Liverpool Biennial 2016:
The Oratory.

-- The Doctor, "Listen"
Art The Oratory is one of Liverpool's hidden jewels.  Sitting in the grounds of Liverpool Cathedral it must look like some old mausoleum, and only when it's open does it show its true purpose and if nothing else, the Biennial provides people with the opportunity to see inside for an extended period.  Back in 2010, the Biennial held a press preview at the Oratory showcasing transcendent Laura Belem’s The Temple of a Thousand Bells, in which what must have been that many small, glass objects were hung from the ceiling whilst a story was told to us.  That wasn't first visit.  My first visit was part of the Art Collections project and you can find a detailed review of the statuary and the building's history on this very blog.

Although there's work from other artists around the edges of the interior of the kind which is threaded through all of the many venues, the key focus is on a giant flat screen television presenting Lawrence Abu Hamdan's Rubber Coated Steel, in which the artist (who we previously encountered in Derby Square) utilises the mechanism of a gun range to illustrate a subtitled but not heard transcript of a trial in which he successfully proved that two Palestinian boys were shot by real bullets rather than rubber rounds.  As the visual evidence is presented to the court demonstrating the difference in sound between the two, they're brought forward on the clips usually filled with the targetable torso or else video footage.

The Biennial booklet suggests "it's a work about aesthetics, politics and the potential violence inherent in both noise and silence", which, I'd suggest, includes the inherent biases we have in interpreting both we see and more importantly hear.  If we're conditioned to assume we're hearing a rubber bullet then that's what we'll hear.  If it's a live round, then that instead.  Those in the court admit that they can't tell the difference and without the sound wave patterns Hamdan submit, it wouldn't otherwise be clear at all.  It's an enthralling piece which demands our patience, because we can only see the words of the court transcript and so we're constantly having to dart our eyes between what's being "said" and what's being "shown".

Not that I thought this first time around.  As is often the case with video art, I can in the middle and didn't have an understand on the context.  Plus three security guards were being shown around the building by a fourth and at the vital moment when the artist's own voice emerges from the speakers to provide some necessary context, the guard decided to raise his voice so he could be heard over the sound of the artwork.  All of which distraction led me to feeling a certain tedium as the legalise played out.  Like many of the Biennial presentations, there's a clear narrative which simply doesn't work if you enter in the middle.  But after deciding to watch the whole piece again from the beginning, I managed to grasp what was being presented and was mesmerised.

Next Destination:
Granby Workshop

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Exchange Flags.

"Gracious. During all my travels, I don't think I've ever come across this. Magical. Isn't it extraordinary? I say, are you there Chesterton? Chesterton. What are you doing, dear boy? Fiddling and gaping over there. Come over here and learn something."
-- The Doctor, "The Web Planet"
Art The TARDIS lands near an unusual artifact, a wooden structure covered in clay which resembles the back end of a Zarbi burrowing in the block paving.  As you can see from his tumblr, the artist Sahej Rahel, creates artifacts and objects influenced by science fiction and fantasy as though they've then subsequently become lost for thousands of years and become fossilised.  There are tables filled with items at Cains Brewery in this vein, set out like the results of some archaeological dig and in Exchange Flags here's what could be the uncovering of the remnants of some Pompeii level disaster.

Next Destination:
The Oratory. 

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Everton Park.

Art As well as the territory of this year's Biennial, the accompanying booklet also highlights "annual commissions", artworks created by the Biennial as part of their community outreach. Koo Jeong A's Evertro is a key of example of the approach, a fully functional "wheels" park just on the edge of Everton's lung for the use of local people which also fits within the artist's usual interests and processes.

Finding the wheels park was surprisingly easy, a 19 bus to a stop outside Everton Park, a walk to the concrete pathway which presents on the most picturesque views of the city, followed by asking for directions from some overalled gentlemen in a white van directing me to wander down the hill towards St Anne's Street.  Afterwards, it was easier to continue walking on into town than back up to the bus stop.  And cheaper.

Typically, I visited the sculpture at its least presentable moment, what with its key asset being an ability to glow in the dark and finding myself standing on the edge in the early afternoon.  But it still feels like a more developed, thought through design than you might expect from a skate park, with definite curves and triangles and death defying dips in the middle.  Walking the park and stepping between the shapes I pondered how dangerous it must be,

The only visitors were two boys on bicycles, just at the moment when I was trying to take some photographs of the site.  They'd not seen this public information film.  Luckily I have.

"Hey, mate, are you playing Pokemon?" they shouted.
"No."  I replied abruptly.
"Do you play Pokemon?"
"What are you doin'?"
"Taking photographs."

At which point I gathered my things and ushered myself away as quickly as possible.

Next Destination:
Exchange Flags.

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Derby Square.

"Doctor Who is required! Bring him here!"
-- WOTAN, "The War Machines"
Art What to photograph in Derby Square? With the TARDIS landed, do I turn my camera to the Victoria statue or the Law Courts? The description in the Biennial booklet mentions the latter directly, so here they are looking like part of the landscape from an off-Earth Pertwee story.  Which is quite apt because Lawrence Abu Hamdan's Hummingbird Clock, three sets of white tourist binoculars resembling CCTV cameras trained on the Town Hall and its clock, with their buzzing electrical current could be part of a UNIT viewing and listening post quite rightly out in the open for everyone to see.

The visual joke is obviously a take on "who watches the watchers" with the Town Hall notionally being the centre of government in the city, although it's the police control room which has the power to view citizens as they go about their business.  Two views are fixed on the clock and the Minerva statue on the roof.  The other can be shifted left and right although at such angle that all it can glimpse are the edges of tree branches and nondescript chunks of building.  The only distinct image viewable is also the clock.

The Humming Bird Clock refers to what the Biennial booklet says is "a new kind of public time piece that exists physically and online" (online here in fact) (fair warning that website contains strong humming from the start).  As the text on the object explains the National Grid gives off an almost silent humming the disruptions in which have been used by security services to check if a recording has been altered by matching the time and place with this noise.  Hamdan's piece online and on the street is an attempt to create a sort of public domain version.

Like the Mariana Castillo Deball's To-day 9th July 2016, this contribution to the Monuments from the Future episode is interactive and as I sat pondering where to be put my camera, I noticed a huge number of people, children and adults looking through the viewfinder, reading the text, perhaps wondering what the digital read out on the front meant.  There's already some graffiti, someone's been at it with a pink marker writing slogans, initials.  But this is a very bold place to put a piece of public art at one of the nexus points in the city

The objects are also giving out hum, but mixed with the usual bustle of the city, buses and chatter, the lunch eaters sat on the benches nearby didn't seem unduly irritated.  In the evening silence, especially after midnight, the effect must be stranger, more ominous.  Rather like the surveillance we know is taking place surrounding our lives, it's easy to block out its existence, forget like the noise in daytime.  It's only when that surveillance makes itself known, through some news item breaking the silence do we appreciate how far its encroached on our lives.

Before leaving, I attempted to recreate the shot in the booklet of the Town Hall clock.  Remarkably. by holding my iPod's lense up to the viewfinder on the binoculars and setting it at the correct angle, I was able to see the image on the generic fruit based mp3 player's screen in all three instances.  Indeed the resulting photographs are crisper than what I was able to see with my naked eye.  Which either means machines have overtaken humans as the dominant species on the planet, or I need to go and get my eyes tested.

Next Destination:
Everton Park

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Epic Hotel.

"It seems to me there's so much more to the world than the average eye is allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamt of."
-- Vincent Van Gogh, "Vincent and the Doctor"

TV I'm standing outside the Epic Hotel glaring at a sign.

 With no visible way of entering the property, I'm now trying to discover where exactly the Biennial piece might be.

There's a direction on the front of the property to visit Seel Street for access, and yet the map very clearly states that the visitor needs to be on Duke Street.

Just as I'm about to pull away, a smartly dressed woman with long dark hair approaches carrying a Biennial booklet.

Now she's glaring at the sign too.

We agree that we should probably walk to Seel Street and see if we can get any help there.

As we begin to stroll up Duke Street, she decides to stop and photograph some fly posters and graffiti, so I continue but go completely off course, turn back into Wolstenholme Square instead of walking further up Slater Street and turning onto actual Seel Street.

If you're from Liverpool, you'll know this is entirely foolish.

Ironically, it's here that Nation used to be and I would have visited anyway if the fire hadn't led to the Mark Leckey video being moved to the Blade Factory.

Realising my error, I begin stepping backwards up towards Slater Street.

My one off companion for this adventure is coming towards me, so I hold my hands up in a "hold on" gesture.

I begin rifling through the Biennial booklet looking for the office's telephone number.

My companion waits nearby fiddling with her phone as I'm connected to the office.

After one voice I'm passed to another, who at first doesn't seem to know which piece I'm talking about.

So I turn to the relevant page in the Biennial booklet and begin reading.

See if you can spot the moment when the penny drops.

"Lu Pingyuan has written a series of stories that can be encountered across episodes, and in the Biennial’s book. One describes a two-sided lake that a diver uses to swim between continents, and another tells the tale of little Kiki whose origami figure comes to life as a disgruntled artist. A third, which can be seen painted on the side of the Epic Hotel ..."

There is more text but I didn't need it.

Thanks, I say, so that's what it is.

I tell my companion.

She says as I did, "Oh that!"

So we walk back down into the Wolstenholme Square, stopping for more photographs, this time of Jorge Pardo's Penelope sculpture, originally created for the 2006 Biennial, then cutting through a car park and back on to Duke Street.

There it is on the side of the building, this Lu Pingyan piece which describes some business about Vincent Van Gogh and cloning.

The Biennial website has a photograph with a tree obscuring some of the text so you'll have to visit if you want to read the rest of it.

We'd both noticed it on the way down to the hotel but thought it was some form of derelict advertising which can often be seen on old buildings so didn't pay it any mind.

With a tree obscuring some of the text we crossed the road so we could read the rest of it.

After that my companion offers some thanks for my help.

"I don't think I was much help" I tell her, before offering directions up to FACT.

Luckily she has the map in the Biennial booklet so doesn't have to rely on my directions.

Sometimes I wish I read the Biennial booklet before seeing a piece.

But I like surprises.

After taking the above illustrative photo in the kitchen catering supply shop opposite, I'm off to my ...

Next Destination:
Derby Square

My Favourite Film of 1935.

Film Perhaps it's my age but I always have tremendous difficulty remember Abbie Oakley star Barbara Stanwyck's name.

It's an affliction which has festered for a few years now. I've sat looking at the spine label for Lady of Burlesque, seeing her face but unable to actually usher forth her name. Minutes have gone by until I've reached for an iProduct for a quick search.

I've always been someone who's good with faces rather than names. In the past I've shared small talk with people who clearly know me well enough to be able to ask specific questions about me and I haven't a clue who they are immediately.

Conversational busking has become a key part of my skill set, asking generic questions until they reveal something which jogs my memory and they usually do. But there have been occasions when I've reached the end of a conversation, said my best wishes and then remember who they were half an hour later.

Which obviously also leads me to admit that there are times when I've never remembered.

Working in customer service situations doesn't help. Serving dozens if not hundreds of people a day means that faces lodge themselves in there. I'm entirely certain I've had conversations with people I only otherwise know because I've sold them something or imparted information.

There is a recognised disorder called Face Blindness. Here's a piece from CBS's 60 Minutes about it include an interview with portrait painter Chuck Close.

But it's not that or at least not as acute. I remember the people I should remember or my brain knows it's important to remember.

I also have a problem immediately knowing the difference between left and right. Apparently I'm not alone in that.

But of all the actors, why do I blank on Barbara Stanwyck's name so much I just had to check the top of this post to remind myself of who I was writing about?

No idea.  None.  If anything it's distinctive enough that it should lodge in my brain.

I'm sorry, who are you?

Liverpool Biennial 2016:
Welsh Streets.

"Ogri, come. I command you."
-- Vivien, "The Stones of Blood"
Art Back when I was signing on for Income Support or whatever each contemporary government was calling unemployment benefit, my route walking to the job centre on Park Road was down High Park Street, which meant I passed the so-called Welsh Streets fortnightly on a Monday.  Then these were thriving suburban terraced streets not that I paid much attention what with wanting to get to the signing on desk at the given time and always running late for.

Returning other day, I was shocked to see, despite hearing, that they're marked for demolition, every house empty and boarded up, one street painting completely black, every house top to bottom.  The result is eerie, as though some fantastic or even apocalyptic event has befallen the local population forcing them to leave their homes.  There is a pilot scheme to refurbish some terraces but the overall feelings is of intruding into a space which humanity has vacated.

Which makes it the perfect setting for Lara Favaretto's Momentary Monument - The Stone, a giant, monolithic hollow granite boulder which has landed in the centre of Rhiwlas Street, perhaps the most apt of the Monuments of the Future.  Boulder implies an ovular object, but this is a large rectangular shape, one side smooth, the other three carved with a brick shaped pattern and the overall effect is as totemic as the black objects of Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick and just as forbidding.

To turn into Rhiwlas Street and be confronted with the monument is a disorientating experience, in that way that the best Biennial public art has been over the years, placing the inexplicable in explicable places.  Even though you're aware this is an artwork created with human thoughts and hands, it's nevertheless entirely alien, just the sort of probe we might imagine the Lemurians from Yin-Ju Chen's Extrastellar Evaluations (at Caine's Brewery or FACT) might send.  Or an Ogri.

Favaretto has created similar pieces elsewhere. This article has a similar piece created for the Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo back in 2009.  Like that commission, The Stone in Toxteth is temporary.  The slot on the front allows visitors to make a donation to charity (on this occasion Asylum Link Merseyside), money which will be collected by demolishing the boulder at the end of the Biennial (which is apt given the possible fate of the surrounding streets).  I liked the way my change jangled as it hit the interior floor.

Because of its transient nature you have to see this piece now.  One of my great regrets was not being able to see Rachel Whiteread's House when it existed.  But be warned, it's very photogenic, which is presumably why it's been utilised to illustrate this Biennial in many publications and as the main graphic on their Twitter profile.  So if you haven't seen it yet, I'd strongly recommend you avoid spoiling the moment of initial contact, turning the corner into the street to see it in the stone for the first time.  It's breathtaking.

Next Destination:
Epic Hotel

"That plant, that plant that people line up to see even though it smells like dead fish."

TV You will have seen the trailer for the Gilmore Girls revival. I would have posted it here already but it was everywhere. But just in case, or so you can watch it for the three hundred and twenty third time:

Not since The Sirens of Time ... anyway ... the key element which has been remarked upon script wise is how its designed to underscore that this is a story set in the now, referencing Amy Schumer and John Oliver. But mores to the point, in the middle of Lorelai's bit, Rory dives into her iPhone and searches for information about what the bad smelling plant is, which does feel weird if you've just ended a binge of all seven seasons and the last time you saw these characters Rory's grandpa was trying to find a decent wifi signal in his house by holding his laptop behind a plant, everyone had only just graduated to "burner" mobiles and people still used pagers.

Anyway, the point of me writing this about a coincidence.  Rory gets her answer, presumably from the wikipedia: "Corpse flower" and she does this on almost the same day that an example of the species is in a blooming cycle at New York’s botanical garden in the Bronx and sure enough Lorelei's quite correct. People have queued up to see this oddly beautiful monstrosity and The Guardian was there to find out if indeed it does smell like a dead fish:
"“It smells like lettuce when you take it out of the bag,” a woman yelled from the crowd of onlookers in the Enid A Haupt conservatory. “It smells like the aquarium. Like the penguin enclosure,” another added. The odor came in waves as onlookers jostled for the best spot to take photos and selfies with the giant flower. Some left holding their noses."