Review: Liverpool Biennial 2016: Flashback & Children’s Episodes at Open Eye

Koki Tanaka
Photo: Richard Stonehouse / Getty Images for Liverpool Biennial

Flashback & Children’s Episodes at Open Eye
Open Eye Gallery, 9th July – 16th October 2016

In amongst the bluster and grandeur of Liverpool’s celebrated waterfront, there is something a little incongruous about the Open Eye‘s determinedly contemporary offering to the current Biennial programme, a slight sense of having stumbled on something a little secretive.

In the first exhibition we have the rage and joy of Koki Tanaka‘s spirited retelling of the 1985 youth protest against the government’s proposed youth training scheme. The story of the protest is intriguing, with Liverpool following the lead of other major British cities, including Birmingham and Glasgow, in deciding that, rather than an opportunity for advancement, the scheme was a way of employer contracting cheap labour and sidestepping employment laws. The restaged march, along with the artist’s statement that he considered the enterprise to be a failure from the beginning due to a mistake in mapping out the original route, has an overwhelming sense of melancholy when compared with the spirit of the original – only hinted at here with photo negatives of the 1985 vintage. The real value of this project is in the interviews with participants of the march, presented simply on a screen surrounded by the trappings of a protest. With a wide eyed and unflinching discussion centering on whether the optimism and appetite for change displayed at the time has led to the future they had hoped for. The sense of zeitgeist surrounding a moment that is in fact 31 years old is starkly indicative of the lack of tangible social progress in this country.

Elsewhere, Fabien Giraud and Raphael Siboni‘s musings on the advancement of camera technology are fascinating. La Vallee Von Uexkull is presented as a simple projection and billed as a work in progress, the work will be complete when a camera, stripped of its lens and reduced to a sensor, is as adept as the human eye at capturing the memory of sunset. The work is interesting for the questions it raises regarding the interface between humans and technology and is subtly hypnotic in its realization.

The top floor is given over to a surreal world of sculpture and video, where Iranian collective RRR have created a chaotic, bizarre and overtly hilarious discussion of the values prescribed to objects. The artists have collated mundane items by having them shipped to Liverpool and then used them to create three distinct ‘submersibles’ – character studies each with their own ‘abilities’. There are occasions when attempting to quantify the work of an artist seems almost futile and that the only option is to allow the work to speak for itself; this, wholeheartedly, is such an occasion. The vibrancy and vitality of these men and this work does not lend itself easily to the written word, but rest assured that this is art at its most beguiling and compelling.

Across the three works the discussion surrounds transitions, and although in terms of the Biennial’s episodic structure we are dealing here with a Flashback, this collection is resolutely forward facing.