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Philip Courtenay: 25 Years on from LODE

published by The Bluecoat

25 years ago, a group of teenagers from Yellow House carried a procession of wooden crates from the Albert Dock ...

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Philip Courtenay: 25 Years on from LODE

25 years ago, a group of teenagers from Yellow House carried a procession of wooden crates from the Albert Dock to Bluecoat. Each crate held special cargo, a memento from countries dotting an invisible line around the globe. The line, drawn by artist Philip Courtenay, connected Liverpool and Hull.

The LODE Project, which is currently on display at Bluecoat as part of In the Peaceful Dome, began as a commission in 1992 by the Liverpool arts centre and Hull Time Based Arts. While most proposals sought to connect the two maritime port cities, which both face outwards to sea, via the M62 and England, Courtenay looked the other way, going the long way round, as he called it.

“My take on it was quite simple”, he said. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in the space in England between them. Instead I was interested in their points of place within the world and how the line I could draw would connect Liverpool and Hull in a different way”.

The cargo itself reflected in the changing role of both coastal cities after the 70s, 80s and early 90s. Little cargo passed through their docks now and that which did sat on containers. There were fewer opportunities for conversations between dock workers on the shores of each city’s river than there had been. Mechanisation had reduced the human, global connection, even as the world became smaller.

“Lots of cargo had come through on their shorelines and I was interested, as I began to plan the locations along the route, how many were also ports. As you crossed physical and geographical boundaries there was a sense of similarity and difference”.

The cargo itself would be a bowl or similar, something created in each of the places he would stop in, something from the everyday. A magnetic strip was attached to the object and it would be fashioned to work as a magnetic compass. He could orientate himself, wherever he was, to face either Liverpool or Hull. The journey was captured on Super8 film, a practical decision as he couldn’t guarantee electricity (although the Super 8 footage captured does give a sense of added nostalgia to the work). Inside the cargo was a newspaper from the locale, acting both as a way to protect the object, but also as a form of time capsule.

He travelled to 22 places, taking in northern Europe, India, Indonesia, Australia, South America, Ireland. The footage he captured, setting each shot carefully, would be displayed back in Bluecoat. It reminded him of his landscape arts days, of creating the perfect shot.

As the 22 pieces of cargo were unpacked on the docks in Liverpool, the Yellow House group did the work the dockers had once done. “It was the idea of what that exchange might be, the material that arrives on the dockside of a port city and the creativity of the people who receive it - what’s their creativity and what are they going to make out of it”.

Later, the cargo was taken to Hull by Yellow House and installed in the Ferens Art Gallery.

“What was really interesting was that it was a situation where people found it interesting on their own terms. The idea of the crates and the cargo, the documentation and looking at the materials. It managed to reach people”.

In 1992 the role of the UK’s port cities had diminished. Once, a city like Liverpool which looks out to the US and Ireland, and Hull which looks out to Northern Europe and the North Sea, would have had conversations all over the world. 25 years ago, fears of globalisation and the impact it would have on culture and employment were acute, even if the word globalisation wasn’t used.

“For me, looking back, I can see it was a piece about globalisation. People weren’t using the term but it was there. One theme that ran through the places was migration, the fear the economy is more important than people, that people can be discarded, the concerns over computerisation, of robotics, how the world of work contends with technological development. It challenges who you are and what you do, you can’t take on the whole world. It’s a universal question, a question we share around the globe. It was fitting to start it in Liverpool, a place that has always been outward looking and had a political consciousness about what’s happening elsewhere”.

As the Lode Project returns to Bluecoat, it is an opportunity to reflect on the past 25 years of history.

“The question of moving boundaries, of frontiers, and free movement of people and capital. It feels quite forward thinking. That we are asking the same questions, a quarter of a century later”.

“As I came back to Liverpool there was a clear sense that this might have been a journey into the world, but the whole point of travelling is to understand where you’re coming from. It helps you to see the good and bad of home. You recognise your assumptions and it draws your projections onto the world. Culture shocks are a good thing, it shows you’re approaching a situation you know nothing about and that’s where you start building up knowledge and understanding”.

The Re:LODE Project will allow Courtenay to tap into technology not available in 1992, like the internet and social media. After all, we spend our days having conversations online, but possibly not communicating.

“I want to use the capability in contemporary culture to have conversations and to refer back to that conversation I was talking about in the first place, the dockers and the people they were meeting from across the world”. 


The Re:LODE Project is on fisplay at Bluecoat as part of In the Peaceful Dome until Sun 25 Mar.

Join us on Sat 18 Nov 2pm for A Cargo of Questions, the first in a series of talks and workshops exploring Philip Courtenay & Yellow House’s Re:LODE installation. 

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