It’s Art, Jim… Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Jesus and Barabbas puppet show, 9 October 2014. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.

It’s Art, Jim…

Sally Tallant, Biennial Curator
Sally Tallant, Biennial Curator

But maybe not as we know it. As Liverpool’s exploration of the places new art can take us explodes amongst us, we glean some field notes from curator, Sally Tallant.

“It’s more Star Trek and Family Guy than Coronation Street and Emmerdale,” the Biennial’s Sally Tallant says of this year’s citywide jamboree: the UK’s official Biennial of Contemporary Art.

We’re talking about the crucial difference between series and serials – one a continuing, unfolding narrative, the other a self-contained universe of short stories: and it’s the latter that this year’s event takes as its spark.

“We’re the writers, like a team of HBO scriptwriters,” Tallant says, “but the artists are the characters. Each episode is like a perfectly conceived mini-world.

Like the cast of the Starship Enterprise – they travel to different worlds, amazing things happen, and they all come home again, only to set off on another adventure.

“No other city takes the sort of risks Liverpool takes…”

Stardate 2016. Location Liverpool. This year’s Biennial is organised as a series of six episodes: fictional worlds drawing from Liverpool’s past, present and future.

Think Ancient Greece (you can’t move in this city for ostentatious neoclassical flourishes). Think ‘Flashbacks’ – cosmic wormholes playing with time’s arrow. Chinatown – riffing on the city’s venerable ties to the east. And think Futureshock – artists asked to conceive what Liverpool will be like in 20, 30 or 40 years time. “These days, we time travel constantly,” Sally says.

It's Liverpool magazine Summer 2016 - Out now. Download here.
It’s Liverpool magazine Summer 2016 – Out now. Download here.

“We’re emailing the other side of the world, finding new ways to unearth old stories, time-shifting TV and texting. We’re interested in the way we experience the world now in continual interruptions,” she says, as It’s Liverpool interrupts her day.

With this Quantum Leaplike premise, a roll call of the world’s most exciting emerging and disrupting contemporary artists have been asked to roam amongst us, decode us, pull us apart and put us back together again, like some city-wide Enterprise transporter – ripping our molecules asunder, and rearranging them in dry docks (George’s Dock), plazas (Pier Head), disused breweries (Cains, Upper Parliament Street) and once-grand cinema halls (ABC, Lime Street).

There’ll be a number of showstopping new works – a permanent new fountain adjacent to St George’s ventilation shaft at the waterfront, infinite staircases in Liverpool ONE and a reenactment of the infamous schoolchildren’s strike – and march – of 1985. What are those headstrung students doing now?

And all of it is thrillingly, dangerously, unpredictably new. “Instead of borrowing pre-existing work, all of these artists are bringing something new to the city,” Tallant explains. “Am I stressed? Of course I am. As of right now, I have no idea what some of our artists are actually doing. But I love that Liverpool allows them to do this. No other city takes the sort of risks Liverpool takes, and no other city really engages with art like we do.”

Liverpool Biennial
Across the city
9 July – 16 October
biennial.com

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Published: 04/07/2016

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