Brian Tolle

Brian Tolle, Waylay, 2006

Brian Tolle, Waylay, 2006

Concerned with memory and the memorial, Brian Tolle’s (b.1964, New York) projects, such as the Irish Hunger Memorial, completed in 2002 in New York’s Battery Park, have made him one of the most celebrated artists working in public space in the USA.

The form is often historicist – extensive research and laborious craft, frequently involving a team of experts, go into the creation of apparently ‘literal’ replicas of objects, buildings or environments. But the purpose of this focus on the past is to satisfy the present, and the process is subservient to the end-users’ experience of the subject matter – in film terms, this is docu-drama, not documentary.

Tolle stresses the affective experience: beauty is as critical as the concept, and the viewer is located inside the work (as conjuror of an absent presence) rather than outside it. Significantly, the memorial mentioned above is named for the ‘Irish Hunger’, a subjective experience of continuing human need, not for the ‘Irish Famine’, an objective historical scarcity of resources. Certain events in history are privileged depending on the historian’s values, and there are parallels for (art) objects and buildings in our environment.

Tolles installation for International 06 entitled Waylay (2002-2006) awakened ghostly traces of history. Installed in water, the work existed as a series of sporadic splashes, sometimes playful, as if made by a child skimming stones, sometimes more sinister, as if something unknown were falling from the sky. Catching viewers unawares, the work activated space, encouraging contemplation of the site in which it is located. When the work has been shown previously, viewers have also created their own spontaneous narratives to accompany and explain the mysterious splashes.

Submerged in Liverpool’s Albert Dock, Waylay activated the complex history of a site at times inextricably linked to the economic status of the city. In its heyday Liverpool controlled 40 per cent of the world’s maritime trade and became one of the richest cities in Britain. Profiting greatly from the slave trade, the dock has at times also had a darker role. However, the advent of steam liners, too large for the dock to accommodate, and the gradual decline of the maritime industry ultimately led to a massive loss of income for the city – its impact still felt and visible.

Brian Tolle at Liverpool Biennial 2006 

Waylay, 2002/2006
water, electronic and mechanical components
Commissioned by Liverpool Biennial 2006
Courtesy the artist and Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica
Exhibited at the Albert Dock 

Supported by

Bill Broad-Bent 
British Waterways 
Dave Murray
Glaciere Sailing and Diving