Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Lime Street Station (24)

Art On entering Lime Street Station, I approached a Network Rail employee and asked him where the Biennial “stuff” was. Having been through the station a couple of times since the 15 September (which is ok under my secret public art rule) I’d failed to notice the Jiri Kovanda piece which was mentioned under Cunard Building in the booklet.

He explained that it was on the wall adjacent to the clock above WH Smiths. Then he suggested I give feedback to the Biennial (at this point I presume you’re sick of me) because the other piece, “something to do with people kissing” hasn’t been there, and they’ve been watching out for it from dawn until dusk and “loads of people have asked”.

Glancing at the booklet, I think I see what the problem is. The “Kissing Through Glass” piece is at the Cunard Building. The Lime Street piece is listed underneath with its location printed next to it in brackets and if you weren’t paying attention you could assume they were both in the station, as many people evidently have.

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Jiri Kovanda's piece provokes. It provokes me to pondered when the last time someone who isn’t a relative said “I Love You” to me. Never, I think. Not in a romantic way, not in the Hugh Grant at the Southbank or Billy Crystal at a New Year’s Eve party way. Or even in passing. Never.

That’s quite an admission, I’m sure. Probably not what you were expecting to read and not what I was expecting to type here. But after looking at Kovanda’s piece, “I Love You”, two giant piece of plastic sheeting with the words “I Love You” on them in English and Czech, I couldn’t help thinking back. No, never been said.

There might have been one occasion when it was said platonically, I think, in a sisterly way, not that I have a sister, but I think you know what I mean. I expect there are some life experiences some people are not meant to have, or at least not meant to have early in their lives. For me, pushing thirty-eight, this is one of mine.

The booklet text suggests it's meant to offer “psychological comfort and emotional shelter for the viewer, unconditionally”. You might argue that in my case, given what you’ve just read, the opposite is true, that it’s just been a reminder of what I haven’t had and that there’s not much comfort in that.

But here’s something that did happen.

At the bottom of each of the sheets is the artist’s name and a set of numbers with a plus sign in front of them. I quickly deduced this was a phone number, each digit about a foot tall.

I phoned it.

Now, in my defence of the following, I assumed that since it was one of the most public places in Liverpool it would be a recorded message, an extension of the work into a more private setting. At first, because of the structure, I even thought it was a London landline, until I realised the plus sign meant an international dialing code.

First time, it rang with no answer, and with a long drawn out ringtone I didn’t recognise. The second time, someone picked up. The following paraphrases a bit.

“Hello.” They said.
Oh, um. I thought.  Um.
“Oh, hello.” I said.
“Hello.” They repeated.
I didn’t know quite what to say, so I asked the most obvious question:
“Is that Jiri Kovanda?”
“Yes.” They said.
Oh, um, urr. I thought.
“Oh, um, urr.” I said.
There was a pause. I was speaking to the artist. What could I possibly …
“Hello! I’m standing in Lime Street Station in front of your art piece.”
“I’m sorry?”
“I’m standing in Lime Street Station in front of a sign with your name and telephone number on it which says I love you. I just wanted to say that I love you too.” I shouted. I may have gesticulated.
“I’m sorry” he said, “My English is …”
“Oh. Right, um.” I continued, I was in the moment. “That is Jiri Kovanda?”
“I’m in Liverpool. I’m standing in front of your …”
“Oh, yes, hahahaha.” He laughed.
“Yes! How are you?”
”I’m ok. I’m in Madrid installing an new installation.”
“Excellent.” I was babbling a bit by this point. I may have told him I loved him again.
Then I asked:
”Have many people have phoned you?”
“I’m sorry, I …” He repeated that he didn’t understand me. Which was probably for the best.
“Oh, ok. Well you take care. Bye.”  I said abruptly.
“Bye.” He said.

Was I really speaking to the artist? I don’t know. It does seem strange that if he is Jiri Kovanda, that what must be his mobile phone number is up in such a public place.  Perhaps its his office number.  I wonder if anyone else has phoned him? I wonder if it was supposed to be part of the work? I’m presuming not on both counts.

I also expect he’d become a bit pissed off if we all phoned him on mass which is why I’m not printing his phone number here. But honestly I thought it was either going to be fake telephone number or a link to a recorded message. I didn’t think I’d end up harassing the gentleman. If you’re reading this and know Kovanda, do apologise for me. Please.

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