by Jack Mottram, a freelance writer based in Glasgow · About · Contact · Feed

Peter Liversidge at Ingleby Gallery

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Last August, Peter Liv­er­sidge made an unusual con­tri­bu­tion to the Edinburgh Art Festival, sub­mit­t­ing more than one hundred proposals to Ingleby Gallery. These proposals ranged from the almost im­pos­s­ible, with a plan to set up an amateur dental surgery, to the downright dangerous, as in the proposal to construct a death slide con­nect­ing Edinburgh Castle to the Scott monument, but those that were realised - the release of London-born spiders in the Edinburgh gallery, or requiring Ingleby staff to dress as woodland creatures for a day - were whimsical, cheer­fully absurd little actions.

This show of new work returns to the proposal format, this time sug­gest­ing daily per­for­m­ances aimed at un­der­min­ing the con­tem­por­ary art fair at Basel, Switzer­land. At the time of writing, these new proposals take the form of framed dates, with the suggested per­for­m­ance for that day painted on the wall below. As the ex­hib­i­tion pro­gresses, the frames will be filled with pho­to­graphs of the artist in action. Proposal 27 is, simply, ‘col­lect­ing branches’. Number 31 will see the artist setting up a ‘gin stand’ on the streets of Basel. Number 9 is a reprise of the spider stunt, and number 45 involves ‘owl boxes’, whatever they might be.

This might all sound rather daft, as if Liv­er­sidge is simply having a bit of a lark, but once the chuckles subside, it is clear that the use of humour is rather soph­ist­ic­ated, intended to form a direct con­nec­tion between artist and viewer and, with the tran­s­mis­sion of images from Basel to Edinburgh, a con­nec­tion between two sites, too. The lightness of touch and appealing silliness of the proposed per­for­m­ances, whether they end up being performed or not, create a shared space of the ima­gin­a­tion, allowing Liv­er­sidge to build and direct a con­spir­at­or­i­al con­ver­sa­tion with his audience.

The same holds true for the sculpture and paintings in the main gallery space. A corral cobbled together from found pallet wood divides the space, bearing the weight of a rather jaunty stuffed Harris hawk, and the floor is littered with the bleached, cracked bones and ribcages of unknown animals, hastily assembled from more found wood, painted over with bleach-white vinyl emulsion. On the walls, our location is further revealed in a series of quiet little paintings on board, their simple, sim­pl­ist­ic and romantic scenes con­tra­dic­ted by porten­t­ous titles: In Mourning of a Passing on the North Montana Plains, Let Glory Be on the North Montana Plains, The Lost Path. Liv­er­sidge is crafting a fantasy, rather than re­p­res­ent­ing reality - he has never, ap­par­ently, visited the plains of Montana, but doesn’t let that stand in the way of a good story, half frontier romance, half doom-laden, Western tragedy.

In the rear gallery at Ingleby, Liv­er­sidge has mounted a set of fifty-eight small paintings, each canvas bearing a com­mer­ci­al logo or an image of a product. They are faux-naive, childlike or, more simply, not very good. This is no Warholian cel­e­b­ra­tion of the familiar, instead Liv­er­sidge’s ham-fisted style dissolves each logo’s intended power, stripping away the graphic im­plic­a­tion of re­li­ab­il­ity, power, comfort or whatever succinct message the brand seeks to relay to its customers. The titles are de­fla­tion­ary too, simply borrowing from the slogan’s and ad­ver­t­ising pitches attached to the brand in question. Leica’s strapline, ‘A New Vision’ falls rather flat when attached to an apo­lo­get­ic little painting of a wonky camera, the overblown, gutsy line ‘Fire Breathing’ is let down, and not gently, by Liv­er­sidge’s lumpy, sagging rendering of the MG marque. Even the choice of brands seems designed to undermine, with a sc­at­ter­shot col­lec­tion taking in ever­yth­ing from luxury timepie­ces to naff clothing labels via sporting events and newspaper mastheads.

These works aren’t just a critique of ad­ver­t­ising hubris, though, they also hark back to the pre-teen pencil case decorated with brand names, band names, boy’s names and girl’s names, not only as­pir­a­tion­ally, or to show al­le­gi­ance, but to imply ownership. In ineptly tracing the lines of a logo, Liv­er­sidge takes control - the copied logo no longer belongs only to the brand, but to the creative consumer.

The logo series might seem a wholly separate endeavour from the sketch of an imagined Montana, but the two rooms share something, namely an attempt to examine our desires, whether for luxury goods or the romance of isolation in a barren landscape. They share, too, the light, winking nature of Liv­er­sidge’s proposal project, and that deft knack for launching an unforced dialogue in the space between Liv­er­sidge’s ideas and the viewer’s happy ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his un­as­su­m­ing works.

It is perhaps unwise to look too deeply beyond the surface of Liv­er­sidge’s work - this is not work that hides behind humour, but work that rests on humour, and that is genuinely funny. In the end, Liv­er­sidge’s wide-ranging practice might best be ap­pre­ci­ated simply, as art that is unafraid to be fun.

This review was first published in The Herald on June 1st, 2007.