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Review: Culture Shifts: Global, at Open Eye, Look/17

Culture Shifts: Global, at Open Eye, Look/17
until 18th June 2017 (LOOK/17 continues until 14th May all over Liverpool)

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

Hong Kong and Liverpool have long standing connections, but similarities in cityscapes and the aesthetics of space might not be among the ties you expect. LOOK International Photography Festival manages to explore those unexpected visuals, and raise a smile doing it.

Cafes in Liverpool and hotels in Hong Kong are bizarrely inseparable, and the introductory talk from Luke Ching, titled ‘Universal Feeling in Modern Cities Boring’ couldn’t help drawing a giggle. There’s something incredibly warm and welcoming about the work produced by the visiting photographers from Hong Kong. Something that draws on what is maybe missing in other big galleries – the fact we don’t always need to be serious to understand things properly.

The humour and lightness in this year’s LOOK seems to have sat itself really nicely in Liverpool. Dotted all over the city’s galleries, from Museum of Liverpool at the docks to Victoria Gallery & Museum at the University of Liverpool, the photo series range from prying investigations into how visitors can find their own sense of place here to inquisitively funny juxtapositions of old family photos and modern life.

There’s something for everyone in this festival of exchanges, but the cornerstone is Open Eye Gallery. Wo Bik Wong sums the festival up perfectly with her fresh perspectives on the architecture of Liverpool, squashing it up against architectural details imported from Hong Kong. If for no other reason, make sure to see this installment of LOOK/17 to find new perspectives on spaces you think you know. Primarily though, just enjoy the images – they’re fascinating explorations of the historical cultural influence between Hong Kong and Liverpool.

Luke Ching and Derek Man also feature at Open Eye Gallery. All three artists have their own space, but it is Derek Man and Wo Bik Wong who have the most connections. Derek Man, one of the few UK based artists provides a near-opposite view to Wo Bik Wong, taking most of his images during a visit to Hong Kong. In the first case, she visited Liverpool with this exhibition in mind, but in Derek Man’s case, he was returning to his homeland to rediscover roots. Both expertly blur the boundaries between cities and city life in 2017.

Luke Ching though, sets his work apart. And that probably wasn’t that hard for him, as the only self-defining ‘artist’ in the festival, rather than the rest who see themselves as photographers. His work is an exploded pin-hole camera view of Liverpool, using maps and loaned materials to help define the history they blur, through the natural effects of pin-hole photography. Probably the most reflective interpretation of the passage of time through this festival, the photographic installation has whispers of connected histories, but primarily gets you leaning in, finding detail and playing with your own focus.

Open Eye, be it through documentary photography, playful perspectives or pin-hole experiments, sits as the core of the festival. Before you see LOOK/17 anywhere else, make sure to see this introduction to the festival, and take the time to digest it fully.

If, however, you’re after something to put a smile on your face, head to Victoria Gallery to wander through a series of imagined connections between cities, spaces, times and cultures in Lau Chi Chung’s inquisitive pairings of found and curated photographs. From images repatriated from abandoned houses, to those picked up at Hong Kong flea markets, the artist finds his favourite images (usually lost memories of families he’ll never meet) and recreates them with day to day objects; sprawled models become dropped mops; family dogs are now guardian lions.

Whatever you’re after at this festival, it’s there somewhere; from Open Eye to VG&M, Egg Café to A Small View. There are plenty of ways to engage with the festival. Technically the festival ends in May, but some exhibitions continue until October. It’s well worth visiting these exhibitions with a mind to find connections. For the full events listings and fringe details: see here.