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Liverpool Biennial is the largest and longest-running festival of contemporary visual art in the UK. Since its inception in 1998, the Biennial has become renowned in the international contemporary art world, bringing together a wide array of voices and artistic practices. Taking place every two years, the events activate public institutions, historical sites and locations across the city, ensuring major commissions in the public realm. Since it’s inauguration, the organisation have commissioned over 380 new artworks and presented work by over 530 renowned artists from around the world, including Doug Aitken, John Akomfrah, Mona Hatoum, Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, Ai Weiwei and Franz West.

Launched earlier this month and running until 27 June, the 2021 edition of the Liverpool Biennial, entitled The Stomach and the Port, presents nine new exhibitions. Curated by Manuela Moscoso, the 11th edition of the Biennial showcases the work of 50 leading and emerging artists and collectives from 30 countries around the world, including 47 new commissions. Hailing from Ecuador, Moscoso joined the Biennial from Tamayo Museo in Mexico City, where she was the Senior Curator. Moscoso tells Something Curated: “The Stomach and the Port reflects on systems of exchange, how borders are not only geographic but also political and subjective constructs. Rooted in decolonising our experience of the world, the artists collaboratively present a re-calibration of the senses and a catalyst for change.”

Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S), The Only Good System Is a Soundsystem, 2021. Installation view at FACT, Liverpool Biennial 2021. Photography: Rob Battersby

Exploring concepts of the body, the 2021 Biennial draws on non-Western thinking that challenges our understanding of the individual as a defined, self-sufficient, entity. Instead, the body is seen as fluid, being continuously shaped by, and actively shaping its environment. Underpinning the physical festival is the Biennial Online Portal, a platform presenting an introduction to each of the artists and entry points, along with a digital programme Processes of Fermentation. This combines an inspiring line-up of live performances, artist interviews, curatorial videos, artist-led discussions and workshops, a film programme and podcasts, providing ever-changing, rich and engaging multimedia content.

Among this year’s programme highlights, for the Live Weekend join in the observance of Haroon Mirza’s newly commissioned choral work The Three /\/\/’s (2021) which explores social gatherings and ritual, informed by the Fibonacci sequence and golden ratio. In collaboration with Mirza, Liverpool based choir leader Jenifer John leads an ensemble of performers, made up of Anne Taft, Emma Bispham, Jennifer John, Steve Boyland and Tayo Aluko to evolve the vocal interpretations of the ritual.

Haroon Mirza, Pathology in Three Parts (film still) , 2021

Also to look forward to, Ligia Lewis presents a newly commissioned choreographed performance at Toxteth Reservoir. Incorporating elements of interdependence, disorder and play, Lewis disrupts institutionalised ways of understanding, offering embodied knowledge as another way to sense and be in the world. The artist’s performance is site-specific, using the distinctive and cavernous infrastructure of Toxteth Reservoir as a site for an intimate encounter with narratives, both found and fabricated. Lewis builds a piece against the grain of colonial time and its legacies, bringing the subtle manoeuvrings of walking through a dreamscape where the haunting echoes of the past permeate each step.

Pedro de Niemeyer Cesarino will lead a discussion on the contemporary crisis of global capitalism through an anthropological perspective. Theoretical perspectives of Western scholars such as Anna Tsing, Donna Haraway and Marilyn Strathern will be connected to reflections developed by American native intellectuals on shamanism, exchange and kinship, offering potential alternatives to the understanding of the body and its relations. The discussions will be based on the text “Kinship and the Collapse of Civilisation: Bodies and Skins from the Forest”, produced by Pedro Cesarino for The Stomach and the Port and available to read online.

Martine Syms, Borrowed Lady, 2016. Installation view at Tate Liverpool, Liverpool Biennial 2021. Photography: Rob Battersby

Luisa Ungar’s A Regurgitation is a Song is a Spell (Consultations to recreate the colonial disease) runs every Thursday–Saturday in 30 minute slots between 7-9pm until 26 June. For this project, the artist has worked with a group of clairvoyants around various types of material from collections and archives in the city of Liverpool. The experts will be available to the public to answer questions via one-on-one phone calls. Ask a question or share a concern – pre-book a slot via Eventbrite.

A final highlight is Martine Syms’ video installation Borrowed Lady (2015), presented at Tate Liverpool. Taking a cue from writer Samuel R. Delany’s reflections on how feminine characters are constructed through the compositing of ideal physiological and psychological features, Syms draws from her archives to speculate on the influences on her actor’s gestures. The artist highlights how common certain gestures are, while also commenting on how they have been appropriated and commercialised in branding and advertising aimed at White audiences.

Feature image: Ligia Lewis, minor matter, 2016. Performance at Converso, Milan, 2017. Photo: Converso

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