Liverpool Biennial 2010: Feedback: The Bad Stuff.

Art Heavy sigh. Having spent the best part of three months being upbeat about the festival and trying desperately to be its ambassador as best I can, I think it’s only fair, now that it’s nearly over to offer a slight post-mortem on what didn’t work, the frustrations, the annoyances. Note before reading this that I accept this won’t be everyone’s experience and also that people have different standards, are potentially more patient about some of these things than me. I know. I know. And so, in order of annoyance from top to bottom. Let's get this over with quickly shall we?


Across the years, the Biennial maps have been of variable quality. In 2004 they were so broken I actually had to create a key for myself so that I could find out which other venues where even open in a given area. In terms of the International venues, this year’s was the best yet with big red numbered dots and a clear key as to the locations of the Touched venues and public realm works (even if I spent over half an hour on the first day trying to find the gable end of 24 Fleet Street).

Hidden in amongst those however were the green spots of the SQUAT venues, unnumbered and entirely confusing. Although generally bunched together on the likes of Seel Street some of these green spots didn’t seem to correspond to a venue at all, and although a ferret through the Biennial catalogue usual brought some indication of what I might be looking for I’d argue that finding an exhibition space shouldn’t be an act of detective work. On one occasion I was so exhausted by the time I got there I wasn't much in the mood to look at the work.


Or more specifically a lack of consistent signage. Whilst I had a magical day on Seel Street visiting the SQUAT and Independent venues, I missed a couple more because I hadn’t realised the otherwise normal looking house or whatever was an art venue to and not happening by when it was actually open. Part of the problem with the map could have been solved if some kind of logo had been placed on the front of a given building indicating that this was part of the Biennial too and which strand. The official Biennial wasn't entirely immune to this as my odyssey around the Black-E demonstrates.

And in this new world, when people have less time to themselves, the more information they have about what to expect at these ad-hoc venues the better. There’s nothing more dispiriting than walking miles only to be confronted with a video work you don’t have time to watch all of the way through or a tiny exhibition containing a few paintings. I know this isn’t just true of the Biennial, but a festival that prides itself on being dipped in and out of should at least be able to say if something can be seen in a lunchtime.


Too often my experience of an exhibition was spoilt by the ambient noise. Sometimes this was due to the poor placement of a work, complex video art in an essentially public place were the noise of life outside meant that it was sometimes impossible to give my full attention to a work. Sometimes it was other visitors, quiet moments with paintings ruined by someone standing nearby with a mobile phone. None of which can be helped.

But sometimes, in fact often if I’m being honest, it was the staff.  When I worked as an invigilator one of the things I was very conscious of was making sure that the visitor wasn’t disturbed from the reason they were visiting, the art. But over and over again I’d be unable to hear a video piece or I’d have my concentration blown because of gossip or some meeting or other about the internal workings of the venue and in one case the invigilator conducting a long, loud mobile phone conversation that reverberated around the building.

Am I being intolerant? Probably. Just unlucky? Maybe and I should add that my experience of the invigilators in some venues was exemplary, especially when they were obviously passionate about the work and keen to make me passionate too. When you're travelling about the Biennial alone, this can often be the only human interaction you have all day and in most cases it was very welcome. On a couple of occasions I even questioned my own customer service abilities because they didn't match up.

But there at two venues in particular the staff were especially insensitive and I had to leave a section of an exhibition in the case of one and the venue in total in the other because I was just wasting my time.  How do you broach a subject like this?  Can you stop screeching about so that I can listen properly to how this woman lost her baby, please?  The presentation of an artist’s work isn’t just about bricks and mortar but the whole experience and I just don't think a visitor shouldn’t be expected to make these kinds of allowances.


Again, please take this criticism in the spirit within which it was meant and with the proviso that I'm not the best navigator, have a habit of overlooking things and can be pretty cantankerous for my age. I just thought it important for the purposes of this blog to give an overall picture of the experience but to do so outside all of the opinionating about the art. None of this was enough to spoil my experience of the Biennial as a whole.  This has been a magical, magical time, as I'll explain when I write about the good stuff.


  1. It is always disappointing whenever anyone has a poor experience at Liverpool Biennial. We will take your comments on board and work our socks off to improve on this for next time. I think you were a little unlucky with some of what you write about but I would be very happy if you wanted to elaborate on some of those experiences with information assistants and the map, of course. Thank you for caring enough to share your experiences. I look forward to the good stuff and to perhaps hearing from you further,