At the beginning of the bido100! process we ran an open call in conjunction with dot-art, asking artists to respond to a brief considering our city’s creative future. An exhibition of submitted work by six selected artists is open now in dot-art’s Queen Avenue gallery space. Ahead of the exhibition, we sat down with four of the artists to try and find out some more information on their individual motivations.
Today, our city’s creative community faces a unique set of challenges and opportunities: from rapid digitalisation to the rising prominence of AI. As a community, what do we foresee – a dystopian, culture-less nightmare or a utopian Technicolor dream? What will be the key issues and challenges, opportunities and changes we’ll be grappling with in 2028? Ultimately, what will Liverpool’s new music and creative culture look in another 100 editions’ time?
Tommy Graham, Hannah Blackman-Kurz, Michael Lacey and James Chadderton.
What was your starting point for interpreting this brief for your own work?
JC: When I read the brief, actually, it linked quite a lot to a series of work I’ve been making over the past 10 years. I do a lot of architectural drawing, predominantly landscape work, but my submission here is actually a picture of the Liver Building. I was trying to work out how it would look if we just removed all human beings; so, all human beings have been taken out of the equation. They haven’t died or anything, they’re just not there, so you can show a future narrative that’s part of the enjoyment of art and design. I looked at a lot of derelict buildings and how nature sort of takes them back.
I also did a lot of research into how the Liver Building was constructed – it was the first large-scale concrete building ever built. So then I started thinking, ‘Well, what will concrete look like if it’s not maintained, or if the weather pattern changes, or if someone’s not there to maintain the building?’ I started looking at how to actually portray a building that’s just left, without maintenance, looking at natural disasters and how that affects the landscape.
I went on site for about two or three days just drawing different versions and concepts, taking them home and working on them. Eventually I came across this image, and I’d never want to create an image that portrays… dystopia I suppose is the best way to describe it. I didn’t want to make it look like there’d been a war there or conflict of any sort – just literally how nature would take back the city, gradually. If you look into the actual image again, you can see the growth.
Was there ever a consideration about the medium or techniques you wanted to use, based on the ‘future’ aspect of the brief ?
JC: Yeh, absolutely. I wanted to do a traditional piece. Usually, I start off with very heavy traditional media with the intention of showing a traditional edge to my work as well as a digital edge. It was always the intention to try and present both pieces if I could, if the space was available.
The green shoots of vegetation seen among the wreckage could be seen as a sign of hope. Because it does overall seem slightly dystopian, which does conjure some images of despair…
ML: I don’t feel any despair, I think this is lovely. I think that that would be a nice place to visit. I think it references that every conception of the future you might have is probably influenced to some extent by science fiction stuff.
TG: I agree. We always talk about climate change being the death of a planet; nah, it’ll be the death of humans, but the planet will be just fuckin’ fine! It’ll be better without us in it. I quite like that it’s, err, absurdist? James, did you look at photos of Chernobyl now? Of all the concrete structures there that have obviously been neglected because of the radiation, lots of them look like that. It’s like dissecting the architecture of buildings, showing supported structures that are still there and stuff.
JC: Yeh, absolutely. I was looking at images from not just Pripyat [the city that served the Chernobyl nuclear plant] but quite a few different places, like Fukushima, the same sort of abandoned areas. Because of the evacuation in the 80s, Pripyat was pretty much left as is, so it’s a really good case study.
There are some interesting similarities here between each of your works. Tommy, some of the things brought up in your work consider the environment and the potential for global disasters. Ultimately, imagining a human-less world.
TG: The piece that I’m exhibiting, I’d actually done before the brief. I’ve done a lot of work with dystopian futures – I think it’s nice to take the everyday things you take for granted, like architecture, and just turn it on its head. Essentially I liked the idea of something trying to climb out from under the city and just imagined the devastation that would cause. I was a bit cynical at the time about… not where Liverpool was going, necessarily, but just the country in general. Turns out I was right! By making something a bit more absurd or cartoon-y, I can be like, ‘That’s OK, I don’t mind’. I’m not going to have a panic attack while trying to sleep ’cos I’ve seen the latest on Brexit, or whatever.
We’ve seen all of the submissions and a lot of them have that similar cynical tone, slightly verging on the negative. Do you think that’s because you’re all artists and the future looks tougher?
TG: Yeh, yeh.
ML: I think the future looks tougher for everyone.
JC: It’s fine, it’s fine!
ML: When I first read the brief I did sit down and think: ‘What good things might happen in the future?’ Not many occurred to me, to be honest. I think it’s interesting how both pieces of work looked at so far have got kind of mankind and architecture – it relates a bit to my own work as well. Sort of abandoned and being overtaken by nature, ’cos whenever people talk about the future, Brexit, Trump and that stuff crops up – but the climate is the only thing that really matters. That’s the thing that’s gonna dictate the nature of the future above anything else. It’s gonna reach a level of severity that you can’t politic around it anymore; it’s gonna be the main defining issue of how the future is, not just in Liverpool but everywhere.
TG: Because we’re artists, that’s why the things are getting a bit more cynical.
This particular demographic – artists – seems to be under more pressure compared to other sectors, and other people who have protected jobs.
TG: Particularly post-recession. Artists are always going to take a hit with that. But then, I think anyone looking around would probably have an underlying level of dread, it’s just that artists are the people who then express that in their own perspective.
ML: It’s kind of interesting that you said you’d made this [piece] before reading the brief. I had a similar thing where I’d been making work in a similar sort of style for a long time and it’s, for me, influenced by a lot of things in the past. I read this brief and I was like, ‘Oh, well I work from the past,’ but then people kept saying, ‘You should apply for this’. I never really thought of my work as set in the future, so I started looking at it through this lens and I kind of realised, ‘Shit, I don’t have any positive hopes for the future!’ It wasn’t something I was intentionally instilling in my work, it’s just that when I squinted I was like, ‘Oh yeh, that’s there’.
Is there any hope, then?
HBK: So, mine’s probably the only optimistic one out of all four of us. James and Michael’s, yours kind of show this decaying… but, see, mine’s quite happy. I’m going for the idea that, as a community, we’re only gonna get stronger because, the age we’re living in, we have an online community that we’re all connecting to. If we’re gonna build that together, we can only get better as a creative community and hopefully take down those borders that people are willing to put up. So, I’ve gone for the fact that there is anxiety but we are supposed to be there to help each other.
ML: I have difficulty separating those ideas of a capitalist society and an online cultural force of togetherness, because we’re in a bizarre situation where the people contributing to that online culture, are doing so on platforms that monetise it and advertise to it.
HBK: That’s the hard thing. But then, those discussions would have never happened, and that’s how people are now connecting. It’s giving other people the motive to want to talk to each other, opening it up a bit more.
ML: I don’t know if Liverpool, in particular, is trending in that direction, though. I feel like the lifespan of these arts organisations seems to be a lot smaller, for galleries and things. If you go back a few years when you had lots of stuff happening around Wolstenholme Square and things like that, it seems like now that these little creative groups pop up for a couple of weeks and then the building is bought by Signature Living, or something. The cycle and the process is sped up a huge amount and I definitely feel that when I’m online that it’s possible for me to contact people and meet people who do similar things to me. I can look at say, people in Canada and be like, ‘Oh wow, there’s this worldwide community!’ But I don’t know if it’s having any impact outside of Twitter.
HBK: Yeh, but maybe that’s like where the future could head if more people got involved. I think that there’s more potential in Liverpool – which was kind of what I was seeing as, if one city can do it then it can cross over, I think in Liverpool, you do that. That’s my optimistic view on it.
Hannah, your piece has a future where you’ve got someone actually reading something physical, which, nicely, is Bido Lito! Is this a reference to creeping over-digitisation?
HBK: Yes, definitely. Regarding reading something physical, I included that because you’re kind of so present [when reading it], you’re not just on your phone all the time. It’s just interesting that we are still here, people still read Bido Lito!, that’s where they get their information from. Whether it’s physical or online, people are still engaging in that, wanting to know – and not just going outside of Liverpool to find out everything else; they still want to be connected to what’s going on in their own city.
ML: I know what you mean. Liverpool does have a quality of defining itself as a community that you don’t always find in other places. It does feel like a more supportive place to practice as an artist. Just from my travels around the UK, I think anywhere that’s got a similar economic history to Liverpool and a similar class background – like Glasgow, Newcastle – has similar elements. There’s an element of the imagination and creativity of the city that comes from basically just looking out to sea. I think that’s really encouraged a mindset of looking beyond your own borders. But also within those borders being quite a strong community.
However, if you look at the country and you look at the kind of massive recorded uptake of racial hatred post-Brexit, there are obviously huge swathes of communities that are getting worse. Maybe if there are little pockets that are isolated from that, it’s on those pockets to step outside and… I don’t know, the idea of this being a country that’s improving doesn’t feel right to me.
HBK: There are things that are still happening, it’s not all doom and gloom. Since arriving in Liverpool in September, I’ve already connected with so many people just through Instagram. And they’re getting me involved more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived post-uni: ‘You should get involved in this because we’re doing it’. I probably get to see the music scene a lot more than the art scene, and it’s just people clubbing together and being like, ‘Yeh, we’re gonna put this event on’. And that’s great. And then you’re trying to get art involved and people from other creative practices going: ‘Yeh, we’re gonna do this!’
ML: I mean, collaboration stuff is great, but without proper funding that collaboration is only going to benefit people who can afford to do it without funding. Even in Liverpool, I see the arts getting a lot more affluent and a lot more middle class. It’s not to say that anything that’s happening is bad, but a lot of the time that stuff’s happening at the expense of other things, or happening in a certain way that excludes people from particular backgrounds. Part of why there are no people in the future in my work is just because I can’t think of a way to solve these problems.
Are there any similarities in this between the music and art worlds? Punk, of course, came out of a period of reduced social and economic mobility.
TG: Liverpool’s quite good with letting people get on with stuff. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to call yourself an artist, you just do something fun with it. There’s no reason why I wouldn’t expect stuff like that to continue or grow. You do away with them completely and then you get this sort of surge of people just writing graffiti on bogs and then putting it up on Instagram; that’s still valid after the point because you’re not asking anyone’s approval for it, but the problem is that there’s only so far it can go before it’s like, ‘Shit I need to get a really good job’. But at least there’s something quite genuine in that, you’re only doing it for the love of doing it.
ML: Do you not think that punk had the additional benefit of the fact that you could just go on the dole, buy a guitar, have loads of free time. I don’t know if any of you have been unemployed in recent years, but the amount of times that you’ve gotta fill in forms, you haven’t got time to put on the fucking Sex Pistols. You’re too depressed.
TG: But then, that’s where good art comes from.
ML: That’s true – if you’ve got the time.
Do you think, in just short of a decade’s time, there’ll be fewer full-time artists or more?
TG: Well, there was a study that came out very recently about what visual artists actually earn. I think it was a-n or someone, and it was basically like: unless you’re in the very, very top couple of per cent, the most you can expect from sales is below 16 grand, or something. So, even pretty successful name artists are not making money from it.
ML: I think the top one per cent make billions and billions and then, for the remaining 99 per cent, the highest you can get is 16 grand. It’s super depressing, and you’re always aware of it.
JC: One of you mentioned before about needing to make friends to get into galleries – that’s so true. I still haven’t mastered it but that seems to be the way to go. Or, you know the galleries, or you need a degree in writing the copy to go with the application. It’s crazy the sort of requirements you need. I think any emerging artist, especially young artists, that process is going to be hard. You get knocked back and you get knocked back and at the same time you’ve gotta hold down a job because you’ve gotta pay your rent and bills. Then you’ve gotta find the time to make the work in the first place and it’s cyclical: you’re working to make your artwork, but you’re so tired from working that you don’t have time for your artwork.
TG: To answer your question, I really hope there are less artists and musicians in the next nine to 10 years, ’cos I don’t want the competition! I want everyone to quit. I want to be the last person in the city doing it and then I can sell my work.
ML: I think about quitting being a professional artist all the time, just ’cos I think maybe that would bring some enjoyment back to the process of actually making art. I do think that the future is maybe a bit of a blank at the minute, because all the sci-fi ideas that we could practically make have been made – and we’re not gonna get flying cars anytime soon. If I filmed a day in my life and showed it to myself 15 years ago, I’d be like, ‘Oh shit! That’s the future! That’s science fiction!’ I don’t know what happens next – maybe we’ve run out of our aspirational future road map. I think there were a lot of visions of the future that were inspiring progress and inspiring art for a long time. But we’ve done them now. Progress has stopped. It seems like everything’s slowed down, that’s my take.
HBK: Do you think there’s been a purposeful clash? So, say in nine years’ time are we going to need more paper magazines, because everything’s going online? Do you think people will want to read anything? Do you think people will set things aside on purpose ’cos they’re sick of everything being advertised to?
TG: I think that’s exactly it. I think there’ll be a backlash to your news feed being perfectly tailored to you from an algorithm somewhere. I think there will be a point where that gets so big, that people will want just print or analogue; anything that you can consume without it consuming you back.
ML: I think people our age are very concerned about this sort of thing. I don’t think young people give a shit. I think they love it and think, ‘This thing shows me everything I want to see’. I think if you’ve lived through the change, then you’ve got a certain perspective of it.
JC: The apocalypse sounds to me like it’s gonna be sociological not technological, from what everyone’s been saying. I hope it isn’t, but it’ll be interesting to catch up at the exhibition and have a proper chat about it.
The Liverpool, 2028 exhibition is open now at dot-art Gallery, running until 6th July. The exhibition features specially commissioned work by Alan Murray, Darren Blenkhorn, Hannah Blackman-Kurz, James Chadderton, Michael Lacey and Tommy Graham.
Alan Murray – The Damned Parade
James Chadderton – Liver Building
Hannah Blackman-Kurz – Sea Of Communication
Michael Lacey – Machine (Which Does Nothing)
Tommy Graham – And They’ll Pick Through The Rubble With A Fine Toothcomb
Darren Blenkhorn – End of Line. When Billy Brown Gets His Oats