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Dialogical Abrasion, Yves Netzhammer (installation detail) Dialogical Abrasion, Yves Netzhammer (installation detail)
courtesy the artist and Galerie Anita Beckers
Dialogical Abrasion, Yves Netzhammer (installation detail) Dialogical Abrasion, Yves Netzhammer (installation detail)
courtesy the artist and Galerie Anita Beck
Dialogical Abrasion, Yves Netzhammer (installation detail) Dialogical Abrasion, Yves Netzhammer (installation detail)
courtesy the artist and Galerie Anita Beckers
Dialogical Abrasion, Yves Netzhammer (installation detail) Dialogical Abrasion, Yves Netzhammer (installation detail)
courtesy the artist and Galerie Anita Beckers
THE OPENING PARTY OF THE LIVERPOOL BIENNIAL RESOUNDED THROUGHOUT THE MASSIVE VOIDS OF THE OLD STANLEY DOCKS—ONCE AN ENGINE OF EMPIRE (AND STILL THE LARGEST BRICK STRUCTURE IN THE WORLD) PUMPING THE ECONOMY OF A CITY THAT, IN ITS HEYDAY, HANDLED 40% OF WORLD MARITIME TRADE. SITUATED JUST TOO FAR EAST ALONG THE DOCKS ROAD TO BE RE-DEVELOPED, THIS GOTHIC LEVIATHAN RECALLS THE LIVERPOOL OF MY UNDERGRADUATE DAYS, A CITY OF FOREBODING POST-INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPES, BOMB-RUINED WHARVES, DANK COBBLED STREETS, BOND STORE CELLARS WITH SLAVING RINGS STILL INTACT—THE WELLSPRING OF MY DREAMS FOR YEARS TO COME.

The sun has long ago set on the Empire; Blair’s Cool Britannia has likewise sunk beneath the waves, thankfully carrying with it the YBAs [Young British Artists] who now look like the corporate advertising stunt they always were. The Royal Navy may not even be able to afford its four new Trident submarines in what promises to be an economic bloodbath. Only the charity organisations of the Big Society are left to staunch the wounds.

Ironically, the Brits have long recognised the soft power inherent in the arts (cheaper and ultimately more effective than the aforementioned Tridents and their franchised supply of American rockets), so it will be fascinating to watch the two contradictory processes meet head-on over the next year or two. The ever-present and earnest desire in the UK to redefine and renegotiate its social and cultural system along with the stringent restructuring of the economy and governance will create a collision that will prove either toxic or tonic to the arts.

Arts funding in the UK does not shy away from strongly defined policies of social inclusion, cultural cohesion and urban regeneration and has spawned a range of arts organisations (and artists) acutely aware of their social and cultural mission.

Hidden in the old Ropewalks (an area of former rope manufacturing) between the oldest Chinatown in Europe and a massive pedestrian city centre renewal, FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) is one of those curiously British arts centres that operate in the nexus between social engagement and the avant garde.

This is an arts model recognised in theory but yet to be realised in Australia—a multi-arts production house, replete with cinematheque, cool cafe and bar, underpinned by a savvy, socially engaged curatorial program that asks real questions and delivers tough and inventive exhibitions. In Sydney, imagine the MCA without the pretensions and the snobbish restaurant (or the view), an Artspace with an ambitious commissioning program for national and international art projects, a Performance Space that controlled CarriageWorks, or an ICE (Information & Cultural Exchange) that has cultural prominence. Combine all of these and you would be halfway there!

Carl Jung characterised Liverpool as the City of Dreams; for Ginsberg it was The Pool of Consciousness; and for FACT at this year’s Biennial it was Touched—as by a mother, as by a return to an almost forgotten place (I don’t think anyone used that word ‘affect:’ touched denotes so much more).

As ever, biennales are ashes and diamonds affairs; the FACT exhibition was a small cache of the latter, starting with Life Work a One Year Performance by Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh (RT90). Dating from 1980 to 1981, this work records an action in the artist’s studio in which he clocked-on to an industrial workers’ time punch device each and every hour of the year, simultaneously photographing a self-portrait, naturally recording his ever flourishing hairdo. The documentation spooled back in the gallery as a time lapse amidst acres of punch cards and small still images. Of course some silly but pragmatic questions arise: how did he go shopping, socialise or stay sane with this regime? However, this self-imposed house arrest may have been the perfect art production strategy for an ex-pat Taiwanese artist in New York working 30 years before the China Art tidal wave swept the world. Hsieh ‘retired’ around 2000 and his elegant endurance performances have gained the status of legend.

Set against the coolly obsessive program of Hsieh’s serialist work the temperature rises in the video by South Korean Minouk Kim that seems to document a group of protagonists (are they a simple tour group somehow lost in the urban jungle, a detachment of citizen protestors or a cell of determined terrorists?) wandering through the contested Four Rivers Project tourist development site in Korea. We are not going to be told and anyhow this is no documentary as the material is shot in the infra-red spectrum using heat-seeking cameras that add overtones, not only of a surveillance and military targeting, but of a post-Holocaust mise en scène. Ironically the aesthetic of the work transcends its politically caustic potential, rendering it eerily mesmerising with a colour palette that recalls exotic tropical aquaria. Like all mature artwork it leaves the material hovering between significations, the synapse of metaphor active.

As we grow older the sound of our mother’s voice over the telephone, once so central, intimate and enveloping, acquires a tinge of sadness that grows with temporal and physical distance. Japanese Meiro Koizumi’s My Voice Would Reach You (single channel video, 2009) delivers us a man engaged in an unchecked emotional outpouring to his mother, but unfortunately distanced by mobile telephony and the frenetic backdrop of downtown Tokyo. Mother, however, isn’t available and the surrogate is a flustered call centre operator attempting to navigate the torrent of speech. The telephonic fracture is a classic exemplar tracing the fissures and voids created by urbanism and technology, a communication network that only makes sense when we are apart, in a ghostly vis-á-vis.

Queues at exhibitions are not my cup of tea, so I skipped Yves Netzhammer’s Dialogical Abrasion (2010) the first time around but the soundscape intrigued me so much that I joined the line, and it was worth the wait. This new project commissioned by FACT is a compound of three elements beginning with an animated 3D netherworld of crash-test dummy characters populating a De Chirico-like dreamworld, performing wordless rituals and transformations. Developing from this dreamscape is a series of IKEA-gone-wrong sculptural situations serving as the domicile of a crash-test being, plus an intermittent spatial soundscape by the composer Bernd Schurer, alarmingly loud and cross-linked with the gallery lighting to illuminate elements of the installation as if in a thunderstorm, an indoor Donner und Blitz.

The final work in the FACT exhibition falls outside of the scope and modus operandi of the above and was curated by Asher Remy-Toledo of No Longer Empty (p38). Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen worked in the atrium of FACT to create a site-specific installation that conceptually looped back into the central theme of Touched, in that it reprised the maternal labour and care expressed in the mundane chores of family life. Kaikkonen collected second hand clothes from the Liverpool community, laundered them and used the fabric to create a large architectural net, ballooning down over the foyer entrance, a work at once communal and familiar but also carrying individual narratives and memories, a combination close to the heart of FACT.


Touched, 6th Liverpool Biennial: International Festival of Contemporary Art, FACT, Liverpool, UK, Sept 18-Nov 28, www.fact.co.uk

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 19

© Nigel Helyer; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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