Situated along the pilgrimage route from Liverpool’s retail epicentre to its ever-expanding contemporary visual art hub on Vauxhall Road, Crown Building Studios (CBS) is run by recent LJMU graduates Joseph Hulme, Liam Peacock and Theo Vass. Active since January 2015, CBS is housed within a new cultural development on Victoria Street in the 19th Century building from which the space takes its name. One Million Years B.C. not only represents the first exhibition at CBS but also the first exhibition together for artists Josh (Hart) n Jill (McKnight) having previously worked together on The Institute of Jaimais Vu.
The dominant work in CBS’s small exhibition space is the show’s intended focal point, a 25 minute-long projected, single-channel video from which the exhibition takes its name. ‘One Million Years B.C. (or, The Search for Peridot, and What It Is That The Visitors Discover)’ (2014-2015) was filmed over a two-week period on the Canary Island of Lanzarote. As suggested in its title, the video presents the duo’s search for the peridot stone and all that they encounter on that journey.
There is an ambiguity about the video. On a superficial level the work has the aesthetic and naivety of a holiday video, of domesticity and of youthful enthusiasm. On a deeper, less obtrusive level, the work speaks strongly of consumerism and tourism, and within that of appropriation and the assumption and acquisition of ancient motifs and principles – all themes that relate directly to the contemporary art habitat.
One particular moment in ‘One Million Years B.C. (or, The Search for Peridot, and What It Is That The Visitors Discover)’ sums up the whole concept beautifully. The camera, which we are told is a GoPro, is positioned sideways, semi-submerged in the lapping Lanzarote waters. As the tidal motion of the sea rises and falls, the audience is taken from reality to unreality and back again; flitting between modern and ancient.
The ancient dwellings explored in other parts of the video, and the reinhabitation of those buildings is echoed by CBS’ reinhabiting of Crown Building; dropping crisp white gallery walls into the promiscuously aging interior.
The inclusion in its soundtrack of the theme music to season 4 of HBO’s epic series The Wire (as performed by DoMaJe) and the original riff from Nas’ ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ (taken from ‘Mind Rain’ by Joe Chambers) is a vibrant example of appropriation. Additionally, the mould for a crucifix, ‘Every Last Vestige of Life’ (?-2015), found washed up on the Lanzarote shores also introduces the theme of tourism and consumerism. Its use to make an ice crucifix which subsequently melts in the Lanzarote heat is the perfect motif for our current consumerist habits.
Beyond the video work, although charming in their decorative occupation of the gallery space, the accompanying works (‘Ochre’ (2014-2015), ‘Visitors’ (2015), ‘Green Dreams’ (2014)) are overshadowed by the bold semiotics of the video work. These works would certainly have more impact if they were shown in a separate room.
James Harper is an artist and curator based in Liverpool.
Josh n Jill, One Million Years B.C., Crown Building Studios, Liverpool