Liverpool Biennial 9 July-16 October #biennial2016


There is something of the magical, the otherworldly about the must see exhibition at the ABC cinema in Liverpool’s Biennial (until October). You are faced with decisions of what is reality and what is artifice? Film by its nature forces us to address these questions. When we go to watch a film we are drawn into a world, space and time, that requires us to suspend disbelief and go with the narrative and time frame that we are immersed in. Cinemas therefore become vessels for storytelling and histories which may, or may not, be based on fact, but which nonetheless are not “real”. 
In the 1990s David Lynch’s seminal tv drama Twin Peaks played with this idea and challenged the linear narrative structure of most television productions. What we were presented with was an extension of Lynch’s dystopian dream / nightmare that had been a signature of his earlier movies. A surreal / super real vision of saturated sound and colour. In the ABC cinema space, a Grade ll listed Art Deco building that opened its doors in 1931 and closed in 1998, artists Samson Kambula, Fabien Giraud & Raphaël Siboni, Marcos Lutyens and sculptures by Lara Favaretto, Rita McBride, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian have been curated in such a way that this space in the Biennial really works on so many levels. 

As I entered the space I had a funny feeling I wasn’t in Liverpool anymore, to coin a cinematic phrase. I had travelled both in time and space. The entrance was a small door on the corner of Elliot Street and Lime Street, like a portal into this other world. The last film to be shown at the ABC, in 1998, was Casablanca (1942). A classic film noir which both romanticises and sharply captures North Africa in 1941 as European emigrants flee the war in Europe. This is clearly the reverse of the current situation with thousands of people willing to risk their lives to escape war, persecution and poverty by crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. We are forced to consider reality from both sides in Samson Kambala’s short black and white films which are dotted thoughout the venues of the Biennial. Kambala has invited a group of children to imagine Casablanca’s content and as part of his “Nyau Cinema” he has subverted the conventions and limitations of everyday life. I like these films very much, they are playful, and at under a minute each they follow Kambala’s principles of Nyau Cinema

The sloping floor of the space and the darkness unsettled me at first and I stumbled trying to navigate it. I felt a sense of uncertainty, I was taken out of the everyday and into something new. Having walked around the structures showing Kambala’s films I noticed what I thought was a reflection of a film in colour. I was reminded of mirror scene in The Lady From Shanghai (1947) and the reference to this in Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) 

I was thinking about Jean Cocteau as I became fixated on the film behind the gauze. I had no sense of scale, and as I moved closer I realised it was not a reflection but another world; a vast cinematic space with chairs and people and a full size screen and my mind exploded. The realisation that the universe within the ABC had just expanded. I sat down to watch the film, which is both beautiful from a film making perspective and engaging. I felt once again as though I was having to reset my understanding and ask “What is reality?”

Fabien Giraud & Raphaël Siboni’s most recent episode of their series The Unmanned which recounts a history of technology in reverse is ‘1922 – The Uncomputable’. The film uses the work and thinkings of Lewis Fry Richardson, who explored the notion of building a weather forecast factory. People compute data to predict the weather. I found it fascinating and will definitely return to rewatch it. Every Tuesday the entire Unmanned series will be screened.

When the film ended the whole artifice of the space was exposed as the cinema was flooded with light, revealing structures, sculpture, the decaying splendour of the golden age of cinema. We were then placed into what felt like a hypnotic trance by Marcos Lutyens sound piece. Had it all been just a dream? We were then plunged back into darkness, tracing our way to the exit, and the blind of daylight.
ABC Cinema

Lime Street


L1 1JQ

Open daily 10am – 6pm


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