Liverpool Biennial 2016:

Art  Here we go again ...  Up until about half ten this morning I didn't own a collapsible umbrella. Having recently bought a new coat because my old faithful had become tent-like due to losing all this weight, I'd been wearing it pretty much on and off since last December due to the inclement weather. But now we've reached July, it's still raining but it's also too warm to wear the new faithful. So lacking an umbrella I headed out to the Liverpool Biennial press day in just by jumper and within seconds of leaving the house resembled a very sinister sponge having not noticed that it was raining. This was not good and so after walking some, I ended up at Sports Direct in Liverpool One buying a Dunlop-branded TARDIS blue collapsible umbrella which was relatively flimsy stopped me from getting wetter as I trudged across the Dock Road and to Tate Liverpool.

Even after all these years, I'm still very excited about the Liverpool Biennial and especially the Liverpool Biennial press launches.  Even though I'm pretty well on record, well on this blog, in not exactly loving everything about every Biennial, because human taste dictates that when faced with challenging artwork we're unlikely to like everything, there's always that same sense of anticipation.  What will there be?  What will I see?  Even the press days are different each time.  In 2014, we met in the shell of what was called The Blind School for a relatively low-key affair but this was a full on bash with accreditation tables in the foyer, lecturned introduction in a meeting room and around eighty to a hundred members of the real press.  And me.  The new innovation are the pictured wristbands, much easier to navigate than the old cardboard signs on lanyards.  Yes, I know I have hairy arms.

Speeches.  From Sally Tarrant, director of the Liverpool Biennial.  From Francesco Manacorda, artistic director of Tate Liverpool.  From Culture Liverpool Director, Claire McColgan.  From Wirral South MP Alison McGovern.  Although not expressed specifically, Brexit underscored much of what was said, about how since the Capital of Culture, Liverpool has transformed itself out of all recognition into a truly European city and how even as we face this needlessly uncertain future, we'd be reckless of toss that effort away (and since we're on of the few cities which has voted to remain, I hope that won't be the case).  Alison McGovern's speech very powerfully described what it's been like seeing the Biennial's introduction and development and how it's helped shape the city's perception of itself and how we all embrace it.  I tweeted her afterwards to thank her for her words and compliment her on being her and she replied.  Like me, she's a Biennial fan.

The overall tone felt much more confident than in 2014, more robust, much closer to earlier editions and that's reflected in there being a much clearer theme which is, to quote the booklet, to explore "fictions, stories and histories, taking viewers on a series of voyages through time and space."  Der-der-der-dum.  "These journeys take the form of six 'episodes': Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children's Episode, Software, Monuments from the Future and Flashback."  Der-der-der-dum.  Effectively while Doctor Who is on hiatus (or whatever you want to call this gap year) the Liverpool Biennial is picking up the slack, the arts festival equivalent of the Colin Baker starring art-themed Radio 4 drama Slipback.  Cue the sound of drums.  After the theme of the Biennial being the absence of a theme last time, now there are effectively six.  I'll see over the coming months just how closely the work reflects those themes and how they mesh together.

As is customary for the press days, there's a very carefully worked out itinerary, in which visitors are shuttled by bus between venues with curatorial explanations in each but since I don't have a deadline and because I didn't want to rush through everything in a couple of days, once the press launch had completed, rather than sticking around at the Tate, I wandered instead down to the second stop at Caine's Brewery and once the rest of the press pack had arrived, we were served a pizza lunch at The Brewery Tap nearby.  This was very nice pizza and I may have eaten more than my fair share of it.  After that as everyone else headed off to the announcement of the John Moores Painting Prize, I stuck around at Caine's for the rest of the afternoon and although this wasn't quite as involved a process as The Blind School had been in logistical terms, there was more than enough to keep me occupied and I'll write about that soon.

Some route talk.  In recent years, my process for visiting the venues has been in numerical order based on the map in the official booklet, but since the theme this year is episodes and there's much talk of time travel, I've decided instead to engage a randomiser and visit them all in whatever order this website dictates.  Although I'll be taking my TARDIS (you'll see) through space rather than actual time, my hope is that there'll still be a sense of visiting other conceptual periods as I work my way through the exhibitions.  According to the booklet there are twenty-seven official venues and commissions as well as the Centre for Chinese Culture in Manchester which is twenty-eight.  There's also the usual fringe or independent section so I'll be slipping a time track now and then to see what's happening there.  The pamphlet produced by The Double Negative implies great things.  Overall, with any luck, it's going to turn out to be "quite a great spirit of adventure."  Here we go again ...

Next Destination:
Cains Brewery.

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