La Machine

Review in Issue 21-1 | Spring 2009

Beccy Smith on the arrival of a spider princess in Liverpool's city centre.

As one who missed out on the May 2006 visit to London of The Sultan’s Elephant (I was on crutches at the time and challenge any doubter to explore London’s public transport system with such a disability), I approached Artichoke’s latest large-scale street art collaboration – this time with French company La Machine – with a feeling of awed expectation. That this was not fulfilled by my experience of La Machine as the centrepiece of Liverpool’s City of Culture programme was not entirely the fault of the artistic team. Poor planning in terms of accessibility and transport links meant that thousands of us were squashed into narrow, deep viewing locations or staging posts where visibility was hugely limited, and getting in and out of the city that day was a complete nightmare. The secrecy surrounding the project central to its PR surely didn’t extend to the organisers of the project to prevent them legislating for some of these difficulties?

But the issues surrounding the events were not limited to its practical framing. La Machine herself (a 50-foot spider called La Princesse) was an impressive creation, all taut steel and creepily angled joints, and her revelation on the side of the building one Friday morning undeniably smacked of panache (although perhaps they could have thought of a more organic way to get her down than by crane?). But overall, the production felt ill thought out. The aesthetic integration of performers within her (each sat on one hydraulic leg, controlling its range of movements using large levers) less satisfying than the presence of the Lilliputian-styled animators who crawled all over the elephant and little girl figures two years previously, diminishing our sense of the spider as an independent character that seemed to be required by the overarching narrative. And the narrative was less clear, less compelling. Was La Machine a threat or a benign visitor? The only way to really understand the proposed narrative was to read the online gloss.

I admired the scale and aesthetic of this production (especially the musicians on cranes, sadly their music too high for us to be able to really hear) but did the experience live up to the hype? It was disappointing to feel that the marketing and PR of a performance intended to celebrate the large-scale live event should so overshadow the thoughtfulness and experience of the real performance.

Artichoke presented La Machine in September 2008 as part of the Liverpool City of Culture celebrations. All images by Matthew Andrews.

Presenting Artists
Date Seen
  1. Sep 2008

This article in the magazine

Issue 21-1
p. 28