September 20


The social secretary has been in Liverpool and written a reviewette of the Liverpool Biennial.

Richard Grayson and David Broker at the Cunard Building

Starting out at the Bluecoat’s galleries you could be forgiven for imaging that you are in for a treat, that your luck has changed, and LB 12 l has come up with the goods. Unfortunately this is not the case but there are two or three great works at this venue. A three channel video work, The Unfinished Conversation 2012, by John Akomfrah based on the memories and archive of influential cultural theorist Stuart Hall pretty much steals the Biennial with an elegant and intelligent documentary approach to the experiences of people brought about by adapting to a new nation.  Some sexy editing if you know what I mean. Sun Xun’s Ancient Film 2012 an installation of drawings reference traditional Chinese scrolls with a contemporary expressive edge and are further animated with brilliantly integrated video animation.

While its not exactly all down hill from Bluecoat there’s some challenging viewing ahead – and I don’t mean that in a good way. Speaking structurally  the Liverpool Biennial is a strange one (which is exactly why we went) and consists of events within events. There is The Unexpected Guest or main act I suppose, which has far too much emphasis on vague notions of identity and cultures of hospitality. Have no idea what that means or perhaps its just that the exhibition guide  provides art jargon rather than useful information. There is also City States, 13 exhibitions based on the idea that “the state of cities determines the future of states”. This is a vast exhibition in what looks like, but I don’t think is, a car park. Work seems strewn from one end of the building to another. Neither curator nor artist is done justice here.  There is the Bloomberg New Contemporaries which is also in a warehouse type space but at least it is thoughtfully presented and contains an atmosphere of enthusiasm, care and coherence. John Moores Painting Prize is a fine old English tradition and a great one for the winner.  There is Anthony McCall’s Column a vertical, spinning column of cloud invisible in the howling gale blowing off the North Sea. The artist said it was sensitive to weather but may not have factored in quite the weather that Liverpool turned on for this early autumn opening.

Then there was Sky Arts Ignition : Doug Aitken – The Source in which Aitken attempts to discover the source of creativity by interviewing enough blokes for this work to be insulting to women …. and men alike. (Call me old fashioned !) Jack White, Tilda Swinton and Mike Kelly are but a few to divulge. Almost everyone speaks at once in the structured environment of a fabricated video installation (chatterbox) that  is Doug-o-rama and more about presentation than content. This was a work that I visited with friends and there was a curious silence until later that evening when suddenly there occurred a series of emetic verbal convulsions.

The Tate Liverpool showed work from its collection that aint bad but this is work one would probably not travel to Liverpool to see as there are excellent examples elsewhere. Gilbert and George, Geoffrey Shaw, Mike Warrington, Simryn Gill, Thomas Hirschorn and Mike Parr to name but a few. Many of the artists have moved on long since and it would have been great to see what they are doing right now, Layla Curtis for instance. At the ultra modern Open Eye Gallery there is an amusing photographic piece by Kohei Yoshiyuki The Park 1971-79 and Love Hotel 1978. These photographs document the very busy night life in Tokyo parks and you view them with a small torch which is kind of annoying, detracts from the work and adds nothing to the prurience.

Open Eye Gallery Liverpool

At the wonderful Cunard Building, once the departure point for America, there are some big names but not a great deal to inspire. Ever reliable Mona Hartoum’s maps are great but even she is not up to speed. Superflux came to Liverpool and saw for sales signs and so they made for sale signs  … a quick response to something that’s not very interesting I would have thought … like Andrea Bowers City of Sanctuary which creates a launch for a campaign to make Liverpool a place for asylum seekers and refugees. Well meaning at best. Ahmet Ögüt’s video Let it be known to all persons here gathered 2012  which follows the journey on horseback of a postman from Manchester to Liverpool delivering invitations seems to take the piss to no particularly useful effect. Another great artist wasted. On a more positive note many people were showing enthusiasm foe  Althea Thauberger’s Marat/Sade, Bonhice 2012 a film of the play in a Prague Psychiatric Hospital …

Mikhael Subotsky and Patrick Waterhouse Ponte 2008-11 Cunard Building

Before we get too depressed and having just come from the Sydney Bienniale where the situation is serious, there are several, three, works at FACT which provide some relief.  Anja Kirschner and David Panos have an intriguing  video installation Ultimate Substance 2012 that draws on references including archaeology, philosophy, mathematics and ritual to explore how coinage in ancient Greece led to a division between sensual and abstract forms of experience. It’s a handsome work that is nowhere near as wanky as the exhibition guide might suggest – but you do have to be there to see how the video works with the geometric sculpture. Akram Zaatari’s many roomed video installation of the ways that people have used photomedia to reveal themselves to a voyeuristic eye is exciting in its exotic Middle Eastern context. And outside (but in still the building) Australian artist Jemima Wyman has got the community making Collective Coverings Communal Skin. Wyman strips camouflage materials of their dark power and dubious “glory” in an ever-expanding fun work with pop significance. Nearby Ming Wong’s After Chinatown 2012 and The Chinese Detective 2012 has some great moments that focus on the ways Chinese people are represented in mainly Hollywood film. Seriously funny and shamelessly campy it is a work that doesn’t quite hit the mark because it’s an ill fit for the space. Unfortunate … but still one of LB12’s highlights.

Jemima Wyman with Collective Coverings Communal Skin 2012

There is lots happening in Liverpool until 25 November so don’t take my word for it …. yours sincerely the social secretary.