all exhibitions should come with karaoke


I am sitting in the front room. The windows are open and there’s a bright silver fan facing me. It’s that time of day on a summer evening when you get caught out by the time and the light; it’s dull now but still bright enough outside that I don’t feel ready to turn the lamps on — and yet. Nearly there. My boyfriend’s just left to see a friend. The heat has fried my brain so it’s best I’m on my own tonight, I have nothing to give to anyone but myself, I’m just hot and existing. I’m listening to the 1986 album Street Life - 20 Greatest Hits by Roxy Music and singing along to no one. Singing but kinda guessing at the words I don’t know. You know when Bryan Ferry slurs but it’s cool and unstable and we all pretend to know what he’s saying. Or I do anyway. Such a good album. One of his sons messaged me once to buy a painting from me but then he never followed through — I got too excited and told my mum which jinxed it, so it’s my fault. The ghost’s dad is singing and I shouldn’t keep singing with him. It’s confusing the writing, I’m off and on and off again. I should choose one or the other. I wish I was standing on a karaoke stage singing to strangers. I wish I had the lyrics in front of me so I could cut through Roxy Music’s rolling, jingling blur. It’s important to note that I cannot sing at all.

I went to see an exhibition by Ciarán Wood today at OUTPUT gallery. I actually launched OUTPUT in 2018 but after I got sick, I handed over the space to a new director. This exhibition is the first one on the new Arts Council-funded programme that I’ve had no say in, so everything to come is a surprise and this was a perfect start. OUTPUT only exhibits work by artists who or from or based in Merseyside, and this is a very Liverpool-centric show. Opposite central station, there’s a pub called Cooper’s. I’ve actually never been inside but I’ve heard it; it’s one of those pubs that always seems to be open no matter the time of day, and whenever I’ve walked past, I’ve heard someone singing. It is known for its karaoke. In this exhibition, the artist has stitched together archival footage taken by his father of karaoke performances in Cooper’s. The edit also layers in historical context for the area and its development, as well as poetry and contemporary shots. There are ciggies, messy carpets, emotional hugs, drunk opinions, games, strangers and so much love and fun. It’s a time capsule with an edge to it, like finding something in the mud but cutting yourself on the metal box as you bring it to the surface. I don’t mean that to sound like it’s a dirty place or maybe I do — the development around the pub is ugly, but the pub itself (which has managed to hang on for dear life) and the contents inside the film both feel like a kind of treasure.

I wanted to bloggggg about it for a few reasons. First, you can watch the film because it’s on OUTPUT’s YouTube channel here:

2nd: maybe without even meaning to, ‘Echo in Time’ is a solid continuation of the type of work I had been showing at OUTPUT when I was running it. The last exhibition I really had a hand in before shit hit the fan was Nick Smith’s show ‘Where Were You When It Was Shit?’ which feels like it’s in conversation with Wood’s film in many ways. I want to draw that line so that people in and out of the city can see these ideas being worked out in film. History, opinion, the way we are wrestling with what we are becoming, the way we want to hold onto some things we might feel we’ve already lost.

3rd: I wanted to blog about it quickly to mark the start of the new OUTPUT programme and say how happy I am that there is a gallery in Liverpool doing this kind of work. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to say that when I was running the space because, well, obviously. And in many ways I feel like I still can’t say it because the new person running the space is Michael Lacey, ie. my fiancé. When I got sick bang in the middle of a funded programme, the possibility of finding and training up somebody outside of my circle was out of the question because I had no energy or health with which to do that kind of handover. As we were living together, and as he had seen me run the space for three years prior, and given his past curatorial portfolio, it was a natural fit. So, accessible but also comfortable, and I mean, looking at this exhibition it’s seamless too. OUTPUT is still very much focused on its USP of supporting quality work by local artists, and bringing those creators into the spotlight. Seeing how good this show was just made me feel very proud of ML but also OUTPUT and its power and legacy too. It’s continuing to show the work the institutions are too slow and old to catch onto. Happy I can write about OUTPUT stuff now I’m outside of it too!!

This Roxy Music album has nearly finished. I’m going to turn the lamps on now. I keep thinking of activities and places to aim for now I’m on beta blockers and I’m more mobile than I have been in a while. Coopers has just made it onto the list.