Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Museum of Liverpool (17)

Art Goodness know what the attendant at the Museum of Liverpool thought as I approached him this morning with my hands around either side of my face, jumper cuffs wrapped around my fingers. He certainly didn’t seem to react. Indeed it seemed as though it was something he saw everyday. When I asked him where the Biennial “thing” was, he simply smiled, walked me to the end of the display area and pointed: “Next to those lads” he said. I thanked him and carried on walking forward, the cuffs enclosed as far across my face as was possible for me to see where I was going through the slit.

This bizarre behaviour was prompted by the fact that despite it having been open for a year or two, despite it being the newest iteration of what was one of my favourite museums (of Liverpool Life), despite it being about my city, I hadn’t visited yet. Because permanent displays can only be visited once, I’ve been putting it off, then putting it off, then putting it off again, my future plan to visit the venue slowly, one display at a time. That will happen. It’s still to come. Once the Biennial’s over, I’m hoping to complete this other project and then to approach the museums not in Edwards book. It’ll be like Ian Visits for the North West.

This project meant I’d need to visit now and I didn’t want to see too much, hence my attempt to only see what I’d come to see. I think I mostly succeeded, though the methodology must have looked very strange indeed, mostly otherwise consisting of looking at the floor, furtive glances and at one point, a random dart to the left as I realised was going to be slap bang in the middle of something amazing, accompanied by me squawking “Not yet, not yet, not yet.” Unfortunately, the “thing” I’d come to see was in the middle of a much larger display but I just about managed to keep my attention on it, despite the many distractions.

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The “thing” is a cake. Well, no to be more specific it’s A Piece of Cake - 2 Up 2 Down/Homebaked, an architectural model with icing which makes it look like a cake, presumably because a real cake would be difficult to preserve in the warm atmosphere of the warm gallery over the extended display period of the Biennial and beyond. Unless it is a real cake. I’m not sure. Either way it’s an impressive sculptural work, even if, as it’s displayed here, against a wall in a perspex box, it’s difficult to see properly without crouching and craning. While I was there, most people didn’t pay it much mind, more interested in the giant heat pad on the wall next door were people can temporarily leave their hand print.

The model recreates the plans for the refurbishment of Mitchell’s Bakery, the soon to re-open business in Anfield. The artist, Jeanne van Heeswijk, was commissioned to work with the local community whose lives have been blighted by well meaning urban renewal which ignored their needs in favour of a government run programme. The 2Up 2Down project has been about putting the future of the neighbourhood back in the hands of the people who live in that neighbourhood, with architects like Urbed designing an alternative to the demolition projects of recent years, with affordable housing and the remodelling of this shop and terrace.

I’ll probably have an even better idea of what they’ve achieved when I visit the bakery next week (hopefully). Accompanying the “cake” is pair of headphones and an audio introduction to the history of the project offered by someone called Carl (“That’s Carl with a C not with a K”). He’s an affable presence, simplistically but clearly putting the wilful lack of interest from those outside the area as to what the people within that area actually wanted (based on a range of assumptions of the kind we Liverpudlians are becoming used to) in the jovial style of the kinds of audio guide that used to appear in the old Museum of Liverpool Life.

The audio is a version of a tour that is being offered to Biennial visitors to Anfield at weekends (which I’m sadly going to have to miss due to working every weekend) (I’m missing all of the Biennial weekend events for the same reason) (sigh). Laura Davies talks about the experience in today’s Daily Post and offers plenty of information about who Carl is, the source of his script and a few things I actually wish I didn’t know now. I certainly wouldn’t read it before visiting and listening to what he has to say because you’ll hear it with different ears and I was quite happy with the romance.

As a piece of art, I really like Heeswijk's synecdoche-like model.  There aren't many artworks which represent place where its made, which evokes the very "things" which are created inside.  It's a self-portrait of sorts but in which its a business and all of its underlying beliefs represented in an example of what it manufactures which also expresses physically what it is, can be or will be.  Presumably there are other examples of factories creating models of themselves, but there's also something poignant about seeing a symbol of renewal within a museum which has also regenerated itself.

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