Liverpool Biennial
North East England

My favourite piece from the Liverpool Biennial – Markus Kahre

For me, and I imagine for a lot of people, Markus Kahre’s work was the most interesting piece at the Liverpool Biennial. Hidden away in a pub on Duke St, I can’t say I had high expectations for what art might be in there. ‘The Monro’ felt like a strange setting for artwork to be displayed when I climbed two creaky flights of stairs in an empty pub, half-wondering why I had bothered to walk out of the way just to view such a small selection of work. I hadn’t read anything about the piece so didn’t have any preconceptions of it – which is the best way to experience it (she says, ironically writing about it – but I won’t contain any major ‘spoilers’ I promise). As you reach the top of the stairs, you walk through a very dim and sinister looking corridor, and there is an open door inviting you in. I peered round tentatively, not feeling sure if I was allowed to go in. The room was set out as a standard bedroom – I wondered where the artwork was; feeling as though I’d stumbled into the landlord’s room by mistake. As I walked through the room there were minimal things to look at – a bed, a light, table and chair, and a mirror. The wallpaper had a repeated circular print on it, which on closer inspection, contained the alternating words of ‘guest’ and ‘host’ within the overlaps of the circular pattern. At first I thought this was just a reference to ‘the unexpected guest’ which is hosting Liverpool Biennial, but on reading some accompanying information I realise that it is a reference to one of Duchamp’s aphorisms: A Guest + A Host = A Ghost’. The room is intriguing and I find myself looking around as though it is a puzzle and there is something to find. There is a ghostly presence in the room – possibly due to complete silence and dim lighting, and especially with the hint from the wallpaper. I wander over to the mirror – I can’t see myself. I realise I am the ghost. I flick my head back-and-forth checking that the mirror is a true reflection of my surroundings, and it is. I walk round to the next room which is similar in layout. I approach the mirror tentatively from the side, slightly scared of what may be in the reflection this time. As I peer round the mirror, it is again a true reflection that I am not part of, but this time it felt even more spooky. The door in the reflection was slightly ajar, and had a cloudy light shining from beyond it. It felt as though it was inviting you in – like it was the door to some other dimension that you couldn’t see into. It is a very well made illusion that leaves you questioning what is real.

In a way I feel it’s a shame that Kahre’s work is tucked away in a small pub, where I think many Biennial visitors will miss or not realise is there. But this is the perfect setting for it – I have never seen an artwork so perfectly fitting for a pub, the old and dingy looking upstairs of the building, which dates back to 1756, will already have connotations of being haunted. The piece is in keeping with the pub and engages with its history, referencing the presence of former inhabitants. The feelings of being in the wrong place cause you to take a more nervous approach to viewing the art than you would in a gallery space, enhancing the reaction to the piece. Kahre’s clever trickery creates a sense of time and place so successfully that reality and fantasy blur right in front of our eyes. Definitely a must-see.