Liverpool Biennial opened the first chapter of their 11th edition, The Stomach and the Port, on 20 March with a major series of outdoor sculpture, sonic and digital commissions, alongside the new Biennial Online Portal.
The Stomach and the Port (20 March to 6 June) is curated by Manuela Moscoso and showcases the work of 50 leading, and emerging, artists and collectives from 30 countries around the world, including 47 new commissions for the Liverpool Biennial.
The theme exploring concepts of the body, with the Biennial drawing on non-Western thinking that challenges our understanding of the individual as a defined, self-sufficient, entity. Instead, the body is seen as fluid, being continuously shaped by, and actively shaping its environment.
At the heart of the theme is Liverpool: a city which was an active agent in the process of modernisation and change but which also played a role in the foundation of colonialism. Through the visible and invisible dynamics of Liverpool’s historic port, this Biennial envisions different forms of being human and explores what bodies have the potential to be.
The Outside Chapter
The ‘outside’ chapter brings together the exterior elements of the Biennial. New sculptures and installations located at strategic outdoor sites across Liverpool will celebrate the city centre’s iconic architecture and public spaces.
Larry Achiampong’s Pan African Flags For the Relic Travellers’ Alliance forms part of Relic Traveller, a multi-disciplinary project that builds upon a postcolonial perspective. Displayed across 10 sites within the city centre, the series of flags will comprise the original set of 4, with each design featuring 54 stars to represent the 54 countries of Africa, along with a new set to be shown for the 2021 Biennial. Symbolically, they highlight Pan African identity, while the colours green, black and red reflect the land, its people and the struggles the continent has endured, respectively. The field of yellow gold represents a new day and prosperity.
Rashid Johnson’s large-scale sculpture Stacked Heads (2020) at Canning Dock Quayside is formed with two distinct head parts in the style of a totem. Made from bronze and furnished with yucca and cacti plants, the work takes inspiration from his series of drawings Anxious Men (2015-ongoing). Selected for their endurance to harsh winds and saline water, the plants resilience and the work’s waterfront location negotiates Liverpool’s transatlantic histories while keeping prescient contemporary concerns at its core.
A major new billboard by Linder, located within Liverpool ONE, will form part of her Bower of Bliss (2021) constellation that has its origins in a copy of Oz magazine, which she bought at the Bickershaw Festival in 1972. The centuries old phrase “Bower of Bliss” refers to the birthplace, the point of origin and safety. For the poet Edmund Spenser, the “Bower of Bliss” meant “womb”. For Linder, the connotations link back to her experience of being carried in her mother’s womb in Liverpool in 1954 and her billboard presents the “Bower of Bliss” as a safe, deeply pleasurable space, needed now more than ever.
On the side of Bluecoat, Jorgge Menna Barreto’s Mauvais Alphabet (2021) has been made in collaboration with students from Liverpool John Moores University and local mural artist, Anna Jane Houghton. Documenting weeds and wild edibles found in Liverpool, Barreto presents the types of plant that thrive naturally in local conditions as our associate, rather than product. Through eating and foraging locally, we can learn more about the place we inhabit and the local stories which are read not necessarily by the brain but by the stomach.
Osteoclast (I do not know how I came to be on board this ship, this navel of my ark) (2021) by Teresa Solar is composed of five kayaks, each sculpture reflecting the shape of a human bone. Positioned outside Exchange Flags, it is anchored on the maritime history of Liverpool, the installation draws parallels between bones – carriers of tissues, veins and cell communities, message pathways – and vessels, vehicles of migration, transmitters and connectors of bodies and knowledge. In contrast to the ships that are built and docked in Merseyside, Solar’s kayaks, turned into a disarticulated skeleton, set the body at sea level, evoking our fragility over the sea while simultaneously celebrating our human capacity for transition and transformation.
At Crown Street Park, La Pensée Férale (2021) by Daniel Steegmann Mangrané features a replica of a Pau Rei, a native tree of the Brazilian Mata Atlántica, imbedded with the eye of an Indian pariah dog from Bangladesh, and surrounded by newly planted Fagus Purpurea Pendula trees. Mangrané’s installations query humanity’s position in the world – eroding the Western conceptions of being which separate the world into opposing dualisms, such as nature and culture. La Pensée Férale raises questions about subjectivity as a cultural construction as well as our attitude towards the environment, reinforcing that nature is not without perception or feeling.
The Biennial Online Portal
The Biennial Online Portal will underpin the physical festival, introducing each artist taking part in tandem with an exploration of the broader entry points to The Stomach and the Port. Gathering the artists practices under three ideas, the entry points – stomach, porosity and kin – present different ways of thinking about and linking the artworks across the Biennial.
To celebrate the opening of the first chapter of the Liverpool Biennial 2021, the six-part podcast series Art Against the World, hosted by Vid Simoniti and co-produced with the University of Liverpool. The first episode was released on 17 March.
Starting on 24 March, The Refracted Body, a film programme curated by Margarida Mendes, explores the resonant power of communal voices and their ability to evoke resilience against resource and labour extraction.
Looking ahead to 6 April, Liverpool Biennial 2021 will broadcast a discussion with curator Manuela Moscoso, artists Neo Muyanga and Xaviera Simmons and leading Liverpool academics, to investigate the creative stimulus of the city on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking, which will also be available as a BBC Arts & Ideas podcast.
Sonic and digital commissions hosted on the Biennial Online Portal
Ines Doujak, in collaboration with John Barker, will explore the social and cultural history of pandemics in Transmission: A series of five Podcasts on Disease and Pandemics in a Distorted World (2021).
Artists UBERMORGEN, digital humanist Leonardo Impett and curator Joasia Krysa present the first iteration of The Next Biennial Should be Curated by a Machine, an experiment in reimagining the future of curating in the light of Artificial Intelligence.
KeKeÇa Body Percussion Ensemble will deliver a series of interactive performances at key moments during the Biennial. Acknowledging the body as a place of lived experience, audiences will be encouraged to participate using their own bodies as percussive instruments.
Liverpool Biennial 2021: The Stomach and the Port takes place 20 March – 6 June 2021
For more information visit www.biennial.com