AL and AL get off at Edge Hill
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AL and AL get off at Edge Hill
XXX: Get Off at Edge Hill

XXX: Get Off at Edge Hill

APEngine talks to artists AL and AL, winners of the Liverpool Art Prize 2009, about XXX: Get Off at Edge Hill, a show they’ve curated to open Metal’s new space at Liverpool’s Edge Hill Station.

I want to ask you about your work as curators, but the background to that you’ve been collaborating as artists for a long time, and I wondered you came to work together as artists in the first place?

AL Taylor: We have been collaborating around 11 years. And that began when we met really – we almost instantaneously began making work together, and it’s just been a progression from there.

AL Holmes: I think the work started coming out of a conversation, which was “How do I do that?”  Or “Can you help me do this?” – and, as everybody knows who works in film and media, you always need hands around to hold cameras or help you with lighting.

Our practice grew out of helping each other, until the point where we realised we were making each other’s work, then to the point where we were making the same work. From there we started asking each other how elaborate the work could become. And I think that curating as well comes out of that conversation.

When did you start curating, as opposed to making?

AL T: Well in a way, since the beginning. We’ve always done shows with friends or peers or people we’ve met in London. Though I never saw it then as ‘curating’, because it was more about knowing somebody’s work that you felt was interesting, and they knew your work. So it was a collaborative curation then of all the artists.

But even so, even at that level, there must be not just a subconscious filtering or or thinking about who would be appropriate artists.

AL T: Exactly – even friends that you’re hanging out with have the same concerns as you and it’s not as if you’re going to hang out with an artist who thinks something completely opposite to you.

AL H: Also there’s a sense in which you’re having a conversation with those people and you find the place. Quite often, in the earlier stage of your career, you’re not being asked by galleries to show work. So you’re finding spaces – in London anyway – that people will come to. And quite often those spaces have a context about them – they’re not like the modernist white space – that kind of generated work and generated conversations, and helped you select artists. Quite early on the idea of the site specific emerged in our minds – the importance of context and making it work, which of course later on happened as artists, making work for television. Those early experiences of putting exhibitions on in certain spaces, we transferred over into the idea of making a work for television as a site.

There’s a kind of a curatorial consideration inherent in your practice then – in making site specific work rather than just making work.

AL H: Absolutely.

AL T: It is always about responding to the space that we’re in, even if that’s a city that you live in – not necessarily a building. Because for us that’s what’s interesting – we think about where we are.

Well, where you are now is Liverpool. And you moved to Liverpool because you were preparing a show, at FACT, and you were hosted by the agency Metal, at Edge Hill?

AL T: We were invited to do a solo exhibition for the European Capital of Culture Year in Liverpool. And we said to them ”Well actually, we’ll move up to Liverpool for a few months and make a work from that context.” There was all this investment in city and we wanted to explore what that might mean and how that might affect our work.

So we came up to look for a studio, and discovered that Metal were trying to talk Northern Rail into giving over Edge Hill’s train station as a space for culture.

One stop out of the city centre…

AL T: That’s right. We happened to be there on the day that they’d finally got to meet up with Northern Rail. When we walked around we immediately knew the significance of the space in terms of technology – it’s the first place that a passenger train left to go to another city.

It was where fossilised fuel was used to create movement rather than using horse power. So we like the idea of installing our technological studio there – our virtual studio, our blue screen studio, which we sort of see as like an inert vehicle – it’s like a flying carpet. It’s the idea of being able to travel anywhere but stay within one space.

We sort of saw it as an end game of an idea of travelling, virtual travel. And the place where people first started to think of travelling as something they could do daily – it seemed like the perfect place for us to have a studio.

So all of that idea of context and the site specific emerged immediately.

That’s the context for your practice as artists making work. But then you had a practice as curators, curating other people’s work in that context. I think that has to be more than just an extension of your artist practice, it’s a leap and it’s a different kind of thing. How did that come about?

AL T: When we moved into Metal we got involved in trying to bring the station back to life again. And there was an opportunity for the space to be transformed into a project space. So it began in trying to make that happen. We felt we had a lot of good ideas – site specific ideas – that we didn’t want to explore in our own work necessarily. Or we didn’t want to explore them to the extent that we had to sort of lock ourselves in a studio for 12 months and make a work. For me, the curatorial thing became a way to think about ideas and see how other people had maybe made work that had responded to some of those ideas.

AL H: Yes.  It’s almost as if it became the building. And putting exhibitions on became a way of showing our sketchbook. It became a way of actually thinking about ideas, and rather than realising them as this gargantuan art work, we could actually show the process of those ideas by conversations and collaborations and by showing other people’s work within a particular site.

AL T: When we first got here we realised that even though it was the Capital of Culture and the Liverpool Biennial had been putting shows on for a number of years, that artists within Liverpool itself weren’t given much space. They weren’t given any space actually.

We wanted to give them a space, and we wanted to bring some ideas that they could then respond to. And perhaps try and kind of create an art scene here that had a community and that wasn’t just kind of an isolated artists, in a city that was ignoring them essentially.

Well, you say curating is a sketchbook, but I think it’s more than that. With the Horse Power show that you did at Edge Hill, you’re not simply appropriating other artists work. The show included established artists like Malcolm Le Grice and Tim Macmillan, and non-fine art kind of artists, like graphic novelist Grant Morrison

AL H: And also, we also brought in other elements like engineering – drawings by Ferrari or films that Ferrari had made. We realised that the space is as much about innovative engineering as it is about culture. Although we do sort of see that as an artist’s job, like Michelangelo’s drawings of machines are as important to us as his Annunciation for example.

What I’m thinking is that it may work, to you, as a sketch book. But Also, you’re organising a conversation between those objects, and that’s curating isn’t it?

AL H: Exactly.  And actually, we were really inspired by Marina Warner and the way in which she curates. We went to the Science Museum when she put on her exhibition Metamorphing.

AL H: And she was quite willing to put for example GM seeds, genetically modified seeds next to Hieronymus Bosch.

AL T: We thought that was really brave – more brave than perhaps just going to an exhibition that just had Bosch paintings pinned to the wall. That there didn’t seem to be any thought process in that. You know, that you can put on a Gustav Klimt show, but what are you going to do, just go through the catalogue? That’s fine, but we wanted to break down some of those boundaries between what is an art object and what isn’t an art object.

The shows that we have curated have, so far, always included different disciplines and different practices within them. That somebody in the art world may not necessarily think is art.

AL H: It’s fascinating allowing the world to creep in next to our art works and seeing the way in which the world does influence and penetrate what artists talk about.

It’s a rare approach in this country, but it does happen abroad.

AL H: Absolutely. The Museum of Modern Art shows ball bearings next to Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel.

AL T: I think in this country that usually gets seen as being appropriate for the Victoria and Albert Museum or those other institutions, rather than the white cube space.

But we love those cross discipline shows.

And while the Science Museum is quite happy to display art alongside mechanical objects, to reflect upon each other, our art galleries seem generally averse to that. I think it’s very strange.

AL T: As well what we really realise is that in London you can enclose yourself in an art bubble. All your friends are artists, and you go to galleries and you are a particular way. Coming to Liverpool, we live in a community, a working class community, and you begin to see the untouchability of some of the exhibitions that are in those bigger institutions for some people.

Anyway, what I love about, for example in Horse Power, is seeing a Ferrari advert of its factory next to a painting by an artist in relationship to the idea of movement. People can start to unpick the art itself as well – which may have seemed more cryptic or coded but actually. It’s about breaking down those boundaries.

AL H: But technology is also interesting in relation to the way art works have come into being. We included Muybridge in that show and his pictures were realised by a railway engineer who had worked out how to create a trigger to enable the 12 cameras to go off at the right speed in order to capture movement.

That collaboration between a photographer and a railway engineer enabled us to create the moving image. And so it’s taken as a given now that the moving image is a medium that can be used to create art works.

AL T: The curatorial decision has actually become the story of the show – of a subject matter or an interest rather than the artist.

When was the Horse Power show?

AL H: It was autumn 2008.

And since then the station’s been redeveloped.

AL H: The station closed for the winter. Horse Power was in buildings on platforms three and four, which is where we had our studio. But there was this much more magnificent building, this engine room, an accumulator tower on platform one and two that needed completely renovating.

During the winter and spring of 2008/2009, Metal managed to secure funding from various bodies… Network Rail, Northern Rail, from lots of different rail companies interestingly enough. And all of the building work is now coming to completion.

Metal have ‘renovated’ the buildings to their raw state, so that anything can happen in them.  They’ve not been turned into refrigerated modernist spaces or anything like that. It’s just that we’ve cleaned up all the Victorian brick.

They’re resolutely industrial spaces…

AL H: Exactly. They’re 1836 the first year of Queen Victoria’s reign – buildings that mark the beginning of the great industrial period of England.

So, back to Belgium… working with the curator Edwin Carels?

AL H: We had an early conversation about what we might realise together as a curatorial and a commissioning process. One of the things that Edwin felt about our big solo show in 2008 was that it concealed the formalist end of our work, in the sense that we put on a big spectacular show that was really about the special effects end of the spectacle of perfect illusion and the malpractice.

AL T: The show was for MuHKA, in in Mechelen, which is where trains for Auschwitz departed. We went over Mechelen to get a feel of the place. Again it’s a site specific thing – we went to Mechelen and we made some video work relating to that. It became a show of what we call our ‘void’ works – all ‘blue’ works.

Rather than the more elaborate baroque pieces – those works about our relationship with contemporary culture and pop and the relationship between that and science and technology. Our FACT exhibition as AL just said, really focussed on that.  I mean we kind of see those three works as being a kind of trilogy really – Perpetual Motion, Interstellar Stella, and Eternal Youth. Edwin came over and said “But you also do loads of really formal, beautiful, stripped down performance work that’s actually not about this…”

And so it was gorgeous to revisit all that older work and make some new work more in line with that.

AL H: And when we went over we discovered about the trains, because everyone knows about the trains to Auschwitz, but nobody ever knows where they set off from.  It’s a really curious one way journey that has no departure point. And we discovered that that was the departure point. Mechelen happened to be at the centre of the railway network in Europe from very early on, it connects all across Europe.

And the Nazis acquired the city in order to use that as a distribution centre. When we got there it just, we just couldn’t help but think about it.

AL T: And we realised that 50 years previously we’d have been on the trains. That felt really terrifying and hideous, and nobody actually spoke about this. We did a lecture in Ghent at an art school and they looked really shocked when we spoke about this.

But the people from Mukha, the curators, they were touched that we’d even mentioned it, because nobody normally talks about this there. And it was almost as if we were the only ones that had the guts to say anything. But to me it didn’t seem like something that shouldn’t be spoken about anyway.

AL H: It came up was because we were talking about doing some formalist works we’d been thinking a while about doing stripped down biometric works from our performances. By which I mean the system used in animation, where the human body is recorded doing various movements and then that data gets transferred into an animated character.

We’d become fascinated by the fact that within all the spectacle films of animations at the moment there was this biped skeleton inside those characters that you never see, that produces all of the movement.

The Korean artist Hyungkoo Lee makes ‘skeletons’ of Sylvester and Tweety Pie…

AL H: Essentially, we made a kind of dancing skeleton film which showed a number of our studio performances stripped back down to being a biped, that were sort of mirrored, like a chrome biped, reflecting a snow of pink triangles.

AL T: Because it was a big institution and we had a budget, we could also show some Yves Klein and Anish Kapoor.

There’s a different kind of curation there – you’re making work and you’re invited to select other work to show alongside.

AL T: Yes, and funnily enough, when I saw it, it felt like an installation. I think all our curated shows feel like installations. More artists should curate shows.

AL H: People like Duchamp did – when the Surrealists first went to New York he he wrapped works in string and you had to find your way through the show.

It’s something that has always been part of our vocabulary, that artists do create shows with the people who they’re having conversations with.

Get Off is the show that launches the new renovated space.

AL H: Yes. “Get Off at Edge Hill” is a local Scouse pun that describes coitus interruptus.

AL T: I don’t quite know what that means actually.  Is that actually a scientific term?

AL H: Yes – it’s pulling out.

AL T: When we’d been talking to people in Liverpool about us renovating Edge Hill they’d all go “Ah… you’re getting off at Edge Hill!” It’s this joke about that pun – if you get a taxi there they always try and tell you about this pun “Have you ever heard of getting off at Edge Hill?”

And so the show became about the kind of Scouse vocabulary, as well as it’s originating point.

AL H: The station has actually found it’s way into the language of the city.

Are the people of Edge Hill notoriously randy!?

AL H: Well exactly! But there’s also a technical reason, because the train – The Rocket – couldn’t travel into the Liverpool city centre because there’s a gradation, a hill, and at that point there was no brakes on the train. There was no sense of how to make the train travel down a hill and be able to stop.

AL T: So Edge Hill is where people got off and got onto a horse and carriage for the rest of journey. So it goes further back than the community reascribing the idea of getting off at Edge Hill – for the bourgeois in the 1840s it meant getting off the train. But for the local community it means something quite different.  So we’ve explored that.

AL H: And we were fascinated by the idea, the sexual pun and the industrial landscape.  Because, like Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even, it’s a machine, there is a sexual pun about the mechanics of sex. This idea of engineering and these machines that go in and out, in and out, in and out.

And trains go into tunnels.

AL T: Yes, there are so many puns, so many cinematic clichés about that. We wanted to explore all of those things.

AL H: For example, we are showing the first edited sequence from the 1899 film A Kiss in the Tunnel – which is the first time that pun of a train entering a tunnel was projected onto the silver screen. That’s the earliest work in the show, but it goes to show the way in which the industrial world has become resonant with the idea of sexual puns.

Especially now, with cyber… humans and machines melding.

AL H: Exactly. And we’ve made works ourselves about the sexuality of the computer world and people meeting up and finding love together. And we’ve been thinking about Alan Turing,  and the fact that those machines have come out of his thinking and that he himself went through a difficult political life because of…

AL T: …his sexuality. And yet now you’ve got literally 16, 17, 18 year old kids who are dealing with their sexuality through the internet. Because of these machines that Turing helped invent they’re coming to terms with those issues.

What else is in the show?

AL T: We’ve got some local artists that all have made new works for the show.

AL H: Imogen Stidworthy is looking at Scouse back slang, which is a kind of a language that comes from the street that Scousers use with each to pass secret messages onto one another. She felt that the Get Off at Edge Hill being a Scouse pun enabled her to explore that.

We’ve got Kenneth Anger’s Kustom Kar Kommandos, which essentially is a film that explores a boy’s love affair with his car, his chrome car. It’s an extraordinary work, with the Paris Sisters singing Dream Lover, which is going to be a delicious sound within the show – the idea of the machine being a dream lover, being this perfect, powerful source of energy.

AL T: We’ve got a sort of Bride Stripped Bare – in Through the Large Glass, by Hannah Wilke, who does a strip tease behind the large glass. It’s a performance from 1976 and an absolutely beautiful piece of work.

AL H: That carries on our idea of actually drawing on the history of video art and performance and using that to put in some major works that are interlaced with local artists.

Any engineering pieces?

AL H: We’ll have a Pirelli calendar.

Which is sex and engineering, and mechanics…

AL H: Yes. You’d find it in every garage and it becomes a collectors item.  And in a way it’s an engineer’s art work. It’s collected and considered as art work, and combines sexuality and engineering.

AL T: I worked in fashion many years ago and to do the Pirelli calendar is a big thing fo a photographer. People think of the Pirelli calendar and think of scrubby garage men.

I think that’s a difference in this country – things like Pirelli and Playboy have this American exuberance around sexuality, it’s not repressed.

AL H: And of course, we are talking about putting an exhibition in a Victorian building, which is the archetypal word for repression. And yet here we are talking about a building that has given birth to a Scouse pun.

All of those things generate meaning and discussion about the space. And about the emancipatory nature of technology and sexuality.

AL T: The other two other shows that we’ve done at the station have been quite formal about the technology there and the science there. And we wanted to have a little bit more fun with this one.

AL H: It is about fun and it is about how culture can be about learning and enjoying yourself at the same time.

The group show XXX: Get Off at Edge Hill curated by AL and AL is showing at Liverpool’s Edge Hill Station from 23 October – 5 December 2009.

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