Liverpool’s Biennial is now in its 10th edition which is positive in establishing its position on the arts and culture calendar for the city. Although the predictability of its venues and limited amount of prospects for local artists does make it occasionally alienating for the community. It certainly doesn't have the vibe of the Documenta in Kassel, Germany. Which might be an extreme example. But while Kassel is taken over by international artists and tourists there remains a cultural inclusion with its inhabitants that I don’t recognise as much here. Attending the kick-off of the fringe event Independents Biennial back in April there was a collective frustration of people left to squabble over nominal funds and a couple of venues delegated after an arduous box-ticking exercise.
Beautiful world, where are you? which Director Sally Tallant describes “is a call to artists and audiences to reflect on a world in social, political and economic turmoil.” The title is taken from a 1788 poem by Friedrich Schille. So far so eye rolling. Biennials are for me problematic formats. But in a good way. They are positively challenging and exhausting in equal measure. The idea of vastly different artists and disciplines loosely brought together under an umbrella theme, while spread across multiple venues is distinctly hit and miss. But perhaps that is the idea. As Adrian Searle’s review in The Guardian says “We have to edit it ourselves.”
Perhaps the work of Silke Otto-Knapp is most aesthetically relevant to my shadow studies to date. Similarly abstract in simple black and white they invoke some of the earliest cave paintings in contemporary poses like a pictogram of exercise postures. In-situ they understand the linear reading from a perimeter wall.
Rachel Cooke of The Observer, while generally approving finds criticism in the execution and quality saying “some of the installations on show are so hectoring – most are little more than a series of slogans brought (just about) to life – you half wonder if you haven’t stumbled into a bad degree show.” (Cooke, 2018). This is certainly my feeling, it is particularly jarring that some have been specially commissioned for the end result to look homemade and tacky. Moving image is the dominant medium with polarising degrees of technical competence and editorial coherence. But when it is good it is inspiringly fluid.
Like recent visits to Aquatopia and Anthropocene I was drawn to moving image, subconsciously at least due to some recent tutor feedback. Even at the photography-oriented Open Eye Gallery, where beside George Osodi’s grand portraits of Nigerian monarchs is the candid photo/video documentary work of Madiha Aijaz about the libraries of Karachi, Pakistan.
I had visited FACT previously to see Agnès Varda’s installation 3 moving images. 3 rhythms. 3 sounds (2018) which engages your senses through the three-channel audio fragments. Each channel belongs to a video and it is clear which belongs to what. But try watching the screen with a different audio to the original and a new context attaches itself to the visual. “This is more than a random juxtaposition, but the mind struggles to make connections, to invent a story.” (Searle, 2018). To me I don’t mind that, the under the bonnet aspect of this, the interplay between audio and video is inspiration on its own. Varda’s other video piece Ulysse (1982) is also wonderfully melancholic and emotionally engaging on the subject of memory.
As mentioned earlier the festival is for me light on local artists and more importantly work that engages with the local community. This though is where I connected most with Ryan Gander. His collaboration with five children from Knotty Ash Primary School in Liverpool – Jamie Clark, Phoebe Edwards, Tianna Mehta, Maisie Williams and Joshua Yates to produce Time Moves Quickly (2018) a series of artworks and a film that put some of the ‘professionals’ to shame. Taking inspiration from the Montessori method of education. The result and process shown in the film encourages play in both adults and children, and perhaps not to take life too seriously.
And it is that sense of play I bring back to my own work. The aims of dealing with “war, post-colonialism, the displacement of people, and the effects of global warming.” (Cooke, 2018) are a bit too ambitious. The inspiration I take above all is like the kids of Knotty Ash; to enjoy the process of making.
Liverpool Biennial (no date) Available at: http://www.biennial.com (Accessed on 25.10.18)
Cooke, R (2018) ‘Liverpool Biennial 2018 review – the hunt for Merseyside treasures’ In: The Observer [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jul/15/liverpool-biennial-2018-review-festival-of-contemporary-art-beautiful-world-where-are-you (Accessed on 25.10.18)
Scott, K & Tallant, S (2018) Beautiful world, where are you? Liverpool: Liverpool Biennial
Searle, A (2018) ‘Liverpool Biennial review – a beautiful, violent, explosive world’ In: The Guardian [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jul/16/liverpool-biennial-review-beautiful-violent-explosive-world (Accessed on 25.10.18)