Until 2020 we had regular days out in Liverpool but we lost the habit. Over the past 2 years I’ve only been twice – once on a solo visit to the Tate last year and then, just before Christmas for the Kate Rusby Christmas concert at the Phil. But we’re determined to get back into getting out and about in our local cities and a couple of weeks ago we caught the train into Liverpool for a day out.
Leaving Lime Street station we made our way to the Pierhead and the Tate Gallery/ I was keen to see the Turner exhibition and the show devoted to the four artists who were candidates for the Tate Prize last year. Bowland Climber had been there and reading his post about his visit had whetted my appetite so I’d been keen to find an opportunity to get over to the Gallery
First of all the Turner exhibition.
Dark Waters was a relatively small scale exhibition in just two rooms with only a limited number of seascapes – some unfinished works – together with sketchbooks and works on paper. One of his most famous works, The Fighting Temeraire, depicts a ghostly battleship being towed by a steam tug over a placid sea during a blazing sunset. He clearly was fascinated by the sea and painted many seascapes, in many cases depicted savage, stormy seas, some of which were included in the exhibition.
Turner is a favourite artist of mine, but there are two sides to his work. Some of his masterpieces reflect the conventions of the day – Elysian landscapes and mythological and historical subjects. The other side is the one I like and admire. As he got older his paintings became much wilder and impressionistic – almost abstract in some cases, particularly his later works. In many ways he could be considered to be the first Impressionist, although the French would probably disagree. However, the Impressionists must surely have been influenced by him.
On entering the gallery and having our membership cards “zapped”, the first works we saw were sketches and drawings, ideas for possible larger scale works. Turner certainly knew how to draw and a few lines and squiggles portrayed boats, ships, people and the sea.
The stars of the show, though, were the paintings. The exhibition emphasises the influence of Dutch marine art.
But Turner developed his own approach with dramatic, swirling, stormy seas
Some of the paintings were unfinished I’d still love to have one on the wall above the fireplace at home.
Two electronic audio installations, Resounding Water 2022, and Life and Death by Water 2021 by Lamin Fofana, an electronic music producer, DJ, and artist. He grew up in Sierra Leone and Guinea before moving to the US when he was a teenager. He currently lives in Berlin. The music was, rather like Turner’s paintings, abstract, rather than melodic, but created an ambient atmosphere that complemented the works. Both pieces included “field recordings” taken in Liverpool, Freetown, Sierra Leone; New York, and Berlin, reflecting the “triangular route” of the Atlantic slave trade. Life and Death by Water also included a hummed melody from Rivers of Babylon – the most well known versions by the Melodonians (a Reggae group) and Boney M – but originally a biblical hymn expressing the lamentations of the Israelis taken captive by the Babylonians.It represents the suffering of Africans taken into slavery and other displaced peoples over the ages.
The exhibition closes at the beginning of June but I hope to visit again before then.
After a brew and a snack in the cafe we went up to the top floor to visit the exhibition of works by the finalists of the 2022 Turner Prize.
Each of the four finalists had a room to show their work. The prize wasn’t specifically judged on these displays but took into account their body of work. Nevertheless, they gave a good insight into the artists’ work, style and approach.
The first room was allocated to a multi-media artist, Heather Phillipson. We entered through a short, narrow corner and was immediately dazzled by the video images of the eyes of various animals, clipped from nature documentaries, shown on screens lining both walls.
We passed into the larger room, lit with a bright electric blue light where there were more moving images of storms and swans projected onto the walls and on video screens. Earphones hung from the ceiling where visitors could listen to an audio commentary.
A not so subtle message about the environment, the use of whizz bang technology certainly made an impression.
The next room showed the work of the winner of the 2022, prize Veronica Ryan. It couldn’t have been more different than the previous room. It was much more low key with small scale works representing natural forms including fruit, beans and seeds as well as fabricated containers and lightbulbs.
My first reaction was surprise that this was the winner’s exhibition as it was so low key with the room only sparsely filled with the sculptures and with a number of then hanging from the ceiling in string bags. However, checking on my phone I realised that she had been awarded the prize for her work in general, including her Windrush memorial of giant sculptures of Caribbean fruits displayed on a street in Hackney, east London.
Sin Wai Kin’s work in the next room was a return to flash-bang multimedia with video images, mannequins and cardboard cutouts. The focus was the artist himself playing different characters. The Tate website tells us that these
exist across the spectrum of femininity and masculinity and reappear in different contexts, creating new constellations in the artists’ expanding universe
I wasn’t keen. It was my least favourite and I found it rather pretentious. But that’s only my opinion, of course. I moved on to the final room devoted to the work of the photographer Ingrid Pollard.
The first of two rooms showed a selection of photographs, pub signs, prints and objects, created and collected over 25 years, from her 2018 exhibition Seventeen of Sixty Eight that focused on the representation of the black figure in British life. I was particularly drawn to a large pub sign. In the town where I grew up there was a pub called the Black Boy (it was near the Black Horse, a pub that had once been run by my great grandparents). As I grew up and developed more of a social conscience I had started to feel uncomfortable with the name of the pub and the plaster model of a young black boy’s head above the entrance. The title of the original exhibition The title, Seventeen of Sixty Eight, relates to the 68 pubs in the UK that have “Black Boy” in their name. No doubt many people would see this as harmless, but to me there’s a clear underlying racism that is far from harmless but reinforces a harmful stereotype. Other exhibits echo this message.
In the next room ‘Bow Down and Very Low’ was inspired by a film from 1944, ‘Springtime in an English Village’, which included a young black girl who had been installed as a village May Queen. It centred on an image of the girl curtseying, copies of which were displayed.
The image was interpreted as a representation of how black people were subjugated – forced to bow, curtsey or otherwise show deference. I felt that the same analysis could be applied to other groups, including the working class in general.
The display included three kinetic sculptures made from found objects, developed in conjunction with with artist Oliver Smart. The central sculpture bowing as if subjugated by the one of the right which wielded a baton. The one on the left, which included a saw and wasn’t operating due to safety concerns.
This video shows the sculptures in operation. The one on the left making a rather loud grating sound as the saw scrapes against the metal strip as it flexes.
Initially I’d been seduced by the dynamic display of flashy visual images by Heather Phillipson, but having spent time looking closely and talking to room custodian about the work I left feeling that Ingrid Pollard’s lower key work was my favourite section of the exhibition.
We made our way down the rest of the building, we visited the other rooms. There had been some changes in the displays since our last visit.
We’d spent a few hours in the gallery and had enjoyed it, but the day wasn’t over. We made our way along the waterfront, first of all to visit the Open Eye Gallery on Mann Island – always a good bet – and then had a look around the Museum of Liverpool Life.
Feeling hungry now we went for an early meal at the Elif Turkish restaurant on Bold Street.
It’s good value and the food is good so it’s very popular. It was busy when we arrived but we were early enough to get a table. People were queuing outside as we left to catch our train back to Wigan.