Now you feel it, now you don't: Art in the Public Realm at Liverpool Biennial

By Mark Sheerin | 21 September 2010
Photo of an old cinema called Futurist with the phrase Think About Your Future written on the masthead
Emese Benczúr, Think About The Future (2010)© Mark Sheerin
Exhibition: Public Realm art at Touched 2010, International Festival of Contemporary Art, Liverpool Biennial, until Novermber 28 2010

On first impressions, Touched 2010 is a gentle form of contact between art and the city. Site specific works press lightly on the pressure points. The feelings produced may not even register at first.

You could walk past the disused Futurist Cinema several times without noticing the letters on glowing masthead spell out no film you might have heard of, but rather a stark piece of advice from Emese Benczúr. "Think about your future" comments in a succinct way on both the state of the planet and the history of moving image.

Photo of a grand hotel building with raised flags on the exterior
Will Kwam, Flame Test (2010)© Mark Sheerin
It also looks as if the Scandinavian Hotel is back in business. On a sunlit autumn day, the cheery flags are just what you might expect to find on this grandiose building. But each of the 36 is a print from a press-agency photograph of the national emblem being put to the torch. Patriots will get scorched by this brave work by Will Kwan.

The Kris Martin piece is another presence which reaches out from your peripheral vision, and his seven-metre Medieval sword may be felt as a threat to all. It hangs suspended from the cupola of a former chapel known as The Black E. While hard to get a good view of this lofty Damoclean blade, once seen it cannot be ignored.

Photo of a giant crucuform sword hanging from the dome of a chapel
Kris Martin, Mandi XV (2007)© Mark Sheerin
Touch and Go is the name of a video showing in the former factory of Europleasure International. Mature locals throw stones at the building, which can often touch the funny bone. But the shattered panes spell out the name of the piece, in a reference to the fickle commitments made by global corporations to towns such as Liverpool. But the message is as subtle as gossamer.

Another film in a garage on Wood Street is the work of Raymond Pettibon, who once illustrated album sleeves for the likes of Black Flag. And there is indeed a West Coast cool about his animation and the graffiti with which he covers the building’s walls. It is also true that his sketchy images and drawling soundtrack make a lasting, colourful impression.

Photo of a table of books in a neon-lit red reading room
Alfredo Jaar, The Marx Lounge (2010), installation view© Mark Sheerin
But the work which sets out to make the deepest impact is to be found at 52 Renshaw Street where Alfredo Jaar has created The Marx Lounge. This neon-lit reading room features black sofas, red walls and a table full of books of broadly political theory.

It is certain that one or more hours spent here with one of these titles would be a unique and rewarding experience. But with some 500 titles the overall piece, while realistic, demands the impossible, to paraphrase a famous Marxist.

When asked if Touched 2010 was a post-visual art biennial, Artistic Director Lewis Biggs said: "People use all of their senses all the time: taste, touch, hearing. Those are the ways we apprehend the world and art is going to make use of all these levels.

"I don't make that distinction between how the meaning gets to me. What is important is to open all one's senses to the meaning."

So if you reach Liverpool this autumn, the Biennial will reach you. This is public art with a soft and sure touch, how or when you least expect it.

For more details on Liverpool Biennial 2010: Touched, the International Exhibition see the Biennial website.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog or follow him on Twitter.

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