Merseyside Festival of Radical Art – review by Joe Hogan
Taking place at Merseyside’s latest contemporary art space, The Pole Gallery on Duke Street, the first Merseyside Festival of Radical Art is a refreshing antidote to what some of our self-appointed ‘culture gurus’ would pass off as daring and cosmopolitan (yes I mean you, Biennial people). Curated by The Ghost Nebula Collective, this exhibition explodes the myth that contemporary art is lacking in ideas and ability.
Take Khartoum Islam’s ‘Life Cycle’ for example. This installation places thosands of maggots inside a perspex container, embedded in soil and warmed by small, electic heaters. When the maggots hatch, they fly up to the top of the container where they are zapped by the kind of wire filament death traps favoured by most takeaway restaurants. It is both an amusing statement upon human attitudes towards other ‘lesser’ life-forms and a moving testament to the transitory nature of existence. I came away contemplating my own mortality and also my species’ revolting suppression of insects and ofcourse, muslims.
A more traditional artist, Val Keogh’s work is a pastiche of Bacon-esque grotesques. Working entirely in Humbrol modelling paints, her triptych ‘Spaniel, Alsation, English Bull Terrier’ depicts three familiar and beloved dog breeds wearing papal regalia executed in garish colours that at once satirises catholic iconography, post-impressionist abstraction and our unconditional responses to dogs in fancy dress. Her other major piece is an incomplete painting-by-numbers portrait of Fred and Rose West. Entitled ‘Welcome To My World’ it is a sinister re-working of Gainsborough that channels both Warhol and Rolf Harris.
Chris DiStefano’s ‘LFC/EFC’ is a humorous comment on local tribal loyalties that recreates a typical piece of graffiti – the white gloss on brick spelling out LFC in three foot high letters, with two horizontal lines in blue gloss forming a letter ‘E’ from the trunk of the ‘L.’ Such graffiti was commonplace during the 70s and Chris’s other two pieces also reflect a childhood based in the Merseyside of the 70s and 80s. ‘Joey Is A Grass (And A Nonce)’ is another spray-painted slogan this time sprayed on a piece of corrugated metal whereas ‘Is Your Bird This Dirty?’ is smeared into the muck of a van window.
By far the best and most controversial piece in this marvellous exhibition is Shelagh Youd’s ‘The End Of Art’ which takes the viewer along a narrow corridor towrds a door marked ‘Please Open. Art inside.’ When the door is opened, one finds oneself back on the street. Although some have argued that this kind of gimmick is itself cliched and derivative of dadaist stunts almost a century old, nevertheless I found ‘The End Of Art’ to be an intelligent and amusing commentary upon the futility of most artists to produce anything that is of itself unique or even interesting.
There are other notable pieces in the festival such as The Price Sisters video montage work ‘What mortal eye shall see a God go up and down if He chooses not to be seen?’ a work of rare warmth and humanity, that shows an elderly lady quoting excerpts from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ sat infront of an empty hamster cage. Brian Bennett’s ‘Scarey Ass Clown’ meanwhile is a full-size clay model of a terrifying children’s entertainer that takes on a demonic quality the more one looks at it. Suki Hasimi’s ‘Pickled Onions Being Fed To A Herring Gull Until It Explodes’ does what it says on the tin.
The Merseyside Festival of Radical Art runs from August 28th to 1st October at The Pole Gallery, 68 Duke St, Liverpool (admission £15/£10 unwaged/£25 NUS)