Shot Under the Volcano

Research into Malcolm Lowry  

Bluecoat, Liverpool’s contemporary arts centre, under the Direction of IAT Honorary Research Fellow and Professor, Bryan Biggs, has celebrated the life and work of Merseyside born writer Malcolm Lowry (1909 – 1957) every year since 2009, the centenary of his birth, when it staged a programme of events and an exhibition, Under the Volcano – its title taken from Lowry’s famous novel published in 1947.

LJMU (Helen Tookey) organised with Bluecoat an international conference for the 2018 Lowry Lounge: Sounding Lowry, including a tour of the Wirral and Lowry’s early environments by scholar, Colin Dilnott, of the Lowry research group, The Firminists. The Firminists publish a regular Malcolm Lowry-based magazine.

For 2017, a new multimedia artwork, Shot Under the Volcano, was inspired by the 1947 novel, Under the Volcano, by Wirral-born author, Malcolm Lowry. The unique installation, Shot Under the Volcano, is the first output from a creative collaboration between the Liverpool-based international artist, John Hyatt, Professor of Contemporary Art and Director of Institute of Art and Technology with the design agency, Uniform.

The artwork was installed at Bluecoat in Liverpool as part of their 300th anniversary and as part of Under the Volcano, 70 Years On: A Malcolm Lowry Conference held at LJMU and Bluecoat in July 2017, when the city welcomed noted Lowry scholars from UK, Canada, New Zealand, the US and Europe.

Shot Under the Volcano builds a unique one-to-one interaction between the viewer and the text of the novel. The installation is subject to age verification and an official is on hand to authorise participation. The viewer chooses a shot from two bottles of clear liquid – one is pure water, the other is 70% proof firewater and the choice is their own. Sensors detect the preference and the installation calculates an individual fortune by delivering a section of the novel chosen at random for the participant from a bank of digital sound clips narrated and recorded by Hyatt.

For the 2019 Lowry Lounge, Hyatt premiered the first performance of his re-writing of Under the Volcano backwards. This is a part of his Re-Versing Project which entails reversing the arrow of time and rewriting a range of established texts, including Shakespeare, William Carlos Williams, Shelley and others. This re-versing reveals new understandings of the original texts.

View a video of the performance: The Resurrection of Geoffrey Firmin below.


Hyatt and Uniform have worked with a fantastic team of collaborators. The artist, Mike Chavez-Dawson, plays the part of the Mexican policeman (helmet sourced by Suzanne Jennions of Try and Lilly Ltd, Liverpool). The work has been executed with assistance from the expertise of the team of the Printmaking and Fashion areas of Liverpool School of Art and Design, Hannah Fray, Paul Davidson, and Cathy Reilly; The Tapestry, Liverpool’s Fabric District; and a community group of highly talented young Liverpudlians, Dot Russell-Gajos, Hattie Russell-Gajos, Nina Butterworth and Theo Butterworth, facilitated by the artists, Amy Russell and Fiona Stirling.

For the performance, The Resurrection of Geoffrey Firmin, Hyatt collaborated with the artist, Thalia Styx (AKA Aisling Davis), on guitar and pedals.


White at the Bluecoat the installation was used by 36 leading Lowry scholars from across the world. The artwork will now take up residence at Sensor City, Liverpool's new centre for the development of sensor technologies and industries, to celebrate Hyatt becoming Sensor City's artist-in-residence.

As a result of this profile raising a Blue Plaque has been placed at the seafront in New Brighton, Malcolm Lowry’s birthplace.