Liverpool Biennial

This sixth edition of the Liverpool Biennial of Art is a quieter, more thoughtful affair than usual, with plenty of political edge giving it bite and relevance. Driven by Director Lewis Bigg’s fury at the bankers who have nearly brought the country to bankruptcy – and with the arts subsequently facing a potential 25% cut – he has insisted that all work should have a holistic impact, on mind, body and spirit, hence the theme of Touched. The sobering subtext of this Biennial is “enjoy it while you can”.

As always, it is grand in ambition and internationally focused, while remaining absolutely rooted in the city. The unique aspect of the Liverpool Biennial is its enormous commissioning programme, where every two years, 40 or so artists are commissioned to make new site-specific pieces especially for Liverpool. The range and scope is enormous, although this year marks a change – fewer pieces in the public realm, and for the first time, five artists are showing work that has already been seen.

There are a number of politically charged works, most notably “Recession” by Karmelo Bermejo and the curated mini-exhibition Re:Thinking Trade, which has advertising and consumerism in its sights. Although without any new insights, it’s a truism that old truths need to be restated for each new generation.

Daniel Hlobo’s “Ndize” at the Bluecoat Arts Centre is a delightful and evocative sensory experience that takes you somewhere completely different, but for me, the best work is in the non-gallery spaces. In Renshaw Street, Ryan Trecartin’s trilogy of videos stand out. Parodying hi-energy youth orientated reality TV, it is a kind of Korean Little Britain, riveting, dense and extraordinary to watch.

A pairing of works by Alfredo Jaar and Cristina Lucas in the old Europleasure building gain by their proximity. Lucas has produced “Touch and Go”; an elegiac film of unionists and their families vandalising this now derelict building that once housed a long gone European company. In a gleeful expression of frustration at market failure, individuals enjoy throwing stones through its windows, the camera lingering symbolically on the shattering glass.

In “We wish to inform you that we didn’t know”, Jaar has footage of Bill Clinton apologising to a Rwandan audience for not acting more quickly and appropriately during the 1994 genocide, implying that he had not fully understood the gravity and ferocity of the situation. This is followed with testimony from three survivors of the genocide. A compelling piece, it makes me return to Clinton’s autobiography and read again what he has to say about his actions at this time.

Sachiko Abe is obsessively performing “Cut Papers” at the A Foundation space. To say more will spoil its surprise, but it’s a must see.

And finally, this year’s John Moores exhibition is all about painting. This might seem like stating the obvious, but believe me, it isn’t. For the first time in years, there is a decent collection of artists at the top of their painting game discussing the range and versatility of the medium. A joy.