‘A little bit of what you fancy does you good’…
Art Gene were approached by Stephen Powell the then Director of Lantern House to help him in developing a commission from the Liverpool Culture Company to deliver a Launch Event for the European Capital of Culture, Liverpool ‘08. Art Gene’s brief was to create the aesthetic overview for the event through the creation of an inflatable structure which could be used to accommodate hundreds of guests amidst the Neo-Classical splendor of St George’s Hall, Liverpool.
Working in the Grade 1 listed building came with some stringent practical constraints and the event had a very tight timescale: There were to be no fixings in the walls floors or ceiling, it had to be errected in 4 days and removed 3 hours after the event.
St George’s Hall
The scale of the main event space in St George’s Hall is extremely impressive. During a first site visit, just a few weeks before the event, the atists realised that their approach would be to create a simple ‘clean’ work which could act as a counterpoint to the elaborate interior.
A competition in 1839 to design the hall was won by Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, a London architect aged 25 years. There was a need for assize courts in the city and a competition to design these was also won by Elmes. The original plan was to have separate buildings but in 1840 Elmes suggested that both functions could be combined in one building on a scale which would surpass most of the other public buildings in the country at the time. Construction started in 1841, the building opened in 1854 (with the small concert room opening two years later). Elmes died in 1847 and the work was continued by John Weightman, Corporation Surveyor, and Robert Rawlinson, structural engineer, until in 1851 Sir Charles Cockerell was appointed architect. Cockerell was largely responsible for the decoration of the interiors. During the 2000s a major restoration of the hall took place costing £23m and it was officially reopened on 23 April 2007 by HRH Prince of Wales.
Research and Development
Nicholson Bastik began by discussing possibilities around various kinds of inflatable structures such as those they had created for previous commissions but the production timescales were too short and they began to think about using large helium filled meterological balloons.
“The only stockist we could find at the time that held large quantities of meterological balloons turned out to be in the US, although the balloons were apparently manufactured in Japan. This made us begin to think further about international trade and Liverpools history as a port. We made a series of models and drawings exploring possible designs which could be used to form a structure to accomodate large numbers of guests and provide an unusual surface onto which we could project imagery which reflected something of Liverpool’s history.”
British west coast ports such as Liverpool thrived on the sugar cane industry and refineries and packaging factories were set up; but this went hand in hand with the transatlantic slave trade.
The establishment of the Treaty Ports opened China to trade and Liverpool became a major importer of all manner of goods including the still popular, now traditional, blue and white chinoiserie china. Art Gene have recently been working with Chinese Artists from Xiamen (formerly Amoy) which was one of the first five Treaty Ports established by the British. see ‘Out of Place’ Exhibition Page (here)
In 1859 Henry Tate, a successful grocer in Liverpool became a partner in John Wright & Co’s sugar refinery. Henry Tate realised that a more efficient production on a much larger scale was needed. He set up his own refinery in 1862 and expanded this business by moving to Love Lane in 1872. In 1921 Tate’s amalgamated with Lyle’s of Greenock. Production at the Love Lane factory reached a peak of 550,000 tons in 1972 and stood at 300,000 tons per year when the factory closed in 1981.
The installation as a whole is uplifting, aspirational and further expression of the artists’ long standing interest in architecture and their engagement in the regeneration of the social, natural and built environment.