the bathroom of the country

Al Weiwei's 'Web of light'

Liverpool Biennial 2008 Liverpool has of course confirmed itself as the bathroom of the country. Just when we think we've gotten rid of one spider, another one comes along and makes its home. A bizarre co-incidence that just a couple of weeks after La Princess disappears into the Mersey tunnel, Al Weiwei strews a web across the buildings of Exchange Flags and drops a funnel web on top. This one lights up, though the artist can’t really say why he picked an arachnid and they are significantly different. This is called Web of Light and glows purple at night. La Princess also had bulk, but this is smaller and could make for swift competition. As Harry Hill might say, there’s only one way for find out which is better. Fight!

As ever, the Liverpool Biennial works best when its treats are unexpected, and they’re most unexpected in these public spaces. Look through a hole cut through flyposters in the old Kwik-Fit garage on Renshaw Street and there’s an apartment, of the kind you usually see on make-over programmes, middle class decor in slight disarray giving the impression of having been lived in. The experience of peering into this private world created by Mandfredi Beninati from a metropolitan thoroughfare is positively voyeuristic, though the experience shouldn’t be a million miles away from a visit MFI or flicking through an Ikea catalogue, since as in those examples this isn’t a real living space just the implication of one. You’d like to think you’re not the kind of person to fall for such soft furnishings, but would desperately like to have that couch in your living room.

Next door, at the bottom of Hardman Street next to Zorba’s Greek Restaurant, waste ground which I think has been vacant even longer than the cinema has been closed, architectural practice Atelier Bow-wow have created a small wooden ampitheatre tricked out in cedar wood (I think), which I really hope is kept in use once the Biennial has finished. I joined the audience on Friday night for a show of dancing and music and crap acting which as far as I can tell was the point and if the presentation wasn’t too good, the experience of sitting in that spot opposite St. Luke’s Church was breathtaking, the undercurrent of traffic on the outside not detracting at all, but enhancing a unique urban experience. There will apparently be a programme of different shows each weekend of the next two months at least and I’ll definitely be going back.

But my absolute highlight of the Biennial so far, for its sheer visceral experience, is Yayoi Kusama’s Gleaming Lights of the Souls at the fairly remote Pilkington’s factory. It’s difficult to put into words without spoiling the surprise (though the catalogue has a go). Um. Remember the Mike Nelson piece at last year’s Turner prize? The one with the mirrors and the lights and the sand and when you looked through the gap in the wall it seemed as though you were looking into infinity? Imagine being able to walk into it. That’s the experience Kusama has created. As I stood in the space with lights and copies of myself disappearing off into the distance, its one of the few times in life I’ve had a moment of total euphoria. I was giddy and kept giggling. The guide calls it ‘tardis-like’ and so it is, but when all of the lights turn green, it’s also what you envisage stepping in the The Matrix would be like. Well worth making the pilgrimage if you're in the area.

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