While we’ve been looking to the future direction of art and creativity in the city, our friends at culture zine The Double Negative have been looking at the still unfolding impact of 2008 And All That, for a new collection of essays assessing Liverpool’s cultural landscape today.
In 2018, The Double Negative launched its fellowship, to discover and foster “daring new voices from the north of England”. The scheme led to Present Tense, a book of essays that consider Liverpool’s complex evolution as a cultural city. Here, we excerpt The Double Negative co-founder and editor-in-chief Mike Pinnington’s introductory essay Now, Then and Tomorrow: Regeneration through Art and Culture.
In Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery hangs a small cluster of paintings by L.S. Lowry. In one – The Liver Buildings, Liverpool (1959) – Lowry captures a view of the river Mersey so busy it is almost implausible today. In it, we see the hustle and bustle of the once-teeming waterway. On the Mersey’s banks lies the Royal Albert Dock, which, 20 years or so after Lowry’s painting, had fallen foul of progress. Unsustainable, the complex closed in 1972, an emblem of Liverpool’s catastrophic downturn. Yet, almost miraculously, in 1988 the dock was reopened.
Today it is an oasis of relative calm just minutes from the hubbub of Liverpool One. Part of a wider cultural economy, key to its success is Tate Liverpool. Initially designated a “Tate for the North”, it would soon harbour bigger objectives, international in scope. Stimulating the city’s expectations, it foreshadowed the arrival of Liverpool Biennial, “the largest festival of contemporary visual art in the UK”, and paved the way for more besides.
Such momentum led to the city’s transformative European Capital of Culture award. Although Liverpool has always had a strong sense of its own self-worth, this had been sorely tested; still struggling to emerge from the corrosive 1980s, there existed a problem of perception. So, when we ushered in the 2008 celebrations, we did so with pride, but also with crossed fingers. Today feels different. There is a confidence and, with it, expectation: things happen in Liverpool.
The city has always punched above its weight – alongside those institutions mentioned above, there is The Bluecoat, FACT and Open Eye Gallery, among others. A true test of the cultural temperature isn’t, perhaps, based on these medium to large galleries, though. Artist-led spaces such as The Royal Standard are crucial gauges. Founded in 2006, TRS recently relocated to Northern Lights in the flourishing Baltic Triangle. Under the same roof are other creatives, among them Dead Ink Books, “a small, ambitious and experimental literary publisher”. Last year Output (on Seel Street) joined a seemingly rising tide of innovation. Dedicated to showcasing artists from or based in the city, it has quickly become essential to our cultural landscape, adding yet more gravitational pull to a destination rich with opportunity for emerging artists and creatives of all stripes.
This is an abridged excerpt of the essay Now, Then And Tomorrow: Regeneration Through Art And Culture. The full version can be found in Present Tense, a new book from The Double Negative which comments on tensions in the fields of art and culture in the decade following Liverpool’s status as European Capital of Culture, available soon. For more information, head to thedoublenegative.co.uk.