City States – Part 3 (Liverpool Biennial 2012 + Roundup)

There are many pieces of work that get swamped in this year’s City States.  In the final article looking at the exhibition and the festival as a whole, this will become clearer as many pieces and even whole cities are missed out from this write up.

Along with Incheon, two other strong cities in this year’ show are from East Asia.  Hong Kong and Taipei both have excellent spaces but use them in very different ways.  Hong Kong’s coLAb x SLOW show a weird mixture of items and video all seeming to be like an advert for some sort of soapy body wash.  Yi Si’s poetry adorns the walls around all of the work in the space, all tying into the themes of the work, sometimes in an almost ironic way.

Leung Mee-Ping’s Out Of Place video installations are effective due to their positioning rather than content, creating a small maze of projections and visuals.  Each plays against the other but is more effective than Doug Aitken’s take on this aesthetic at Tate because isolation of each video is more easily available.  Whether this is to the point really doesn’t matter.  Chow Chaun-Fai’s reproduction of “Hong Kong – Live it, Love it!” is again more pleasing for its presentation than anything other than visual interest.  These painted stills of the video of the piece’s title name seem like a storyboard take on the advert though capturing some of the more simplistic and silly moments does give the piece a well meaning sense of humour.

Moving on to the city of Taipei sees some more interesting work.  Sadly Hsu Chia-Wei’s piece was broken on most visits to the space but the work of Chen Chai-Jen and Chiu Chen-Hung made up for this.  Chai-Jen’s Lutetia Arena presents some interesting prints on a blank wall and invites the viewer to enjoy them on oddly anachronistic chairs.  One chair in particular is tiny, almost mocking the viewer’s partaking in considering enjoying the work in comfort.  Chen-Hung’s work is more monolithic and consists of what seems to be large wooden furniture, re-scultped into some form of floating wardrobe which seems eerie in its unnatural position.

Here is where the previously mentioned scale of the exhibition starts to kick in.  Any viewer, who has properly viewed all the pieces mentioned so far, will no doubt by now be faltering on the cusp of exhaustion.  Yael Bartana’s work is the only other piece really worth mentioning as its filmic texture not only makes it a refreshing take on video art but makes it stand out miles from just about every other video piece in the whole of the Biennial.  Aside from this opportunity to sit down in a darkened room, the exhibition is quite simply too vast to take everything in.

The great work gets swamped by the more enormous, humorous pieces such as the Black Pillow and the more formal pieces such as photography and painting are constantly fighting with the building for attention, which is occasionally genuinely far more interesting.  Masha Godovannaya’s video installation is probably a lot more effective after several viewings but, with so much else to see, there simply isn’t time to let it work its effect.

This sums up this year’s Biennial perfectly.  There has been so much decent work out there in every venue used.  Yet finding it and writing about it has taken pretty much the whole of the ten week period.  What average viewer is going to have that time to indulge in such an exploration?  When the work has hit home, often tying in most obviously to the hospitality theme, it has been a wondrous ten weeks no matter what the other national art press outlets have spat out after their hour or so nose around a couple of the venues.

It speaks volumes that the most effective venue this year has been The Monro pub.  A small venue that is well chosen, atmospheric and not overindulgent and only three works on show; all of which work in perfect harmony with each other.  It is gems like this and some of the individual City States spaces that make the Biennial so special and perhaps more time should be spent on presenting accessible curios and work in a similar way to them rather than the epic expanses that have been attained to many times during this year’s festival.

Words and photos by Adam Scovell

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