Biennial Highlights: Our Top Ten

It’s that time again. The UK’s Biennial - a free feast of international contemporary art dotted all over the city – kicks off in Liverpool in just a few short weeks.

Known for sweeping in and injecting familiar terrain with something more unusual, this year’s theme of The Unexpected Guest is pretty fitting. But what to check out first? If given 48 hours, what can you absolutely not afford to miss? Here we give our own personal top ten, designed to whet your appetite for the entire (enormous) bill of artists and interventions …

Anthony McCall, Column, River Mersey (above)

One of the showstoppers, and funded originally for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, McCall’s 1.2 mile-high Column of mist rising up out of the Mersey is a must-see. Designed to “connect the water to the sky”, the piece will be installed over at Wirral Waters, Birkenhead, but will be visible either side of the river and presumably for miles around.

But I’m On the Guest List Too! Liverpool ONE

Artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset are known for installation, sculpture and performance on an insane scale – they once built a Prada boutique in the middle of the American desert. Liverpool will perhaps get something even more glamorous and out of reach; playing on our celebrity obsessions, a massive VIP door guarded by bouncers will appear in L1. But will you be on the guest list?

Miranda Sawyer on arts criticism, Camp and Furnace (pictured above)

Asked to host a writing event at the Biennial, we grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Including talks and debate from (amongst others) the BBC Culture Show’s Miranda Sawyer, Aesthetica Magazine’s Cherie Federico and Tate Liverpool’s Artisic Director Francesco Manacorda, The Medium is the Medium asks: with everyone able to write or start a blog, where does this leave traditional art criticism? A must for anyone interested in reading or writing about art.

City States, LJMU Copperas Hill Building

Based in the former Royal Mail sorting house, City States will host 13 exhibitions (representing 13 cities) developed in response to hospitality. With artists all citing ‘freedom of the city’ as an initial influence, look deeper and you see some more serious economic and political themes rising to the surface. Starting with Stalin-era ideology, the Gnansk exhibition is entitled Unwanted Visitors, analysing what it means to be both host and guest in a city; whilst Copenhagen artists talk about globalisation, boundaries and freedom of movement in Approaching Journey.

The Monro, 92 Duke Street (pictured above)

Taking part in the Biennial for the first time, this 18th century former merchants house will be exhibiting three international artists in its redesigned upstairs private dining rooms. Featuring New Zealand-based Dane Mitchell’s Liverpool ghost stories, captured in glass, and Bahamas-based Janine Antoni’s Umbilical sculpture, about the relationship between mother and child. Artworks will sit within a ‘disturbing’ installation by artist Marcus Kahre. Sounds pretty atmospheric and does what the Biennial does best – take a much loved Liverpool landmark and present it back to us with a fresh perspective.

The Cunard Building, Pier Head

Taking centre stage this year in a nod to our international seafaring heritage, the Cunard building will be the first port of call for any discerning Biennial-goer. With nine acclaimed artists taking over the entire ground floor, highlights include Sylvie Blocher’s five screen re-telling of famous political speeches, including Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto performed by a Russian slam artist; Mona Hatoum’s exquisite sculptural mapping and cartography; and Trevor Paglen’s Nonfunctional Satellite which points focus to the colonisation of outer space by our planet’s governments.

Sky Arts Ignition Series: Doug Aitken – The Source, Tate Liverpool (pictured above)

Screening in a pavilion in Mermaid Court (designed with architect David Adjaye), New York-based Aitken will be showcasing a series of filmed conversations on the topic of inspiration. Rounding up an impressive roster of celeb buddies, including musician Jack White and actor Tilda Swinton, Aitken asks: where does the creative idea start and how is it realised? Expect pearls of wisdom on the creative process by some well-known faces.

The Anfield Home Tour, Anfield/Breckfield

Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk has been working with a group of NEET (‘not in education, employment, or training’) youngsters in Anfield/Breckfield for the past two years, to design and build a small, collectively owned housing unit. Known as 2up2down, the project has seen assistance from employed and unemployed builders, architects, quantity surveyors and project managers, plus Liverpool City Council and Liverpool Community College. Particularly intriguing is an alternative heritage bus tour during the Biennial run by the community involved, where all may not be as it seems. As part of the tour you’ll be able to visit the community bakery that’s been van Heeswijk’s base, producing exhibitions, debates, workshops and great bread and cakes, obviously.

Ming Wong, Making Chinatown, 28-32 Wood Street (pictured above)

With tongue firmly placed in cheek, Berlin-based Wong has remade Polanski’s 1974 noir Chinatown, casting himself in all the parts, and acting as a stereotypical ‘Chinese detective’. Screening in the old Open Eye Gallery on Wood Street (and a great opportunity to compare old with new), expect an exploration of Asian identity, Hollywood and the absurdity of film culture.

The Friday Night

Arguably the main event, the Biennial opening night is always a highlight, and this year’s falls on Friday 14th September. Get yourself down to the Anglican Cathedral for a very rare (and UK first) performance by Rhys Chatham and 100 local guitarists, which is bound to be an incredible experience. Exhibition previews at all venues open from around 3pm, including FACT, the Walker, Open Eye, The Royal Standard, the Victoria Gallery & Museum and the Bluecoat, as well as at smaller associated venues such as CAVE Art Fair at Baltic Creative, and the Independents Biennial at Arena Gallery and Bridewell Studios.

Make your own list of highlights when Liverpool Biennial officially opens to the public on Saturday 15 September 2012, at locations across the city.

Posted on 17/08/2012 by thedoublenegative