THE MORNING HAS GOLD IN ITS MOUTH
Words by Michael D'Este
First published my Corridor8
What is the gallery space for? Manchester’s COLLAR and Leeds’ SEIZE Projects travel offsite to investigate. Great Northern Tower [Unit 3] – otherwise known as The Great Medical Disaster, part of Castlefield Gallery’s New Art Spaces scheme – and Suckerpunch play host to The morning has gold in its mouth, the inaugural event of COLLAR’s forthcoming season of exhibitions, discussions and activities, (in) LOVE and FAITH.
By paring back the content of the Friday night private view and inviting SEIZE Project’s Lily Ackroyd-Willoughby, Ned Pooler, Sarah-Joy Ford, Tom McGinn and Daisy Forster to design cocktails to be served throughout the evening, COLLAR set out to examine the relationship between the artist-led gallery and the service industry.
In light of funding decisions made by organisational bodies and the impact this has had on artist-led projects (Glasgow’s Transmission being merely the latest in a long list of organisations who have seen financial support dry up in response to challenging and unconventional programming decisions) questions of the gallery’s purpose and comparisons to the service industry are not insignificant. As projects such as COLLAR, SEIZE and others extend their curatorial and creative practice into the wider field, the criteria which funding bodies use to judge the effectiveness of programmes have remained geared towards traditional institutional modes of presentation and production.
The result is what Stephen Willats terms the “…divorcing of art practice from a root in social reality,” in his work ‘Artwork as Social Model’ (2012). As the practice of art is professionalised, the impression emerges that anything which deviates from the institutionally accepted approach is no longer a work of art. This can be said to be the case all the more especially when the goods which a project or gallery produces are of an unquantifiable sort—such as providing a space for communities to meet, for artists to experiment and as an incubator of political and social activism.
The move from a one-way, distributive framework towards the reciprocal, interactive framework employed by the artist-led project encourages us to reconfigure our concept of what the work of art is. In the shift from the ‘contained object’ or ‘installation’ to the ‘programme of events’ which the gallery provides a home for, the creation of a work begins to involve its audience in a social process, enabling individuals to organise on a grass-roots level and to steer the course which a body takes in terms of its schedule and representation.
In the discussions which took place on the night the phenomenon of the Instagram story was dissected and along with it, the beaurocratic notion of productivity and resultant guilt which the artist has internalised and reflects back out into the world. COLLAR’s forthcoming season of events – the result of a period of research and reflection during which the gallery’s online activity dropped to a minimum – can be seen as an experiment in providing an antithesis to this state of affairs.
The term ‘gallery’ emerged in the mid-fifteenth century to denote a “covered and partly-open passageway along a wall,” serving to extend the French ‘galerie,’ the portico which would surround a building and open out onto the street. The notion of the gallery as a space that provides shelter for process and movement alongside, and fundamentally connected to, social reality is not novel. The artist-led project re-identifies this and provides it as a foundation for experimentation, collective action, and a reconfiguration of our understanding of artistic practice.
THE SOUND OF GROWN UP CHILDREN DETERMINED NOT TO BE AFRAID
Words by Alison Criddle
First published my Corridor8
Dark wit glows brightly in this group show curated by Laura Brady and Benjamin Davies. A new temporary space founded by Abingdon Studios’ Garth Gratrix in collaboration with East Street Arts, ICW (In Collaboration With) occupies a former retail unit on Church Street in the centre of Blackpool. Here, under the shadow of Blackpool Tower, visual art and humour combine, illuminating common experiences, beliefs and sensations, sharing a collective delight in the hope that someone else might face the world in much the same way.
The exhibition title riffs on a quote lifted from Peter Schjeldahl’s 1985 text ‘Ed Ruscha: Traffic and Laughter’, with the place of focus shifting from a Los Angeles where ‘one laughs to survive, enjoys oneself not to enhance life but to live at all’, to the Fylde Coast seaside town where laughter is ramified and refined and where ‘only with time and effort, does a visitor learn its language.’ Rejecting elaborate or convoluted theoretical musings in favour of more concrete, matter-of-fact reflections, the pieces use comedy as their vehicle to confront the trepidation and anxieties of an increasingly unknown lived experience.
Inspired in part by the doodles of children, Craig Atkinson’s drawings reconsider the banality of daily encounters. Presenting various character observations of people on the fringes of social communities alongside imagined creatures and forms, Atkinson’s brightly coloured, big-bearded men share space with pyramidal monsters, moustachioed vaudeville strongmen and keen-eyed fluff-balls. Drawn on torn out pages of exercise books and tacked to the white walls of ICW, these daydreams take on a new solidity; strange pin-ups indeed, unspoken stories of voiceless protagonists.
Michael Lacey’s paintings and sculptures speak too of weird little fictions, articulating succinctly the dark moods and anxieties of an unsettled movement through the everyday. Above a pair of curled concrete, two-headed ‘faeces-slugs’ hangs a painted nest filled with hungry chicks, open-mouthed and expectant, forever waiting. Lacey reduces the world to varying degrees of absurdity while expanding the dark, tragicomic melancholy of the internal through external forms. On the ground, a grotesque clay-headed toy pigeon with shiny 5p eyes glares blankly outwards, part pier arcade game, part scavenging street bird. Oliver Bradley-Baker’s glazed ceramic chocolate éclairs and/or human stools (as either or both they are a sustained source of revulsion and mirth) and vomit mounds echo the pavement detritus of a town filled with entertainment and expectation and the abject after-shocks of thrill and excess.
In Kieran Healy’s video piece ‘My Career is Killing Me’ (2016), the artist, channelling Jane Fonda in bodysuit and leggings, seeks to land his dream job by following a home workout practice. Healy screens the constructed rituals of self-improvement and wellness by satirising and externalising the deeper insecurities exacerbated by lifestyle industries, social media and the cycles of consumerist consumption. All the while, the flashing neon light of the chip shop across the road outside tempts and siren calls to indulge.
Claire Dorsett’s new site-specific wall piece enacts a silent homage to Blackpool both past and present. With its vast ‘Etch-A-Sketch red’ frame, ‘Showy’ (2017), with its over-arching shooting stars nods to both the multi-bulb surrounds of backstage dressing room mirrors and the excitement of the town promenade’s annual light show spectacular. Yet the frame remains empty, opaque, reflecting nothing, but instead making a space for dreaming, adventure and play. By contrast, on the wall’s reverse hangs an all too familiar form. ‘You’re All Front’ (2016), is occupied by a foreboding, painted, sword-wielding monument-man mounted atop a frozen steed. Empty of features, with the exception of the stark, white St. George Cross emblazoned across the torso, the bold form charges forward but advances nowhere.
‘One laughs to survive’, writes Schjeldahl. Humour, being first and foremost a social behaviour, these artworks laugh together, determined not to be afraid.
Preview: Garth Gratrix, CAMPGROUND
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith
First published my Art in Liverpool
This a preview of a few different parts. Firstly, Garth Gratrix, Blackpool based artist and curator, will be launching an exhibition that plays sharply on words and the artist’s experience of dating as a gay man in the 21st Century. Secondly, A Small View, the gallery that houses him is coming to the end of a long relationship with its curators.
Benjamin Davies & Kelly Hayes have each thrown themselves into the running of this space as BA & MA Graduates but the time has come to pass the space on. Laura Brady & Benjamin Davies are organising this final show, but true to the ethos of the gallery, will be leaving most of the work to Garth Gratrix.
There is something very special about a space led by curators that are completely willing to let artists do what they have to do. It’s not something you get to see often. But with one of the smallest gallery spaces in the city something radical had to happen to make the room attractive to artists. Perhaps that’s why they managed to get such an incredible rolling programme of nationally and internationally renowned artists crammed into this ex-shop unit at the back of Gostins Arcade.
Each artist has made the space their own, from Claire Dorsett’s single painting installation, to Thiago Hersan (and the rest of the then FACT Lab team)’s multimedia debate with the future, it has changed completely every time; always shifting how the space is perceived in itself.
The room has, in a way, been a collaborator with each of its residents. So it’s reassuring to know that the two artists taking this space over once its curators have gone are Michael Lacey and Gabrielle de la Puente. Both of which have exhibited and curated their own exhibitions here at A Small View, so should hopefully be taking on the radical little space understanding a little bit about what makes it tick.
Garth Gratrix, the latest resident is no exception to the rule that every artist puts their own stamp on the room either. His exhibition makes the space feel five times bigger than I’ve experienced before. Something about his strict measurements and repeating colours draws focus away from the corners and creates a room that goes on forever.
The artist is the founding director of Abingdon Studios, a studio and project space in Blackpool Town Centre. Regularly working collaboratively through his In Collaboration With programme this exhibition is an opportunity to see the artist work in his own way, and develop ideas independently.
His installation, CAMPGROUND, is not bashful. It’s a show that takes words, makes fun of them, and isn’t afraid of B&Q.
More often than not, hearing artists talking about materials means a new set of Daler-Rowney paints, so it’s refreshing to hear an artist say they got almost everything on a budget from B&Q. And to say that with such pride that the names of the stock colour paints are even referenced in the work itself.
And it’s hard not to smile at pun after pun after pun, on the title of the exhibition itself. Referencing the artists own sexuality, but using a term more regularly associated with macho camping trips around a fire (erecting the tent pole comes up too… make of that what you will).
Even the colours of budget paints, usually unnoticed, are brought front and centre in this show. Quirkily named by B&Q, ‘Chestnuts in the Park’, ‘Oopsy Daisy’, ‘Dolled Up’ & ‘Shhh’ are the only four colours used.
It’s not all light hearted though, with references made to Nazi Europe’s badging system, and the negative psychological effects of constant expectation on performance when it comes to online dating platforms in the modern world. All of this is made up of simple section of wood cut out and displayed at regular 9inch intervals.
It’s a calm exhibition with simple visuals covering up a much more complicated story, and having a profound effect on the room it inhabits.
A perfect end to the reign of A Small View’s founding team, and what will hopefully be a brilliant interlude in the transfer of creative minds that run this space.
Look/17 – Adrian Davies
Words by Anna Taylor
First published by look/17 Liverpool International Photography Festival
Adrian Davies’ work reflects on global connectivity. His exhibition at A Small View presents micro and macro visions of Hong Kong – here he talks to LOOK17 about photographing as a returning visitor and the relationship of utopian city skyline images to those captured on the ground.
The work was made during a number of visits to Hong Kong, also Shanghai and cities in parts of East Asia. I’m looking at these cities that are evolving growing, changing. I was interested in the micro – and the overview. Within the exhibition there are relationships between images – city views that are quite small so that details are lost. They become like model places (there is actually a view included in the exhibition of a model view of Shanghai). This is the visualised expectation of a city, which is quite futuristic looking. I show these with large scale prints of what I call the ‘veins’ of the city, power cables, pipes – the infrastructure of the city. I’m interested in the relationship between how these grow outside of that utopian vision of a city – that these buildings that are monumental from a distance, have all these wires and cables going in to support all of that growth. I’m playing with the relationship between what cities could be – the architectural plan, and then this free form organic growth.
Could you tell us a bit about when you visited what was your reason for being there, what lead you to start taking those photographs, was it part of a bigger series? Or something standalone whilst you were visitor to a new city?
I was fortunate to be in a position where I was visiting a number of cities over a couple of years, consecutively, so I was able to make links between places having been to Shanghai after Hong Kong, Thailand, Tokyo – a whole series of visits that enabled me to think about making work that I could collate together, looking for similarities and also looking for differences, thinking about that relationship with what matters here in the UK. But it was the second time of going back to some of these cities that enabled a different view. There was a familiarity. And because I’d already taken photographs there, it meant that I was quite comfortable shooting and making connections between what I’d already shot.
The larger scale images in the exhibition reveal an ad hoc network of spliced cables and trunking reaching over doorways or between lush greenery. To what extent are you thinking about global or digital connectivity and exchange between places?
That’s exactly it – those connections between the cities, I’m looking for similarities, so I was looking for connections. And I think that organic nature – in the way those larger scale images depict those things it looks like it could be a plant blossoming, that organic growth, it goes across all of those photographs so they are interrelated. So those cables connect to other cables, its that idea – there’s a metaphor there of the links between images and cities.
It seems that where you are in the world is quite important – for example, the expectation might be from somewhere far away, or the photograph within a place, how does that relate to that idea of connectivity, where you can be somewhere and not be somewhere at the same time? And how the internet creates expectations of a place compared to being there in the very real and intimate way of actually being there and holding something.
I’ve been exploring how important is it to be in a location in other projects – the way that you experience or view something, so those cityscapes, there is no experience in those images. Because they are quite distance almost like they could have been photographed aerially, there’s no connection with the city, whereas these other images, they’re shot with flash, its almost like catching the moment of the experience of noticing and trying to understand something. So for me that experience of photographing is about me responding, and thinking later how they connect.
The inversion of scale is quite interesting in that respect.
It’s how I respond to that experience, and I think the details are what you take away. I think about the views from a plane, and how I recognised the skylines, particularly with Honk Kong when it’s at night and the buildings were all lit up, there are lots of touristy images of that view – that was already in my mind. How do the predetermined images I have in my mind of these places form what I expect from the cities compared to my experience of actually being there?
The future city and the cabling and connectivity that represents something futuristic or utopian actually looks archaic and chaotic
That was what excited me about going to those mega cities. I look at those cities – they’re cities with a lot of growth that are changing quite rapidly – but that makes them quite exciting – that they are the future. The skylines change through growth, buildings becoming bigger and bigger, which developing city is going to build the biggest skyscraper – how that view, that utopian architectural plan of this future city is so opposing to that reality of those infrastructures that are growing to try and cope with all that development – that’s why I got driven to photograph this series. I’d seen images of what these cities look like previously, but the reality of those cities is very different – the experience on the ground.
You’ve mentioned that on return visits to Hong Kong you are making connections with what you have already photographed there previously – you look out for those similar things, so its your mind (or camera) that is the link between those places, you’re relating what you see back to what you already seen. The eye instinctively looks for the familiar.
I suppose that’s what’s interesting about photography to me – that you always go back and photograph what you’ve photographed before, because you’re drawn to those things. It’s about finding what is interesting to you.
LOOK/17 The Fringe
Words by Julia Johnson
First published by Messy Lines
Diversity of approach also reigns at A Small View, with each of the 3 photographs having an extremely unique approach. But this uniqueness, the fact that each of these artists is doing completely their own thing and it’s nothing like what I’ve seen elsewhere around the festival, makes it a more interesting show.
I say “nothing like” – I’ve seen several documentaries such as Alec Aarons has made of Shanghai, good as his photographs are. But no comment on “exchange” has been as obvious as Bertha Wang’s Trace of British Colonial Hong Kong. She’s literally found objects in Hong Kong which have a direct correlation to everyday sights in the UK, and spliced the pictures together. When I call it obvious, it’s not an insult. It’s a very direct way of bringing the viewer think of issues of colonialism and its legacy. This is something which Hong Kong is still struggling to figure out and which, writing this and reappraising the pictures, I find myself asking many questions about the history and morality of. Obvious can be not only attractive, but effective.
But I think that the most fascinating pieces are by Adrian Davies. Davies has sought out the wires, pipes and cables which support the city, giving it energy for warmth, food and light. Did he look far and wide to find those which look so particularly organic, resembling nature as much as they do? I suspect not – I suspect these could be found in any major city. We’re just unaware, taking these life support systems for granted. Trying to Google Davies, it’s not really surprising that he’s previously specialised in wildlife photography, and it gives his eye on the urban jungle a unique perspective. These pictures are, for me, a star attraction in the festival as a whole, and well worth seeking out. LOOK/17 might be keeping you busy already, but spare some time to stop here and see why the Fringe shouldn’t be forgotten.
A Hole, A Mountain
Words by Julia Johnson
First published by Messy Lines
'Hello I’ve had a weird year. Here’s an exhibition about it'. So reads the blurb for Michael Lacey’s show at A Small View. The dominating mood of this year, in fact, seems to be that it’s a “weird” one. Lots of Big World Events have shaken us up, left us feeling uncertain of facts and values we have taken for granted.
In this show however, I didn’t think that Lacey was thinking about Big World Events – not specifically, at least. This exhibition feels more personal than that – not about the year, but about his year. Let’s think for a minute about what a year really is. We don’t look back on a year as a period of time, but as a series of events. A disjointed series of usually only loosely connected events which, through the circumstance of when they happen, become forever linked in the memory.
The thing that hits as soon as I enter the gallery is that this is a very diverse show. You can’t define Lacey’s work as being of one single style, it’s a mix of lots of different elements. This is not a criticism – they work together. After all, Lacey’s not telling a linear story here, because who’s year is really like that? We’re instead given glimpses of the feelings and thoughts he has chosen to express at different times, in whatever way felt fitting. As an artist does.
The diversity is also a deliberate decision by curator Gabrielle De La Puente, who is clearly very familiar with Lacey’s practice. Lacey started out as a collage artist but has branched out from this in various ways in recent artworks, which de la Puente has wanted to highlight. I think it works in terms of giving you the full picture of who the artist is. I also like the deliberately unusual placing of some artworks. It adds to the overall impression of having an idea – some kind of plan – but the kind of plan which might be waylaid down any kind of mysterious road. (Dare I say it: down a hole, or up a mountain? I know I’ve had years which feel like I’ve explored both…)
Lacey’s own description of these works being about a year might sound personal, but they’re not individualistic. From all of the works covering most surfaces of A Small View, there’s perhaps only two or three which I would hazard to guess were about specific emotions. The obviousness of those is actually slightly jarring when they sit alongside pieces which are much more open to feelings, questions and interpretation. None of the works are titled, and I found not having to look for meaning in the little card next to the actual artwork very refreshing. Here, each artwork is what it is.
All of this, and I haven’t even got to the question of whether the pieces are any good. The short answer is, yes. Whatever the style, on the whole they keep you looking, thinking about them. I particularly like the pieces that include figures (e.g. above). They seem to be involved in intimate yet unfamiliar practices, capturing something inexpressible. I also appreciate Lacey’s use of Classically-inspired collage figures. It creates a similar effect to that described above: familiar, but slightly apart from our world, a little mysterious.
Writing this, it’s become even more impossible that it was even when I saw it to define what this show is about. It’s not really a ‘story’ of a year – these are good pieces which will appeal to your own personal sense of meaning. Nor is it simple showcasing Lacey’s work – it’s put together too fluidly for that. I found the combination of styles, techniques and moods here immensely satisfying, striking a chord with something I could identify with. If you go and explore the show, I’m sure you will too.
A Hole, A Mountain
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith
First published by Art in Liverpool
Just over a year ago I interviewed Michael Lacey as the winner of the Liverpool Art Prize at Editions Ltd. When I walked into A Small View this week I was expecting his work to have moved on, but perhaps wasn’t expecting enough…
The combination of having a room to completely experiment with, and working with artist and curator Gabrielle de la Puente meant that this exhibition was barely recognisable from his collage work at Editions this time last year.
There’s nothing quite like a new space to bring out the best in your work, and he has completely embraced A Small View in that respect. They gave him a room, said do what you like, and an intriguing jigsaw of an exhibition was scattered around the walls was his response.
Last year, his work was serious, buyable, and a more than a little bit intricate. This year his work is much freer, much more engaging, and has more obvious sense of humour.
The exhibition comes with a warning – Not suitable for children, or cats. They’ll knock the ladders over. It’s the small asides that build this exhibition up like marginal notes on a dissertation. There is no major work in the centre of a room, and no coherent plan. What results from all that is a conversation between a lot of smaller work that build up the whole.
I suspect this has a lot to do with the curator, part of the curatorial duo, The White Pube, Gabrielle de la Puente. Her exhibition, a few months ago at A Small View, was along the same lines in its production. One disjointed narrative, built from a lot of quick ideas.
A Hole, A Mountain, the exhibition’s title, implies something quite daunting, and in a way putting on a solo show of entirely new work is a particularly difficult mountain to climb. And whether the hole is a pit of writers’ block the artist was struggling to get out of, or a very literal one his aunty fell down on Crosby beach (apparently), it’s a hard thing to climb a mountain out of that. It takes small steps. Lots of fast ideas.
The result is a fast paced multimedia collage that raises eyebrows and twists up the corner of your mouth. I don’t think I’ve ever used this word to describe an exhibition before, but it’s the only one I can find that honestly sums it up… it’s an incredibly friendly exhibition.
An exhibition I actually want to revisit, just for something to do. Not because I need to understand it more, just because it made me feel part of the process somehow.
The Image Affect
Words by Julia Johnson
First published by Art in Liverpool
Sight is a sense which most of us are fortunate enough to take for granted. It is the primary sense for most of our perceptions. But it’s also the sense which is easiest to fool. Think of an optical illusion – it works because we entirely believe in what we see. Yet we continue to be surprised when this fallacy is revealed.
This is the idea at the core of Kelly Hayes’ MA work, The Image Affect. The photographs on the wall show what appears to be an ordinary domestic interior – maybe just cleaner, lit slightly more mysteriously than your own. But the video is the key to revealing that these rooms are not all they seem. The devil is in the detail as the camera pans over the furniture: a book is just a coloured block, a doorknob is a matchstick. The whole thing, in fact, is a fabrication.
Hayes spent 4 months building this clever illusory space, and it’s paid off. Because even knowing that it’s not real, there is part of your brain which does not quite understand. Maybe it’s the way you can hear the TV on, or how that hallway looks just like yours, but you can imagine the people who live here. This may have something to do with it being based on Hayes’ own house, that she has injected small elements of her own personality, such as the paintings on the wall. It’s a fascinating reflection on how our minds create the narratives we want and expect.
The aforementioned pictures on the walls of the “house” are actually examples of Hayes’ early works based on sci-fi utopias, and her shift in focus towards more familiar environs is interesting. A utopia is always somewhat unknowable, so open to individual interpretations. But when our expectations don’t quite meet reality within this home, it makes us question that which is most familiar to us.
Kelly Hayes isn’t criticising the domestic or familiar, but she does make us pause and check whether what we’ve got is all it seems.
Not Such A Small View
Words by Alison Little
Article Originally published in Hidden Gems
Tucked away on Hanover Street, nestling in Liverpool’s city centre we have Gostins shopping arcade. In this we have a mishmash of independent traders: e-cigarettes to millinery, cafés to hairdressers, tattoo parlours to antiques. But it is also home to many artists: the art shop at ground floor level paving the way for Sophie Green’s studio, the building also the base for the Liver Sketching Club, and the combining of new technology with arts practice which is going on at DoES. Most importantly, it is also home to A Small View, one of Liverpool’s newest gallery spaces. Set up in 2015 by a couple of UCLAN students, but not just any ordinary art students. In 15 short months we have had 15 strong exhibitions, transforming the empty retail unit into an exhibition venue of calibre. The original floor tiles and their stickiness were ripped out and replaced by a painted surface. Although by their own account the first two shows were “atrocious”, the venue grew from that point. From there we have seen exhibitions of video art, architecture, performance, fine art, painting, photography, digital works and interactive sculpture, in addition to a leading performance curated by Jodie Lee involving a rain dance intended to cast away the flooding that the region fell victim to over the last year. This new space is certainly one to watch in Liverpool.
Benjamin Davies and Kelly Hayes curate, hang, administer and market this gem of the cultural scene. In day-to-day practice Kelly handles the graphics for posters and Ben is the Twitter person. The direction for the exhibition space is very much artist-led; Ben and Kelly have only said no to a partition wall being knocked down during the period the gallery has been open. There is a genuine long-standing friendship between the duo: both are from Liverpool and met while studying on the Art Foundation course in the city, before they both studied for the BA in Fine Art at UCLAN in Preston, followed by the MA which they will complete this autumn. Kelly works with digital based photography, sculpture and dabbles in film as a medium. Ben uses video game technology to create art based projections. Their works complement each other and their dynamic relationship is evident in the exhibitions they have held together.
Holodeck was the first major exhibition of Kelly and Ben’s work held at A Small View in spring 2015. This was a collaborative exhibition between the two curators and Jon Mackereth, a Liverpool-based architect. The exhibition explored alternative models of reality where interaction was key to the success of the collaboration. We were presented with photography on each of the adjacent walls leading towards a large video game simulation on the central wall. To one side Kelly showed a collection of digital prints where she had photographed an array of different coloured artificial lights leading towards an exit through the visual implication of a corridor or a doorway. Opposite this, Jon Mackereth presented an assemblage of darker prints in a grid-like formation; images simulated from a model which identified the passage of time through the presence of sunlight. On the central wall of the space we were given Ben’s digital installation. The video game took us through deserted streets and the debris of human inhabitance; buildings, plastic waste, signs and advertisements, using digital technology to explore a reality which exists outside of our current material world. The collaboration was a great success in terms of the simulation of model realities in favour of our actual surroundings.
Got Worms has been one of the most successful exhibitions held at A Small View; the exhibition period coincided with Light Night 2016, a key event on Liverpool’s cultural calendar. Roxy Topia and Paddy Gould were the artists behind the formation of the visual sculptures; worm-like forms suspended from walls and arranged between plinths. Roxy and Paddy have been collaborating since 2008, and recently completed a year-long residency in Roswell, New Mexico. Their creative process starts with drawing, which is digitally collaged, then printed on to satin, the sculptural forms then being created; forms which are tactile and can be moved into new positions. The team do not just work together as artists, but have also been in a relationship with one another for many years.
The provocative title of the show Got Worms is clearly intentional, and much of their work is of a sexual nature. Forms such as The Internal Clitoris draw on messages from the second brain and look at the ritual of sex and stretching inwards. In Acid Kiss Experiment we are confronted with a pair of ovaries presented in pen and airbrush. The visual was accompanied by an audio of a gorilla mating ritual. The pair claim the works are about maintaining desire in a long term relationship. Visually stunning, tactile pieces combining coiling and stretching to create intimate forms which explore physical existence.
A Small View are hosting a longer exhibition from 9th July to 19th August 2016, to coincide with the Liverpool Biennial. The White Pube is a collaborative relationship between Zarina Muhammad and Gabrielle de la Puente, who use various forms of digital media to project their views of the art world. A mixture of performance art and digital enhancement, they take a low-tech approach to producing work, with a strong element of humour running throughout. Drawing attention to popular culture through the use of karaoke to re-work popular songs such as Bohemian Rhapsody, they mix in the names of leading artists, such as Tracey Emin and Anish Kapoor; the results are free and spontaneous, mistakes left unedited to produce something that is raw and effective. Other works use podcast technology where other artists give their opinion on ‘High’ and ‘Low’ art. Having recently shown at MUESLI, based at the Royal Standard, A Small View will host The White Pube’s next major exhibition.
A Small View is a space that can be adapted to any medium, embracing all forms of contemporary practice. A gallery which collaborates with many organisations including FACT and the Hanover Project in Preston. So what is the future for Liverpool’s newest independent exhibition space? Firstly, Kelly and Ben intend to finish their MA courses, which will then allow them to commit more time to the gallery. They wish to keep the space free for artists to exhibit and for the public to look around and attend private views. Although they have received some funding from different sources the space is mainly funded by themselves, many of the works shown remaining the property of the artists. They plan to start hosting fine art video showings, workshops, and a more intensive programme of exhibitions; although initially they had sought out creatives to use the space, over the last few months artists have been being approaching them. There is also the potential for them to use other spaces on the upper levels of the Gostins Building. A magnificent start to an exhibition venue which has grown from humble beginnings to a space becoming prominent within the creative sector.
DISCOVERIES AND DREAMS
Words by Julia Johnson
First published on Messy Lines
A Small View is open Saturdays and Mondays 1-5pm, or by appointment. This week’s visit was inspired by two recent discoveries. The first was that A Small View was a place. Before coming across them on Twitter, I’d never heard of it. Obviously I had to check this out at some point, but then the Biennial started taking up my time. The second was a work by Donal Moloney in the current John Moores Prize show, Cave Floor. It was beautiful, and left me curious to see more of his work.
It’s not especially surprising I hadn’t heard of A Small View before. Tucked at the end of a corridor in the Gostins Building on Hanover Street, you wouldn’t come across it unless you were actively seeking it out. It’s a shame that a space for promoting creativity has to be almost hidden, but (I guess) that’s what city centre rents do.
The current showcase is of Donal Moloney’s works, and they’re lovely. More than lovely. Here’s my disclaimer: I am deliberately not showing them in full detail here. These need to be seen in the flesh to be appreciated. Displayed in what you would consider a normal-sized frame, against white walls, emphasises the small size of each picture. Which makes the detail and intricacy in each picture pretty incredible.
Looking at each picture is almost like stepping into a dream. They’re abstract, colourful worlds and you don’t know what they mean – if, indeed, they mean anything – but it feels nice, you like it. You get lost in letting your eyes study each little detail but then when you step back from it and recognise its place, it appears even more unique and special.
I think the fact that each picture is so small is more than just a novelty, that actually it really enhances the experience of each work. You have to deliberately focus on each artwork, taking time to notice what’s going on. If you want to create something truly dreamlike and immersive you could go big, fill a room, or go small. Here, small works.
Before you step into the focus on the detail, you notice that the works are presented in different forms – some vague shapes floating in a sea of white, some rectangular. I personally preferred the rectangular ones. In the common language of psychedelia, abstract forms are more expected, signifying something unusual. The rectangles are more associated with tradition, so you don’t necessarily guess at what they contain unless you know.
Apparently it takes Moloney 3 months to produce one of these small paper works, and a year to produce a larger work (one of those larger works, Shrines, is also on display here). I can imagine if it was me working on a single project for 3 months I would end up over-working it until it didn’t make any sense. Moloney clearly has more restraint, as each work seems to be pitched with each detail in exactly the right place – 3 months of consideration clearly pays off. They are works that deserve an audience, and A Small View is worth seeking out.
The White Pube, 💧🌚👼🏾
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith.
First published by Art in Liverpool.com
My first encounter of The White Pube was a little less than a year ago. They retweeted a review I’d written of Kit Brown’s exhibition at this very gallery. My first thought was admittedly at their name, wondering if it was serious or just a laugh, and my second was a little bit more confusing. When I looked in to them, and scrolled through their near incomprehensible website, it turned out their entire reason for being was to demean mine.
They focus on new lines of communication (emoticons and gifs), and use it to channel their ideas on specific aspects of fine art. I’m all for healthy competition though, so I thought I’d go and see their exhibition at A Small View before it was over for good. Surprisingly I didn’t hate it. If anything it reminded me of my reasons for getting into writing. The exhibition, which has a closing party this weekend, turned out to be a very confident statement of the two artists’ opinions of art.
There are injections of humour that began to justify the sly insults to the reverence of the creative industries. What these two are doing is twisting the reverence around and preach their own plan, rather than listen to others’. They’re very recent graduates who perhaps aren’t being listened to as much as they’d like; their reaction: shout about it.
That’s exactly what they’re doing. Taking their own ego, admitting they’ve got one, and imparting their knowledge on everyone who’s willing to be trapped in a room with it. The artists who make up The White Pube, Zarina Muhammad and Gabrielle de la Puente, have built an strong twitter following (@thewhitepube), with their very distinct brand of ‘art criticism’.
The pair graduated a few months ago, apparently on the day of the EU referendum. The couch they collapsed on when the result hit them is included as part of the exhibition. An exhibition that claimed to be a love letter to its viewer, but turns the only mirror back on the viewer. If it’s a love letter it’s a very anonymous one. But I guess that’s the idea, a love letter that reflects a particularly one sided kind of love.
It’s a little Wonderlandish, in a leap of faith way, and very much worth a look for anyone who’s unused to having the everyday questioned. It might not answer all your questions, but it’s not really meant to, it’s there as a statement in its own right, rather than a question, or answer, or instruction. A simple statement of an idea.
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith.
First published by Art in Liverpool.com
Well this is a hypochondriac’s worst nightmare…
Fresh out of Roswell, New Mexico, is a series of work that has nothing to do with aliens. Rather, it is a response to anxiety about the human condition, and various specific human conditions. The collaborative duo met in Liverpool eight years ago and have been taking advantage of their compatibility ever since, in a series of successful residencies and exhibitions. They return to Liverpool with a collection of work created in their most intense residency yet.
After talking to Paddy Gould for just a few short minutes, it was clear that the process these two artists’ engaged in was one that accepted serendipity as a serious thing, albeit within a rigorous plan. The two artists, Roxy Topia and Paddy Gould have spent the last year in what, to many, might seem like an actual nightmare. You know, one of those places that sounds nice on the face of it, but as the reality dawns and the flight gate gets nearer, you start to seriously doubt whether it’s a good decision; one of those places. In the middle of the dessert in New Mexico, USA, the two artists threw themselves into a new world. A world without pop culture, and one with barely a hint of internet.
The work that came out of it is a detached response to the internet, in a way mourning it, and at the same time, enjoying the lack of it. Focussing on the fear surrounding our personal and community health. And while there’s an immediate suggestive level to the work, it gets further from that as you get to know it, more accurately hinting at intestines and the urethra, and other anatomical bits and bobs that social media tries to keep a steady fear around.
It’s important to note that this is in no way a medical comment, and in no way anatomically correct. It’s funny, it’s suggestive, and one piece is called Faecal Transplant (make of that what you will). It’s more a comment on the culture around the subject, using illustrations to play with the artists’ personal take on the internet and printing those illustrations onto generously garish repeat pattern fabrics.
Got Worms? has travelled across the pacific in suitcases and is a retelling of the story they tried to tell in Roswell as part of their yearlong residency, The Recovery Position, focussing on similar themes, but with a much fuller body of work to display them. That’s always the challenge for artists at A Small View, but when it works it makes any artists in there seem like a genius, because there’s no curatorial guise to hide behind, just the quality of the work on the value of its face.
The exhibition, on display at A Small View until 21st May, is a brilliant example of what kitsch can be when it’s kitsch for a reason. This isn’t just shiny stuff looking good. This is shiny stuff telling a tale.
Ob_ject and Ob_serve
Words by Rachel Toner
First published by FACT
“How forward thinking”, is what best springs to mind, upon a visit to this small but nonetheless engaging exhibition. An intimate gallery is perhaps what partly turns the key here, unlocking our perceptions of objects and the secret life that they may hold. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the high street in Liverpool’s arty Gostins Arcade; A Small View Gallery renders the perfect vibe to open up your mind… along with the wonderful art of course!
What exists when a laptop or mobile has served its purpose for us humans? Will a computer sit dumb without our click-tap? Or have we somehow overlooked that a system so advanced may be functioning without us, in an endless wandering web search? These are the questions the artist who make up The Object Liberation Fronthave set out to address.
Wandering Wondering by Edgar Zanella and Radamés Ajna ponders this, as you potter clockwise round the intriguing space. More chillingly perhaps, it questions if we have become perhaps too comfortable following our daily patterns, or algorithms… just like the computer presented. “What is it like to be browsing like a machine?” asks the writing on the wall. This statement though, from such avant-garde thinkers, seems to suggest that we may already know.
Next up, Ajna and Thiago Hersan’s memememe project and sculpture features two phones supposedly interacting with one another; have they been set up by our artists or are they communicating in their own language? The everyday object is seemingly transformed, as we see a manmade creation with a possible life of its own. The little movements and squeaky noises that these devices make cannot be understood by us, nor the artists who created them; but is it possible that these devices have forged their own such communication?
Alex Pearl’s Simple Machines simplifies objects, right down to their raw state… after we dispose of them! Provocatively, he’s clubbed old items together to try and make sense of their new state, and asking; are they still serving a function? At first glance perhaps they are not, but put your ear a little closer to Machine 14 and an old battery powered ear wax remover may be humming a new, nostalgic tune. Old objects get rusty, but they’re not yet dead. Perhaps what we come to consider superfluous may be useful… just these few objects probe a multitude of questions, and ambiguity makes simplicity quite remarkable.
Tying in with wastefulness, Sam Skinner’s wonderfully visual project asks us to consider the old Liverpool Observatory; once the centre of Maritime intelligence, and ponder what would a contemporary observatory look like, and what would it “observe”? It’s up to you to decide what such an institution should be like in today’s world.
Words by Santini Basra.
First published by The Skinny
Half Real brings together an international group of creative practitioners exploring and working within the intersection between art and videogames.
Half Real looks to explore the space between art and games, bringing together an impressive group of international artists and game designers including Rod Humble, the former CEO of Linden Lab (the company responsible for groundbreaking online multiplayer game Second Life) as well as Molleindustria, notorious for their guerrilla-style provocative socio-political games. The Italian group are best-known for Phone Story, a game which asks a player to become symbolically complicit in the unethical processes involved in producing a smartphone.
The selection of works on show, united by their medium – the video game – blur the boundaries of gaming with other art forms, focussing beyond gaming and games’ often overshadowing commercial aspect, and onto the spectrum of other roles the game can assume. The Graveyard, by Belgian studio Tale of Tales, simply asks the player to guide an old lady to a bench on the other side of a graveyard, where she sits, contemplates her life, and also may die. While extremely simple, the game powerfully confronts the player with the notion of death, and one’s acceptance of it.
On a similar level, Molleindustria’s Every Day the Same Dream follows the tedious and repetitive daily commute of a nondescript white collar worker, and encourages the player to subvert the repetitive banality of the character’s existence, in turn posing questions and providing ambiguous commentary on the notions of routine and repetition.
Through examining the work showcased at Half Real, it is clear that much of it has been produced in direct confrontation with the traditional ideals of the ‘game’ championed by the commercial videogame world. As Tale of Tales have mentioned in reference to their own work, “[it’s] about dispensing with the formalities of gaming”. This collection contributes to the ever expanding definition of the videogame, providing the medium a greater remit in which to exist and experiment, positioning them in roles beyond entertainment and into the realms of documentary, journalism, activism or commentary.
Maze Walkthrough by Serafin Alvarez positions itself central to the show, and certainly stands out in the body of work. The game consists of a never-ending series of connected corridors – each corridor taken from a sci-fi film, leaving the player to wonder through these with no goal or objective. The game is a manifestation of Alvarez’s obsession with the corridor as a liminal and transitional space, and almost exists as his personal museum, stitching together these spaces and leaving the player or viewer in a state of permanent transition. In wandering through these corridors a feeling of intrusion is elicited, as if you have stumbled into someone’s personal fiction and obsession and are seeing something that was meant to be hidden away.
Looking past the content and at the exhibition as a whole, Half Real provides an interesting perspective on the medium, and its role within the art space. In all cases, the work on show exists as downloadable files, which can be played on personal devices. However, positioning these games in a gallery space invites the viewer to engage on a more critical level, clearly framing the work as meaningful and content rich as opposed to a product for entertainment. As shown with MOMA’s acquisition of Pac-Man, in recent years we have started to accept the significance of the videogame medium, and Half Real serves to contribute to this growing awareness.
Ob_ject and Ob_serve
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith.
First published by Art in Liverpool.com
A Small View is currently the final destination for the artists who brought us FACTLab through 2015. The show, titled Ob_ject and Ob_serve, is a change from normality in Liverpool, and challenges a lot of what has been happening recently in terms of digital arts. There have been a lot of shows with the potential to do something interesting which have failed on all fronts, but this small understated exhibition in the relatively anonymous A Small View is a massive success, because it takes the machine, and it reports it.
It slightly tweaks the state of what a machine is in places, and forces definitions in others, but the tie that makes this a success is that it isn’t making a statement that doesn’t need to be made, it just takes objects and observes them. Simple. Effective.
Perhaps what you first need to understand is what FACTLab is/was, and what it has become. The group, as I understand it, was made of two parts, the strictly FACTLab part, and the PhD part. The PhD part (two parts really: Sam Skinner and Alex Pearl) was focussed, and concise, and has been led beautifully astray by the others. The others seem to have developed focus through the arts research element and freed up a huge amount of ideas through space, public interaction and accountability. And then whatever happened happened. And now we have The Object Liberation Front, which is the slightly less accountable, and much more flexible, conglomerate of Radamés Ajna, Thiago Hersan, Alex Pearl, Sam Skinner and Edgar Zanella
Talking to Thiago Hersan about his collaborative work, it was clear that he is simply somebody who enjoys tech, in all shapes and all sizes, and the offering in the gallery conveys that. It’s an opportunity to enjoy tech, and try to find a new understanding of it. Not a statement about a robot uprising, or the terrifying power of the internet. This celebrates the possibilities of machines, based on what they are; an exercise in letting go of an idea.
The physical manifestation of all this is excellently thought through, from a poster created in line with their collective vision (laser cut due to convenience and relevance, rather than printed in a way that would contribute nothing) to a changeable, temporal pin board which tells a history of a process of research. The artists really do seem to be striving for transparency here, whether it’s demonstrated through their language or their finished work, which seems to be continuing a conversation – through noise, through offers, through the implied curiosity of a humanless phone.
Ob_ject and Ob_serve introduces us to a very particular perspective on what a non-anthropocentric world would be able to engage with, which is an incredibly approachable question, generously shared. This is an outgoing exhibition by five artists who have come together to offer up something hugely unselfish that gets us to reframe out own views of our own objects.
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith.
First published by Art in Liverpool.com
Too Expensive is a playful response to a lot of questions. Claire Dorsett’s exhibition is another great reaction to A Small View’s limited square footage, sticking boldly to minimal displays and well told stories.
What is most interesting is Dorsett’s ability to tell a story employing only the complete minimum. She uses assured lines and colours that help tell the story, elevating this to something far beyond colour composition work. There is an entire narrative squeezed into this big purple square, and it is brave and funny and gets better as you get to know it. The story revolves around a dinner with her brother, some lamp shades and the colour purple. So it’s hardly Tolkien, but it is part of her fascination with the idiosyncrasies life throws her way, and it is rare to find a story so simple.
It’s a show that again expresses the value A Small View brings to Liverpool, as a small independent venue, trying new things, and introducing artists to the city who otherwise might not have exhibited here. This exhibition was turned around in less than a month, and it really has that energy, which has to be attributed to the artist firstly but the gallery deserves a lot of credit in that decision. It is a straightforward, confident exhibition that pushes the boundaries of the gallery, the artist and their diaries.
Confidence, it seems to me, is something Claire Dorsett has in droves already. It has simply grown at an accelerated rate as a result of this exhibition. This is conveyed to the audience through colour. Purple in this case. A lot of purple.
This fascination though, follows on from how she finds her narratives, in the happenstances we miss in daily life. She said of the colour: “I wanted to use purple because it was a colour I hadn’t really worked with. Ideas for colour (for me) mostly come from seemingly insignificant things, such as the colour of a new pen I’ve got a bit obsessed with or a jumper or something small and idiosyncratic like that.”
It is a storyteller’s charm that holds this exhibition up more than anything else, graphically underpinning what, for all we know, could have been one of the dullest evenings of the artist’s life. But here we have that evening captured, solidified and commemorated in a way that probably would never have happened without the input of A Small View’s space. It is a coincidental moment, as the result of a coincidental request, and the narrative we are granted access too would have been lost to memory if not for this exhibition, no matter how insignificant. So for that, Claire Dorsett’s brother has a lot to thank this artist-gallery collaboration for.
Words and photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith
First published by Art in Liverpool.com
Hidden at the back of The Gostins Arcade, at the end of Hanover Street, is an exhibition that could not have found a better home. Kit Brown’s Symbiosis is an immersive, interlinked, audio visual experience, and A Small View is its perfect hiding place. The cosy gallery space manages to add an even more immersive atmosphere to the exhibition, forcing us through this multi-media recorded experience.
“A conceptual thought exercise”, as Brown describes his own work, split into four interwoven parts, providing four pieces not just linked in space, but by their physical structures. Wires cross the floor and serve the juxtaposed purposes of connecting and dividing the audio and visual aspects of the work.
Park and Tap, the two film pieces in the exhibition loop around on one screen, providing audio to Six Units, which sit behind Score Box – which can only be described, in Brown’s words, as an A/V producing object. The constant audible bombardment from these interwoven elements served as a reminder that immersive art doesn’t have to be forceful, it can be something you choose to step into, and Symbiosis manages this expertly. And to reinforce how constant a bombardment it was, by the end of this exhibition the speakers had begun to succumb to the noise.
I mention this not as a negative by any means, because Brown aims to “provide a critique of creativity, particularly the art of decision making,” which, it seems, the speakers have evolved to understand. Brown also talks about methods, giving way to chance, but within rigid self-inflicted rules, and that is something physically reflected again here. Six Units sit in the centre of the gallery; six uniformed boxes on rigid frames, with uniformly pixelated images covering the speakers, as uniformly trimmed squares of paper twitch around in chance patterns to the audio of the films.
Brown has invited the viewer to join him in questioning creative decision making with this exhibition, by employing the one technique he seems to want more of: honesty. Somehow, through four initial ideas coming to fruition, and an idea to force them all together, a physical mind map has been created, and opened to the public. The subjects of the original films seem almost irrelevant, not once really presenting a park or a full audible conversation; this show creates new work with nothing more than an idea, and presents an all too familiar audience critique from the new perspective of the artist. Critique is the primary object here, reinventing itself as the subject of Brown’s work.
Kit Brown seems to be on a similar thought plane to many others currently, one that seems to be leading to a new Dada, questioning what has become of the original question of value, at times even down to the value of individual words. The first piece you come to in the show, Score Box, is described as an Audio/Visual producing object. Not something you would expect to be mostly analogue, but as we learn from this show, it is unsafe to take things as read.
Art In Liverpool, Art and About – Carnival by Inga Lineviciute at A Small View
By Ian Jackson
First published by Art in Liverpool
There is something delightful but with a sense of uneasiness in this installation by Inga Lineviciute. It consists of 2 animations – one showing the family feasting, the other revealing a different picture from below the table…
This new(ish) gallery is run by the friendly and enthusiastic recent graduates Benjamin Davies and Kelly Hayes. They’ve put on some good shows already and we look forward to seeing many more.
There are different businesses in the arcade each time we visit, do pop in and chat to the curators, you can get a haircut, a tattoo and some fashion items for your dog whilst you’re there.
A Small Group Of Idiots Spoiling It For Everyone Else
Review by Kyle Nathan Brown
First published by Art in Liverpool.com
On entering A Small View exhibition place, dimly lit only by the lights from the corridor outside, one is confronted by a white plinth in the centre of the room, about waist height, atop of it two mini digital projectors side by side facing opposite directions. Opposite from each on the side walls are the projections. This is the new show by Manchester-based artist David Mackintosh, entitled A Small Group of Idiots Ruining It for Everyone Else.
The projections, true to Mackintosh’s style, are a collection of loose ink drawings, animated, one after another to the timing of a metronome, the ticking sound coming from the projectors.
On the left wall the projection is around the size of A3 paper, landscape. The drawings are almost paintings insofar as the amount of ink used fills the ‘paper’ in solid black and washed out diluted grey. Vague landscapes, slanted buildings, houses, abstract architecture of inky ambiguous towns or cities, and parks, trees and a bench, bushes and streets. And those stray images that clock in and out to the click of the metronome which adhere to none of these descriptions. A washed out grey ink mass of sketchy wet brush marks almost filling the entire page with only suggestions of representation through a collection of thicker blacker lines.
On the right wall, the images are around the size of A4 paper, portrait. These drawings are made up of more solid lines; thicker ink, and less of it. You watch the images changing as the metronome keeps clicking to the next and you see suggestions of details. Faceless faces, heads turned away, the backs of strangers. Is that a hand or merely lines? Is that a person? A group of people?
These drawings, all of these images together and animated in this way, give the feeling of walking through the streets of a town or a city and taking it all in only to recall it in a kind of half memory. Half remembered and the rest suggested. The piece feels bold, confident in its vague nature. A distorted narrative, or illustrations of whispers, slight reminders of experience and memory.
When looking at the artist’s previous work, for example in his publication, imagine you’re in a room full of blind fools desperately grasping at nothing, you see the work of a very contrived and contemplated style. The fast-paced, sketch-like images become more familiar and more relatable. The immense confidence of the work shows through in its boldness to be itself, unashamedly. Saying this, however, the work is not void of context beyond form and subject. Referencing the traditional artistic practices, landscape and figure painting, this exhibition sees contemporary art contemplating modernity and beyond.
The press release for this exhibition says the show’s name highlights the categorising of certain collectives operating against the norm; a crowd causing enough of a ruckus to be made example of by persons of authority. Examples given of these groups of idiots are ‘acts of hooliganism at a football game’ and a ‘peaceful demonstration results in violent protest’; and the categorising of these groups made by football commentators and police spokespersons. The relevance of making these observations is then put into context when applying them to the role of artists and a possible way of understanding their actions and position in contemporary society; as someone who acts against the norm.
This, when given as the title for an exhibition of such composition, urges one to ask the questions, ‘what are we looking at here?’ and ‘what does the artist mean to say by these images, these animations?’ What I believe we are seeing is David Mackintosh’s observations of life passing-by in all its banalities and forgettable detail. We see the artist as voyeur, carefully considering and highlighting the way we, acceptingly, live our lives; in houses, on streets, in towns and in cities. The act of protest or interruption being made is by making example of this way in which society continues day by day. By saying ‘This is how we live!’ those listening are momentarily taken out of that situation and are able to observe it, before once again continue to keep on keeping on.
The true strength of this exhibition is its simplicity; two projectors, two basic animations. And the strong, cool style of the work, which comes from their confident execution, transforms the simple appearance into intriguing, incredibly well-composed pictures. The result of which is a sketchy narration of everything we expect to see; all day, everyday.
Best of Britannia, Fine Art Installation
Review by Sophie Barrott
Leave your former self by the door – take a sip of pink gin, step into the club and out of your comfort zone. You are far away now. It’s 1965 and Preston’s old Post office building’s working men’s social club is in full swing on a Friday night. Flash forward and contemporary art has overruled – Best of Britania’s UCLAN Fine Art exhibition is a surreal oasis away from the downstairs trade show and the confines of the conventional white cube gallery space.
Amiss with wanderers miss-navigating the winding corridors and ornate staircases of the old building, no one quite knows what to expect, myself included. ‘It’s The Phoenix Club’, a woman laughs to her husband. It’s clear that things are different here; flock velvet walls clash a dated 60’s social club décor with red tinsel, a glowing space heater and haphazard mismatched mustard seating that’s scattered around the exposed stone floor. Aesthetically, I’m in my element.
Left to decay, the realm of the social club desired a new purpose, now reinvented and absent of once residing squatters it contains a clash of ideologies. An exciting curatorial effort encompassing Preston’s current energy of creative collaboration and reinvention of the old intermingled with new contradictions in found spaces. It’s a lot to take in.
An old Fergusson TV quietly malfunctions in the corner; its clearly visible digital inputs sparks the desire for nostalgia in a world with a need for ease, immediacy and convenience. Every now and then functioning, displaying tender diaristic photo collages confusing any sense of fact or reality. Mark Smith’s monochromatic memories and snapshots collide to form a melancholic distortion on memory and physical beauty.
At the far end of the club, beyond a red leather bar area, a pentagram is crudely marked in thick black spray paint on a door that’s slightly ajar. We are somewhere else entirely. Tape blocks our way further into the club, so I assume a detached perspective, the projection on the screen is too far away to fully engage with. I suppress that part of me that needs to break boundaries and venture further, to the off limit lands. A grotesque masked character begins to experiment with luminous green fluid in a cauldron whilst taking intermittent dance breaks. I feel on the brink of something, I am the awkward guest in this absurd alterior world, just out of reach of my current realm of perception. And then I meet Nick Norcross, the man behind the mask and everything starts to make sense.
Nick talks to me about his love of sci-fi movies, techno, clubbing and the electronic underground music scene. His exudes a genuine enthusiasm and energy as he talks about his experiences at The Orbit, a club integral to his work; a vision quest of inspiration, light shows and lasers. Rooted in instinct and emotion, his work combines video, unusual interpretations of animal masks and performance in the guise of his alter ego Tribal Nick. He introduces me to each of his characters, brandished on the window ledges of the club, each as bold and colourful as the next. In an uninterrupted stream of consciousness, he mentions the video by the stage of him in an alligator mask mowing the lawn was a gift to his mum on mother’s day, aptly named A mothers day gift with a surreal twist. His mum is sat in the wings, proudly onlooking.
Tribal Nick tells me he’s about to perform. We await, in a room filled with techno fuelled electricity, on the brink of a happening. It’s Friday night, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. He steps up to the stage, his second performance of the day – this ones just for us. He dons a Golden snub-nosed monkey inspired mask teamed up with a cigar – a bizarre and fascinating sight. ‘He likes cigars’, he told me earlier, referencing the orange furry collaged masked character. He eagerly approaches the stage, flicking through his iPod, he settles on a track. He turns up the volume, and begins.
Thumping Techno floods the working men’s club. Lost in a tribal expression fuelled frenzy, he takes us on a surreal journey, witnessing something far from any reality I’ve known before. Moving, acting, reacting, he’s a techno conduit channeling some internal force and compulsion for expression. His performance is something you need to experience for yourself, immaterial, an escape, a true exertion in body, mind and spirit. It’s been 8 minutes, and he’s still going strong, it ends – and I’m left struck, wondering if anything like this will ever happen to me again.
Separate from the spectacle of performance resides the work of curator and artist Benjamin Davies. His Dystopian vision manifests in an absent POV multi layered interactive video game. Lost in a forgotten town, you navigate a desolate landscape that perfectly captures our present as future past. Photographs intermingled with drawings and textures collage the walls in a world compromised of grey with intermittent injections of cerise pink. A bleak yet hypnotic journey through Davies’ world leaves you with no destination, just the tranquility of an uninterrupted stroll around a derelict land. Search for the red room, navigate and lose yourself again and again. Monoliths of possibility hide within, taking you elsewhere – further into the grey nightmare. An empty looming destruction lingers around every corner, of a world at the edge. Colour has ran from the walls, no identity remains, just fragments of existence litter the landscape. You are even absent; a character without a face, roaming further into oblivion.
In such a visually overwhelming space, some works are swallowed completely, while others perfectly adapt to their surroundings, reflecting the idiosyncrasy and ethos of the building itself. With clean-cut, impeccably finished metallic prints of beautifully crafted models of coloured lit spaces, Kelly Liderth’s work, although similarly otherworldly – seems out of place. Her photographic prints cling normality in a space that is anything but. Displayed on stark white false walls, her work claims a need to be seen in solitude, away from the imposing atmosphere of the old Post Office.
Tim Nikrooz’s work Ashes in the Fall wasn’t something I discerned immediately as apart from the space – it stood out, but masked itself in the decay as just a cash machine to be seen as part of the wreckage. Is this what was intended? The space inside held nothing but a space for contemplation. Left clouded in ambiguity, the intervention as a metaphorical response to the space saw the physical conditions as a direct consequence of failed economies. Teamed up with Gary Wiggin’s large-scale illustrations of Pit Bull’s, the far end of the club becomes symbolic of a cohesive reaction to the space and those downtrodden underclass that once inhabited it.
A multidimensional, fascinating character’s work, almost too hidden amidst the chaotic flock and wooden wall cabinet was David Darbyshire. An intricate, detailed, multi dimensional and thoughtful piece that ties together the traditions of Ancient Egyptian mummification, Anubis, the golden ratio, and his dog Pi. In a complex explanation of his work, David divulged the inner most workings of his practice, something that transcends a physical presence into a realm of thought around life, death, synchronicity, connection and mostof all, affection for his dog, Pi.
As I’m leaving, I notice a tree emerging through the exposed brickwork outside of the old building, displaced and intertwined, its presence questions our existence and impermanence, or mark, contribution and untimely destruction. The desolate world of bricks and mortar contains us but it does not make us – life resides somewhere else entirely. In the spontaneity of performance, the energy of those uninterrupted, unwavering and fearless minds that drive us fourth into new realms of possibility. Creating for the love, for the urge, the compulsion. Adding to the creative landscape, driven through an obsessive temperament, a desire to live a life on their terms, and be heard. Like that tree creeping in the distressed brickwork, their mark will remain.
Review by Kyle Nathan Brown
First published by Art in Liverpool.com
On entering the Gostin Arcade on Hanover Street, Liverpool, one leaves the busy, near-central experience of the city and is confronted by what feels like a commune, a village almost, compact and quiet yet noisy with clutter and independent businesses. Following the directions I had been given by the artists, I found my way to ASmallView. This is the name given to the small space rented by Benjamin Davies and Kelly Hayes, and the host location of the exhibition, The Holodeck.
The show focuses on the act of simulation, or creation, of model realities in favour of our actual one. As the first line in the exhibition description reads, ‘In the hideous complexity of real life, models can be used to cut through the noise.’ An immediate overview of the show is that it is an exercise in creation/simulation of worlds beyond, burrowed in our own. By this I refer to the obvious paradox of escapism; one can only ever find hiding-places in the reality we already inhabit.
The room is small, white, but not white cube-clean. The work appears equidistant from each other on the three walls (the fourth being a window onto the rest of the arcade). Straight ahead on the far wall is a medium sized flat screen television with an Xbox controller on the ground in front. To the left are three brightly coloured digital prints and on the opposite wall are eight slightly darker digital prints laid out in grid formation, two down and four across.
The latter is the work of architect Jon Mackereth. Using a miniature model of a room which may or may not exist in our reality, and what was described by one of the other exhibiting artists to be a date and time light simulator, allowing one to simulate the exact lighting of the sun on any given day and at any given time. The model room, this simulated space, is basic and looks believable from a fair distance. However, what is truly fascinating about this series of images is the light, the focal point; the apparently accurate simulation of actual-time, human-time, time measured by the light of the sun. This rather dramatic realisation, that time is replicated so effortlessly in this age of technology, is also very simply executed; mere light from the window and on the floor. The presentation of the work, however, could perhaps have been executed a little better as it seems rushed, careless. Perhaps this is intentional(?).
Opposite this piece is the work of Kelly Hayes. Three digital prints on aluminium, mounted in a row on the wall. The images present a flawless model. Clean cut, sharp edges and stunning. Each is lit by a different coloured light; red, orange, blue. This perfection in finish reminds something of sci-fi, although I cannot quite place it. Abstract, yet very obviously of a doorway, corridor, or simply an exit; it seems beyond solid reference, and beyond human intervention; as if the simulation of utopia can only be without us. This idea of simulations and models comes across most strongly in this piece, from the perspective of the ideal. Why choose imperfection when playing god, or a creator…
The finish of these pieces brings to mind the future. A distant future of perfection, of clean cut design, of quietude yet bathed in artificial light.
The work of Benjamin Davies, however, reminds me of a future that feels ever looming, more so with every tragic news story of suffering, poverty, destruction and death. The art is a video game – how relevant – in which one wanders a world of imperfections; a world designed, destined to be forever in decay and disarray. Navigating the streets and forests of this landscape, one notices the mess, the clutter, the shit left behind by a species obsessed with buildings, plastic, signs and advertisement. And then one notices the lack of such species. The haunting silence and consequential realisation that they had drained their Earth of its resources and left for somewhere better. Or quite possibly, more realistically, ‘You failed. Better luck next time.’
Wandering the map of Benjamin’s game, one travels through portals – somewhat taking on the form of Stanley Kubrick’s Monoliths, 2001: A Space Odyssey – between different levels or ‘dimensions’ of this place, this space, this realm of the artist.
Constructed from digital textures, images, and what appears to be pen drawings masquerading as graffiti, all in black and white and red, the space created by the artist resembles a kind of dream world and at the same time is disturbingly close to our own reality, bringing to mind the landscapes of the films of Terry Gilliam; caught somewhere between reality and fantasy.
The piece is shrouded in theory and romance of post apocalypse, existentialism and escapism. Tweeting about his work, Benjamin wrote, ‘The idea of inverting the sky came from Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s childhood.’ And it is very much this honesty that drives the aesthetics of the piece. One can walk beyond the streets and find themselves among discarded buildings, stray textures, unusable objects. And then further. Walk to the end of the map, to the very edge of everything: if you fall, and I suggest you do, make sure to look up…watch the world drifting further and further away, until the artist’s creation appears as nothing but a distant planet in a vacuous matt grey, textureless sky…
This issues and concepts raised in this exhibition all merit considerable discussion, however, most of all I feel compelled to point out the conscious decisions of the artists to create these worlds. The idea that we remove our selves from reality everyday, when one steps back to contemplate, is concerning. Through video games, mindless television programmes, films, – images of the world we’re leaving behind – we lose ourselves and our position in reality. The act of creating these places of escape seems to be on a different level all together. Like leading a revolution; someone needs to take the first steps, make the posters and shout something loudly. I feel as though creating these places, these pieces, doesn’t only allow escape, but clearly points out that we actively search for the means, making this exhibition a rather loud cultural statement.
You don’t need reality to find something ‘real’. You cannot escape, even by escaping.