TPA x MUESLI – Threshold Festival 2016
at FUNF, Blundell St, Liverpool
Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith and artinliverpool
One of the rawest exhibitions of Alchemy Visual Arts is hidden at the top of the stairs, in one of the rawest galleries. Whether you like your art polished or not, this exhibition is one to see. The five artists throwing their hat in the ring are MUESLI’s Mia Cathcart, Meg Brain, and Zoë Coogan and TPA’s Joe Cotgrave and Pippa Eason. The work is energetic and well connected, with an aesthetic that could easily have audiences thinking there was just one artist in place.
Why I say this is one to see, is that it is a sign of things to come. A hint at where Liverpool’s independent art scene could be in a few very short years. Make-shift and process based work, with strong themes that have to be searched for. Artists trying their hardest to escape the white walled gallery space which has fallen into disrepute – even with larger galleries like Tate Liverpool taking the small but impactful leap to have a permanent pink wall. Themes that, from an arts perspective, are common place, but from a public perspective in established galleries, are barely ever seen.
It’s Liverpool though that is changing, not the artists. The artists have always had it in their blood to stray from the white wall, and that’s clear in Leeds, the current resting ground for Pippa Eason. Not so much here yet. But whether you like it or not, Leeds, through the medium of TPA, and the city’s surprisingly influential Set the Controls For The Heart of The Sun gallery (or STCFTHOTS for short…), is on its way to Liverpool. Slowly but surely, the make-shift approach of graduate artists is gaining more credibility, and working its way into public galleries and festivals.
And if MUESLI and TPA have anything to do with it, it’s not going to stop any time soon. TPA, if you’re unfamiliar, stands for Trans Pennine Arts, and is a growing network of artists working in cities across the north of England, headed up by Joe Cotgrave and Pippa Eason – both studying for Masters Degrees either side of the hills. MUESLI is a collective of recent graduates from LJMU, painstakingly pulling the best and the brightest artists from around the UK to exhibit in Liverpool’s independent spaces, currently based at The Royal Standard and run by Meg Brain, Mia Cathcart, and Zoë Coogan.
I fear I might have been outsmarted by Zoë Coogan’s contribution to this exhibition, ‘People Never Look Up’, which while I was there seemed like a long paper scroll. Then I got home and looked at the title. So regardless of what was at the top of the piece of paper, she’s followed a clever sequence of questioning and experiment to get to that point. And even though I’m on the end of it, I have to admit that this is the artists’ joke at its strongest; where the artist somehow engages in participatory comedy; where the audience is still processing the joke the next day.
Meg Brain and Mia Cathcart have used the space’s unusual architecture to reframe their work in a way that gives it a morphed vitality, and shifts the subject away from its initial intention. Meg Brain using industrial imagery which reflects the room, the building, and the postcode’s industrial past, now shrunken into a corner. While Mia Cathcart take’s her very recognisable style of portraiture, and uses storage cages to provide structures that shift her work away from canvas frames to peer from behind bars in a playful installation.
From one of our recent featured artists to another, Joe Cotgrave calls on satire to display the human form through nothing more than ‘Curves and Swerves’ with his favourite piece of kitsch symbolism, the bedroom disco-ball (we all had one, admit it). This, juxtaposed by his colleague Pippa’s work, is an incredibly open expression of the body. Pippa Eason’s work suggests something more discrete, something shyer. Named ‘Screen!’ her work suggests privacy, and separation. Or a lust for it. What we are given is a blank frame, and draped sheet which hints at several trains of thought: screen print; screen display; screened off; screening calls. Screen’s a big word, with a lot to offer, but what stands out, is its opposition to Joe Cotgrave’s minimal human form.
What sets this show out from the rest of the festival is its approach to the theme of Alchemy. Not considering material transformations or even personal ones. It’s a show that uses the work it offers to create a change in understanding on behalf of its viewers. Change through open questioning.