The Bluecoat – Liverpool Biennial: Touched

Touched-100The Bluecoat – Liverpool Biennial: Touched
18 September – 28 November 2010

With 92 year old Italian Carol Rama showing work never seen in the UK and New York based Daniel Bozhkov re-creating the Liverpool Football Club dressing room, Liverpool’s creative hub, the Bluecoat promises to be an exciting Biennial host. Artists: Daniel Bozhkov (Bulgaria/New York), Carol Rama (Italy), Nicholas Hlobo, (South Africa) Ranjani Shettar (India)

Of all the artists exhibiting in this year’s Liverpool Biennial, no one is engaging with the city quite like Bulgarian born Daniel Bozhkov. Through Music Not Good For Pigeons, Bozhkov returns to Liverpool almost twenty-five years after his first visit to investigate the discrepancies between what caught his attention then and now. Merging the phenomenon of online culture with football, music and politics, his reflection is darkly humorous, poignant and timely.

Bozhkov often characterizes his site-specific works as “situation retrievals,” created after months of research and engagement with a particular location and its people.

The main structure of Bozhkov’s installation is an almost to scale replica of the Liverpool Football Club dressing room in the Bluecoat’s vast gallery two space. After gaining exclusive access to the dressing room, Bozhkov was struck by how humble and austere the spaces were.  At the centre of the structure is a YouTube video played repeatedly on several monitors of a sneezing panda cub, which was viewed by over 60 million people world-wide. Then there is a music videoprojection of the semi-forgotten, but still controversial, history of Militant Tendency – a Trotzkyist group within the British Labour Party, which played a crucial role in the Liverpool City Council’s struggle against the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher between 1983 and 1987.

Bozhkov interviewed several of these former Militant Tendency councillors, and then painted a series of frescoes inside the cells of the recently-closed Somerset County Jail in Skowhegan, Maine, recounting chapters of Militant’s story. These frescoes appear in a music video along with scenes of Bozhkov taking voice lessons in Liverpool and learning how to sing John Lennon’s Imagine with local musicians and bands, in a style changing from folk to punk to Socialist and anti-Fascist songs. Here, Bozhkov provocatively suggests that the message Lennon embedded in the song could be viewed through a more specific political lens.

Also exhibiting is 92 year old Italian artist, Carol Rama. In The Cabinet of Carol Rama there are twelve works (ten of which have never been seen in the UK), including wedding dresses made and worn by the artist, along with watercolours, collages, sculpture and photographs. The selection of works, spanning a sixty-year period, creates a very intimate space; referencing clothing, the female body and the hint of sexual encounters, but, more significantly, the biography of the artist and the private realm of Rama’s own home and studio.

Born in 1918, Rama is a self-taught artist who has been making art for nearly 70 years. Producing work consistently characterised as unconventional and darkly erotic, Rama’s style has moved from figurative to abstract and back again through the decades, accompanied by an exploration of diverse materials and the affect of trauma in modern life.

Sara-Jayne Parsons, exhibitions curator at the Bluecoat said; “In response to the Biennial theme “Touched” we asked questions such as how are humans touched by seeing or making art?, how or why does a moving experience stay with you? And how can an artist’s work be inspired through an understanding of what touches people?”
“The work of the four invited artists suggests possible answers to these queries. They employ strategies that revolve around the trace of memory and matter, identity and humour, and they often use familiar objects in unusual or unexpected ways.”

South African, Nicholas Hlobo’s work at the Bluecoat connects two galleries with a trail of rubber, fabric and white clay balls. In Ndize, Hlobo’s sculptural installation entices visitors into a game of hide-and-seek. In Xhosa the game of hide-and-seek is called “undize” and “ndize” is the player who seeks. Hlobo introduces us to him in the ground floor gallery; a lone figure leaning against the window, peering out, suggestively presenting his rear and silently counting before the search begins. From “ndize” the playful trail winds its way around and out of the gallery, meandering up the stairs, in search of the other players.
Once upstairs, visitors are met with a sensuous maze of brightly coloured, densely woven ribbons that hang from a great height to the floor. For seekers in the game there are several paths to choose from; the labyrinth is delicious in its intimacy and mystery.

Hlobo creates sculptural installations that explore and reflect his Xhosa heritage. Entwined with this cultural scrutiny, the artist engages in an investigation of sexual identity and personal politics, contemplating his position as a gay man within Xhosa culture in post-Apartheid South Africa.

In his investigation of past and present Hlobo reinvents and recycles objects. His materials often include leather, rubber, ribbon, furniture and other domestic found objects.

In Aureole, Indian sculptor Ranjani Shettar explores the relationship that humans have with particular spaces in the built environment. Shettar is interested in the scrape or collision between the industrial and the organic, the mundane and the unusual, the traditional and the contemporary. She searches for possibilities of meaning in humble objects and usually works with everyday materials such as wax, ink, paper, cotton, plastic sheeting or mud.

For Touched, Shettar has experimented with bronze and presents an elegant installation in the Vide at the Bluecoat that provokes a conversation about the touch between materials and architecture. Cast using the ancient lost wax process, Shettar’s work draws attention to the very process of making bronze.

Aureole embraces the idea of these lost forms and recreates them as a large, closed organic form that slopes away from the viewer, circling, ascending and clinging to the walls and floor of the Vide.

Carol Rama, Feticci, 2004