Liverpool Biennial 2010: Sachiko Abe, Antti Laitinen and the Bloomberg New Contemporaries at AFoundation.


Art Visiting AFoundation is always a disconcerting experience. I worked there, as an invigilator, during the 2006 Biennial and each time I've walked around since it's been impossible not to look at the spaces without filtering them through the memory of the work which I knew so well from back then, dozens of installations strewn through the many rooms. It's especially difficult this year, since only two artists are represented. The spaces seem particularly spartan though I imagine someone else might consider it a pleasure to be able to see work in such an uncluttered atmosphere.

Drawing the most media curiosity during the opening and somewhat since is Sachiko Abe, not least because unlike most of the performance artists who graced us with their presence during the opening weekend, she's stayed and continued her work rather than leaving the aftermath in the space for those of us coming late to ponder (see this Min Oh). Abe is still offering matinee "performances" twice or thrice daily and it's one of the most intense experiences I've had during the festival.  Judging by the comments at the AFoundation's blog, I'm not the only one who feels that.

In Cut Paper, the old factory floor at the back of the building is now entirely empty but for, at the centre, a giant constructed of web of paper drawn upwards to the ceiling like a spider's web. The giant space echoes with the sound of scissors cutting and we look up to see the source, Abe sitting on a small balcony above the manager's office delicately shaving around the edges of the paper pieces of which fall to the concrete ground. She's deliberate, intent and undistracted by my plodding presence blundering about. Below her sits an invigilator, in the case of my visit reading a book and trying to blend in.

The visitor participates simply by being there, simply by looking.  It's captivating. A religious person might search for some kind of spirituality in the scene, some deeper meaning being expressed. I on the other hand pondered the level of concentration required, not just to cut the pages with this skill but to also ignore all other distractions, though photography I think is banned now so that must help. Throughout the period I was in there, she didn't flinch, only now and then stopping in a bid to reignite the momentum of the cutting.  Which she always did.

But there is also the concentration of the invigilator; when no visitors are passing through it's simply them and this living sculpture and the constant sound of the cutting. They only interact at the close of each performance though Abe is clearly open to questions. The invigilator told me that Abe has been cutting this paper for over six years and that initially it was just something she did to pass the time, only later did she turn it into a performance, perhaps realising that it's always best to try and make money from the thing you're good at.

Sharing the AFoundation is a retrospective of Antti Laitinen's work from the past decade which also includes the artist himself creating a site specific piece, a wooden boat which will eventually set sail. Laitinen was indisposed when I visited so I concentrated on the video records of his earlier pieces.  In it's own way, It's My Island, is just as compulsive an expression as Abe's cutting as he constructs a tiny desert island made from sandbags in what looks like the middle of an ocean. His motive seems to be to demonstrate that even though no man is and island, this one man can at least build one.

Until 28th November. 

Across the way is Bloomberg New Contemporaries the annual exhibition of work by recent graduates and new artists, this time selected by Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri, Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey and painter Dawn Mellor. As ever it's a bit of a mixed bag with plenty of work in which an artist hasn't had the funding to follow through with it, plenty of money but no good ideas or precious little of either. But as I've discovered with all my failures, you don't discover what works until you at least try. David Hockney and Paula Rego are both alumni. And Damien Hirst too if you think that's a good thing.

Both of my favourites hinge on great ideas, literally in the case of Theodoros Stramatogiannis's Untitled. Yes, I know I have a general disdain for "untitled" but this is worth making an exception for since as an object it's perfectly legible. It's a door. A massive white door which constitutes the entrance door to the exhibition and stretches well into the space (causing the visitor to have to dodge around it), which looks almost but not exactly like the doors I have in my flat apart from the fact that its seven of them all stuck together.  And it has a lock.

It's simplistic, it's surprising, and once I'd realised what was going on I was skipping about on my feet saying "It's a door, a massive door" in a way I've not done since being Le Defence in Paris and shouting at The Grand Arch, "The Grand Arch! It's a grand arch." Brilliantly (according to this explanation) its purpose is to simply draw attention itself and that it's up to the viewer to decide if this apparent doorway is instead functioning as a wall. In other words what John Cleese says of the TARDIS in this video:

But the award for a little going a long way is Daniel Cichtman's Untitled in which artistic endevour is reduced to a Power Point presentation displaying a series of letters which its implied where written by him as a child. They're not terribly detailed, are often filled with mundane items about breakfast and friends (oddly always listing using their full name, christian and sur-) slowly building up a picture of a suburban middle class family with all of the compulsion and subtle pain of some of the more melancholy stories of This American Life and it's impossible to take your eyes away.

Until 14th November.

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