Liverpool Biennial 2012 | 15 September – 22 November, 2012 | Various locations, Liverpool
an excellent occassion to see mostly exciting contemporary art; it will stay on my agenda for years to come.
My favourite work in this year’s Liverpool Biennial was definitely The Source by American artist Douglas Aitken. Well-known for his large scale video and film installations, I have seen his work on many occasions, but it never ceases to amaze me. The quality of the filming for this installation was again impeccable and impressive. As was the choice of artists, actors and musicians interviewed by Aitken in his quest for the source of a creative idea. In the film, Aitken is shown while interviewing – which was questioned by some viewers – I found his presence made the work more engaging, and more spontaneous in that questions were replied to with immediate and unstaged responses.
At the time of my visit, the installation, situated next to Tate, had some technical problems – some of the video’s stalled and at times only gave sound, but still, I enjoyed it. The interviews with Tilda Swinton and Jack White gave new insights into their personas and their creativity, they were also playful and funny, as when Swinton literally stepped into Aitken’s shoe. Other artists included Beck, Werner Herzog, and photographer, Stephen Shore. I look forward to a version on DVD or online, which will allow me to savour the film at ease, playback, pause and repeat. Watch the trailer above, then visit Aitken’s excellent website to see more of his work.
The theme for the central exhibition of the biennial, The Unexpected Guest, is good. The Biennial has become a home, both temporary and permanent, to public artworks and community-based projects from leading and emerging artists all over the world. The theme enables us to talk about all kinds of hospitality, which is great, but unfortunately, I felt the concept was too widely interpreted, leaving no clearly discernable trace. Nevertheless the selection of artists, whilst sometimes unexpected were mostly of a high quality.
Equally unexpected was the intriguing interior of the monumental Cunard Building. Normally used as an office space, the ground floor was opened up for the exhibition. Here, I saw French artist, Sylvie Blocher, who stole the show with a new video installation of reinterpreted famous speeches. Blocher’s project intervenes with significant political speeches and utopian manifestos, each of which promised happiness or emancipation but failed to deliver. Each speech is re-told in a way that acknowledges changed contexts – bringing new voices, new forms of energy and a sense of catharsis to the texts. It was equally interesting to see the older work of Mona Hatoum in this context.
Another unexpected building was the monumental Copperas Building, a former postal centre with loads of intriguing remnants of its semi-industrial past. The building is part of Liverpool John Moores University. The Copperas Building is overwhelming in its scale, visitors to the City States exhibition were more than once caught photographing details of the building rather than of art works.
Although the exhibition definitely had some interesting contributions, the building proved to be too much competition. Perhaps, the immensely large inflatable Black Pillow, a collaborative project by Lithuanian architects and artists, Audrius Bučas & Valdas Ozarinskas, was the only work not swamped by its surroundings.
In the once more totally superfluous Bloomberg New Contemporaries show, one could be forgiven for being distracted by details other than the art. Two years/shows ago, I wondered about the meaning of “new contemporaries” and this years version still provides no answer. The quality of the artworks were again generally poor, and the selection process so unclear that I caught myself getting distracted by the equally poor install of some temporary walls, focusing on the crack of two joining walls slap-bang in the middle of a video projection.
In the Bluecoat, John Akomfrah’s newly commissioned The Unfinished Conversation was a favorite: a three-screen installation in memory of Stuart Hall, investigating the notion of identity as a becoming rather than a being, and making use of Hall’s memories and personal archive. It is an exploration of images that are “relocated” and thus questions the nature of memory itself.
Ming Wong made a strong impression with a series of new works around the theme of Chinatown. The work focuses on the stereotypical role of the ‘Chinese detective’ who has taken on so many forms in cinema’s history. Wong’s ‘investigation’ takes him on a journey through the world’s Chinatowns, impersonating amongst others the various characters of Polanski’s iconic film of the same name.
Markus Kåhre and Dane Mitchell, each in their own way, made The Monro into a pleasantly haunted place. However, saying more about their work would reveal too much. You have to see it for yourself.
All in all, I am keen to see the Biennial a second time, soon. If only because I missed the community-based project, Homebaked in Anfield,Fritz Haeg’s Foraging Spiral in Everton Park, and I’m not sure whether Anthony McCall’s Column has risen already. And then it is always good to have a second view when possible, especially of some of the time-based work I mentioned above. What is certain is that Liverpool Biennial is an excellent occassion to see mostly exciting contemporary art; it will stay on my agenda for years to come.
Edith Doove is an independent curator and Fine Art lecturer at Plymouth College of Art.