"I love the idea of art that can be touched": Bristol Biennial plans September surprises

By Ben Miller | 11 August 2014

Bristol Biennial returns in September. Bus trips and parties are part of the programme

Click on the picture to launch a gallery of images from this year's Biennial

Grass men rising up in the city’s St Andrew’s Park and on slopes, fountains transformed into cranberry farms, muso-artists leading journeys into reclaimed corners and a mystery bus tour into the unknown: Bristol’s Biennial looks to be full of surprises when it opens next month, with more than 40 artists setting their sights on unlikely spaces.

Run by a new team formed last summer, the festival features a neon artwork, I’m Staying, at Folk House, where a free party will take place to switch on the lights and launch the festival. More than 800 people voted for the house to host the bash.

“To begin forming the new festival we had a lot of conversations with friends, organisations and in chance meetings with people we didn’t really know about what Bristol wanted to see happen when art fills the city,” says Artistic Director Hannah Clark, preparing for the second edition of a festival which featured 118 local, national and international artists in 2012.

“We wanted to know who the kind of artists were that needed a platform and more visibility and how we could get the most people excited about these artworks.

“I love the idea of art that can be touched.

“We started putting conversations into writing and planned to support emerging artists, and find artworks from our open call that had something extra – some element of participation or humour or digital interaction, something that we as viewers could grip hold of.”

Clark and her team are putting “all of their beans” into the programme, she says, which is released next week with an appearance by Sondry Folk – a mysterious collective whose female members have been cooking “several surprises”.

“I think only ten people in Bristol really know what will happen,” confides Clark.
“But I will say get a ticket next week sharpish. I expect the limited places will sell out with speed.”

A bus trip into the unknown, Ting-Tong Chang’s Blind Chance, is about to start production.

“Which means finding the right bus route, helpers and materials to install in the bus,” explains Clark, describing a piece inspired by Eric Wang, a Chinese immigrant who died when his bike collided with a tourist bus in London two years ago.

“Ting-Tong has just received supporting funds from the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs.

“He is advertising at the moment for an actor based in London to do a recording for the story.

“Forty passengers will be picked up from the city centre and taken on a dark adventure to the outskirts of the city, where they will be dropped off and left to find their own way home.”

Madescapes, within galleries on East Street, pits high street visitors against each other.

“It will be a real time video doorway that records the shoppers at each end of the portal.

“People can walk past the doorway and see other people walking past the other doorway.

“You can stop and interact with each other, perform to each other, send messages and, in my mind, be in two places at once.”

The shoppers, concludes Clark, will be “winners”. But before that, the arrival of the programme sparks the start of the hard work.

“Everything for the projects then gets underway being built and collected and tested.

“We are on the look-out for volunteers to join our team and come and learn about the programme, and I’m getting very excited for I’m Staying’s big move now that the first round of voting has been counted.”

Awash with opportunities for public participation, the Biennial’s second coming, you sense, will be a playfully persuasive one.

More from Culture24's Previews section:

Simon Faithfull on buying a boat on eBay and burning it at sea

Burning boats, glass plates and mass observation as Brighton Photo Biennial returns

American Impressionism: A New Vision at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
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