City States – Part 2 (Liverpool Biennial 2012)

Of all the cities in the exhibition, Incheon not only presents the most colourful and inviting display of work but is the most visually pleasing.  The work contrasts nicely with the dull (albeit interesting) aesthetic of the space and this clash works extremely well.  Seoung Won Won’s large G prints instantly brighten up the space and recall tropical habitats that seem almost fantasy like due to their current location.  The irony of their beauty is even more persistent when mere feet away on the wall is something as arbitrary and mundane as a fire escape sign which weirdly adds to the work and is a serendipic piece of curating.

Wil Barton’s work is as equally colourful but looks at the unnatural colours of the South Korean city which is as equally bright but with a garish beauty.  The piece brings the atmosphere of the city into the space with sounds emitting from a speaker phone that instantly recalls political rallies and hardship; a very natural product of a country that was volatile until the early 1990s.  The colour prints on the LED boxes light up the space well and it would probably look spellbinding at a darker time with the lights in Copperas Hill dimmed.

Suknam Yun’s Blue Letter is an interesting installation of mixed media with paper designs showing faces blank and emotionless while they look down on oddly embroided chair which is surrounded by small, colourful balls.  It’s difficult to find meaning or poetry in the work but again its colourful and its bright nature brings out the natural contrasts with the building which is much to the piece’s advantage.  A similar problem occurs in the work of Kyungah Ham where the visual quality of it is what seems to be its main feature rather than any particular expression or philosophy present.  That’s not to say there isn’t but it was lost on this viewer in spite of the pleasing aesthetics on show.

Incheon also has the advantage of having the most exciting visual entrance to its exhibition.  While other cities appear to have just been happy with the red painted official Biennial stand, Incheon has a hyper spatial lighting advert straight out of Blade Runner L.A.  Their show is Areotropolis: Home And Away; it is easily the most cohesive and successful city in this year’s City States.

Birmingham’s efforts are more hit and miss with some interesting work balanced with some unsuccessful pieces.  The contribution from Napalm Death and Home of Metal is extremely interesting indeed.  Playing on the city’s metal music heritage, a wall is covered with metal zine artwork while some original zines are on show in display cases.  This transcends the labelling of artwork and is just as important and interesting from a musicological point of view as well an ethno-musicological one.  The artwork itself is so of its time and apt for the music that it of course a success, though it is perhaps telling that the city’s best contribution is from people who perhaps wouldn’t label themselves as artists.

Bedwyr Williams has two pieces of polar quality.  The Hill Farmer is a giant print showing a wonderful photograph of a farmer contemplating the long path ahead of him which leads to the hills and mountains.  Lath on the other hand is weak without its performance aspect.  As on object it could easily be some unfinished DIY from the original building.  It’s hard to say whether the performance aspect would improve it but the piece is definitely missing much when compared to its bed fellow piece.

Part 3 coming soon.

Words and photos by Adam Scovell

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