The Liverpool Arts Lab
WRITTEN BY JOSH RAY – AUGUST 2017
Taking inspiration from the Arts Lab movement of the psychedelic sixties counterculture, which is beginning to show signs of revival, and following the lineage set by Liverpool’s creative underbelly, the newly launched Liverpool Arts Lab looks to form a network that allows artists of all different fields to feed off each other’s ideas and push the city’s culture forward.
As well as this, the Liverpool Arts Lab will also look to open up a creative world to those previously unable to partake by setting up a framework within which they can explore the bounds of their imagination. Wholly inclusive, the Arts Lab is open to anyone who feels they have something to contribute or are looking to connect with the creative side of themselves. Arts Labs can be whatever you want them to be, and the Liverpool Arts Lab take shape as more and more people get involved.
The movement started up in 1967, with the formation of an Arts Lab at 182 Drury Lane in North London. Having co-founded International Times a year earlier with Barry Miles, John Hopkins, amongst others, Jim Haynes became a central figure in the capital city’s counterculture and set up the Drury Lane multi-media space with a few like-minded individuals which, despite only lasting 2 years, proved highly influential.
Welcomed by a gallery space upon entering, the Drury Lane Arts Lab also played host to a basement cinema space, with a warehouse theatre adjacent to the building. Upstairs there was a film workshop and the building also doubled as a living quarters for Drury and numerous others. It became a hub for the counterculture and provided the perfect space to put on ‘happenings’. It exhibited the first joint artwork between John Lennon and Yoko Ono entitled, ‘Build Around’ in 1968.
The Drury Lane Arts Lab lit a spark and by the time of the Arts Lab Conference in Cambridge in January 1969, there were 50 such centres listed across the whole country including one in Birmingham, Brighton, Exeter, Farnham, Guildford, Huddersfield, Loughborough, Manchester, Southampton, Bath and Swindon. The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London was influenced by the Arts Lab movement, as were the Melkweg in Amsterdam, the Entrepôt in Paris and the Yellow House Artist Collective in Sydney.
Upon becoming aware of what was happening on Drury Lane, David Bowie and a group of cohorts decided to transform their Folk Lab into an Arts Lab. What they’d been doing on Sunday evenings at The Three Tuns pub was already an Arts Lab in all but name and having aligned themselves to the national movement, they named their Arts Lab ‘Growth’ and for a short period the leafy suburbs of Beckenham became a hive of creative activity. Although it didn’t quite amount to what they had hoped, it did result in a free one-day festival immortalised by Bowie in ‘Memories Of A Free Festival‘. Mary Finnigan also captured those days in her first hand account, ‘Psychedelic Suburbia‘.
Another Arts Lab sprang up in Northampton around that time as well and counted the greatest living Englishman, Alan Moore amongst its members. Moore has credited the Arts Lab as being a formative influence on his seminal work as a comic book writer. Here’s what he told us about Arts Labs in a recent interview:
“The beauty of Jim Haynes’ original Arts Lab notion was that it could take hold anywhere and could develop in any way that the self-appointed members saw fit. Working together, people were encouraged to try their hand at different disciplines and there was a glorious and uncontrolled cross-fertilisation of ideas. It shaped my whole approach to creativity, and I’m prepared to bet that it shaped the creativity of a lot of other artists too, noticeably the late David Bowie. It’s an idea and a working method that is timeless and not specific to any era, and is today, arguably, a vitally necessary one.”
Following on from ‘Under The Austerity, The Beach: A Day Of Counterculture‘ at Northampton University, the city’s Arts Lab reformed under the patronage of Alan Moore and is now steered ahead by Megan Lucas, leading the way in what looks like the beginnings of a new nationwide movement; with signs of further Arts Labs emerging including one in Brighton even further afield in Spain, where Martin ‘Youth’ Glover has big plans for his Space Mountain retreat. The climate is right at the moment and this time around we’ll develop the ideas and learn from the mistakes of the ‘60s to create a movement for the here and now.
Picking up the baton from organisations like The Liverpool School Of Language, Music, Dream And Pun as well as Earthbeat, the Liverpool Arts Lab is setting itself up as a grassroots organisation that seeks builds up culture from ground level and oppose the forces that are sapping the real culture out of our land and replacing it with a bland, vacuous anti-culture imposed from above. As well as that, it will look to reaffirm Liverpool’s position as Carl Jung‘s ‘pool of life’.
Liverpool has a long history of countercultural agitation, dating back to the 1950s with the Liverpool Poets and from the 1970s the punk ethos – “if nobody’s going to give us a chance, we’ll make our own” – has consistently informed Liverpool’s counterculture since then.
The Liverpool Arts Lab was born out of the 14 Hour Super Weird Happening that took over The Florence Institute AKA The Florrie on 1st April 2017. Using The Florrie as a base for operations, the Arts Lab has been gifted its own room in the forward-thinking community centre and arts space. Having hosted an exhibition from Jamie Reid as well as Jimmy Cauty‘s ADP tour and most recently the screening of ‘The Rites Of Mu’, The Florrie has become a cultural powerhouse.
The Welcome To The Dark Ages ‘situation’/’happening’ that took over Liverpool last week paved the way for what we want to achieve with this Arts Lab. It took people out of their comfort zones in a constructive way and broke mechanical thinking to tap into the underlying creativity in the majority of those in attendance.
The Arts Lab will meet fortnightly on alternate Thursday evenings to plan and plot and it will also put on various other get-togethers including classic album listening sessions, classic and independent film screenings and ‘Culture Jams’, where artists, musicians and poets all improvise together, feeding off the energy in the room. As more people get involved and bring new ideas to the table, the gatherings will evolve over time naturally.
The Arts Lab launched on 12th August at the L8 Community Day in The Florrie, with live and interactive music, DJs, painting and a ‘Make your own Echo’ workstation. The Arts Lab’s first meeting is on Thursday 31st August between 6-9pm. It’s open to all and will conclude with an acoustic jam so feel free to bring along an instrument and get involved.
You can check out a few photos of the launch event below…
Photo credits: Tim Collins