Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Galapagos, The Bluecoat - Liverpool

I am sure I am not alone in doing this but when I wonder around exhibitions making seemingly random connections between the work on display and my own experiences. One of these connections happened while looking at The Bluecoat's current Galapagos exhibition, where I was reminded of a novel I had read I few years ago called The Traveller in Black
by John Brunner. This was a fantasy novel wherein the titular Traveller in Black is charged with bringing order and reason to a world of chaos and magic.

Why would this fantasy novel spring to mind, when the twelve artists involved in the exhibition have rooted themselves within the real world, within the physicality of the Galapagos Islands themselves. It may lay in my perception of the islands themselves, which provides a kind of link to The Bluecoat's previous Topophobia exhibition. The associations between the exhibitions between Brunner's book and the exhibition may have been triggered by Alexis Deacon's sketches of the creatures that dwell of the dream archipelagos.

Within Deacon's rather beautiful drawings there is the reminder of a time when 'here be monsters', things that existed just beyond the horizon, monsters which disappeared into fiction as Europeans expanded their influence across the globe. The islands saw their first European visitors in the 16th century who saw nothing of worth in the islands, outside of providing a rich source of protein in the form of Giant Tortoises. So this pragmatism is counter to the image I have of sailors struck in awe at the creatures living on the islands. Though I have to wonder what the sailor Thomas Chappell saw that caused him to burn one of the islands in 1820.

Maybe this marks the point the starting point where the European idea of reason conquered though exploration and categorization the realms of mythology. Like Brunner's titular hero's quest to bring everything to a single nature. A process that continues to this day, when confronted by Dorothy Cross's hovering whale spine, their first reaction is to assume that it is the bones of a dinosaur. Rather than the bones of some forgotten giant species. I also wonder if this speaks about our perception that we are the top of our evolutionary tree and therefore there is nothing 'bigger' then us currently on this planet.

Taking that supposed place on the top of the tree, eventually humans settled on Galapagos. Their lives and settlements becoming fodder for the exploratory photographs of the likes of Paulo Catrica or even falling under the critical eye of the islands true inhabitants such as The Blue-footed Booby (with the help of Marcus Coates) who sees nothing special in the lives of humans. I guess what we can take from the progression of reason is that we aren't as separate from nature as we seem, and within the ecology of the islands we see ecology of our selves.

I've also written a piece about Kaffe Matthews sound installation read it here




Friday, 4 May 2012

Where I’m Anymore…

This was a piece I wrote as a companion piece to this http://www.thedoublenegative.co.uk/2012/02/no-map-for-this-territory/ which in turn was about the recent Topophobia exhibition at The Bluecoat….

Where to begin, where do I position myself to begin writing. It's problematic. Especially when the subject you want to talk about, in this case the Topophobia exhibition at The Bluecoat, which itself deals with the shifting definitions of space and place.

So where I am? (Or should that be where was I?) Well this piece was initially written in The Bluecoat Gallery, to be more precise Gallery 3 of The Bluecoat. That's the room at the back with the really big windows, where the orbs of Polly Gould sit quietly and look out on the passers-by.

It seems apt to start here, in a place which a mere four years ago not exist in this state as it was created during the gallery's two year hibernation. Which leads into the other reason, it was in that period of hibernation that saw the 'arrival' of Liverpool One, a large retail development which has become to dominate this part of the city.

Looking out into the street I wonder if this is an example of what Marc Augé termed super modernity. A space or place which is as once familiar, but holds no meaning. A place which has no evidence of human permanence, the little echoes of humanity, yet. In a slight digression a place like Liverpool One also highlights, if inadvertently, the economic, social and political forces that shape a city. Also how the ambitions of a small group of people can have on the wider population.

Why have I wittered on about retail development (a subject I know very little about) well spending time in Gallery 3 it hard not to see a bleedthrough between exhibitions themes of displacement of the reduction of meaning which leads to feeling of anxiety and the space immediately outside the gallery space. Though I am not sure which is bleeding into which.

Perhaps it's just being in the Gallery 3 space with it large aquarium like windows which offers me a view on the people passing by which makes me reflect on the transient nature of the space that surrounds us. This in turn makes me reflect on the transient nature of the space I inhabit.

Surely to some degree this gallery is a non-place. As much through necessary for a gallery space has to be accommodating to the art which flows through it. A sympathetic shell, a contemporary gallery in the broadest sense of the world.

Are the spaces of The Bluecoat and Liverpool One a model of how we live in the world? To understand that nothing is permanent, that everything is open to change. These shifting, intermediate spaces have existed in one form of another. Ever since somebody set up an artificial border (a hedge of fence) and claimed that this land is different from all the land which surrounds.

This claiming of ownership of land can be considered the origin of where our concepts and landscape and place. Is this where our anxieties about place stem from? This supposedly setting of physical boundaries created a set of undefined boundaries between commerce and culture. For centuries the idea of a place was in part set by the people who wanted to or could afford to, little interest in with we would consider 'landscape painting' until land owners wanted to be able to show off their lands without taking people there.

What has this got to do with The Bluecoat or Liverpool One, well for one it shows the artists role in defining or exploring our notions of place. Only now these definitions are as much up to the individual as much as they are to the culture, perhaps our modern definitions of place arrive from shared experiences rather than solely physical limits. Would it be better to consider these apparent non-places such as Liverpool One, chain stores and even perhaps contemporary galleries (though I haven't mentioned it before the internet) as the canvases, stages on which we become part of a collective experience.

Of course from my removed position (once in Gallery 3, now elsewhere) I can't offer definitive proof of this, but it is something to consider the next time you pop into a gallery or even Tesco's or Starbucks.

The exhibition will tour to the Spacex Gallery, Exeter from the 12th May