Out and Beyond Visit to Liverpool Biennial 2012


I went to the opening of the Liverpool Biennial last weekend. I’ve recently become Arts Manager for Wrexham County Borough Council. In that role I was invited by Axisweb to take part in their ACW funded Out and Beyond Programme. The programme aims to establish dialogue between artists and curators in the year of graduation from an MA/MFA programme and continue the relationship in various ways beyond completion of their degree. We all met up for the first time in Liverpool, an artworld blind date, if you will. The theme of this year’s Biennial is the Unexpected Guest, exploring notions of migration, travel, and hospitality.

Kara Chatten and Alicia Miller from Axisweb had organised the event and “we” were: Oriel Wrecsam (me), g39 (Chris Brown), Mission Gallery (Amanda Roderick), Ffotogallery (Lisa Edgar), and Oriel Davies, Freddy Griffiths, Shaun James, Phil Lambert, Ian Wilkins and Megan Wyatt.

We sat for ages waiting for our rooms to be ready at the hotel, but this was nice because it meant that I got a chance to have quite a long conversation with Megan who has recently graduated from Glyndwr University in Wrexham. We discovered that we had mutual friends and that I had seen some of her most recent work as part of Helfa Gelf in the Art School in Wrexham.

We sat round a large table in, Bold Street’s finest, Leaf and all just began to talk. Everyone knows that artists and food make a really good combination and quite quickly we were all involved in conversation and dialogue. It was interesting to find out about the young artists and a great opportunity to get to know some of Wales’ leading curators in more depth and to develop relationships, which will not only benefit the artists on the programme, but, I think, we, as curators and venues, too. It was great to hear people talking openly over the weekend, in convivial environments, about the exhibitions we had seen.

The first thing we did was get accredited at the Bluecoat, unfortunately I didn’t have time to watch John Akomfrah‘s The Unfinished Conversation, which I am reliably informed is the stand-out must-see of the Biennial. Living just over an hour from Liverpool I plan to go back at least twice before the Biennial is over. Anyway, having been accredited we raced up to the LJMU Copperas Hill Building. This is the venue for both Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012 and City States. It is a vast space, prevoiusly used by the Post Office for sorting letters and parcels. I found I was mesmerised by the scale of the building, and the details within it: old labels, strange lights, panels all telling millions of people’s stories; the workers, the people who had written the letters that must have passed through. The building itself acted as a metaphor for Liverpool, the City of a million guests, where cultures and backgrounds collide, where the visitor always leaves a trace and the city touches everyone who passes through or makes it their home. It was against this backdrop that I found it impossible to concentrate on the work on show. City States for me was a nice conversation with Bedwyr Williams, a cheeky honey vodka with Rebecca Chesney who introduced me to Lubaina Himid and James Green from Newlyn Art Gallery. I also bumped into the nice people from Meadow Arts with sculptor Justine Cook

I’m going to have to go back to see the exhibition. I remember a large pillow and a shamanistic performance.
On the ground floor, I bumped into some former colleagues from Arts Council England, and some time was spent with the O+B artists trying to decide why we didn’t think that much of the New Contemporaries… but not too long as we dashed across town to the Walker Art Gallery for the announcement of the Winner of the John Moores. Here we bumped into another Welsh contingent consisting of former ACW officers, Blown Editor, Emma Geliot and Nia Roberts from Oriel Mostyn, Emrys Williams and Nathalie Camus. I also had a quick chat with Matthew Collings in passing just before he and Emma Biggs won a runners up prize for their painting, which I like very much. It was crammed in the gallery and I had no time to spare so I raced off to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral to see / hear  A Crimson Grail, which due to its huge scale has only previously been performed twice, once in the Lincoln Center in New York and once in the Sacré-Cœur in Paris. For this, the third ever performance and UK premiere, one hundred volunteer guitarists and eight bassists joined Rhys Chatham and his team in a performance of A Crimson Grail in the glorious setting of Liverpool Cathedral. It started late and I was getting rather hungry, but it was definitely an experience. It wasn’t as loud as I’d expected but it made me hear electric guitars in a very different way. I felt as though there was a building up and building up, in the same way that some of Byrd’s choral music seems to rise like a skylark. The ending was an exultation when it eventually arrived.

Then I made my way up to Host on Hope Street to meet the rest of the gang. I only had time for a swift bowl of rice and some spring rolls as I was the only one who had managed to get into the cathedral and last the course of the Rhys Chatham performance. After the meal a group of us headed through China Town and down to Camp and Furnace for the Launch Party. But before that we dropped in on the rather weirdly wonderful Cave Art Fair organised by good man Kevin Hunt and Flis Mitchell, friends since studying at Glyndwr University in Wrexham and now based at The Royal Standard studios. I found Cave to be an honest flip side of the City States / New Contemporaries model, much more artist led and with some really interesting work. Anyway, on past the foil-masked band on the back of a lorry, and over to Camp and Furnace. Here I bumped into Ceri Hand, Vivienne Bennett, Director of Visual Arts at Arts Council England, the lovely Lesley Guy from Sheffield, Dominic Mason, Andrew Nairne of Kettles Yard, Jon Barraclough (or was it Mike Carney?) of the Drawing Paper, Marie Nixon and Alison Clark-Jenkins Director of Arts and Development at Arts Council England North East and quite a few other lovely people but the music was awful, so after a visit to each of the three dance spaces I shuffled onto the dancefloor for about half an hour with Shaun, Ian and Freddy before retiring at 3am.
The next morning we all met at Tate, which has a relatively tame if rather interesting show, but I really enjoyed sitting in Doug Aitken’s the source. I sat on the floor opposite the Guardian’s Adrian Searle. I really enjoyed listening to Cate Blanchett and Ryan Trecartin. I found it was like being inside someone’s head, hearing everything babbling over, but if you entered one of the viewing spaces the cacophony diminished and you were able to really focus on what was being said. Could I have watched it on youtube? Yes. Would it be the same? No. The project is human and universal, regardless of the celebrity nature its all about the creative act, fascinating. Listening to Ryan Trecartin I kinda like, yknow, missed the last Biennial, but hey… what-everrr.

I also saw the Cunard Building, where I was delighted to see a number of really interesting works by Mona Hatoum, I particularly liked the work of Nadia Kaabi-Linke. NO is a two-channel video installation, presenting a dialogue in which a crowd, without power despite their numbers, opposes an individual voice of authority. The work focuses on the rigorous VISA process that many must go through in order to enter the U.K. Kaabi-Linke draws a parallel between these contemporary regulations and the Holy Inquisition, in which brutal judiciary procedures presumed a guilty verdict without a fair hearing. I also really liked the park bench which is covered in anti-pigeon defences. This made me question the notion of keeping people off, redefining the functional object to make it useless.

After a trip to the Open Eye we all came together for a final lunch at Tate. It had been exhausting, but also really interesting and useful. I’ll definately go back to the Biennial as I think Opening Weekend is always a bit distracting and I really want to see the work.

The programme is a partnership between Axis, Arts Council Wales, regional arts organisations and HEIs offering MA level degree in visual arts practice across Wales.

The programme is designed for the participation of 5 artists and 5 curators and will initially run 2012-13.

Programme to include:

• 1 to 1 mentoring in the form of 3 studio visits across the year of support. Curators would be paired with a specific participating artist to give feedback on the development of work over the year. It would also be expected that curators would offer practical advice to the artist in relation to getting the work seen and exhibited.

• 2 group peer critique sessions (to cover each of the 5 participating artists over the two sessions—i.e. 2 artists in session 1; 3 artists in session 2) between programme participants and a nationally (UK) based artist or curator.

• 1 ‘go and see’ visit led by Axis Associate to see work / exhibitions in London. We would ask participating curators to try and join this trip but it is not required.

• Coverage on Axis – each student would be profiled on Axis by the supporting curator and Axis would consider doing filmed interviews with each curator and artist.

• Participating artist to receive 1 year free membership to Axis

Additionally, Axis will run a professional development event in summer 2013, in collaboration with participating HEIs, for graduating MA/MFA students, aimed at ‘what to do next’ after graduation. Artists and curators on the Out and Beyond Programme would be invited to participate in the event.


One Response to “Out and Beyond Visit to Liverpool Biennial 2012”

  1. 1 Happy 21 Years of Axis(web) « Steffan Jones-Hughes

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