On Thursday night as I walked through the Ropewalks area, Liverpool felt very cool and, well, very unlike Liverpool. Since I was last there the area has increased its quota of boutique hotels, gig venues, bars and street art. Young people were drinking in moderation in the streets as they queued for Sound City events and a fleet of tour buses added to the anticipation. A party getting started in a vast indoor car-park made me feel as though I was walking through Berlin or Budapest as I made my way to Wolstenholme Creative Space (WCS) for Spectrum part II.
This experience made me realise that curating contemporary art does not only require consideration of the space, architecture and venue brand, but also requires an understanding of the wider context; what is happening in the surrounding locality, what else is on offer and what city-wide programming an exhibition can link into. The artists selected this week could not have been more different from the first week. In Spectrum part II the curators were able to introduce a more subversive, sexy, dark, silly and generally extreme sensibility. In particular, the work of Tony Knox and Roly Carline benefited from the heady, anything-goes atmosphere in the Ropewalks.
The first room was given over to an installation by long-time Liverpool scenester Tony Knox aka ‘Mothman’. Knox’s presentation (various pieces of existing work – chosen by the three Spectrum curators) was essentially a set for his performance, to take place the following evening as part of Light Night. Knox’s work explores wrestling and the iconography of cartoon characters, and his Mothman alter ego could be either a wrestler or a graphic novel anti-hero. His work felt a bit lost without him performing in it but I really liked the video projected onto a miniature boxing ring (pictured).
Roly Carline’s film I grew up in the 90s and I loved it, involved: egg box pecs, two men in fake moustaches arguing in the bath, Peter Andre giving singing lessons, Vanilla Ice and Shaggy, a lot of papier-mâché and ambitious choreography. The sum of these parts created an artwork that reminded me of artists Ryan Trecartin and Paul McCarthy, the film Trash Humpers and the TV creations Bo Selecta and Beavis and Butthead. It was repulsive but oddly compelling.
At the back of WCS, filled with pink light and full of mysterious assemblages was the installation For Sale: baby shoes, never worn by Michael Aitken. Following on from Emily Speed’s literature-inspired artwork in the first week, this title is a six-word short story by Ernest Hemingway. Aitken’s work usually seems like a search for identity and happiness, started in adolescence and doomed to failure. This piece maintains his penchant for visual clues, but seems to be hiding its meaning (if one even exists) even more deeply than usual.
The last two rooms were very different in tone to the rest of the exhibition although there was still a dark undercurrent. The figures and scenarios in Rhonda Davies prints and drawings are familiar yet strange, innocent yet sexy and each one was a visual treat. In the final room there was a single image by Adriana Galuppo. Imagem da Besta (translated as ‘Image of the Beast’) exposes the use of propaganda in São Paulo, Brazil, where ordinary people are preached to via road-side billboards. The space around the photograph grounded it in an urban context and also allowed time for the frightening Orwellian significance of the image to sink in.
This was another very good exhibition, showcasing a diverse bunch of practitioners and some memorable works. There have been loads of great events lately that have helped to assert Liverpool’s status as a cultural destination for families; but it is good that we also have artist-led venues taking risks and providing a platform for edgy contemporary art. All that remains to be seen is whether the team at WCS can maintain this quality for the final instalment of Spectrum, opening 24 May at 6pm.
First published May 2012