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Review: LOOK Photo Biennial 2019

LOOK Photo Biennial
Various venues, until 22nd December 2019

Words, Carol Emmas
Images, courtesy of Open Eye Gallery

In the 1960s, American writer and critic Clement Greenberg said, the photograph had to tell a story if it was to work as art. That story has been told in many varying ways since. In 2019, LOOK Photo Biennial tells the story of how photography can create a sense of global belonging by transcending borders, languages and cultures in an era where many countries are reinforcing their borders and turning increasingly inwards. Taking place across Liverpool, Wirral, Preston and eventually Shanghai, part two of this exhibition, Translate and Transition (part-one was Transplant) continues to explore Open Eye Gallery’s international exchange relationship with China.

The aim is to use photography as a medium of conversation that reflects on shifting national identities, global environmental issues and how outwardly we can communicate effectively. The core exhibition, Peer to Peer is a group show of 14 artists, selected by 14 curators from across the UK and China and is held at the vaulted basement of St. George’s Hall and Open Eye Gallery.

Jiang Pengyi

At St. George’s Hall not only is the work impressive, the space is too. Artists here include Mandy Barker whose significant body of work, Soup tackles the accumulation of plastics in earth’s oceans. Barker meticulously collects plastic objects from beaches around the world and presents them as constellations exposing the growing threat to marine and terrestrial life. Jiang Pengyi’s whose cameraless work In Some Time, are vaguely reminiscent of Wolfgang Tillmans’ large abstract pieces are delicate, sensitively and beautifully executed. As are Qin Yifeng’s subtle images that most recently showed at White Cube, Hong Kong and capture objects through a process of long exposure, to present them in an etherial negative form. To anyone not familiar with St.George’s Hall and also to those who are (and who might get lost wandering around a large number of doors to the building) the entrance is at traffic-level and opposite St John’s Market.

Yan Wang Preston

Another award-winning photographic artist taking part who is worthy of mention is Yan Wang Preston. Her thought-provoking exhibition Forest at Birkenhead Priory formed the first part of LOOK (Transplant ) earlier this year highlighted the politics of recreating forests and the ‘natural’ environment in new Chinese cities. However, to do this hundreds and thousands of mature and sometimes ancient trees are purchased and transplanted into the city to make ‘readymade’ forests. Often the trees become trophies, decorations and a commodity to raise property prices with. Yet sadly, they often also die as a result of being uprooted from their natural environments. In part-two of LOOK, Yan Wang Preston is both at Open Eye and also has a further outdoor exhibition at Constance Street & Kempston Street, near The Tapestry. He charts the new ways that we are identifying and understanding gender today.

Open Eye also includes Anna Ridler who presents a mesmerising piece of work called Mosaic Virus and Tulips. As a loose explanation, the work draws historical parallels from the ‘tulip-mania’ that swept across Netherlands/Europe in the 1630s in comparative terms to the speculation currently ongoing around crypto-currencies. Whilst upstairs, Orlando by Alix Marie explores photography and sculpture by representing intimacy through the portrayal of body parts. The photographs have been dipped in wax, crinkled, scanned and reprinted. The aim is to reveal, “those moments where the other’s body is blown up through proximity and every detail of the skin and body unravels.”

This is only a small snapshot of the work on show across Liverpool, Birkenhead and Preston across a variety of different galleries and spaces. There is much to see and the ‘much’ is highly worthwhile. LOOK Photo Biennial 2019 is a fabulous and growing advertisement for the medium of photography as art and storytelling, through both straight photography and also through mixed-media. If you can’t see all the exhibitions in one day, then plan to in chunks – a few of the exhibitions are on until 22nd December.

LOOK Photo Biennial: 17 October – 22 December
Open Eye Gallery & various venues, Liverpool, UK
Now showing:

Peer to Peer – Open Eye Gallery & St George’s Hall. 17 Oct – 22 Dec
A Room of Our Own: Fast Forward Women in Photography – Winter Garden (outside Open Eye Gallery). 17 Oct – 22 Dec
The Anatomy of Place – Convenience Gallery, Birkenhead. 17 Oct – 21 Dec
Jump! – The Gallery Liverpool. 04 Oct – 26 Oct
He – Fabric District. 17 Oct – 21 Dec
Tong Yan Gai – Museum of Liverpool. 07 Oct – 28 Oct
UCLan: Brilliant City – PR1 Gallery, Preston. 30 Oct – 16 Nov
Distinctly – Williamson Art Gallery & Museum. 27 Sep – 24 Nov
Satellite Programme – Various. 17 Oct – 21 Dec
North: Fashioning Identity – The Civic, Barnsley.14 Sep – 21 Dec
We Are Kirkby – Kirkby Gallery & town centre. 23 Sep – 16 Nov
Where The Salt Meets Ice – Digital Window Gallery, Winter Garden, throughout October