‘Infinity is the holy grail of our existence, but something we will never achieve in human form. Art, on the other hand, will outlive us all.’
- Chell da Silva Willis, Media and Content Support, Threshold Festival 2019
Co-Curator of Visual Arts, Jazamin Sinclair, and Chris Herstad Carney, Co-Founder of Threshold Festival, spoke to Chell da Silva Willis with a lowdown on the past, present and future of visual arts at the festival. Both Liverpool-based seasoned pros, say their investment in this festival is personal. For Chris, this is particularly pertinent, given that he and his wife Kaya founded the festival back in 2011. Now, eight years on, Threshold Festival has continued to grow and is a much-loved event on Liverpool’s creative calendar, with visual arts remaining a core feature of its development. Chris says this year’s festival, and its ‘Infinity’ theme, is set to be “an even better cultural hub” of talented local artists across a plethora of genres and media.
What was the inspiration behind the ‘Infinity’ theme this year?
Chris: We came up with the theme when we were originally going to do Threshold 8 (‘8’ being an upright infinity symbol) in 2018. After a tough year, we’d decided upon the smaller ‘Across the Threshold’ that particular year. So when we carried forward into 2019, it made sense to keep the theme as it was a good one. So it’s our ninth event, but we’ve kept the ‘8’ ‘Infinity’ theme. There was more to it than just the symbol, though. We were thinking about the legacy of the event at this stage, if we ever called it a day on this adventure, how will this festival be remembered? How will the successes of artists and musicians who’ve worked with us reflect on their Threshold journey?
Who is headlining your visual arts at Threshold Festival this year?
Chris: We are very excited to announce that Gang of Five, a group of dynamic individuals whose aim is to collaborate in ambitious, challenging and highly artistic projects, is one of our visual arts headliners this year. We can’t wait to see their brand new collaboration project, ‘House of GOF’, and when they told us to expect alternative life drawing, zine making, sketchbook sessions and the infinity gallery, we were instantly sold! We also have the talented Danny O’Connor, an artist living and working in Liverpool. We know that our festival crowd love seeing live art, created right in front of their eyes, which is what Danny does so brilliantly. Danny explained his work by saying, “My work is a celebration of contrasts, focusing mainly on portraits and figures with a prevalence of opposing artistic influences… all pulled together to create hyper-stylised and abstract works.” Who could say no to that? Our third headliner, Cherie Grist, whose work is already exhibited throughout the UK, documents her journey through what she describes as “our ever-changing world, observing, growing and learning with every situation life presents”. Cherie is a contemporary Abstract Expressionist and Director of 104 Duke Street Studios, so she’s very local to our festival. We are particularly proud to have Cherie back at Threshold Festival, because she’s recently been shortlisted for the John Moore’s Contemporary Painting Prize, the National Open Art prize and the Cass Art Prize.
Who else is exhibiting this year as part of Threshold Festival’s visual arts?
Jazamin: Our full visual artist line-up this year is Alex Stone, Angelo Madonna, Art In Windows, Carolyn Malkin, Cherie Grist, Christian Monaghan (Eatenalive), Claire Henderson, Clare Brumby, Danny O’Connor, Forgotten Art Collective, Gang of Five, Graham Smillie, Jane MacNeil, Jason Hollis, Jazamin Sinclair, Jonathan Butters, Jonny Seven, Josie Jenkins, Laird Galbraith, Liverpool Arts Lab, Losthills, Max da Silva Willis, Max Mallender, Pamela Sullivan, Paul Bramley & Polly Tomlinson, Pete MacAdam, Pilar Cortés, St. Vincent’s Primary School, theskyisthinaspaperhere, Tristan Brady Jacobs, and Wecyclable. It’s great because we have such a wide range of media to suit all tastes, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, installations, projections, site-specific art, performance art, interactive art and live art.
Can you pinpoint some of your personal highlights over the past eight years?
Jazamin: It is always really exciting working with new venues and transforming them into gallery spaces. In 2015, we were given an empty warehouse space on Bridgewater Street, now Love Lane Brewery, and we created our own venue which we filled with art, music and theatre from absolutely nothing. Here, the most exciting part for me was to be able to work with such a blank canvas and to be given the freedom to do absolutely anything we wanted with the space. We used the existing structure of the areas in each part of the building to create something really special, including a dark room for projections. Working alongside a brilliant team of exhibiting artists and volunteers, and through sheer hard work and community spirit, we created one of our most memorable Threshold exhibitions, giving us a massive sense of accomplishment. In 2016 we had nine venues, including Baltic Creative Shed (housed within 92 Degrees Coffee, formerly Unit 51, on Jamaica Street), Constellations and The Gallery Liverpool. The Gallery Liverpool is an existing established gallery space that we really loved having the opportunity to use. In terms of the visual arts, this was one of our strongest years and we all felt like we really came into our own, receiving great feedback and recognition.
You clearly make an effort to change things year-on-year. Can we expect anything different this year from your arts spaces?
Jazamin: This year we have a brilliant opportunity, and freedom, in a new location – an ordinary-looking house attached to St Michael in the City Church on Upper Pitt Street, which is to be one of our key visual arts venues. Threshold is all about challenging expectations, so this year, we are enjoying being able to turn this space into an interesting gallery in a setting that again is completely unexpected. Transforming perfunctory and unutilised spaces into galleries and performance spaces excites all of us in the team. We are also returning to an old favourite, Baltic Creative Shed, a dynamic room, which will be filled with wall-based art and site-specific work. And finally, we will have a projection and performance piece at District and further wall-based and site-specific installations at Hobo Kiosk.
It is no secret that in recent years the Tory government has had a detrimental effect on the arts. How has Threshold Festival been affected?
Jazamin: Increasingly, there have been so many cuts in funding to the arts, meaning we, as artists and arts organisations, have become somewhat limited in what we are able to do. In the past, we have worked towards putting Threshold Festival on when there has been little or no funding, and we have done this because at Threshold we are all artists and musicians ourselves and we are committed regardless of obstacles. We recognise the importance of supporting artists and to offering exhibition opportunities, where we can. Because of our own creative backgrounds, we understand the festival from the creative side as well as the organisational side of things, and we are as resourceful as possible. We are all really passionate about the arts and aim to make the festival as accessible as possible to as many creative people as we can, on a grassroots level. This, of course, would be so much easier if we had more funding!
Each year has been different, with its own unique set of challenges. Are there any challenges you regularly face each year?
Jazamin: As co-curator and organiser, one yearly challenge is to liaise with venue the owners about exactly what we are allowed to do to their spaces and when we can install. Although it is great to have freedom to do what we want and to allow artists this freedom, we know we can’t trash the place and we like to try to leave venues as we find them (unless we are given permission to do whatever we want!). This is the beauty of being able to use abandoned or unutilised spaces that are due to be refurbished and transformed into new establishments. However, one of our most challenging times was in 2014, when we had three weeks to transform a cold, damp warehouse space that had no electricity into a gallery!
Another challenge is to ensure that artists are all happy with their locations and spaces, so we aim to work closely with each individual artist or group to determine where and how their work is presented. Many of our visual artists are often still developing their ideas and we love to give them the space and opportunity to do this where possible. But for this they need time to ‘play and create’, so it is just about juggling and managing that. We aim to promote artists and their work as best we can and this includes collating label information, biographies and images. We also have to organise and coordinate a team of volunteers to help invigilate the exhibitions and to offer guidance to audiences who visit the shows. As you can see, there are quite a few challenges, but we love what we do, so we expect these as part of the process. It has been a learning curve over the years and we often have to think on our feet when installing; it is fair to say that no-one on the team sleeps much in the few weeks leading up to the festival!
How do you see the future of visual arts in the city?
Chris: I don’t know much about the future of visual arts in the city, but I’m excited for what might be in store for Liverpool. Independents Biennial is one of my favourite event in the Liverpool region; there’s always some genuinely brilliant work and often much more exciting than the main festival. We are still one of only three cities to boast a Tate Gallery and, while this is something to be very proud of, grassroots art should be nurtured and independent galleries supported if we are going to remain a destination for great visual arts. Ultimately, that’s what we try to do at Threshold Festival with visual arts continuing to remain a key feature well into the future. Liverpool has long been renowned for its creative culture and I love Threshold Festival being part of finding and nurturing the fledgling artists of tomorrow.