Thresholds – Tate Liverpool (Liverpool Biennial 2012)

Housed in the second floor of Tate Liverpool, Thresholds is just one of their projects in line with this year’s Liverpool Biennial.  The exhibition shows off the latest pieces out of Tate’s vault but also is a quirky collection of pieces that tie in with theme of The Unexpected Guest and hospitality.  Just under twenty artists’ work is showcased ranging from just about every conceivable media and style making the exhibition seem addictively haphazard and naturally creates a sense of the unexpected.

Being the literal poster boys of the show, Gilbert and George will no doubt attract a lot of the attention.  Their two works on display dominate the cornered wall that houses them and are vivid depictions of late 1970s Britain.  England (1980) is the more colourful of the pair (though not in terms of language) while Cunt Scum (1977) is the more uncomfortable of two, not because of its name but because of its origins from genuine racist graffiti.  Both the works also have a reflective quality not just in their physicality but how they are housed.  It’s impossible to view the works head on without the viewer being reflected in the glass, hinting that the viewers are part of this society and, though will not be directly involved with its darker side; their apathy towards social injustice may be one of its root causes.

Thomas Hirschhorn’s Drift Topography (2003) is another interesting work which requires the viewer to peek over into its closed off sculpture to see exactly what is going on.  Surrounded by US soldiers, it’s a mish mash of culture and materials squashed and closed in together.  It works well as a metaphor for American involvement in the east but questions just as much about general military interventions in societies.  As stated, the work does require the viewer to make the effort to see what’s inside of this mass of cardboard but by doing so also raises the question of whether they’re there to keep the society boxed in or to keep outsiders out.  Here is where the hospitality tie in comes but, like many of the works in this year’s Biennial, it’s more about the lack of hospitality than an apparent welcoming nature.

George Shaw’s Scenes From The Passion (2002) is the most technically accomplished piece in the exhibition.  A wonderfully photorealist painting, it displays an empty and foreboding set of garages almost fighting off the oncoming tide of trees from the nearby forest.  Reading into the work further, it can be seen to be examining an entirely different aspect of hospitality; that of the relationship between humans and nature.  The picture is devoid of any people whose presence is only felt by the buildings themselves and the graffiti that adorns their doors.  Perhaps through social decline, this has allowed the place in question to become derelict and a more hospitable place for the nature around it, which has no doubt been disrupted by human intervention.

The voyeurism of relationships created through hospitality is one of the themes present in a number of galleries for The Unexpected Guest.  Threshold’s take on this is through the work of Pak Sheung Chuen.  A Travel without Visual Experience (2008) is an installation only viewable through the flash of a camera.  The space is pitch-black and the flash shines light on various images, linked largely to tourism.  It brings to mind the strange of obsession with documenting everything while travelling and questions whether the photographer is actually really there at all when they experience something as trivial as a holiday.

Jimmie Durham’s work, whose title is too long to present, sums up Threshold’s idiosyncratic qualities perfectly.  It’s sculpting of found objects seems almost random, but the quote which makes up said title, is there in physical form within the work.  The coming together of found materials shows a process of creation, similar to experiences lived in through real life, mixing both harsh and soft objects to speak about the hospitable and the inhospitable.

An interesting and unpredictable exhibition with few weak points (mainly its video pieces), Threshold is the perfect embodiment of The Unexpected Guest; a zig zag, truncated take on an intangible but effective theme.

Adam Scovell

All photos by Adam Scovell.

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