November 23, 2004

Biennial 2004

I did make it up to the North-West for the Halloween weekend, and so spent a fantastic day wandering round Liverpool and taking in some of the sights of the Biennial. I'll cover the general wandering in a separate post, but want to share some of the experience of the Biennial here.

My introduction to the artworks was one of the more popular images of the Biennial - Peter Johansson's Musique Royale, or the little red house on the Pier Head.

It does rather capture your attention as it comes into sight, and things just become ever more surreal as you enter its world; the strains of Abba increasing in volume as you get ever closer, and then your entire field of vision filling with glossy red as you step through the doorway. Even the outside world seems a little different when glimpsed through the red-framed windows.

Also inside the little red house was a stock of Biennial guidebooks, which presumably violated the everything-is-red ethos a little, what with them being orange. I could forgive the transgression though, as it meant I didn't have to try to remember all the information I'd read on the website the day before.

The next stop on my Biennial tour was The Walker. Having never visited before, I had a wander round the permanent exhibits first. There I found an assortment of interesting pieces, but as usual I forgot the artists' names within minutes of seeing them. Adrian Henri is the only name I can remember, and that's just because I'd heard of him before; it was good to finally see some of his work.

I have much the same level of recollection of the Stuckists Punk Victorian exhibition. Even looking through the website since has failed to bring any names to mind, but none of the Stuckist works really resonated with me.

The John Moores 23 collection was much more engaging, and the highlight of my Biennial experience. As luck would have it, all the works are included on the exhibition website, so I can share my favourites with you. In alphabetic by artist order...

  • Clout by Andrew Bracey. An exhibiton in itself - hundreds of tiny paintings each done on the head of a nail. The idea of painting a new nail each day just amuses me.
  • Cortina by Jason Brooks. I love how, upon closer inspection, this painting subverts the initial impression of a woman crouching next to a tree. Is she picking up one of the windfall apples? No, she's squatting down having a piss.
  • Veil 14 by Paul Winstanley. The huge window, covered with big net curtains reminds me of hotel stays in the States, yet the reflections of light on the floor and the trees in the background give it a more tranquil edge.
  • The hearing dogs' centre by Toby Ziegler. Interesting geometric composition, that somehow both transcends and evokes a feeling of graphic design.

En route to the Anglican Cathedral, I came across this installation on Hope Street. I'm sure I'd read about it online before my visit, but there's no mention of it in my Biennial guide and I can't find the online article anywhere; I can't even tell you its name. I think the trunks and cases hark back to when Liverpool was the starting point for many a new life - the last contact with the old world and the beginning of the adventure emigrating to the new world.

Belonging And Beyond at the Anglican Cathederal is a curious piece. Made up of coats donated by the peoples of Liverpool and its twinned city, Cologne, accompanied by audio snippets of conversations with residents of both cities. To be honest, it lost out to its setting; the enormity and grandeur of the cathedral captured most of my attention.

From there it was a short wander down Upper Parliament Street to the Independent District. The little orange guidebook says "A map in the independent district provides specific locations for all exhibitions within the district." The only map I could find was just a general map of the whole Biennial, which showed I was in roughly the right place, but didn't tell me what I could find where.

The solid iron doors spread across the base of this semi-derelict warehouse were all topped with little orange boxes, another hint of Biennial activity; however there was no information about what was behind the doors, and the doors themselves didn't seem too inviting. Maybe they were just advertising the availability of WiFi Internet access? A neat touch, but perhaps the effort would've been better spent informing visitors what they could visit...

I was about to abandon my search when I heard a lot of clattering from down the street. Closer investigation showed that it was coming from the washing-machine drums that had been converted into windmills and installed atop Jump Ship Rat. At least I'd found one of the Independent District venues!

In looking up at the windmills, I also noticed the rather thought-provoking sign - worship for SALE faith for HIRE don't forget you still BELIEVE in lots of things.

Inside were a number of exhibits by Columbian artists. There's no information on the Jump Ship Rat website, and I forgot to make any notes when I was there (actually, I was just assuming I'd be able to find things afterwards on the web). The ground floor housed a bizarre car built out of all sorts of junk: old toasters, traffic lights... I could easily believe it was the lovechild of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Back To The Future De Lorean! A more political piece discussed the amount of oil in Columbia, if I remember correctly, highlighting the dissonance between the greater amount of oil in Columbia vs. Iraq and the US's greater interest and intervention in Iraq. In another room downstairs some sort of video presentation was playing, but I didn't want to interrupt its audience and so moved upstairs.

There I found the work pictured to the right: 3 million tears I think was the title, dealing with the injustices of a Coca-Cola bottling plant; and a series of photos documenting the myriad of street carts which are a regular sight on Columbian city streets. All home-built, and customised to their wares - bedecked with foodstuffs or even approaching an entire hardware store, perched atop a couple of bike wheels.

By now it was getting rather late in the day. I had planned to round things off with the Internation programme at the Tate Liverpool but there wasn't enough time. So my Biennial tour finished rather as it had started: red and on the waterfront. Only this time it was Satch Hoyt's The Puzzle, floating in the Albert Dock.

All the images in this post are collected together here (still as links to bigger versions).

Update: Added link to the other post for the weekend

Posted by Adrian at November 23, 2004 06:57 PM | TrackBack

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Hi, nice review, a good read. For your info..
The installation in Hope St. is a sculpture by John King called 'Case Histories' which has been there since 1998 (so nothing to do with Biennial), there are several concrete copies of suitcases, travel bags, guitar cases etc. which belonged to famous people with Liverpool links. So there's the Beatles of course, the Liverpool poets, Charles Dickens, Malcolm Sargent, loads more. The buildings behind are The Art College where Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe studied and next door is LIPA (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) which used to be the Institute School were McCartney & Harrison were pupils (as was I).

You were too late to see most of the Independent Area exhibs. The Bloomberg New Contemporaries had been there but finished on 23rd Oct and the building you show should have finished on the the 30th (when you were there I think) but inexplicably closed a day early! Shame because there was a lot of weird and interesting stuff there.

Posted by: Ian Jackson at November 26, 2004 03:05 PM

Thanks for the clarification, and the extra info about the buildings behind. That'll be why none of my Biennial related web searches could find it, but that said, I still can't find the article I read about it even now I know the name...

(And comment editing can be done, in a roundabout way, if you ask nicely ;-)

Posted by: Adrian at November 29, 2004 07:35 PM
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