Tate Liverpool
North West England

Lewis Biggs, director of the Liverpool Biennial, tells us during a curatorial breakfast that Made Up, the title of this years Biennial, can be interpreted in various different ways. It is a phrase especially fitting to Liverpool as ‘to be made up' is a local term meaning that they're content with something.

The more familiar usage, more in connection with fantasy and fabrication relates as much to many works in the Biennial as it does to the art world itself.

For example, on the first day of press previews, I attended an embargoed announcement of the winners of the John Moores prize. This embargo, also attended by the prizewinners, was in place until 4 hours later when the winner was publically announced again in front of the VIP audience. At both events, the winner, Peter McDonald, seemed genuinely shocked and surprised when it was announced he had won, even though the second time (and perhaps even the first) was a recreation.

Did Clint Eastwood already know he'd beaten Martin Scorsese with ‘Million Dollar Baby', and did Scorsese already know he'd won two years later with ‘The Departed' and have to re-imagine his fake reaction for the camera crews? Did Grayson Perry make extra special effort as Claire because he knew (s)he'd be in the spotlight?

This idea of when or where what is happening is happening is explored through one of the best pieces at the Biennial, Take a Deep Breath by Omer Fast. The 30 minute long dual channel narrative begins with a former army medic recalling a day in Israel when he walked past a café that had just been targeted by a Palestinian suicide bomber. As the first person on the scene, he entered the café to find everything destroyed, blood everywhere and a sole man, with both his legs and an arm blown off. He walks up to him and tries unsuccessfully to save him. He looks up and finds people are watching him from outside disappointed. It is at this point that the dead man opens his eyes for a split second, we hear somebody complain and then shout


The camera zooms out and the director, an actor playing Fasts role in the film complains that the dead man had blinked.

It is at three critical points in the film where this happens – the ‘real' story has been progressing and you are feeling tense, when two police officers – possibly the most delightfully clichéd American cops created – stride in front of the camera to complain about an explosion they had received a call about. The acting by the camera crew and actors outside the film they are making is like something from daytime TV, with small subplots including an actor playing the suicide bomber trying to attract an actress who has quit as a victim of the bomb as she had been told her clothes would be blown off in the blast; and the directors new iPhone (something he is keen to state in an all too proud manner) being stolen. At certain sections of these dialogues between the crew, it becomes clear that we may actually be watching the film, rather than the backstage. The actor playing Fast explains to the cops how he is making a film about the making of a film about a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv cafe.

Moments like these completely destroy the serious nature of the film, whilst questioning at its most basic the truthfulness of what we witness on TV news and documentary.

Take a Deep Breath was a refreshing change to the way we view art. A good piece of work could be measured on, amongst other things, how much time you spend with the work. I love it when I walk away from a piece of work and only then realise that I have actually spent time with it. You don't notice it happening when you are there. It is only too often that you approach a piece and a few seconds later have come to the conclusion that what you have gathered within those few seconds is all that you are going to get.

by Samuel Mercer and Hannah Phillips