Would I Like to Say Something?

It was the Liverpool Biennial Update event last night at the JMU Art School building and it was quite entertaining. It seems there’s a fine line between art and comedy or in George McKane’s case no line at all.
It was due to start at 18.00 so bang on the hour the security alarm went off and we all evacuated the building in case it was a fire. I remember when a fire bell was just a real bell, now there’s so many similar eardrum-shattering warning sounds you can never be sure if you are in the midst of a raging inferno or someone is just reversing their shopping trolley.
By the way, they have a great ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ security system here. If you go off to the toilet and get a bit lost on the way back and you attempt to open any of the ‘wrong’ doors, rather than using locks and swipe cards, they blast you with this deafening, hair-raising, pants-wetting screech alarm and security guards come running (well, eventually) to escort you out of the building. It doesn’t actually stop you opening incorrect doors you just make sure you never have to use their facilities.

Eventually we returned and crammed into a lecture theatre which was too small. Late-comers had to stand at the sides or sit cross-legged on the stage at the front like naughty children.
It was all quite informal, Lewis Biggs (Chief Exec of Biennial) made some introductions and said a few words about how Biennial 2006 will be pretty much the same format as 2004 and other Biennial staff gave brief details of the John Moores 24 Prize and the Burst project which has just been launched. There didn’t seem to be anybody there from the Walker or the Tate, not another Singles Night surely?
Then Lewis read out a statement from the Arts Council which created quite a stir but I’m afraid I didn’t fully absorb what it said. I need to see a written copy but it seems the Arts Council will be funding/managing the Independents section rather then the AFoundation although the afoundation will still be looking after the New Contemporaries and other vague-as-yet projects in the buildings in Greenland St. No-one there from the Arts Council either – Cowards!

Next Lewis asked the people who had indicated that they wanted to speak to say a few words about themselves and their plans. I was listening and taking notes when I suddenly heard my name being called! I don’t know why, I wasn’t expecting to say anything. I’m a poor public speaker at the best of times and hopeless at thinking on my feet so I stayed seated and mumbled a few words about artinliverpool.com and how I do indeed plan to blog the next Biennial hopefully with more multimedia stuff like short news videos and podcasts.

No point me listing details of all the speakers, the idea was to make introductions then network. Some people are planning similar things to last time so there will probably be more from the Mercy guys, more Transvoyeur, Yellow House, BART (less venues/more impact), 8days-a-week, petite visage, pool project, walk the plank and new guys Polished T and Dying Frog have plans too.
Ben from Jump Ship Rat stole the show somewhat by actually standing at the front and using charts, diagrams and felt-tip pens to give a short lecture on the Liverpool ‘Cultural Monopoly’. He disappeared up his own portfolio a couple of times but on the whole it was an interesting and well-argued case.

So, overall I think it was a good networking event but I personally didn’t learn a lot that was new. I did learn that someone underestimated how many people would turn up. Need a bigger venue and much more wine next time!
Another suggestion I would make is that biennial.com ask all the speakers to email in their statements, put them together with the info from the Walker, Arts Council, AFoundation etc. all into one document that can be read online by everyone. Wouldn’t take long.


  1. Amusing piece on the JMU meeting, but I think you are being a little unfair to Ben. The point I think he was making was that the “International” has a structure and consequently a budget, while the Independents and Fringe groups have none. And importantly, unless Liverpool’s artists organise themselves to create a structure, 06 (and 08) will be like 04, where the energy of initial creation dissipates after the orgy of openings and a new Independent/Fringe Group has to start from scratch. Compare that with the well oiled machine of the International with a rolling budget and full time staff. The new initiative from ACofE might remedy this but more likely the consequence will be to divide (and rule) the community of artists. The fault here lies squarely with the City Council who have no interst in local artists, they wax eloquently about “creative industries” aka – make it commercial, so the creative indutries are really consultancies and white men to their core. A budget from the city should have been negotiated to reflect the city’s “belief” in the role of local artists in making it a city of culture. The political and commercial agendas behind 08 – at the top of Ben’s chart – are the real areas to address. Sadly I think most of the artists in the city think that when the city’s marketing departments use the word “culture” they mean “activities by artists”, lets face facts, encoraging art has never been part of the agenda of our city fathers. As it stands the city is seen to have done something for the arts, in allocating a Biennial budget. True to form the local artists enthusiastically engage and receive little by way of payment for their efforts, the marketeers of the 08 machine, are savvy to the lunacy of artists and willingly co opt their efforts so that “the biennial” appears to be an inclusive big tent, when it is anything but. Should we be surprised? No. Will there be a Biennial in 2010? Maybe. 2012 ? I doubt it.

  2. I mainly agree with Peter, however there seems to be little understanding of the hidden agenda, ie Ben running a mini me International under some kinda Fringe banner. This is not the way forward. The Arts Council basically will give some cash if there is leadership, organisation and a curator system; fair enough. But as for Ben’s ‘convenient’ plan of taking the Independent ou of the Biennial, “know something we dont Ben?”. The only way for ‘liverpool artists’ who are being excluded due to the myopic notion of ‘tourism’ prevailing in the professional and management class in Liverpool at the moment, is by hanginin on to the coat tails of the Biennial, as part and branded. As we all know when ‘they’ leave in three years to further their careers the infrastructure for ‘them for us’ will dissapear as will the brief art market in Liverpool. When this happens if the Independent is not part of the Biennial thos Liverpool artists not engaged with their matkets will be toast!

    We need to be part of the Biennial, we need representation in the branding and let us not forget that ;

    biennail 1 was : Tracey biennail 2 was : Gelatin biennial 3 was : ?

    Doesnt that say alot! nuff said, eh!


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