My picks of the

Yesterday I was lucky enough to enjoy the preview day of the Liverpool Biennial 2006. Rather than even attempting to capture everything that happened I've decided to concentrate on the work itself and so here are my eight picks from across the festival (so far).

Toba Khedoori
Untitled
Magically creates the seemingly impossible -- a three dimensional image on a two dimensional wall using nothing but large black brush strokes on a giant piece of paper. Ironically it's one of the works which is being used to illustrate the Biennal in previews and reviews that are appearing in the newspapers this weekend, but the small thumbnail picture that is usually printed simply doesn't capture the scale. What in those looks like small pattern of pinpricks of white on a black background are actually spaces of great depth. Walk forward and the illusion is lost, but the masterful control of the paint is revealed. [Tate Liverpool]

Chen Chieh-jen
The Route
As the opening crawl of this film explains, in the mid-90s, during the Liverpool Dock-worker's strike a ship called the Neptune Jade was unable to unload in Liverpool and due to the solidarity of other workers in docks throughout the world was unable to land anywhere else either. Only could it land in Taiwan because the local workers where unaware of the dispute, and the contents were auctioned off. In an audacious move the artist has filmed the current workers of those docks without their bosses knowledge as they watch archive news reports of the Liverpool dispute and gather together a symbolic protest in a yard, placards high. This captivating work, filmed and edited in a slow, deliberate style brings to mind Orson Welles' It's All True with the motions and emotions of the silent workers and cutaways presenting the simple narrative far more effectively than a voiceover. To a minor degree too, Eisenstein's Battleship Potempkin could be an influence, with its reliance on close ups of faces enunsiating the grit and determination of the people against the oppressor in this case the companies seeking to privatise the docklands of the world. Some of the best shots here simply feature the nose a pursed lips of someone, droplets of sweat dripping from nose of a weather-worn face; or a hand gripping the top of a plackards with key quotes such as 'The World Is Our Picket Line' or 'Dockers -- You'll Never Walk Alone' in English and Taiwanese. Moving. [Tate Liverpool]

Ben Spiers
Furrow
In his notes, Spiers says that he was trying to suggest 'both an eighties pin-up and one of Velázquez?s more ugly princesses' although it is also somewhat reminiscent of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's paintings especially with the long flowing red hair of the model. The darkness of the background and draws the viewer to the face, and those tears so filled with hopelessness. [John Moores 24 @ The Walker]

Nicholas Middleton
Scene From a Contemporary Novel
There was an inevitability to me to selecting this as my favourite picture of the exhibition because of its photorealistic, cinematic quality. Absolutely taking its cue from film with its use of a widescreen shaped canvas its also a paradox; despite the title it evokes the New Wave films of the 1960s with the derelict alleyway and the style of the figure with her short, Lulu-esque hair, rollneck pullover and instamatic camera. Cleverly, Middleton hasn't placed the figure directly at the centre of the work so that she isn't completely the subject, the eye is drawn instead into the deep focus of the alleyway, the viewer wondering where those steps are leading too. Like the Harper's work below, the marvel is the intricacy of the paintwork and on this occasion with such a large scale work. And like a pre-Raphaelite painting, none of the image has been created in broad strokes, each one of those bricks has its own character, the derelict car so realistic that you'll be ringing to the council to ask them to take it away. [John Moores 24 @ The Walker]

Martin Greenland
Before Vermeer's Clouds
A brilliant choice of winner you'll be drawn to the picture because of the verdent green landscape, but like the best landscapes, the more time taken to look at the picture, the more exciting it becomes. There's a wrongness to the work, from the positioning of the waterfall to the strange mix of architecture to that strange multi-coloured tower in the far distance. It combines the traditional (those clouds are actually borrowed from a Vermeer painting) with the avant-guarde (again, that tower -- I mean really). [John Moores 24 @ The Walker]

Andy Harper
Broca's Area
Harper's work could from the distance be dismissed as a messy composition with little to draw the eye to, Another painting that repays closer inspection, revealing a mass of apparently fictional, almost alien plants, somewhat sinister and horrifyingly lifelike. In his statement, the artist quotes from J.G. Ballard, from 'The Drowned World', the prescient story (written in the early 60s) of global warming causing nature to re-engulf civilisation, London returning to swamps, and the effect in the gallery of the painting is similar, encroaching on the space, drawing the visitor's attention away from the paintings nearby. Technically it's brilliant too, the aformentioned realism created through a genius control of paint -- puzzlingly some shapes seem impossible to create with a brush. One of the other visitors I was talking to said it reminded him of Ross Bleckner's work although I'm sure he was thinking of the subject matter rather than the technique which is here is far more intricate. [John Moores 24 @ The Walker]

Matthew Buckingham
Obscure Mooring
One of the brilliant decisions made whilst the Biennial was being conceived was the assumption that the international artists would draw upon the city and its culture in the conception of the work. Buckingham's film uses the writing of Herman Melville to draw out narratives that exist within the area, and in the experience of the spectator that leads to the presentation of familiar images and places in unfamiliar ways. Having been a resolute commuter for some years, it was startling to see a train pulling out Lime Street Station from the position of the drivers cab at the back of the carriage, leaving the city behind, sun sparkling across the dirt on the windows. The shot is held for minutes as the train enters tunnels and the suburbs, eventually cutting to a young passenger inside as the train then returns to the station. Note though, that the exhibit is also worth visiting for the seating arrangement, a wavy carpeted construction that reaches to the seating, which seems dangerous but is strangely comfortable. [FACT]

The Kingpins
Hieronymus Posh
The was the perfect end to the day, this photo explains everything you'd need to know. Imagine four women pretending to be blokes in pink shell suits creating merry hell in Port Sunlight, miming to a thrash-metal pastiche in a kind of twisted version of those inserts from the That's Life tv show when the presenting team invaded the landscaping trying to get the nation to sing. This probably works best for those who are aware of the history of Port Sunlight and what it represents and just how incongruous this group must have appeared during the filming days. Watch out for the brilliant moment when a pensioner is looking out of her window whilst these four are causing merry hell on her lawn. [Fusebox]

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