A trip here a trip there-a correspondence

Art Arcadia and one of its residents -Gregory McCartney- look back at last year’s #LIF2019 partnership exhibit, sharing the work of Paola Bernadelli and Locky Morris.

Last year, Art Arcadia and the Festival tag-teamed a residency to create Watch me grow/a trip here a trip there, an installation spanning the duration of the Festival from its base at Sefton Park Palm House. Paola Bernadelli fuelled a visual dialogue with Locky Morris, an artist living in Derry (Paola’s usual home) creating a series of images, which we printed daily as part of the exchange. It was an exchange of ideas, spaces, talents… and the results are charming, funny and unexpected. We’ve set up a gallery of the images below. Impressed with the imagery and concept, Gregory McCartney (Art Arcadia residency alumnus) reviews the work.

Everything eventually becomes black and white. Grand narratives get replaced by other grand narratives and we are seemingly always placed in somebody’s political, economic or social taxonomy. Even the democracy and fragmentation that the internet promised has failed to live up to expectations. Subtlety is a threatened species in the online eco-system. It’s a place where everyone shouts. Even in an art world that supposedly embraces diverse approaches it’s the overblown and loudest work that often get all the attention. Which isn’t to say I have any objection to bombast. Anyone who has encountered anything I do can confirm that I have a taste for the epic. However, the epic can be found in the most subtle, fragile, ephemeral thing. The biblical passage in which God appears to Elijah as a breeze is a classic metaphor for beauty and awe in the gentlest of circumstance.

And Art Arcadia/Paola Bernardelli and Locky Morris’s Watch me grow/a trip here a trip there residency work is epic in the classic and contemporary sense of the word. Each day, Paola Bernardelli would wander around Liverpool producing a photo, to which Locky Morris would respond with one created in Derry. The result is fascinating; an abstract, subtle, sometimes sensuous dance of form and formlessness.

Another thing about contemporary existence is that it is not abstract. You’d think that we’d be exhausted from the on-the-nose directness of our lives and perhaps dive into a mysterious abstraction, but we don’t for the most part. We just try to shout louder than everyone else. What I love about Bernardelli and Morris’s correspondence (and it is a correspondence, if not the traditionally textual variety) is its epic quietness combined with a bubbling vitality. This isn’t an easy thing to create or even maintain. Think of all those paintings, those studies in form and expression slowly fading in modern art museums; the air and light seemingly draining any vitality they originally possessed from them. They actually look better in photographs. I’m doing some of these artists an injustice of course; Yves Klein’s paintings look as vibrant as ever, for instance.

Bernardelli and Morris’s photographs -whilst in the same painterly tradition- expand and update it to a wonderful degree, including the detritus, vibrancy and humour of contemporary Liverpool and Derry’s everyday existence. Every part of these photos is important and the content -though of ‘everyday stuff’- is certainly not banal (to use a word favoured by dodgy philosophers and unimaginative curators). These photos are however political (with a small ‘p’) in the sense that they do reflect the forces that shape their and our world. They don’t preach or offer any definite answers though. This would limit them. Art, to paraphrase James Thurber, doesn’t always have to be first at the barricades.

I’ve always been a bit conflicted about residencies. On the one-hand they are brilliant in generating experiences of new and unfamiliar places and people. I had a great residency in New York a few years ago. On the other hand, it’s pretty much impossible to go on a lengthy residency if you have a job, or a family, these days. I like the snapshot nature of this residency: a few days intervention in Liverpool culture for Art Arcadia resulting in work for Locky Morris to respond to. Perhaps there’s a prescience to it; we now find ourselves corresponding remotely and often obsessing over the minutest of details. In fact, it is somewhat ironic that it’s such a tiny, invisible to the naked eye, virus that has caused such a massive upheaval in our daily lives, leaving us grasping for familiarity and often at odds with one and other.

There’s joy, sadness, pathos in these photos. In a time in which we literally cross the road to avoid people it’s important to remember we still are human. In a time where connection is potentially life threatening these photos show the power and the poetry of connecting.

I’ve liked Locky Morris’s work for a long time, in particular his (for want of a better word) ‘post-Troubles’ practice. Those little humorous interventions in the everyday brim with warmth and power. If I can show you ‘fear in a handful of dust’ I can also show you love, hate, sadness, joy. In other words, I can show you humanity and what it is to be human. We need this more than ever these days. Similarly, I have liked the ‘process’ that is Art Arcadia; its questioning of the concept of the residency; its integration of the internet and social media, in particular into this concept. Locky can take part in a residency without leaving home; I was part of Art Arcadia’s excellent Lockdown Residencies series (http://artarcadia.org) without leaving my sofa.

One thing tragedy does is make the world a bigger place and at the same time a smaller one. The pandemic is raging across the world making it strange and distant, but we are confined to our home towns and to our computer screens. It doesn’t mean we can’t come up with powerful, beautiful things though. As this project proves: we can find meaning and indeed new meaning in the smallest of things and in the most familiar places. This is vital, particularly these days.

Gregory McCartney is editor of Abridged https://www.abridged.one/

Paola Bernadelli is Founder and Director of Art Arcadia (Derry, Northern Ireland) with whom the Festival have an ongoing partnership. She stayed in Liverpool for the duration of #LIF2019, acting as artist, communicator, curator and set builder! The Festival is indebted to Paola for her determination to battle the difficulties, take opportunities and collate an insightful, competent and humorous body of work. Locky Morris’s unique perspective on collective identity, experience and humour played a witty hand in the final exhibition and exemplifies his wry eye, compositional skill and ability to forge open dialogue. For #LIF2020 we are bringing Edy Fung in as a digital resident, so hope there will be much more to this Derry-Liverpool exchange and conversation.