In the art world, London is famous for its world-renowned Frieze art fair, great shows and the Turner prize. However, in terms of biennials, Liverpool Biennial claims to be the largest event in the U.K.: It attracted nearly a million visitors in 2008 - when Liverpool also was European Culture Capital.
'Touched' is the title of the International art exhibition at the 6th edition of this biennial. It refers to art that touches the viewer in some way, or art that can be touched by the viewer. The whole event is scattered around many places of the city.
I liked the poetic installation 'The Temple of a Thousend Bells' by the Brazilian artist Laura Belém. She suspended 1.000 hand-blown glass bells from the ceiling of the cathedral's oratory and added contemplative sounds. However, the work is not intended to be of religious content: A speaker tells the Brazilian legend of a temple (with bells in it ) on an island that over the years sank into the sea. Later, the sailors try to hear the sound of the bells in the sea. For me, this is a good piece about memories and displacement.
Also about displacement is the large-scale installation 'Bridging Home' by the Korean artist Do-Ho Suh: He squeezed a life-sized traditional Korean house at an angle between two run-down Victorian buildings. Does he refer to Liverpool and its role as largest British port to the world or to his own culture clash?
I also liked Sachiko Abe's performance in front of A Foundation gallery: She cuts thiny bits out of sheets of white paper all day long and piles them to a huge pile. She wears a plain white dress. Years ago, when she was still a patient in a mental hospital, this habit of cutting paper helped her calm down and drew off her attention from cutting herself. Monitors amplify the scary sounds of the scissors.
The cut paper pile stands for her self-destructive potential. It impressed me, that the pile is already a lot taller than her, but she still keeps cutting. Marcel Proust once wrote, 'Anything great in this world has come from neurotics.'
There were also a number of good videos: American artist Ryan Trecartin did a strange but fascinating video triology. (I just have to admit, I am a little tired of all these gender issues in contemporary art.) I liked Alfredo Jaar's video about the ignorance of Western politicians in sight of the genozide in Rwanda. He confronted interviews with survivors of the slaughtering with found footage of a speech by President Clinton. I think it is good to focus on post-colonial issues in a city that is well aware of its role as leading slave trader port for the British Empire in the 17th century.
U.K.'s biggest award for painting, the John Moores painting prize, is also part of Liverpool Biennial. This year, it went to Keith Coventry for 'Spectrum Jesus'. The concept of the painting is based on the famous forgerer Han van Megreen and his spectacular fakes of the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. Prize juror, Sir Norman Rosenthal says, 'Spectrum Jesus explores both, the moral and the religious aspects of iconography.'
This award is coinciding with the pope's visit to U.K. However Mr. Coventry did not do this painting for religious reasons. He said, 'I made a religious painting, because I thought it is extremely out of fashion to do it.' The painting has been acquired for the permanent collection of the Walker Art Museum.
Lorenzo Fusi, the Italian-based curator of the biennial, says about Liverpool, 'the city feels a long way from the capital, ... a little disconnected.' His goal for the biennial was, 'I want the Biennial to be perceived by future generations as something that has a lasting, tangible benefit. Art is a great way to empower people and if I can facilitate this process, I will have succeeded in my role.'
Certainly, Liverpool is not comparable with the International effort of Venice Biennial, however, it is a good one and really worth to see.
by Chris Neuschler
6th edition of Liverpool Biennial, in various locations in Liverpool, UK
trough 28 November 2010