The main event of the biennial is called ‘Made Up’ and shows commissioned work of more than 40 international artists across thirteen sites in the city, exploring the theme of fantasy and imagination.
In Gleaming Lights of the Souls by Yayoi Kusama (exhibited in an empty factory unit off Jamaica Street) visitors are invited to enter a tardis-like chamber, whose small interior unfolds into a magical encounter with infinity. The small room is mirrored on all four sides, with a shallow pool of water on the floor. A changing constellation of small LED lights hung from the ceiling produce an infinite chain of endless reflections, transforming the small white cube into a distinctly otherworldly place.
At the same venue you could see Air-Port-City by Tomas Saraceno. The programme notes explain:
Trained as an architect, since 2002 Tomas Saraceno has been developing his ideas for cities built in the air. His ongoing project Air-Port-City imagines a network of biospheres (or habitable cells) in the sky, like clouds, constantly moving, changing shape, and merging with one another.
This flying architecture builds on the tradition of utopian architects such as Buckminster Fuller and Archigram to propose a new mode of living that transcends national, geographic and political boundaries. Since 2002 Saraceno has continued, in sculptures, installations and experimental flights, to make a series of incremental steps towards his ultimate goal of cities built in the air.
His ‘biospheres’ are ethereal structures, in which clusters of transparent pillows are gathered together in arched nets to form larger spheres. Visually they invoke the structures of nature viewed through the lens of science, reminiscent of scientific models of atoms, or a collection of transparent eggs enlarged under the microscope. In his drawings, the interior of Air-Port-City appears like the palaces of the Moors (early pioneers in mathematics and astronomy), a progression of light airy halls framed by geometric forms endlessly receding into the distance.
One of the biggest events in Capital of Culture year has been the re-opening of the Bluecoat Arts Centre, which has come into its own for the biennial. Sarah Sze’s untitled installation takes over the stairwell in a teetering but intricately put together, heap of debris, stretching up three floors. The only motion comes from a single brick attached to a fan three floors up that swings precariously, threatening destruction of the whole work should it fall.
Also at the Bluecoat is an installation by Khalil Rabah – the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind. After 12 Years is a legal case brought before the Swiss legal system by the Botanical Department of the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind on behalf of a family of five olive trees that arrived from Ramallah, Palestine to Aniana Pank at the United Nations Office, Geneva, in 1995. The case argues the Trees’ legal right to be granted Swiss citizenships, since they have fulfilled the Swiss naturalisation requirements for the past 12 years.
The Biennial Guide explains further:
Using narratives that hover between fiction and reality, Khalil Rabah’s installations, objects, videos, actions and interventions articulate the very real situation of occupation experienced by Palestinians. His ongoing Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind, which has had manifestations in Athens, Istanbul, Amsterdam and elsewhere, playfully interrogates history as an accumulation of fact and artifice.
Yet the ‘evidence’ he presents cannot be taken at face value, playing around as he does with ideas of objective truth and authenticity. His fictionalised museum also questions and subverts the notion of archiving, documentation and the idea of the museum itself as a repository of objects and the construction of collective knowledge.
In 1995 Khalil Rabah planted olive trees outside the United Nations Office in Geneva. Uprooted from their original home in Palestine, the trees were replanted as symbols of peace in Switzerland. Metaphorically they referenced the continuing effects of war on Palestinian agriculture, economy and identity. In recent years, Rabah has learnt that only one tree remains and the others have been removed, although it Is not clear where they have been relocated to, or why.
In Liverpool, the Botanical Department of the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind has initiated a legal investigation of the status of the trees. Presented in glass cases, the ‘evidence’ sits alongside a diorama of the absent trees, text panels, national flags and other accoutrements of the museum experience. Like his construction of an office for the United States of Palestine Airlines in London in 2007, this new work continues Rabah’s examination of fact and fiction, in which ownership of the past and reclamation of a future denied are played out.
At FACT, U-Ram Choe’s Opertus Lunula Umbra is on display. The Biennial Guide explains:
Modernity, based on a symbiotic relationship between man and machine, is fraught with contradictions: we strive to embed human intelligence into machines to make them ever more capable and powerful, but we fear and feel repelled by our increasing dependence upon artifice, yearning for a simpler life.
U-Ram Choe’s work embraces the man-made and the natural. He makes up a world of mechanical creatures that shift between streamlined metallic objects and amorphous biological forms of delicacy and weightlessness.
His recent large-scale automated sculptures move with an effortlessness that suggests gliding through water or being ruffled by a gentle breeze. They appear to be a life form that reflects both our desire to create an intelligently designed universe, and the relationship between nature and beauty.
They also suggest an archaeology of undiscovered futuristic organisms, resonant of primitive life forms, imagining a future past excavated from the ground or from the bottom of the sea. Each object has its own notes and biological profile to locate it in an imagined history and place; each is based in the evolutionary logic of a parallel universe, with detailed descriptions fon each species, information concerning feeding habits, reproduction cycles and behavioural characteristics.
The commission for MADE UP is his most ambitious to date: approximately 5m in length, Opertus Lunula Umbra (Hidden Shadow of the Moon) is inspired by moonlight energy, and folds and unfolds its mechanical wings with the breath-like undulation. Its story explores medieval fantasy, the seductive appearance of reflected sunlight on the moon, mystenious energy sources and a lunatic’s gaze into waters at night.
‘IS.R.A.M., oka United Research of Anima Machine, discovered this life-form made of mechanical structures from sunken boats of the past, and modern nautical devices. This new species was defined as Anima machine and a simulated setting was created to observe its behaviour. One of the outcomes from these efforts was the mega-sized model of ‘Opertus Lunula Umbra’ displayed in FACT, Liverpool. This model was based on the exact creature found in Albert Dock, so far known as the largest and the most evolved example of the species.’
Up at St Luke’s, Yoko Ono’s Liverpool Skyladders is on display:
Liverpool Skyladders takes the form of a simple invitation to donate a stepladder. Over the course of the Biennial, a forest of steps will grow inside the ruined church of St. Luke’s, entirely open to the skies since it was bombed in 1941.
The work revisits an unrealised performance, Sky Event for John Lennon (1968). In her instructions, Ono asked participants to ‘gather with their Sunday outfit, wearing their best hats’, and to ‘prepare binoculars and telescopes for people to occasionally check the sky. Ladders of great height should also be prepared for people who wish to climb up high to check.’ Later that year, the more conceptual Sky Event II instructed people to ‘do the sky event in your mind. THEN go out into the street and photos to document the event.’
If the original Sky Event was intended to have a celebratory festive quality, Liverpool Skyladders is a quieter more contemplative affair. The Sunday hats, binoculars and telescopes have been set aside for a simple installation which transforms a ubiquitous and utilitarian object into a vehicle of wonder. Ladders frequently appear in Ono’s work as a means to reach a higher level, physically and metaphorically. One of her earliest uses of the ladder was the performance Fly (1964), where a stepladder provided the launchpad from which invited guests took flight. In other works, the ladder becomes almost a mechanism of sight, as in Ceiling Piece, where visitors climbed a ladder to discover the word ‘Yes’ on a piece of paper suspended from the ceiling. In Liverpool Skyladders, the ladders are both a means to reach the sky, and a means by which to see the sky. Slowly growing from a few small saplings into a fully fledged forest, Liverpool Skyladders shares with Sky Event II the conviction that through collective participation, an act of imagination can become a reality. Through a simple affirmative act of will, a ladder can become a skyladder.