Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Oops - total failure of the blogging kind

I really must start blogging more regularly.  My last effort was back in September, and I even signed out with a "I'll be back next week"...  So 7 months later!

I finished the Biennial back in November, then a few of us decided to hold our own exhibition, and called it "Not Just" which lasted for 4 days at the Domino Gallery off Renshaw Street. 

It was well received although unfortunately co-incided with the first snow of the winter so visitor numbers were subdued.  Anyway the Liverpool Echo wrote a nice piece and decided we were called the "Not Just Collective", and well, if it says it in the papers it must be true, so the Not Just Collective was born.

Our second exhibition "Recurring" started as a one night event on LightNight - 17th May, but has expanded somewhat and will now run for 11 days to 27th May at the Galley in Camp & Furnace.  The plans for this are coming together so I'll blog again in a few weeks (promise!) with loads of details about Recurring

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Liverpool Biennial 2012 - Week 1

Unbelievably its two years since I was stood in a shop window in my pants as part of Liverpool Biennial 2010, and as I now live up here again, I’m able to devote more time to this year’s art fest, but this time welcoming visitors, not shocking them!
Having duly signed up, been interviewed, and deemed worthy to represent our great city, I joined my fellow volunteers last week for a walkthrough tour of most of the venues.

We met in the Cunard Building, an amazing Edwardian creation (actually built in the reign of George V, but let’s not get bogged down by details) constructed when materials and labour were cheap and companies sought to outdo each other in the glamour stakes with their premises.  Biennial 2012 has taken over the entire ground floor, which is split into 2 sides, one West, one East; one Light, one Dark, most of the artworks were in the process of being installed on our tour so there’s lots I haven’t seen yet.  But I was able to get a peek at Andrea Bowers “City of Sanctuary”; Superflex’s “Liverpool to Let”; Pamela Rosenkranz’s “Bow Human” and Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s “Ponte”.  And of course the amazing space of the Cunard Building itself which would have been one of the last sights of the old world for hundreds of thousands of people before they ventured across the Atlantic to start a new life.
Next we went over to the new Open Eye Gallery, which occupies space in the Equator, the covered link between Latitude and Longitude, the black granite buildings at Mann Island which you either love or hate.  For the record, I love them. 

I’ve seen Kohei Yoshiyuki’s “The Park” before at Tate Modern, when it was housed in a dimly lit corridor, but for Liverpool it’s been housed in a pitch dark room, and you are handed a torch so you can get the full voyeuristic experience.
With the rain now falling we made a quick detour to Exchange Flags where Hsieh Ying-Chun has set up “Re-Live” an imagining of a temporary shelter for refugees or those escaping from natural disasters.   

But no time to stop as we were off to Bluecoat for our lunch break.  Unfortunately the setting up of the Bluecoat was in full swing so we were unable to even get a sneaky peek of the inside works whilst we were there, although it was hard to miss Dan Graham's "2-Way Mirror Cylinder Bisected By Perforated Stainless Steel", especially as it blocks the path

Next stop was FACT, and again much of the installation was still going on, however Pedro Reyes kindly took time out to give us a briefing of his “Melodrama and Other Games” were visitors can participate in a set of newly imagined games.  The snakes & ladders themed Melodrama looks interesting and the pillow fighting sounds fun.
Our final destination of the day was the former Royal Mail sorting office in Copperas Hill.  LJMU has bought the building, but before the rebuilding starts, they have given it over to Biennial.  I love going into buildings that have recently been vacated, the things that companies leave behind, that weren’t important to them, are fascinating to me.  A pillar covered in stamps here, a rack full of mailbag labels there, empty mail chutes, and quiet engineers’ workshops.

The Ground aka 3rd floor (don’t ask..) is housing the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition, together with Jorge Macchi’s “Refraction” which is the only part of the main Biennial strand “The Unexpected Guest” to be located at Copperas Hill; and on the 1st aka 4th (it must be a Royal Mail quirk) you’ll find “City States”  We were given a briefing at most of the 13 separate exhibitions here, but again a lot was still being set up.
The walkthrough gave us an excellent introduction to a number of the city centre venues but with much ongoing installation work going on, it was just a taste of the feast to come.

The 7th Biennial opened on Friday evening which I spent as a guest rather than a host in Liverpool Cathedral for the only UK (and only the 3rd in the world) performance of A Crimson Grail, a fascinating piece of music for 100 electric guitars and 8 basses, by the New York born, now France based composer Rhys Chatham. Luckily I arrived early as it turned out to be far more popular than was envisaged, with the cathedral packed with 1,800 guests and I hear that hundreds more were turned away.  Unfortunate for those that arrived later, but those lucky to get in were treated to an intense, emotional journey as the sound ebbed and flowed through the Great Space before building to an awesome crescendo which you felt permeate your entire body. A truly magical experience.    
Onto on the weekend proper and I had signed up to invigilate at the Tea Factory on Saturday and Sunday. 

This is hosting two series of photographs, “Men Only” and “My Storie” by a young South African photographer Sabelo Mlangeni.  I’d never come across his work before but it was fascinating to see the difference in the two series, and yet the similarities between them.  I was lucky enough to meet Sabelo himself when he popped in Sunday with his friend.

This was my first time welcoming visitors to Biennial and over the weekend I had some interesting chats to people from Germany, Spain, France, China, Italy, Mongolia, yes Mongolia, and of course all four corners of the UK.
I rounded off my weekend meeting Alex for our reliable standby of Omelette and Chips at The Brink.  So that was my weekend, back to the boring Mon to Fri life, but my mind is already on this coming weekend when I’ll be at Copperas Hill.

Talking of The Brink, this Saturday (22nd) is their 1st birthday.  If you have never been, you really are missing out. The alcohol free cocktails are mouth-watering, the food, I recommend the Posh Fish Finger Sandwich, or the Holumi Salad, or the Quarterpounder, or.. well anything on the menu really is delicious.     
All of the above is just the briefest of introductions to this year's Biennial.  There is so much going on, that you really need to get yourself here for at least a weekend to take it all in.  I mean, I haven't even mentioned "The Lift"...

So, until next week, when I'll give you my review of Copperas Hill installations, play safe and be nice to each other.

Liverpool Biennial 2012, the UK Biennial of Contemporary Art -  www.biennial.com - presenting work by 242 artists in 27 locations across the city runs until 25th November

Friday, 29 June 2012

Liverpool Cruise Terminal

Having watched cruise ships using the new City of Liverpool Cruise Terminal for the past 4 years, a recent round British Isles cruise on P&O's Arcadia was the first time I'd had the opportunity to use the terminal and I can't say I was impressed.

We arrived on early on Friday 22nd June and by the time the first passenger were going ashore the weather had taken a turn for the worse with torrential rain and gale force winds.

As I now live in Liverpool I was intending to remain on the ship until the afternoon, so was happy to sit on the upper decks and and watch how the terminal operates.

There are two ways off the floating stage, one via a small building which houses security checks (not used as the ship has her own) and a tourist info desk and small shop.  After walking through this building you then use the same, rather dilapidated, covered ramp as incoming Isle of Man passengers which takes you up onto Princes Parade opposite the new, temporary, turnaround facility.  The second ramp is an open air one which leads you up onto the road near to the No12 office building.

For some unknown reason, the excursion coaches were parked on the empty plot at the northwest end of Princes Dock and not on the newly landscaped turnaround car park, which meant passengers had to use the open air ramp and then walk along Princes Parade in the driving rain to get to the coaches, this was not a good introduction for first time visitors, and also meant they completely missed the tourist info desk.  The incline on the ramp at low tide was far too steep for many of the passengers and whilst a minibus appeared to be operating from the stage to the coach park for some people it was far too small and infrequent to cater for all that needed it.  There is also a small "buggy" which appears to be only used by staff, I never saw any passengers being carried on it.

We disembarked during the afternoon and used the main, covered, ramp which was fine. 

Early in the evening, the Captain told us we would not be sailing to Dublin due to the high winds and would remain in Liverpool overnight and sail to Cork at 16:00 the following day. 

A lot of crew and some passengers disembarked at various times during the evening/night and the cruise terminal staff who were left on duty all night were doing a good job pointing people in the right direction to enjoy Liverpool's nightlife.

The following day, the Cruise Terminal remained closed and it was as if we didn't exist.  No disabled transport, no tourist office, no shop, nothing.  Passengers were just left to their own devices.  To be fair to the cruise terminal staff (only 2 of them at a time) who were on duty, they continued to do a superb job in giving out advice and directions and helping passengers up the steep ramp to the shore.  But the terminal managers and Liverpool council need to explain why they just ignored a ship with 1900 passengers on board and provided no facilities whatsoever.

In the other ports that we berthed alongside we were greeted and bid farewell by bands (Cobh and Belfast), or a pipe band (Invergordon).  But all was silent in Liverpool, I know they normally play piped music with a Liverpool theme when ships are sailing, but for us again, there was nothing.

Speaking to passengers after we had sailed, everyone was very enthusiastic about the city and were impressed with the redeveloped waterfront, but no-one seemed impressed with the terminal and especially the gradient on the ramps.  A few passengers were from the Southampton area and had been following the on-going dispute over the repaid subsidy, a couple asked me why we weren't using the new terminal and were surprised that this was it, and wondered where the £21m had been spent. 

My solutions to the various comments above:
  • A covered walkway needs to be developed to get passengers from the ship to the coach parking area.
  • A system of ramps which give a less steep incline at low tide.
  • The building with tourist information, and toilets etc open at all times when a ship is alongside.
  • A proper disabled/less abled transfer facility which runs at all times.
For the longer term, use of the port for turnaround cruise the 2 vacant plots on Princes Dock are far too small to service the large modern ships now in service and a proper terminal building with plenty of long stay parking and space for servicing lorries needs to be provided.  The area of the old, infilled, Waterloo Lock would be ideal for this.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Manx Grand Prix – the future.

It appears that the Isle of Man government has completed a review of how much revenue they receive as a result of the Manx Grand Prix http://www.manxgrandprix.org/ held on the island in August/September and have concluded it’s not making enough.

They have calculated that the event sees spending by visitors of £5.9m, of which the government get £630,000 in VAT receipts, plus another £125,000 in other receipts making total revenue of £755,000 – however the government spent £815,000 staging the event. They have estimated that to become profit making the fortnight long event would need to see an increase in spending to approx £10m.

Now obviously the MGP isn’t as busy, or as revenue generating as the TT http://www.iomtt.com/ held in May/June each year but I think it’s wrong to look at these race meetings in isolation. The island is seen as a mecca by motorsports enthusiasts and as well as the TT and MGP fortnights, the Manx Rally http://www.manxrally.org/, Rally Isle of Man http://www.mir.co.im/, Southern 100 http://www.southern100.com/ all take place annually, and throughout the year various owners clubs, on both 2 and 4 wheels head across to enjoy some of the best driving roads in the British Isles. The government should take all these events and meets into account and recognise that drivers and riders see the island as a year round destination to enjoy their cars and bikes. If the accountants start peeling away individual events which they don’t see as profitable we have a real danger that the whole island starts to lose it’s hard earned identity as this mecca.

So whilst the Isle of Man government and Manx Motor Cycle Club must work together to increase the number of visitors and thus the revenue coming onto the island, the government must also step back and look at the bigger picture to ensure riders and drivers continue to be tempted onto the island throughout the year.

As for me I’ll be doing my bit again this year by attending both the TT and MGP, although I’ll be sticking to 4 wheels, and letting my Skoda Octavia vRS stretch its legs around the mountain circuit (seen in the picture here at Guthries Memorial, looking north towards Ramsey - although obviously facing the "wrong way"...)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Mayor of Liverpool

Liverpool City Council voted this evening to create the post of elected Mayor, and the residents will be voting for this in May.  This is good news and a springboard to get this city progressing and growing.  I hope Joe Anderson gets elected as he has shown he has the vision and capability to get the job done.  But you never know perhaps someone else from the world of business will throw their hat into the ring.

I've read that Herbert the hairdresser is to stand too, well I remember Herbert from my early years on the gay scene in the city in the early 80s and he's a lovely guy, a great Liverpudlian and an ambassador that shows the world that we are loud and proud, but please Herbert, think again and leave this job for a serious politician or businessman/woman.  There's plenty for you and everyone else to do to drive our city forward, but not this job.

I always love pointing out to visitors the big gold doors in St George's Hall with their inscription "SPQL"  "Senatus PopulusQue Liverpool" - our new Mayor should adopt that as his/her motto, a big bold statement for a big bold city!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

I'm back in Liverpool and everything...

It’s been a while since putting virtual pen to paper and of course I’ve finally left exile in dat der London and moved back to Liverpool.  I’m still working a couple of days a week down in the capital so plenty of Virgin train miles being clocked up for the next few weeks.
There are some exciting things happening up here at the moment and it’s those that I’ve decided to comment on in what I hope will be a more regular blog this year.
Firstly is the ongoing saga of Liverpool Waters - www.liverpoolwaters.co.uk - a massive redevelopment of the central docks area between the Pier Head and Huskisson Dock.  Since these docks were effectively (and physically in some cases) closed to shipping they have been largely abandoned and left to rot.  And ever since Peel Holdings, owner of this land, as well as the rest of the operational Port of Liverpool www.merseydocks.co.uk, put forward this redevelopment plan it has been subject to countless revisions.  The latest setback is the verdict of UNESCO who want more changes less it comprises Liverpool’s World Heritage Site (WHS) status.  The WHS badge is important but it cannot be used as a barrier to progress.  One of the highlights of the WHS is the trio of buildings (Royal Liver, Port of Liverpool and Cunard Buildings) at the waterfront, but it’s worth realising that these buildings wouldn’t exist if the city had been awarded WHS 100 years ago, and it’s exactly this Liverpool tradition of reinventing itself in pursuit of commercial gain that UNESCO, and various campaigners, are trying to stifle.  Nobody is suggesting that any new building will interfere with these jewels of our heritage, and the important buildings within the Liverpool Waters site will be kept and enhanced, it’s the wastelands around them that Peel wish to put back to use and we should support this.
Now I have divided opinions about Peel, and wish they’d do more doing and less talking about their projects.  For instance the Seaforth River Terminal http://www.peel.co.uk/projects/seaforthinriverterminal should have been operational by now, yet construction has still not started; however they have delivered in other areas, notably Media City and the Salford Quays developments, and more importantly they are big hitters in regeneration and therefore we need them as much as they need our land.
Some vested interests are complaining about the plans on the table, and whilst not all of the plans appeal to me either, what is the alternative?  Yes I’d love to see these docks still full of ships, but that’s firmly in the past now.  There is some scope to have modern larger ships berthing at tidal river quays, and some of the current dockland would be needed to support this, namely the proposed cruise terminal, but that still leaves an awful lot of land.  We need something special to lure commercial and residential tenants to these areas, supported by a world class transport and communications network.  After living in London for 20 years, I have seen the way Canary Wharf has grown spectacularly and what a pleasant place it is to work and live, and that’s exactly what I want to see on the banks of the Mersey – only better of course!
Another development which has emerged over the last few days is a deal thrashed out with the government by the leader of Liverpool City Council, Joe Anderson, which would see the city bypass the planned referendum on an elected Mayor and go straight to the election for one.  I totally support this.  Elected Mayors of various cities around the world are seen as a powerful force to ‘sell’ their city to investors, and despite the negative press that Liverpool still gets in this country, it has a huge international reputation, especially in the vitally important countries of China and Brazil.  This deal means we would get a good 12 month head start ahead of the other key cities planning to have Mayors.  The sooner we grab this opportunity and get our new Mayor working night and day to secure the rebirth of our city the better.
The last thing I want to spout off about today is the news that the Dept of Transport has again delayed the decision on allowing the City of Liverpool Cruise Terminal (CLCT) to be used as a turnaround facility (the original grant to build it was given for use as a berth for day calls by visiting ships rather than as a starting point for cruises).  The City Council has offered to pay back some of this grant, but other ports including Southampton are calling on a full refund to be made.  Having cruised out of Southampton I have seen how big an operation turning a modern cruise ship around is, and to be honest, although the CLCT is in a fabulous location, I can’t see how it would be able to accommodate this.  The floating stage would need to be bigger, and able to handle lorries, a terminal building would need to be built on one of the vacant plots of land at Princes Dock, and a large parking facility would have to be provided.  Even then we would only end up with one berth for one ship at a time.  A better idea in my mind would be to pay back nothing, keep the CLCT as a calling point and for Peel (yes them again) to bring forward their cruise terminal plans and get it built, a floating stage off the old Waterloo Dock with a terminal built on the former river entrance there would still be close to the Pier Head and would have more room for the necessary support services
So there you go, plenty of big things on the horizon. They need to happen.  It’s the job of everyone in this city to make sure they do. 

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Existere lives on...

This weekend saw the third, and final, day of Existere performances.  The decision by http://www.jocjonjosch.com/ not to film or photograph the installation is I think the correct one, watching it on film would not be able to convey the power of the piece, either from the performer's experience or the audience's.  It was such a powerful creation, but you needed to "feel" it, not just see it.  For the couple of hundred of people taking part (and I include the audience as taking part) it will live on in our memories for a long time to come.

I've met some lovely new friends - hello Peter! http://spencertunickandme.blogspot.com/ and even had someone "come out" to me... perhaps being naked leads to everyone being honest with each other, and themselves.

This afternoon I went to Tate Modern and had a look at the Taryn Simon exhibition. Whilst interesting, I'm not sure Bankside is the ideal venue, it felt as if her work deserved a smaller more intimate showcase, I was going to have 30 mins in the Miro, but the Sunday crowds had arrived so I'll leave my second visit for the Friday evening quiet(er) time.

All in all a productive and enjoyable weekend, but tinged with sadness by the appalling tragedy in Norway. I cannot begin to imagine the pain that the family and friends of all those teenagers are going through, but I hope they are able to find and draw comfort from each other, one thing Existere left me with is the sense that by coming together, and protecting each other, we can withstand whatever is thrown at us.

They are not dead,
Who leave us this great heritage
Of remembered joy.
They still live in our hearts,
In the happiness we knew,
In the dreams we shared.
They still breathe,
In the lingering fragrance windblown,
From their favourite flowers.
They still smile in the moonlight's silver
And laugh in the sunlight's sparkling gold.

They still speak in the echoes of words
We've heard them say again and again.
They still move,
In the rhythm of waving grasses,
In the dance of the tossing branches.
They are not dead;
Their memory is warm in our hearts,
Comfort in our sorrow.
They are not apart from us,
But a part of us
For love is eternal,
And those we love shall be with us
Throughout all eternity.