Speaking plainly?

Six Memos, The Bridge Gallery St George’s Hall, until 24th February, free

Hooray for starting the year with a bit of contemporary art! Especially the prospect of an exhibition that’s making connections across Liverpool. Undoubtedly in the planning for a good while, but nevertheless timely. So, what’s there to discover in the vaults under St George’s Hall?

Three colour tree image
Luca Arboccò

Six Memos For The Next Millennium  is a collection of lectures by Italo Calvino – planned, but never delivered. Although I’d purchased a copy of the book prior to viewing the show, I hadn’t read it. I knew that the exhibition was seeking to explore the six themes of the book – Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity and Consistency – but also believe that art should speak for itself without needing decoding. I often wonder this with themed exhibitions – am I valuing the expressions, or the extent to which I know it meets the theme? So I thought it more worthwhile to see what the show did with these themes without going into detail.

I think I was right to do so. There are several artworks here that I like as objects in themselves, which clearly tell their own stories. The first one I (and several other people) shared on Instagram is work from Luca Arboccò’s Three Channels (Trompe l’Oeil) series. This is for a good reason – not only is it beautiful, but it’s also There’s a film by Laura Robertson over the entrance passageway too which I like – Medusa has kinda become my ‘thing’ lately, and any artwork that’s a declaration for the defiant gaze is going to get my approval. And I also like Esther Gatón’s Tres Maneras de Sentarse sculptures – I’m not sure I understand them, but I enjoy them as objects.

Yellowy blobs
Fabio Tasso (what even is this?)

Of course, there’s things that I really don’t like too. Such as Fabio Tasso’s E0BSY 18 – yellow, sludgy creations that I didn’t see the point of, or which theme they were working in at all. And whilst none of the photography was bad, some of it felt a bit ordinary.  It’s not that Adam Lee’s Identity Documents stand out as not belonging – more that they could belong in so many places and be used to say so many things.

Ordinary is a particular problem when, as I said about the bad, I couldn’t get a sense of the theme. Six Memos is an exhibition which very much leaves finding connections up to the audience. Reading through the guidebook later on, I spot that the lack of easily observable connections is a deliberate move to give the show:

“a fragmented structure that creates a series of interrelationships, and gaps…it is in places of the in-between that the meaning is formed.”

OK, they want us to create our own connections. So when an artwork does draw a blank, it’s frustrating because it’s like missing a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Is the room making a statement that I’m missing? How can I tell if I don’t know what your art is saying and what it’s connecting to?

sculptures, indistinct shapes with spray paint.
Esther Gatón

In other ways, connections are all over the place. Whether it’s maps and subways, or physical landmarks, the sense of place is everywhere. There’s a surprising physicality to the show, considering it’s about a work of literary criticism. I like it – it’s anchoring a high-concept theme in reality. I like Tjaša Kalkan’s Dialogues photographs (featured image) for this. Her interventions into ordinary street scenes are playful, not too serious. Why talk when you can act?

Six Memos comes across much more as a collection of individual pieces than a cohesive statement. I have now started reading the book, and am retrospectively starting to piece together the intentions of some of the artworks, and perhaps combinations. But is this what I’m meant to do? If we’re being honest here, are they expecting visitors to have each read Calvino before seeing the art? I suspect maybe yes, so there’s a gulf of expectation there. Whilst there’s art to enjoy and unpack on an individual basis, I feel like Six Memos misses an opportunity to give depth to the concepts it covers.

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