We use the phrase ‘It is what it is’ to mean, ‘OK, it hasn’t quite gone our way, but we’ll soldier on’. It’s used in times of frustrated acceptance, and the title of this show approximates the phrase, and echoes the feeling. We Are Where We Are proclaims itself as ‘a point, a period, or a step in a process’, it is ‘a dark place for moving forward.’
The eleven artists showing work were brought together by circumstance, nominated to join the Liverpool Biennial Associate scheme at a pivotal point in their career. They’ve spent three years working in parallel, developing each practice from distinct points along their own journey. They are here and here and here and here, and developing together whether they like it or not. The works presented are disparate, but there’s an electric fizz of tension that binds them together.
Linguistically, and in practice, We Are Where We Are does not strike such a defeated note as ‘It is what it is’. It’s a more nuanced, celebratory declaration — the group are taking ownership of the temporal and geographical synchronicity that brought this artwork alongside this other one.
Visually, they embrace that synchronicity through a surprisingly harmonious presentation. The different attitudes within the show glance off one another — the precision of Jacqueline Bebb’s polished sculpture against the seemingly-slapdash arrangements of Daniel Fogarty, with their hyper-visible fastenings. The rough colour wash on the back wall counterpoints Simeon Barclay’s crisp mixed media, and forms a link to the gestural paintings of both Lindsey Bull and Robert Carter.
The quality and conviction are consistent across each work, and there is a casualness to the curation that does not feel contrived. This is perhaps what separates it from many other group shows, cutting through degree-show-style friction or silo-ing of works. The show is lightly and deftly pinned together, like Nina Chua’s inked papers onto the wall. This is an unthemed group show that gels, and Katie Hopkins and Joe Fletcher Orr should be congratulated for their curation.
The milk crates that hold up the plasma screen of Stephen Sheehan’s video extend the production values within, and the playful approach he takes to image-building and story-telling. Several magic moments punctuate his surreal assemblage/montage. At the end, for example, one of the film’s protagonists sits expectantly on screen as the words ‘[FILM WILL RESTART SHORTLY]’ hover beneath him.
Harry Meadley’s video draws back the curtain that usually covers the logistics of regional archiving/programming, and the length and depth of negotiation required to achieve a major display of work, and compromises that must be made between the creative and the operational.
Frances Disley’s video and installation explores ‘the gesture of painting across sculptures, garments and backdrops’, a colourful display of movement and art-in-the-everyday via the trappings of fitness. I’d like to hear the audio on loud speakers — the desire to move to the infectious beats, or follow the aerobics on screen is hindered by the tether of heaphones. In the catalogue Disley includes an IM chat with friends about the contested benefits of napping, forging a wry link between her work and wellness: activities that are about ‘self-betterment’.
Matthew Crawley presents a square section of asphalt, removed from a pedestrian island in Leeds with the help of the city council. An imposing video of the act plays against the far wall and we can view the pavement and its oddities (which drew Crawley to fixate upon it) beneath a 70s-feeling dome of perspex.
Lauren Velvick offers a slight but subversive contribution in a single risograph, which I was drawn to for its singularity in the show, its modesty, and its constriction within a frame. Her travel diary presented in the catalogue notionally links to the print in the show — travel as a reminder and an incentive to return and make objects — experiments with texture, flatness, the picture plane.
Velvick was the quietly-acknowledged editor of the entire catalogue, which offers astute counterpoints and glimpses beyond what’s physically present. Bebb includes sketches of the desire lines of a seated conversation, which reveal a psychological interest within her sculpture. Bull adds a short fictional response to her paintings by Melanie Thorne, and the story of how the two met. Thorne’s writing acknowledges that self-mythologizing is the lot of the artist as they ‘emerge’.
Velvick’s own writing speaks candidly about the conflict of the artist’s presence in such arts spaces, such schemes — ‘inserting yourself into the international art world like a coin into plasticine or chewing gum under a desk. The art world is sticky, viscous and contradictory.’ These artists do not hold back from wading into and grappling with this stickiness.
We Are Where We Are, presented by Liverpool Biennial with BALTIC, BALTIC 39, Newcastle upon Tyne, 15 June – 21 October 2018.
Grace Denton is an artist based in Newcastle upon Tyne.