Tuesday 30 July 2013

Portfolio NW – The Bluecoat, Liverpool

Put bluntly this exhibition is here to showcase a set of artist currently based within the North West part of The Bluecoats remit of this areas position as a major cultural centre. That may seem a cynical way of describing the exhibition but what it offers is to see the work of artists without the need to try to tie the individual art works to an overarching conceptual theme. It could be seen as a celebration of the creative communities of the North West, arts for art sake if you like.

Turning into the first gallery space I encounter Rebecca Chesney, where her film Still in Silence floats disembodied in the darkness. Quickly scanning the interpretation I learn that this work is the result of an attempt to discover or uncover a lost Eastern European village. Looking at a flat blue sky an unseen narrator begins to tale the tale of his grandmother, an inherited story of why the village was abandoned. The reason is due to an apparently supranational occurrence, you see one day the birds stopped signing. This seems to be a more poetic and somehow simpler explanation that attempting to describe the probable and complex social-economic reasons behind the flight. The birds stopped singing and the silence became unbearable. As the short (8 mins) film plays I make associations with the film Stalker, maybe it's a lazy association as both feature journeys through abandoned East European landscapes. I hope that it isn't as sallow as that, I think I see an echo of the narrative of Tarkovsky's film, that there was an unnameable need to discover and question in Chesney that prompted her to discover this village as much as the trio of characters search the zone to answer question which stem from within.

Maybe I'm over romanticising it but there is an element of romance in Chesney's piece which fuses the object collected from site and displayed with the film with a fetishistic melancholia.
Leaving that space I take the path of least resistance and find myself in gallery 2. To be confronted or greeted by a number of reoccurring images of a woman of unnerving and fragile beauty. These are paintings by Hannah Wooll these are portraits of a woman, or women I recognise somehow if it wasn't for the too wide eyes or the apparent hints at an animalistic nature. When looking at these portraits I cannot help but see them as portraits of the unnamed female character from Anna Kavan's novel Ice. Not only does she looks like the mental image I had of that character (the source of my recognition?) there's something within these paintings that makes me think of her a character pursued by two facets of the male protagonists imagination, trapped and turned in a fragile creature by the gaze and imagination of this man. This is how I feel when looking at these portraits that somehow my gaze fixes, alters this unnamed woman.

On the other side of Wooll's painting are the photographs of Tadhg Devlin, which feature people in transit at a point which is never here or there. The photographs are taken on board a ferry 12 miles into its journey at a point where the ferry is always 12 miles away from the horizon. That's an interesting concept as Devlin's photographs are an exploration of immigration and knowing that this photographs were taken at this point connects them to a human need to find out what is beyond the horizon. An age old desire to leave the village and search for better, a poetic exploration of the on-going need for movement, whether that is spurred by longing or more pragmatic social-economic forces. Not unlike the grandmother leaving the village after the loss of birdsong in Still in Silence. Though this train of thought comes from reading the interpretation and looking at the photographs, otherwise you could be looking at some well-produced reportage.

There is another artist in this space behind the images of people looking to the horizon there are some rather strange looking sculptures. They look like pieces of paper idly rolled and shaped into forms; they could be products of your own fidgety hands if they had been scaled up. These are the deceptively simple sculptures of Dave Evans where a large sheet of paper becomes an alien landscape complete with tin foil boulders. Before I can really consider them I quickly fixate on two of the titles. The Lights of Zetar and The Empath are Star Trek episodes and in particular they are episodes from the third, final and often derided season. I really want to know why these episodes from that season it opens up a possible dialogue with the work which is solely 'artistic' or can be define with the realms of artistic discourse, which feels kind of healthy. If you get what I mean.

Continuing into Gallery 3 where for the next two weeks you'll find Kai-Oi Jay Yung. I find her currently undertaking a lesson in Yoga, which creates not unsurprisingly an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. It also adds to the feeling I've enter an private space, a rehearsal room or studio space, especially when tip toeing around you see the objects you would expect to find in an artist studio. Relevant texts, books and things like laptops and CD players. I have a strange sensation I think about Rosalind Nashashibi's film that formed part of the Northern Art Prize this year where members of the public where allowed access to dance rehearsals. I realise that I'm currently in the same position I've been granted access to Jay Yung's private process. Fundamentally this is work in progress the experiences and interaction that take place in here with eventually take form in a performance at a later date, at the moment I as viewer can actually see that mythical phase of an artist's process referred to as 'research'.

Leaving Jay Yung to her research I head upstairs where what looks like a flight deck from a spaceship waits. This is an installation by 0point3recurring. Three bucket seats sit open faced at different views of the iconic Preston bus station. In one I notice three brightly coloured cars positioning themselves in the car park that form the roof of the bus station and I settle into one of the seats. That action set into a motion a film taken from within cars that could be mistaken for gaudy trainers. It also sees the beginning of a soundtrack that has been generated by the movement of the car as it travels through Preston. It emulates the kind of bass that appears to radiate from these cars naturally I'm a voyeur voyager having an indication of the experience of what might be termed 'da yoof' as the cars drives through the pre-car red brick building sending out electronic pulses, like some modified technologic animal searching for others of its species. Naturally, for me, the mixture of modernist architecture and car culture make my thoughts gravitate towards J.G Ballard. I can imagine this experience in his terms as modern technology connects with some primal need, in this case the need for tribalism and the significance of place, to form some new and possibly liberating culture.
Later it occurs to me that there is little difference in the people involved in Modz culture gathering in car parks or the people who gather at Stonehenge during mid-summer. Both reacting in ingrained needs to belong to something and to attach meaning to place.

This is the final piece I see, feel, experience and usually at this point there comes the time when I as critic judge the individual work against the conceptual ideas that have underpinned the exhibition. In order to judge its relative success. Of course as I stated at the beginning this does not wholly apply to this exhibition, I say not wholly as if there is any overarching ambition to this exhibition it is the one of showcasing the range and the skillz of a number of North West artists. On those terms it would be hard to say anything other than the exhibition is a success. Also a one of those 'critic' types, I have to admit that it has been enjoyable to engage with individual pieces of art, feeling that you where addressing individual artists.



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