Internationalised working practices, the spatial flexibility offered by digital technologies and the relentless march of capitalism are signalling a loss of formerly unique geographical identities in many parts of the world. Yet while the specificities of place are under threat, the resulting slippages, overlaps and recontextualisations that result can be remarkable too. Teasing out some of these oscillations are Tabitha Jussa’s new photographs. Showing at the Bluecoat, Memorandum of Understanding features a small selection of photographs taken in Liverpool, where the artist is based, and Shanghai which has been twinned with Liverpool since 2000 for ostensibly economic purposes.
In the centre of Jussa’s Wolstenholme Square, Liverpool, 2015, is the brightly coloured sculpture Penelope, 2004, by Cuban artist Jorge Pardo, sitting alien in this run-down city centre space. The square is populated by pigeons and seagulls, fly-posters and tightly-shuttered warehouses, and the sculpture twists, looms, like a 1920s utopian future-vision: an impossibility of place rendered in metal and Plexiglas. Last month plans were unveiled to transform the historic Wolstenholme Square into an enormous new residential complex. As the existing site is under threat, so Jussa’s photograph layers histories, disparate places and various versions of the future into one charged image.
This photograph sits adjacent to The Futurist, Liverpool, 2015, in which the Futurist Cinema, opened in 1912, now sits abandoned and boarded. The cinema’s hoarding displays a sign demanding its safe future, while another message from the Mayor of Liverpool’s office advertises a business opportunity on the site. Such conflicting stories can be found throughout the UK: so many buildings vulnerable to progress at any cost. And while this photograph is a view of contemporary Liverpool, cultural assimilation and internationalism can be found here too, for the cinema shares its street with a Chinese restaurant.
The Futurist, Liverpool therefore bridges the other half of Jussa’s exhibition which focuses on Shanghai, though on first glance it might be difficult to tell which is which or rather, where is where. A large freestanding wall, for example, supports the panoramic composite Twenty Thousand City, Shanghai, 2012. With its curious perspective of high-rise towers and super-high resolution, it too seems like a future-vision from the past. Yet the generic concrete blocks, overgrown waste-ground, tourist coaches, a digger and a graffiti-covered Victorian warehouse do not mark out this place as specifically Chinese. It could just as easily be a part of Liverpool not yet visited: an area left to rot, designated prime investment land, demolished and regenerated. Like the views of Liverpool, this site is in flux and when the physical marks of its history are erased, what might remain is as yet indeterminable.
Two artist books Memorandum on Exchange Shanghai and Memorandum on Exchange Liverpool reveal further case studies of the two cities from Jussa’s perspective. Ordinary lives from different worlds are contrasted; ordinary people and places are, ultimately, compared. Things are different, but in so many ways, the same, and as Jussa asks visitors to handle the books carefully with gloves, so she asks us to treasure these changing places, and the memories and lives that flow through them. For who knows how long they will be ours to keep.
Tabitha Jussa: Memorandum of Understanding
The Bluecoat, Liverpool
11 April – 5 July 2015
Commissioned and published by Photomonitor, 22 May 2015