The Liverpool Biennial visitor centre is housed in the foyer of an old cinema, and is the start of a trail of specially commissioned site specific artworks across the city. The first of these is by Annette Messager, and is housed within the old cinema auditorium. We were conducted through the doors by an attendant with a torch, and plunged into almost-darkness. It smelled damp and musty. There was a whirring sound, reminiscent of the film projector. Spilling out from the stage in front of us was a collection of inflatable figures, dimly lit from within. Their surfaces were covered with what looked like maps of the world. One of them seemed to droop over the edge of the stage area. Above them dangled a skeleton’s torso and head, with a beak-like protrusion on its nose. Attached to the skeleton by puppet-strings were black skeletal hands and feet, seemingly groping at the globe-like figures below.
Beside us, a black shroud billowed across the seating area, with occasional glimpses of the dimly lit seats beneath it, evoking long-absent cinema-goers. A fan hummed as air inflated the black cloth over the seats. I was reminded of those childlike amusements which are also grotesque – inflatable santas and cruel puppets.
A complete contrast was provided by Yoko Ono’s Skyladders for Liverpool, set in the bombed out interior of St Luke’s church. This space, which now contains gardens and musical instruments created out of ‘junk’, has been filled with ladders donated by members of the public. Each ladder has a label tied to it with a message from the donor. Many of these are tributes or remembrances, in keeping with the setting and with the symbolism of the ladders – enabling us to get closer to the sky. The sounds of the instruments – bells and drums – added to the special atmosphere, as did the sun slanting through the remains of the window frames.
We also found time for a number of gallery visits, including the John Moores 25 painting exhibition, the Bluecoat Gallery (I strongly recommend the Sarah Sze installation), and of course the Tate. The Made Up exhibition at the Tate had some rich and thought provoking contemporary painting and drawing, well worth the entrance fee.