Liverpool Biennial 2004

Art Having missed the Heritage Open Days last week I felt it a duty to visit the Liverpool Biennial this week, today, on the first day. And what an exciting day it's been. More than ever before Liverpool city centre has been turned into a giant art centre, with objects and initiatives at every turn. Frankly someone would have to be actively avoiding the Biennial to miss everything. If the Yoko Ono's nipples and privates feel like a misstep much of everything else is a joy and a beacon as to what is possible in this my city and a great example of what might be happening in the run up to 2008.

My original plan was to use the map in the small brochure and work my way across taking in as many venues as I could. This changed as soon as I saw the map and how many venues and site specific pieces there are. I realized this was going to take more than today so instead I visited all of the so-called main venues or the International section, working from The Walker through FACT, Open Eye, Blue Coat Arts Centre and Tate Liverpool picking up on as many in street objects as I could on the way. I'll be going back another day to find the Independents.

I felt slightly dwarfed by it all. Not really being familiar with most of the artists on display I found myself just letting it wash over me, getting very involved in some places offering the odd glance in others, spending ages watching some pieces all the way through but only jumping in and out elsewhere. But everywhere just felt very positive - due respect was given even to work which was either unbelievably challenging or not too interesting for whatever reason. One unusual bi-product of all searching for exhibits was dodging into parts of the city centre I'd never been before and/or knew existed. Searching for art and venues I found that Duke Street has some very nice Cafes and a very exclusive looking club called 'Society'. On Parr Street there is a tiny concert venue and another bar kitted out in 70s brown leather and widescreen tvs showing The Matrix Reloaded. But it also happened within the exhibition because most of the video work on display takes Liverpool as its inspiration, so in that case I suppose I was seeing my own city in a way I hadn't ever before.

Something which I hadn't experienced before: in some venues, The Tate or Blue Coat, the artists themselves were on hand talking to visitors and enjoying their reaction to the work. It was intriguing to see how well they blended in. For example. I'm on my way out of The Tate and there is a piece by Germaine Koh. It consists of a VDU screen hooked up to a tunnel light fixed to a wall. The visitor is asked to text a message to a number given. The message then turns up on the screen and it beats out automatically in Morse code on the light. There was already a message there about something which had been sent in the morning but there hadn't been anything since so I decided to give it a try. Giving due reverence to the appearance of the original Star Wars trilogy on dvd on Monday I sent: "Do you speak Baachi?" Seconds later it appeared on the screen and started giggling in surprise. An attractive woman appeared behind me and started giggling as well. She was looking at the screen.
Her: What B..baa
Me: Baachi?
Her: Yes.
Me: It's a quote from Star Wars.
I suddenly feel like the geekiest man on Earth. Couldn't I have sent my original choice 'To Be or not To Be'?
Her: Oh. Is it a person?
I'm unable to stop myself.
Me: No. C3PO is being sold to Luke's Uncle by the Jawas it's the question he asks the droid.
I pause. Is penny is dropping. Its dropping. Its ?
Me: Is this yours?
Its dropped.
Her: Yes it is.
Me: Fantastic!
So here I was explaining a Star Wars quote to one of the artists. I was a bit star struck to be honest, even though neither knew who she was or hadn't seen her work before. I think it was because I've visited my exhibitions and usually the artist is some faceless entity who put them there in the first. Usually they're also dead. I asked some dumb questions about how it worked, how long she'd been in Liverpool and whether she was enjoying herself. I congratulated her on the work and exited via the lift.

Being the first day I also saw a number of journalists milling around. One of my games for the day was trying to work out which one would be writing the review I'd be reading in The Observer tomorrow. It's amazing how nervous the artists would get around these fellow humans. I saw Jill Magid (think Neve Campbell without the freckles) giving an impromptu press conference in front of the entrance to one of the gallery spaces and I'd never seen even an American speak so quickly. Quite rightly, she didn't want to leave any stone unturned or anything misunderstood in the brief time she had with them. I was impressed with her passion, but this was a passion I saw all across the board. Even in the exhibits which I didn't that much of an emotional connection with, I knew that the mind behind it care deeply about what they were doing. This was the best they could do and this was important as anything else they'd done. They cared so I did too.

[If you are coming up to Liverpool or you're already here I'd suggest you pick a big venue then work your way outwards from there. You won't see everything - like any festival you'll probably miss something really good. I've created a list of my favourites at Delicious but I'm sure you'll find many others.]

[Further update: I've just posted a Liverpool Biennial Map Key which I've been using to work around rather tricky guide book]

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