The last weekend for the Liverpool Biennial is gone and my experience of volunteering has come to an end. I said goodbye to the cold Copperas Hill building behind Lime street station and to the team of volunteers. I am wondering what the John Moores University is going to do with the building now. The university bought Copperas Hill from the Royal Mail in 2011 but it is still uncertain how the university is going to use the building. Rumours among volunteers reveal that there is a possibility of turning the building into a library/learning centre or a student’s hall, although the later in particular would comport a huge investment to be added up to the high amount of money already spent only to buy the building.
Copperas Hill is a really interesting building where everything seems being still the same as the workers had left it and where some of the original structures could even be mistaken for artworks. I often caught visitors fascinated by the building taking pictures of original walls, doors, boards and other little details belonging to the old sorting office. One day one man came to me saying that he used to work there and that seeing the building turned into a gallery was really strange. He said to have many bad memories about the time working in Copperas Hill but he didn’t tell me anything in particular. One man in the team of volunteers also used to work at Copperas Hill and he explained us many things about the building. Particularly interesting was to find out that the grey mezzanine floor above the whole extension of the space occupied by the exhibition ‘City States’, used to be the place where the managers could monitor the productivity of the workers. The mezzanine floor is made with mirrored walls and floors, in order to allow the manager to look through and not to be seen from downstairs. Also, ever noticed the coloured hanging LFSM lights? Those were used to indicate the post going out or coming in, and the different colours represented a different action.
I really like how the artworks fit into the space in Copperas Hill and in particular, with regard to the City States exhibition, how in each single area elements of the building seem to be integrated with the exhibition. The City States exhibition was composed of 13 areas, each representing a different city and where each artworks responded to the theme of the Biennial, hospitality, in relation to the state of their city. The exhibition wanted to reflect on the connection between the state of cities and the future of states. I think that the curator of City States did such a good work that some of the exhibition spaces seem interact with or even being completed by the elements of the building. For example, I was commenting with Filomena (another Italian volunteer who worked in Copperas Hill with me) how the empty space between the Birmingham and the Taipei area is not actually empty but is filled with the hanging signs (picture above). Also, how in the Hong Kong area the plexiglas wall seem work as a frame or a window to watch the artworks and how that can add something to the experience of visitors.
Another interesting fact is that many of the visitors came to me asking, for instance referring to piece in the Wellington area (picture above), the question: is that art? Many people wanted to know my opinion on the artworks, which was an interesting thing but also difficult sometimes because of the number of elements present in Copperas Hill. It is interesting to mention that that specific piece in Wellington was made with a table originally belonging to the building which could actually be confused as an tool to sort the post (or even a ping-pong table!). Many pieces of contemporary art in Copperas Hill could be confused with objects of the industrial building that sometimes were even considered as part of the exhibition. Could the intentions of the artist be disconnected from the values embodied by the industrial building? Indeed what was most interesting of the visit in Copperas Hill was the experience of being questioned by an environment where contemporary art can be a means to rediscover memories and feelings, and therefore can assume unexpected values.