The Unexpected Guest – Open Eye Gallery (Liverpool Biennial 2012)

Photography plays a vital role in this year’s Biennial.  The medium dominates many of the major venues including Tate Liverpool, Bluecoat and The Cunard Building.  Being Liverpool’s main (and quite possibly only) art enthused photography gallery, it seems that Open Eye Gallery is faced with some strong competition at this year’s festival.  This has no doubt raised its game and its contribution to The Unexpected Guest theme is one of the strongest in the entire festival.

The work consists of three artists’ output; two from the past and one a specially commissioned piece.    The spaces inside have been used to a wonderful effect with them reflecting the nature of the works well and emphasising their key points.  The first work that the viewer eventually comes across is the photography of Japanese artist Kohei Yoshiyuki.  Again voyeurism is a key avenue of interest around the theme of hospitality and Yoshiyuki’s work is the most blatant and effective take on this idea.  The photographs consist of two separate collections; The Park (1971-79) and Love Hotel (1978).  Black and white photographs depicting couples engaging in sexual intercourse may sound relatively simple on paper but putting them into context of where and when they were taken instantly indebts them with revolutionary streak.

Untitled, 1973 © Kohei Yoshiyuki, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Japan is still a country of decorum and manners, at least outside of its westernised areas, so public intercourse is no doubt a powerful and taboo topic.  The fact that the artist integrated himself into these communities rather simply becoming a voyeur from the outside makes them feel uncomfortable as well as oddly beautiful.  Sexuality is another taboo broken with couples of different matches all “caught” in the act allowing them to feel timeless and not a product of their time but instead something quite relevant.  Much has been discussed elsewhere about how the pictures are displayed.  Housed in a darkened room, the viewer is only able to see the pictures with a torch.  Though this may sound rather gimmicky, it’s a master touch that adds a final discomfort to the pictures, trapping the viewer and tricking them into becoming the voyeur themselves.

Moving onto the lighter space, Mark Morrisroe’s photography based collages are ironically a more dark and personal body of work.  The photographs are fired with a punk mentality; obnoxious, colourful and exhilarating.  An air of sadness surrounds the pictures though.  Spliced in with the photographs and porno adverts are Morrisroe’s own X-Rays of when he was ill.  Dying of aids at the 30, there’s a sense of tension and a pressure to get work done that these montages exude.   The works are a deeply personal exploration of the artists’ own sexuality, lifestyle and illness making them the most autobiographical pieces in the whole of the biennial.  Some of Morrisroe’s controversial super 8 films are also being screened at FACT on the 22nd of November.

Untitled c. 1987 © Mark Morrisroe. Courtesy of The Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Ringier Collection) at Fotomuseum Winterthur

Untitled c. 1987 © Mark Morrisroe. Courtesy of The Estate of Mark Morrisroe (Ringier Collection) at Fotomuseum Winterthur

The last work may have perhaps escaped the eager viewer’s attention with their insistence on going into the gallery (and the gallery shop which is a Narnia of temptation).  Sinta Tantra’s Together Yet Forever Apart (2012) instantly brightens up the overtly modern Mann Island building and allows the art itself to become the unexpected guest.  Using colour and shape to create and change a viewer’s reaction when entering the space, Tantra has infused the building with an abundance of colour, almost to excess.  Contrasted with the Death Star meets Toblerone packet building, Together Yet Forever Apart is cacophony of emotional resonance and light in an often subdued and business like area making it a welcome and exciting addition to the space.


                                              Photo by Adam Scovell.


This is by far the strongest exhibition at Open Eye for quite some time.  Whether it’s light and colourful superabundance or dark, personal voyeurism, the exhibition is the strongest gallery offering in this year’s festival and one of the really essential visiting choices if limited to time.

Adam Scovell

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