The Liverpool Biennial is the UK’s most established international art event. Under the creative guidance of Sally Tallant. It takes over across the city in the form of a free festival, of newly commissioned contemporary art. This year Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and Mark Leckey will be referencing the past, present and future. Liverpool Biennial 2016 explores fictions, stories and histories, taking viewers on a series of voyages through time and space, drawing on Liverpool’s past, present and future. These journeys take the form of six ‘episodes’: Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children’s Episode, Software, Monuments from the Future and Flashback. They are sited in galleries, public spaces, unused buildings, through live performance and online. Many of the artists have made work for more than one episode, some works are repeated across different episodes, and some venues host more than one episode.
Ancient Greece In the early 1800s, architects such as John Foster and Harvey Lonsdale Elmes built Liverpool’s neoclassical cityscape as a second version of Ancient Greece. This allowed the rising elite of merchants who benefitted from colonial trade and the industrial revolution to fashion themselves, and their civic commitment, as a reenactment of the legendary cradle of democracy. In the Walker Art Gallery there is a watercolour by Samuel Austin, made in 1826, that continues this fiction. Depicting Carthage in ancient times, Austin uses Liverpool’s neoclassical buildings as a backdrop. This collapsing of space, time and stories mirrors the way in which the Ancient Greeks imagined and depicted their own myths on friezes and vessels. They didn’t tell stories with a beginning, middle and end, but depicted many stories in parallel, showing how multiple things happen at once, on a single plane. Venues: The Oratory, Tate Liverpool, George’s Dock Ventilation Tower Plaza
Liverpool’s Chinatown has existed since the late 1890s and is the oldest in Europe. Its entrance is marked by a traditional arch imported from Shanghai. In the same way that the city’s merchant class linked itself to Ancient Greece through neoclassical architecture, this arch links Liverpool’s Chinese community to an image of home. Chinese immigration was, as with many migratory fluxes today, motivated by geographical labour demands and like the Greek fiction beneficial to Liverpool’s ruling class, Chinatown was beneficial to sailors and workers from a different continent. But as China itself changes, this architectural arch also shifts meaning. Many now see Chinatown as a nostalgic image of something that has become more dispersed, and that might even exist primarily in online networks, or through economic investment. Throughout Liverpool Biennial 2016, echoes of these different Chinatowns resound in spaces across the city. Venues: Cains Brewery, Mr Chilli Restaurant, Master Chef Restaurant, Hondo Chinese Supermarket
Children’s Episode: Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Dogsy Ma Bone, 12 June 2016 at Cains Brewery, Liverpool. Children imagine the space between fiction and reality differently from adults, sometimes making no distinction between the two. They experiment with forms of social organisation constructed by adults, inventing new rules, and simultaneously creating new futures. For the Children’s Episode, artists have been invited to consider children as the primary audience: sometimes making work with them, sometimes for them. Venues: Cains Brewery
Arseny Zhilyaev, Cradle of Humankind, 2015. For this episode, artists have been asked to assume the role of futurologists. They were invited to imagine what Liverpool might look like in 20, 30 or 40 years, and to design a monument for these scenarios. As a result, a series of public art commissions travel across time, appearing to be from the future but situated in the present. Venues: Liverpool ONE, Derby Square, Exchange Flags, Toxteth Reservoir, 143 Granby Street, Rosebery Street, Rhiwlas Street, Epic Hotel
Flashback Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid, 1964 – 1999 AD ( lm stills), 2015. A flashback is a way of experiencing history as it punctuates the present unexpectedly. Flashbacks can rupture established narratives and provide new understandings of the past. For instance, a building designed with the image of Ancient Greece in mind can help tell a story about another city thousands of years later, and the emergence of childhood memories in adulthood can help the understanding of new social realities. In this episode, which was prompted by a conversation with Krzysztof Wodiczko, artists interpret flashbacks through film and the exhibiting of artefacts that travel through time from a different reality to interrupt our own. Venues: ABC Cinema, Cains Brewery, Blade Factory, FACT, Open Eye Gallery
Software: Ian Cheng: Software is usually considered as something functional, such as programmes, instructions or rules that direct the computer to perform specific operations, but it can also open a portal to other dimensions and imagined worlds. This episode points towards a broader understanding of software beyond technical application to ideas of scores and choreographies, through which one thing affects another without practical outcome. These scripts, running through the Biennial, generate additional and unexpected content and behaviour, create parallel understandings of art and life, and expand and produce new social forms and possible worlds. The episode opens up perspectives and aesthetic experiences for ‘users’, activating multiple portals that offer the ability to leap from one world to another, from everyday reality to the ‘nethersphere’ of computation and abstraction.
Liverpool Biennial has commissioned last years Turner Prize winners, Assemble to create a new artwork on the occasion of the International Festival for Business (IFB) 2016. Granby Workshop, a social enterprise collaboration between the residents of Granby neighbourhood in Toxteth and artists collective Assemble, presents a showcase of their work outside the Exhibition Centre Liverpool during the three-week festival in a new commission. Granby Workshop is a local business that has grown out of the community-led rebuilding of the area and makes experimental products for homes. All products are manufactured using processes which embrace chance and improvisation, so each product made is unique. The sign that has been launched at IFB2016 has been fabricated in Granby and made using one of the workshops products: cut-out tiles. After the three-week festival ends the sign will be installed permanently outside the workshop premises, becoming part of the built fabric of the neighbourhood.
For the ninth edition of the Biennial, 44 artists will create new work for locations across the city, alongside a showcase of ten associate artists working in the North of England. Artists from Australia, Belgium, China, France, Greece, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Russia and Taiwan, as well as the UK, will participate.
The specifics of the ninth Liverpool Biennial will be based on the theme of Time Travel and be split into six episodes: Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children, Monuments of the Future, Flashback, and Software. Each episode, said festival director Sally Tallant at press conferences in Liverpool and London, is a like a fictional genre: confined within itself, but still overlapping with other works to create a mesh of cross-disciplinary art in locations throughout the city. Visitors to the 14-week festival can look forward to a wide-ranging and sometimes bizarre mix of ancient and futuristic sculpture, performance art inspired by medical marvels, a look into the art of smuggling, and an abundance of fantastic fringe events. The programme led by 40 artists, included the news that the Edwardian Adelphi Hotel will be giving full use of their swimming pool to Danielle Freakley for an exclusive set of swimming-costume-clad performances; Coco Fusco will be delivering a TED-style lecture on human psychology whilst impersonating Dr Zira from Planet of the Apes (1967); and the ancestor of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral architect Edwin Lutyens, artist Marcos Lutyens, will be performing — where else? – in the cathedral’s Lutyens Crypt. There is far too much to mention in an article please visit the website for a full events guide.
Liverpool Biennial 2016 9 July – 16 October At various venues across Liverpool
Top Photo: Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid, 1964 – 1999 AD ( lm stills), 2015. Courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London