Liverpool Biennial, “uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things”
              Novuyo Moyo
              Given Liverpool’s role as a major hub for the slave trade during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it’s surprising that past editions of the city’s biennial have not engaged more directly with this subject. The legacy of slavery haunts the port city: it can be seen in the many warehouses by the docks, the streets named after slave traders, and the monuments addressing it. This year’s biennial dives fully into that history, guided by Cape Town-based curator Khanyisile Mbongwa’s approach, rooted in remembrance but also in the seeking of potential avenues to healing. “uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things” featured over thirty artists finding ways to engage with a city whose links to slavery and its legacies are inextricable, in a way that manages to look to the future as well as the past. In the Tobacco Warehouse, Albert Ibokwe Khoza’s multimedia installation and performance piece The Black Circus of the Republic of Bantu (2022) goes back to questions of bodily autonomy, mining the histories of human zoos and exhibitions by examining their performance practice. As a South African artist whose work is sometimes staged in the west, they question the relationship between themselves and their audience, …
              Liverpool Biennial, “The Stomach & The Port”
              Francis Whorrall-Campbell
              The title for the latest Liverpool Biennial, “The Stomach & The Port,” makes direct reference to the tangled threads of global trade and disease transmission, plumbing the history of a city that has, over the last three centuries, found itself at the center of both. The curatorial “entry-points” for the Biennial are “porosity,” “kinship,” and “stomach,” all themes which have taken on new resonance during the Covid-19 pandemic: the show, which spreads from the waterfront up into the city, taking in nine venues and various public commissions, displays a timely fascination with what it means to be a body alongside others in the world. The city’s port, a place of commerce in both people and goods, here serves both as metaphor and as real site of human connection and consumption. Curator Manuela Moscoso’s commitment to interrogating the past is particularly striking—and necessary—in light of recent policy moves by the British government to hamstring museums and other cultural organizations in reckoning with the colonial violence embedded in their collections. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, currently making its way through the UK legislature, proposes harsh penalties for those enacting “criminal damage” on a memorial, ignoring the real criminal damage done …
              Ericka Beckman and Marianna Simnett
              Daisy Hildyard
              Marianna Simnett’s videos, currently on show at FACT Liverpool, are played on a continuous loop, so you can’t tell how they begin. The same blonde girl is sent on hallucinatory adventures in The Udder (2014) and Blood (2015): inside a cow’s udder, around an Albanian mountain, through agricultural machinery, and up her own nose. The narratives are, in both senses, loopy, and the videos are screened in a square room on adjacent walls: while you watch one, the visuals of the other flicker in the corner of your eye. The effect is disorientating. Viewers were squirming. Simnett’s videos are notoriously visceral. The Udder shows the dissection of a cow’s teat; Blood gives a keyhole-view of a brutal operation, and has two personified nose-bones gnawing on a septum, complete with gristly slurping sounds. But Simnett’s third work in the exhibition challenges in a different way. Faint with Light (2016) is a room with a large panel of white striplights which flash, irregularly, in correspondence with a reverberating soundtrack of the artist hyperventilating violently until she passes out. It’s physically uncomfortable in there. The show asks how far your body is willing to go, whether it’s because Blood makes you feel squeamish, …
              Liverpool Biennial
              Jeremy Millar
              Things happen, and then they happen again, but not the same way, not quite; such is the logic of the biennial. And then there are things which have never happened before, and which happen now and in a time that seems somehow out of time, or takes our “now” out with it. This is how it feels to be in Britain, to be visiting this unashamedly international event exactly two weeks after the country—but not Liverpool—voted to leave the European Union. While at the launch event there was much talk of this internationalism, and of confidence in the future, a confidence which the city has not always possessed, there persists a more widely held anxiety at what might occur. If the tide has turned, it has done so quickly, receding at a rate which more usually foretells a tsunami to come. The Liverpool Biennial has neither a single title nor a theme, but rather six “episodes,” although the same work might appear in more than one episode, and more than one episode might appear in the same venue. It is difficult to see how these can operate as discrete Aristotelian elements, “coming in besides” the story when they constitute the story …

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