The Liverpool Biennial – An Artistic and Political Celebration


The Liverpool Biennial (running from 15th September to 25th November 2012 and hosted by Liverpool) has been branded the largest international contemporary arts festival in the UK, showcasing an expansive range of artworks and projects. The festival, held every two years, inevitably leads to a re-discovery of the city, as it commissions both leading and emerging artists to create diverse works within diverse locations. The artworks created do not strictly conform to the restrictions of galleries, museums and cultural venues – public spaces are also utilised as blank canvases. Regeneration of the city is also encouraged through the production of permanent public artworks, which are not only aesthetically pleasing, but, in the context of long-term community based projects, bring about cultural learning. A dynamic, all-encompassing event, the Biennial also pulls in money for further arts funding and regeneration – 2010 saw a take in of £27 million.

The range artists featured in the festival is diverse, and many of the works are both visually and conceptually challenging, and often controversial:

Pamela Rosencrantz, Bow Human, 2012 (a series of sculptures)

Rosencrantz utilises materials from modern technologies, yet she manipulates these objects with an aim to personify them. She makes use of spandex fabric, canvas, mops, nylon fabrics and refilled Evian water bottles and twists and distorts them in order to produce unfamiliar and unstable realities. The series of objects are inanimate; they have been manipulated to represent life forms, and so contain the frightening mystique of robotic or alien figures. Human faces appear to stare out from underneath sheets of silver foils, and yet in reality there is a complete absence of life within these works. The overall message appears to be apocalyptic – it is as though silvery ice has thrown a deathly blanket over the human race.

    Kohei Yoshiyuki, The Park, 1971-1979 & Love Hotel, 1978 (21 gelatin silver prints)

Throughout the 1970s photographer Yoshiyuki used his camera as a sort of spying device to document the nightlife culture of Tokyo. The series of images he produced reflect the hidden and explicit sides of the city’s activity (particularly through his documentation of youth culture), by depicting sexual activity, and the watching of sexual activity. The photographs are therefore literal secret snap-shots of events that break away from the normalities and constrictions associated with a rigid and polite everyday life. Scandalous, these images are controversial in regard to the intentions of the artist; it is easy to propose the question ‘is it moral or ethical to invade an unknowing human’s privacy?’

Suzanne Lacy, Storying Rape, 2012 (campaign)

The activist, author, artist and educator Suzanne Lacy creates ambitious performances by focusing on the social themes and urban issues that are pertinent in the area where she has chosen to work. By asking what the community most needs, she works on projects that will have a genuine political impact and thus bring about social change. For the Biennial, Lacy has worked on Storying Rape to raise awareness about the problem of, and the issues associated with rape and domestic violence. Essentially, Lacy is using the art of language and political speech to create social awareness.

    Andrea Bowers, City of Sanctuary, 2012 (campaign)

Similarly to Lacy, Andrea Bowers does not make a distinction between art and politics; she sees them as two realms that influence one another. Bowers is utilising the Biennial to amplify Liverpool’s profile as a City of Sanctuary for refugees and asylum seekers; the City of Sanctuary campaign is designed to encompass a national movement of local people, community and public sector groups within its body, in order to make Liverpool a safe and welcoming city for those seeking sanctuary and escape from war, conflict and persecution. Bowers, the Student Action for Refugees and designer Sam Wiehl, are creating a visual identity for the campaign, which emphasises the inter-relationship between political language and visual semiotics whilst highlighting art’s importance in making social politics accessible.

The Biennial is a festival that knows no boundaries it does not distinguish between art, literature, politics, film, theatre and propaganda. Instead, it is a cultural celebration that explores the concept that art and politics are intrinsically connected.

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