Liverpool Biennial 2012

Text by Georgina Wright.

This year Liverpool presents the 7th Biennial ‘The Unexpected Guest’ which, pertinently named, questions the notion of hospitality and the difficulties of acting as host, of being a guest and the potentiality of existing unwelcomed. More than 60 global artists have created works throughout the city both in the major galleries (the Bluecoat, FACT, Open Eye Gallery, Metal, Tate Liverpool and the Walker Art Gallery) as well as sites within the public realm including The Cunard Building, LJMU Copperas Hill Building, The Monro, Liverpool ONE, Everton Park, Anfield and Breckfield.

Far more than being a momentary experience of preceding years, many of the exhibits and exhibition sites of this year’s Liverpool Biennial encompasses a great degree of interaction and participatory practice, engaging people and places in a holistic manner. Exhibition locations have shifted outside the burgeoning city centre to include the 2up2 down/ Homebaked exhibition in Anfield, where artist Jeanne Van Heeswijk, working with the community, has attempted to infiltrate society by regenerating its most symbolic element, the bakery. In supporting the collective community ownership of properties and by reopening the bakery as a social initiative the aim is reintroduce hope through the communities’ own projections and desires.

Additionally artist Jemima Wyman, whose exhibition is held in FACT, is also working in partnership with the community. Her artwork entitled Collective Coverings, Communal Skin (2012) explores primal methods of weaving as a communal activity, using hunting t-shirts donated by members of the public as the weaving material on hula-hoop looms. Through scheduled workshops, the artist works with the community to pensively weave objects of conflict into objects of comfort, extending the piece throughout the building and softening the architecture.

Another highlight of the Biennial is Doug Aitken’s The Source; an immersive video installation contained in a temporary pavilion situated adjacent to Tate Liverpool on the Albert Dock. The Source is repositioned away from the hierarchy of institutional and cinematic space. Being beyond what is in the gallery, The Source raises questions about the centrality between white cube and black box. Doug Aitken describes the project as an “archeological dig” revealing the source of the creative process. The spherical architectural design created in collaboration with British architect David Adjaye OBE ensures an autonomous space devoid of a dominant screen, empowering the viewers to construct their own curatorial decisions. This idea extends throughout other venues of the Biennial and in fact of the Biennial itself, decisions and associations between the exhibition spaces are left open and independent. This is significantly portrayed in the LJMU Copperas Hill Building exhibiting Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012 where both the organization and venue are principally democratic. Situated in the old sorting office, the building itself becomes a source of intrigue and the division between the venue and the exhibits is distorted.

In relation to the interactivity of the Biennial, Open Eye Gallery is exhibiting the marvelous work of Japanese artist Kohei Yoshiyuki, including the infamous series of photographs entitled The Park. This work engages the viewer in a voyeuristic manner, turning each participant into the voyeur through the constraints of a black box gallery space with only a torch to illuminate the photographic scenes of sexual activity. Furthermore, The Monro hosts a fantastically eerie exhibition, which includes Janine Antoni’s Umbilical (2000). This unusual exhibition site examines the notion of superstition and the paranormal engaging the viewer in an existential experience rather than objectified contemplation, something which I consider to be reiterated throughout the Liverpool Biennial 2012.

Liverpool Biennial 2012, ‘The Unexpected Guest’  is open between 15 September – 25 November

Georgina Wright is a writer based in Liverpool.

Published 24.09.2012 by Bryony Bond in Reviews

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