photo of Lee Mingwei’s Mending Room installation, 52 Renshaw Street
I arrived slightly early for my tour with Lorenzo Fusi, curator of the public realm of the Biennial. As the other winner wasn’t able to attend, I was asked if I would like to bring a guest. Cue a quick phonecall to my husband doing errands nearby and he agreed to join me. Lorenzo arrived a few minutes later and we set off from the visitors centre:
We strolled through the ground floor while Lorenzo outlined the themes of works exhibited within, broadly relating to the idea ‘rethinking trade’. Visitors can have items mended with brightly coloured threads in Lee Mingwei’s exhibtion. He himself was mending during the first two weeks of the Biennial, now volunteers have taken over. Ideally items can be left until the end of the exhibition as part of the display.
I asked him about the challenges of working in a disused space, and how easy or difficult it was to get permission for the building to be used in the Biennial. He admitted it was quite challenging from a logistical standpoint; there are four separate electrical systems inside the former Rapid store. No one knew how to fix the elevator when it broke. And so on.
I asked to go downstairs to Ryan Trecartin’s video installation trilogy; I had a visceral dislike of them upon first viewing and wanted to try to understand a bit more about why they had been selected. We watched one film, it felt like for at least ten to fifteen minutes, though I’m sure we didn’t stay there quite so long. Each is a visual and aural mashup, skin colour and voice are altered or distorted on each of the participants. Lorenzo talked about the controlled chaos of Trecartin’s films, how it seems like they’re purely frenetically random, but that it takes a great deal of time and editing to make each one. Also he admitted that he wanted to sex up the show a little bit by including them, otherwise it risked being too safe. That made me smile; I still don’t care for the trilogy, but I can’t fault Lorenzo’s desire to include something provocative.
Thanks to all at the Biennial who made this event happen, especially Lorenzo for sharing his time and insights.
I sent my last entry in to the Biennial’s blogging competition. And to my surprise (and secret hope), I’m one of the winners. The prize is a private tour of the public realm of the Biennial, given by curator Lorenzo Fusi.
I’m really, really touched and elated to have been chosen. A big thanks to the organisers and the two judges, David Lloyd of Sevenstreets and Ian Jackson of Art in Liverpool. Theirs are two of my favourite Liverpool websites and they make the digital landscape of this city all the richer. And that would be true even if I hadn’t won.
I’m looking forward to my tour on Saturday, and might even have a few more words to say about the Biennial afterwards. Will try to remember to bring the good camera with me.
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“That’s the problem with art, you can’t touch it.”
-overheard in 52 Renshaw Street.
Some part of the last three weekends I’ve spent taking in different sites across the Biennial. Certain sites have drawn me back, others left me satisfied with one visit. I still have so much to see and very glad I still have most of the next two months to take as much of it as I can.
Of all the Biennial works I’ve seen, the exhibition at Tate provoked the strongest reaction through a desire to interact with art in a physical way. The tactile qualities of so many pieces invited, even begged me, to reach out and touch them and feel their materials and construction. To test how soft or hard the objects in Magdalena Abakanowitz’s Embryology are; to let my hand hover over the flames of Jamie Isenstein’s Empire of Fire and feel their heat; to uncork the vessels of Nina Canell’s On Thirst and let the water stream to the floor.
The only piece which fulfilled this desire of interaction was Franz West’s Smears, which actively invited the viewer to sit and touch what looked like a giant strand of toothpaste squeezed out into a gallery and hardened.
I don’t know what exactly brought out this impulse to behave like a small child and step outside the boundaries laid down, visibly or not, around the works, but oberserving my reactions to this desire and its denial was one of the more heightened engagements with art I’ve had in a long time.
And in every gallery is at least one parent saying to a child ‘no, you mustn’t touch’.
Potentially the greatest gift of the Biennial to Liverpool is the opening up of spaces not normally accessible to the public and the chance to interact both with the art and the locations themselves. There’s so much more to say about repurposed spaces like the Europleasure Interntational/Scandinavian Hotel and the former Rapid building on Renshaw Street. The acts of middle-aged vandalism set to a whimsical Beatles-inspired score in Cristina Lucas’ Touch and Go. The political impulses behind Alfredo Jaar’s The Marx Lounge installation-cum-reading room and his film collaboration We Wish to Inform You that We Didn’t Know, a powerful document about the Rwandan genocide and the West’s failure to respond. The forest of ribbons that makes up the labyrinthine Ndize by Nicholas Hlobo, inviting you to get lost in a tangle of colour, not knowing where any path will lead and happy to be embraced by this maze.
You might not always be able to touch art, but without a doubt art can touch you.
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