Dead Pigeon Gallery, 189 Oakfield Road, Anfield, until the end of December, free (by appointment)
I moved to Liverpool in August 2008, right in the middle of that famous year of optimism. I barely knew what the city had been like much before that, so I had to try and piece it together from the clues left behind. Looking back, a lot of those clues were based on narratives and stereotypes that I was maybe expecting. And being honest, when your visual frame of reference is streets of boarded-up houses and fields of rubble, it’s easy to think they’re right.
But these relics tell a violent story of failed promises and rupture on a systemic level. What this misses is personal, human stories. No room is made amongst the rubble and shutters for the perspectives of the people whose houses these once were.
For a short while, however, a space has been opened up. Dead Pigeon Gallery’s latest iteration takes over a previously abandoned house on the border of Anfield and Everton and fills it with artwork that even when it’s not about this history directly, somehow connects to its example.
This isn’t a voyeuristic show. I imagine that in the hands of other institutions it could be: for some reason the “serious intellectual” response is often to focus on pain. This collection is far more nuanced and human. The tone is set by Britt Jurgensen’s huge installation in the downstairs back room, the starting point of the show. Giving a necessarily potted yet extremely well researched history of habitation and land ownership in the area and beyond since 1066, it’s a story full of highs and lows in the struggle between systems of power and rights of ordinary people.
The overall theme is “home“, a word with varied and often complex connotations. The artists have all met through Homebaked, but their perspectives are inspired by everywhere. One of my favourite works in the house is Tim Brunsden’s film Breath in the cupboard under the stairs. It sets ‘home’ as a place in nature – that it happens to be the Mersey is a symbol of how we make our own connections to the world.
Upstairs feels like a treasure trove of art and artists. I often find myself a little overwhelmed in spaces like this, but not here. Maybe it’s because it’s a domestic environment, but everything feels at home here in its own way. DPG’s driving force, Jayne Lawless, has done a fab job of bringing in art that has something to say about here.
Some works are, inevitably, about the circumstances which have led to the existence of this space. Jayne has a film in here herself with Janet Brandon, and Without These Walls lingers on shots of a home being torn down in a way which is simultaneously factual, mournful and angry. Meanwhile one whole wall is given over to a mural of a Mr Macintosh, a character of the games of children’s imaginations, now a rather ghostly presence. Destruction is also approached from other angles, such as a cute-but-not-cute installation of a polar bear covered in red paint – subtle as a sledgehammer, but sometimes it feels OK to make the obvious points.
Yet as I said previously, this show isn’t voyeuristic about circumstances; its responses are more direct. Ehsan Vaziri’s sculpture in the front top room is perfect. As an aesthetic object it seems to stand for innovation and creativity well enough. But talking to Jayne after I’ve wandered around, she explains it’s also had a life as a practical object too, designed to solve a particular problem in the building of the neighbouring Kitty’s Launderette. The drive to create and rebuild are almost literally part of its creation.
One of the other works I particularly like is a photograph, Ghost Pigeon 3 by Mark Loudon (featured image). It’s a simple image really, a shot of two pigeons casting a shadow as they fly off. Beautiful in itself, it’s capturing of an impression that lingers after the physical presence has left fits perfectly here. And while that shadow may by forgotten after a while, pigeons – famously – always come home eventually.
189 Oakfield Road is managed by Homebaked CLT and is due to soon be remodelled into a habitable home once again. Homebaked are just one of the groups doing amazing work to write the next chapter of this area’s story. In a way, their shouldn’t be necessary – this exhibition is a reminder that community was here already. It’s also, though, a statement that community never really leaves. This is an exhibition which really captures how, in the face of everything that’s been done to this area, the determination is there for it to be home to more than those shells of buildings and desolate spaces might suggest.
Contact Dead Pigeon Gallery to visit