art don't really mix with me.  I don't want a repeat of my shaky lollop through the Whitworth Art Gallery.  What I can say that it's the kind of place that carries copies of Monocle as idle reading material.

It's also a venue for the Independents Biennial and a rather good selection of paintings from Nick Sykes and Gareth Kemp which are well worth seeing if you're in the mood for something a bit existential.  Sykes attempts to create bleak urban spaces, but blurring the shapes to the point of abstraction.

Kemp, who I know from saying hello to at private views and because we worked under the same roof once, has spent several years painting snowy wastelands inspired by a selection of old family photographs employing an unusual approach to composition in an attempt to unsettle the viewer.

Like so many of the works at this Biennial, what both of seem to be attempting is to communicate the more abstract aspects of their memory to the viewer, Kemp obviously more literally than Sykes.  This certainly isn't the kind of identikit prints that coffee shops usually cover their walls with.  Good.