Dazzle Ship

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You can’t miss this ship painted with brightly coloured stripes moored up in the Canning Graving dry dock near the Pierhead in Liverpool.

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The Edmund Gardner, a  pilot ship built in the 1950’s and now part of the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s collection, has been painted in a style used on merchant ships transporting goods across the Atlantic as a way of confusing U-boats. The work was commissioned jointly by the Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and 14-18 NOW, an organisation which is commissioning art works to mark the centenary of the First World War

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Dazzle, unlike more usual forms of camouflage, wasn’t intended to conceal a ship but to confuse the enemy – to make it difficult for the enemy to estimate its type, size, speed, and heading by disrupting their visual rangefinders. The technique was inspired by the Vorticist art movement. Many of the “Dazzle ships” were painted in Liverpool dockyards.

The camouflage for the Edmund Gardner was designed by the  Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez and the ship was painted by workers from the Camel Lairds shipyard, which is “over the water” from Liverpool in Birkenhead.

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There’s a video report on the creation of this art work on the BBC website and some photographs of Dazzle ships from the Maritime Museum’s collection on their website.

Carlos Cruz-Diez has also painted a dazzle type pattern on the pavement leading to Custom House Quay, across the road from the Albert Dock

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Interestingly, local band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), named their fourth album released in 1983, Dazzle Ships.

Summer in the City

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Friday was a gorgeous, sunny, summer day.Blue skies and sunshine from the off. So a good day to take some time off work.

Liverpool is an attractive city in the sunshine, especially along the waterfront so seemed a good choice for a day out. And the biennial started last week so we there was also the chance to take in some of the events and exhibitions. But there was so much to see that there’ll have to be a few more visits in the near future.

Reports on the exhibitions and some of the other things we did during a full day out will follow, but here are a few photos, mainly taken around the Albert Dock.

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A city made of cous cous

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Untitled (Ghardaïa) 2009 Kadar Attia

This is one of the exhibits featured in Tate Liverpool’s exhibition,  Thresholds, which is one of their contributions to the Liverpool Biennial. It’s a representation of the Algerian city of Ghardaïa made entirely out of cooked cous cous by Kadar Attia, an artist who now lives in Germany but who grew up in the Parisian banlieue (suburbs) and whose parents were from Algeria.

On the wall, alongside the work, there are  photographs of the architects, Le Corbusier and Fernand Pouillon, as well a print of the UNESCO declaration that the town is a World Heritage site.

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Le Corbusier visited Ghardaïa in 1931 and made sketches of the buildings, which are very characteristic of Mozabite (better known as Berber) architecture. He was clearly influenced by what he saw – simple, box like buildings that fulfilled the function for which they were built, not unlike the Modernist architecture that he advocated.

Fernand Pouillon worked in Algeria and designed and renovated buildings in Ghardaïa

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View of Ghardaïa  (source: Wikipedia)

It was interesting that cous cous was used by the artist. A post on the Tate’s blog gives an interpretation of this aspect of the work

The use of cous cous as the material to ‘build’ the model is appropriate as it will provide an approximation of the town’s decay over time throughout the exhibition, while representing one of the region’s most popular foods – now a staple of European cuisine.

In a recent interview in the Independent, talking about the work being shown at Tate Liverpool Attia tells how he likes working with cous cous.

"(It’s) …… unstable like sand. You see it first as a sandy city and you come back in one month or two months. You get some mould and degradation and all the buildings are collapsing."

Untitled (Ghardaïa) was created in 2009, but due to the nature of the material used, the version on display at Tate Liverpool can’t be the exact same work. Once installed, the model will decay and the cous cous, being foodstuff, will begin to deteriorate. And, if the gallery is unlucky, leaving foodstuff on the floor could attract vermin.

An article in the Times explains about the work and what the Tate actually bought

“(The work)… is made at the time you show it. What we have acquired is the moulds to make the buildings, photographs of what it should look like, and the table to put it on. Like many installations, you don’t keep made versions [in storage] because they are too massive or too ephemeral.” The artist does not have to make the model himself, but makers handling the 30-odd moulds should follow his instructions on what to do and which type of couscous to buy.

Pieces like this raise the question of “what is art?”. Most people would probably consider an art work to be something tangible, created by the hands of the artist. But this work clearly doesn’t fit that description. Instead it’s an idea, a design, that can be recreated by others if they follow the artist’s instructions. In fact many works of art are like this. A building, designed by an architect (or, more likely a team of architects and other with the building being attributed to the team leader who conceived the idea) but constructed by large numbers of builders, tradesmen and craftsmen, can be considered a work of art. And many sculptures, large scale works like those by Anthony Gormley, for example, and even smaller pieces that have been cast and finished in a foundry. Even many of the great masters, painters and sculptors, have employed assistants. The realisation of works of art often involves collaboration, but the “artist” is the person who comes up with the original idea and sees it through.

Anyway, I like it.

The Source

One of Tate Liverpool’s contributions to the Liverpool Biennial is an installation by the artist, Doug Aitken. It consists of a series of interviews about creativity and inspiration with artists from a number of fields including music, theatre, architecture. The objective was to explore the source of creative ideas; where they start and how they are realised.

The videos are shown inside a specially constructed pavilion designed by British architect David Adjaye. It’s a round structure and walking inside you are hit by a cacophony of noise as several videos are all being projected at the same time into a number of individual booths lining the perimeter of the circular structure with the side facing the centre of the pavilion open. The side walls of the booths are lined with sound absorbent foam so when you stand inside one of the booths, most of the sound from the other booths, although still audible, fades into the background. You’re then able to concentrate on the interview playing in the booth you’re standing in.

The individual videos are relatively short, but are all the same length so start and finish at the same time. At the end an short animated abstract sequence plays and then other videos start playing. I believe that the sequence is randomised so you’re not sure what’s coming next.

We visited during the daytime, but during the evening, after it’s gone dark, the videos can be seen from the outside of the structure – a clever idea.

Doug Aitken, 'Sky Arts Ignition: Doug Aitken - The Source 2012'.

This is the trailer for the installation that includes clips from the interviews.

The interviews with the individual artists are being published one by one on a weekly basis on the Tate Liverpool website here.

I thought it was an interesting work on many levels – the questions being asked, the ideas and opinions of the interviewees and the acoustic aspects of the way the videos were presented – the way the jumble of sounds you first encounter are resolved into an intelligible sequence on entering a booth.

Soundbites from the interviews are stencilled on the pavement around the Albert Dock and some of the other streets in the centre of Liverpool. A good way of advertising the exhibition, but also a work of art in themselves.

We watched several of the videos, but didn’t have the time to see all of them.I’d like to see more of them and we’ll be visiting again (probably a few times) before the exhibition finishes on 13 January 2013. We’ll certainly be trying to visit during the evening to see the videos projected on the outside of the pavilion. That will be a lot easier now the nights are drawing in. There can be some good things about the cold, dark Winter!

Lift off

One of the (many) things I like about the Liverpool Biennial this year is the way they’ve brought art into the streets of Liverpool (mind you Liverpool have been good at doing that for quite a while).  There are a number of works scattered around the streets in the city centre. I particularly like this one – The Lift by Oded Hirsch – that bursts out of the pavement in Peter’s Lane at one of the entrances to the Liverpool One shopping precinct, near some of the posher shops and the Bluecoat gallery.

It reminds me rather of Dr Who’s Tardis emerging from another dimension.

On being fooled

While we were in Liverpool last Saturday we called into the Tate to have another look at the Turner, Monet, Twombley exhibition and also to see the new Thresholds exhibition that is being shown as part of the Tates’ contribution to the Liverpool Biennial.

In the first room I spotted a map of Britain hung on the wall at the other end of the room. My first thought is why is the gallery displaying a rooad map? Is that meant to be art?

It was actually in two parts – a map of England and another of Scotland, the outlines and shape of both clearly recognisable. Or were they?

Layla Curtis, ‘United Kingdom’ 1999

Looking closer something didn’t seem quite right. It then became apparent that there was something odd about the coastlines, in fact in some places they were quite a bit out of kilter. Then I noticed that England seemed to be a little light on towns and cities, whereas Scotland, which is predominantly rural and wilderness other than the “central belt”, seemed to be packed with towns and cities. Looking closely it became clear that the maps weren’t of the real England and Scotland, but were a collage made from road maps cut up and rearranged to create a good approximation of the shape of the two countries but with everything in the wrong place. “Scotland” containing the English conurbations and road system and “England” with Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish towns, cities and roads. It had been very cleverly done so that the roads linked up into a proper network.

This work was United Kingdom by Layla Curtis. 

“a large collage consisting of an altered version of the road map of the United Kingdom. It is made up of small squares, cut from commercially produced road atlases, and stuck onto two abutting rectangular panels.”

The artist specialises in creating these “rearranged maps” and other works based on geography.

I guess that United Kingdom has a number of messages about place and identity. But my initial thoughts were about how our brain is so easily fooled. We look at the overall shape and gain an initial impression and fool ourselves that we are looking at something we recognise. The map of Britain is so ingrained into our consciousness that we don’t look at the work properly. We see the overall shape; it looks familiar, so in our mind it becomes what we think it is rather than what it is. The work has been so skilfully created that we are easily fooled.