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Liverpool Biennial Report Part 1 - Enough about the Beatles...

Our intrepid arts reporter Kirk Lake visited Liverpool for the day to take up his invite to an unusual art event. Part two will run tomorrow...

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by Lake, Editor, London for outsideleft.com
originally published: September, 2006
I really liked that "?". So much so that I deliberately didn't find out who it was by.
by Lake, Editor, London for outsideleft.com
originally published: September, 2006
I really liked that "?". So much so that I deliberately didn't find out who it was by.

Silent Sound was a special one-off event as part of the Liverpool Art Biennial. It promised subliminal messaging, the occult, parapsychology, music and all around table-tapping spookiness. When he got the invite, Lake got the train and reports back for outsideleft. In an attempt to keep to his aim of never writing anything that goes past the footballer on the right of the page he split his report in two. Next part tomorrow.

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard may be best known for their restaging of classic rock events including The Smiths Is Dead (1997) a performance that coincided with the 10 year anniversary of the Smiths break up and A Rock 'N' Roll Suicide (1998) a blow by blow reenactment of David Bowie's legendary Ziggy Stardust 'farewell concert'. Events that sought to redefine our notions of what is real and what is artificial. File Under Sacred Music (2003), the extraordinary remaking of a Cramps live bootleg, pushed the concepts of 'liveness' versus simulation still further.

 For their next major project Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard presented "Silent Sound" a live art event and companion installation as part of the Liverpool Biennial. The artists would speak a secret message into a special machine which would encode it into a piece of music that was composed specifically for the event by Jason Pierce (Spiritualized) and performed live as a one off event.

The performance deliberately echoed the "spirit cabinet" seances of 19th century mediums the Davenport Brothers who would sit inside a locked box with musical instruments at their feet which, though the brothers were bound, could be heard playing from within, music purportedly performed by the dead. It is no coincidence that the venue chosen for the event was St George's Hall, the same location where a near riot ensued after one Davenport Brothers appearance when no music could be heard as the brothers had been bound "too tightly"! An interesting aside and yet another narrative strand is that the Davenport's questionable techniques led that committed debunker Harry Houdini to perform displays of stage escapology.

The last time I was in Liverpool, and coincidentally also at St George's Hall, was to see Echo and the Bunnymen on their Crystal Day and that was over 20 years ago.

 The lady in the tourist information department at Lime Street station was almost apologetic about the amount of building going on in the city. Liverpool is gearing up to being the City of Culture 2008, whatever that means. From what I can see it must mean that the EU has given Liverpool a lot of money and everywhere is being dismantled or revamped or dug up. It's a great time to be in the scaffolding business in Merseyside. "They've caged our lions" she said to me as she handed me the tear-off city street map.

It only takes a 100 yard walk to be reminded that the Beatles came from Liverpool. If I was being cruel (and risking Boris Johnson styled hate mail) I could say that the whole Beatles thing gives the city a bit of a "heritage village" vibe. They are everywhere. And if it's not the Beatles it's some other Merseybeat band. Is there anywhere else in the world that you'd hear Gerry and The Pacemakers twice in less than an hour?

I walked down Matthew Street where the Cavern is and every shop and bar on the street is called Cavern-something. In fact such is the tourist charming lure of the Cavern name there now seems to be three or four pedestrianised streets called the Cavern Quarter. There is a terrible statue of John Lennon at one end of the street and a queue of Japanese tourists wait to have their photo taken with their arms around him.

There is a lot of Beatle related tat around. If it stays still long enough it gets a Beatles brand on it. I liked the Abbey Road pen best. The Beatles slide across the zebra crossing as you tilt the pen. But that just got me thinking that as I live only a couple miles from Abbey Road and often have to wait in traffic while people reenact the album cover what kind of a souvenir of Liverpool is that. And come to think of it, wasn't almost everything good that the Beatles did made after they'd moved to London.

Later I am disappointed to see that the Beatles even have their own display case in the gift shop of the otherwise excellent Merseyside Maritime Museum in the Albert Dock. There is no escape.

The Albert Dock is the hub of a lot of the regeneration but for me it will always be best remembered as the home of the This Morning TV show's giant floating weather-map no matter how much money they spend on revamping it with restaurants, bars and a rather half-hearted Tate Gallery.

Across the river from the dock is a giant yellow "?" painted on the side of a warehouse building. It's raining and starting to get dark and the "?" seems to glow although it isn't illuminated. It's part of the art of the Biennial. One of the various installations that are set around the city. I enjoy watching it as the sky changes. I really liked that "?" so much so that I deliberately didn't find out who it was by. I still don't know.


Part two to follow - including the actual art meets mind control event, more on the caged lions, nothing on the Beatles, something about a milk float...

see more stories from outsideleft's Culture archive »»

Lake
Editor, London

the first journalism Lake ever had published was a history of Johnny Thunders for Record Collector magazine, since then he has written for publications including the Guardian, Dazed and Confused, the Idler and more recently, outsideleft.com as you have just seen.

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