Review: Liverpool Biennial 2016 in review

Liverpool Biennial Launch, photo by Tony Knox
Liverpool Biennial Launch: ABC Cinema, photo by Tony Knox

Liverpool Biennial 2016 in review

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

It’s the final week of Liverpool Biennial 2016. Almost everything that is going to happen has happened, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to see.

As well as an exciting conference with the curators, and organisers of the Biennial this Friday – Sleeping Giants – there is a closing weekend filled with tours (including unofficial tours led as part of engage Visual Arts’ ongoing conference Whose Art? Our Art?) and Sunday comedy clubs in Cains Brewery. Tomorrow sees one final instalment of FACT’s programme of Another Version of Events too, and that’s not even starting on each and every one of the exhibitions dotted in and around some of Liverpool’s most intriguing buildings.

But with so little time left to visit the Biennial, if you’ve somehow managed to get this far without visiting, we thought it was best to sum things up to help you get your head around the highlights to rush around this weekend.

Liverpool Biennial 2016, the Oratory
Liverpool Biennial 2016, the Oratory

For me, the triumph of Liverpool Biennial 2016 was ABC Cinema. The exhibition and film installation hinted at a return to the Biennial of a few years ago, where public intrigue went hand in hand with creative intrigue. The exhibition opens up avenues of exploration for the intellectual, as well as the poppers-in. And while other shows managed that balance, ABC had the added bonus of being able to explore an iconic Lime Street landmark at a tumultuous time in the street’s history.

That kind of openness is what I remember growing up alongside the Biennial, and what gets art-sceptics to come out of their shells. But it wasn’t just ABC that managed to get heads turning in Liverpool, with three brilliant busses commissioned by Biennial to run regular Arriva routes throughout Liverpool (there’s been few more enjoyable moments through the Biennial than hearing friends and family members shout ‘Biennial Bus!’ from the back seat of the car).

It’s not all fun and games though, in fact it’s barely fun and games at all. Even the exhibitions intended as accessible had years of work behind them, with narratives that seemed to draw on local history to question global affairs. Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s seemingly silly film, produced by the artist in collaboration with a group of local children (read our feature on them here), took methods of pedagogy that haven’t yet made it into main stream education and created an insightful and very watchable film which lent from some of the most influential characters and icons of visual culture from the 20th Century.

The film, which can be seen at Cains Brewery until this Sunday, also seems to have provided the building blocks for the Biennial’s Sunday Comedy Clubs. The clubs have been running since the launch of the Biennial and are a chance for young creatives and their families to explore the themes of the festival while building their own shows. The final instalments of the club is this Sunday at Tate Liverpool.

Dogsy Ma Bone
Liverpool Biennial 2016 Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s ‘Dogsy Ma Bone’ at Cains Brewery

If you want to really understand where this Biennial is coming from though, there are three venues you need to see that give the message of Episodic narratives with more clarity than even the Biennial’s own publication, Two Sided Lake.

  1. Toxteth is filled with incredible work, from Lara Favaretto on Rhiwlas Street, to Rita McBride in Toxteth Reservoir, but visit the bottom of Granby Street for the open house exhibition of Arseny Zhilyaev’s work as it will undoubtedly get your mind working around playful ideas of the future.
  2. Head to Open Eye for the clearest presentation of the festival’s Time Travel theme, where Koki Tanaka and Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian look at human temperaments towards change for both historical and modern perspectives.
  3. Last on the list, and possibly the most important is an exhibition similar to that in ABC Cinema. The Oratory, sitting quietly for most of the year in front of Liverpool Cathedral, has been opened up and filled with art that reflects nearly all of the Biennial’s themed ‘Episodes’. It’s a wonderful summary, and a great bit of fun.

But, don’t take our word for it, there’s still four whole days left of Liverpool Biennial 2016, which is more than enough to see everything and form your own ideas.

In simple words though, two years is far too long to wait for the next one.