Touched at the 6th Liverpool Biennial celebrates a decade of bringing new art to the UK through curatorial collaboration. Conceived as a sculptural happening, Tate Liverpool
s exhibition features on-going live interventions and appearances by artists, performing objects, as well as installations and sculptures to be explored by visitors.
Since the emergence of challenging and rebellious artistic strategies in the 1960s, international artists have questioned the idea that visual art should be static, sanctified, and viewed from a distance. Touched at Tate Liverpool, curated by Peter Gorschlüter, makes reference to this period in art history to explore the ways in which contemporary artists continue to respond to and build upon these ideas.
The exhibition opens with Embryology 1978-80, a sculptural installation by Magdalena Abakanowicz (Poland). One of her best known and most striking works, Embryology has recently been acquisitioned into the Tate Collection, and it is the first time the work will be shown in the UK. The sculpture, which comprises hundreds of hand-sewn objects of varying sizes that are stacked and scattered around the gallery, confronts us with an ambiguous and disturbing place between bodies and amorphous organic matter. Abakanowiczs practice continues to resonate with younger generations of artists and the inclusion of Embryology provides an historical backdrop against which to view the festivals new commissions.
A recent series of paintings is presented by Otto Muehl (Austria). The paintings employ acid colours, applied in expressive gesture, referencing the techniques used in his early action painting. One of the most radical artists of the 20th century, Muehl co-founded the Viennese Actionist Group, whose practice is characterised by the expressive and performative use of the body. Muehls works presented at Tate Liverpool are populated by a cartoon-like set of characters and animals. The simple, expressive power of these late works exemplifies Muehls lifelong preoccupation with painting, whilst also demonstrating aspects of chance and physical action.
Franz West (Austria) is one of the most renowned sculptors living today. Influenced by the physical and confrontational work of the Viennese Actionists, in particular Otto Muehl, it is fitting that his new work will be displayed at Tate Liverpool alongside Muehls paintings. Smears is a new large scale sculpture, resembling a gigantic impasto loop of blue paint that has escaped from the artists studio. West intends it to be a sculpture that can not only be viewed from a distance but experienced whilst sitting on, lying on and touching it.
The work of Nina Canell (Sweden) looks at the intersections between humans, objects and events. Her installations are carefully choreographed to create seemingly casual sculptural happenings, which harness the energies of sound, gas and water. For the Biennial, Canell uses water, a recurring element in her work, also referencing Liverpools position as a seaport. Inspired by the final passage in Holst´s Neptune the Mystic (which is often described as the first musical fade out), Canell presents a static object in which she has recorded descending movement by capturing the fluctuating depths of the River Mersey with a Nansen Bottle. Canell further explores the link between the gallery space and the outside world in a second water based installation, which relies on chance radio transmissions from a hydrophone located on a buoy in the River Mersey.
Belgian artist Wannes Goetschalckx explores the emotional, physical, ideological and imaginative in relation to the body and space. His works combine videos, objects and performance actions. For Touched Goetschalckx has developed a multichannel video installation of short films depicting him undertaking everyday actions in an isolated space, detached from context and purpose. This isolated space reappears in the gallery as a space for activity and reflection; visitors are invited to enter and experience it. The space in the gallery is a warm shelter, contrasting with the cold white cube in the video installation.
The work of Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan (Philippines/Australia) centres on individuals and their personal stories, histories, belongings, creativity and dreams. Collaborative in spirit, their practice deploys strategies of accumulating and rearranging physical objects and narratives. The inter-connection of experiences between peoples around the world is at the centre of the new work commissioned for Liverpool Biennial, entitled Passage (Project: Another Country). The artists considered how the life and history of people on the other side of the world relates to the experiences of the people of Liverpool. In the lead up to the exhibition, the artists have invited local families to come to the gallery and build cardboard boats, which will form part of their installation.
Creating work in a diversity of art forms including sculpture, mixed media installation, music and drawing, Diango Hernández (Cuba) presents a new multi-part commission for Liverpool Biennial. The installation explores ideas of utopianism, deploying furniture, rotating stages, suspended stairways and drawings to create a dreamlike setting. The work reflects upon the notion of home as opposed to a house. Hernándezs work constitutes an exploration into the realm of a recollected home, presenting us with memories, fragments of personal belongings and inexplicable apparitions that inform our connection to a particular place and time that might eventually at least for a moment in time be understood as home.
The young Czech artist Eva Kot'átková investigates personal space, everyday actions and situations, and the relationship between people and their surroundings. Kot'átkovás project for Touched pairs local primary school children with older people; the older people relate their life stories to the children. The children are recorded as they perform, in the first person, the older persons memories. Facilitated by the artist and Tate Learning, this project deploys alternative methods of reconstructing, evaluating and archiving personal histories. This will manifest itself in the gallery as a social sculpture comprising elements of archive, functioning as a place for continued encounter and providing a stage for events and activities inspired by the encounters between the children and older people.
Jamie Isenstein (New York) confronts the visitor with the unexpected and inexplicable. Isenstein explores the interplay of performance and sculpture, contradicting the status of sculpture as an inanimate object. She physically inhabits her artworks, combining sculptural practice, endurance performance art and surreal humour; Isenstein will be present in her work for the entire duration of Touched. Her work for Tate Liverpool consists of a large cluster of furniture, everyday and decorative items. The objects are on fire, yet they do not burn. In the corner of the gallery is what seems to be a standard issue fire hose. But in Jamie Isensteins work, nothing is as it seems.