Spectrum – a contemporary art exhibition review

On Thursday I went to my first Liverpool Art Month event: the Spectrum exhibition at Wolstenholme Creative Space (WCS).   Spectrum offers a snapshot of the Liverpool artistic community.  The artists in this show are five of a total of fifteen who will exhibit over three weeks in this artist-led, offbeat gallery, studio space and gig venue in the city centre.

Michael Aitken, one part of the curatorial trio responsible for Spectrum says that the aim was to showcase artists from the studio alongside other interesting practitioners.  There isn’t an overt ‘theme’ for each week; instead the artists have been chosen to demonstrate the diversity of the city’s creative output.  However, to me, two distinct ideas emerge from the first presentation: interactivity and fragility – and some of the artists demonstrate both.

In the first room (where many congregated at the well-attended opening) Emily Speed’s Portable Reading Room (Box Man) scoots across the floor; entertaining, and sometimes containing, various assembled adults and children. Thursday night was not conducive to reading, but if you visit the show in a quiet moment you can sit in the ‘reading room’ with some books that offer an insight into Emily’s concerns – these include architecture and space and the novel Box Man by Kobe Abe, which gives this piece its title. Emily has shown in some of the North of England’s key venues over the last 18 months but despite this success her DIY approach endures.

Continuing the interactive theme is WCS studio member Jason Haynes.  Jason says that his work explores ‘alternative raw connections between the human body and its creative environment.’  To do this he has presented an anatomical drawing rendered in wooden relief, which visitors are invited to remove their shoes and walk on, and a series of street-art inspired images and photographs.  Even if Jason does not manage to convincingly achieve his stated intentions for this series, they do re-interpret ‘drawing’ in a way that is 3D, participatory, playful and distinctive.

At the back, tucked away, and seeming very much like the HQ of a radical movement, is the work The Empire is Revolting by Penny Whitehead and Dan Simpkins. For this the duo has combined an underground aesthetic with a 21st century strategy; visitors are photographed in the installation and then upload these images to their facebook and twitter accounts with the aim of disseminating the Latin American name of the Falkland Islands.  It is a simple and neatly executed idea that offers a way in to a complicated event from recent history. The only possible risk is how easily viral campaigns can lose their message (see the Joseph Kone / Jason Russell debacle).

The last two artists are Jo Hicks and Kevin Hunt.  Jo’s body of work explores the idea of flight; confirming her skills as a communicator as well as a printmaker.  A nice twist is that her prints have been linked to the architecture using beams of colour painted directly onto the walls.  Kevin’s barely-there sculptural pieces end the show on a reflective note, somehow managing to contain within these fragile forms an essay in balance, negative space, structure and material.

The title for this show (defined as: a broad range of conditions or behaviours grouped together and studied under a single title for ease of discussion) is very appropriate.  You really have to come to the Thursday night opening events to catch these fleeting shows and join in the conversation, although WCS is open 12-4pm Friday-Sunday each week, too.  Look out for my reviews, which will be following each opening.

An installation shot of The Empire is Revolting by Penny Whitehead and Dan Simpkins

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