The Big Interview: Sally Tallant

Pre-Biennial Tension?  We spoke to the Liverpool Biennial’s new Artistic Director Sally Tallant, and found anything but…

The Double Negative: You’ve just taken up your post and the theme, Hospitality, and planning is already in full swing. How do you put your stamp on Biennial 2012?

Sally Tallant: I’ve been in post a week [at time of interview], it’s been great, a really intensive period. We’ve tried to meet everybody we need to: all the key players, stake holders, and people culturally active in Liverpool – studio visits, meeting with artists, and looking at other art forms – who’s here, essentially! I was appointed 3 months ago, and a period of notice provided an opportunity to have conversations with the team and feel up to speed. I don’t like to call it a theme; it’s more of a starting point to begin a series of conversations about it. One thing I’m keen on is the integration across all the different strands of programming. I don’t think it’s too late at all to put our stamp on this, it all feels very possible.

TDN: You’ve said you’re excited to take the Biennial to the next stage of its development; what will this be and what new ground do you want to break?

ST: Obviously I’m in a period of listening to who’s here and what’s happened previously. I think the pressing question is what’s necessary here and now, and what can be unique about the Liverpool Biennial. How can we make it resonate in such a way that it has a uniqueness that marks it out? Perhaps it’s time to reinvent the biennial model, and that’s what we’ll be doing.

TDN: What percentage is your new role an honour and a challenge, or are they the same thing?

ST: What’s most important to me is to wake up in the morning and be able to think I’m doing something that matters. I like the feeling of grappling with the challenge and complexity of working with artists, and the opportunity to build on the great work Lewis [Biggs, previous artistic director] and his team have done. What is the value of culture in the framework of late capitalism? Coming here feels like a necessity. The work feels urgent and important. What’s interesting about Liverpool is it’s comparable to many cities, there are parallels – it can resonate globally, and we should have a global impact.

TDN: You were previously at London’s Serpentine Gallery; are expectations different in the two cities?

ST: I don’t know if expectations are different, but the situations may be. London is saturated with cultural institutions and has a buoyant commercial gallery scene. Liverpool has an enormous cultural legacy for a city of its size, but it’s not stifled by the market the way London is – there are different opportunities here than there are in London. We can use the best bits of London to inform what happens here. The opportunities here are unique.

“Perhaps it’s time to reinvent the biennial model, and that’s what we’ll be doing”

TDN: How keen are you on courting London based media, and how important is it that you do?

ST: It’s really important. Media is a window onto the world. What’s amazing is the speed and nature by which we circulate information – how we best use every single possible platform – we’re using Twitter, Facebook and other online outlets alongside the traditional: the Echo, and the national, London based press. We should also be talking to international press… we are an international city with an international story to tell. It just happens that we’re telling it from here… we need to make sure we aren’t putting out defensive messages. You don’t want to miss this major cultural happening, and it’s our job to put on a good event. We need to present a world-class programme in order for us to expect the level of interest, because we’re competing in a world class arena.

TDN: Let’s move onto the less forgiving world of questions sourced from our followers on Twitter!

‘You’re one of the most respected curators in the UK. Which curator dead or alive, has had the biggest impact on you and why?’ @BraceyAndrew– artist and lecturer

ST: There are so many. Lucy Lippard is very important for her writing and thinking around the dematerialisation of the art object, and her projects on social and political value of art. She’s often considered more of a writer and critic rather than curator maybe… but what I like is people that dare to take risks – they do the right thing at the right time.

‘Earlier in the year, Artforum’s Claire Bishop said Manchester is A-list, Liverpool C-list at best. What’s your take on this and do you agree?’ @JackWelsh10 – artist

ST: Claire is always a provocateur, but Manchester International Festival is brilliant, they have upped the game. But it’s great for the region to have the feeling of competition we do. It’s up to us to match it and beat it. We have to come and be better than that. It’s great she remembered to mention Liverpool, and we need to kick back.

‘How do you see the Biennial continuing its work with local artists and arts collectives? Is it important the Biennial acts as a mentor to these groups?’ @Speedina – Liverpool Art Prize nominee, 2010

ST: The Biennial operates in a very specific situation. One of our jobs is to bring the best work in the world here. We need to have really amazing projects not exclusive to place. BUT it’s as important to nurture and train people to be the best they can be. Part of our role is working with and getting to know younger artists and art students, working with young curators. This would create local value as well as international ambition. My thinking is not about it in terms of an event, but as sustained long term strategies that run throughout the year with an event every two years within this strategy.

Posted on 17/12/2011 by thedoublenegative