Chinese Gate from the series The Dark Ages copyright Jamie Lau 2014

Chinese Gate from the series The Dark Ages copyright Jamie Lau 2014

Earlier this week I went to see the new exhibition at Open Eye gallery in Liverpool. The gallery describes the show as an audio, visual survey of the history and changes that have taken place within the oldest Chinese community in Europe; it is curated by exhibition coordinator Jill Carruthers. Ebb and Flow presents a mixture of fine art photography, archive material, photojournalism and sound recordings.

The exhibition takes a reverse chronological approach, starting with newly commissioned work by artist Jamie Lau. Lau’s photographs show the glow of street signs at night, demonstrating his skillful handling of chiaroscuro, perhaps partly due to his mixed media practice, which also includes sculpture. Lau we are told is an outsider to the community (and the city – he is based in London). His work seems a bit detached – very beautiful and painterly, with shades of Edward Hopper or Ed Rusha.

Lau’s work is evocative of Chinatown as a place, but it doesn’t focus on the individuals and the personalities of the community. The other fine art photographer in the exhibition, however, does just this. Martin Parr has documented many aspects of Merseyside life during his forty-year career. His images in this exhibition are typical of his ‘intimate, satirical and anthropological’ style, resulting in work that is a bit kitsch, a bit funny; strong images that potentially say more about Parr than his subjects – so distinctive is his lens.

A very different anthropological approach is practiced by The Sound Agents. They collect aural histories, ephemera and archive material to preserve the personal stories of a community that dates back to 1834 and eighty years later is the city’s largest non-white ethnic group. In this exhibition, the outcomes of their research serve as useful context, rather than contributing critically.

The final section of the exhibition, on the top floor, comprises images by photojournalist Bert Hardy. What elevates this group of photographs is the note in the interpretation that they were not published by his employer, Picture Post, in the 1940s because they revealed the hardship of the Chinese seamen – who were paid less than their white British counterparts – and would have caused a scandal. It’s interesting to put this last, so we don’t read all the work as being defined by this inauspicious foundation.

What this exhibition demonstrates is how important the community is to the character and history of modern Liverpool. No one element of this exhibition can tell the whole account of the Chinese residents of the city, however, the different strands of the show complement each other well. The only thing that could be considered missing is fine art or critical content generated by the community itself.

Concept image by Li Xiaodong

Concept image by Li Xiaodong

There is nothing unusual these days about three Chinese contemporary artists having concurrent shows in central London. Or, for that matter, a Chinese practitioner from any discipline being included in a survey exhibition of their field here.  What follows are some thoughts on the current snap shot of Chinese art on show in the UK capital, through the filter of my current research focus: the relationship between translation and curatorial practise in the display of Chinese art outside the PRC.

The first exhibition was He Xiangyu at White Cube, Bermondsey.  The venue recalls The Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. An abundance of space, a different scale to most comparable galleries. Doors so vast I assumed they were a loading bay rather than the entrance that visitors should use.  Xiangyu was one of three artists on show in separate solo presentations. His work requires space (in particular to accommodate a full size tank made from luxury Italian leather) but also brings our attention to the tiny and fragile. On this occasion to a pagoda made from his own wisdom teeth.

Wisdom Tower, 2013 by He Xiangyu

Wisdom Tower, 2013 by He Xiangyu

Xiangyu was born in 1986 and is based in Beijing. Like many of his contemporaries, he is concerned with the relationship between materials and the manufacture of goods. He used a factory of seamstresses to make his tank, which lies deflated in the gallery like a carcass.  He also makes reference in his work to the one child policy – represented by a single egg in an egg tray made from gold.  Manufacture and government policy are issues impossible to avoid in any discourse concerning China in the 21st century. Many emerging Chinese artists feel compelled to address them in spite of the fact that (or maybe because) they have an international platform.

Across town, where all the galleries are surrounded by symbols of extreme wealth, White Cube Mason’s Yard displayed the work of only one artist, Liu Wei. Wei’s work, in a comparison with Xiangyu that is unnecessary apart from within the framework of this piece of writing, lacks the latter’s humour.  His sculptures are monuments to urbanism. Beautifully made. Minimal. Dealing apparently with ideas of “structure and unpredictability, fixity and impermanence” using reformed building site detritus. These works are physically solid and conceptually impenetrable, my only hope is that one day I have the opportunity to hear the artist’s voice speaking on behalf of these strong, mute objects.

In this small section of the city I also found the last artist, and the architect under examination here.  For the architect we need to look within the prestigious Royal Academy of Art and the exhibition Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined (on display until 6 April 2014).  Each room is like a mission statement; a response to the Neoclassical interior of the RA, but also a showcase for the principles, concerns and style of each architectural practise.  The exhibition encourages a non-linear progression through the rooms, and the emphasis is on a multi-sensory visitor experience using movement, sound and touch, and if you are so inclined, potentially through attending a yoga class as part of their special events programme.

The Chinese architect making up one seventh of the selection is Li Xiaodong. As with each of the rooms, the information we are provided with at the outset is scant, details like: location (Beijing) founding date (1997) the key materials in this installation (hazel sticks, acrylic panels with LED lights, beech plywood, pebbles, mirror) and some health and safety advice (some visitors may find the LED lighting disturbing). There was no attempt at this stage to anticipate your emotional experience or introduce the character of Xiaodong.  This allowed me the freedom to respond in my own way – the sound of walking on pebbles evoking memories of walks on the beach – before finding out more about all the architects in a beautifully produced 16 minute film at the end. It was then that Xiaodong explained how he had previously used similar “twigs” to create a library  in rural China, and the pebbles at the end of his RA ‘maze’ were not a beach but a zen garden.

Behind the RA in Hauser & Wirth on Saville Row, the work of Zhang Enli represents the generation preceding Xiangyu.  Yet in his canvasses there is a melancholy, industrial thread that speaks to both the White Cube artists, as well as creating a space for reflection comparable to the installation of Xiaodong. Even when colours are used, their thin washes have a greyness.  Enli’s paintings are figurative but self consciously inaccurate, paired down and nostalgic. Perhaps because he is older and he has been with the gallery for some time, they have provided a confident press release; although useful to have, I don’t feel I need much help to find my way into these works.

The Cargo, 2012 by Zhang Enli

The Cargo, 2012 by Zhang Enli

My final thought is even if you don’t feel you need it, that being given more information is never a bad thing. If not explicitly told, for example, I would never have guessed that an egg represented a child with no siblings.  Although the convention in some contemporary galleries is to tell you as little as possible; as the RA demonstrates, audio visual materials can be sensitively and elegantly executed – it doesn’t have to feel like a museum. To see an artist’s body language, as well as hear their words, can enhance the experience of seeing their work (seeing an artist talk in the flesh is ideal but the opportunities to do this are often fleeting). Maybe younger artists of any nationality want to err towards saying less in order to let the work speak, but the risk in doing so is that some or all of the meaning is lost.

I’ve spotted some really exciting exhibitions and art festivals coming up in 2014. Here are the ten I am looking forward to the most…

1. David Lynch The Factory Photographs

17 January – 30 March 2014

The Photographers Gallery, London

Best known as a film director, David Lynch has had exhibitions of his pictures at venues including the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris.  This exhibition reveals his enduring interest in the sludgy, industrial environments audiences will recognise from his classic films.

2. Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain

Tate Liverpool

28 February – 11 May 2014

Having seen the first incarnation of this exhibition at Iniva, London I am really curious to see how the exhibition has evolved.  Based on the book Keywords by Raymond Williams, first published in 1976, the intention is to explore the connections between ‘word and image’.

3. Wonder Woman festival of feminist art, music and history

Various venues Manchester

March 2014

As and when details of the programme are confirmed, they will be listed on


4. British Folk Art

Tate Britain

10 June – 7 September 2014

This exhibition claims to be the first major survey of British folk art.  It will include: Toby jugs, ships’ figureheads, carousel horses, a larger than life-size thatched figure of King Alfred, maritime embroidery, shop signs and whirligigs.

5. Hauser & Wirth Somerset

Opens summer 2014

Not much detail yet… but this interview with Director Alice Workman in the Guardian has whetted my appetite…

6. Manifesta 10

29 June – 31 October 2014

The Hermitage, St Petersburg

This is a wild card as it’s quite unlikely I’ll make it to St Petersburg for this edition of Europe’s roving triennial.  There is an interesting post on their website (here) about why it’s important to hold the festival in Russia whilst some commentators are calling for cultural and sporting boycotts.

7. Liverpool Biennial

Various venues Liverpool

5 July – 26 October 2014

The UK’s biennial has established a stronger year-round programme of talks and events, but their focus is still on the period of the festival when “newly commissioned artworks [will] interact with the urban landscape” and all the city’s key venues will hold their own exhibitions. More detail on the artists involved still to be announced.

8. Fiona Banner new commission

19 July – 2 November 2014

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The new commission promises to follow on from ‘Banner’s 2010 Tate Britain commission Harrier and Jaguar, an installation of two fighter jets’ by continuing her inquiry focussing on machines of war.  The commission will be augmented by related installation and film.

9. Ryan Trecartin

Zabludowicz Collection, London

2 October – 21 December 2014

Previous exhibitor of the Liverpool Biennial, LA-based Trecartin produces videos that investigate some of the more extreme manifestations of youth culture.  Excited to see his latest output.


10. Asia Triennial Manchester

October – November 2014

Various venues Manchester

Not clear where to find more info about this festival as and when events are confirmed. Again, my advice would be to check on


Check back here throughout 2014 and I’ll try to review one or two of them!


Disklavier piano

Disklavier piano

Philippe Parreno makes his art from curation, production, direction and arrangement. His survey exhibition Anywhere, anywhere out of this world is the first to fill every space of the Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art venue not far from the bank of the River Seine that usually hosts up for four exhibitions at one time. Around his pieces, both old and new, visitors are choreographed, rather than left alone to ricochet from object to film to installation.  The exhibition itself is Parreno’s artform.

He is an artist comfortable in his historical timeframe: borrowing from 20th century art and history whilst looking forwards to the future.  Architecture, design, an automative drawing machine, a decommissioned Manga character, a premiership footballer, light and darkness – all can be Parreno’s subject, media or object. The artist described his 2012 film Marilyn (which invites the viewer into the hotel suite where the actress lived) as a ‘séance’, a good word to describe his own ability to make work that is greater than the sum of its parts.

From the entrance, framed by one of his light bulb marquee pieces, the artist uses the abundance of Art Deco concrete space to create a grand introduction to his 2007 film work, The Writer.  The space is layered with another installation, 56 Flashing Lights; a hint of what is to come later. Four Disklavier pianos play Stravinsky’s ‘Petroushka’ at intervals through the gallery, providing a haunting atmosphere and a musical backbone to the exhibition.

Now we enter a room that is dark. Florescent images float many metres up one wall, with the evocative title The Void, A series of Sculptures to be eaten; whilst opposite them a machine is busy producing hundreds of identical copies of a hand-drawn doodled note, and tossing them onto the floor.  The light in the room suddenly comes on. But what is this behind the bookcase? A secret gallery? A display of delicate drawings prove that Parreno can present with intimacy as well as drama.

In the basement there is a dialogue of light sculptures; mindlessly chattering, propositioning and responding.  When they all turn off at once, all that is left is the floating gleam of smartphone screens; when a sculpture flickers into life it reveals viewers sat mesmerised in all corners of the room.  It is not the only installation with a hypnotic quality; we linger as long as possible in the icy environment of his snowdrift and, when we try to leave the exhibition, we become transfixed watching a curved wall slowly circumvent a circular platform.

‘Collaboration,’ the buzz word of the 00s, is an important element of Parreno’s practise, and many of the works in this show involve his contemporaries and friends including Tino Sehgal, Doug Aitken and Pierre Huygue.  This exhibition is a home coming for the Paris-based artist described by academic (and former Director of the Palais de Tokyo) Nicholas Bourriaud as exemplifying his theory of Relational Aesthetics.

For some artists the retrospective or survey show feels like a dead end. But Anywhere anywhere… is a kind of collaboration between Parreno and the Palais de Tokyo, making use and sense of the venue’s rarely-used sub title: ‘Site de création contemporaine’ (site for contemporary creation.) What the artist has created is a site specific experience, which quite simply couldn’t have happened anywhere else.

First published in Art World magazine, Shanghai

“Ladies. Ladies and gentlemen. Ladies. Thanks for coming…”

Two men in yellow high visibility jackets are bringing furniture into the room: comfy chairs, a long low table, a vase full of delicate beige and green flowers, bottled water and glasses. They are followed by a professional cameraman. The crowd is wondering, sometimes out loud: is this Gerry Bibby’s performance?  Is this it? Some of them declare that they are bored and leave before it starts. Thump thump thump. The soundtrack is a beating heart accompanied by the sound of seashells cracking under foot on a beach.

We’ll come back to this event in a moment. It is only one temporary ‘mise en scene’ within an architectural spatial artwork, within a curated programme, within an art fair, at one of the most important events in the international contemporary art world calendar.  Frieze London in Regents Park is the art fair: one long weekend that spreads its influence throughout the year. One element of an empire that publishes Frieze and Frieze d/e, funds acquisitions for Tate galleries, commissions work through Frieze Foundation, initiates talks and film production; and, in 2012, inaugurated Frieze Masters, a secondary fair for pre-year 2000 artworks.

This year is the 10th year that Frieze Projects, the curated programme financed through the not-for-profit Frieze Foundation will present its outcome at the fair. It is the first year that curator Nicola Lees is at the helm, following her previous post as Senior Public Programme Curator at the Serpentine Gallery, a public venue situated in another of London’s prestigious open spaces, Hyde Park.

Her public programme background is interesting. Another ‘mover and shaker’, Liverpool Biennial’s Sally Tallant came to the North of England following a senior role in the public programme department at the Serpentine.  It seems to suggest that the hierarchies that have defined free art events (talks, workshops, websites) as less critical and important than other modes of artistic presentation (exhibitions, film production, performances, publications) are breaking down. Or at least that this merge of seemingly separate areas is the future of contemporary art.

Back to Gerry Bibby. When the scene is set, it is an ordinary artist talk, chaired by Vivian Ziherl from the group If You Can’t Dance then I Don’t Want to be Part of Your Revolution – who are long-term collaborators of Bibby’s, based in Amsterdam.  One of the men, the one who kept thanking us for coming, takes off his jacket and joins the panel, revealing that he is the artist. Between Bibby and Ziherl sits Professor of Fine Art Adrian Riffkin.  The three speakers start to analyse Bibby’s work. They begin by drawing our attention to a pile of oyster shells in the park beyond the glass window.

The empty shells are the residue of a performance and research process. Years before Bibby was asked by Frieze London to produce an artwork, having not long come to the UK from Australia, he worked at the festival as one of the technicians who built the marquee and set up the stands.  For his commissioned work he wanted to draw on this past experience as well as long-term concerns. The soil of Regents Park, he had discovered when he was asked to dig a big hole in the ground, was full of oyster shell fragments, from an era when they were used as cheap protein to feed the working classes of London. Now oysters are exclusively eaten by the rich.  His spotlight on this story invites us to question value and how it can change over time. He tells us he creates his artworks by ‘exploiting the poetic potential of situations’ – and all the time he is talking, just metres away, gallerists are selling their products: artworks as luxury goods.

This isn’t the first year that Frieze Project commissions have explored the idea of value. In 2011, German conceptual and video artist Christian Jankowski presented a luxury motor yacht on one of the stands in the fair. He used a Duchampian strategy on an ambitious scale, but the twist was that the yacht was available to buy at two different prices, one to own it as a boat and the other as a Jankowski artwork. Conversely, in 2012 the most effective project encouraged us to find value in items made from basic materials. Within a wooden structure, artist Bedwyr Williams handed out slices of ‘Curator Cadaver’ (cake) with his apron stained with blood (food colouring). He was performing on behalf of Grizedale Arts, an international residency and arts agency based in a remote part of the Northern England country side. The home-baked ethic contrasted with the glitzy celebration of wealth and high-end cool of Frieze.

This year the platform for the projects is designed by architect Andreas Angelidakis.  On his website Angelidakis says that after his training he moved away from a traditional architecture practice, as “contemporary art seemed like a language more fluent in criticism and versatility,” so now he creates buildings but also, “urban experiments, workshops, publications, temporary inhabitations” and collaborative projects with artists and theorists.  An ideal candidate to design this pop up structure. The space is made of cheap materials such as polystyrene and balsa wood, and it adapts and changes each day to accommodate performances; it is part TV studio, part artist studio, part boardroom, part laboratory; in flux, messy, half-baked. To walk through it is to follow a trail of traces.

I walk down a corridor of Joseph Strau’s graphic-designed unintelligible poetry. “These works,” he writes, “collected for the exhibition are hopefully abruptly beautiful and appear incoherently intense in an aesthetic of disconnected individual gravities are combined for their logic of their ennui to constantly refusing certain normative appearances of production interests.” What meaning he wants audiences to take from this is not clear.  At the end of the corridor is Lili Reyanud-Dewar’s bedroom.  The artist has decided at this point in her career to only make bedrooms, in protest to the nomadic lifestyle that artists live: taking up temporary residence in a gallery and then packing up and moving on.  The bed in this room has an angry fountain at its centre, gushing with black water.

Leaving the bedroom I encounter an oversized game of Battleships, initiated by Rivane Neuenschwander.  The paper removed from each square falls softly to the ground, gathering in ever bigger heaps.  What is the point of this? I ask one of the participants – who is a member of Frieze London staff – what do we get out of this exchange between you are the other game player?  She replies that audiences seem to like watching the game, but that sometimes they take the squares off when the players have stopped for a break. I understand how they feel. Who wants to watch a game that you can’t join in?

Sat on a polystyrene cube, watching Bibby’s performance/artist talk, I am becoming more and more uncomfortable The poor sound quality reinforces the feeling that this isn’t intended for a live audience. Instead, it is merely part of the performance process: plan, perform, document. We are witnesses to the denouement, rather than valued participants.  And yet I learn more about Bibby’s work than I find out about any of the other projects – the invigilators seem as unsure and ignorant about them as I am.

Better informed are the staff in the Frieze Projects’ children’s zone. “The Temple of Play has lots of sources of inspiration from the built world and the virtual world,” I am told by one of the activity leaders, “we worked together with artist Angelo Plessas to devise activities at the same time as he conceived the structure.” One of the more successful commissions, the room is full of light and popular with both school groups and children who have come with their parents. It is centred on a maze, maximising the opportunities to hide and build mini sub-structures. Many of the children are wearing paper cube hats, a technology that seems analogue at first glance, but are decorated with designs that refer to the origin of digital emoticons.

“My name’s Casey and I am in the group that worked with an artist who said she wanted to spend the money on us… I want to do something fun so I have been thinking about castles, and how we could do something in the community…” In the Temple of Play I am told that the most talked about of the projects is by Pivli Takala.  Instead of making an artwork, the artist worked with a group of children, making them ‘the committee’ who decided how her commission fee would be spent. The project revealed that the children were mature enough to handle complex ideas about art, and it exposed the confusing world of art finance. Takala said in the Art Newspaper, “It wasn’t about whether it’s art or not. For them, art can be anything—and I think that is correct… they have never been to Frieze, and even if they went, they would not understand the position they are in within the art market. But I don’t know if that is a problem; I don’t know if I understand the position that I am in with regards to the art market.”

On your first visit to Frieze it can be a surprise that no-one asks if you would like to know more about the works on display – this is what we have come to expect from galleries where the staff provide part of the interpretation. Perhaps because of this silence, the talks scheduled throughout the day become a valuable way to learn more about the art world’s inner workings.  There are talks on the subject of ‘Migrating Modernism,’ ‘Sexuality, Politics and Protest’ and ‘New partnerships between art and film’.

With the feature film ‘12 Years a Slave’ by former Turner Prize winner Steven McQueen about to release in cinemas in the UK, it feels timely to listen to commissioners, producers and filmmakers discuss whether art and film are still two distinct industries. It appears the barriers are intact for now (“If I make a film with a beginning, middle and an end, I ask for a cinema… I believe in the screen,” says filmmaker and artist Khalil Joreige) but things are changing. While the voices of artists are welcome in the film world, it’s not clear whether filmmakers find the same openness in the art world.  Frieze London has yet to formally partner with a film festival, but it bravely allows itself to be examined by those from the film industry within its own institutional context.

Leaving the talk, I lean against a wall to think about this some more.  My thoughts are interrupted by a violent crash!  The wall is made of transparent plastic, covered in coloured splats from the inside.  I squint inside to see two robotic arms, which every few moments throw a ball of neon paint in response to the movements of the audience outside the chamber. This installation by Ken Okiishi is like a light-hearted and less phallic version of Anish Kapoor’s wax cannon, first displayed at the Royal Academy in 2009.  Okiishi describes the piece as being influenced by Niki de Saint Phalle; the result is an echo of other works, rather than a masterpiece in its own right.

The dynamism of the projects suggests inclusion, but this isn’t taken far enough. The visitor is consistently left on the outside, given a glimpse of a world they cannot inhabit.  But is this true of the rest of the fair? Beyond Andreas Angelidakis’ structure, familiar conventions endure. The abstract painting. The beautiful hand-made drawing. The white middle-aged male gallerist. Glistening white walls.  However, around and between this ridged framework, distributed among hundreds of stands, there are many boundary-pushing international contemporary artworks to view.

One of the most affecting is Marcus Coates’ video work The Trip, 2011. The artist, who has been described as ‘eccentric’ ‘warm’ and ‘spiritual’, has a skill for gaining the trust of ordinary people and making them his collaborators.  The Trip takes place after Coates has been to a hospice and asked if one of the residents has any unfulfilled ambitions.  The dying man tells the artist that he is disappointed not to have visited the rainforest. What we hear through headphones is Coates’ vivid description of the Amazon rainforest after he has visited on the man’s behalf. It is colourful, poignant, filled with humorous exchanges between the two men and worth every second of its 30 minute duration.

Another captivating film was by Korean video and installation artist Do Huh Suh; his architectural imagery in high-definition hyper-bright colours melts satisfyingly from frame to frame.  It shows a totally different Korea to Thomas Struth’s panoramic photographs on display elsewhere. Isreali artist Yehudit Sasportas effortlessly drew me into her world.  Mark Leckey helped his gallery – Cabinet London – win the prize for the best stand. Li Songsong’s paintings captured a universal nostalgia. The public old and young crawled inside the belly of Jennifer Rubell’s giant, naked pregnant odalisque, titled ‘Portrait of the artist’. Enrico David showcased his ever more abstracted work based on the figure. And Micheal Dean’s earthenware cabbage rolled on the ground by my feet.

There are problems and there are wonderful things about Frieze London – problems that the Frieze Projects programme fails to thoroughly interrogate. If you are feeling cynical about the art world, the fair will provide fuel for that disenchantment. If you are feeling open and optimistic, it buzzes with creativity and ideas being exchanged.  It is the equivalent of several years of visits to small commercial galleries, several weeks of searching online to find out what everyone is talking about in the art world. To bring you up to speed in a few sentences: last year they were talking about a pink walrus by Carsten Höller. This year they are talking about Rubell’s odalisque.  I am talking about Marcus Coates. And Gerry Bibby is talking about oysters.

First published in Art World magazine, Shanghai

Battle Company, 2008

Battle Company, 2008

Infidel. A person who does not believe in religion, or who adheres to a religion other than one’s own. The word has become synonymous with the so-called War on Terror: for many, war has become a religion in itself, requiring a belief in the ‘superpower’ of Western governments to fully support it. It is also the title of a book by award-winning photojournalist Tim Hetherington, from which Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery has taken work for a new exhibition, You Never See Them Like This.

For the first exhibition under the auspices of director Lorenzo Fusi, the team at Open Eye haven’t shied away from emotional and political intensity. “When I first saw Tim’s photos they had a very powerful effect on me,” Fusi says passionately. “They managed to shift my attention from the general political context to focus on the ‘human factor.’ He portrayed the US soldiers stationed in the Afghan outpost as human beings, not just as war professionals.” The Infidelphotographs show American soldiers at work, at rest, and off duty while stationed in the stunning but war-ravaged landscape of north-eastern Afghanistan; images of the soldiers asleep are especially – and unnervingly – tender. Hetherington gives them individuality and humanity despite their generic uniforms.

The Merseyside photographer’s work strikes a balance between gritty reality and his own personal expression. “Tim realised that objectivity in photography does not exist, there is always an editorial line and a context to take into account,” says Fusi. “He was fully and painfully aware of his role, that is, not to stop a conflict by means of his photos but to document a war that somebody else had started.”

There are further layers of meaning to this exhibition, and Hetherington’s personal story is as uplifting as it is tragic. Born in 1970 in Liverpool, he studied literature at Oxford University and photojournalism at Cardiff University before ascending to a bright international career as a photographer with positions at the Big Issueand Vanity Fair. Sadly, Hetherington died while covering the Libyan civil war in 2011 – and although this exhibition is a tribute, it does not intend to memorialise the photographer. “Tim was very busy experimenting at the time he was killed,” Fusi observes. “He had a lot questions and was still searching for the answers.” Hetherington died still committed to the pursuit of his task to document – and challenge misconceptions of – modern day warfare. You could almost describe the images at Open Eye using one of the messages on Tim’s tribute blog: “such a blow in my face, a hit in my heart and soul.”

First published in The Skinny

Mark Leckey installation view

In the dark exhibition space I am stood thinking about how almost every object in this room projects a sort of human personality. Mark Leckey, the artist-curator, has described the selection of works he has made for this show as being like a ‘network of objects’; a kind of 3D Google image search but without revealing the search terms. Another visitor wanders in, “wow” he says to a pink gargoyle-esque Louise Bourgeois sculpture covered in tumourous offaly drippings and missing a head; he beckons over the gallery attendant and asks him: “what do you think this is made of? Resin? It looks like blancmange.”

The Universal Addressibility of Dumb Things feels like Leckey’s attempt to draw together many strings. The selection of objects pivots on his own audio visual work; he reproduces the green walls of his 2011 Serpentine Gallery show, Felix the Cat from his 2008 Turner Prize show makes an appearance, and in a sense what we see is an assemblage but made with objects and artworks instead of footage – his usual medium. Bluecoat curator Sara-Jayne Parsons says that Mark Leckey is an ‘artists’ artist’, he has also been called a ‘pop cultural anthropologist’. He describes himself as an autodidact, which may help to explain his intuitive curatorial approach.

The resulting exhibition is charming and playful; the interpretation is minimal, which gives visitors a chance to establish a relationship with an object on their own terms. One can enjoy a Coptic jar, mummified cat or one of Roger Hiorns’ beautiful crystal-coved engines, without having or gaining any knowledge. Each section does have a distinct yet surreptitious theme; taking visitors on a journey from humanoids to machines. The only slightly disappointing part of the exhibition is the gallery upstairs where three films are shown on a (perfectly nice) periscopic screen. The room is too minimal to be an appropriate climax.

The decision about how much personality to project through curatorial practise seems easier for artists; Leckey seems very present here. This is one of a series of Hayward Touring exhibitions curated by Turner-prize winners and nominees (in the past they have worked with Mark Wallinger and Tacita Dean, next they are working with Jeremy Deller). It is Leckey’s most significant curatorial project to date; however, in a sense everything he does is curated, from his films themselves to his Youtube channel. The show opens up a refreshing dialogue about the role of assemblage, curators and artists in contemporary art; his catalogue is very much an artists’ book.

A nice touch at Bluecoat is the talks programme, which is being delivered by locally-based contemporary artists. This is an exhibition that artists will enjoy but not at the expense of alienating other visitors. Leckey said upon winning the Turner prize in 2008 that he wanted to exhibit more in Britain and make an impact on contemporary British culture; with this exhibition he has done a bit of both. It is not the first time de-contextualised museum objects and artworks have been shown together, but Leckey delivers it with such a generosity of spirit as to make this exhibition a must-see.

The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things, curated by Mark Leckey, is on show at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, between 16 Feb – 14 Apr 2013.

First published on


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