Tour: Liverpool Biennial 2016: Public Works, an unofficial guide

Tour: Liverpool Biennial 2016: Public Works, an unofficial guide

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith

Liverpool Biennial 2016 has kept the format of its predecessors, but changed the subject. Every year there is subtle reopening of historic or iconic buildings, and every year they are surrounded by a wide range of sculpture and installation dotted around public, or outdoor, spaces. This year is no different, other than how they delivered the news.

The Biennial team developed, what they call, an ‘Episodic’ structure that focusses on different elements of time-travel; though, having had a few weeks to stew over it, I think it’s more like time-consideration (which I believe is infinitely more interesting). The Episodes range from Ancient Greece, through modern Childhood, to the general Future and share little resemblance to each other, and have fairly fractured ideas within themselves; very much why I have taken to calling the theme time-consideration, above time-travel, as there are too many intriguing thought patterns for a straight-forward journey – as travel implies.

The result is a series of exhibitions that address the historical relevance and potential futures of the buildings and sites they inhabit. And nowhere is that more apparent than the Biennial’s outdoor contributions. While one or two works might have missed the mark of being relevant to their site’s history, most of this Public Realm work has fantastic sensitivities to Liverpool’s past, or future.

Toxteth’s new temporary monument, by Lara Favaretto, stands out as a contribution, not an imposition. As it well should, with its charitable ideals and near conversational finish. Monument fills its space.

One of my two personal highlights though is the re-opening of The Oratory, outside Liverpool Cathedral, with an exhibition that inspires excitement both through its location and its content – with an engaging participatory element delivered by volunteers and invigilators. The second, is the installation by Arseny Zhilyaev inside one of Granby’s derelict houses. A work that fills its space elegantly, and confidently, with a friendly nod to the building’s own history.

And while they might be my favourite, there are more that fit the brief even further. On Derby Square (a site I’ve, embarrassingly, spent most of my life calling Victoria Square) is a work by Lawrence Abu Hamdan that actively takes from its surrounding to feed into its own historical opinions. The issue it appears to raise – though I’m unsure if it was the intention – is the value of passing time. The issue it claimed to raise was something to do with the National Grid and human rights…

The film by, Turner Prize winning, Mark Leckey, which sadly couldn’t be shown in The Saw Mill (formerly Cream night club) due to a fire, unfortunately had to be moved the old exhibition space in Camp & Furnace. Something about that space failed to let the film speak its message properly, and my suspicion is that it’s a film about childhood. Camp & Furnace, under any name, even including its history as a functional warehouse, is still a child, barely into its teenage years a building. Cream has seen a generation of alcoholism and bad decisions – that’s the sort of space that has earned the right to show a film that talks about childhood; the sort of space that has finished its youth, and begun to reflect. But circumstances didn’t quite go to plan.

But I haven’t written this article as a review. It exists as a guide to lead you around a walking tour of the highlights of Liverpool Biennial 2016’s public realm works. Below is a list of Art in Liverpool’s highlights and a suggested tour of how to get around them in one day. And while I’m aiming to tell you about public spaces, one or two other things might slip in, like the Oratory, which do, strictly, have a roof on their heads:

143 Granby Street
Arseny Zhilyaev’s Stained Glass window is the perfect place to start this tour of outdoor highlights from Liverpool Biennial 2016. Not only is it well linked in with its surroundings, it’s ideas and themes are the perfect collection to get your brain in the mood for thinking about time-travel. A perfect warm up to a day of time-exploration.

Kelvin Grove, L8
Now, don’t have me told off for this please, but it’s a Fringe exhibition this one. Nina Edge’s in-the-window exhibition recalls all the ideas of the biennial and could easily trick you into thinking it has been planned from their offices. A great local artist presenting work that deserves consideration amongst the formal festival.

You’re going to have to be prepared to either walk a little way or move the car again for this bit. Head to the Anglican Cathedral (it’s between a ten minute and half-hour walk depending on what kind of walker you are, but straight down a road that’s full of Liverpool history)

The Oratory
Once you’ve made it from Granby to Upper Duke Street you’ll not find it hard to spot the Biennial signs leading you into your next destination. The Oratory is a must see (and I don’t use that lightly) for the heritage or the building as much as the quality of the work inside, and I’d hazard a guess that the biennial team felt the same way; judging by the amount of signage.

Hondo Chinese Supermarket
A little further down the hill (less than four minutes, including an ice-cream stop) is Hondo Chinese Supermarket. If you’re not familiar with the name, you will be with the smell. An enticing mix of Chinese spices and cooked sweets greets you as you walk in, but don’t expect anything to knock you off your feet art wise. This isn’t a work that relies on spectacle, it’s one that asks you, honestly, to read it and take one to consider.

There’s two options here: You could either walk around the supermarket, getting to know a new space, or take it with you on your way to your next destination (look both ways when crossing of course).

Whatever you choose, once you’re done with Hondo, head towards Liverpool One to see a locally inspired time travel experiment (maybe pop into FACT and Bluecoat on the way – they both have several indoor Biennial offerings).

By the lifts to The Odeon on Paradise Street
Mariana Castillo Deball’s gigantic installation could easily be mistaken for a stage – especially while LIMF is in town, but what sets it apart from other public space works is the accompanying publication, which can be found in any of the Biennial venues, and serves a s a sort of global reckoning of the relevance of Liverpool’s history.

Another short walk takes you to the very end of Church Street, Derby Square. You’ll oddly not pass anything Biennial related on this walk, but there’s more than enough buskers to keep you moving ahead. If you fancy breaking up this walk with a ten minute detour, one of the best indoor Biennial exhibitions is in the old ABC cinema, opposite Lime Street Station.

At the end of Church Street are the Binoculars
Partly the most predictable, and partly the least. The fact it sits on both sides of that fence is what has me so enamoured with this work. The idea is to investigate civil and human rights violations and state corruption, but the much quainter reality of the outcome is a focus on part of Liverpool we usually miss, because we just don’t look up enough.

Your final walk is a tiny one. You should actually be able to see the corner of it from the binoculars. It’s a simple little potter to the Pier Head.

On the east side of George’s Ventilation Tower
You’ll notice a new addition to the normally shadowed square. A fountain inspired by the Greek architectural design culture which influenced so many of Liverpool’s iconic landmarks. If I had to put money on which of this year’s installations was going to become a permanent fixture, it would be this one.

Open Eye
Walter & Zoniel had a huge amount of fun changing the front door of Open Eye. I was lucky enough to get a glimpse at the mischievous glint in their eyes while they were setting up, but you couldn’t have anticipated, even then, the scale of the transformation Open Eye was going to undertake: one that hints very heavily at a much more colourful future for the gallery that was formerly one the most monochrome in Liverpool. And while you’re there, there’s no excuse not to go in.

Tate Liverpool
Not a single piece of public work here, but the first floor of Tate Liverpool is an ideal round off to a day that started looking to a possible sci-fi future. Based entirely in ancient Greece, the Tate sums up the polar opposite of the time-travel Liverpool Biennial offers, and helps provide a quiet space to think about the public work you’ve spent the day waking between.

Most importantly, Tate Café, where you’ll find no art work, but you deserve a decent coffee after that walk (which my phone tells me was about four miles, and just over an hour walking time in total).

You’ve not exactly seen it all, but it’s hardly bad for an afternoon around town. There’s plenty more Biennial to see between now and October 16th so keep an eye out for our tours of Liverpool Biennial’s most exciting publications, individual episodes, reborn buildings and regular reviews of everything on the fringe.