Biennials have been spaces for ideas, international sharing and incredible art, but the future for art festivals has looked uncertain since the start of the pandemic and with travel restrictions in place.
Offering hope and perhaps a new structure for how to approach a Biennial is Liverpool’s 2021 edition. Last week Liverpool Biennial unveiled the first chapter of its 11th edition, ‘The Stomach and the Port’. Liverpool Biennial is the largest festival of contemporary visual art in the UK, and like most events this year, it will be different, taking place digitally, outdoors and eventually, in gallery and other indoor spaces. This first chapter comprises of striking pieces that explore the concept of the body, online and outside.
The outside chapter offers audiences a chance to discover artwork when walking around the city, in passing. These artworks are a new series of sculptures and installations by artists Rashid Johnson, Teresa Solar, Linder, Jorgge Menna Barreto and Larry Achiampong at sites that celebrate Liverpool’s iconic architecture and public spaces across the city centre. The artworks can be found at Canning Dock Quayside, Liverpool ONE, on the side of Bluecoat, St. George’s Hall, St. John’s Gardens, Central Library, Exchange Flags, Liverpool Parish Church, Martin Luther King Jr. Building, Edmund Gardener Vessel, Cunard Building and St. Luke’s Church.
Manuela Moscoso, curator of Liverpool Biennial 2021, said, “The first ‘outside’ chapter presents works that connect bodies and experiences to key places, past and present, speaking of the movement of humans across the sea and proposing new understandings of the relationships between the body and nature”.
Audiences from anywhere can experience the three audio and digital commissions, including the ‘Art Against The World’ Liverpool Biennial podcast. Audiences can find information on the practices of each of the artists taking part, along with a free and evolving public programme of events and learning resources. One of the events running monthly online is The Liquid Club. It is an online platform hosted by guest artists each month, such as Larry Archiampong and Ayeesha Hameed, to explore the ideas that collectively drive the conceptual development of the Biennial.
For now, those situated in the city can enjoy the first ‘outside’ chapter, and audiences anywhere can explore the artworks and materials online. Later in the Spring, once Government guidelines allow, the second ‘inside’ chapter will launch the full festival of exhibitions and events. Moscoso said, “With the opening of the second ‘inside’ chapter of exhibitions later in spring, the Biennial in all its entirety will present a re-calibration of the senses and a catalyst for change and healing, following the universal shifts we have all experienced in this past year”. This second chapter will be hosted by venues throughout Liverpool and will run until 27 June.
The Stomach and the Port will explore the body and its relationship with environments, drawing on non-Western thinking. The festival will also approach different perspectives of the body being continuously shaped by and actively shaping its environment. These discussions feel timely amidst a pandemic that has challenged and exposed our fragile bodies, health and minds to isolating and uncertain states. At the same time, the port city of Liverpool and its maritime history as a point of global contact and circulation provide the perfect ecosystem for this Biennial to imagine different forms of being human and explore what bodies have the potential to be.
The concepts explored within the Biennial are important ideas to thinking about how we will eventually move on from the pandemic, and the festival will show how art can play a vital role in unlocking imagination, new thinking, and creative ways for healing in the future.