Words by Ilona Walker
The UK’s biggest contemporary arts festival has just kicked off right here in Liverpool, and what better place to start exploring Biennial 2016 than Cain’s Brewery, which houses artwork by 16 artists and includes work from five of Biennial’s six ‘Episodes’: Chinatown, Flashback, Monuments from the Future, Software, and Children’s Episode.
Dominating the Cain’s Brewery canning hall is Andreas Angelidakis’ Collider – a large, round, structure in the centre of the space. Inside Collider is an inner ring containing work from the Flashback episode, and at the centre is a collection of work belonging to the Children’s Episode. A child-size cinema screens Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s Dogsy Ma Bone, a specially commissioned Brecht-inspired 35-minute film that has been entirely cast, produced and directed by young people from Liverpool. Opposite the cinema entrance, Lu Pingyuan’s story The Artist Made of Paper, which doubles up as origami instructions, is piled up on a table alongside numerous attempts – both successful and failed – to create small paper figures. Visitors are invited to have a go themselves.
Sculpture is heavily featured in Cain’s and it is Sahej Rahal’s terracotta sculptures, part of the Monuments from the Future episode, which greet visitors on arrival to the canning hall. The sculptures, made on site using clay, scrap metal and discarded office furniture, claim to belong to a mythology that draws on characters from local legend and science fiction. Hiding in a corridor near the back of Cain’s is Oliver Laric‘s reinterpretation of John Gibson’s Sleeping Shepherd Boy. The patchwork white, speckled grey, and clear plastic figure has been made using a 3D scan (for which the data is freely available online) and belongs to the Software episode, with clear ties to the Ancient Greece episode that is showcased at Tate.
A highlight, though, is the work by Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian, a trio of Iranian artists currently living in exile in Dubai. The group’s work – which also includes film and painting, also on display in Cain’s – features in the Chinatown and Flashback episodes in Cain’s and has been specially commissioned for the Biennial. The trio’s alter egos – Anti-Catty, Princess Rambo and Space-Sheep, whose prime objective is to smuggle objects while evading the authorities – created the work by smuggling valuable and contraband items to Liverpool by hiding them within artwork. The work was then reassembled in Cain’s Brewery.
The result is a collection of sculptures that are themselves a collection of random objects (the label for Gas Tank lists its components as ‘walking aid, fake lettuce, wood, plastic human anatomy model, plastic nose, origami paper, pencils, plaster’), and yet still manage to hold a sense of coherence between each other, perhaps through their joint use of bold colours, household items, Arabic script, and Middle Eastern paraphernalia. While the work is clearly political, it is its sense of mischief that makes it so enjoyable. The group’s work can also be found at Open Eye Gallery and Tate.
Alongside all of this is Ian Cheng’s Emissary Forks For You, an interactive mixed reality simulation presented on a tablet computer in which the viewer is instructed to follow a Shiba dog around Cain’s, collecting rewards along the way. The tablets are available from the reception desk and provide a fun, interactive way in which to explore the space.
All in all, Cain’s Brewery provides an enjoyable introduction to the work featured in this year’s Biennial, as well as standing alone as an impressive exhibition of new and innovative artwork. The exhibition is open every day 10am-6pm and entrance is completely free.