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Friday 8 October 2010

Liverpool Biennial Round-Up 2010

By Kenn Taylor

The Liverpool Biennial, now in its sixth incarnation, is the largest festival of contemporary art in the UK. It’s a huge undertaking and the extent of the festival can only really be appreciated by walking around it. Every two years the city is literally filled with art in every conceivable place. Virtually every medium is represented by hundreds of artists from all corners of the globe. Although the Biennial opened 3 weeks ago, it continues until 28 November, so there's still plenty of time to visit.

The core of the Biennial is the International exhibition, programmed by a myriad of curators to a singular theme, which this year is Touched. The festival’s stated intention this time around is to showcase contemporary art that can transcend boundaries; culture, language, and identity. You can read more about this in our current issue, with a Q&A from Lorenzo Fusi, curator of Liverpool Biennial.

Bluecoat, the city’s oldest and most diverse arts centre, is a great place to start. Some works hit home, like Nicholas Hlobo’s Ndize, an enchanting, engulfing and tactile installation that highlights the Biennial’s ability, at its best, to transform the city’s spaces and visitors' perceptions. However, The Biennial doesn’t manage to completely escape from Liverpool’s stereotypes, and Daniel Bozhkov’s Music Not Good For Pigeons, is an uncomfortable amalgamation of football, The Beatles and political militancy.

Tate Liverpool, usually the only Biennial venue to charge entry, is free this year. Upon entering Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Embryology, a large collection of different sized textile "rocks", there's a visually pleasing sensation which emerges and the installation invites touch. Unfortunately, because it’s now accessioned in the Tate collection, we can only look; a great disappointment to the children (and adults) who want to run and play on it. In the main gallery, Jamie Isenstein’s furniture and flame installation Empire of Fire explores the spaces between sculpture and performance. I found Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan’s model boat-building project with local community groups, Passage, incredibly interesting and I liked the fact that the artists are inviting visitors to participate in thier artwork.

This year Open Eye Gallery focuses on three works by Swedish artist, Lars Laumann. The new commission, Helen Keller, is multi-layered and complex but ultimately its considerable length does not affect viewers in the same way as Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana (2006), which manages to be equal parts engaging, amusing and thought-provoking.

FACT, frequently Liverpool’s most radical arts institution, houses two of the best works in the Biennial this year. Gallery 1 contains a recreation of Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance 1980 – 1981 (Time Clock Piece), which consists of portraits of the artist on single frame of 16mm film. The artist woke-up on the hour, every hour, every day, for one year to punch a time clock. Often documentation of performance can be boring, but this piece is both aesthetically arresting and emotionally moving, as the thousands of images and clock cards Hsieh used demonstrate his commitment are laid out across the gallery. This is serious performance art.

Yves Netzhammer’s Dialogical Abrasion is also showing. It's an installation that transforms the gallery into an uncanny, fractured environment; part Ghost Train, part Alice in Wonderland, part Michel Gondry outtake. Heightened by an accompanying animation and jarring sound and lighting effects, the work makes you question your perceptions, and despite its alienating effects, you’re compelled to stay to explore its many different layers and moods.

One of the hallmarks of the Biennial is its utilisation of the city’s abandoned and forgotten spaces. The focus this year is the former Rapid Hardware store on Renshaw Street, which is the Biennial's Visitor Centre and main hub. There are some gems the building, and it's worthwhile taking the time to explore. Showing for the first time in the UK is Ryan Trecartin’s Trill-ogy Comp (2009). The work is a trio of garish videos filled with extreme characters sliding through increasingly acute situations. The films are placed throughout the labyrinth of empty corridors of the shop’s basement, creating a throughout-provoking and unsettling experience.

Elsewhere, in the former Scandinavian Hotel, Alfredo Jarr’s We Wish to Inform You That We Didn’t Know, is an uncompromising account of the genocide in Rwanda. This work serves as a reminder that sometimes the unvarnished truth is the most moving thing of all.

For almost as long as there has been a Biennial, there has been an alternative fringe. Uniting under the moniker The Independents,this initiative has seen most of the city’s major independent arts collectives come together under a new banner called The Cooperative. Taking over another abandoned shop, this venue serves as a temporary gallery and event space, as well as a central showcase for the exhibitions in each of the group members' galleries.

Outside of the main Biennial there are dozens of other exhibitions, events and initiatives which link to it. Despite pulling in all sorts of different directions, there’s something admirable about the fact that, somehow, it all comes together, and this critical mass of art in a relatively small city has to be appreciated. For every action of the Biennial there is a reaction and Liverpool, never a city to have anything imposed upon it, becomes a hotbed of competing creative voices shouting to be heard. I can’t see it working in any other city in the UK.

So, why not go find out it you can be "touched" - visit this year's Biennial. Continuing until 28 November, visit www.biennial.com to download a free map and information.

Ryan Trecartin, Trill-ogy Comp, 2009
Images Courtesy of Liverpool Biennial 2010
Photos taken by Alex Wolkowicz

Thursday 7 October 2010

Q&A with Simon Oldfield, Director of the Simon Oldfield Gallery, London

The Simon Oldfield Gallery opened in Covent Garden earlier this year and with an exciting exhibition programme, the gallery offers a platform for emerging artists. The last show, New Symphony showcased four exponents of a new generation of UK sculptors: Tim Ellis, Sam Plagerson, Katie Cuddon.

The forthcoming show, Modern Love, brings together 12 contemporary artists who have a shared interest in Modernism, which inextricably blends visual form with conceptual content. Underlining the ongoing development of art practice, as well as the dialogue between the past and the present, the show features paintings, sculpture and digitally rendered images.

Q&A with Simon Oldfield

Can you tell me a bit about the forthcoming exhibition Modern Love?
The main thing that underpins all of the work included in Modern Love is a visual generosity on the part of the artists – a way for the viewer to experience the work in a direct and dynamic manner.

What exactly is it that interests you about the subject of this exhibition?
There is a tendency in contemporary art to “buy-in” to a culture of explanation, when artists are often exploring concepts and ideas that might not have an explicit “outcome”. The artists in Modern Love bridge several generations, indicating the ongoing development of contemporary practice. Hopefully, this is an optimistic exhibition.

Bringing together painting, sculpture, digitally rendered images and accidental paintings; Modern Love shows 12 contemporary positions relating to the achievements of Modernism; what were your motivations behind showing such a vast array of artists?
The motivation to show artists from different generations was very important from the outset and the plain fact is that there could have been many more artists included in the exhibition. However, the gallery is only so big!

Coming from a “post-YBA” environment, the artists in Modern Love do not employ shock tactics to force a reaction from the viewer. In fact, the exhibition seems to acknowledge that the rules of the game have changed- what has your experience been of British art over the last decade?
Sometimes it’s vital for contemporary artists to shock their audience; but not always. The history of art is littered with examples of public outcry because of certain artworks, and with hindsight, these give an indication of where social conventions were set at that particular time. It’s possible that some works included in Modern Love might not adhere to everyone’s definition of what an artwork should be; and that might annoy or irritate – but “shock” is just one example of what it might take to “provoke”. For most artists, the first ten years of the new millennium has been a time of unparalleled interest in contemporary art. Because of the multitude of ways in which artists can now become “visible”, largely due to the internet, artists can now reach wide and varied audiences. This, in turn, has led to a very fractured and specialised array of positions in contemporary art.

Do you think there is historical exhaustion of the possibility of invention in art?
Every so often, theorists, critics, curators and artists alike all propose the end of this or the exhaustion of that. It’s true, things do, seemingly, come to an end, but even the validity of the most nihilistic tendencies in art have the capacity for re-appraisal by subsequent generations of artists. The curatorial re-staging of particular installations, performances and site-specific, ephemeral works in recent years indicates that ideas have the capacity to lie dormant, before regaining their momentum, sometimes decades later.

The exhibition raises important questions with regards to art historical definitions of Modernity; have you come to your own conclusion as to the place of the “visual” in contemporary culture?
Conclusions are not as interesting as questions, especially when it comes to contemporary art. It’s all too easy to deny the potential of the visual to carry complex and sophisticated ideas; the visual is a language – and can communicate, but not necessarily “explain”. Like most disciplines, art practice has its’ own set of conventions and precedents. It’s often useful to have a rudimentary sense of the art historical context in which a contemporary artwork might be seen, but unlike academic specialisms, this is not the only way in which an audience might engage with a work of art.

For visitors to the show, is there something you hope they will take with them?
Visitors will certainly experience a variety of work, and navigate both the intentional and incidental points of connection between the artworks on display. The ambition of the work in the show is serious, but not at the expense of a certain sense of wit.

Can you tell me more about your forthcoming exhibition programme? What should visitors to the gallery expect to see for 2011?
The gallery is planning some really exciting exhibitions in the future and hopefully the burgeoning number of visitors to the gallery will continue to find a variety of both new and established artists exhibiting here. There are a number of artists that are developing a relationship with the gallery, and this will naturally evolve into an exciting programme for 2011, beginning with Ben Ashton’s solo show. We are also delighted to announce that we will soon be launching The Bloomsbury Salon. This will be our second exhibition space in central London, allowing us to expand our programme and introduce a series of events. The Bloomsbury Salon is located on one of London’s oldest garden squares; providing artists with new opportunities to present and discuss their work.

Modern Love opens 8 October and continues until 13 November 2010. www.simonoldfield.com

The artists in the show are:

Image (c) Andrea Medjesi-Jones Perverted Boxer

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Marina Abramović in London

I know that you’re not supposed to have favourites, but Marina Abramović, really is one of my favourite contemporary artists today, which is a paradox because I often find performance art hard and durational. It requires so much attention, and time (which is something I’m often short of), but I find her work inspirational. Abramović demands your attention, and you can't help being intrigued.

Not only is she intensely creative, and limitless, but Abramović is also a really lovely person. Her dietary and exercise regime (remember she’s 64-years-old) put the rest of us to shame. I always think about some of her seminal pieces, and you can see how groundbreaking her work was (and still is). She’s a pioneer and the more I know about her, and study her work, I can see how important performance art is – I love the transience, but I also like the idea of the re-performance. Think about how a piece performed in the 1970s will impact upon today’s crowd, her work says so much about the way we live and has captured the spirit of the times, again and again.

I caught up with her for the MoMa show, The Artist Is Present, and spent two wonderful hours finding out more about her, as well chatting about grand ideas to the practicalities of opening the Marina Abramović Institute (for the preservation of performance art), which she will be opening next year in Hudson, New York. She put me straight though, when talking about Hudson – it’s been years since I’ve been there (I grew up in the Catskills, and so I have memories of the place), but apparently it’s stepped up a gear or two. I’ll definitely have to visit next time I’m back in New York.

This October Marina Abramović, will be in London at Lisson Gallery (13 October -13 November). Of course, Marina participated in MIF in 2009, but this new exhibition comprises both new and old works. Spread over the two galleries, this major exhibition will explore the corporeal and cerebral output of her work as a performance artist.

Since the beginning of her career in Belgrade during the early 1970s, Marina Abramović has led the way in performance as a visual art form. Described as 'one of the defining artists of radical performance' by Arthur C. Danto in The Artist is Present (2010), she has transcended the form's provocative origins and created some of the most important works in the genre. Challenging, uncompromising and often shocking, Abramović's durational practice continually experiments with, and explores the boundaries of, both her mental and physical endurance and that of her audience. With her body as both subject and medium, she tests the relationship between performer and audience, withstanding pain, exhaustion and danger in her quest for emotional, liberating and conscious altering transformation.

In connection to her show at Lisson Gallery, Marina Abramović will be speaking at Tate Modern as part of the Talking Art series, 16 October 2010, 2-3.30pm. She will also be participating in the Serpentine Gallery’s Map Marathon: Maps for the 21st Century, 16-17 October 2010, a multi-dimensional event curated by Serpentine Gallery Co-Director Hans Ulrich Obrist.

The show opens 13 October – 13 November 2010, Lisson Gallery, 52-54 and 29 Bell Street, London.

For further reading: Marina Abramović + The Future of Performance Art (Prestel 2010)

Image: Portrait with White Lamb (2010). Courtesy Marco Anelli and Marina Abramovic

Monday 4 October 2010

Aesthetica's Oct/Nov Issue Out Today

This issue begins with Small Scale, Big Change, a survey of 11 architectural projects that redress the debate between architecture and society. Exploring the idea of unique in Mechanical Couture, designers are re-engaging with mechanical reproduction. British photographer, Neeta Madahar, creates beautiful images that contemplate the genre. This is juxtaposed with newcomer, Rebecca Handler, whose work embraces new technologies, raising questions around contemporary image-making.

In film, Clio Barnard explores the life of playwright, Andrea Dunbar in her groundbreaking film, The Arbor. While Elliot Grove, founder of Raindance Film Festival offers 10 compelling tips on zero budget filmmaking from story and sound to actors to location.

In music, The Hundred in the Hands, New York City’s latest export, discuss influences and synth-pop. We also engage with the debate around vinyl – is it in or out? Writer, Salvatore Scibona’s vividly real book, The End examines heritage and immigration. While Polly Samson offers a taster from her new collection, Perfect Lives. In theatre, The Thrill of It All joins dance and drama, but we’re not talking musicals here. Finally, Lorenzo Fusi, curator of the Liverpool Biennial discusses this year’s programme.

This issue combines the best from across the wide spectrum of the arts world engaging with new ideas, concepts and opening up the forum for debate on the wider issues raised.

To get a copy, visit your local shop - here's a link to our stockists or visit our shop.

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