Review: Islington Mill at the Black-E for Liverpool Biennial 2014 #TemporaryCustodiansOf

Posted on 7 July 2014 by Guest Blogger

Endless Pageless, Maurice Carlin, 2014. Image by Greg Thorpe.

Endless Pageless, Maurice Carlin, 2014. Image by Greg Thorpe.

By the time the Great George Street Congregational Church ceased to give services in the 1960s, urban pollution had long since turned the building’s façade, with its familiar Corinthian columns and impressive portico, to a sooty black colour, earning it the local nickname of ‘The Black Church’ or ‘The Blackie’. In May 1968 they launched as the first community arts project in the UK, and the radical symbolism of that date holds sway to this day with a long-term counter-capitalist and open-door policy buoying up a programme of community interaction and artistic production.

Once repurposed, the centre was energised by the progressive 1960s spirit of the day. Community activities that were naturally multi-cultural, given the building’s location at the meeting point of the city’s Chinese and African-Caribbean neighbourhoods, shared space with experimental dance, theatre and new music. John Hendricks gigged there, as did a very young Elvis Costello, and the centre began to take its place in the cultural fabric of Liverpool. Jointly curated by a man and a woman, the promotion of women artists was integral from the earliest days, including a notable ongoing relationship with Judy Chicago.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century and the re-christened ‘ Black-E’ – the ‘E’ reclaimed for ‘Energy Equity Equality’ – stands as an entirely unique example of a forty-plus year commitment to local community and artistic cutting edge existing in tandem. Parallels with Salford’s Islington Mill are clear – reclaimed Grade II listed buildings repurposed as progressive arts venues, often persevering quietly in their respective cities where brasher institutions might blow their trumpets a little louder. The two Bills (Campbell at Islington Mill and Harpe at the Black-E) share with their venues and with each other a strategy that allows the energy of the inhabitants of the building at any one time to propel the project forward. Both refer to their buildings and projects as distinct but related things, and somewhere in the middle, the ethos of each venue can be found.

Islington Mill’s residency at the Black-E for the  2014 Liverpool Biennial ran for one week and was opened to the public on the 4, 5 and 6 July. The residency offered a chance for artists to learn from the Black-E’s ethos and experiences, and came at a deeply significant juncture for the Mill. On 1 July Islington Mill learned they are to be the recipient of a £1 million Arts Council award towards major redevelopment plans which will safeguard the Mill (both building and ethos) and vastly expand the potential uses of its existing structures.

Potluck Dinner. Image by Maurice Carlin

The Mill had chance to consider these changes and their implications inside the welcoming and nurturing environment of the Black-E, under a banner of events tagged #TemporaryCustodiansOf. This unifying and versatile ideology was explored through a series of happenings, including the transportation of Maurice Carlin’s Endless Pageless artwork from the Bluecoat gallery to The Black-E where it began to be carefully dismantled and distributed to volunteer ‘temporary custodians’. Jen Wu’s The Wall was also partially in situ and will go through a similar process of sharing and re-assembly. Potluck dinners accompanied open conversations about alternative methods of art distribution and collection, exemplified by these works and others. There was musical experimentation from Charles Hayward and The Harlequin Dynamite Marching Band, performing indoors and out, with Hayward entertaining for the official Michael Nyman afterparty. Guests were invited to make their own art from recycled materials while DJs and poets soundtracked proceedings. The raucous and radical drag artiste CHRISTEENE closed the weekend showcasing a full expression of the Mill’s belief in freedom of expression.

Many of the weekend’s events were relayed via live  Google hangouts which were broadcast and archived to provide an ongoing record of the residency, moving it beyond the Black-E’s walls and beyond Liverpool itself. As Islington Mill return to their home in Salford they will consider their conversations and ideas at the Black-E and with those in mind will put into motion the radical transformations of their home environment, expanding gallery, studio and residential spaces in a vast project that they hope to achieve within two years. To read more about Islington Mill’s past and future, the events described above, the artists involved, and The Black-E itself, please visit the links below:

Follow Islington Mill on  Twitter or find them on Facebook.

To discover more of the Listed Exhibitions and Events running concurrently with Liverpool Biennial 2014, click here

Greg Thorpe is a DJ and promoter, a columnist for Creative Tourist, a blogger, and is writer in residence for Islington Mill. He is currently working on art projects with Cornerhouse, Whitworth Gallery and Manchester Central Library.