' I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.'


Review - Liverpool Biennial 2016

Drawing on stories from Liverpool’s past, present and future, Liverpool Biennial 2016 takes us on a transcendent voyage through time and space, as we visit a handful of the scattered, citywide locations that are to house its multitude of free art installations until 16th October.

A small door stands ajar on Lime Street, having appeared, as if from nowhere, in the otherwise solid and impenetrable facade of the disused ABC Cinema.

 Abandoning the daylight, you pass through a shadowy corridor, floorboards creaking beneath you. As you emerge into the half-light, a magnificent Art Deco proscenium comes into view, in all its gilt and faded glory, looming over curious sculptures that have been placed amid the dust.

Interior of the ABC Cinema. © Brian Lloyd Photography
Suddenly plunged into darkness, a film begins to play, part of a series by artists Fabien Giraud and RaphaĆ«l Siboni that presents a history of technology through the unfeeling eyes of a machine. In this episode, named The Uncomputable, we’re shown a chilling, retro-futuristic vision of a monstrous weather prediction machine made up of every human being on earth.

You feel almost drawn into the film, the dark, empty, and windswept theatrical space in which it is set mirroring the chilly and decayed surroundings in which you find yourself. The whole experience provokes a sense of reflection, wonder, and dread merged deliciously together.

Meanwhile, at the heart of Liverpool One, an infinite wooden staircase leads into and upon itself, supposedly built for someone who can span time to visit the same date in different years. Mariana Castillo Deball’s To-day 9th of July 2016 is a piece that encourages altered perspectives around a familiar point, so it’s only fitting that the images carved into the object should seem to fragment and become whole again as you too shift position around it. Its layout naturally invites pedestrian shoppers to take a few moments respite on one of its giant steps, and this impromptu cast accidentally serves accentuate the notion of co-existent plains of time as they sit at varying levels above and below each other, but are all nevertheless present at the same spot.

Over at Tate Liverpool, it’s as though Ancient Greek and contemporary artists have collaborated across the centuries in this exhibition that aims to create a fictionalised other world. Merging both eras into one, it subtly mirrors the goals of the 19th century designers behind the city’s iconic Neoclassical architecture.

Statue of Apollo Sauroktonos, Tate © Photo: Roger Sinek
Featured are all manner of artistic detritus from antiquity, a mismatch of marble body parts originally collected by 19th century Lancashire industrialist, Henry Blundell.

Many of these artefacts were “restored” by the collector turned sculptural Frankenstein, in that distinctly devil-may-care attitude so often associated with the Victorians. As a result, genders ended up merged, eras became melded together.

Our modern-day sense of preservational sacrilege at the sight of these Classical chimeras is grudgingly softened by the fact they nevertheless remain oddly beautiful in their transfigured states, configured and presented here to us by Belgian artist, Koenraad Dedobbeleer.

Alongside these works from antiquity stand an array of curious modern sculptural works, including one that splices a toga-wearing torso with an elephant’s head - perhaps in order to create the idea of news myths taking shape, new perspectives?

Strewn about the floor of the exhibition space are pieces of litter: wrappers, cigarette butts, you name it. At first, you question whether Tate needs to invest in some new cleaners, but a plaque on the wall soon discloses that this is in fact an art installation, entitled What the Living Do, by American artist, Jon Dodge. Whilst obviously highlighting the mire of debris humanity existence leaves in its wake, it all seems somewhat tiresomely overdone. In truth, as each footstep accidentally sends yet another surge of rubbish rocketing towards your neighbour, that old missive about art being “anything you can get away with” can’t help but scream to mind.

Also featured in the Tate episode is a fascinating short film about Ancient Greek vases by Andreas Angelidakis, discussing how they were not only vessels for carrying goods, but also a way of bearing news and myths in their exterior decoration. This method of story sharing is cleverly compared with how we use the internet to disseminate modern-day information.

Another short shows us footage of members of Isis committing iconoclastic destruction at an ancient site. Artists Ramin and Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian have added cartoonish doodles – giving the men beaks and binikis - onto the shots, disempowering the vandals and making their actions seem laughable and clown-like.

This year’s Biennial is a collision of artistic histories and fictions – some compelling, others questionable – that also offers the incurably curious the chance at a rare glimpse inside some of the city’s unique, hidden spaces, and is well worth discovering for yourself.

For more information on Liverpool Biennial 2016, visit biennial.com

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