Big Things on the Beach

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Visit to Liverpool

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ImageOn Saturday 19th January our group got off to a very early start for our weekend visit to Liverpool. It was appropriate that our destination should be this year’s European City of Culture. There were nine of us in total, ably led and organised by Caroline Muirhead, our local Public Arts Development Worker. We were also accompanied by Damian Killeen, the chairman of Big Things on the Beach.

Click below to read on for more of Helen Standen's trip report. This trip is part of the 2007-08 Public Art commissioning course.

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After a slight mishap when some of us got off the connecting train and others did not, we eventually arrived shortly after the others at Liverpool Lime Street Station. We were met by Richard Wilson, the internationally renowned artist and Susie Honeyman, a gallery curator from London.

Richard Wilson
Richard Wilson
Richard took us to see his temporary Public Artwork ‘Turning the Place Over’ where he discussed the work and the commissioning process with the group. It was impressive stuff, an eight metre diameter ovoid cut from the façade of a building due to be demolished at the end of the year. The ovoid was joined on a pivot inside the building that allowed it to rotate slowly around 360o, tilting at an angle in and out of the building. Mesmerizing to watch, we stood enthralled while Richard told us about his early fascination with engineering, construction and mechanical things, his father’s ability to make just about anything and also some of his more recent projects. After Richard’s talk we went and had an excellent lunch in the city centre.

We were lucky enough to have Dawn, a lovely local lass to ferry us around in her mini bus and we visited artworks at various sites including ‘Penelope’ by Jorge Pardo, a fun piece of sculpture, with coloured plexi glass balls on waving posts in Wolstenholme Square. This square is home to the Cream night club, a playground for adults and well suited to this vibrant artwork. Here we also had an unscheduled visit to an artist’s co-operative and workshop space in an adjacent derelict building. We were warmly invited in and given a conducted tour of the space and film show that was currently being shown.

Penelope, by Jorge Padro
By this time it was raining hard but not enough to dampen our spirits. In the city centre we saw Stephen Broadbent’s sculpture ‘Reconciliation’, a very moving work with two figures embracing, expressing hope of eventual peace and unity. This artwork was commissioned through city partnerships with Belfast, Glasgow & Liverpool and marked their desire for an end to sectarian strife.

No forgetting to mention Clive Gilman’s intriguing ‘Metroscope’s’ that we saw in the city centre, five large cirluar digital displays on poles, that hunt the internet for information on Liverpool and it’s twin cities. They do this 24 hours a day, like something out of a science fiction film, catching the ebb & flow of our everyday human lives.

Metroscopes, by Clive Gillman
We were conscious of the huge amount of rebuilding and regeneration work going on in Liverpool. Disused buildings everywhere were being decorated by street artists and I saw a huge rat painted by the infamous Banksy on the side of one of the buildings we passed.

After settling in to our hotel we went out to a smart restaurant/bar for an evening meal. After a lovely meal & one or two cocktails we adjourned to our hotel.

The next day, after a very satisfying breakfast we were ready for action again. Our mini bus picked us up from the hotel and took us to Crosby beach, a 20 min drive North along the coast. We went to see ‘Another Place’ by Anthony Gormley. This piece made a profound impression on us all as we walked along the beach in the rain. The rain only added to the atmosphere. The artwork consisted of a hundred naked life sized human figures cast in steel and spaced widely along the beach, looking out to sea, gazing at the horizon in what seemed like silent meditation and reflection. It is a deeply poetic response to the human condition and each one of us experienced it in our own way. 

Another Place, by Anthony Gormley
Then from the sublime to the ridiculous, in the afternoon, we finally managed to locate the famous ‘Lambana’, by Taro Chiezo. It was large and yellow and stood on a street corner with a notice beside it saying “Do not climb this sculpture.” We hardly saw the point of this work but we hear that Liverpudlians have taken it to their hearts. It is now a city icon, one of the most popular and instantly recognisable pieces of Public Art in Liverpool.

Another of works that we saw was Tracey Emin’s ‘Roman Standard’, a tiny bird on top of a bronze pole behind the gates of the Oratory, next to the Anglican Cathedral. A tribute to the legendary Liverbird, it expressed Tracey’s wish that it would become a symbol of ‘hope, faith & spirituality’. Although it did not make much impact as a public work of art, it had great subtly & delicacy and I could imagine it being placed in the atrium of a Roman villa or in one of those beautifully decorated rooms in a house in ancient Pompeii, or in the centre of some small private space.

Roman Standard, by Tracy Emin
Roman Standard, detail
After a brief look inside the Angelican Cathedral, we walked down Hope street past the ‘Case History’ by John King. A collection of concrete suit cases piled up on the pavement that spoke poignantly of the city as a place of journey’s, arrivals & departures.

At the end of Hope street was the magnificent modern Metropolitan Cathedral of ‘Christ the King’ with its beautiful stain glass tower. I persuaded everyone to climb the long flight of steps up to the main door. On entering we were amazed at the colour and light that illuminated the building, the beautiful chapels and tapestry’s around it’s circular perimeters and the sublime music we heard. Sung evensong was in progress.

There was plenty to see in Liverpool. This vibrant city deserves to be this year’s European Capital of Culture. It was definitely a weekend to remember. After a signal failure on the train journey home and various discomforts, we finally arrived back in Edinburgh late on Sunday evening.

A very worthwhile trip!!

Click on the thumbnail images to view a larger photograph 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 May 2008 11:34  

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Big Things on the Beach is a public art trust in Portobello, a seaside suburb close to the city centre of Edinburgh, Scotland. It was formed by a group of residents in 2003 to explore the potential of the seafront as a site for engagement with public artworks by both emerging and established artists.

Since 2004 we have commissioned artists to create substantial temporary artworks, trained ourselves and others in the process of commissioning public artworks through international site visits and guest lectures and successfully raised funding to these ends.

Our current project - The Big Welcome - is supported by Creative Scotland, Portobello & Craigmillar Neighbourhood Partnership and Edinburgh City Libraries