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Liverpool Biennial 2018: Beautiful world, where are you (working title)

Liverpool Biennial 2018: Beautiful world, where are you (working title)

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

Beauteous world, where art thou gone? O, thou,
Nature’s blooming youth, return once more!
Ah, but in song’s fairy region now
Lives thy fabled trace so dear of yore!
Cold and perished, sorrow now the plains,
Not one godhead greets my longing sight;
Ah, the shadow only now remains
Of yon living image bright!
Friedrich von Schiller, The Gods of Greece

Sally Tallant, Director of Liverpool Biennial: “What do you think of biennials in general?”
Kitty Scott, Co-Curator of Liverpool Biennial 2018: “At the end of the day, its art that we’re looking at… I want to see a good exhibition. I want to see the best possible art. That’s what gives me pleasure.”

During what was an astonishingly short talk for the breath of its coverage, Sally Tallant and Kitty Scott introduced their starting points for Biennial 2018. What became most obvious was their desire to find a way to look inwards, and outwards at the same time.

At the risk of sounding like the first draft of a dissertation, it’s a thing of many centres. A festival that is going to attempt to be many things at any one time, and enter that arena very intentionally. A very Derridian festival – in its focus on discussion, change and multiple focus. Just like the work Kitty Scott has been involved with in the past, and the experience she is bringing. The plan (if it can be called that at this stage) is to define Liverpool through bringing the outside in, and by exporting the city out.

That actually starts much sooner than July 2018, as Biennial 2016 goes on tour along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

The differences between Sally Tallant and Kitty Scott are also worth keeping in mind as this festival develops. Kitty, for example, described a living bee hive sculpture by Pierre Huygle, Untilled, as a piece that works to engage and develop its environment; something that has grown with its space. Sally described it as “an enormous hairdo of bees”.

There’s nothing wrong with either evaluation of that work, but I can’t help feeling that these two are going to do incredible things, through incredible conversations and challenging discussions that take turns at being either evaluative or sharp.

‘Intense’ might be best to describe the developing dialogue around their theme. The theme is perfect though. It’s a beehive in itself, with a working title based on a classical composition based on a poem, in the context of a contemporary city that is undergoing a devolution that enforces the consideration of context.

The title, ‘Beautiful world, where are you?’ is a question that suits Biennial 2018 to the ground. The quote comes from a composition by Franz Schubert which he based on a Friedrich Schiller poem, The Gods of Greece. The poem (which I frantically googled during the talk) talks of fear, and longing, and loss of a world long gone. But, it also grabs and claws at hope, wanting to find a good and honorable place in the world it now finds itself in.

If you look back to the launch of Liverpool Biennial 2016, you might recall the inclusion of a vast amount of litter, brought in to galleries from all over Europe, introduced by Sally Tallant, with a score of councillors and local MPs, writhing in post-Brexit-blues. Well 2018 allows the Biennial team to consider where they sit, not just in Liverpool, or Merseyside, or the North West, or the UK, or Europe, but on a fast evolving globe.

It’s about the Biennial Touring Programme, which starts at Touchstones Rochdale on the 11th March, which will take Biennial 2016 through six northern towns and cities. And it’s about New North and South, a new UK-Asia collaboration that features eleven organisations, five of which are Biennials. It’s about listening to the now truly international team that are building this Biennial, on where they see Liverpool. But most importantly, it’s about listening to Liverpool on where it sits.

Hearing from Kitty Scott, at such an early stage in planning, put some focus on Liverpool’s place in all that. Her first few days in the city have included visits to cultural and heritage locations. Her first response to any question was that “outside is as important as inside”. And the most pertinent thing she mentioned from her visits so far was a set of tiny ivory dentures in the University of Liverpool’s Garstang archive. Now I for one had no idea there was a tiny set of ivory dentures in an archive at the university. So there should be a huge amount of respect given to the input of this curatorial tourist, whose curious ideas seem to have taken her to very tiny pieces of history already.

These small histories, paired with the potential catalogue of internationally significant artists she brings with her, could be a perfect Biennial. Looking at what is actually a few different festivals that work as one, but do not share any one centre.

What I’m seeing now is a Venn diagram, and the Biennial is in the middle. Its sound like a Biennial that will very much be a sum of its parts, rather than a presentation of them.

Whatever lies in the middle of that… That’s Liverpool Biennial 2018. Or it might not be. This was a talk about the starting points, and starting points change, just like conversations. Maybe it will take everything from one centre, and grow new centres from them. Maybe it will centre on one idea and try to resist the others, but perhaps the most important thing to pass on was the question they ended on:

“We’d invite people to come forward, if there’s something you know about this city that maybe we don’t, hidden treasures we haven’t yet come across, then we need to know.”

So tell them:


Liverpool Biennial 2018: 14th July – 28th October 2018