The unstoppable Liverpool Biennial

The American artist Doug Aitken will be there, making his mark on Liverpool’s Albert Dock by installing a work of art at the popular attraction, which was once a busy port for all sorts of cargo. The celebrated Argentinean visionary Jorge Macchi will, to quote, “absurdly wedge an artwork” into the Walker Art Gallery, which is not only a historic part of the port city, but also home to one of the largest art collections outside of London. Sylvie Blocker, the French artiste, will deliver, through film, a number of leftfield performances of important manifestos and speeches.
Three particular highlights of the UK’s biggest contemporary art festival, these reveal that this year’s Liverpool Biennial is set to be one of the most inventive, creative and busiest in its 14-year history. And, like much of the subject matter of any given work of art, variegated, layered and full of hidden meaning, the above presentations, though brilliant and thought-provoking, are but one thin slice of a very nourishing, full and colourful cake.
Launching on September 15th, the seventh incarnation of the biennial will take over Liverpool for an astonishing ten weeks, permeating into all sorts of traditional and atypical spaces – exterior and interior – where it will set to task to deliver a kaleidoscope of cultural events, exhibitions and performances. To use the analogy above, it’s as rich as a lavish chocolate cake.
While art features as the primary draw, the festival also acts as a prompt to entice visitors to experience the beating heart of the city itself. In physically navigating themselves through the many shows interspersed throughout Liverpool, people are able to embrace aspects of the home of the Beatles in a very personal way.
Although one may not be acquainted with the city in an intimate way – i.e. does not live or work there – there is, from the point of view of the organisers, an idea of rediscovery, made possible through a very well-planned and considerate orientation of the festival.
As its director Sally Tallant recently noted, Liverpool has more galleries, museums, commissions and new art than any other city in the UK, aside from the capital of course.
The festival certainly does live up to its name. Since its inception, over 279 artists from 72 countries have taken part; on average it attracts around 600,000 visitors over the ten weeks; and over 200 new works of art have been commissioned. In short, it intrigues, it enthrals and it creates.
“Liverpool Biennial is always a highlight of the city’s cultural programme,” noted Joe Anderson, the city’s mayor. “It draws large numbers of people to Liverpool and is a must-see festival for anyone with an interest in art and culture. It is thought-provoking, challenging and entertaining and never fails to provoke discussion and debate.”
The festival, which is based on the theme of hospitality – a suitable nod to the fact the UK is hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, by virtue of which people from all over the world will be flocking to the country come the summer – is curated in such a way that the ten weeks remain relevant and engaging. This, in effect, gives each week its own distinct character, denying any opportunity for cultural stagnation to set in.
“It is a measure of the cultural significance of our city that we are able to stage an event which is hugely respected by artists, critics and the public,” mayor Anderson commented. If this year’s festivities are anything to go by, it is certainly set to be a riveting autumn in Liverpool.
The 7th edition of Liverpool Biennial takes place from September 15th until November 25th.