When Camp and Furnace concoct an event that threatens to drive a coach and horses through the Jubliee celebrations you gotta fancy their chances. They are, let’s face it, the only venue in the city you could comfortably park a fleet of busses in.
So it was a grim day when the money ran out (or the grants dried up) at A Foundation. A big loss for the burgeoning Baltic quarter, and a reminder of just how much our present political puppet masters value high-value, low-price tag cultural assets. Stuff like art.
Thank the lord, then, for Smiling Wolf’s Simon Rhodes and FVMA’s Miles Falkingham. For they have, once again, seen the furnace rise from the ashes: and have breathed new life back into old Coach sheds (supported by A Foundation’s James Moores and their Elevator Studios neighbours).
Over the past few months a curious assortment of pop-ups and parties have shown us that reports of the death of the Baltic have been greatly exaggerated. But the best is, they say, yet to come.
“Both of us relocated our businesses here, because it was the right thing to do,” Miles tells SevenStreets over a particularly decent coffee in Camp and Furnace’s airy foyer: all reclaimed furniture, do-it-yourself toast racks and vertiginous bookshelves. “But it’s one thing for a group of creative industries to be in on the secret, but another to convince the rest of the city that this really is a special place. This is our way of reaching out and saying, c’ome down and have a look…”
Like some overly-ample airplane passenger claiming most of a row of economy seats, the venue has no real boundary but instead sort of leaks imperceptibly into four ex industrial units. The are nooks, crevices and crannies everywhere: no doubt some still unprobed.
Since renovation, it’s seen many a Biennial installation, art fairs and exhibitions, gala dinners and performance artists. But now, under Simon and Miles’ direction, you get the feeling that the fun is really about to begin. For those who’ve sampled the hearty breakfasts, Sunday roasts and Baltic specialities such as gravadlax and salf beef at the restaurant, the fun began some time ago.
“It’s a multi use space,” Simon says, “and, we think, there’s something here that you just won’t find anywhere else. But we’re not nailing down exactly what we plan for it, because the best things happen organically. That’s certainly what’s been happening around here so far, so we’re not about to parachute in anything…”
By the end of the summer Camp and Furnace’s brace of reclaimed and scrubbed up caravans will be pitched in the old A Foundation gallery: creating a static campsite of vintage Swedish, English and German mobile homes: half installation, half hotel for travelling arts groups and musicians. There’ll be piping hot showers too. Because you know how itinerant artists and musos like a good wash.
Before then, the remaining spaces will see a raft of Biennial events: but not the usual interventions and brow-furrowing set-pieces, more a series of communal, sociable events where artists, punters and liggers can mix and mingle: “It’s the perfect combination of venue and theme,” says Simon, “as this year’s Biennial is all about hospitality, and they’re keen to keep that buzz of activity going all summer long, not just – as was usually the case – for the opening and closing parties.”
Miles talks of Mexian tattoo artists prowling the corridors intent on branding visitors with a mystery design, of a 1,500 capacity music venue, an arts and crafts shop promoting the Made In Baltic ethos, and even street parties (“we have a street licence, and it’s far easier to close off the streets down here than it is in town”) and we start to think: maybe all that talk of this place being the new Berlin isn’t all hot air and promises after all.
“We’ve already opened Liverpool’s biggest photo studio, Shoot, in the Blade Factory, and we’re getting lots of bookings to use our space as a film location,” Simon says. “We need to create a critical mass, get some great events down here and then, hopefully, we’ll really connect with the city.
They can do all this – and SevenStreets has no doubt that they will – but they can’t physically drag us away from our self-appointed rounds. And there’s the rub.
“People have a mental map of the city, and that just doesn’t extend to the Baltic,” Simon shrugs
“Psychologically, people think we’re further away than we are when, in fact, we’re closer to Liverpool ONE than Hope Street. I know. Our offices used to be there,” says Miles.
“We really need the council to honour its promise of a bus route in and out of here,” he adds. “We’ve been in talks for the past 18 months, but it’s still not materialised.”
With this weekend’s Never Mind the Jubliee Picnic – promising live music, locally (and lovingly) made food including Molotov cupcakes, pop up shops and capable DJing courtesy of CantMixWontMixShdntMixDontMix, we’d say that’s reason enough for the ten minute stroll from John Lewis. That and the first Liverpool Art Fair too, which we talked about here.
And, whisper it, in the Baltic Quarter, no one will moan if you turn it up to 11.
If that’s not reason to really hope this places burns brightly again, nothing is.
Never Mind The Jubilee Picnic
7.30pm – 2.00am
Saturday June 2nd
Camp and Furnace
67 Greenland Street