Visitors are being asked to engage; to engage with the art works, to engage with the building and to engage with Bluecoat’s heritage. Jack Brindley’s contribution to this exhibition in the form of a museum-style audio guide (‘Pretend to get in the way’, 2015), projecting a fictional narrative onto Bluecoat’s galleries, could be mistaken as a call to boycott our art centres. Instead, he is asking us to take ownership – to accept what is rightfully ours as members of the public: “Stage a protest at the info desk; occupy the entrance hall.”
How do we navigate a gallery? How do we occupy spaces in a gallery? Are we choreographed by the curator? These are all questions that arise when meandering between the works in the main gallery space. One feels not like a visitor but a temporary resident, a guest warmly welcomed, swimming in Bluecoat’s spaces. Whether touching and clanging Laurence Payot’s leaning copper rods (‘Gloves, Mirrors and Sticks’, 2015) or questioning if you can do the same with Ben Cain’s lusciously coloured rods (‘Group Work #7, #2, #6, #3, #1’, 2015) leaning against the opposite wall of the gallery.
The anchor for Resource is a line from the organisation’s founding manifesto outlining the aim to promote “the diffusion of knowledge”. This is achieved in a number of ways, not only through artworks but also a commanding events programme and the inclusion of The Piracy Project and The Serving Library.
The exhibition is curated by Marie-Anne McQuay, who was appointed as Bluecoat’s head of programmes in 2014, and it is clear that she is using this moment to set out her stall in terms of the direction she wishes to take the organisation. Through Resource, McQuay calls on artists to expose the inner workings of the Bluecoat, making it transparent and accessible. In order to convey this sensibility there is a heavy-handed approach to curating utilised. The aforementioned symmetry between the works of Cain and Payot is complemented by the backdrop to Ian Whittlesea’s ‘The Demonstration of Gentleness’ (2015) video, which reflects the adjacent work of Sean Edwards.
Edwards’ piece, ‘Untitled (Amis)’ (2013), a wall made up of MDF boxes which dissects the space, is described as having 209 parts. Interestingly, and this being the kind of exhibition where one feels obliged to examine every aspect and detail, the structure appears to only comprise of 203 parts. Two questions arise here: why would one feel the need to question the interpretive information provided? And is there an intention on behalf of artist and/or curator to deceive the viewer?
Ian Whittlesea’s work visually dominates the exhibition through his videos and colourful paint and print works. When Marie-Anne McQuay features in one of his ‘Becoming Invisible’ video pieces (‘Becoming Invisible (Bluecoat – Bob, Sofia, Denise, Michael, Marie-Anne’, 2015 – he films gallery staff in situ, having them stand still for long periods before they ‘disappear’ into the distance) it is ironic as McQuay is perhaps the most visible contributor to this exhibition as its curator.
Despite Whittlesea’s dominance, the standout works are those of Daniel Eatock. Made using leftover and/or pre-existing materials from Bluecoat, Eatock exemplifies the notion of the exhibition. The entrance doors to the building are painted using a specially mixed colour made up of the four potential options for Bluecoat’s new branding (‘Front door painted with RAL 20082’, 2015), while an interior gallery wall is painted using all the leftover paint from previous exhibitions combined to create a surprisingly enjoyable purple hue (‘Gallery wall painted with a mix of all the paint leftover from previous exhibitions at Bluecoat’, 2015), which visitors are invited to take a tin of in exchange for photographic evidence of its use.
James Harper is an artist, curator and writer based in Liverpool.
RESOURCE, Bluecoat, Liverpool
18th July – 27th September 2015
Image courtesy of Bluecoat.