City States 2012 – Liverpool Biennial (Part 1)

Heading up the battered stair case of Copperas Hill leads to a labyrinth exhibition of work that spreads so far over such a huge space, it seems an almost impossible task to see absolutely everything there which is worthy of merit.  The City States exhibition, in the words of the director of LJMU Arts school and future director of this building Juan Cruz, has a sense of being about mapping spaces and working with very large objects.  This is most apparent in the exhibition which presents the viewer with some of the biggest and most ambitious work in the Biennial.

With such a huge space, mapping it out was never going to be easy and even with a guide and clear signs stating which city is where, the work and the outskirts of each space tend to be easily confused with which city they’re from.  This is a minor fault but will no doubt have an effect on the accuracy of these articles as well as what work is actually discussed in them.

Ignoring all logic of what work actually confronts the viewer when they first enter the space, the first city to discuss is Vilnius with the work of Audrius Bucas and Valdas Ozarinskas.  Their piece constitutes the whole of their city’s contribution and comes in the form of Black Pillow; a literal giant black pillow that fills the space.  This is a real exercise in superabundance with ignoring the work being a complete impossibility.  With the work being so literal, there seems very little to discuss in terms of allegory, yet the sheer nature of such a huge work means it can’t help but produce a smile at its sheer absurdity, especially as it comes close to pushing against the space’s ceiling and boundaries.

Hidden behind this pillow shaped eclipse are three different cities whose work seems oddly transitional and not completely rigid in its relationships with each other.  Copenhagen presents an interesting mixture of media under the guise of Approaching Journey.  How this relates to some of these pieces in their space, one can only begin to imagine.  Yvette Brackman uses all sorts of interesting techniques to draw us into her video pieces, Of Living And The Dead.  In front of the questioning video lies a rug and two cushions from the film, which ask the viewer to enter into the world of the video itself.  The second video, which is far more abstract, presents a similar idea but is perhaps weakened by the objects from the video being housed in a glass case rather than being naturally present.

Jens Hanning’s photographic prints of refugees are the strongest work from the city.  Presenting pictures of refugees, it lists in fashion magazine style, the details of what they are wearing, where it’s from and how much it costs.  What at first seem humorous turns out to be quite uncomfortable with its irony bearing down heavy on the viewer.  The fact that the pictures seem quite accurate and could well be from an alternative fashion magazine like Vice makes it even more provocative and it is sadly not out of the realms of fantasy envisaging American Apparel doing and refugee themed range.

The North Atlantic Pavilion showcases work from Tórshavn, Reykjavik and Nuuk.  Hanni Bjartalio’s untitled work hangs surreally from and the ceiling and is a wooden model of what seems to be some sort of miniature building.  This makes a nice contrast to the Black Pillow opposite, with the building having natural characteristics that are begging to be made bigger.  They are however repressed and made to stay in their small size, weakening authority of the grey, floating castle.  Jesse Kleemann’s work is a tad more hit and miss with some of her work seeming to be thrown together while other pieces seeming to be meticulously built.  Blubber Installation Orsoq is a wooden structure, held together with battered rope that has the feel of sea-fairing hardship.  Hanging from it are glass baubles filled with what looks like rotting fruit but is actually seal blubber.  It is this balance of the quaint and the disgusting that makes the work interesting, though it is slightly let down by its position which gives it the feel of being in the way of a corridor like some form of odd obstruction.


Part 2 coming soon.

All photos by Adam Scovell

Adam Scovell

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