Eight Days A Week 2002 : Pete Clarke reviews the LIVERPOOL BIENNIAL


Pete Clarke looks back at how the 1999 Biennial in Liverpool, flaws and all, raised some interesting questions that resulted in a new direction for the 2002 event and the shape of things to come.

WHEN ASKED WHY HIS TEAM was so successful, a certain football manager replied, "I buy in the best to nurture my own." Hopefully this is the spirit that motivates the Liverpool Biennial, incorporating 'International ZOOZ','The Independent','John Moores 22' the painting competition at the beautifully refurbished Walker Art Gallery, 'Btoomberg New Contemporaries' at Static, and educational events. The 'International' is curated by the major institutional players in the city from the Tate Gallery, FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) - an ambitious new media development - and the BLuecoat Arts Centre, held in creative tension by 'cultural libero' and director Lewis Biggs.
The 1999 biennial was an ambitious, experimental, but flawed project generated by enlightened patronage and the ragged-trousered philanthropists in the city. In many ways it followed the classic model, even though curators and artists were charged to consider location and history. It seemed very much like the circus coming to town with an international curator appointed to fly in as ringmaster. The biennial raised interesting questions about internationalism; regionalism and difference; economic and social renewal; the cultural industries and appropriateness to a city like Liverpool. Interestingly the 2002 biennial has chosen a different path by saying we have enough energy and creativity in the city' to do it for ourselves'.

This is well suited to Liverpool's independent spirit and often bloody-minded nature although it makes the biennial open to easy criticism. However, making a distinctive biennial challenged the local institutions, artists and curators to be more ambitious, to assert and empower themselves. It is possible for a city to have an international perspective with a particular regional sensibility because of geography and its social and cultural history. This represents a very significant cultural shift in the UK by the 'empowered regions' like Merseyside, Manchester and the north-west of England with Newcastle and the north-east looking outward and forward not backward and inward.
Liverpool is a proud international city with an exciting mix of cultures and identities looking out to Europe and across the Atlantic and the Pacific expanding connections and networks. 'Regionality' in a critical international context is a major issue of our 'new times'; we know that the metropolitan centre and narrow nationalism cannot hold in an expanding and devolving global context. So are there any appropriate themes emerging? There is a sense in the 'International 200Z' and 'The Independent', the two more obviously curated 'local' projects, that sensitivity to social and cuttural. context has been uppermost in the curators' minds. Liverpool, after all, has a contemporary social history of economic decline and feels marginal to many of the developments in global capitalist production.
In many ways it has teetered on the edge of the abyss and is one of the poorest cities in the EU and frivolous art projects can seem unimportant or at least irrelevant to the everyday struggles to make ends meet. So themes emerging seem to be those very struggles, the ambiguities and ironies of modern life, those paradoxical and contradictory relations between order and chaos, control and empowerment, disorientation and disintegration and the desperate desires and struggles to keep on keeping on. The Afoundation, with money from Liverpool benefactor James Moores, significantly funds 'The Independent' curiously encouraging subversion and artists to bite the hand that feeds them. 'The Independent' hopes to lead the way in the creative use of city space, its projects wilL be found all over the city centre encouraging the public to promenade as flaneurs out for excitement and adventure investigating art and its collision with street life.

It breaks down into curated shows by the five 'established artists' initiatives': Static, White Diamond, Parking Space, Basement and Jump Ship Rat and a ratatouille of city-wide events generated by Afoundation support. The artists' initiatives interestingly are putting together projects weaving regional artists in collaboration and dialogue with international colleagues. The ephemeral nature of many of these projects could signify the lack of a cultural infrastructure and perhaps the transitory is reflected in the economic realities of contemporary practice.
However 'the independent', for all its faults, gives artists and curators-whether funded or not-the opportunity to demand critical attention for their creative ambitions, and to publicise their projects.
Shows that promise to be highlights of 'The independent' inctude'Wish you were here' from Paul Sullivan and Becky Shaw at Static, with Kelly Large, creating a temporary radio station occupying that indeterminate space between public and private exploring concepts of the near and the far, the local and the I; global with broadcasting as a 'companion to living'. One of its more significant participants is Paul Rooney from Common Culture who creates very poignant and lyrical musical collaborations with the marginal and disenfranchised in the community.

He has recently been appointed Momart fellow at the Tate Liverpool. Static are also supporting Nina Edge to produce a publicly sited interventionist text project. The Last Futurist Exhibition, an installation by David Alker and Peter LiddeLl, recreates the his torically iconic and revolutionary Malevich 1915 exhibition in Petrograd.This theoretical, critical and intelligent project acts as a pertinent challenge to concepts of radicalism and the appropriation of avant-garde art that seems rooted in much contemporary practice.

Basement are moving upstairs to the attic to continue to bring artists to the city to spend time living and working together creating new installations influenced by location. Sue Leask and Margatretha Schoning from Basement create experimental installations often using light and water to remake spaces to generate evocative new meanings. They have invited guest artists Jyotee from India and Alexei Kostroma from Russia to share in the collaborative dialogue in a recently vacated packaging warehouse on Duke Street.

Julian Gillespi of Cook au van fame is bringing MAIS the international network of artists, facilitators and collaborators based in Koln and Berlin, to Liverpool. This promises to be an exciting mixture of diverse practices from Europe today. TAG, the artists' group including Karen Hickling, Sue Williams and Steve Rooney who occupy a space at the bottom of a tower block in Linosa Close, are developing a whole series of educational projects creating new audiences for contemporary art. Above them so to speak is'Further up in the air', the artists' initiative recreating a haven of challenging exhibitions and installations in the ex-council, high-rise flats.

Collect are a new initiative presenting two shows, an international film and video screening in Lark Lane and a repositioning of contemporary art from women exploring gender, sensibility and the decorative at the Blundell Street studios. A companion show from men is to follow. Jump Ship Rat are doing major projects in St John's market and the Parr Street space with crazy Heath Robinson-like machinery dominating the industrial space.

But what will the legacy of the biennial be and what does it represent for the visual culture of Merseyside? The hope is Liverpool will continue to transform itself developing local confidence to support and encourage risk taking, critical ambition and vibrant contemporary art, leading to more informed debate for artists, curators and the movers and shakers in the city. It is certain the Liverpool Biennial wiLl create the climate to facilitate a critical cultural continuum building up its international profile, networks and much-needed resources to develop the cultural infrastructure of Merseyside.

He is co-organiser of 'Eight days a week', a reciprocal exchange project with Cologne, makes collaborative artworks with German artist Georg Gartz, and a lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston.
The Liverpool Biennial continues until 24 November and see subscribers pages for Liverpool Tate entry form.
Liverpool Biennial
T: 0151 709 7444. E: info@biennial.org.uk www.biennial.org.uk
T: 0151 236 8006. E: info@afoundation.com www.afoundation.com



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