Liverpool Biennial 2010: The Bluecoat

The Bluecoat

Art In previous Biennials, the BlueCoat has been something of a cabinet of curiosities, a mish-mash of unusual and surprising objects smashing into one another thematically. But with 52 Renshaw Street rather fulfilling that application this year, my old school's ancient home has bravely kept its display to essentially four works with varying degrees of interactivity.

I visited last Friday night during the preview evening when every venue was "rammed" with people (the illustrative photo was taken later) and wondered throughout the experience whether artists prefer their work to be seen in these conditions, the spaces filled with people and the kind of collective reaction you might otherwise find in cinemas, theatres and sport stadia.

The work worth visiting for is Nicholas Hlobo's Ndize which fills the mezzanine floor and spills out into one of the other gallery areas and consists of thousands of streams dangling from the ceiling ready to be plunged into creating an environment that's both playful and sensuous. There are also "tunnels" leading to slightly sadomasochistic rubber figures or "players" as the Biennial catalogue describes them.

One of those works which is entirely impossible to describe properly (as the previous paragraph ably demonstrates) Hlobo's piece is just tremendous fun. A maximum of about ten people seem to be allowed in the environment at any one time, and the best way to "attack" it is to swim through the streamers, trusting that you won't knock into some stranger going in another direction but even more fun if you do.

Now and then you'll hit a wall, or as we did, an exterior window overlooking Hanover Street. One of the visitors made a very good point, if you'll pardon the language: "He should have covered the walls with mirrors so that when you get there you think 'The shitter's infinite'" Perhaps there's a health and safety aspect or quite simply he wanted to indicate that this new world does have an exit easily to hand.

Below that there's an installation from Ranjani Shettar in which a selection of web like shapes cast in bronze cast shadows against bare walls. Visitors are invited to step into the space, but Aureole doesn't seem to be of the art gallery, more the sort of thing which might work better as part of some chic architectural interior design were paradoxically it might be easily overlooked in favour of the colour of the wallpaper.

Like all bronze sculpture, The sections sit neatly between deliberate creation in the overall shape and allowing nature to take its course within the pigmentation. Shettar is interested in methodology and structure. She's resurrecting "lost" fabrication techniques, exploring the culture of south-eastern India. The men she works with don't see themselves as artists or craftsmen which has Warholian overtones (in his workshop, I understand, if you could screen print you were in).

Closest to the gallery entrance is The Cabinet of Carol Rama, a retrospective of work from the artist who's in her seventieth year didn't quite fit that model, probably requiring more attention than the cursory glance most of us were giving her, though potentially the large photographic portrait of the artist in her studio and the lines in her face arguably communicating as much as the paintings on display.

You may have already heard of her next door neighbour (and seen since it's one of the publicity magnets) the bewildering mix that is Daniel Bozhkov's Music Not Good For Pigeons, which arguably worked best the other night before entry because in having to queue up we had to imagine what it contained from glimpses through the exterior shell and the sounds within, building an ever increasing sense of anticipation.

Inside we discovered a replica of Liverpool Football Club dressing room inhabited on a large screen by a fractured documentary about the militant tendency in the city during the 1980s, giant cuddly pandas, CRT monitors showing this famous YouTube video of a sneezing Panda and the artist singing a cover of John Lennon's Imagine.

Sat in the packed room with the artist himself in attendance standing now and then to greet a friend it was difficult to know what to make of it other than to wonder why Liverpool football club has such an apparently small place to change. The piece would clearly be less effective with less people inside sharing glances from bench to bench perhaps trying to divine whether anyone else has a clue what it means.

In a recent report on Northwest Tonight, Bozhkov said that it was up to us humans to decide what the connections are which, along with the 'untitled' title is one of my pet hates. Such things should be inherently obvious in the work, or else outlined in the accompanying text, otherwise it leaves the artist open to a suggestion of copping out or not being sure of their own message.

The information in the Biennial catalogue enhances Hlobo's streamers with talk of an innocent game of hide and seek maturing into a caress of adult fantasy. The entry for Bozhkov's work largely concerns itself with description, the disparate elements even stranger in print, looking not unlike the infamous shopping lists Russell T Davies would hand to hapless writers on Doctor Who ("How about Queen Victoria, ninja Buddhist monks and werewolves? Oh sod this I'll write it myself...").

As I sat mesmerised by the replica shirts hung about the room I couldn't help wondering if the video material and bears distract the visitor from a rather more poignant statement about where people focus their dreams; for millions it's that dressing room and the men who inhabit it before and between sides in football matches. What if there'd been a greater selection of critters on display? Why not the Prairie Dog?

As with the rest of the official Biennial venues, the Touched display at The Bluecoat is available until 28 November 2010.

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