One of the many privileges of living in Liverpool is the diversity of cultural institutions and establishments which are, literally, on one’s doorstep. In a city which boasts so many galleries and collections, it perhaps seems natural that one’s cultural radar is fixed only on ‘what’s on in town’. It is therefore rare that one feels compelled to venture further, but a visit to the Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk is worth the short journey.
The architectural peculiarities of places of worship often mean that re-purposing them is fraught with difficulties; these sites of spiritual contemplation and veneration are challenging spaces and structures, whose listed status further deters many who would seek to re-develop them beyond their original conception. Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk, however, is an example of what can be achieved, with a little imagination and no doubt substantial financial support.
The gallery is currently hosting two exhibitions this spring, the World Illustration Awards 2018 and The Loop Effect. Having two distinct exhibition spaces, the larger first floor and the smaller ground floor gallery towards the rear of the building, ensures that each exhibition is accorded its own space.
The Loop Effect utilises the substantial investment in audio visual equipment made in the gallery’s first floor and offers the visitor an immersive experience of sometimes kaleidoscopic abstract digital sequences created by Max Hattler, Alex Jukes, Cypherdelic (James Shepherd, Matt Dickson and Adam Bradley Cooper) and Alan Warburton. The almost hypnotic effect is not necessarily new, but one senses that this development in digital media is both the next stage in the Op Art movement, visual recording and wider conceptual installation art. In embracing digital media technology, projection and sound, the works offer an all-embracing sensory experience to the visitor. Truly mesmerising and continually drawing the viewers gaze towards some new facet, one can spend a considerable amount of time contemplating these works.
One would argue that the success of the exhibition is, in no small part, down to the successful utilisation of the considerable space offered by the gallery. These are works which should not be ‘contained’ within multi-purpose spaces, or confined to annexe-like spaces. The only sadness was the apparent paucity of visitors to the exhibition venue.
The ground floor gallery, which hosts the World Illustration Awards 2018, can be reached either via an accessible side door, (preferable), or through the main entrance and café. The exhibition contains 200 works from the Association of Illustrators’ annual awards, comprising eight categories evidencing a range of creative practices and highlighting the vibrancy of working commercial artists. The exhibits include illustrations for children’s books, design, editorial, experimental, research and site-specific works. The shortlisted and winning entries demonstrate an aesthetic both appealing, but also often profound, referencing elements of surrealism, humour and political commentary as well as referencing design of the past, albeit with a post-modern twist. One can therefore only conclude that the supposed distinction between art and illustration is both intellectually tenuous and practically dubious.
Thus a visit to Chapel Gallery proved to be an opportunity to contemplate, consider and conclude that the local cultural offering did not end at the city’s limits.
Ed Montana-Williams is an Art and Architectural Historian and writer based in Liverpool.
The Loop Effect is on display at Chapel Gallery until 4 May, 2019.