Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art 2016

Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art 2016

Press Preview Days: 7th – 8th July 2016

Reviewed by Joe Coventry


Bigger than ever, according to Artistic Director Sally Tallant, the ninth Liverpool Arts Biennial hit the city with the usual razzmatazz, good natured confusion and bonhomie associated with such events.

At the help desk interested parties jostled in the Tate Gallery’s entrance hall to receive a welcome bag of goodies and a coveted green wristband. This allowed entry to the various other venues hosting the event. The press were directed to pick up their credentials in the 1st floor Clore Gallery, which housed one of the six themed elements this year, Ancient Greece. More on that later.

As for the rest Chinatown, Children’s Episode, Monuments from the Future, Flashback and Software comprised the other elements in the widespread and not necessarily mutually exclusive displays.

The only way to attack such a large undertaking is to get stuck in somewhere. The Bluecoat was showing the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016 exhibition, 30 years after last hosting this flagship for up-and-coming art school wannabees. There are 46 works on display this year and it would be hard to pick a winner.

For something different there was a promenade performance starting in Exchange Flags to the old ‘brutalist’ Royal Insurance Building known as ‘The Sandcastle’. Here a participatory event on it’s derelict 4th floor, (which was continued on the roof of the Atlantic Hotel over the road), followed a spoof lecture featuring a proto-software device. It emphasised how architectural and hierachical control of physical and mental spaces can impact on those trying to escape the boundaries imposed on them. Dennis McNulty takes the credit for Homo Gestalt: The Time Domain.

Childhood is very much to the fore in the Open Eye Gallery in Koki Tanaka’s re-enacted film of the 1985 Youth Training Scheme Protest by Liverpool schoolkids demanding real jobs. Some of those in the original ‘strike’ comment what what it was like on the day. In real time, a couple of young girls from the zero hour contract generation watched on, incredulous at the sheer bolshie excitement and effrontery of it all as photographs from the day accompanied the narrative.

Across town, the once imposing interior of the ABC cinema on Lime Street, accessed via a fire exit, loomed out of the darkness and decay as eyes adjusted, its Art Deco interior, crumbling with neglect. It featured from 1922 The Uncomputable from Fabien Giraud and Raphael Siboni’s film series The Unmanned, as part of the Flashback episode. Elsewhere kids were at it again dissembling the last film shown in this iconic cinema; Casablanca in 1998. Mired in nostalgia, disorientated and with a throat full of dust, some liquid refreshment was called for to reflect on a long day’s events.


Back to the Tate for its own exhibition. Ancient Greece is a collection of statues, vases, busts and reliefs bought for posterity from Henry Blundell by Liverpool’s National Museum. These are not all that they seem. Ancient they maybe, but many have had parts grafted on them: noses, arms, whole heads, gender non-specific bits and bobs, which make them ancient but not the real thing.

Other items on show from the modern era, Betty Woodman’s mural of a domestic scene complete with real ceramic objects, Koenraad Dedobbeleer’s display structures, Lara Favaretto’s Lost and Found suitcases and the stylised detritus from Jason Dodge on the floor about them, did not instantly resonate with what the artifacts from the distant past were trying to say.

After a pint in the Baltic Fleet it was onwards and upwards to the old Cain’s Brewery bottling/canning hall for the biggest exhibition on show. Having seen the room in full clanking flow when operational, the static objects on display generated differing emotions. At its heart was Andreas Angelidakis’s Collider. This incorporates a series of Flashback works and at its centre holds a children’s episode, accessed through Celine Condorelli’s designated, but not exclusively observed portal. Chinatown and more Flashback episodes jostled for attention, too much to take in on one visit.

On then to the official opening glitterati speeches in the Everyman Theatre via the idiosyncratic old Chinese Arch; this after skirting the site of the steel and glass aggressively marketed and as yet unbuilt, New Chinatown. Get your photographs of the Anglican Cathedral from the Albert Dock in now. Come the next Biennial it might be too late.

Having scraped the surface then there are many more venues, activities and places of interest to visit. Pick up a comprehensive guide to get yourself involved.

The Biennial continues until October 16th .

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