the long night of the biennial has been much advertised and to a latter day flaneuse or urban explorer promised a harmonious marriage of art in multiple for the promiscuous art goer with the nocturnal excitement of the city as backdrop. here's how it described itself:
WELCOME TO THE LIVERPOOL GALLERIES’ FIRST LONG NIGHT
The Long Night of the Biennial
Thursday 30 October 2008
Liverpool will be transformed as an unprecedented number of the city’s galleries will keep their doors open to the public, some until 11.00pm. A nocturnal feast of art, events, music, film and performance will give visitors a very special experience of the visual arts in Liverpool. Come straight from work, join in the debate, do the tours, wear the glowstick, eat & meet, watch it all happen, and enjoy Liverpool’s favourite and up and coming studios and galleries.
hard to resist such a seductive invitation - an abridged version of the entire art biennial! like a bag of revels without the coffee ones or the pick and mix counter at the cinema where you can simply leave out any sweeties not to your liking, guilt free...
the biennial this year is big, more so than i recall from other years, and though i've nipped across more than once i still havent seen even half the festival, made my way to all the venues that have something on offer, visited all the must-see exhibits - but that's the beauty of it, that's the nature of art as it encounters the city and the realm beyond the traditions of the gallery format, and the long night is yet another way of dipping into the events and activities, one offs, walks and talks, in something of the spirit of the derive.
of course not everyone finds this enjoyable - for a very different view of a biennial encounter, do read this account in the guardian recently.
in it alfred, our not so intrepid explorer, states in a curmudgeonly rage -
for the sake of brevity, and in the interest of saving shoe leather, guardian.co.uk/culture intends to make it round the entire exhibition in an afternoon: pointing out the highlights and issuing warnings about horrors to avoid. You don't want to spend hours trawling through Liverpool's industrial wilderness only to be rewarded with an origami orange. I did, and I can tell you, it wasn't worth it.
perhaps a meander on the long night instead would have helped. or made it worse...there seems to be no pleasing some people. the end of his trek through the city finds alfred 'headed back to Lime Street, finding it hard not to conclude that an arduous trek around the biggest Biennial so far had ended fruitless.'
but for me an occasion such as this is just the ticket for re-engaging with a city you might simply be overly familiar with, those regular favourite haunts limiting your exposure to new treats or experiences. despite our best intentions we do tend to fall into patterns of behaviour in life, which spacially can be seen in the personal maps or routes we each carve across the places and landscapes we come to know intimately.
my evening began like alfred's at lime st station, where i headed straight to the former abc cinema, the visitor hub for the biennial. previously i havent bothered to pop in, preferring to find my own way round the festival but, determined to move out of my comfort zone, i step inside and ask fearlessly about the hourly torch lit guided tours. a perky young thing tells me that the 7pm tour is fully booked and to take a later one. i pop my name on a list and venture onwards to the bluecoat for a hot drink and a nosy at the musical offerings promised.
the bluecoat is busy and the bright new atrium is stuffed full of musicians making a noise, whilst across the way the cafe is doing stirling work keeping us all fed and watered. i listen to the band whilst nursing my hot drink, read my long night brochure and wonder where to start - well i have started but you know what i mean! i decide to take a mini route up to the hope st sound and light project, taking in whatever i might accidentally encounter along the way and end with my 9pm tour, which should deposit me handily at lime st for the train ride home...
warmed up, i head towards open eye gallery where my own contribution is part of a series of one day only events, and im curious to see how my essay works in the context of the newspaper and what the other video, film and photographic projects will be. i'm rarely disappointed with open eye so i walk along with renewed vigour!
inside, the compact little gallery has been transformed from its current installation into a one-off series of videos and short films, whilst near the counter and bar (handily set up with snacks and drinks and welcome hot toddies) stands a tower of newspapers and a cosy chill out zone for taking it all in and resting awhile.
the blurb on open eye's webpage describes the work - the Memory Conspiracy is an installation exploring the relationships between stillness and movement, loops and progress, climax and repetition. Still Cinema 6: Light-speed travel - a series of short artists' films that explore physical movement and the recording of journeys. it also features Claude Lelouch's cult film C'etait un rendez-vous (1976), an eight-minute drive through Paris in the early morning at breakneck speeds (and inspiration for Nancy Davenport's Liverpool Biennial commission at Open Eye Gallery). and Future Visions of History -throughout the day a specially-commissioned free newspaper will be distributed on a series of mapped routes in the city. In it, artists and writers offer an alternative view of Liverpool’s past and its future - collect your copy on the night. Co-ordinated by Liverpool-based artists Penny Whitehead and Daniel Simpkins.
my personal favourites include a gorgeous, moving 'still life' of a vase of flowers which slowly explodes leaving shards of glass, petals and pollen cascading to the floor in an endless moment of stillness, a patagonian journey viewed through the tiny porthole of a little boat, and the painting and repainting of the side of a battered block of flats by an optimist with a long handled paint brush...reluctantly dragging myself away i nip over to fact for fiction@fact, a night of poets and performances in the cafe. the foyer is predictably crowded mainly it seems with young film makers for fact.tv, so i make my way up to the cathedrals for the launch of the hope st project, a light and sound installation, two lasers linking those giants of the liverpool landscape, one visibly cutting a beam of light into the night skies whilst the other transports a stream of voices and conversations high into the air. walking around hope st is always a highlight of any trip to liverpool - its a beautiful route, endlessly fascinating, and this project is a veritable ariadne's thread drawing you in and onwards into a symbolic journey across the hearts and hopes of the city.
after this dazzling diversion i stop at the everyman for some soup and spend an interesting half hour reading the future histories newspaper for some welcome critical centent, made sharper with the knowledge that the shadowy company who now seem to own the newly regenerated public realm of the city centre, have forbidden the distribution of all flyers and papers in their new kingdom. aah, the never ending democracy of urban renewal...
eager to take to the streets and join in public activities whilst they are still allowed in this newly privatised liverpool, i hurry on to my torch lit tour, suddenly aware that my evening is fast drawing to a close.
the tour starts at 9pm, taking in as many of the artworks along roscoe st as possible. beginning with the macabre yet comic annette messager's la derniere seance in the derelict auditorium of the old abc cinema, mesmeric and strangely fitting for a night fast filling up with halloween-goers, we forge onwards crocodile style up the road. a friendly camaraderie develops amongst us as we weave our way from one location to the next, sharing a sneaky giddiness that we are doing something rather foolish on such a freezing cold night instead of being clever grown ups at one of the grand previews currently in full swing across the city. after a stop at a forlorn paint shop for floor upon floor of gaudy artworks ending with a claustrophobically voyeuristic but beautifully shot video in tryptych, we peer nervously through a series of suggestive slits cut in the street hoardings at manfredi beninati’s empty apartment, a modern day marie celeste of aspirational urban life - a newly invented liverpool.
the final stop is the auditorium 'rockscape' created by atelier bow-wow, which seems more in its element that i've witnessed before, awash with sound from the dj set, its multi level seating transformed into a urban crow's nest for looking out over the noctural life of the city, lit up, floodlit and thronged with people. cold, tired and filled with the sights and sounds of liverpool embarking on a typical weekend, i wander back to lime st for the journey home...
my long night was acually not long enough - unlike alfred i had an enjoyable romp using the structure of the activities on offer to mooch around the city to my hearts content, observe and participate in some harmless group voyeurism and indulge in a little flaneurie.
undoubtedly the biennial, like all before it and those to come, is fraught with contradictions and difficulties. the year of culture and the festival is fast drawing to a close and with it will follow the usual post mortems and debates about what if anything can really be achieved by these cynical marketing ploys masquerading as culture...
but for one night only i indulged in suspending my disbelief to take pleasure in a city that i love and admire for its faded beauty, architectural grandeur and indomitable character. no matter what happens i'll return, hoping that despite the many changes still in the pipeline, the charm, gnarls and bunions of this lovely city survives to tell its everyday stories.