Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Cains Brewery.

"We are not of this race. We are not of this earth. Susan and I are wanderers in the fourth dimension of space and time, cut off from our own people by distances beyond the reach of your most advanced science." -- The Doctor, An Unearthly Child.
Art This journey through space and probably time, since we're all travelling into the future even if it's the slow way, by seconds, minutes, hours and days, begins at Caines Brewery.  Caines was one of the key Liverpool businesses, founded by Irishman Robert Cain in 1858 and at its height owned a chain of over two hundred pubs but over the years through mergers and takeovers its licensed premises and brewing have been watered down to the point that there are just five establishments left and the Cains name is being lent to a collection of craft beers.  This factory was closed in 2013 with a view to redeveloping the entire site as a leisure and and housing complex [wikipedia].  Caines's website is still up and running as though none of this has occurred with all its bells and whistles and no mention that the Biennial has temporarily made it's home here.

Despite not being much of a drinker, I had always planned to book a visit for a tour of the factory fascinated as I am with manufacturing process as well as how they're communicated to the public.  But meant doesn't always translate into do, and so this was the first time I'd really set foot on the site, apart from the occasion when I got lost on the way to The Gallery art space a few years ago.  Like the Old Blind School and the Copperas Hill post building back in the day, it's an opportunity to see inside old working buildings otherwise shut off from the public with their fixtures and fittings still largely intact.  The space, the old canning hall, has a similar atmosphere to The Furnace, the hall utilised at AFoundation during the 2006 edition of the Biennial and which now houses the main eating area with the caravans at Camp and Furnace.  High roof, concrete floors and an adequate toilet.

Three of the Biennial's "episodes" feature, Chinatown, Flashback and the Children's Episode.  These are are separated by Andreas Angelidakis's Collider, a large structure of concentric circular walls apparently inspired by the Large Hadron Collider (for which the University's Victoria Gallery and Museum currently has a fascinating exhibition).  Immediately it's apparent that although the concept of the episode implies separation between sites just as they would be in a televisions series, these themes will in fact be somewhat intermingled - there's also an exhibit from the Software theme here too.  The effect seems more analogous to someone changing channels on a television and skipping between different series or the crosscutting of storylines in an ensemble film, especially if those storylines don't interact directly like Griffiths's Intolerance.

As you might expect my favourite piece in the show, Yin-Ju Chen's Extrastellar Evaluations riffs on the theme of alien presences interacting on earth.  The idea is to gather together evidence of a race of beings from the lost continent Lemuria, living on Earth in another dimension but visiting us periodically and most notably as a group of conceptual artists in the 1960s.  Most recently on display at the Kadist Gallery in San Francisco, it's spread across Caines and FACT and in Caines inhabits the Chinatown and Flashback "episodes".  Rather like a story told across multiple episodes, we can only really appreciate the whole effect once we've experienced all of the sections creating an incentive for visitors to travel to the various venues  Knowing my luck with the randomiser, I'll be seeing the rest of the piece in a couple of months.

The first section, in Chinatown, is in an office on the edge of the main space, a long darkened room with a video projection at one end, metal tiles arranged in two patterns and easy to kick if you're not watching what you're doing arrangements of crystals.  You're initially greeted by a letter (in very nice joined up handwriting) from someone called Lucia, who claims to have been channeling the message of the Lemuria indicating, rather poignantly given how 2016's gone so far, that if "Earth beings become one" they'll be happy to bring their higher civilisation back to this "blue marble".  So we're in Eric Von Daniken territory territory, or Arthur C Clarke's monolith, the notion of higher beings nurturing humanity.  In Doctor Who this tends to mean Scaroth or the Silents and there's very much an ulterior motive.

The screen features a figure bestride the landscape, long blonde hair, look of intent.  Now we're presented with the notion of alien visitor, Jeff Bridges in Starman, Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth or indeed a Time Lord.  He wanders about, investigating, walking.  He, we must assume is Adama, the person communicating with Lucia.  Words are superimposed across the screen, greeting us, explaining his intent, advising us when his message is sent.  We must then conclude that the metal plates are part of his communication device and the crystals indicate in their shape his constellation of origin and some other things.  Are we supposed to be visiting a recreation of the site where he's been or the devices he uses to communicate with us?  Given everything happening elsewhere in the canning room, the suspension of disbelief is impressive.

The exhibit continues in Flashback with photograph of the cosmos projected on the wall, a television set on the floor and a chart filled with geometric shapes and photographs from Earth's past nearby.  I sat on the floor and watched the screen as it filled with images similar to those in the other space, of green landscapes and snow filled vistas but instead of the starman, it's what must be his ship, a giant mirrored cube floating through like a Zardoz head or the Pandorica in flight-mode and with all the elegance of Skagra's sphere in the BBC Video restoration of Shada.  I whooped with delight.  The photographs in the chart indicate divisive or tragic moments of the 60s, the Vietnam War and the death of the Apollo 1 astronauts, mixed with examples of abstract public art, obelisks and other weirdly shaped structures, which we must infer are the  Lemurian's handywork.

An Interview with Yin-Ju Chen, Kadist Artist in Residence 2016. Extrastellar Evaluations is on view 5/11-6/25 from Kadist on Vimeo.

Find above an interview with the artist from its appearance at Kadist (with excerpts from the videos) in which she talks about this mythology in much the same way as any writer does about science fiction.  Her ideas are rich and based on existing stories, Lemuria was part of a theory from the 19th century designed to explain incongruities in platechtonics which have since been discredited.  This fictional land has nevertheless spawned a range of genre fiction, notably as an antagonist for Namor The Sub-Mariner's Atlantis.  The word "Lemuria" has appeared in Doctor Who, in the Alan Barnes's Seventh Doctor audio, Daleks Among Us, but it seems to be attributed to something else entirely although the notion of extra-dimensional beings having and effect on human history is almost a cliche in the Whoniverse.  Almost?

In some ways, I wish that video was available in the gallery space by way of explanation although perhaps the fiction as it stands is supposed to be opaque, hoping to fire our imagination.  It succeeds, especially if you're a fan of this kind of fiction.  My favourite element is how it co-opts other artworks in a similar way to newsworthy events in alternative history fictions, the metal tiles and rocks implying that the Lemurians have been communicating through other artists.  I wonder how I might have approached these sections if I'd seen the FACT material first, something I won't know until I make it there.  Let's have a look and see if the randomiser on my time ship will land me on Wood Street next.  Set the controls and .... no, not yet ... fast return switch it is then ...

Next Destination:
Tate Liverpool

Liverpool Biennial 2016:

Art  Here we go again ...  Up until about half ten this morning I didn't own a collapsible umbrella. Having recently bought a new coat because my old faithful had become tent-like due to losing all this weight, I'd been wearing it pretty much on and off since last December due to the inclement weather. But now we've reached July, it's still raining but it's also too warm to wear the new faithful. So lacking an umbrella I headed out to the Liverpool Biennial press day in just by jumper and within seconds of leaving the house resembled a very sinister sponge having not noticed that it was raining. This was not good and so after walking some, I ended up at Sports Direct in Liverpool One buying a Dunlop-branded TARDIS blue collapsible umbrella which was relatively flimsy stopped me from getting wetter as I trudged across the Dock Road and to Tate Liverpool.

Even after all these years, I'm still very excited about the Liverpool Biennial and especially the Liverpool Biennial press launches.  Even though I'm pretty well on record, well on this blog, in not exactly loving everything about every Biennial, because human taste dictates that when faced with challenging artwork we're unlikely to like everything, there's always that same sense of anticipation.  What will there be?  What will I see?  Even the press days are different each time.  In 2014, we met in the shell of what was called The Blind School for a relatively low-key affair but this was a full on bash with accreditation tables in the foyer, lecturned introduction in a meeting room and around eighty to a hundred members of the real press.  And me.  The new innovation are the pictured wristbands, much easier to navigate than the old cardboard signs on lanyards.  Yes, I know I have hairy arms.

Speeches.  From Sally Tarrant, director of the Liverpool Biennial.  From Francesco Manacorda, artistic director of Tate Liverpool.  From Culture Liverpool Director, Claire McColgan.  From Wirral South MP Alison McGovern.  Although not expressed specifically, Brexit underscored much of what was said, about how since the Capital of Culture, Liverpool has transformed itself out of all recognition into a truly European city and how even as we face this needlessly uncertain future, we'd be reckless of toss that effort away (and since we're on of the few cities which has voted to remain, I hope that won't be the case).  Alison McGovern's speech very powerfully described what it's been like seeing the Biennial's introduction and development and how it's helped shape the city's perception of itself and how we all embrace it.  I tweeted her afterwards to thank her for her words and compliment her on being her and she replied.  Like me, she's a Biennial fan.

The overall tone felt much more confident than in 2014, more robust, much closer to earlier editions and that's reflected in there being a much clearer theme which is, to quote the booklet, to explore "fictions, stories and histories, taking viewers on a series of voyages through time and space."  Der-der-der-dum.  "These journeys take the form of six 'episodes': Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children's Episode, Software, Monuments from the Future and Flashback."  Der-der-der-dum.  Effectively while Doctor Who is on hiatus (or whatever you want to call this gap year) the Liverpool Biennial is picking up the slack, the arts festival equivalent of the Colin Baker starring art-themed Radio 4 drama Slipback.  Cue the sound of drums.  After the theme of the Biennial being the absence of a theme last time, now there are effectively six.  I'll see over the coming months just how closely the work reflects those themes and how they mesh together.

As is customary for the press days, there's a very carefully worked out itinerary, in which visitors are shuttled by bus between venues with curatorial explanations in each but since I don't have a deadline and because I didn't want to rush through everything in a couple of days, once the press launch had completed, rather than sticking around at the Tate, I wandered instead down to the second stop at Caine's Brewery and once the rest of the press pack had arrived, we were served a pizza lunch at The Brewery Tap nearby.  This was very nice pizza and I may have eaten more than my fair share of it.  After that as everyone else headed off to the announcement of the John Moores Painting Prize, I stuck around at Caine's for the rest of the afternoon and although this wasn't quite as involved a process as The Blind School had been in logistical terms, there was more than enough to keep me occupied and I'll write about that soon.

Some route talk.  In recent years, my process for visiting the venues has been in numerical order based on the map in the official booklet, but since the theme this year is episodes and there's much talk of time travel, I've decided instead to engage a randomiser and visit them all in whatever order this website dictates.  Although I'll be taking my TARDIS (you'll see) through space rather than actual time, my hope is that there'll still be a sense of visiting other conceptual periods as I work my way through the exhibitions.  According to the booklet there are twenty-seven official venues and commissions as well as the Centre for Chinese Culture in Manchester which is twenty-eight.  There's also the usual fringe or independent section so I'll be slipping a time track now and then to see what's happening there.  The pamphlet produced by The Double Negative implies great things.  Overall, with any luck, it's going to turn out to be "quite a great spirit of adventure."  Here we go again ...

Next Destination:
Cains Brewery.

Cathy Come Home: The Stage Show.

Theatre Last night The Barbican offered a stage version of Ken Loach's seminal film Cathy Come Home and have presented a recording of the live stream on YouTube:
"Catch up on this incredible performance of Cathy Come Home by watching the video above (starts from 19 minutes 25 seconds - an edit will be uploaded shortly). The shows runs for approximately one hour and is directly followed by a panel debate asking the question: "Homelessness 50 years on: what's changed?" featuring legendary filmmaker Ken Loach, BBC journalist Samira Ahmed, Shelter's CEO Campbell Robb, our Artistic Director and Founder Adrian Jackson, Mercury Prize nominated musician Eska and Deputy Mayor for Housing James Murray. Have your say and join the conversation."

The Superlambanana is in a Fucking Mess (Updated!)

Art Excellent news. This blog post was picked up by Radio Merseyside who reported on it this afternoon. They've spoken to the council and ...

Here's the original post ...

Art Some friends visited Liverpool today and I gave them a tour of the city taking in the major sites one of which being the Superlambanana which is currently outside one of John Moores University's libraries on Tithebarn Street. As I discovered back in the late nineties when researching public art for various reasons, although towns and cities are very grateful to have them installed, their upkeep is a whole other thing and so it's proving with what's become a modern icon of the city.

As you can see from the above photo and the close-ups below, the paintwork is pretty much knackered, less cared for than the average bus shelter. At a certain point it has had a second layer but rather than doing what's needed which is to sand the whole thing down and start again with a more weather resistant paint, it was simply touched up between the gaps and now in large sections the paintwork has dropped away leave bare concrete. It looks sad. Unloved. Forgotten.

This shot is of a major portion of the side. As you can see the paint has almost completely fallen away.

You may have noticed in the midst of that the addition of the litter bin which has been put next to the underbelly of the beast. Here it is in-situ. I've blanked out the face of the members of the public nearby. Apologies for the language by the way but I was trying to get the getting one people who this on social media. Some intemperate bad language seems to work.  For some reason.

Who administers the upkeep of the sculpture I wonder?  Is there a special budget somewhere?  Does original artist Taro Chiezo need to be involved?  It's just extremely weird that a piece of public art which is merchandised this extensively, which has spawned all of those children, notably those produced in 2010 which are now outside the Museum of Liverpool and clearly loved by some many people should now be in such a shabby state.

My Favourite Film of 1939.

Film The first time I heard the soundtrack album to Good Morning Vietnam was during a sponsored walk at a scout hut in Garston in the late 80s. I remember vividly sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car having completed my wander around the grounds, pressing play on the cassette in the stereo and hearing Robin Williams pipe up with his opening monologue with little knowledge of what the film was about or even having seen it, despite having seen the posters covering the walls of the local Video City when the film was released on rental dvd. As we've discussed I was too busy with Star Trek and Police Academy.

Within days I was provided with a bootleg copy which I then spent the following weeks and months listening to incessantly until I had memorised his monologues and knew the songs off by heart. This was also the first time I'd even heard anything from the original film of The Wizard of Oz, my choice for 1939, even in this parody, which is strange considering one of the earliest books I owned was The Marvelous Land of Oz and my parents had taken me to see Walter Murch's Return to Oz at the Woolton Picture House one birthday.  My first viewing of Oz wasn't until many years later in the library at Leeds Met one idle afternoon.

So despite having an incessant difficulty learning anything off by heart which has curtailed my acting career, hum, and means I'm still plugging away at "To Be Or Not To Be..." I still have scraps of this speech in my head from years ago.  Perhaps it's because I remember laugh at the time, perhaps it was that the same relative had also memorised the speeches and I didn't want to be outdone, I'm not sure why it's lodged up here, but even after all these years, everything which has happened, I think I'm still able to recall at least that opening section.  Let's see.  Apologies for any mess syntax and grammar.  Translating speech to text is hard.

"Gooood Morning Vietnam, hey this is not test, this is rock and roll. Time to rock it from the delta to the DMA. Is it a little too early for being that loud, hey too late. This is oh-six-hundred. What does the oh stand for? "Oh my god it's early." Speaking of early, nunee-nunee-noo-noo, nunee-nunee-noo-noo, picture a man going on a journey beyond sight and sound, he has left Crete, he has entered the demilitarized zone. What is the demilitarized zone? Sounds like something out of the Wizard of Oz. "Oh look you landed in Saigon, you're among the little people now." "We represent the other, other army." "Oh no, don't go in there ..." "Ooeeoo, Ho-chi-min." "Oh no, it's the Wicked Witch of the North, it's Hanow-Hanoy!" "Aaah little GI, you and you're little tu-to, too. Aaah I'm melting... don't you my pretty ah...!"

A quick listen again to the soundtrack on Spotify reveals I've forgotten "Is that me, or does that sound like an Elvis Presley movie? Viva Da Nang. Oh, viva, Da Nang. Da Nang me, Da Nang me. Why don't they get a rope and hang me?" and some business about calling "Hanow" a slut. It's not the most PC business but probably completely in period.  Certainly at the age of eleven or twelve people saying naughty words was inherently funny, however un-PC they are now.  When our primary school gave out free dictionaries, our first instinct was to look up all the rude words and even in secondary school we all knew which page number of the Biology textbook had line drawings of genitalia.  254. 

Here's a supercut all Adrian's business, which reveals that the material on the album was heavily edited from the material in the film:

Hamlet: A Critical Reader. Edited by Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson.

Books  Yesterday whilst writing about Thompson and Taylor's introduction to the revised edition of their 2006 Arden Third Series publication of Hamlet, I noted how for the most part they ignored general literary criticism and focused instead on textual matters.  Here it is instead in Hamlet: A Critical Reader, an extension to that original work expanding on some of its themes and introducing others.

Part of a series which will notionally cover all of the plays, numerous authors tackle various, now standard elements of literary criticism, through chapters with largely self explanatory titles: The Critical Backstory, Performance History, The State of the Art (survey Hamlet lit crit in the past decade), New Directions: Hamlet and Gender, New Directions: Hamlet, Cinema, the World and New Directions: Being Hamlet Not Being Hamlet (a piece of original lit crit by Frank McGuinness).

Mostly allergic to literary criticism for recreational purposes, especially when it's simply restating other people's work on a particular topic for student research purposes rather than injecting something original, I nonetheless found the Lois Potter's performance history particularly valuable.  I'd not known previously that when Garrick toured his portrayal, he'd play the role against a backdrop of popular local players, which on one occasion led to him sharing billing with the star playing Osric.

Catherine Belsey's brief survey of feminism in Hamlet studies is also useful in recording the extent to which female actors have played the Danish prince both in English, abroad and on film, emphasising to varying degrees the potency of his femininity and the extent to which the text is rewritten to explain the change in gender.  We're yet to really see her played simply as a woman, Rosalind-style disguises or simply playing it as a "man" the general rule.

The book closes with a section listing resources, texts, websites, films and essays.  The Hamlet Weblog is not mentioned, which is probably for the best.  The film list is selective, mostly covering the more high profile entries, ignoring those starring Kevin Kline, Campbell Scott, Richard Burton and Christopher Plummer.  But I imagine if I was studying Hamlet at school or college this would act as a very good jumping off point.

Hamlet: A Critical Reader. Edited by Neil Taylor and Ann Thompson is published by Bloomsbury. 2016. ISBN: 978-1472571373. Review copy supplied.