A tree of surveillance cameras in the city centre drawing attention to the invasion of privacy, breaches of civil and human rights and state corruption in the modern world, linked to the humming sound of the electrical grid used as a surveillance tool and now available on-line (which could drive someone demented listening to it), a fountain decorated with images inspired by both classical and modern art, a door which is permanently closed and leading nowhere, although it is a portal between Liverpool and Manchester, and a staircase rising towards infinity for someone who is able to jump from year to year on the same date, the 9th of July, this being the date when the Liverpool Biennale 2016 opened.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Hummingbird Clock, Betty Woodman’s Liverpool Fountain, Lu Pingyuan’s Do Not Open It, and Mariana Castillo Deball’s To-day 9th of July 2016 are four of the installations in the streets of Liverpool as part of this year’s celebration of contemporary art and performance across the City. The use of data and the joining of classical and modern are two of the themes that reoccur throughout the Biennale.
The main successes are the major exhibitions at established venues – Francis Bacon and Maria Lassnig at the Tate, which alone is worth travelling to Liverpool to see, Bloomberg New Contemporaries with work from 46 future artists selected from the UK’s art schools on show alongside Dennis McNulty’s Homo Gestalt, a data-driven installation at the Bluecoat and, at the Walker Art Gallery, the John Moores Painting Prize showing the best of contemporary British and Chinese painting.
At the Tate, in another exhibition, classical sculptures sit alongside newly-commissioned artworks merging the past, present and future, as architects and artists did when designing and decorating the neoclassical buildings of Liverpool at the height of its prosperity. Some of the venues are rarely open to the public such as the Oratory, designed as a classical Greek temple and the Cains Brewery with its richly decorated exterior and utilitarian interior, in addition to the industrial Blade building (now a music and arts venue) and the LMJU Exhibition Research Lab in the new John Lennon Building, showing 174 illustrations of HFT The Gardener by Suzanne Treister created around a fictional character who is a banker turned “outsider artist”. Several artists are represented at multiple venues interweaving across the Biennale, including Betty Woodman, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian, Sahaj Rahal and Rita McBride with her profiles of buildings from Pompeii reinforcing the interconnection between classical and modern.
While there is an excellent guide, which does have a map, it is easy to miss many of the installations in the city centre streets. There seems to be an underlying assumption that visitors know the city and its layout and the Biennale could usefully copy Sculpture in the City in London with maps and a suggested route at each installation. It might also be helpful if major rebuilding works to pavements and steps were not taking place during the Biennale, in particular on a major route from Lime Street station into the city centre. adding to the confusion to visitors as they walk through the city. Apart from that, it is well worth visiting Liverpool to see this celebration of contemporary art.