It’s fairly safe to assume that C-O-N-T-I-N-U-A-T-I-O-N, Peter Liversidge’s exhibition at i8, will only be comprised of a portion of what the artist originally intended to showcase. This is due to the introduction of an unwilling collaborator, namely the postal service. In fact, according to the artist, he’s only had about 70% success rate on his postal pieces. Said postal pieces are a collection of objects Peter sends individually via post to their intended destination, and whilst a 70% success rate is quite miserable, it’s entirely likely that the Icelandic postal service will be even less enthusiastic about this collaboration. “Apparently, you can’t send objects longer than a metre to Iceland,” he remarks, “so when I found out I sent the gallery a metre ruler in preparation of the exhibition, and after a few weeks [i8 Gallery director] Börkur got a call from the post office asking him if he wanted them to send him this broken stick they had found in their depot.”
Poking fun at an archaic postal service’s incompetence is very far from being the sole focus of Peter’s work, as his studio in east London proves beyond a shadow of doubt. On display are artworks at various stages of progress that span an impressive array of mediums: collages, drawing, sculptures, found objects and so on. His studio has the same sense of randomness as a conversation with him does. Peter jets from topic to topic and his enthusiasm for whatever comes to his mind is infectious. He’s clearly a man of many ideas, which goes a long way to explaining his preferred method of working: Proposals.
It was good fortune that forced Peter to showcase his first proposal in 1997. He had sold a piece that was headed for an exhibition in Dublin, “a rare occurrence in those days,” he says, and as he didn’t have anything to fill the original artwork’s place he typed up a proposal that read “I propose that I follow in the footsteps of my mother and train to become a midwife.” Thousands of proposals have followed and the only thing they all have in common is that they’re typewritten on A4 sheets of paper. They range from the ridiculous (“I propose to apply for every job advertised in Reykjavik in June, July and August 2014”) to the mundane (“I propose to fish Albert Dock”) and whilst majority of them will never be realised, due to restraints ranging from access to funds to physical impossibility, the ones that do eventually see the light of day carry no more weight in the artist’s mind than the ones that don’t. In fact, he claims that realisation is failure. “The idea of something is just more interesting, and even more complete than the realisation,” he explains, “you’re beset with problems and compromises through physical manifestation and the finished article will never be as pure as the idea.”
Over the course of our conversation Peter shows a knack for following a relatively high-brow statement with one in layman’s terms, so he continues, “it’s like when I saw [‘90s US indie band] Slint live for the first time, I knew their album ‘Spiderland’ better than any human being should ever know anything, so my experience never even stood the chance of matching my expectations.”
“I’ve always collected rules, either picked them up from places or photographed them wherever I come across them; the thing about rules is that they don’t really exist. They’re just markers that give you a point in time that you can place yourself in.”
Peter’s disassociation with ideas and his insistence of putting the responsibility of actualisation on the receiver’s shoulders gives him ample freedom as an artist and meanwhile makes describing his work pretty much impossible. “I don’t find anything as abhorrent as a box or a signature style,” he remarks when I ask him about his methods, “the work is the experience rather than a description of something. Strangely, in proposals it’s the written description of the work that is the work,” he continues before confusingly adding, “but it’s also the physical manifestation of that written description of the work.”
He’s a conceptual artist if there ever was one.
You Shall Not
Arguably one of the more site-specific pieces exhibited at C-O-N-T-I-N-U-A-T-I-O-N is titled ‘Rules for Iceland.’ It’s a set of 17 rules that Peter has either made up or found during his travels. He maintains that said rules are intended as additions to existing rules rather than alternatives, and like his proposals they range from the relatively logical (“Be respectful to others, whether they are in Iceland or not”) to the absolutely ridiculous (“Remember whilst in Iceland, in public and private you must always, always dress like a monk”). “That one is taken from The Monks’ band rules,” he says, referring to the ‘60s US garage band.
This is the second time Peter exhibits rules and his fascination with them makes me think it won’t be the last. “I’ve always collected rules, either picked them up from places or photographed them wherever I come across them,” he says, “the thing about rules is that they don’t really exist. They’re just markers that give you a point in time that you can place yourself in.” Again Peter’s more philosophical quote is quickly followed by a more grounding one: “I think we all enjoy breaking rules. I at least do. You know the feeling of the little victory when you manage to go on a train without paying for a ticket. I don’t necessarily want to be overt about my “fuck yous,” but rather I like a constant chorus of smaller “fuck yous.”
Whilst many undoubtedly share his sentiments on this, it turns out the relationship of said rules to reality are not so important. “It’s like that opening of Fargo,” he tells me, referring to the ‘90s Coen brothers’ film. “In its opening sequence it states that it’s based on real events, and whilst that’s just a total fallacy, there’s nothing to suggest that those events couldn’t happen.” By this logic there’s nothing to suggest that rules such as “walk quietly, keep looking” won’t apply to Iceland at some point.
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