Indie Biennial Exhibition

Liz Smith is an artist who had won an award for her installation work at university and was given the chance to Exhibit her work in the Independent Biennial 2018 at the old George Henry Lee building by 'Art in Liverpool' in the centre of Liverpool. 

Liz has asked for my help before and again requested my help once more in installing her wax landscapes for the exhibition.

Liz Smith's wax Landscapes

When I arrived, Liz told me that the space was amazing and proceeded to show me around the place. It was just like I remembered it nut with more stuff on the shelves and more people walking around. All the old fixtures were still lying about, and I could sense that they would come in useful in an installation of my own if I were to exhibit there. 

There were already other works being exhibited from the likes of LJMU and Hope Uni, but the place was vast with potential for any artist. I started thinking more about my installations and how they would fit in there; the 'Development installation would fit on a floor we were unable to use but I still thought I would be able to talk my way in there and the wings could go almost anywhere in there. At this point I'd started to get excited about the prospect of being able to exhibit if given the chance.

Whilst installing Liz's work I started to communicate with Patrick Kirk-Smith, the lead Curator and organiser of The Indie Biennial. He also asked needed help with a few things after I offered it. This was key to me making steps towards offering up my work to maybe, exhibit there. To say this sounds a little disingenuous but I generally offer my hand to most just to help if they would need it without question. It was just that I'd fell in love with the place after the tour and could really see the appeal and I thought I had something to offer as well as my handy-man skills. I also know that by volunteering for help then it’s usually repaid by a door opening in places you wouldn't usually ever open for yourself. 

Liz's wax landscapes

Me and Liz in the meantime had finished the installation of her great series of works using most of the old store's equipment. I was fascinated with the lighting rails fitted right through the store on every floor after setting up the light for Liz's works.

Lis Smith with wax paintings after installaion was complete

We also found hooks used to hang the old shop sign which were heavy duty enough to carry the weight of most of Liz's paintings. Liz even used the card holders to store her business cards in. It was like an 'Aladdin's Cave' of fixtures and fittings fit for any exhibition or installation.

After becoming familiar with Patrick, I had asked if he'd allow me to show any of my work. I'd just finished the wings and I also had the scaffolding sculpture ready to be installed. After a brief discussion a view of the work I'd created he said that he'd love to show the wings but thought that the 'Development' installation wasn't doable because of the room restrictions and so on. that was understandable but at least the wings would be shown

Completed wings at Byrom Street Campus. 

We then would walk around the floor deciding on a space for them to be shown. Patrick was keen to install them behind the counter in the canteen area, but I thought that there would be a lot of work in clearing the space. I also wanted somewhere I had control of the lighting giving me the chance to play with the mood of the install. 

canteen space with stainless stands and glass barriers

canteen space
wall in space next to studio

space next to  studio

Patrick offered me a space by the studio space but again the lighting situation wasn't right so he then led me to the big wall space at the end of the canteen which was darker, and the footfall meant they would be seen as soon as the public walked upstairs to the exhibition. It was perfect for the wings.

wall in canteen space
I asked Patrick for permission to use some of the fixtures for the installation and he was fine with it as he told me most of the stuff would just be thrown out so I quickly went into 'de-install mode' and took out the stainless steel stands with reinforced glass panels. I would use these parts for structural frames for the wings and safety barriers. 

The stainless-steel tubing of the stands was perfect for the aesthetic I was looking for. I wanted the tube to be seen and not thought of just 'a stand'- wanted them to become part of the image' The light would bounce off and the wings have more of a silhouette.

I wanted the wall to be as black as a void which inhales light into it. It had to be as black as possible given me more control on the lighting and doubling up as a space no one has seen for a long time. I knew didn't have much time so, I enlisted the help of Liz and a couple of friends from uni who had been with me right through foundation - Kim Dee Roberts, Phoebe O'Connor and Connah O’Neill. 

Kim and Connah helping to paint the wall space (Phoebe had gone for coffees)

I told them how black and dark I needed the wall and we got cracking. We made the wall as smooth as we could by sanding and filling when needed because I knew the light would show up any bumps or holes taking away from the nothingness aesthetic.

wall painted with lights installed

 The wall looked great after we'd polished and painted it. It felt as though you'd be sucked in if you stood too close. 

I then had to construct the stand for the wings by a little bit of fabrication and the scaffolding fittings of my own. Connah would help me with this and held the stand as I screwed the legs into the floor and wall positioning it in the centre of the frame. Thus, maximising the space around the sculpture.

stands were fixed to the floor and wall
for stability
Connah holding up support framework whilst wings lie on floor
walkway was too close to feathers
Connah demonstrating the need for a barrier
to protect people from the sharp feathers

The wings were fitted and the holding frame was constructed and then I positioned and fitted the glass barrier constructed with other parts of the canteen barriers. this prevented anyone harming themselves as the enter the space.

There were plenty of unused spotlight lamps around the whole of the store and the powered railing system meant that I could find the perfect down-lighting for the piece. I was equipped with spotlights from the Byrom Street campus after Paul Wright Manager of the Engineering Department loaned them to me but also, I realised that I could use some other rails to create some up-lighting as well as the lighting rail above to create a more evenly lighted space. 

changed down-lighting
larger down-lights shinning too much onto black wall in an
experiment with different sized, interchangeable lamps
optimised down-lighting with wings installed.
also glass barrier pictured on the right

After experimenting with an up-lit lighting box I knew that this had to be done because of the unevenness of the shade and light. Larger interchangeable lights just drowned the wall, floor and sculpture in light. I needed a more concentrated light source that could be focused to keep the blackness and enable me to highlight the wings wherever I needed, and the smaller lamps gave me that. 

used myself to show scale of the wings
experiment with up-lighting box and light saturation
angled view for effect of reflection
preferred lighting setup
I asked Patrick for a reminder of the earlier permissions to enable me to use the powered rails for an up-lighting idea I had instead of using the light box which I thought was too big and took diminished the aesthetic of the installation.

snapshot of an image Patrick took of me whilst working on my
up-light railing bracket which was posted on to Twitter

Using fittings, I'd found around the store I'd fabricated two brackets to sit the lighting rail on giving me the up-light I need.

By the time the wings were fully installed I'd had a lot of comments and remarks made by the passing public and artists who were also installing at the time. By that time I felt that they would be well received and the time of the opening night they would be talked about which is great no matter whether good or bad.

The opening night was great, and I got to speak to great artists who really liked the installation and the way in which I'd gone about it.  

I feel I had listened to myself more throughout the installation and this helped the outcome immensely. I was told to place them higher, lower, a bit more to the side but I felt like these were still my wings, so they had to be where I wanted them to be. This sense of single mindedness has helped with the success of each piece where I've stuck to my own path.

My confidence is definitely growing in my practice

Thanks to Natasha for showing her appreciation
even though the spot lights had turned
Thanks to Liz Smith for her help and getting me involved in such an important part of Liverpool's Art scene. Thanks to Patrick Kirk-Smith for inviting me in and showing me the ropes. Thanks to Connah O'Neill, Phoebe O'Connor and Kim Dee-Roberts for their great help when I needed it.


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