From pubs and vacant plots to cinemas and public parks, the ninth Liverpool Biennial shows new work from 42 international artists, both established and up-and-coming, from as far afield as Japan, Lithuania, Palestine and Taiwan. It may be the largest contemporary art festival in the UK, but director Sally Tallant notes that, ‘It’s not as if Liverpool is short on cultural offerings year round.’

Tallant, who was head of programmes at the Serpentine Gallery in London before moving to head up the Biennial in 2011, contends that, ‘Liverpool is second only to London when it comes to the number of museums and galleries.’ The Biennial’s narrative goal, explains Tallant, is to offer perspectives on Liverpool’s past, present, and future. To that end, the Biennial will unfold in six episodes, each outlining a specific theme that considers Liverpool through the ages, with artists responding accordingly.

'Monuments from the Future', for example, asks artists to consider what Liverpool might look like 20, 30, or 40 years ahead. As part of this episode, American-born, Dusseldorf-based sculptor Rita McBride will showcase a geometric temple outlined entirely in green laser lights. ‘Sculpture always has to defy gravity,’ says McBride, ‘so it’s interesting and exciting to work with light, to get rid of the idea of gravity, metaphorically and literally.’

As part of 'Children’s Episode', the Turner Prize-nominated performance artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd is staging Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera (with a kids-only cast) interspersed with scenes from a 1930s Betty Boop cartoon, while in 'Flashback', the Birkenhead-born artist Mark Leckey will present Dream English Kid, a film inspired by events in his life from the 1970s to 1990s. The film will be screened alongside new sculptural works in the Saw Mill, the former entrance hall to legendary Liverpool club night Cream.

Apart from showcasing work by local and far-flung artists, Tallant hopes the 14-week event will help to recast the city as a creative incubator. ‘I think Liverpool could become a place where artists take risks away from the art market because we don’t have lots of commercial galleries here. They can invent new possibilities for what art means, and think about how a city can be rethought with artists at the heart of that process. Look at how Berlin has been reinvented. Maybe Liverpool could be the next Berlin.’

As originally featured in the July 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*208)