Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Walker Art Gallery (19)

Art My final brush with National Museums Liverpool is the Walker Art Gallery and a reminder of projects otherwise ongoing. It hasn’t escaped by noticed that the last Public Art Collections in North West England I’ve visited was Towneley Hall Art Gallery & Museum in the Summer 2010 (written up in 2011), and it must seem doubly strange to attentive readers that I haven’t yet approached what’s arguably the most local of the venue in Edward Morris’s book, especially since it’s not as though I’m out of the place. That’s because I’m purposefully leaving it to last, making it the finale, because it has such resonance for me and because frankly I know, or at least I think I know the collection so well, it seems fairer to regard the other venues first. Their time will come. Soon. Soon.

* * * * *

Of the Biennial themed works at the Walker, the most accessible, certainly the most iconic in marketing terms is Patrick Murphy’s Belonging. From glancing through his website, we can see that Murphy trades in a large scale interventions and installations in bright colours, sometimes applying new architectural features to buildings or else creating massive projections of simplistic images. His Strata illuminated the windows of a disused council headquarters, perhaps the soberest of architecture in its modernist utility now with all the colours of the rainbow turning it into a cathedral of light both night and day. He's producing a design via web voting.  In promoting Barnsley’s bid to host the 2013 city of culture, he projected an animation of a whippet, a symbol of working class culture to the side of Cannon Hall.

Belonging looks to be a continuation of that and a series of works begun in 2008 featuring birds. For the Biennial, Murphy has produced a hundred and fifty brightly coloured plastic pigeons, which have been distributed across the exterior and interior of the building, most visibly near the main entrance and in the café and shop. Passing through the main entrance you can also hear them hilariously cooing, but just quiet enough that unless it’s pointed out to you, your sensibilities just turn them into part of the audio landscape. Like his whippets, pigeons are another stereotype of northern life, which is odd, because there are just as many in Trafalgar Square as there are anywhere else. But the title is obviously meant to indicate that these are homing pigeons, given sanctuary on this occasion by one of the houses of art.

* * * * *

My love and hate relationship with the John Moores Painting Prize continues this year’s exhibition. I think I can admit now, with two year’s distance I didn’t think much of the previous edition, which is why it ended up being slipped in at the end of the infamous Day One post, apart from it genuinely being the last exhibition I saw that day. This year’s selection is better. There’s certainly more work which seems to have some original thought behind it rather than found its inspiration in the canonical painters, presumably because as one of the judges Alan Yentob explains in an accompanying video at the venue about the selection process, they were looking for work with some original thought behind it rather than found its inspiration in the canonical painters.

Becoming a one man judging panel, the piece I’ve chosen for the people’s vote is Bernat Daviu’s Overall Paintings. It’s displayed near the entrance to the exhibition, presumably because it looks like nothing else in the exhibition and like seeing an amazing actor in a first audition then realising you have three weeks of other candidates who you know won’t be as surprising, I knew it would be my favourite right through until the end. That’s why the whole process of art in competition is unfair. One person’s sensibilities may be a photo realistic imagine of a war zone or another’s the silhouettes of a police riot team painted on the side of a coke can or another person might love the reproduction on canvas of a typed letter from an artist to himself commission the creation of the work for the competition.

But none of them have the bare faced cheek of submitting what amounts to a sculptural work to a painting price which has traditionally, predominantly been two dimensional. Liz Elton’s Twisted could equally be put in that bracket, but as the artist explains in her notes (an edited version of the catalogue is available as a pdf), that’s the remains of what was really a performance piece utilising what we must assume was a relatively traditional work. Daviu has created something which has to be hung from a clothing rail on the wall of the gallery, making it an installation too. It might not be my favourite John Moores selection ever, but it’s certainly one of the most perverse. As I stood in front of it, I imagined Yentob grinning and stroking his beard and considering if he could convince the BBC to let him have an hour of imagine... to justify their decision.

What we have here is three brightly coloured painted boiler suits hanging from wooden coat hangers. There’s a yellow one, a red one and a blue one and they’re arrange in a haphazard way as though they've been left behind by workers at the end of a day. At first I thought they really were boiler suits, but the information card indicates we’re “simply” looking at acrylic on canvas which indicates they’re unwearable clothing created using an artist’s traditional trade tools. There’s not much more to them other than the choice of colours which bespeak of old posters and old printing methods which were incapable of producing realistic shades. This is rather a dirty yellow of the kind which would appear when inks from darker colours had accidentally bled in on a newspaper advertisement.

The artist explains in his statement that in his paintings, he reduces everything to their most abstract forms which he sometimes later turns into garments. Daviu’s chosen this form because “both the Monochrome and the boiler suit are emblems of the Modernist utopian project in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution (1917), in which art was to become a functional and practical tool for the construction of a new democratic society. The Overall Paintings represent historical relics of a previous era, as well as pictorial symbols open to performative interpretations.”  In other words, contrary to the prevailing mood, the artist has chosen a historical perspective. Another artist might have taken the easier to decode option of simply painting them all bright orange, but instead it’s an abstract painting glancing back a hundred years for its inspiration.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
World Museum (18)

Art To the Horseshoe Gallery at Liverpool’s World Museum (so called because internally it’s shaped like a horseshoe) (it even has curvy walls), where an abbreviated version of Liverpool’s Central Library has taken up temporary residence during the refurbishment of its usual building next door. With so many other books to read at home and, yes, with the ubiquitousness of texts in general it’s quite some time since even I’ve visited a local authority library, despite have a BA in the profession. Yes, I’m one of those people who champions the importance of libraries but rarely borrows books from them. Nevertheless, I made use of it yesterday, finally reading the afterword to Gareth Robert’s adaptation of Douglas Adams’s Doctor Who story Shada, which was inexplicable missing from the audio reading.

*     *     *     *     *

The exhibition housed in the small exhibition space just before the library begins is an example of the broken narrative, which has crept out of visiting these venues in numerical order. Seeing the cake version of Mitchell’s Bakery before visiting its bricks and mortar counterpart is probably the correct order. Visiting Everton Park and trekking to Fritz Haeg’s Foraging Spiral before seeing the introductory exhibition would be the wrong order, though in truth the video about Haeg’s piece is just one small portion of a larger display by New York's James Corner Field Operations about the past and future of Everton Park, a Park for the People. This mainly consists of freestanding display boards with conceptual designs for future utility of the park.

The project shares some of the same aims as the work being done in Anfield, or wrestling back into community choice a change in the area applied through outside forces, in this case the militant tendency in the Liverpool City Council of the 1980s demolishing a part of the area to make way for a city park. As with Haeg’s landscaping endeavours, there’s an overall aim of providing, through the park, to quote the Biennial booklet, “a destination for residents and tourists alike”. The display boards break this down into a series of concepts for turning the park into a cultural meeting place, a place for festivals and most extraordinarily, tying in somewhat to the Spiral, a kind of incubator for the city, for introducing virulent plant life which can go on to populate the rest of Liverpool.

As with Hsieh Ying-Chun’s Re-Live at Exchange Flags, it’s an exhibition which will be of most interest to people who’re directly involved urban architects and Everton residents, but it should at least increase awareness amongst others, especially if they’re passing through on their way to the library. It’s worth noting that when I was travelling out to visit the park itself, the couple of bus drivers I spoke in trying to establish if their route passed by the park denied all knowledge of its existence. One even shrugged “there isn’t an Everton Park”. When I was thinking of the park beforehand I had in mind Stanley Park, which I visited in 2008 in search of a Superlambanana (another project I notice I attempted in numerical order). It has a wikipedia page, but it’s a bit barren, only really noting its location and that is has a “nature garden”.

If nothing else, the exhibition's worth visiting for the panoramic image in the top wall of the view from the park, the rubbish version of which I included in my report the other day. That so many of the city’s landmarks are visible from the park is one of the inspirations for the project. That even if it is in the north of the city it has the potential to be adopted as its central point, its heart. Of course living next to my own perfectly good park with a history which stretches back far longer and with so much important architecture around its circumference, and which influenced the designs of parks elsewhere, I’d mount a solid argument against that. Perhaps if Everton’s park does ascend, it could take responsibility for some of Sefton Park’s louder events. But we’re keeping the food and drink festival.  They’re not having that.

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

Claire Danes cries.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Some notes at this mid-point.

Art  With Exchange Flags I've reached the mid-point of this project or adventure of visiting all the Biennial venues in numerical order.  Well one over, but as we'll see it's a bit of a grey area anyway.  I wasn't going to break into the flow of simply posting venue reviews, but there are a few explanatory things which don't really fit into the structure of those posts and I also wanted an excuse to publish this photo of the interior of Lewis's as it is now.  I had wondered why the old department store hadn't been utilised as the Biennial's base venue, despite its perfect location.  This view of the gutted interior explains everything.

It was taken with my lofi camera phone and that's one of the other rules which has organically developed along the way, that I'd use this lofi camera phone for the illustrative pictures.  No reason really other than convenience.  I always forget to bring my proper camera and it seems easier to have a reason not to be bothered.  In taking these pictures I've also decided not to, as best I can, include images of the work itself.  I like surprises and during the opening weekend had much fun (or not) avoiding rss feeds and Facebook streams filled with photographs of art I hadn't seen yet.

The other rule is, as best I can, to rely on the Biennial booklet as my primary source of information about the work and how to get there.  Which explains why I turned up at the Open Eye Gallery when it was closed, somewhat how I got lost on the way to The Royal Standard and why the Everton Park trip was touch and go.  I think that if you're a tourist visiting the Biennial but who don't know the city, and you don't have an app-enhanced smartphone, the booklet would be your primary source and if the information therein is ambiguous, that's an issue.

The booklet has created a couple of small problems for the project.  Firstly, the "map numbers" don;'t correspond to the numbers on the inside pages.  On the address list and map key, (17) is supposed to be the Museum of Liverpool, but inside it's designated to the World Museum and there's no text to accompany whatever is at the Museum of Liverpool.  On the map, (18) is the World Museum, but inside it's the Walker and so on.  It's a typo probably due to some late editing, but nevertheless.  I've decided to stick to the numbers accompanying the map.

But I'm also in a quandry as to how many official venues there are, how many I need to visit.  The address list offers (27), completing with the Liverpool John Moores University Art and Design Academy, whereas the key on the reverse page concludes with the Static Gallery (30).  Plus the website lists a couple more without numbers, like Headspace @ Eggspace, and many of them are listed because they're hosting an event rather than an exhibition and when they are hosting an exhibition it's not necessarily part of the "official" Biennial, following the Unexpected Guest / hospitality theme.

Most of which shouldn't be seen as a criticism of the Biennial per se, they're simply the vagueries of deciding to attempt another one of these loony, self-defeating projects or adventures.  I expect I'll haunt all the venues up to the (30) and see what's there, then have a look at whatever's left on the website if I've any time left before the close of business on the 25th November.  I am enjoying myself and as in 2010, visiting places like Everton Park I wouldn't otherwise necessarily have a reason to see.  The Museum of Liverpool's next.  Whatever is there, I'm sure it'll be fascinating.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Exchange Flags (16)

Art Apart from Wyatt and Westmacott’s horrific and glorious Nelson Monument at the centre, Exchange Flags will always be synonymous, at least for me, with the magazine programme with the same name broadcast by Granada television in the early 80s, co-hosted by Tony Wilson (so called becase this was the location of regional broadcaster's base of operations).  My memory of the programme is dim, I’d only just entered junior school, but it was one of the few television programmes from which I got a sense of the place where I lived rather than alien worlds like London and Texas. There are odd snatches of it on YouTube. Here’s Dead or Alive being absolutely awful, but worth it for the audience cutaways:

*     *     *     *    *

On a rainy day, Hsieh Ying-Chun’s Re-Live offers welcome shade.  Scattered across Exchange Flags are a number of A-frame shelters designed for use in disaster zones where they can be easily constructed by unskilled people.  They’re not permanent structures, but with their solid metal frames and rigid fabrics, they’re more durable than the average tent and would seem to be capable of withstanding horrors more terrifying than what’s probably a light shower in comparison.  Nevertheless, I can imagine office workers rushing for them in lunch times and breaks when they inevitably become caught in an unexpected downpour.

What they’ll find inside is an exhibition about the artist’s work in areas which have been hit with such disasters, some natural but often political or financial.  He co-operates with the local community to create homes that are biocompatible, sustainable and self-sufficient even to point of training the local people to be able to construct the properties themselves though often there is already a tradition of house-building. On one of the boards, I think it says that 70% of all the housing in the world is created in this way to some degree. Some are grander designs than others, but all share the element of having been built by their owners.

Wandering from frame to frame, there is the potential for information overload as we’re confronted with dozens of photographs of different types of building and short explanations of the kinds of projects being undertaken.  Perhaps the most receptive audience would be an architecture student.  But it’s impossible not be impressed by the demonstration of sheer force of will being exhibited by these disparate peoples not to accept the lot they've been given. Perhaps the most interesting is how in China in areas where concrete has overtaken soil as the main property of the ground beneath people’s feet, they’re making plant life part of the fabric of the buildings instead.

An entertaining old interview with Tracey Emin.

Art The Guardian's G2 supplement is 20 and although its essentialness has ebbed and flowed across the years, there's always, somehow, at least one piece of excellent or thoughtful writing each day be it the main article, one of the columnists or even the radio review. As part of their selection of highlights, they've pointed to this old interview in which Emma Brocke's actually tells Tracey Emin what she thought of her film Top Spot:
"Hey, guess what, yes there is, there's fucking lots of it. Have you seen the film?"
"Do you like the film?"
I like bits of it. And I think bits of it are really slow. I think it drags in the middle.
"Which bit did you think drags in the middle?"
When they're in the museum. And all those seagull shots.
Emin looks as if she'd like to get out a knife and stab me in the head.
"Right. When was the last time you went to the cinema?"
"What did you see?"
Comme une Image (Look At Me).
"Was every bit of it enthrallingly fantastic?"
I wasn't ever bored.
I was aware of being bored when I was watching your film, however.
She takes a big breath. "I REALLY REALLY ... "
Christ. This is horrible."
The best part in this section?  How Emin assumes the reason Brockes doesn't like her film is first because she doesn't like films in general and then because she's not an art house fan, Emma throwing the amazing Look At Me back in her face.  Emin's mellowed in recent years. I wonder what she'd make of her behavior in this interview.  As Brockes says, "what's that got to do with you having made a boring film?"


Books  Apart from contemporary Earth, one Doctor Who’s primary narrative fascinations is the far future and humanity’s part of it.  In the new series we’ve seen the end of the world and the flourishing of a new one in Russell T Davies’s trilogy (The End of the World, New Earth and Gridlock) and even later than that we somewhat know that one portion of the future of humanity will be to have their heads spinning around at the beck and call of the Master (possibly) (it’s not actually clear what happened to the Toclafane by the climax of the Last of the Time Lords).  But a spoilery glance at Ahistory indicates there are plenty of shanigans afoot in these Eighth Doctor novels and these begin with Mark Clapham’s Hope.

Clapham’s approach to the future is of a galaxy in which an enemy (which we might strongly suppose is the Daleks) have wreaked so much destruction that travel between worlds has become impossible and in most cases scraps of what’s left of humanity, or at least the race which has evolved from humanity who aren't lucky enough to be stranded on planets of plenty, eke out a horrible existence short of supplies on worlds like Endpoint, where the oceans are made of acid, supplies are scarce and the air’s nearly unbreathable.  Wanting to test his TARDIS’s functions, the Doctor pushes her to visit this apocalyptic future (“further than we’ve ever been before”) and lands in the city of Hope which on top of its usual problems is experiencing a string of murders.

The author quickly ushers the Time Lord and his pals into a local casino were they meet the town’s civic leader, a cyborg called Silver who runs the town with same beady eyes as Nucky Thompson in Broadwalk Empire, albeit with greater access to technology and hemmed in by the lack of potential growth this society has given him.  The TARDIS having sunk in the ocean, the Doctor agrees to Silver’s proposition that he should investigate the killings, but as with the best of these novels, reasons for the murders are the least of their problems, as they collectively seize disaster from the jaws of victory, Clapham’s straightforward but often quite brilliant writing ruminates on the organic temperament of societies and insidious nature of control.

After a string of experimental novels, it’s refreshing to find a relatively traditional romp, even if it’s capable of a few modifications like the Doctor and his companions finding themselves standing over a body and not being arrested as the potential cause of death.  In Silver we find a relatively traditional megalomaniac without literary pretensions, the whys and wherefores of his existence in this godforsaken town giving what would be an otherwise relatively claustrophobic story, epic scale, prefiguring A Town Called Malice to some degree (the phrase “A town called hope” is even muttered at one point).  But the novel is also structured rather like a nuWho two-parter, the narrative direction changing immeasurably at the half-way point.

This is the spoilery paragraph or two so skip to the last one for other comments of a blander nature.  If I’ve a problem with the novel it’s that I’m not entirely convinced by Anji’s betrayal, especially after what she says in Lloyd Rose’s The City of the Dead about their roles as trusted companions.  Her grief over her boyfriend Dave’s death has been a running thread since Escape Velocity, but so has her growing devotion to the Doctor.  It seems inconceivable that with everything she knows about Silver that she would make the trade she does, despite what he’s offering especially since it’s not her Dave that’s being cloned.  At a certain point I was hoping for a reveal that the Doctor knew all about it, that it was part of a plan to tip Silver’s hand, but none is forthcoming and it feels wrong.

Except there's also a certain ambiguity as to how much the Doctor helps or causes the stress wrought on Hope later in the book.  If he hadn't turned up, would Silver have gained access to the old humans and their technology in order to fulfill his plans for universal domination?  The mistakes Fitz discovers in the sewers seems to suggest that perhaps he might have reached the same point eventually and the Doctor's simply a catalyst but is that good thing?  Also, when Silver's dictatorship does become apparent to the Doctor and his companions, their reaction isn't revulsion but collaboration.  When the Doctor forgives Anji for her indiscretion, is it because he sees his own part in events?  When he finally steps in, it's almost as though the part of his personality which is still the Doctor finally gains supremacy.

All of which said, unlike some of these authors, Clapham clearly loved writing for this iteration of the franchise and its regulars.  He gifts Fitz one of his funniest moments since he appeared in the series when he attempts to impress a girl and it comprehensively backfires.  There are also some lovely Doctorish moments in here, from his and Fitz attempts to lure the murderer out in the open, to his reaction to being faced with another aggressor’s autopsy of him and a poignant moment of forgiveness, which prefigures Father’s Day.  There’s also a fair amount of foreshadowing, especially in relation to the Doctor’s health.  The loss of one his hearts is clearly having a detrimental effect on his well being and for the first time ever, no one but the TARDIS knows it needn't be the death of him.

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
St. George's Hall (15)

Art  As I type this, I’m trying to remember the last time I visited St George’s Hall on Lime Street.  Not just wandered around outside or used the plateau as a short cut to get to the Walker Art Gallery.  My blog suggests it was the last Biennial, in 2010, for the launch, but that can’t be true.  Can it?  The city’s community centre is such an ever-present architectural object, that I’ve assumed that I’m a regular visitor.  Certainly I used to be.  But nope, not been inside since Lewis Biggs Touched us.

Which isn’t to say I really went inside yesterday.  As you’ll see, the hall is hosting a public art piece, but a Biennial A-board outside the entrance with a large white arrow suggested something else was happening inside.  So in I went and found a café where the old reception used to be and a little shop (I like a little shop).  I asked the receptionist.  No, he said, no official Biennial within the Hall but the Independents Biennial does have a display but its closed on Mondays.

I told him about the sign, which I now realised was pointing “up” not “inside”.  I wasn’t the only person to suggest that, he said.  I had a glance around the little shop and exited back onto St George’s Place and as is the routine, took out my Biennial booklet, read the text and tried to decide what to make of whatever had been placed in front of me, accompanied by the soundtrack album to [500] Days of Summer (“They made a statue of us …”).  As I was leaving I noticed: the A-board had gone.

*      *     *     *     *

Although Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson work in a range of media of which neon signs like the one attached to the end of St George’s Hall are just one example, their thematic connections is politics, and more expressively civil liberties.  Another of their installations, Constitution of the Republic of Iceland (2008/11), featured the said documented plastered on the wall of a gallery space along with a video piece featuring an experimental theatre projected based on the same document.

For this Biennial, the artists have followed in the footsteps of similar architectural interventions on Liverpool landmarks (cf, Emese Benczur’s Think About Your Future on The Futurist in 2010) and placed the phrase “The Right To Right” in flashing lights, its final word change to “wrong” after each flash.  It’s eye-catching and certainly visible from as far away outside the shell of what used to be Lewis’s (have a look through one of the open windows next time you’re passing).

It’s a statement and also a question.  What right do we have to rights?  To aid the discussion, the artists have collaborated with philosopher Nina Power, whose talk on the co-modification of the human I attended and loved at the last Biennial, to produce a text chatting around the topic which has been produced as a newspaper available at some venues and is also online here.  I recommend that you read it immediately, though I’ll not pretend I understood more than about 20% of it.

From what I gather, her overall thesis is relatively simple.  We all have rights as human beings.  But good luck finding two people who agree on what those should be, a disagreement not aided by one person always wanting to find some way of restricting another’s rights because they think it’s just common sense, or they have a religious conviction or because they believe it will keep the peace, stop a war, end suffering, that sort of thing.

I don’t happen to think anyone has the right to carry a gun.  But people who have guns in most cases think that they should have the right to carry a gun so that they can defend themselves from other people who also think they have the right to carry a gun and don’t think that the law is a good enough deterrent or set of rules.  In other words, just because I don’t think people should have guns is not enough to stop people from having guns so they’re going to get them anyway, no matter how hard it might be.

I don’t happen to think anyone has the right to tell a woman if she can or can’t have an abortion (just as I think it’s up to any human being to decide what to do with their body).  But there are some people who think that any child, however they’re conceived, has the right to a life, even if the mother’s own life is ruined or the child itself isn’t going to have a decent life themselves.  Both of those decisions are about choice.  Who has the right to choose?

I don’t happen to think that it’s up to people who aren’t gay to tell gay couples whether they can or can’t marry or indeed have any of the same rights as straight couples.  That this remains such a big issue in the 21st century shames us all, especially since the people who are making this an issue are doing it for no other reason other than bigotry and homophobia.  What two people they don’t know want to do with their lives, has to do with them, they can never logically explain.

All of which suggests I’m relatively left wing.  I am relatively left wing.  I hate the right wing.  Whereas the left wing is all about increasing freedom, the right wing always seems to be about creating restrictions.  I’m yet to see a moment in history were a right wing approach hasn’t ultimately been a disaster and the left wing approach hasn’t.  Well, ok, there’s communism, but isn’t that just what happens when something goes so far left it catches itself coming back the other way?

All of which is simplistic to the point of redundancy, but however much of a supporting argument we might want to present, however many quotes, our reaction to events will always be instinctual.  We feel revulsion when a fourteen year old girl is shot in the head for campaigning for her gender to receive the same education as men in her country, but inconsistently that revulsion is shared by people (well, ok, politicians) who want to restrict their own society's children’s access to education in other ways (and do).

But where does all of that leave a neon sign attached to the side of building?  Without Power’s text, would I have had this discussion (such as it is)?  I know that my first reaction was to wonder if the “Right” have the right to be “Right” quickly realising that indeed, that for all the hatred they provoke either through ideological belief or financial convenience they unfortunately do.  Because if we tried to stop them, we’d be just as bad as them.  Why does there even have to a "they"?  Why can't it all just be "us"?

Camille Paglia on Star Wars

Film  Camille Paglia's audio commentary for Basic Instinct is a classic of the form, if the form is free form feminist academia.  Over a decade later, here she is again, this time pronouncing George Lucas "the greatest artist of our time" which is a poke in the eye for Antony Gormley.  Here she is enjoying a tremble in the Dorling Kindersleys:
"The precise draftsmanship, mastery of perspective, and glorification of engineering in these superbly produced books have not been seen since modernist abstraction swept away the great tradition of architectural drawings of the neoclassic Beaux Arts school. In genre, the Cross-Sections books are anatomies, analogous to Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks, with their medical dissections, botanical studies, and military designs for artillery, catapults, tanks, and then-impossible submarines and flying machines."
Bizarrely, when she spends a few paragraphs venerating the Mustafar duel from Revenge of the Sith, she fails to notice or at least mention that it's a different artist, Spielberg, who created the original animatic the sequence was filmed from.  She does call it "a collaborative triumph of modern installation art", which rather puts Lucas in the category as Warhol [via].

Liverpool Biennial 2012:
Everton Park (14)

Art The first thing you notice on entering the Heyworth Street entrance of Everton Park, as directed by the Biennial booklet, is the view. Living at the top of the tower block, I’ve become somewhat used to seeing the geography laid about me as I wake up in the morning and although the Pier Head stretches out in the far distance, it’s Liverpool Cathedral which dominates our skyline (as well as the shiny roof of the massive Tesco on Park Road). Nevertheless as I wandered up the main pathway I was greeted with this:

Or rather the version of this which my own eyes captured rather than the poor camera on my previous generation mobile telephone. From inside the city centre it’s not quite possible to take in just how much the skyline has changed, how these modernist edifices are slowly invading the airspace, and why there might be jitters about the planned increase in office blocks in the Peel Holding’s development, Liverpool’s own equivalent of Paris’s Le Defence. As you can see from this view, that ferry’s probably already sailed and extra edifices would simply add to the uniformity of this visual.

Finding Everton Park was relatively easy thanks to a bus (no.17) from Queens Square and a sympathetic passenger who knew which part of Heyworth Street I needed alight. Finding the art in question was less so. Having entered at the gate far above, the big red banner leading the way, after looking at the view, I wandered around aimlessly in the pouring rain for about half an hour, with only Berlioz’s Te Deum for dramatic company, my only guide the booklet’s taunting photo (taken by old friend of the blog Pete Carr) of gardeners in bright sunlight as a guide.

*     *     *     *     *

Only after doubling back on myself and returning to the entrance did I notice a thin line of cut grass leading up a hill. Taking a chance, and walking slowly so as not to slip over, I edged upwards. At the top I looked down and finally found what I assumed to be Fritz Haeg’s Foraging Spiral with Heyworth Street beyond. Essentially if I’d approached the entrance from the bus stop way before I would have noticed the start of the piece, but because I’d gotten off the stop closest and further up, I’d completely missed it, attracted in by the banner and massive gate.

Haeg’s work was created in partnership with the local residents and collaborators, part of a project the main plans for which are at the World Museum, or will be since for me they’re in the future (18).  There’s plenty about the project at the artist's website, which included an archaeological dig, the planting of this garden and a temporary dome utilised for conversations about the future of the park and area. The Biennial booklet mentions an HQ, but since I couldn’t see anything else on my visit, I’m assuming that’s the temporary dome of which he speaks.

The Foraging Spiral is “a 6 foot wide by 450 foot long bed of wild, native, and edible plantings” which begins at the road and continues into one of the fields ending in a circle with wooden tree stumps in the centre. Haig has a list of the plants on his website. On this rainy day, few were that visible apart from some small, scarlet red flowers, the colour almost brighter version of the Biennial’s signature colour which acted like beacons against the brown surrounding branches and leaves and even browner dirt. That’s probably a decent, if inadvertent metaphor for the festival flourishing in the city.

Having visited walled gardens in the past and seen these plants carefully laid out in rows and tended, it’s surprising to find them in this relatively urban environment open to the elements. I’m honestly not sure how I’m meant to feel about it. Since they are edible, are we supposed to help ourselves if the fruit has ripened? Will this be a permanent reminder of this festival bring produce every twelve months? Will it be looked after? Perhaps those questions will be answered when I see this video at the exhibition in a couple of weeks.  Watching it before would be cheating.