"Look around you. What do those faces tell you? Faces. Joy and pain. Faces, faces everywhere."
Not my words but those of early nineties dance-pop titans 2 Unlimited. However, they're certainly apt for Peter Liversidge's recent Civilization? show at the Kate MacGarry in Shoreditch.
After the disappointment of the Haris Epaminonda exhibition yesterday I needed something to restore my faith in trawling round galleries and although Liversidge's work could hardly make any great claims to high art it did put a smile on my face and that alone, sometimes, maybe all the time, is enough.
Maybe it's because it was a sunny day and I was in a good mood. Maybe it's because I like faces. Who can ever be sure exactly why we like something? Be it a piece of art or, indeed, a face? Why do we see some faces as prettier than others, some as more trustworthy, some as more sinister? These aren't necessarily the questions Liversidge sought to ask but it does illustrate how most of us have an innate human desire to make a connection.
Some take that even further and are said to 'suffer' with a condition called pareidolia where the mind finds patterns that aren't there. Examples include hidden messages in music, the man in the moon, and cloud animals. I think it's mainly the human brain, with its desire for clarity, trying to make sense of a nonsensical world.
Using a portable Olivetti typewriter (very hipster, very Shoreditch, point off) Liversidge began this project, like his others, with a series of written proposals that set out, precisely, the show's intentions. This adds a conceptual element to it that isn't really necessary in Civilization? but is vital in some of his other projects. He feels it's important that some of his work is realised whilst some remains in proposal form only.
In his 2008 exhibition at Tate Liverpool he proposed to drain the Albert Dock. He's also designed an album cover and stage set for the band Low, provided installations where visitors take a piece of his work away with them, and even suggested damming the Thames to flood the City of London. This was obviously doomed to failure but Liversidge celebrates failure as part of the work. As someone who's failed in a great many of endeavours it was a theme I warmed to.
But not as much as those faces. Think how easy it is to represent a face. Not a Mona Lisa or a Picasso but a basic face. A face a child would recognise as a face. Normally two vaguely circular marks and a straight line will do. As if to prove it the vast bulk of the gallery space is taken up with these crude but, occasionally, effecting fizzogs that Liversidge has either made or found. It's not clear. Some look happy. Some look scary. Some look surprised. Some look blank. What you read into them says more about you than either the creator or the lifeless piece of Polystrene, wood, or neon 'staring' back at you.
There's a small selection of quite large Carpet Faces that gawp out at you in something that could be considered amazement. These inanimate objects manage to be as expressive as an ancient tribal mask and simultaneously as blank as the neutral face emoji. Writing for Time Out Eddy Frankel posited that "Liversidge is laying bare the barren, detached, desensitisation of modern meh culture. All these faces watching you walk around the gallery feel worryingly modern, and depressingly human".
He's made a deeper, bleaker, reading of the show than I did but he's got a point. One wall consists solely of pictures with the basics of a 'face' plotted over the top. Birds, fish, walls, grass, beaches, islands, etc; Even people. People who already have their own faces.
Ok, the whole thing's silly. Really silly. But, in this, it's massively preferable to po-faced doctrines and self-regarding contemplations that don't connect at all. This connects. At a very childlike level. It was good to let the inner child out.