Output is a creative space on Seel Street devoted to local artists
Last Thursday was Tate Liverpool’s 30th birthday. As its heavyweight new show dedicated to Egon Schiele and Francesca Woodman opened its doors, broadsheet art critics took sunshine-soaked selfies at the Albert Dock and the city made room in its coffers for lots of shiny culture-tourism coinage.
But last Thursday also saw the opening of another Liverpool gallery, one without the whiff of London largesse that can’t help but permeate the Tate’s pristine spaces. Whereas the Tate welcomed a cuff-tugging Prince Charles to launch it into the future three decades ago, the biggest name in evidence at the new venue was behind the café counter, where a sign declared ‘Cakes made by Dafna’.
Output is a new venture from the city’s ever-mutating Kazimier team. Located on Seel Street next to their own Kazimier Garden, the modestly-sized room used to be a workshop space but is now setting out to be a gallery ‘working exclusively with creatives from, or based in, Merseyside’.
According to Gabrielle de la Puente, the gallery’s manager, the aim is to fertilise what she sees as arid territory in the city’s somewhat patchy artscape.
“As a critic, I’ve seen the gaps in Liverpool’s art structure,” she explains. “It’s institutionally top-heavy, but also the artist-led scene isn’t very accommodating to individuals in the city. It’s much more interested in bringing other people in, with a general trend towards internationalism. That’s fine, but it’s not fine if all the funding and visibility goes to artists outside Liverpool, and there’s none for those who live here”.
The first artist to benefit from Output’s locally-focused mission is Danielle Waine, a student about to graduate in fine art from John Moores University, whose work conjures curious atmospheres from found objects, unexpected textures and the thick aural ooze of a glutinous soundtrack.
Future exhibitions by Hassnat Sikander and Kate Cooper are also at the core of the current programme but - with a restless line-up of weekly events including workshops, film screenings, album playback parties and more - it seems that Output is keen to adapt and evolve at speed in ways that big institutions never can.
“We’ve got a four-month programme to begin with,” says de la Puente. “The first three months are programmed by me, then there will be four weeks by Empty Spaces Cinema”.
The Liverpool public will also have a chance to shape Output’s future, with an event called Input being planned to give anyone who’s interested a voice.
“Over the weekend of June 16-17, we’ll be inviting people into the gallery to have conversations about what they think the space should be used for. That might mean putting your own name into the hat for an exhibition, or recommending someone else. Or it could be other things, like maybe a charity needs somewhere for their choir to rehearse or something. It could be a mix of all types of things”.
As well as picking up suggestions for what Output could become, de la Puente is also hoping it can pick up some cold, hard cash to help bolster its future.
“I’m planning a funding application using the Input days to inform our programming,” she explains. “Even the Arts Council are asking questions about who is allowed to decide what culture is and who is allowed to represent things. And especially in Liverpool, the Arts Council knows where the money is going to, and it’s not to the people who are from here. So I think we should get it!”
On its opening night, Output bubbled with intrigue and chatter as visitors submerged themselves in Waine’s installation, puzzling at the assembled objects, heads heavy with the throb and twang of her soundtrack. The artist herself periodically prowled through the space, cajoling objects into releasing their own inner vibrations and casting glances through the twilit murk.
On the other side of a black drape, a tiny café served good coffee and a few snacky treats, including Dafna’s aforementioned cakes and, wonderfully, Frazzles served from a jar.
The plan is that the café and gallery will be open from Thursday through to Sunday every week, with the special events focused on Thursday evenings from 6pm.
If there’s a rawness and air of incompletion to the venue as it stands, it’s to be hoped that its open-ended nature will help it flex and find its niche as the weeks go by. And judging by de la Puente’s comments, it doesn’t lack ambition.
“I’d like to empower artists who are from or based here,” she says. “I want to raise the visibility of Merseyside artists, and also validate them as well. I would like there to be a space that people feel they’re welcome to visit, but also to influence too. You don’t get that sense from institutions in Liverpool. You just go in and you’ve got no idea who is in charge. I’d like that to shift.”
It’s an interesting time to launch a gallery like this as, in just a matter of weeks, the city-sanctioned might of the Liverpool Biennial will descend - this year based on the theme ‘Beautiful world, where are you?’
And though Output might not be part of the official Biennial culture trail, visitors might find that, thanks to this new space, Liverpool’s grassroots art world just got a teeny bit more beautiful than it was before.
Output is at 32 Seel Street, Liverpool L1 4BE. It is open Thursday-Sunday each week, though daily opening times vary. To find out more, and for details of its current programme, visit the Output website