Tuesday, 8 January 2008

liverpool: capital of consumerism 2008

‘when (the new shopping mall) opens it promises 160 new shops, making liverpool not only the capital of culture but also a capital of consumerism.’

so starts this weekends g2 pullout guide to 'liverpool: capital of culture 2008'.

after months of rumbling controversy, resignations of key appointments and cancelled festivals, liverpool officially inaugurated its year of culture rather modestly with a series of firework displays and the midnight ringing of the anglican cathedral’s bell. after all the build up and ensuing hoohar, i feel a pang of pity for this beautiful but admittedly somewhat faded city, as the eyes of the arts and cultural press nationally and internationally turns terrifying and relentlessy towards it.

i have a personal affinity and relationship with the city lasting over 20 years now, composed of frequent day trips and contented aimless amblings, enjoying its whiff of sea air, its magnificent, overwhelming concentration of georgian architecture, and until recently its juicy pickings as the north west’s centre of second hand bookshops and satisfying trail of junk and curios shops. all this and some of the finest greasy spoons in the country. it might have secretly been one of my favourite cities. despite or perhaps because of this i am also aware of a personal attack of curmugeonliness coming on that may well last all year….

this weekends g2 is dedicated to promoting the coming activities and drum up trade for the impending carnival of culture, written and devised jointly by the guardian and predictably 'englands north west', a shadowy quango of the tourist board who periodically try to sell the delights of our region with a surfeit of cliché ridden idiocy and emptiness, attempting to sell our wares both to visitors and to ourselves as simultaneously a shopping and heritage trail destination; a hedonistic, lowry-esque, hen and stag party loving part of the world, with national parks and picturesque towns only ever a short ride away - the victorian satanic backbone of the country, handily restored to luxury loft and boutique hotel standard, ideal for an 'authentic northern' weekend away!

this current brochure, dedicated as is much of this years budget i bet to liverpool, kicks off its cultural 'scoop' (as it boasts on the cover) in typical style with a gamut of marketing clichés and howlers which, if deconstructed by even the least cynical of readers, reveals the spectacularisation and commodification of this fine city, the high-speed thoroughness of which puts even manchester to shame.

liverpool as you might recall has been my regular haunt of late and the intensity and scale of its regeneration has been staggering – for the last 2 years the whole city has been a building site– more cranes and vast scaffolding than during manchester's post-bomb days. as with all international arts and culture festivals, biennials and touring exhibitions, there is a lot riding on this coming year - money primarily. more than two million additional tourists are expected into the city to see some of the 300 events that are due to take place this year. that's a lot of cash in the tills, and the promise of this economic success has secured much needed investment for liverpool and its whole infra-structure. no wonder city councellors and big wigs are nervous.

that's what makes the quote at the top of this little piece so predictable, cynical and depressing. art and culture are certainly on offer and that is most welcome - i've already enjoyed fantastic viewings in exciting venues this winter, including the turner prize at the tate, catherine sullivan at the marvellous a-foundation, and rawlinson and crowe’s faith at fact, all unmissable and very accessible - but undoubtedly these are a side order to the main dish; the parcelling up of land and real estate to investors, multi-national corporations and free-market enterprise, and out of the hands and influence of the democratic process and the citizens of liverpool itself.

take a quick look at this short but astute article by joe moran, writer, citizen and lecturer at john moore's university for a glimpse of the flip side of urban and cultural regeneration, published last october in the new statesman: http://www.newstatesman.com/200710180028.

watch this space - i feel a new source of bewilderment, flaneurie and reflection surging up regarding my old noble neighbour and stomping ground....

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